Archive for the ‘simple living’ Category

Do you know where your STUFF comes from?

I’m taking a departure from my usual farm updates to share some of my recent thoughts about consumerism and the STUFF we bring into our homes and our lives.

It’s increasingly common to hear people asking about where their food comes from, particularly in communities like ours with their heavy focus on local food producers and small farms. People are starting to look at a food item in the grocery store and ask questions: where was this grown and under what conditions? who tended to this crop and were they paid a fair wage? how far did this item travel to get to me? what exactly is IN or ON this food that I might be concerned about? how much real nutrition is in this food item (i.e. how useful is it for my body)?

After having practiced this conscious consideration of the food I put on my family’s table for years now, it naturally began to extend to other areas of my life. Lack of time and budget makes it tempting and easy to pick up cheap, mass-produced goods. I have to steer myself away from the very low-priced (and usually, low-quality) kids clothes in our local Superstore when I do my grocery shopping, or that inexpensive sweater that would add a pick-me-up to my day without putting a crimp in my bank account. But with the Holiday Season approaching to remind us of the rampant consumerism that plagues our society I am making a conscious effort to steer away from those things and to think carefully about every item that enters my home.

It started when I was writing in my “Dream Home Journal” – this is a collection of thoughts, ideas, sketches etc. that I am putting together in anticipation of building a proper house for ourselves on the property. Having moved plenty of times over the years and being a fond practitioner of Decluttering, I was struck by the idea that every item in our new home should be consciously chosen. As much as possible, that is. I can’t afford to replace our mass-produced, fake-wood bookcases all at once. But I will need new items, as one always seems to when moving, like perhaps some rugs or something to put on the walls. And here’s where I would like to be particularly conscious in my choices.

I’ll give you an example of what I mean: I’ve had two “decorative” glass jars for several years now. I bought them at Ikea, on a whim, because they went with the colour scheme I’d chosen for the living room in our rented house. The jars serve no purpose – they are not functional and could not be put to any practical use. They were mass-produced on factory assembly lines in Asia and sold cheaply by the millions. They sat on our fireplace mantle as part of an arrangement of objects that was supposed to “harmonize the room’s colour scheme while being attractive and suited to the room’s style”. They have no meaning for me. There was no artist whose hands and creative spark touched them, they weren’t a well thought-out gift from a loved one. They are just items that take up space and need to be dusted.

To me these jars represent all that is thoughtless and mindless about consumerism. Right now they sit on my bedroom dresser, a faded pink three-drawer Ikea unit sandwiched in between two identical ones in fake brown wood finish. The bedroom in our ugly old mobile home is wallpapered in some tacky 80’s country rose pattern that clashes with everything else. The jars look ridiculously out of place, both in style and in colour. But I have kept them there because every time I dust them I’m reminded of how silly such items are, how easy it is to acquire such things, and what a colossal amount of money the average consumer throws away on such things over the course of our lifetimes.

I’ve decided that, in our new home, decorative items will be displayed because there is a story behind them. Perhaps one of the kids made it for me, or it was a gift from someone special who put their heart into it. It may be a souvenir from an important event or experience in my life. It may be from a local artist I admire and, if so, will definitely be handmade from natural materials. It may even be made by myself as I pursue my growing love of fibre art.

Another example: I have some plastic cutting boards (Ikea again!) that I don’t like and they are starting to really show their age. Despite my mother’s insistence that plastic is “hygenic” because you can put it in the dishwasher, some of mine are showing signs of mold/mildew in the cracks and cuts and I’m having to soak them in bleach. I have a wooden cutting board. One is pine strips glued together (yes, it’s also from Ikea) and it is really not holding up well (which I should expect given that it cost me $5). It’s warping and splintering and I realized I don’t even know where the wood came from, or how it was harvested and I don’t know what sort of glue was used to hold the bits together. I decided I was going to ask for a proper, handmade wooden cutting board for Xmas – the kind I see at the farmer’s market. Then a couple weeks ago I was at a local Xmas Fair held at a therapeutic farming community and I found a guy who made cutting boards from fallen Garry Oak. The Garry Oak is native to the Pacific West Coast and our island is home to some of the few remaining Garry Oak ecosystems, which harbour a number of rare species of wildlife. Now that has meaning for me. The cutting boards were carved by the man who was selling them and he explained to me how to oil it regularly to keep it in good shape. When I saw he had one carved into the shape of a pig I knew destiny had led me to his table. I treated myself to the board and it was only $15. Sure, that’s five times more than the cheap-ass one from Ikea, but you get what you pay for, right?

And so as we head through the holiday season and I put together my Xmas gifts I’m trying to be conscious about these things. On a recent trip to Vancouver my mother and I went shopping. It was a very rare treat for me to be able to spend a day with my mother without kids in tow, but honestly the Mall was not the attraction for me. It was spending time with her (and the sushi lunch we had!). As I wandered the stores all I could see was masses and masses of…stuff! Stuff I didn’t need, stuff I didn’t even want until I saw it all done up so nicely in the displays. I passed a window with a lovely fair-isle style sweater and thought “oh, that looks nice” and then I thought to myself “Chain store, likely made in India by poorly paid workers, ten million of them released this season, then by next season they’ll be on the clearance rack because they’ll be ‘so last year'”. That took all the yearning for the sweater out of my head. Not to mention the fact that I’ve always wanted to try Fair Isle knitting and one day I’ll either make one myself or buy it from a local fiber artist. That is worth waiting for (or saving up for).

I’m pretty good at steering clear of “shopping as a hobby”. I do think about the things I buy and I strive to be frugal and keep clutter down to a minimum. Truth is I buy very little. But around Xmas I tend to go into a frenzy of buying stuff I normally wouldn’t because I feel the pressure of this time of year.

So over the next couple of weeks as you make up your gift lists (and wish lists for yourself), think about the things coming into your home and the things you are sending into others’ homes. Ask the same questions you would about your food: where did this come from? who made it? who tended to it? were they treated well and paid fairly? And ask some more questions: is this well-made and useful and will it last? or will I be chucking it out in a few months?

I survived the a-Pork-alypse.

I was cutting things rather close, not unusual for me. On Tuesday I had to pick up a few hundred pounds of pork, but first I needed somewhere to put it all. We’d been hoping to buy a used freezer but couldn’t find a big one for sale on the local used networks, and eventually decided that rather than fill the garage with an odd assortment of small ones, we’d cough up the money for a new large one and be done with it. It would arrive at the store on Tuesday, and I was too cheap and stubborn to pay the $100 for delivery. However, it meant I was going to have to get it home and set it up all by myself.

Husband was heading to Seattle on business and I was on my own with two kids. I needed to pick up the pork, but I needed the freezer up and running before I did, and to be honest I wasn’t exactly certain I could do it. I was a wee bit worried I’d end up in a pickle and have to call my dear neighbours to rescue me. However, did I mention I’m stubborn? Fingers crossed, I headed down to the appliance store with Husband’s Ford Expedition (just driving that behemoth makes me feel strong). The 17 cu ft standup freezer actually fit in the truck, so I could scratch Worry #1 off my list. And my son was absolutely delighted:  for the one and only time, he was allowed to ride the short distance home in the passenger seat as there was no room in the back for him.

The next obstacle, Worry #2 (the biggest), was getting it out of the truck and into our garage. I knew that if I was really in a bind I could call on my neighbours for help. But I had a lot to do that day and my stubbornness once again paid off. Backing the truck up to the garage door I was able to pull the freezer out onto the smooth concrete floor, remove the packaging, and set it up. I felt like yelling “I am woman, hear me roar!”. Yeah, I was pretty darned proud of myself. Now, off to the meat guy to pick up our pork.

While I was helping the staff load about a dozen boxes of frozen meat I wondered why I’d asked for the heads. What on earth would I do with them? My dog eats raw food but a whole pigs head is a few meals for her and the thought of it lying outside for her to snack on over a few days was not appealing. Turns out they had sawed them in half and there really wasn’t a huge amount of meat left (the jowls had been removed, as had the tongue, eyes, and brain) so they may just work as dog food after all. But I just couldn’t bear the thought of not using every bit of our pigs. Back at the house I proceeded to unload box after box of chops, roasts, and ribs. This year we got regular-cut chops rather than the thick-cut ones and had them put 2 per package rather than 4. Easier to handle, easier to cook, and no worries about wasting meat (with Husband gone so often there is only so much cooked meat I can eat myself in a couple of days). The roasts were also smaller which is great – I’ve developed a real love for pork roasts and pulled pork and the sizes we have are perfect for a couple of meals. I also got tenderloin this year, which I’ll save for special occasions.

I was feeling pretty relieved as I emptied the last of the main boxes and saw that I would be able to fit it all in, but then I realized there were still two boxes of bones, a box of fat, and two boxes of pig heads and feet. I am determined to render the fat into lard this year (last year we couldn’t fit it into the freezers and it went bad), and managed to find room for that, plus the heads and feet and bones. My years spent as a research scientist in the field of medical science has immunized me against the shock of looking at so much cut-up animal, but I have to admit the half-heads were rather gruesome and looked rather like they belonged in an anatomy lab floating in formaldehyde. However, the newbie farmer and wannabe homesteader in me was proud of the fact that we were reaping every scrap from our harvest, and that we would find a use for it all (even if it is just saving money on the dog’s dinners). So, freezers pretty much stuffed, I closed the garage door and headed out for my next task.

I delivered about 100 lbs of “trim” to our local sausage makers. The trim is what they cut off when making various cuts and roasts, plus we threw in the shoulders and the “picnic” roast cuts. Sausages are one of the few, if not the only, meal that I can make which everybody can and will eat (the sausages contain no filler or artificial ingredients; they are gluten- and dairy-free). The kids love them and it’s a quick easy dinner to thaw a half-dozen and fry them. I enjoy them with spaghetti squash that has been tossed with butter and parmesan cheese. But I digress…

The sausage makers, a husband and wife team who live nearby and run a small smokehouse, were tickled by our custom order. These days everybody wants “lean” and “low fat” so they actually remove the fat from their meat before turning it into sausage. I told them that our family doesn’t buy the notion that animal fats are bad for health, and we wanted our sausages to be made with every scrap of fat that God saw fit to put on our pigs. They winked and secretly agreed with me that it’s the pork fat which gives sausages all their flavour and that they’d be more than happy to use it all. At that moment a toast to Emeril Lagasse seemed in order (“Pork Fat Rules!”).

Our bacon and hams will be ready in a week or two. By then I hope to have rendered the fat into lard (I’m no longer upset that Husband bought a huge propane fuelled heating element and giant pot last year when he got the urge to fry a turkey whole). That should buy me enough room for the bacon and hams. Can’t wait to taste home-grown bacon again! Buying the stuff from the store was a real downer…

So that’s my tale of feminine victory. As I crawled into bed that night I felt it had been a particularly productive day, and that I’d definitely earned my modern homesteader badge!

Busy, but not Stressed

Since consciously adopting a Simpler lifestyle I’ve noticed something. It used to be, in my rat-race world, that being busy = being stressed. The stress was usually related to Time. I lived my life according to schedules whereby certain things needed to be done by a certain time. As the minutes ticked by I’d grow increasingly anxious about the looming deadline. And it seemed as though my whole day went that way.

I had to get out of bed at a certain time, even though I desperately wanted to stay in bed. So there would be this internal dialogue in my mind with one side saying “just a few minutes more!” and the other side saying “you’ll be late!”. Heading to work, traffic jams or missed buses were always potential sources of panic. Various deadlines throughout the day brought their moments of panic, even something as benign as hurrying to finish my lunch. Now relatively speaking none of these things rank high on the Life Stresses list, but I had to wonder about the effect of all these little stresses throughout the day. I can’t see that this was a healthy way to live. We now have a good understanding of how stress affects the body, and being in a constant state of stress is no good for anybody.

In our modern world it seems like everybody is always rushing around. The average middle-class family wakes up needing to get everybody fed, dressed, packed for school/work, and out the door by a certain time. The average job involves deadlines and schedules that must be adhered to, while children are following the sound of bells, class schedules, and taking timed tests. At the end of the day there is the rush to get everybody home, dinner on the table, kids usually have homework, and what little quality time can be spent together ends with a strict bedtime, made necessary by the importance of a smooth – and timely – morning routine. Weekends are reserved for all those things that nobody has time for during the week, such as grocery shopping and running errands, housekeeping and yard work, hobbies and extracurricular activities, social engagements, couple time, etc…Trying to fit all that into 48 hours isn’t my idea of a break.

My husband and I have been making conscious choices over the last couple of years to Simplify our lives. And one of the biggest steps in this was choosing to leave the Rat-Race. Husband had planned to leave his corporate job before they did us a favour and laid him off, and I had made the decision not to return to my former career but instead focus on raising the kids and running the household. Hubby now works from home most of the time, which gives him great flexibility in planning his day. On weeks when he has to commute to the mainland he does need to get up early, but the scenic 95 minute ferry trip through some of the most beautiful coastline in the world does much to relieve the stress of having to make an early ferry. These 48 hour trips away from home give his introverted self a much-needed chance to recharge, and thus fits in well to our family life. As for me, my consulting work does include deadlines but my case-load is small enough that I end up working only a handful of hours each month, and I usually have a long-enough turnaround time that I don’t need to panic.

I’ve recently been giving thought to the concept of being “busy”. Because even though our life is somewhat unconventional compared to the average middle-class, dual professional, family of four household I still have plenty to do. When I realize I haven’t called my mother all week I think “I’ve been busy”. And it surprised me at first because I never think of myself like that anymore. That’s when I realized that Busy does not have to = Stress. Yes, I have a lot of things to do. My primary job as mum and housewife involves many daily tasks. For example, I spend a lot of time in the kitchen: making meals for my family, cleaning up after making the meals, baking (loving my 5-minute-a-day bread!), doing laundry (which these days involves hanging laundry out to dry), general tidying (which keeps me on my toes, what with two young children and a husband working from home), feeding and watering animals, etc. Then there’s my paid job which, although thankfully part-time, does require a few hours here and there. And my volunteer work which, although scaled back immensely during the months surrounding our move, is gearing up to get going again. There are also errands to run, weekly library trips with the kids, and these days lots of visits to the swimming hole or our friends’ lake (okay, it’s not exactly *their* lake but they live right next to it) which, especially with young kids, involves some amount of packing and preparation unless we want to end up at the drive-through or paying for bottled water at the gas station.

So yeah, I work a full day from the time I get up until the kids are in bed. But here’s the thing: I’m not stressed. Why?

Because my kids don’t go to school, my husband doesn’t head off to work in the morning, and so we all get up pretty much whenever we feel like it (generally speaking we’re all up by 8:30, though it varies a lot). I usually walk the dog (or we bike) then sit down and enjoy my morning cup of milky tea, which I insist on sipping while either catching up on my email or reading my latest book interest (or, as I did this morning, planning my vegetable garden for next year!). I then put together a breakfast made from scratch for the kids, clean up whatever Husband didn’t get to the night before, then hit the laundry basket (as we are on septic it is better to spread laundry out over the week than to do many loads in one day). As I go about my day I’m constantly picking things up and putting them back in their place in order to maintain some semblance of tidiness. I often bake after breakfast, or I head outside to do some gardening. Soon it’s time to put together some lunch then clean up after that. Afternoons we sometimes go out to run errands or hit the library. If we don’t go out I try to have some sit-down time with the kids to work on projects or play a game. I try to take a rest break mid-afternoon, which usually involves reading for about 15 – 30 minutes (yesterday I went wandering around the property and finally identified a tree that had been puzzling me for some time). Then it’s time to get started on dinner, after which I get to hit the computer for some social networking while Husband washes the dishes. Eventually it’s time for the kids to go to bed, after which Husband and I enjoy some quiet adult time (we like to watch TV series’, marathon style; right now we are on Season 2 of Weeds). Weekends are precious, “do-nothing” days. I let the housework slack a bit, we rarely go anywhere planned except maybe a relaxing dinner with the grandparents or a spontaneous family outing to somewhere free of crowds.

There is definitely a rhythm to my day. But the key thing is that none of my regular activities are time-sensitive down to the level of minutes. Breakfast may be early or late and depends entirely on when we all get up. Lunch is when the kids start getting hungry again, and dinner time often depends on whether we had an afternoon snack. And while there are certain housekeeping duties I like to get done every day, if something doesn’t get completed it’s really no big deal. I’ll just get to it later.

I really like living this way. I have time to stop and smell the roses when the mood hits me, I’m not stressed, life just seems to flow along without too much conscious effort. I don’t think humans are designed to live their lives on tight schedules, and I’m sure our current lifestyle is much better for our health (both physical and emotional). I like being busy, I like having responsibilities. But mostly I like that I can be busy without being stressed.

Sorry, Martha, but it’s over between us.

I used to love watching home renovation shows. It started way back in the early nineties with Bob Vila’s Home Again series. The last show I was addicted to was Trading Spaces before we discontinued our cable service. I loved getting ideas on how to decorate a home, seeing what I liked and disliked, and imagining what my future house would look like when I had it done up just the way I wanted.

In fact, it was only recently that I was entertaining the idea of being in a brand new home. There was the condo fiasco, and then the chance to purchase bare land that would require a house to be built upon it. The first didn’t pan out because, you know, I was temporarily insane and all. And the second didn’t pan out because we would have been house/land poor, living on a shoestring, with no chance of paying off our mortgage before we died. And so we ended up here, on glorious Vancouver Island, with 4 beautiful acres to call our own for less than half the price (and half that much land) on the Mainland.

It did come with a home. Well, a mobile home to be precise. Otherwise known as a trailer. Renovating these things is not quite the same process as doing renos on a stick house. These puppies are metal framed, with metal roofs and walls made of something – I haven’t quite figured out what – but they don’t have studs you can hammer nails into and the walls are thinner than standard drywall. Old trailers generally aren’t worth very much and therefore renovations don’t tend to produce enough value increase to make up for the cost. So there’s no real incentive for us to either add on to the place, or redecorate to bring it into the new century. The 80’s country-style wallpaper and cabinets are going to stay, and there is therefore little incentive for me to shop at Ikea or Home Sense for funky trinkets, carpeting, or cheap modern furnishings. So little point, in fact, that it has pretty much robbed me of even the effort of thinking about what might look good in that corner, or whether I should try to match the bathroom towels to the wallpaper.

And do you know, it doesn’t bother me in the slightest, and this brings me great surprise on a regular basis. I wander around doing my laundry and picking up toys and find myself happy and content with our little trailer home. It’s warm and dry and therefore serves its purpose adequately. It’s also in good condition, which means that even though the wallpaper and cabinets are dated, they are all in good shape and there isn’t that decrepit, falling-apart look that does more to make a home look unattractive then a lack of fashion sense, IMHO. And I can’t deny that cleaning a 1000 sq ft house takes considerably less time than cleaning one much larger.

I regularly ask myself how I came to this point. How did I, who used to spend considerable time daydreaming about whether my future mud room should have wainscotting, or whether I want the exterior to be shingles or hardiplank, get to the point where I am happy living in a mobile home with wallpaper in every room (and every room a different pattern)?

I suppose part of it is that I don’t think of this as a permanent house. It won’t last forever and there will come a time when it will make more sense to get rid of it and start over again. We might replace it with a newer model, build something more permanent, or just sell the place and move on to a bigger acreage. Who knows? But this isn’t THE house in which we will see our children grow up and ourselves grow old. So perhaps I have just put off my inner Martha for a time, and am therefore able to be patient and content because in the back of my mind I will yet, one day, get to design my own home.

On the other hand, it may well be that I have managed to truly internalize some of the values of Living Simply to which I aspire. Perhaps I am not just learning, but feeling, that Stuff really isn’t necessary for happiness. And it may also be that when I can look outside my window and see this:

…instead of this:

…that suddenly what my house looks like isn’t of much concern.

Work-Life Balance

work-life-balanceThe good news is that, over the last few months, my consulting business has started to take off. Financially this has really been a life-saver since Husband has not found work since he was laid off last July. The income I’m bringing in has made the difference between getting by each month on our own, versus dipping into our savings (reserved for buying that dream acreage!). I’m grateful for that; and the truth is I really enjoy the work I do – especially since I can do it almost all from home and on my own time, and it’s interesting.

The not-so-good news is that this month things have been so busy that I have not been able to fulfill my duties as Number One homemaker. Husband has been taking great care of the kids, but pretty much everything else has fallen by the wayside. Laundry has piled up, there has been no meal plan this month and the kids have been surviving on foods that I’d rather they not be eating so often. We’ve already spent too much on takeout, and I’m starting to get really sick of eating cereal two or three times a day. The house is a total mess and the plastic bag holder which I have managed to keep practically empty has now filled up (Hubby forgets to use the cloth bags most of the time). The kids’ bedsheets need to be changed…should I go on? 

Now it may be that this month is just a fluke and things will be quiet again for another many weeks to come. But it also may be that business is going to keep going or even build up further, and this has caused me to do some thinking about what I’m going to have to let go of should I find myself more engaged in paid work. I thought I’d share that thought process with you, since my guiding values are those I consider to define Simple Living.

First and foremost, I will not give up so much time with my kids that I can’t be the primary caregiver and homeschooling parent. At MOST I want to work part-time (maybe 50 hours per month). Son will be joining Daughter’s homeschooling program this fall which means more reporting and greater activity on that front. I’m so excited about it and no amount of money is going to take me away from that. I’ve already decided that, when and if I am lucky enough to get to that point, I will hire an assistant to take over the daily managing of the business. I earn very good money for my time, but for me no amount is worth losing full-time status with my kids.

I will also not give up my volunteering with La Leche League. I think volunteering is so important and I get so much out of working with new mothers and helping them along in their breastfeeding and mothering journey. I am thinking of taking over an administrative position in our provincial chapter and I’d like to take a comprehensive breastfeeding course some time in the next year or so (taught by my co-leader, an amazing mentor and role model). It doesn’t take up that much of my time, but it is time away from family so it eats into what’s left after working.

And so I’m left with my one other role: homemaker. I love being a homemaker and I take great pride in the way I run my household. I love that we buy  wholesome, healthy foods that are produced ethically and locally whenever possible. I love that we use only 1/4 of our allotted waste volume each week, and that we compost. I love keeping things orderly and running smoothly. But that in itself is pretty much a full-time job. Whenever I’ve taken a day off here or there to work, I almost always come home (or come out of my home office) to a house that needs a good day’s worth of organizing and tidying to get back to an acceptable (to me) state. As much as I love my domestic duties, they are very different from parenting, volunteering, and consulting in one very important regard: the latter three are jobs only I can do.

And so I’m entertaining the idea of bringing someone in every now and then to help me with the general housework. Up until last fall when we moved to this house we had a cleaning service come every other week – I decided I didn’t really care all that much about how clean things were – wiping down a toilet doesn’t take much time when a guest is on the way. What gets to me is when things aren’t tidy, when things aren’t in their rightful place. And of course certain things like laundry and taking out the recycling/garbage also need to be done fairly regularly otherwise the system starts to break down. If I brought in someone once or twice a week to do those tasks it would leave me more time with the children. I’d still be able to enjoy plenty of time to bake, hang laundry, and tend to my vegetable garden. I’d be a part time homemaker and my hired help would still be doing things my way, so overall the house would be running the way I like it.

I have struggled with the notion that someone who is being true to the concepts of Simple Living doesn’t hire domestic help. It seems rather elitist. So I began to think about what Vicki Robins wrote in her book Your Money or Your Life: calculate the true cost of your job and purchases. So I estimated the cost of having a housekeeper come twice a week for six hours each time and that amount is less than I charge for 2 hours of consulting. So it seems to me a pretty darn good trade, don’t you think? I work 2 extra hours in one week and I get 12 hours of housework done; that’s 10 extra hours with the kids. 

Of course, this may all be premature. The above calculation also depends on how many hours I bill each month – the less I bill, the more of my income is being taken up by hired help. If things stay at their current pace and Husband starts bringing in some money  it will be worth it, if I’m lucky enough to see business grow further it will definitely be worth it. On the other hand, things might slow down a bit now and that would be just fine with me, too! It’s nice to feel like I have options, and some control over my choices in life. And while I hate to sound preachy, that comes from being debt-free, y’all (props to Dave Ramsey)! So perhaps I am being true to Simple Living after all. 🙂

Freezin’ My Buns Off (but not really)

freezing

Crunchy Chicken is on her second (or is it third?) Freeze Yer Buns Off Challenge. I didn’t sign up for it this year because I was on a blogging break for a while, but I joined it in spirit. I decided to see how long I could go into winter before caving in to the cold and turning on the central heating. 

October was warm, even for here, so it wasn’t until November that it began to get noticeably chilly in the house. We have a large gas fireplace in the living room and since we spend most of our time in that part of the house, I started turning it on (with ceiling fan) and seeing how long we could go with just that. We turn it off when it starts to get too hot. So far it’s worked out so well that I have barely used the central heating at all.

And truth be told, everyone in the family except ME doesn’t seem to mind the cold at all. The kids are usually naked or half-naked and quite happy. I’ve got wool slippers and lots of wool socks and sweaters, extra wool blankets on the bed. When they said it would get really cold at night I worried for the kids, but I worried for me more since they seem so much more cold-tolerant than I am. So I had them sleep with me and their warm bodies kept me quite cozy.

Even though we had “Snow-mageddon” this year, I only turned on the central heating a few times. Temps have been unseasonably cold, some nights threatening to drop to minus double digits (Celsius)! On those few nights I set the thermostat to 10 degrees (50 F), though I’m not sure it kicked in at all. Mostly I wanted to guarantee I didn’t wake up in the night freezing.

I’m so used to it now that I don’t even think about turning it on. I just put on more clothes, and if I get that sort of chill that won’t leave my bones, I just go sit in front of the fireplace for a while. Or do some housework, lol. I do confess, however, that after running in this damp, cold weather I have a nice, long, HOT shower. Mea culpa.

Now I’ve heard that gas fireplaces are not efficient heaters. But the point is to only heat that one room (the living area). The back end of the house, where the bedrooms are, stays quite cool. And it’s not on all the time. Someone also suggested to me that it uses less gas b/c it only aims to get a yellow flame, whereas furnaces use blue flames which require hotter temperatures. I have no idea, but my guess is that just heating one room of the house with a gas fireplace is going to be less energy-consumptive (and therefore less expensive) than heating the whole house with a furnace.

We get our bills through the landlord and pay every 3 months, so I’m not sure yet how much this practice has affected our heating bills. Also, we share with a guy in the basement suite and I am quite sure he isn’t making much effort to keep his heat down. Still, it will be an interesting experiment in finances. I figure if we can make it through this winter with barely using our central heating and just the fireplace, then we’ll be in great shape!

I’m sewing!

sewing-machineIt was several months ago that I excitedly took possession of an old hand-me-down sewing machine. After “test driving” it with some scraps of paper and finding it working perfectly, it sat for all this time waiting for me to find a project. That opportunity presented itself recently when I purchased a pair of pants that needed to be hemmed – usually I would send these to my mother, an excellent seamstress, but this time I decided to do it myself.

I also happened to finally get around to a thrift store expedition, from which I brought home 3 men’s flannel shirts ($5.99 each) to turn into cloth wipes. I cut them up into squares, not bothering to measure since I don’t really know what size I like best anyway, and because I am impatient, and because I wanted to use as much of the fabric as I could. 

scrapsreadyFor the last few days I have been happily sewing away whenever I get the chance, even treating myself to an old movie (The Apartment, 1960, staring a very young and beautiful Shirley McLean) one evening. The flood of memories this brought back was really lovely – my mother sewed throughout my whole childhood, and I had forgotten how many evenings were spent with her sewing while watching a movie on TV. Not only were the memories happy ones, but it felt extra special to be passing this scene on to my own children.

I had a few glitches to overcome. First, the bobbin winder didn’t work because the rubber ring that rubs against the main wheel had dried up and broken off. Determined not to be put off I wrapped a rubber band around it. I have to remove the cover plate and hold onto a few parts, but I can wind my bobbins and that’s all that matters!

I also had a frustrating first attempt when the stitches kept getting all tangled up. If I hadn’t used it when I first brought it home I’d have worried it was broken. After trying all sorts of variations on thread and bobbin tension I resorted to Googling the subject. Sure enough the advice was to check the needle to make sure it was inserted correctly. I double-checked and, even though I’d read the instructions, I’d still managed to put it in the wrong way! With another problem solved, I happily proceeded.

Since then I’ve broken a few needles but was finally able to head out yesterday and get some replacements (thank goodness the standard needle size hasn’t changed in the last 40 years!). The pants were successfully hemmed and I’m almost finished with my wipes. I used a wide zig-zag stitch and polyester thread since they will be washed frequently. Here’s a sneak preview:

wipes

I’m very happy to have learned another skill in the repertoire of self-sufficiency. I doubt I will take this hobby much farther than doing little projects like this one – I am far too impatient to properly measure things. (knitting a test gauge is usually done under self-imposed duress!). But it is still a very useful tool and, combined with the warm memories it provides of my own childhood, a priceless addition to my home.