Archive for March, 2011


It seems like everything here is…waiting…


We’re waiting for spring.  The snow is still thigh deep, and it seems we’ll never find enough dirt to plant a garden.


We’re waiting for the trees to leaf out, to see if we really have an apple tree here.


We’re waiting for the ground to thaw, so we can put in fences and think about horses, or cows, or goats.  Maybe a donkey.  Or a llama.


We’re waiting for things to dry out.  The drive to work is so muddy and slow.


We’re waiting for the chickens…all 50 of them…


We’re waiting for my mushroom growing kit, though the company won’t send it till the weather is better.


We’re waiting for possession on this house, all poised with hammers and crowbars to get going on the bathroom reno.


Bleh.  Patience has never been my forte…

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Last night, I wanted to wash my hair quickly before supper.  We still don’t have a working shower, here, so I drew a bath.  A full tub’s worth.  In the nine minutes I was actually using that full tub, I was thinking about why I had filled the tub right to the brim, despite knowing full well that I can get perfectly clean, hair and all, with less than 5 gallons of water.


So why the full tub?


The bathroom is cold.


It’s as simple as that.  I did not want to shiver and suffer while I washed my hair.  I ran it by Hubby, as he always takes long showers, with the water on full blast, as hot as he can stand.  He agreed that he would be way more likely to use a water-conserving shower head if he wouldn’t freeze when the water was off.  He won’t take baths because, as tall as he is, there are always bits sticking out of the water and getting chilled.


Note to self:  conserve water by designing a house with some way to warm the bathroom, to a relatively high temperature, separately from the rest of the house.

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On Driving.

A couple of people have asked – how far do I drive to work?  And how long until I quit and just stay on the farm?


Well, I am not really planning on quitting my job.  While I don’t always love it, it is challenging and occasionally rewarding.  I also really, really like having a stable, predictable income.  I can retire in 15 years with a decent pension, so that is sort of the time in my head that ‘quitting’ this job becomes a possibility.  We gotta finance the farm and the travel somehow…


As for the drive, it is not too bad.  We are around 40km from city limits, though it takes me about 30 minutes to get there, as over half of the drive is on gravel.  Then I have to drive through town (another 15 minutes or so).  A lot of my commute is through farmland and provincial forest, and is quite scenic:




It sure beats spending 45 minutes (or more) stuck in city traffic.  I had a 30 minute commute when I lived in London, UK, and it felt waaaayyyy longer than this drive does, except for those stormy days, when it takes me almost an hour to get into town.  Most mornings, the only other traffic I encounter (until I hit town, at least) is the school bus, and the driver even waves at me, now!  I spend my commute listening to podcasts on things like permaculture and organic gardening and social responsibility, so I even feel like it is productive time.


Now, I know a 45 km commute is not really sustainable,  and that it is rather at odds with wanting off the mainstream – consumerist treadmill.  Unfortunately, that was the trade-off for being able to live on an acreage, and being able to plant trees, get chickens, and such.  On the bright side, there is only one of us driving, now (instead of both), and my total commute is under half of what our combined commutes were when we lived in Alberta.  So, overall, I guess we’re getting somewhat better, though it’s still no excuse.  One day, our goal is to have the farm meeting our financial needs.  In the meantime, though, somebody has to pay for the mortgage, and the chickens, and the trees…you get the picture…

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Shoveling snow is not generally my favorite activity.  In fact, at the house in Alberta, my usual solution to snowfall was to drive in and out of the driveway a couple dozen times, until it was nicely packed down.  It worked for all the years I lived there!


On the acreage, however, it does not work quite like that.  As little as half an inch of snow, or even no snow at all, seems to turn into a knee-deep drift in only a few hours, if the wind is brisk.  This morning, after what would have amounted to a little skiff of snow in town, I had to take a real run at the driveway to get out.  Then, after almost hitting the ditch four times in a mile and a half, I turned around and came home again.


I am not sure how long the driveway really is, maybe twice as long as a city block, but I can attest that it seems to be about fifteen miles when you are trying to clear knee-deep drifts out of it with a scoop shovel.   It would be easier with a proper shovel, but Hubby managed to break the other one, the last time it snowed.  It is also pretty disheartening to finally get to the end of the drifts, only to have the snowplow swoosh past and deposit another foot or so across the mouth of the driveway.


This would be somewhat easier to cope with if we had a 4×4 truck, instead of an ancient Corolla and a Saturn sportscar.  I see a major vehicle purchase in our near future…

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Waste.  Garbage.  Trash.


We generate quite a lot of it, especially with moving.  Unfortunately, out here in the country, there’s nobody who comes and picks up your garbage, and there’s bags beginning to pile up, here.  You have to haul your own to the dump, and I’m not even sure where the dump is, just yet.  I don’t relish the thought of taking drippy smelly bags to the dump in the trunk of the Saturn, either.  Eventually, I think we are going to need a truck.


We’re normally pretty good about garbage.  We recycle the recyclables, and generally avoid buying stuff that is over-packaged…in fact, we generally avoid buying stuff at all.  However, the junk mail seems to be accumulating in our mailbox, and there is a lot of plastic packaging from the things we’ve had to buy for the acreage, like the new fridge, and the shower head and the toilet repair stuff.  This is going to get worse, too, with all the renovations we have planned.  There are also a ton of boxes in our basement, and newspaper we used for some of the fragile things.  The kitty litter still needs scooping.  We’re still eating, which generates its own waste, as well.


So what do you do?


Well, as I said before, we’re going to continue recycling the things that we can.  We’ll have to store the cans and bottles and plastic in a shed or the basement, until there is enough to warrant a trip to the recycle bins in town.  Hopefully, as we preserve more of our own food in glass jars, we’ll generate fewer tin cans to have to deal with.  The paper, we’re not so sure about…it is bulky, and heavy, and builds up fast.  We are considering doing what the neighbors do, and running a burning barrel.  I am not sure what’s worse for the environment – burning the paper, or using the gas to haul it into town for recycling.  We might also use it for mulching the garden, but I’d want to know what’s in the paper and dyes before getting too excited about that.  I plan to talk to the mailman about getting our junk mail stopped.  It worked well in Alberta…hopefully they’re amenable to the same idea here.


The boxes – those we’ll save for the next move.


The food waste – this can mostly be composted, or fed to the dogs (who love it, I might add), or, once we get them, to the chickens.  We need an enclosed compost bin, though, stat – there is enough wildlife here that I don’t want to have any food scraps just laying around.  Skunks, in particular, are a real nuisance, and I do not want them thinking of our yard as a good place to hang out.  Especially with the dogs.


The kitty litter is going to be a bit of a challenge.  We can’t just toss the cats outside to do their business – the eldest has been an indoor cat for 16 years, now, and is too old and arthritic to be putting outdoors.  Even the ‘kittens’ are over 3, and also have no outdoor survival instincts.  Not only is our area rural, but we are only a mile from a river, with provincial forest on the other side, and about 5 miles from another provincial forest.  There is a lot of wildlife, here, and the local coyotes and hawks would make quick work of our little 5-pound kittens.  We’re trying to switch from a clay-based litter which does not break down well, to a wheat- or corn- based litter, which could at least be reasonably composed and placed around non-food plants for fertilizer.  Of course, the eldest cat is resisting the switch, even though I have been mixing in only a little corn litter at a time, and started peeing beside the litter box once the corn litter exceeded 50%.  We’ve cut back, and are going more slowly, but we sure hope he’ll transition over.  Kitty litter is probably our largest source of waste, by weight and by volume.


That mostly leaves non-recyclable plastic.  Non-recyclable plastic includes things like saran wrap, ziplocs, empty deodorant tubes, shampoo bottles, and toothpaste containers, as well as the little baggies that the beans and lentils and rice come in.   The food bags, we try to avoid by buying in bulk.  This was difficult to manage even in Alberta, though, as most places don’t sell bulk, and the ones that do, want you to buy some ridiculous minimum order like ten bushels or something.  It was also hard trying to find all of the different things we wanted, like navy beans, or rye flour, or whatever.  Sugar, rice, and flour were easy, and everything else turned out to be a real pain in the neck.  We had a Mormon friend who helped us out in Alberta…maybe we can make some contacts here, as well.


Ziplocs, we wash out and re-use until they spring leaks and can’t be used anymore.  I used to hate washing them out as a kid, and now I am turning into my Mom!  Hubby still hates washing them, but will do it, even if he grumbles the whole time.  Saran wrap, we use so rarely, it isn’t really an issue.  I am stumped with the personal hygiene plastic, though.  It’s not like I can quit using toothpaste and deodorant.


There is a lady named Beth Terry who is living almost completely plastic-free, and I have borrowed some of her tricks over the years.  I really admire her tenacity in finding alternatives to plastic, and hope to eventually get there, ourselves.  Once you have gotten the proverbial low-hanging fruit (like using fabric shopping bags), however, it seems to get complicated, time-consuming, and expensive to find no-plastic alternatives, and time and money are both really precious resources right now.  While I don’t like going with the flow, we may just have to live with just tossing some of this stuff, for now…

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Well, the cistern emptied out a whole lot faster than I expected, suggesting that either a) there was a lot less water in there than I thought, or b) we are a lot more wasteful than I thought.  I sure hope it was a), or the adjustments will be painful.


I had not really thought about it in a while, but when the hum of the pump sounded deeper and labored, it occurred to us to take a quick peek.  A visual check was not enough to figure out how much water was in there, as I could not tell if the blotches waaaayyyy down there were mold clumps, or the bottom of the tank.  We got creative, and lowered a weighted string down the access hole, only to discover that there are approximately two inches left in the bottom of the tank.


Not knowing if our pump has an automatic low-pressure switch-off, we shut her down.  Hubby grabbed the buckets, and we started melting snow…again.  Good thing we have lots!


I called the cleaning guy, who sounds like a real good guy, and figured he could fit us in tomorrow afternoon…if it doesn’t snow too much – there is a heavy snowfall warning for tonight, and who knows what the driveway will look like if there is any wind at all.  I also called the water guy, just in case the cleaners are able to make it out, and he figured he could swing by on Saturday afternoon, as long as the cleaning guys have done their thing.  Problem (somewhat) solved, as long as the weather co-operates…

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With the recession, Hubby really did not work much for a good chunk of the last couple of years in Alberta, so we got used to not relying on his income – it was decidedly unreliable.  When we moved to Saskatchewan, we decided that hubby’s job would be renovating the house, fixing up the landscaping, and managing the garden and animals – if we can turn a bit of a profit when we sell, we will call that his wage…lump sum, rather than monthly.  In the meantime, I can claim him as a dependent for taxes, which should actually make quite a difference for us.  In the meantime, while we are waiting for gardening weather, as well as actual possession on the acreage, Hubby has been a House Husband.


I love it.


I get up in the morning, and the coffee is ready.  The cats have been fed, and the dogs let out for a pee.  He even starts the car for me.


In the evening, I come home from work, and the floors have been vacuumed, or the kitchen mopped, or more moving boxes unpacked.  Laundry is clean and folded.  The dishes are done.  Supper is on the table, or nearly so.   And, I must say, Hubby is a good cook, and getting even better.


The dogs love having someone home all the time.  Hubby is happy, working for us, rather than someone else.  He’s enjoying the ‘vacation’ from hard physical labor, day in and day out.


When we were both working, we split the chores, and were both tired and grumpy and doing half-assed jobs of things.  We ate out more than we should have.  We felt like there was never any reprieve, that there were always dirty dishes in the sink.  Since moving, I’ve eaten a hot, home-cooked-from-scratch meal every night.  Boiled eggs or yogurt or oatmeal for breakfast, and packaged leftovers for lunch.   With no chores to do except hauling my sorry butt into town and putting in my 8 hours, I am less stressed, which makes all of us more happy.


Financially, we’re pretty sure we can make this work.  Granted, things will probably be tight at times, but we’ll be spending less money at restaurants, and, eventually, growing some or most of our food.  Less on shopping and entertainment, too, since we really don’t go into town.   I make a decent living, and we’ve lived without Hubby’s income on and off for months at a stretch.  We’ve always both been pretty frugal, and we don’t have car payments or anything like that.  The mortgage is about the same as rent in Alberta was, even with insurance included, so it’ll be manageable.  We’ve always set aside a portion of our income into savings, and we can pull from that a little, if we have to.   It will be better once we clear off the last of the student loans, but it’s do-able now, we hope.


We’ll see how much housework really gets done once Hubby is also managing renos and chickens and a garden, but really, this has been heavenly.  I don’t understand why more people don’t live like this.  House Husbands – everyone should have one!

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Well, the move was the usual disaster, in -35, with three howling cats, and a truck that was ever so slightly too small for all of our things.  However, we got here, marriage intact and sanity mostly so, sans bicycles and barbeque.  We were glad for the end of that drive, though, I must say.


We got to the acreage, let ourselves in, and switched on the kitchen light.  Nothing.  Hmm.  Grabbed the flashlight and tried to turn on the tap on the sink.  Nothing.  Grr.  Tried light switches all over the house, and established that the last folks had taken all of the lightbulbs except for the one in the hallway and one in a bedroom.  In addition, there was a shiny new pump beside the cistern, but it wasn’t running.  Too tired to fight with these things, we wrestled the mattress out of the truck, dragged it to a bedroom, and crashed for the night.


The next day, Friday, the neighbours / owners / landlords popped by at about noon, to help us unload the truck.  I don’t think they realized what they had signed up for.  We worked them hard moving in all of the books and appliances until the truck was three-quarters done, then fed them a cup of coffee and sent them on their way with jars of jam and pickles.  We mentioned that the water pump was off, and one fellow piped up that they had not turned it on, as there was not enough water in the cistern.  I thought that was odd, but figured he knew better.  It was too late to order a water truck, but I resolved to call someone in the morning.  In the meantime, we started hauling in buckets of snow, to melt in order to flush the toilet and such – luckily we brought several large containers of drinking water with us in the move.


By the way, ten gallons of hard packed snow melts down into about half a toilet flush.  The melting takes about half an hour in to big pots with the stove on max.  Even letting the yellow mellow, we spent about two hours a day melting enough water for flushing alone.  Then there was the water for doing dishes, the stuff for boiling eggs and pasta, water for washing us, and the stuff for the dogs to drink.  All in all, that stove was running almost constantly while we were awake, melting water.  Outside the drinking water, I think we were using at least 15 gallons per day.  That’s a lot of melting.


Anyhow, on Saturday, I called the water guy, and relayed what the owners had told me about the cistern being too empty.  He knew our place, and immediately asked what had happened to the half a truck of water he dumped in a few weeks back.  I told him that, as far as I knew, it was still there.  He laughed and told me to go start up the pump.  I laughed and asked him how.  After being verbally walked through the basics of pump priming and operation, I went down and fired her up.


The pump worked fine, but the heavy leak dripping steadily onto the pump’s electrical box was a bit of a problem.


We shut the pump down, and called the owners / landlords again, to say that someone needed to come over and fix the leaky pipe so that we could flush the toilet.  Instead, they showed up with a five gallon bucket of water, and promised to call the plumber on Monday.


On Wednesday, the plumber actually showed up.  He fixed a number of things, but neglected to try flushing the toilet or running the shower.  We were delighted to have running water at the sink tap, and did not check that everything worked.  Which was quite unfortunate.


After everyone had gone, I flushed the toilet, and more than half the tank water ran out the back and onto the floor.  Then, after cleaning up the mess, I went to have a nice, long, hot shower, but that was also a bust, as the lever to run the tap into the shower did not work properly, and no water would come out of the shower head.  In the meantime, we’ve been using the bathroom by the light of the oil lamp, as somebody broke a bulb in the bathroom light fixture, and it was so corroded in there that attempts to pry it our just broke the fixture.


Oh, and we don’t have a fridge, either, as the opening in the cupboard is too small for a standard unit, and the cupboards were built in such a way that we can’t just remove one unit.   With no internet, no truck, and no time to phone around to try and find a model that might fit, we have been putting our cream and such in rubbermaid containers in the mudroom, which is cool anyhow, and balancing buckets of snow on top of the food.  It has worked fairly well, actually.


The internet guy came today and hooked us all up, so, perversely, we had high speed internet before we had a flushing toilet in this house.  Go figure.


Tonight, I stopped by the hardware store, picked up a $3 gasket, and fixed the toilet.  Thank goodness I’m a little handy.  If only the shower were so easy, but apparently the taps we have will be a special-order item.  The light fixture will be a weekend project, as we’ll need daylight to deal with it, and I am back to work, now, leaving before dawn and coming home not long before dusk.  The fridge, actually, can wait, as the current system is working fine.


All in all, we do love this house, but we can’t wait until we get actual possession so we can start fixing her up…

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