Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Biggest Kitchen Table -- Green Cleaning

Today's discussion (and I interpret 'today' in the broadest sense possible, encompassing last week, when Rhonda actually discussed it) is on Green Cleaning.

'Green Cleaning' makes so much sense. Whatever you call it. You don't need a trendy name or 'eco-friendly' term to do what our grandparents just did as part of life. Really, it's just about cleaning. It is about simplifying the process, eliminating excess, reducing unnecessary chemicals, and learning how many uses a simple thing like baking soda has.

We've been better at this, but just last week Joel and I had a discussion/minor conflict over 'bathroom cleaner' versus the baking soda method. What it boils down to is that we haven't made it simple enough to do it the right way. Joel pointed out that it's a lot easier to grab the spray bottle of chemicals than to find the baking soda, find a rag, etc. So that is my task for this discussion. Joel has already started by assigning a container to keep the bathroom cleaning stuff in. We use old socks as rags, so there are a couple of those in there. Joel assigned a particular sock to use to clean the outside of the toilet, and I wrote 'toilet sock' on sharpie on it. I think this is probably kind of scary to anyone who happens across it in our flat. I like to wonder what our friends think of us sometimes.

My goals for green cleaning:

  • Buy a separate baking soda to keep in the cleaning box.
  • Mix up a general all purpose cleaner that will keep in a spray bottle. I have loads of recipes for this but haven't done it yet. That would make things easier.
What are your thoughts on this? Is it easier to just buy chemical cleaners? Is it worth the initial extra time to use 'green' cleaners? Are you convinced that natural ingredients really get the things clean?

PS Another interesting event -- our friends just gave us their eco-balls, which you use instead of laundry soap, and the balls last 18 months before needing a refill (an example of when greener is cheaper - we will now spend zilch on our laundry for the next year). They gave them to us because the husband missed the smell of laundry detergent in his clothes. Have you ever tried the green option and then decided you like your old habit better?

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Biggest Kitchen Table -- Electricity and Water

Today's discussion was on electricity and water. I don't think we have much to change in this area. We are in rented accommodation, which means we can't change any appliance issues. And I don't think we need to anyway. All the stuff the landlord picked out is energy efficient, water saving stuff. Nice. Although if we had our way, we'd have a slightly less efficient fridge that actually had a fan built in. There is a dishwasher. We don't use this, to save money and save energy and because it seemed like it might explode the last couple times we used it. There is a tumble dryer. We don't use this either, for the same reasons sans the exploding thing. We were used to hanging all our clothes to dry anyway from our last flat which didn't have a dryer, so we figure why use it? We let guests use it if they need to. :-) We like never use our heaters in the winter, hardly ever. We're cool with it. Double-glazed windows, you know.

Water. We're on city council water, and because of Joel's student status we don't even pay for our council tax or water. So they don't really tell us how much we use.

That's all I have to say about that.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Biggest Kitchen Table -- Food

I appreciate the comments on the last post regarding Living Deliberately and Money. So many of you comment on Facebook, I wonder if you realise I actually haven't been on facebook for over a year, and this is actually a post on our blog! But I do get and appreciate the comments, all the same.

I relate so much to D and T, who both related to how living a transplanted lifestyle makes simplifying life and belongings a lot more... easier? necessary? A little of both, I suppose. Moving to a different country is one of those things where you do begin to realise you are not defined by your possessions. We don't collect much unnecessary junk. We don't buy lots of things, because we realise we'll just have to get rid of most of it again when we leave here. Any spending decisions are truly intentional - is this worth shipping back to the states?

I love that T brought up her intentional choice not to have a TV. We're the same. I think it's been so good and I highly recommend not having one, at least for a while, especially at the beginning of a marriage. That is such a magnificent, underrated way to simplify life, begin to establish what is important to you, and think about spending your time intentionally instead of letting it get sucked away by the wires.
Biggest Kitchen Table -- Food
Today's discussion is on food. I am intimidated to start this blog post, because I want to keep it short, and food is probably the one subject I think the most about. There is so much to say! So I think I will focus on my accomplishments in this area in the past year or so, and my goals for the next year or so.

Things I am glad I've changed in the last year:

  • I've begun growing! I have my two tomato plants, and lots of spinach. I planted lettuce but the aphids enjoyed those and as such I have had to abandon them. I'm doing it the good old fashioned way without chemicals.
  • I've learned to like: mushrooms, tomatoes, plain yogurt, Greek yogurt, green olives, balsamic vinegar. (I know, I know, how could I not like those things before?)
  • We make lots more homemade.
  • I make our breakfast granola. I feel like this improves my day so much! I love doing this!
  • Read Nourishing Traditions. I've started applying her ideas more to our cooking and eating. She really gives convincing arguments for fermentation, sprouting seeds/beans, etc.
  • We cook mostly everything from scratch.
  • We buy local a lot more, and are a lot more conscientious when it comes to this. It's fairly easy to do here, besides the issue of citrus. I definitely draw the line when it comes to foods from south africa or south america; that's pretty much the furthest away you get here. We can get everything we need from the UK or Spain at the furthest. Except limes.
Goals - in the next year or as soon as possible:
  • Clean and reorganise our cupboard. It's shameful, really. Full of all the pots/cooking things, as well as all our grains/cans/pasta/flour/etc. So haphazard.
  • Defrost our fridge. I don't even want to talk about why we have to defrost our fridge. Sometime I think I'll do a post on our fridge, to show you what we have to work with here. It has about 3 cubic inches of space. I'm exaggerating just a little.
  • Try growing a couple new vegetables. I expect that during the next growing season, we'll be living with the parents. My growing capacity will still be limited although I will have a lot more outdoor space, at least for pots.
  • Grow garlic
  • Buy predominately organic dairy products
  • Research & start composting. It's just impossible in this flat, but I'm trying to research a bit more and figure out what would be feasible to do once we leave this place.
Future goals - long term:
  • Use open-pollinated / heirloom seeds. In other words, the way our grandparents used to grow things. Keep the same seeds from the same produce year after year. The books Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and The Omnivore's Dilemma convinced me of this. I might start this with tomatoes next year.
  • Grow zucchini/courgette, more tomatoes, rhubarb, beans, squashes, onions, garlic, cabbage, lots more veg.
  • Learn more about taking care of soil.
I think I'll cut it short from here. Food is one of those subjects that I can go on and on about. I think many of you are passionate about it as well. Let's keep encouraging each other and learning from each other in this area! A few of us have become fairly proficient at living in a small place while still trying to live within our morals when it comes to food and food systems.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

The sky... this is one thing I will miss about living here. Not that this particular photo is award-winning, but the sky here tends to be quite outspoken. During the summer, the sunsets last for hours. The winters have very abrupt, very magnificent sunsets and sunrises. In the winter I find joy in watching the sunrise from the bus stop on my way to work. In the summer, the closest we see to a sunrise is the dusk after the official sunset. Clouds. The clouds stretch, reach out, exist, and when they aren't dominating the sky, they showcase lovely light and colour. I will miss Scotland's sky.

Tonight I went to a friend's birthday night out, came home pretty early, and sat on the hospital's ledge at the corner of our street, watching the sky change colours. Joel is at a gig, so I had the luxury of independence and loneliness. Who can feel lonely when watching such beauty? (no offiense to Joel's company!) While I was sitting quietly, an old Scottish woman walked by and started talking to me (as they so often do). She told me she was going to pick some grass for her cat, that it helped her stomach, and went on to tell me about how she so would love to let her cat outside, but the Cat Protection said there was too much traffic. So she settles for bringing her cat grass. The woman told me she often gets grass from Bearsden (just outside of Glasgow), that's how spoiled she is! I love these people who share their life stories for no apparent reason. I will miss that too.
This is Joel, with the rhubarb cake I made on his lap. I don't want to gloat over the fact that he's slowly beginning to like rhubarb, I really just want to show how sacrificial his love is, to be prepared to like rhubarb, for my sake. This is truly a wonderful man, folks. Seriously, have any of your partners been prepared to give up a lifelong adamant detestation of such an assertive food?

Okay, now let's address the matter at hand: The Biggest Kitchen Table discussion. Today is on Living Deliberately, and Money.

Living Deliberately: This is about living with intention, having your life goals in mind in your everyday actions. It is a departure from living for the moment. For me, I first began thinking about this and practicing it in high school. My close friend who acted as a spiritual and personal mentor to me, Lori, taught me about what it means to live intentionally, and caused me to really meditate on this. I believe we do fairly well at this. It is about a balance - not living fully in the future, but living the present while thinking about and preparing for the future. My goals are varied, alive, and I like to think simple. I want to grow my own vegetables - I've started that this year, with windowpots full of spinach and tomato plants. Just a small step, but a step nonetheless. It helps me learn some things slowly, and hopefully in the future I'll have access to some real dirt to grow things in.

Money: Joel and I do well managing our money, out of necessity, and a conviction that 'your money is where your heart is'. We have been given hard lessons to learn in our married life, centred about being dependent and accepting help from others. I hope this prepares us for a future in which we are able to help others in the same way.

We're very careful with our money, and apart from bills like rent and electricity, and my student loan payments, the only thing we really spend money on is food. Food is an area we would like to spend less money on, by making more things ourselves, and growing things ourselves. The spinach has been a success. The main hindrance to making more things homemade is the time factor. As we both essentially work full time, it is difficult to live up to our aspirations We often experiment with this; we were making our own bread for a time earlier in the spring; Joel has made yogurt on occassion; we were in the habit of a weekly from-scratch pizza night.. but when things get busy, these things fall away and we end up buying bread. In that case, we buy nice bread - we tend to buy Polish bread that doesn't have any preservatives - but of course buying things is more expensive, and often not as good quality, as homemade. Both of us look forward to a time when Joel is working, and hopefully I'll have a bit mroe time in the home to do things like this. Food is very important to me (you may have notices). So I look forward to tomorrow when Rhonda looks at the food issue.
Our money goals are essentially: -to eliminate debt (all of the student loan nature) -to have a savings account

I hope this isn't too much information, I know we don't usually share so much on the blog. Anyone have any thoughts about any of this?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Rhonda from the Down to Earth Blog is setting this week aside to look at how well we are sticking to our goals of simplifying life, reducing excessive belongings, and taking care with the way we manage our households in this way. As this is something I've been focusing on more, I thought I'd join in with her and see if I notice any ways I can make our life a bit more simple and sustainable.

One thing I expect to focus on is reducing the number of disposable items in our lives - we try to do this but even the past couple of months I've been realising more things we could easily do.

I'll be recording my conclusions here. Rhonda is doing this every day of the next week, but I'll probably follow along at my own pace - I can't keep up with the daily blog roll.

Hope you are all well, feel free to pick up ideas along the way!