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January 30, 2007

I Love Craigslist!

As you probably know, we're trying to renovate our house on the cheap, reusing materials and doing it as "green" as possible - Craigslist has been an integral part of that. So far we've found the perfect set of cabinets for our kitchen, our lovely new (to us) wood stove, a low flush toilet, a cabinet for our living room, a cozy chair for sitting by the fire, and this weekend brought us one of the best deals of all - a new fridge!
Our appliances were put into the kitchen when it was last renovated in 1971. The oven won't accept a regular sized cookie sheet and swings between 75 and 200 degrees over what it's supposed to be. The fridge was a small 11 cu. ft. model with a door that didn't seal properly, and a shelf that spilled its contents all over the floor if the door was pulled open too quickly. This in addition to the fact that despite its small size, it used 2-3 times more electricity to run than a modern fridge twice as big.

Long story short, we needed a new one and were lucky enough to find this year and a half old refrigerator on Craigslist for $50! Why was it so cheap, you ask? I'm not exactly sure. The fridge handle was broken, but a quick call to the company got us a new one for free under warranty. It was very clean and looked like it had hardly been used, but apparently it didn't fit into their new kitchen and they wanted it out, which was very fortuitous for us.
You can see in the photo that with 18 cu. ft. of storage at our disposal, the fridge is still pretty packed, but we're loving the extra space (well, chances are it's only me, but that's enough)!

Edited on February 4/2007 to add: In light of the other great refrigerator photos that I've seen with detailed descriptions of their contents (see this post if you don't know what I'm talking about), I thought I'd add a little more about the contents of our fridge here (for those of you who have stuck with the topic this long!) instead of posting the photo a second time.
The top shelf holds the requisite apple juice and milk (for the kids), a carton of buttermilk that my mom gave me to use up when she left for 2 weeks of holiday, a pitcher of homemade soy milk (in the very middle), a half jar of blueberry apple sauce, my favorite Bragg's Liquid aminos (which I use like regular soy sauce), and a bouquet of cilantro (my favorite way of keeping it fresh is in a glass of water with a plastic bag over top - it keeps for weeks).
Lower down, there's pumpkin puree thawing for a batch of pumpkin chocolate chip muffins that a friend recently gave me the recipe for, leftover creamy corn chowder that I made for lunch the other day, and Dijon mustard for vinaigrette.
The lower shelf holds assorted jars of jam, peanut/hemp seed butter, and kalamata olives (for pasta Puttanesca). The mixed bean sprouts and feta cheese go in very our favorite salad. In the top drawer, there's Jerseyland organic parmesan cheese, Gimme Lean "sausage style" (great for veggie "meatballs"), and Yves veggie ground round.
Seriously lacking at the time this photo was taken are fruits and veggies, which is because it was snapped the day before our grocery delivery arrived, and most of our fruit these days comes from the 60 or so pounds of apples that we have left stored in the garage from this fall.

There, now you know way more about our eating habits than you probably ever wanted to!   : )

January 28, 2007

A wee bit of gardening, and popcorn.

Today was a beautiful, sunny day and I found myself with a bad case of spring fever - getting out into the garden was the only way of dealing with that.
I planted out some Jerusalem Artichokes, transplanted my Arctic Beauty kiwis from the back yard onto the arbor in the front, and moved one of my blueberry plants to a more spacious spot.
Later, I headed to a nearby thrift shop to look for some pants for the kids. I found a pair of track pants for Jay to wear to his gymnastics class, and Bee got a pair of jeans and a cute pair of cords.
I wasn't intending to buy anything else, but what should I spy on the shelf as I'm about to leave, but a popcorn maker of the type I've been pining for for years. It just so happens that our hot air popper fell out of the cupboard and broke last week, and this one was $3.99, (a far cry from the $45 or more that they go for new) - how could I resist?

These wonderful popcorn pots have a crank on the handle that turns a little stirring mechanism inside, which keeps the kernels from sticking and helps them pop evenly. I was a little worried that the popcorn would burn because the pot is made of such thin aluminum, but we made a batch this evening and it turns out those fears were totally unfounded.

The kids loved turning the handle and taking peeks to see if it had started popping, and within just a few minutes we had a pot full of the most delicious popcorn I've had in a long time.

We were already big fans of this amazing snack food, but I can see this becoming a bit of a problem.

I'm having a hard time keeping up with everything lately, so I apologize in advance for not responding to your comments right away. I hope to get caught up soon!

January 27, 2007

Swedish Chocolate Balls

A very good friend of mine came to town recently for a visit (they've left the city, but still come here occasionally for dentist appointments, etc.). She's Swedish and therefore had to do the mandatory Ikea trip while she was here, so I agreed to meet her there for lunch.

I managed to spend the entire afternoon there without buying a single thing (other than my lunch), but my friend made me try a " Swedish Chocolate Ball", and I'm beginning to regret ever having tasted one. They are the most delicious chocolatey confections which Swedes apparently enjoy with their afternoon coffee.

I really do not want to be driving to Ikea every time I get a craving for one of these things. Thankfully, a few minutes on Google turned up several recipes for them, and today I tried this one. I pulverized everything in the food processor to make them more like the one I had, which worked really well.

They taste a little bit like the chocolate haystacks that my mom used to make when I was a kid, but with a hint of coffee flavor. I think the ones at Ikea had a lot more butter in them than the ones I made (more like ganache rolled with finely ground oatmeal and coconut), but less fat is probably a good thing.

In other news, the wood stove seems to be a hit with the four legged members of the family.


Enjoy the rest of your weekend!

January 25, 2007

Wood Stove Love

The wood stove is finally in! It was a lot more work than we anticipated, though we shouldn't really be surprised by that anymore.
The biggest part of the installation was removing a row of bricks from the surround so it would fit inside our existing fireplace (I was cleaning up brick dust for a week!). We also had to wait for several weeks for the right parts to come in (shorter feet to help make it fit the space, and a custom made flue adapter).

My stubborn husband was so determined to get it installed last night, that after cutting the old damper out, and struggling with getting the liner around a curve in the chimney and into the top of the stove, he headed up on to the roof at 12:30 (a.m. - I'm surprised the neighbors didn't call the police) to put the cap on the flue liner.

I have to admit that sitting by the fire tonight made up for being awake until almost 2:00 in the morning.

Jotul makes gorgeous, efficient wood stoves, and I love that they're made from recycled iron. With the crazy weather that we've been having this winter, at least now we can be sure that we won't freeze if the power goes out. Temperatures are supposed to go down below freezing again for the next few days, so it looks like it will be getting lots of use.

Better go buy some marshmallows!

January 23, 2007

All sewn up.

We had a nice, relatively quiet weekend (our weekend is Sunday/Monday), puttering and getting a few things done around the house. I pruned the fruit trees that needed pruning (we put in one each of apple, apricot, pear, cherry, peach, plum and fig trees last year), made a batch of Honey Whole Wheat bread, picked out the paint colour for the kitchen cabinets, and did lots of reading, while my husband worked a bit more on getting the wood stove in (I'm picking up the final part this afternoon), and rescued the last of the leaded glass windows from the house that's being demolished nearby (it actually came down yesterday).
I also flipped through the latest issue of Ottobre Design, which is a gorgeous sewing magazine published in Finland. Each issue has approximately 40 patterns for children's clothes included inside, and the clothes are amazing!
I learned how to sew at my mother's side as a kid (making myself a pair of jeans and a bathing suit, among other things), but I haven't done a lot of sewing in recent years. But I've been finding it hard to find nice clothes for my daughter as she gets older (a lot of clothes for girls over 10 seem to get increasingly trampy as the years go by), so I'd like to start sewing her clothes.


There are lots of great things to make: aprons, hats, coats, mittens...

...as well as underwear, pajamas, and lots of fun costumes.


The patterns are cute and trendy without being needlessly revealing.

I'm hoping that the magazine will be a source of unique gift ideas for my niece and nephew as well (assuming that I have my wits about me enough to start sewing ahead of time).

The company also publishes two issues a year that focus on women's clothes. I haven't had a chance to look at one yet, but I'm excited about that too!


January 20, 2007

Biscuits in the Oven, Gonna Watch 'Em Rise

I can't make biscuits without singing a song by our favorite children's singer (Raffi) called Biscuits in the Oven. It's a catchy tune that makes biscuit making a lot more fun.


I've got lots of recipes for scones and fancy biscuits, but sometimes simpler is better. This recipe is for plain old baking powder biscuits, which are cheap and easy to make, and they're equally delicious with jam or butter, alongside a cup of tea, or a steaming bowl of soup.



Baking Powder Biscuits (from Mollie Katzen's Still Life With Menu):
  • 3 cups unbleached white flour (I've used half whole wheat pastry flour with good results)
  • a scant 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons cold butter (I also use Earth Balance spread)
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk, yogurt, or sour milk (3/4 cup milk with 1 1/2 tsp. vinegar added)
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place dry ingredients in a bowl or a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Cut in the butter - either in thin slices or small pieces. Process (or, if using a bowl, cut with a pastry cutter or with two forks) until the butter pieces are uniformly integrated and the mixture has the texture of coarse meal. Add the buttermilk, yogurt, or sour milk and process or mix for a few seconds, or until the dough holds together. Turn out and knead briefly. Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness for smaller biscuits, or to 1/2 or 3/4 thickness for heftier ones. Cut with a glass that has a 2 to 2 1/2 inch rim (or you can use a round cookie cutter). Arrange fairly close toether on the lightly greased baking sheet. Bake in the middle of a 450 degree oven for 10 to 12 minutes (thinner ones) or for 12 to 15 minutes (thicker ones).

There's something so comforting about warming the house on a cold winter morning with a hot oven and the smell of baking biscuits.

January 18, 2007

Seed Order

I finally sat down and sorted my seeds out today, deciding what I need to order more of, what I'm going to sacrifice to free up some space in the garden, and what kinds of new things I'd like to try this year. I've been perusing my assorted seed catalogues for a few weeks now, but today was the day that I had to sort all of those impulse "Ooh, I wanna grow that!"'s, from the things that will actually work with our climate and my future food preservation plans.

I've got several old and new favorites that I'm sticking with (Broccoli Raab, storage onions, Delicata squash, Juliet tomatoes), and many new ones that I'm dying to try. This is going to be the year of the tomato in our garden. I've been so pleased with the salsa and ketchup that I made last summer, as well as the few jars of canned tomatoes that we got, that I really want to try a some new kinds and dedicate a larger portion of the garden to this luscious fruit. Maybe it's just that it's January and I haven't had a fresh tomato in months, but I went a little crazy and ordered way more than I planned to.


Baxter making sure that I don't forget to order the catnip.

So here's the damage as it stands:
Baker Creek Seeds:
  • Envy soybeans (for edamame)
  • Snow's Fancy pickling cucumbers (we're getting low on pickles)
  • Laxton's Progress peas
  • Aconcagua peppers ( this is the variety Farmgirl recommends)
  • Winter Luxury pie pumpkin
  • Green Zebra green tomatoes (fresh eating)
  • Orange Banana tomatoes (salsa, ketchup, paste)
  • German Red Strawberry tomatoes (fresh eating, sauce, canning)
  • Hughs yellow tomatoes (fresh eating)
  • Amber Globe turnips
  • Blacktail Mountain watermelon

  • Eden's Gem melon
Seed Savers Exchange:

  • Speckled Roman tomatoes (canning, paste, sauce, ketchup)

Territorial Seeds:
  • Gonzales cabbage
  • Mokum carrots
  • Nelson carrots
  • Micro Greens lettuce mix
  • Perfection fennel
  • Cobham Improved Marrow parsnips
  • Miniature Bell peppers (for the kids to eat as snacks)
  • Kabocha Gold Nugget squash (for storing)
  • Beaverlodge Plum tomatoes (fresh eating, canning)
  • Tiffen Mennonite tomatoes (fresh eating)
  • Sun Gold tomatoes
West Coast Seeds:
  • Sorrento broccoli raab
  • Lemon cukes
  • Dusky eggplants
  • Copra onions
  • Galena peas
  • Gold Rush zucchini
  • Yellow Doll watermelon
  • Golden beets
Okay, so I've obviously overdone it a bit, but I want to have a variety of tomatoes in different sizes and colours, so I'll probably do one plant of each for all but the paste and canning tomatoes (I didn't have nearly enough of those last year). I'm hoping this will keep us in toasted tomato sandwiches and tomato bocconcini salads all summer long.
Has anyone tried the red plastic mulch that's out there for tomato growing? I don't like the idea of all that plastic, but it's supposed to increase yields by up to 20%, and with a small garden like mine, that's not nothin'.

What is it with cats, anyway?

January 17, 2007

Local Lovelies - The Naam

I'm a real creature of habit. Once I find something that I like, it takes a lot to get me to try something new (why risk being disappointed?). My absolute favorite local vegetarian restaurant (perhaps even my favorite Vancouver restaurant, period) is the Naam.

It's furnished with well worn, mismatched furniture, there's a wood stove tucked into one corner, and the walls are adorned with art done by local artists. It's warm and inviting, and feels like the cozy home of a good friend. Outside there's a great little courtyard with sculptures, trees, and grape covered arbors. The restaurant has been here since the 60's, and they're open 24 hours a day!

Food at the Naam is hearty and satisfying any time of day, but the reason we go there is for the breakfast. Since we home school and my husband has Mondays off, we can go during the week and take advantage of their great breakfast deals - in fact, this is one of the only ways we can justify eating out - a $4 meal is much easier to rationalize than a $10 one, and going out for breakfast feels like more of a treat than any other meal out. Our favorite breakfast specials include organic pancakes with eggs and veggie sausages (the best I've ever had); pancakes with blueberry sauce and whipped cream; the Mexican omelet with black bean chili, salsa, guacamole, and sour cream; and my personal favorite, the Croissantwich.

A Croissantwich consists of a toasted whole wheat croissant, sliced in half and topped with scrambled eggs, chopped sausage, and melted cheese. On the side you get fruit salad, homefries, and miso gravy (as well as a great cup of coffee).
Miso gravy is their signature sauce which you can now buy in bottles in many Vancouver stores. It's tangy and rich and is great on fries, potatoes, rice, noodles, stir fries - almost anything you can think of! My kids won't eat rice with anything else.

The Naam is a place that's become a part of the landscape of my life with my husband. We went there when we were dating, and we still take our kids there on a regular basis.
There was a waiter who worked in our favorite restaurant in Victoria (the city where we went to university). He later got a job at another of our favorite haunts. Imagine our surprise a couple of years later when we were at the Naam with our new baby, and there he was waiting tables! He hasn't worked there in years, but earlier this fall while we were there (for breakfast of course) he came in, and was just as surprised to see us as after all these years as we were to see him. I really should have asked him where he's working now, as I'm sure it would have led us to a new favorite hang out.

Is there a favorite restaurant that features heavily in your family's history?



January 14, 2007

Where have our farmers gone?

Sharon from over at Casaubon's Book has written a great article about the importance of farmers and locally produced food. Here's an excerpt:

Wendell Berry points out that what we’ve done to our rural communities over the last 100 years is a form of colonialism. Colonialism, as we all know, is the subjugation of a people for the purpose of extracting their wealth from them. And the very first project of colonialism, as Edward Said points out, is to devalue everything the colonized person knows and believes, and to replace it with the culture of the colonizer, so that when you debase and humiliate and destroy the colonized person, rape his land and take its riches, they’ll believe you are doing it for their own good. Could there be a better way of describing what has happened to millions of farmers over the last 100 years? They’ve been told they were hicks and rednecks, that their profound knowledge of their craft and their place was less valuable than professionalized knowledge coming out of agricultural colleges and cities, and their children were encouraged to have contempt for their parents‘s knowledge and to leave for the cities as soon as possible. We told the children of farmers that what people in cities had was knowledge, and what they had was ignorance. Their forests were logged, their minerals mined, their soil stripped, their economies destroyed, families broken apart and towns converted into bedroom suburbs.

This part really struck a chord with me, as it's an attitude I've encountered a lot living in the city. Of course, I might be more aware of it because I long to return to my "redneck" roots. :D

You can read the rest of the article here.


January 12, 2007

Adventures in line drying, continued.

Since our dryer quit a few weeks ago, we've been getting along just fine without it, though my darling husband would never willingly admit that. He just shook his head at the sight of the laundry hanging out in the snow when he came home the other day. He can't understand how I can honestly believe that laundry will dry when the temperature outside is -6 degrees celcius (20 F?). I'm here to tell you that it will.

Granted, it doesn't dry within an hour like it will in August, but that is definitely steam coming off of that gray t-shirt (towards the middle of the "V"). I left them out for a day and 1/2 because I didn't get them out there until the afternoon (they froze stiff as boards overnight), but by this afternoon they were pretty much dry.

A second load is hanging inside on our brand new Ecodri rack (our final pre-Compact purchase which just arrived yesterday). It's hanging in the laundry room over the washing machine, and I think it's going to be great. Hubby grumbled a bit about the cost, but when you consider that we won't ever have to buy, service, or pay for the electicity to run another dryer, $100 seems like a pretty good investment.

As much as he likes to tease me for subjecting him to my crunchy lifestyle, he (not so) secretly enjoys it. I know there's a crunchy guy in there that's crying to get out, and I'm more than happy to help!

January 11, 2007

Patience pays off!

If you've been reading for awhile, you'll know that we've been looking for a set of used kitchen cabinets to use in our kitchen renovation for quite some time. Twice we thought we'd found some, but both times they ended up being sold to someone else. You'd be suprised how many people out there are looking for second hand cabinets. It's wonderful that so many of them are being reused instead of going to the dump, but it can be frustrating when you find yourself being outbid repeatedly. The ones that we ended up buying were initially listed as being free, but there was so much interest in them that a bidding war broke out. We were happy to pay for them though - we ended up getting a great kitchen for $250 dollars instead of $5000 or more.
The best thing is, the layout is exactly what we were planning to do, and it's is even exactly the right size. Monica, you don't know how right you were when you said that the other ones didn't work out because something better was coming along!
The cabinets are solid oak with panelled doors. A little dated perhaps, but we're going to sand them, paint them white, and change the hardware. We did that to similar cabinets in our old apartment and the transformation was amazing.
I'm thrilled that we've been able to stick to the Compact guidelines for a major part of this renovation. It was starting to look like it might be too much to expect, finding good, used cabinets that would fit into our small space.
It's going to be a lot of work (there's a wall to remove in the process), but I can't wait!

January 10, 2007

Apple Dip

If you have kids, you need this recipe. Actually, scratch that, I don't think I've met anyone who doesn't love this stuff, it's a hit with kids and adults alike.
Apple dip is a cream cheese based concoction that tastes just like caramel sauce. It's so creamy and delicious that you feel like you're being really indulgent and bad when you're really not.

Okay, so it does have quite a bit of brown sugar in it, but it's also packed with calcium and protein, and considering the amount of apple slices you'll devour scooping it up, it ends up being a fairly healthy snack. It's quick and easy to whip up, and I've found that light cream cheese works just as well or better than regular.

Apple Dip (from Allrecipes.com) :

  • 1 cup cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla (it sounds like a lot, but it's right)

Stir everything together until smooth. After it's sat for a couple of minutes (and the brown sugar has dissolved into the cream cheese), stir it again.

Serve with lots of sliced apples.

January 09, 2007

Lucky Number 14

We got blasted by another wicked windstorm today, the fourteenth so far this winter (previously, we might have seen two during a normal winter). The kids and the dog had a ball running around in the wind, but the poor birds were battered.

We drove past a local park during the storm's peak, and there were hundreds of crows (I couldn't capture their numbers in one photo) being blown about. Some were tumbling through the air, and others were hunched flat to the ground trying to avoid the gusts. A couple of them lost their battle with the wind.
To top it all off, the temperature suddenly dropped by about 8 degrees, and snow started falling (well, if you consider blowing straight sideways falling).

Dozens more trees were blown down in Stanley Park. Fortunately, over a million dollars have already been raised to help replant and restore what was lost.

A friend sent me this photo of her husband and brother (both well over 6 feet tall) standing in front of one of the root balls that they came across while in the park the other day.

I'll stop talking about the weather soon, I promise.

As an aside, Little Mosque in the Prairie (see the previous post) was hilarious. Think Northern Exposure with a Muslim perspective.


Little Mosque on the Prairie

I'm really excited about a new show that's premiering on CBC tonight called Little Mosque on the Prairie. It's written by Zarqa Nawaz, a Muslim woman who was raised in Toronto and moved to Saskatchewan (one of Canada's three prairie provinces) 10 years ago. The show is intended to be a humorous portrayal of a Muslim family's life in rural Canada, and though its purpose is not political, it will hopefully create some awareness while making us laugh.
The first episode airs tonight at 8:30 in Canada. I have no idea if it will be broadcast in the US, but you can click on the above link to learn more and to watch some clips.

January 08, 2007

Climate Changes

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I watched An Inconvenient Truth over the holidays. Having read a fair amount on climate change already, most of the information didn't come as a real surprise to me, but it did discuss a couple of things that really shocked me.
One of the most alarming things that the film talks about is the break up of the Larsen B ice shelf, a 3250 square kilometre chunk of ice in Antarctica. Scientists once believed that, even taking global warming into account, the Larsen B shelf would take about 100 years to melt, but in 2002 it broke up and slipped into the ocean in just over a month. The day after I watched the movie, there were reports on the news about the break-up of the Ayles ice shelf in the Arctic region of Canada. This is very scary to me, as these things seem to happen very quickly, much faster than anyone previously thought, and these events will be the main factor behind the rise of sea levels.
Arctic ice also serves to reflect the sun's radiation back into the atmosphere, keeping things a little cooler here on earth (especially in the summer in the northern hemisphere, when the earth is tilted toward the sun). Snow reflects up to 90% of the sun's radiation, whereas water and bare soil have the potential to absorb up to 90% of the radiation that it hits it. The more snow and ice we lose to global warming, the faster things are going to heat up.

The movie does well to dispel the myth that current warming trends are a result of normal climatic swings that have occurred over the course of the earth's history.

Graph from Mongabay.com

This graph is not exactly like the one in the movie, but it shows the same basic trend (present day is on the left). Carbon dioxide levels during the periods between the Ice Ages and the warmer cycles would typically swing from just under 200 ppmv during an Ice Age, to around 300 ppmv during a warm cycle, but never had CO2 levels gone much above three hundred (that is, until about the mid 1960's). As you can see from the graph, levels are now at almost 400 ppmv.

What this chart doesn't show that the one in the movie did was the relationship between global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels - there was an almost exact correlation (when CO2 levels went up, temperatures went up, and vice versa). If 100 ppmv can mean the difference between an ice age and a warm period, what kinds of temperatures can we expect in the future? CO2 levels continue to rise at a consistent rate every year, so it's inevitable that our temperatures will too.


The above graph is called the Keeling Curve, which shows atmospheric CO2 levels since 1958. Levels wax and wane throughout the year in relation to winter and summer cycles - CO2 goes down when it's summer in the northern hemisphere and there are more plants to absorb it, and it goes up in the winter when plant life goes dormant and the trees lose their leaves. The problem is, each year the levels never go down quite as far as they were the year before, causing the levels to gradually creep upward. If this trend is projected into the future, levels of this greenhouse gas are expected to double over normal levels to almost 600 ppmv. That scares me to death, but it also give me hope. If the change of seasons can have such an immediate effect on CO2 levels, then imagine what we can do if we stop putting it out there in the first place

So what am I going to do about it? We've been making efforts to reduce our impact for a long time now, but the more I learn about it (and the more we get pummelled by wild weather), the more hard-core I find myself becoming.

Here are some of the things we've done so far:

  • Bought a fuel efficient car (a Toyota Echo) several years ago. Its mileage is similar to some of the hybrids out there but the sticker price is much lower.
  • Our lovely fuel efficient car remains parked most of the time (making me wonder why we even have it). We get a large percentage of our groceries delivered, and we save our errands up so we only make one trip out instead of multiple trips.
  • My husband rides his bike to work instead of driving (45 minutes each way). It keeps him fit as a fiddle and is a great way to burn off the day's frustrations (earning him a reduced rate on his life insurance because he's so darn healthy).
  • We've replaced most of our incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents (click the link if you think you hate them). I'm also pretty tough about only turning the lights on when absolutely necessary.
  • We keep our heat turned down to just above 15 degrees C (about 60 degrees F). Our bodies seem to acclimatize as we tend to find most other buildings overly warm. In addition, we all wear slippers (which make a huge difference; we never had them growing up, so I had no idea!), as well as cardigans or a hoodie, and if we start to feel chilly, we grab a cozy blanket before cranking up the heat.
  • We quit using our inefficient 35 year old gas furnace and have been using small electric space heaters instead. Here in BC that's a much more green option, as our electricity is all hydro generated (not that hydro power is totally light on the planet, but it doesn't produce the greenhouse gases associated with oil or coal generated power).
  • We only heat the main living areas. Rooms that aren't used during the day (like our bedroom) are kept closed until just before bedtime (when the heat goes off).
  • We're slowly replacing our old inefficient appliances with Energy Star certified ones, and we occasionally choose to live without them. Also, we've decided to choose better quality (if slightly more expensive) appliances and pay to repair them instead of replacing them when they die (our defunct washer/dryer is being repaired and sent to live with my in-laws, who need a more efficient machine).
  • Most of our electronics are plugged into surge protectors. They remain switched off until we actually need to use them, and are turned off right away when we're finished. Up to 50% of electricity used in a home is in the form of a phantom load, which results from the slight draw of electricity used by LED lights when in standby mode, or digital clocks on electronic devices.
  • We live in a tiny house (770 square feet). This takes less energy to heat, and less stuff to fill (and less time to clean!!). We're thinking of going slightly larger (although I'm struggling with this), but we are real believers in the not so big house.
  • We're growing as much of our own food as we can, and purchase the rest of our food from local sources as often as possible. I was shocked when I read in The Omnivore's Dilemma that a box of organic mixed greens (the quintessential green food) is a huge waste of energy, providing us with 85 calories of food value in a one pound box, but requiring over 4000 calories worth of fuel to reach our stores (and that's doesn't include the oil required to make the plastic box). We also try to make most of our food from scratch, rather than buying foods that are packaged in all that cardboard and plastic and shipped from who-knows-where.
  • I keep cloth shopping bags in my purse so that I never have to take a plastic bag while shopping.
  • We use a push mower to mow our lawn instead of a conventional lawn mower. A gas model produces as many emissions in an hour of use as a driving a car 100 miles.
  • We eat very little or no meat. Factory farming is a large contributor to greenhouse gases, so if you can't produce your own milk, eggs, and meat, cutting back on these things will reduce your carbon load.

Here are some of the things that we hope to do in the future:

  • Replace our drafty, single-paned windows with good ones.
  • Get rid of our car and either join a car co-op or buy an electric model.
  • Replace our gas hot water tank with an electric tankless model. They use a lot less power because they only heat water when you need it, rather than keeping a large amount of hot water at the ready.
  • The increase in crazy weather has inspired use to get a wood stove for heating instead of our electric space heaters (if the power goes out, we're screwed!). We've already got the stove, we just need to finish installing it (the fireplace retrofit is almost complete!). Wood heat is essentially carbon neutral.
  • I would like to try following the guidelines of The Compact pledge for a year. We already try to live like this for the most part, but I think setting myself the goal of not buying anything new for a whole year will really make us more aware of how much we don't need those shiny new things we like to think of as necessities. This will be interesting with regard to the renovations we've got planned for the house (I guess we'll be making good use of the Habitat ReStore and demo sales).

That's not a complete list, but it's all I can think of for now. If you've read this far, I'm sorry to have been so long winded, but I really wanted to see these things written down (I think better when I can see something in front of me).

I'm currently reading The Weather Makers and am finding it very informative. Other books that I'd recommend include The Last Hours of Ancient Sunlight, and The Long Emergency (not technically about global warming, but another look at the problems with oil dependency).

For a list of movies that you can watch for free online (including An Inconvenient Truth), click here.

What kinds of things are you doing that we haven't thought of yet?

January 06, 2007

A Retraction

I've been feeling like a total ingrate all day for my little rant about the house last night, because I'm ecstatic that we were actually able to buy anything here, let alone something that's cute (in spite of it's aforementioned flaws) and in a nice neighborhood. Had we waited another 3 months to get into the market, we never would have been able to swing it.
So I would like to recant those nasty things I said about our home, and mention a few of the things I love about it.

First off are the hardwood floors that run throughout the house (including under the vinyl in the kitchen), which we unearthed from under decades old carpet and my husband carefully sanded and sealed.

I love the coved ceilings in the living room...

...the glass knobs on the doors (something I always wanted)...

...and the mouldings around the doors and windows.
Other favorite things include the beadboard panelling in the back porch, the peek-a-boo views of the mountains, and my garden.

So it would seem that the leak in the roof might not be as much of an issue as we thought (fingers crossed madly!). The shingles are still as tight as a drum, so we think that last night's wind storm was probably blowing the slush and water from the flat roof, up and under the transition to the sloped roof. At least, it's been raining non-stop since this afternoon and there doesn't seem to be a problem anymore. I guess our roof just wasn't prepared for rain that flows upward.
Happy weekend!

January 05, 2007

More Crazy Weather and the House

We woke up to another snowy scene this morning. It was very wet though and quickly turned to slushy rain.

Even though the snow wasn't terribly bothersome for most people, it ended up causing the roof of our biggest stadium, BC Place (where the opening ceremonies for the Olympics are going to be held) to collapse this afternoon. We had a lot more snow during our last big snowfall, so I don't know why it happened today.

Whatever it was, we came home tonight to discover that a similar thing was happening here - the kids' bedroom roof was leaking again. My husband replaced the roof over their room just last winter, but it's flat and collects the water and snow. That room is an addition, and the people who built it never bothered to tie the roof in with the rest of the house like the architect's plans showed, so it's been an ongoing problem.

Lately we've been debating whether to try to fix the problems our house has, or just cut our losses, take the money we've made on it, and build our perfect little eco-home somewhere else less expensive. Tonight we're feeling overwhelmed and frustrated, and option B is looking pretty good! The problem with that plan is, whoever buys this house will probably just knock it down if we leave it as it, and I hate that thought, but there's a high probability that it'll be demolished regardless of it's condition - almost every small house in the neighborhood has been sold and torn down to build a huge monster of a house (there are some nice views to be had around here if your house is tall enough). I guess the deciding factor will be whether or not we can borrow enough money to do everything that needs doing.

Tonight we're sitting here listening to the wind roaring around the house again, whistling through the windows and around the doors. The weather that we've experienced this winter is out of control. We dominated Environment Canada's list of top weather stories for last year.

I'm crossing my fingers that we don't lose our power before the woodstove is installed!

January 04, 2007

Things I Love - My Quilt

My mother-in-law made this quilt for us last year. It's hard to believe that it was one of the first quilting projects she ever did.

You can't see it, but all of our names (including the pets) are sewn into the fabric as part of the quilting.

It's a treasure that I hope to pass on to our grandchildren one day.

January 03, 2007

Quail

My kids adore quail eggs, due in large part to their gorgeous brown speckles and miniature size (they were convinced that they must have chocolate inside the first time they had them).
It occurred to me the other day while I was boiling some for breakfast that I might be able to get away with keeping quail as pets. I found this article on the Cityfarmer website about raising them in the city. I wouldn't be raising them for meat, but most of the information still applies.

They are apparently very quiet and easy to clean up after (because their waste is solid) - what I don't know is, how many quail would it take to keep the four of us in fresh eggs? They're so cute that it isn't at all a stretch to imagine keeping them as pets.
Does anyone have any experience with these birds that they'd be willing to share?

January 02, 2007

Demolition Sales

I went to my first demolition sale yesterday. Our family gave us Christmas money to use for our ongoing renovation projects, so we were on the hunt for some deals.
We originally went because they were selling an entire basement suite (kitchen cabinets, newish fridge and stove, bathroom vanity and fixtures, etc.) for $675. We were understandably keen on that, but unfortunately we were #5 on the list and #2 got it. They did have some other interesting things though, so we didn't come home empty handed.
While not particularly glamorous, we were thrilled to get the toilet from the upstairs bathroom for next to nothing. It's almost new and is an expensive low-flow model to boot.
We also got a couple of small wood-frame windows to make cold frames for the garden (for $5).

We went back this morning to remove the toilet, and picked up this gorgeous cabinet with leaded glass doors as well (it's nicer in person, the photo emphasizes the construction dust). It was originally a built-in unit in the music room, so we'll have to finish it a bit. I just love it - I've never bought myself an antique anything before.

We ended up buying the Jotul wood stove that we looked at the other night (saving ourselves about $1300 over buying a new one!), and will have to rework our existing fireplace a little bit to install it. With this in mind, we also bought the antique fireplace surround/mantle.

We're going back just before the house comes down to take away a few interior doors with gorgeous glass door knobs, a garden gate, and he's giving us (for free!!) the leaded glass windows as long as we remove them ourselves. They're the same pattern as the doors in the cabinet above. We don't plan on using them as actual windows because they're so inefficient and breezy, but we're thinking they'll make gorgeous cabinet doors for future carpentry projects (any other brilliant ideas out there?).

For some reason they had several of these galvanized boxes lying around too. I'm going to use them to hold my onions and potatoes in the pantry.

I think I may be a budding demo sale addict. It was so agonizing to see such a gorgeous old home being demolished that I was desperate to try and save as much of it as I could. This particular house was apparently built by a man as a wedding gift for his new bride at the turn of the century. It's reassuring to know that so much of it will be used elsewhere, but it's still sad.

On another note, it was raining so hard this morning that our crawlspace was flooded with several inches of water, but by the time we got home from collecting our demo sale treasures the sky had cleared, and this was the view (through our neighbors' patio) while I was hanging the laundry in the afternoon.

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