Building An Earthship In Darfield, B.C.

We are a family of five living in Darfield, BC.
Our house is six hundred square feet in total and we are feeling cramped.

We have decided to build an earthship!

So starts the adventure ...

Thursday, December 31, 2009


I've recently had some strange requests on my Facebook to add...well..strangers to my list.  I think it might be some of you who read this blog and then track me down.  If you've noticed that I haven't added you, I try to add only family, friends, acquaintances (or possibly the offspring of the above!) because I do beak off a bit on my wall and it would feel kinda weird to think I'm beaking off to total strangers!  Unlike many of my younger Facebook friends (i.e. nephews and nieces) I will probably never have more than 500 friends least not people I'm comfortable enough subjecting to the blah, blah, blah of my wall posts, (in other words, make suffer through my stupid one liners, dumb jokes and really insignificant life happenings.)

I am, however, a member of Earthship BC (started by two men who worked on our house this last summer), and you are welcome to see what I write there, albeit periodically. I have turned on some privacy settings, hopefully to put a lid on the contents of my wall, but since I've never tried to access my wall from a non-friend computer...well, who knows what you might get. 

Honestly, I'm not that interesting, and my FB wall isn't either.  So please don't take it personally if I don't add you (especially if I don't recognize your name!)  If you think we DO know each other and I'm just pulling a blank, please add a message when you make your request.  If I don't add you then I probably never liked you.  (That was a joke! LOL or whatever it is people put in to indicate mirth!).

I will admit to "unfriending" a few people.  Yes, the dictionary folks added "unfriend" as an official word...can you believe it?  I unfriended a few people (including a cousin) for coarse language (hey, my kids hang over my shoulder when I "FB"!) and anybody who never uses FB at all sometimes gets axed from my list (especially if they don't have a profile picture.)  I think, however, I may have inadvertently unfriended some people who were actual friends but I've discovered that when you collect more than 60 friends it's really difficult to figure out who's unfriended themselves from my list, or who I'VE mistakenly unfriended!

Now, rumour has it that some of my FB friends are people who have worked on the earthship!  You can't come and work on my house and not be a friend!  Almost everybody who worked on the house last year is my friend!  And Facebook had nothing to do with that, except make it easier to stay connected.

Happy Facebook-ing!

Eating from your Pantry and Freezer

Eating out of the pantry is a simple living concept that encourages people to slow down expenditures on groceries by looking through their pantry and freezer to make due with things they already have.  This way we make the best use of the things we've already bought, and we end up spending less on our grocery bill.  I was amazed to discover the last time I cleaned the pantry that I have 10 kinds of bread flour sitting in small bags at the back of the well as orzo pasta (great for soup) and some arborio rice.  Sitting at the bottom of our freezer is 10-20 pounds of hamburger and stew meat, as well as some ribs and ham and pork ribs.  So some things we've been doing to "eat out of the pantry and freezer".

1) I have slowly been digging up the meat and trying to use up.  I will continue to try to find different recipes for them so that we don't have weeks of spaghetti sauce or tough old pork chops.  This is a slow process for us as we don't eat much meat.  Our chicken harvest from the spring is hardly half used up (we started with 22) so that you should give you an idea of how much meat we eat.  I haven't purchased grocery store meat in almost a year.

2)  Our pantry has an odd assortment of grains and such that I'm slowly planning to incorporate into my bread, instead of going to buy more flour.  This will be a bit of an experiment as I will be changing my regular bread recipes slightly.

3) We are using up our preserves.  We froze corn and beans and carrots, as well as some blueberries and tomatoes.  Our jam has been getting good use and we still have some left, thanks to our afternoon in August picking strawberries from Monica's garden.  We are only buying those fruits and vegetables we don't have frozen or canned and we feel are necessary (school lunches, for example).  Otherwise, if a recipe calls for a vegetable we don't have, we try to substitute or do without.  If we can't do without we will buy it.

4) In the last year I became a roiboos tea drinker, chucking my earl grey in favour of this decaffeinated tea from South Africa (not very local!).  I recently discovered that when we had been buying herbal teas -- the ones that come with a selection of 4 or 5 different types -- we were using the ones we really liked and leaving the rest to accumulate.  So before Christmas I went through them (I had to sniff the ones that weren't in boxes anymore) and decided which ones I could easily drink.  Only Licorice Spice got dumped (NOBODY would even try it). I'm almost through the tea now and look forward to buying Roibois again in bulk from Zack's in Kamloops.

5) Making turkey/chicken stock for soup and using leftovers to make soup.  O.K. so I've always done this, but it bears thinking about as a way to get the most from your grocery bill.  Homemade soup = YUM!

6) Making nut butter out of the mixed nuts Chis bought inadvertantly thinking it was his mixed nuts for his hot cereal (it had peanuts in it, which he's not fond of).  It made a cup of nut butter which meant I didn't have to buy any peanut butter (something we tend not to have much of around, since there are a few of us who could eat it with a spoon straight out of the container).  Homemade nut butter is even more wonderful but I think because I can control the salt, I don't crave it as much as the salty/sweet peanut butter from the stores!

We've been doing all of this while keeping our "deprivation" levels in check. If we feel "deprived" then we're not being frugal, but cheapening our lives.  So far, so good!

Does anybody else have stories of eating out of their pantries and freezers?  Recipes to do so?

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Computer Time at a Premium

Chris tried to resurrect my laptop a few weeks ago but it went to sleep and never woke up!  He can't even put Linux back onto it.  I've been in to Kamloops to look at laptops and will convert the rest of my airline points into a GC for Future Shop.  This will pay for most of the cost of the laptop and it will make us feel less guilty about feeling we HAVE to use them for flying (it's terribly un-environmental...but never say never, we have a lot of relatives a long ways away and some vague plans about living overseas one day!)

So Chris and I are sharing HIS laptop for now.  It's o.k....definitely bearable while we acquire a new one for me in a frugal manner. But it has meant fewer blog postings!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Christmas music

Here's the youtube video Chris did of our piano music...there's a blooper part at the end which may be of more interest to you!

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Candy cane chocolate bark

Today December 22nd Katie, Mom and I made chocolate bark for our Christmas baskets (Christmas gifts). Katie did the brown chocolate while I crushed candy canes with a rolling pin.



Then I chopped up the white chocolate while the brown hardened.

After 15 minutes I stared melting white chocolate. When it was melted we had to add more than half of the crushed candy canes. When Katie pulled out the hardened chocolate Mom and I poured the white chocolate over top of the brown.

Then Katie sprinkled the rest of the candy canes on top. Now it is in the fridge hardening. Tomorrow we will break it in to pieces.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Frugal Gene...

After Helen got her ears pierced we ran out of cotton balls to apply the disinfectant.  She and I stood in the Superstore on Saturday trying to figure out which bag was the best buy.

We grabbed a bag of "jumbo" balls; after some quick math (by Helen, no less) we ascertained that this particular bag cost us less per ball than other bags.  The price was $1.27.

There were 100 cotton balls in the bag and after helping her apply disinfectant with two of them (as demonstrated by the ear piercing woman) I commented that the balls were a bit wasteful for the job.

We needed, I told Helen, to get a bit more frugal with them.

"What's frugal, mom?"  I love it...she's walking right to it, I don't have to lead her at all!  Maybe it's hereditary??

It's been a while since I've defined frugal for myself, let alone for one of my children.

I explained that frugal was using the earth's resources to the best of our ability without using up all our money.  That's a pretty close approximation of my answer, which I thought was pretty good considering I was standing in the bathroom with a bottle of disinfectant in one hand and two used cotton balls in the other.

I later had to go and look up my favourite definition of frugal, which I cite in my Frugal vs Cheap posting way back last spring.  This is the definition from Your Money or Your Life.

Frugality is enjoying the virtue of getting good value for every minute of your life energy and from everything you have use of.

I suggested to Helen that we should rip each cotton ball in half to get better value out of the bag.  This led to a discussion about how long the bag would last.

Helen was told that she needed to keep cleaning her ears three times a day for six weeks.  The bag had 100 jumbo balls.

I have to stop for a minute and point out that Helen is a math whiz (in our humble opinion). She is almost 9 and in Grade 3 and her grasp of math and ability to wrap her head around calculations, in her head, constantly amazes us.  Sometimes, she is a step ahead of me!

So she figured out pretty quickly that if we didn't rip the balls in half we had 50 uses for them (since we were using two balls each time).  Then she wanted to figure out how long the bag would last if we weren't frugal.  I prompted her to divide into groups of three (three times a day).

However, she was all over that! She pointed out that for the first four days it was only twice a day since she was in school at midday. AND, when holidays were over it would be back to two times a day.  She figured out (on her own and in her head) that the "unfrugal bag" wouldn't even last her through the Christmas holidays.

She then figured out that if we split each ball the bag would last for twice as many uses.  Great!  She then started counting up the weeks and the uses, factoring in the three times a day holiday uses and the two times a day school day uses and figured out that even by splitting each ball in two, the bag wouldn't last a full six weeks.

I could see her mind churning away after figuring this out and she finally blurted out, "let's split them in three!!!"

I refrained from reminding her that the bag cost only $1.27 (because, after all, it's not strictly about the pennies involved, but whether we could get full value for the purchase and making the best use of our resources).  I told her that splitting in two gave me adequate ball to disinfect with, but we needed to figure out if splitting in three made it more difficult (and, in essence cheapening the experience; see my posting Frugal vs. Cheap).

Turns out a third of a ball also works just fine.  And, Helen informed me, now that she wouldn't need the entire bag for her ears, I could take the remainder and use them on my eyebrows.

What a lesson in math, frugality and sharing.  All for $1.27!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Reclaiming Space

The last few days have found us cleaning out our office space.  It's about 200 square feet and after downsizing two years ago, we haven't been in it very much.  In fact, the kids go there to listen to music.

Living in a small space has meant that we've had difficulty having friends over, especially friends with children; there simply is not enough room for 10+ people in 600 square feet!

So, we've started reclaiming space in our office, which is located above our shop on what we call the mezzanine.  We've removed one desk and about five or six boxes of archival documents.  What a trip down memory lane going through all our former customer files.

We moved one of the smaller desks to allow for another work area for the kids to do homework and we've freed up about half the entire space for a recreation area for the kids.  We've already moved an old sofa in there and tomorrow we'll move the TV Gail gave us (handed down) and hook up an old DVD player. 

When we have company we can banish kids to the recreation area to play music, play games or listen to movies.

Chris has also been installing shelving all around the house to declutter our space.  It's really stuff we should have done two years ago when we moved in, but life has been busy and somehow these projects have gone by the wayside!

Today was the last day of school for the year so starting tomorrow we will buy a few gifts and start making the remainder.  We're determined to keep it relaxed; there's nothing like getting grumpy before Christmas!

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Plagued by Viruses!

It seemed fitting that since Chris caught H1N1 that I would get a virus too! This one, however, was far less uncomfortable for me but did cause me to hyperventilate!

I caught it in rather amusing circumstances: it was a computer virus and I've been as diligent at avoiding them in recent years as I have been in handwashing over the last few months...

Since Chris mistakenly opened an attachment on HIS computer (probably the one I'm using now) about six years ago and swore and curses for days, I've been pretty sharp-eyed when it comes to emails and attachments.

While at Sun Peaks (on the last evening) I received an email from DHL informing me of a parcel that couldn't be delivered. I asked Chris if he was expecting anything and he mentioned that his brother Andrew, had sent the kids' Christmas presents. Hmmm, I thought, of course they couldn't deliver them...we weren't home!

So, I blithely opened the attachment (the weighbill) and watched it try to open a zip file for about 10 seconds before I realized that Andrew usually sends the package by Canada Post. I quickly canceled the operation, thinking I'd ended the whole thing. I closed my laptop and went to bed.

The next morning all sorts of flashing red lights were going off on my computer and there was a demand to purchase software to get rid of the virus. Chris was pretty sure at this point we had a problem, but when we passed through Kamloops that afternoon I went into DHL to ask them if we had a package.

Nope, nope, nope. In fact, they knew about the virus (it surfaced in March 2009) and the perpetrators had also used UPS and Purolator in their phony emails.


After listening to Chris curse most of Saturday afternoon (#*%# -heads who have more time than brains #%$@ take them outside and bash their %$#@&) get the picture!), I called the Future Shop.

They had heard of the virus and could wipe it out for between $49.99 and $79.99 (depending on the virus', well, virility!

Chris didn't like this idea, not just because of the money, but he doesn't like to...FAIL, especially on computer related things, which, I have to admit, he does know a lot about.

Last night he started running an anti virus program only to find out this morning my computer took a ZZZZZ overnight! He restarted it and he and Helen had a grand time today while the Newtons cleaned house. Every 10 minutes or so Helen would ask, "Dad is it done yet?" Chris progressively became more terse, "No, I don't know when it will be done!" Turns out Helen wanted to feed some animal or something on her page (Ha,ha, we all have our priorities.)

I had pretty much written off the computer (we managed to copy all my data files to our external drive before Chris started tinkering). I was even starting to look forward to a new purchase! Long overdue, by the way. The external keyboard has been working very well, but it's a pain in the ass.

So far, though, frugality is still winning. If the fix Chris finally achieved tonight is a good one, we will still wait to replace this laptop until sometime in the spring. We'll have saved $80 (plus taxes) to hire a technician, and $700 for a new laptop (it's becoming a deferred cost, we realize, but deferment is a hallmark of frugality.)

I'm extra vigilant again; seeing an email with an attachment is like watching a loaded gun on my screen. I received a word document tonight from Jody Schilling (who works with us to put on ski league) and I actually stopped to think about it before I opened it!

So while you're all handwashing away the season, please be warned to keep computer viruses out of your home, too! What a hassle!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Our Christmas Duets!

Finally posted our taped duets to YouTube. For all who care to see what two 40 somethings do alone at a ski hill for a week...with a video it is! :))))

Christmas Gift Giving in the Newton House

For most of the 20  years Chris and I have been together, we have tried to take a more low key approach to Christmas. 

In the early years of DINK (Double Income No Kids) we had both the time and money to come up with thoughtful gifts for each other.  After a few years we began to notice it getting more was almost like every year there were higher expectations, even if they were unspoken!

So in about Year Three of our relationship we made a pact:  Limit of $75 and we hit the Eaton Centre in Toronto at 6:00 pm on Christmas Eve!  What a hoot!  Low expectation and high entertainment value. Some gifts turned out to be very useful (I once bought Chris a Nike bag for his workout clothes; remember this was the early 90s).  Some were very durable: Chris bought me a wool ear band that I wear each winter to this day!  Somehow it has escaped washing machine (unlike the wool cap I bought Chris, which became Stephen's baby hat the following summer!)  Other gifts included a Crocodile Dundee hat, turtle earrings, a cordless drill, chocolates and a hand written poem, a disposable camera and Ralph Lauren cologne that didn't get opened until Stephen was two and he dumped it in the toilet!

Since we've had children, it became more interesting.  In the early days of parenthood (which coincided, unfortunately with the early days of a business) we had to get very creative with presents for the kids.  The first few years were easy; boxes and ribbons sufficed. After that we became bargain hunters, although it got even more difficult the year Chris was determined not to buy anything made in China (or anything with batteries).  That was an eye opener!  It ended with me and three tired toddlers hanging our in McDonalds while Chris methodically finished searching the Toys R Us across the street!

Somehow the kids didn't notice that the Christmas tree had way more Lego and Lincoln Logs than ever before!

Since deciding to build a sustainable house, and becoming more and more conscious of our impact on the earth (and pocketbook!) Chris and I have had many arguments discussions about how to make Christmas more meaningful, less harmful and less expensive.  As part of these discussions, we have been talking about how to communicate our ideals to our children, who, because they attend public school, are exposed to a very consumer oriented culture.

Our week long vacation has meant we've had an uninterrupted time to argue discuss our ideas.  Thankfully, we are mostly on the same page, but my greatest fear is that our excitement about so many ideas will leave us exhausted!  Especially as 4-H and ski league work is ongoing for both of us!

Our last afternoon at the ski hill has been internet research, looking into homemade gifts. Chris found an exceptionally helpful site by a lady named Terry Porter.  I will dig up the link later!

Keep checking back; we intend to document our ideas and see if we are successful in our Christmas gift giving goals!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chris is figuring out the camera!

All this time off has meant we have time to figure out what all the buttons on the Nikon D90 do.  Chris has more patience than I do and started playing around with the portrait setting, plus aperture and shutter speeds.  Here's one of the first photos of me taken in the last couple of years that I actually like!

Cold day of skiing but really sunny!

So, without kids and time on our own we are finding that the camera is getting pointed to each other a bit more!   It's been great...sleep in, take time over breakfast, head out on skiis, go further than usual because we don't have to race back to meet the kids bus...also that hot tub at the end of all of it.  Chris and I have been spending a bit of time looking around us at the chalet/resort culture.  More on that later. 

Here are a few pictures from our day of skiing today.

We're on Vacation...really!

Because our Christmas recital is less than a week away Chris and I brought our portable keyboard with us.  We took the electric piano up to Dad and Gail's for the kids.  I brought my flute along as well since Chris and I are doing a piano/flute duet at the concert (We Three Kings of Orient Are).  We are also doing a piano duet (Oh, Come All Ye Faithful).

In addition to our Christmas music, I am working toward my Royal Conservatory Grade 2 exam in June.  Here's one of the pieces I'm working on (Allegretto in C Major; Neefe).  This is Christian playing it:

So, I don't know Christian at all, but I sound pretty much like him.  Oh, except that he plays the ornamentals (which are optional).  Plus he's only 6 and I'm 42.  Of course, he is playing on a grand piano and most times I pound away on a used electric piano (the E above middle C sometimes sticks which I find intriguing given that it IS electric). Oh yes, somebody thought Christian was good enough to videotape (no video exists to date of me playing the piano).  He also doesn't hit the wrong keys and it seems like he is following the dynamics....and of course, he is as cute as a button!

But other than that, my version is the same... :)

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The airline points dilemma resolved

Chris and I are going away for a week (all by ourselves, no less!) and we had planned to use our airline points to do so.  Chris, however, had been having some misgivings because of the terrible environmental impact of airline travel.  And yet....we have an obnoxious number of points at our disposal.

I had wanted to go somewhere warm for a week since I'd never been anywhere warm when it was cold here.  Chris and I both wanted to go to Taos New Mexico but for some reason using the points seemed a waste.  We thought about driving (3.5 days each way) but our trip would be limited to one day there and 7 days driving!

We actually went around and around and around in circles without deciding anything.  We thought that maybe because for once in our lives we weren't "escaping" the stress, that we just weren't motivated to get away.

Surely goodness as the parents of three kids we could motivate ourselves???!!!

So we traded in about a third of our points and rented a condominium at Sun Peaks Resort (one hour drive away) and we intend to ski all week (nordic; we have season passes).  We intend to cook our own dinner a fair bit and I've been gathering a lot of Indian ingredients (our kids won't eat Indian food) and we will sample the wonderful cooking of the resorts many restaurants, for about half our dinners.

We're loading up on books, DVDs, CD's and plan on relaxing for most of the time.  There's even a  private hot tub...not very environmental, but I will force myself to enjoy it every day after coming in from the trails...

We both feel pretty good about this decision.  What we really wanted all along was a chance to simply spend time together without the usual distractions.  The bonus is that it is a frugal vacation money-wise, but rich in value to both of long as Chris still does his share of the dishes!

We are not alone....

Check out Kim Robinson's latest blog posting (see sidebar for link).  Kim and I did indeed have a long discussion about frugal vs. cheap and anybody here in Barriere who knows me well, may very well have had similiar conversations with me.  Why pay more something new when there is something used (free even) that will do?  Save money, save resources, save just a tiny little bit more of the planet.

I've written before on this blog about our society's stigma when it comes to frugality and the confusion with "cheapness".  It's all a matter of quality of life and if your quality of life is that much better for frugality, then you are doing something right for everyone!

So check out Kim's posting and let me know if you've ever scavenged for "throw away" items, been aggressive about getting something for free that might otherwise have been tossed, or simply refused to buy something because it simply did not bring you resounding satisfaction! 

I KNOW there are more of us out there...come on out!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

H1N1 and us!

So it's still unofficial, but Chris is on day #12 of H1N1. He's feeling a whole lot better now and thankfully none of the rest of us have come down with it since he got it.

He went to the doctor last Wednesday as he suffers from a touch of asthma and has had pneumonia once about five years ago.  Better safe than sorry!  The doctor was pretty sure he has it, but really, the swab he took doesn't change how we've been treating it.  I guess if a suspected case of H1N1 presents itself at a medical facility they like to confirm it, just for science's sake!  (Anybody who thinks they have it should still stay home and self treat, unless there are concerns about it!)  Chris' symptoms have been mild-ish.  Certainly no breathing issues and only a low fever. Of course, he's been spending a fair bit of time curled up on the sofa looking miserable!

We still think the girls have had it, but of course, there is no way to be sure. They started to get a bit freaked out about it around Halloween, so I sat down with the kids sometime ago and walked through the math with them on Canadian mortality.  We then took out the numbers of people who've died from it because of underlying medical conditions and healthy people in Canada have a one in a million chance of dying from it.  I then looked up the chance of being struck by lightening in Canada and there was a slightly higher chance of being taken down by bad weather.  That has gone a long ways to calming them down.

Hope everyone has been getting through the flu season without problems!  Hopefully we will begin posting again more frequently!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Roosters and Egg Production

So after much research I have learned two things:

1) A "good" rooster will protect its hens, find food and be the last into the coop at night. A good rooster can encourage an increase in egg production.
2) A "bad" rooster who harasses the hens and if too....ardent....will discourage egg production.

Today we are up to 16 eggs again...obviously our rooster was, despite how pretty he looked, a BAD ROOSTER.


About a year or more ago, Helen and I made her a quilt. Our friend Judy of Rather Be Quilting helped us do it. It was a first for both Helen and me but we had lots of fun on Thursday evenings when Chris, Katie and Stephen were at piano.

This winter Helen is going to do one on her own! She will do all the ironing, cutting and sewing. I plan on buying her a new seam ripper! We are both looking forward to it.

We picked the fabric out yesterday (the teal pattern and the lime green) and she has chosen to do a very simple checkerboard pattern.

Judy has offered to loan her a portable sewing machine (mine is housed in a cabinet and it takes effort to haul it out of the bedroom (it JUST fits in between the wall and the bed) and through the living room and into the kitchen, where there is just enough to set it up. It gets pretty cozy in the kitchen when I'm sewing!

I've also decided to make a quilt using all the quilting scraps that came along with a big bag of fabric from a fellow freecycler. Tonight I sorted the scraps and this is what I have.

My friend Monica suggested a pattern called Square Dance Jelly Roll Quilt. Fortunately it uses all 2 1/2 inch strips which is pretty much what I've got. She suggested, because it was a scrap quilt, that I use dark colours in one place in the pattern and light in the others, since I simply don't have enough of any one colour. That sounded like good advice but upon looking at my scraps, I don't think I have much dark material! So I'm going to mull it over a bit and come up with a colour scheme that might work.

I have time to mull things over because when I pulled my quilting supplies out from under the bed, I realized that although I have a rotary cutter and a smallish cutting mat, I actually borrowed the special rulers from Judy last I will have to upgrade my equipment on Tuesday. I have tried to acquire quilting supplies on freecycle but they are like gold...hard to find used, hard to find free! I've been kicking myself for some time; Gail asked me about 4 years ago if I wanted all my mom's old quilting things but at the time I was definitely not into it so I told her to give it away. And she did, and I realize now how much of it I have to get for myself! Luckily she gave it to a quilting guild, which hopefully got good use out of it.

I really like the idea of a scrap far (until my Tuesday trip into town, anyway) I have spent $0! We are at $40 for Helen, so far!

More paring...

Every fall (and some points in between) Chris and I sit down and examine our monthly expenses and try to figure out where we can conserve our cash. As Chris says, "the low hanging fruit is almost all picked"!

Last year we decided that it was somewhat wasteful to have four phone lines. When my cell phone contract expired we cancelled the service and moved my number to Chris' cell phone account. The last few days will see us at the end of that contract and we have decided to cancel the Telus account ($33) per month and move to a Koodoo account ($15 per month).

Last year we cancelled our home phone number and have been using the business line. Chris wanted to kill the business line last year but I was still concerned about continuity for the business, despite the fact that we have far fewer calls on it.

The business line costs us $100.71 per month and a personal lines cost about $40. We sat down last week and examined our list of customers (former, current) and our vendors and decided that giving up the business line was probably a good idea.

We originally thought that we might change the business line to a cell phone (Koodoo) and save money there (we were told we could transfer the business line to a cell phone account). However, I happened to try to make a call on our existing cell phone a few weeks ago and it was long distance to Kamloops! Last time we needed to call Kamloops from this location on the cell phone it was NOT long distance. So this changed things, since the bulk of our calls are to Barriere and Kamloops.

After going in circles (including a full stop by me on Chris' idea to have just a residential line and NO cell phone) I decided to do a bit of a cost comparison. Here it is:

Business 100.71
Talk & Save (long distance plan) 15
Current Cell 33
Total 148.71

No Business line
New Cell (750 min/long distance pack) 77
Long distance (estimate) 20
Total 97

Cost savings over now: 51.71

No business line
New cell 77
Long distance estimated 20
Old cell 15
Total 112

Cost savings over now: 36.71

No bus 0
Old cell 15
Home phone 40
Long distance 15
Total 70

Cost savings over now 78.71

It was pretty difficult to argue with the numbers: With a monthly savings of about $80, we would save $960 per year.

My next area of scrutiny is to get the Royal Bank to stop charging us $15 per month for having a (hefty) business line of credit, which we have not accessed in two years. We are loathe to give up access to it because it took us seven years to acquire and we may need to use it again in the future when we may expand the business once more. We also don't think we should pay for it even though it isn't being used. I see it as having to pay a fee for a pre-approved mortgage, even though it might not be used. We are prepared to move the business accounts to another bank, if necessary!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Katie's take on Vancouver Island

Are we there yet?

As many of you might know, my family is building an Earthship. For those of you who don’t know, an Earthship is a sustainable house made out of tires and pop cans. My trip to Vancouver Island revolved a little bit around sustainable living.

After school on Tuesday November 10, 2009, my parents picked my siblings and me up for a very long, boring five hour drive to Vancouver, were we would

spend the night at my Uncle Tom’s place.

When we got there we played video games for about an hour. We don’t have video games in our house!

The next morning we left before Uncle Tom and Aunt Stephanie were even up, thus ensuring we got on the ferry. When we got our tickets we we were faced with an hour wait in the car. Since I didn’t want to read, I got out and took some pictures. When we finally got on the ferry, we went out on the deck where my dad pretended to throw me over board, pretended to jump over board and actually managed to stand still for a normal picture.

The ship was huge. It had a restaurant, a café, gift shop and arcade as well as seats, a good thing too, seeing as it was a two hour ride. After the ferry ride we headed for O.U.R Ecovillage, O.U.R stands for One United Resource.

When we got there, Javin, the person giving us the tour was in a meeting. We had some time to kill, so we looked around the gardens, we saw all kinds of things, ducks, turkeys, chickens, geese and pigs named Wednesday and Tuesday. When I first saw the pigs, I thought they were dead, but upon further inspection,

saw that they were just laying very still, they

were not actually deceased.

My favorite part of the tour was when they showed us the composting toilets which they called the “Credit Union” where you could make “deposits” of “black gold.” Three guesses as to what dad was most interested in, my Dad likes compost. Another name they had for “black gold” is “Humanure,” Don’t ask.

After the tour I became very tired, but I didn’t think about it much. The previous night had been late. Instead I just slept in the car during the slide show.

I did start to worry when I got a huge stomach ach

e and my head pounded, I was sick. Thank goodness there was an herbalist on site. She made me an herbal tea made up of all sorts of things but especially, yarrow!

For those of you who don’t know, O.U.R Ecovillage uses a mixture of mud, straw and sand called cob and builds houses, they’re really quite beautiful. In the mud mixture you can add all sorts of things; stones, glass and sculptures in the walls using left over cob.

We got to stay in the cob building they called the

“Healing Sanctuary”.

But no matter how cool it was I still didn’t sleep very much that night.

but in the morning I felt tons better.

That morning we left for Victoria and the provincial legislature.

We had reservations in a hostel, a very small sort of hotel. When we got there we found out we couldn’t check in until 3:00 so we parked our car and wandered around. We arrived at the legislature between tours so

we did our own!

The rest of the day we wandered around the downtown area. When we got back to the hostel. I was relieved to see everybody had

their own bed! Although that room was tiny.

That evening we met my late grandma’s childhood

friend, Lucille, who spent time with us when grandma died in 2000. We had dinner at the coolest place called Café Mexico. After dinner some people who had helped with our earthship this past summer met us for drinks.

We were pretty tired so we went back to the hostel and let Dad stay and talk.

The next morning we drove all the way back to Nanaimo to see the aquaculture program at Vancouver Island University. But there had been a screw up and we were supposed to be there the previous day but they couldn’t get a hold of us so we re-scheduled for Saturday.

On Friday night Dad checked us into a hotel with a suite and that night we went swimming in this really cool pool. It had two waterslides, a really fast river and they turned on the waves.

The next day we met with Ann McCarthy to see her aquaculture garden. An aquaculture system starts with fish, in this case tilapia. The fish’s waste (high nitrogen) flows through pipes to a garden area where the roots of plants are hanging in the water. The plants take the nitrogen rich waste and use it to grow.

We hope to have a system like this in the earthship. Dad wants to feed the fish our composting worms, have the fish waste feed our indoor garden. Then the waste from our fruit and vegetables will be fed to the worms. Then we have a closed feeding loop!

On the way out of the greenhouse, Ann offered to show us some 6 foot long sturgeon. Wow! These fish can grow up to 1800 lbs and 19 feet and live for 150 years. The university raises them for basic research on feeding.

After the sturgeon we went to see the Wileys in their earthship. I’ve included some pictures!

Saturday and Sunday we visited the Robinsons. Kim and Curt and their 4 small children came and helped us this summer, too. This family sold their home on Vancouver Island 18 months ago, bought an RV and had been traveling and living in that until late this last summer when they bought property near Duncan. They are planning on building a cob house and we will help them.

On Monday we headed back towards Victoria and saw Ann and Gord Baird who just finished their cob house. Their house is fully sustainable and is very cool. They use the same systems we plan on using: composting toilets, greywater recovery, solar power and solar hot water.

After the Bairds, we headed home. It was raining very hard but we missed most of the flooding. I was very glad to be back, despite the fact I was sick again!

I hope you learned about sustainable living because I sure did!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Drinking From A Fire Hose!

We've spent the last week on Vancouver Island!

There was lots to see and do ... the legislature buildings in Victoria, breathtaking scenery, composting toilets and ferry rides.

Did I manage to sneak that one past you? I saw more composting toilets in the last week than I have seen in my entire life!

Vancouver Island has a reputation as a sustainability mecca, and this past week was a whirlwind tour of compost, composting toilets, humanure and yes ... MORE composting toilets. We actually visited and saw lots of other sustainable things; cob and strawbale houses, an earthship and an aquaponic garden to name a few. The highlight for me was the compost ... the kids no longer think it is funny when I talk about black gold!

A friend of mine from my software development days in Toronto used to describe a steep learning curve when encountering something new to be like drinking from a fire hose. So much new information is coming at you that you drink a tiny bit and get soaked by the rest before it disappears down the drain. Well, this last week the sh#t was coming so fast that I ... I guess I should give up on the analogies but you get the idea!

We visited so many neat places and met such interesting people that I am not sure where to start ...

I guess like any good story I will try to start at the beginning!

We began our trip on Vancouver Island at O.U.R. Ecovillage Cooperative. This intentional community has a 'vision to create a model demonstration sustainable village community'. This group has pioneered new land use zoning in cooperation with the local building authority. The land of the Ecovillage has multiple use zonings (a first in Canada), that allows the same piece of land to be residential (up to nine homes), commercial (one business) and agricultural at the same time. This work is now being used by other organizations as they pursue similar goals. These people are attempting to redefine the way the commons (common resources and property shared by a community) is viewed and valued. More people need to be thinking about this!

I made a reservation to stay overnight at the Ecovillage the week before we left on our trip. Over the phone I was told to pack only biodegradable toiletries as the worms would appreciate it. I sat in stunned rapture after getting off of the phone ... these people use worms to process the gray water from their sinks. I could tell I was going to enjoy this visit!

Sandra and I discussed our toiletries, and decided that the active ingredient in Head and Shoulders is probably not biodegradable. This led us to a 'green' grocery in Kamloops to buy shampoo and conditioner. We payed a small fortune (its not easy being green) on Color Reflect shampoo and conditioner by ShiKai. Ironically, we discovered on actually reading the labels (after buying them) that there was no statement that these plant based products were in fact biodegradable. All I can say is that if you guys have any problems with the worms ... it was not us or our shampoo!

We took a tour the afternoon that we arrived that started in the garden. The garden included the obligatory plants and cute animals (pigs, geese, chicken, sheep), and right in the middle was a composting toilet jokingly referred to as the Credit Union. You can guess where I spent most of my time. They collect the waste from the toilet (politely called humanure), compost it using strict procedures and they get crumbly, fragrant humus after a couple of years.

The tour also included the building sites for the houses, the existing buildings and a walk around the property. After the tour Brandy Gallagher gave us a presentation that covered the history, goals and future aims of the Ecovillage.

That night we slept in a cob building called the healing sanctuary. This is one of the first alternative buildings constructed at the village and the government of Canada continues to monitor this building for long term compliance with the Building Code.

We were very excited to stay in this building as cob finishing techniques are very similar to earthship finishing details. This was the first time we were able to show the kids what our finished building might look like. To this point all they have been able to see is a bunch of tires and pop cans!

This building uses natural finishes extensively. We hope to use earthen floors in our home but had not actually seen one until we stayed in this building. The floors are very attractive and warm due to in-floor radiant heating. This is definitely something we hope to do.

That evening we had dinner with the village residents. One of the residents cooks for everybody and that night we had lasagna and fresh bread. The meal was wonderful and everybody was quite friendly. I was a bit nervous leading up to dinner as there is a 'circle' before dinner that seems to involve holding hands. I am not a hugely touchy-feeley person outside of immediate family and close friends, much less people I've just met. I'm happy to say I survived this experience with no ill effects or long term consequences!

The next morning after breakfast we met with Ecovillage residents who were interested in our building project and talked for about an hour.

When we left we talked about coming back in the summer and trading our tire filling experience for some pointers on wall finishes.

I also picked up a copy of the Rocket Mass Heaters by Ianto Evans. I have done some reading about these stoves, and I think one would work well in an earthship.

Thanks for the wonderful experience Brandy et al.

The Rooster is Dead!

Chris is busily working on an account of our trip, leaving me with the sad task of informing all who care that our rooster died several days before we left.

It was a rather shocking discovery for Chris. He opened the coop door and there he was; dead on the floor! We're not entirely sure what happened. Several extended family members reckon the hens took revenge. I'm not unconvinced this was the case as the rooster was rather forward and frequent in his attention to the brood, leading my brother to give him a title that belongs in the courtrooms of those charged with acts of certain kinds of assault. The rest is best left unsaid.

I can't say the hens appreciated the attention; instinct wasn't always in play as I did see two of them turn and chase him once when he got too close. The girls in our house didn't like him much as he was quite aggressive toward us. I, at least, could see his value in our springtime venture of our home-based mini hatchery. Katie and Helen used his presence to advantage, wrangling out of chores as the coop is right next to the barn.

Stephen, on the other hand, simply liked having the rooster around. It added a male presence to the farmyard that was severely lacking (all the sheep are female).

Interestingly, we have been trying for a month or so now to figure out how to optimize our egg production since fall came upon us. We are using lights and keeping the hens in the coop a bit longer each day to encourage laying. We didn't want to add chemical crumbles since we moved the flock to organic wheat (locally grown). Up until we left last week our egg production from the 25 hens had fallen to about 6 per day.

Yesterday when we returned....10 eggs! Today: 13 eggs!

Could the rooster's presence have had something to do with our lowered egg production???

For now we won't replace him since we weren't planning on incubating eggs until late spring. But I think I'll do a bit more research on egg production and roosters...

The Weary Travelers...

Just returned late last night from our eco adventure on Vancouver was it ever wet!

Katie picked up a few bugs on the trip and is down for the count today. I just heard from a fellow freecycler that the story we were interviewed for by the Kamloops Daily News, appeared today!

I'm assuming our blog address appeared in the story so Chris and I need to get a record of our trip here before too long...


1) Staying overnight in a cob house at O.U.R. Ecovillage near Duncan
2)Conducting a self-tour of the B.C. Legislature!
3)Learning how to build a backyard garden using tilapia! Chris has grand plans to make his aquaponic system a closed loop using our worms as feed for the fish. Thank you Ann McCarthy of Vancouver Island University for showing us the system!
4)Getting a peek at Ann's six foot sturgeon on the way out of the University! Made the kids' eyes very big!
5) Visiting with the Robinson's to talk about farming, sustainable houses, frugal living, home schooling, computers, canning, and learning that Bob the Builder built an Earthship! How crazy is that??? I will post a link when I can track one down. We watched it and it was pretty cool!
6) Visiting Gord and Ann Baird's cob house near Victoria. They are going for net zero and it is a lovely, cozy home in the Highlands area of Victoria. I'll post a link later.
7) Visiting with Lucille, my mom's childhood friend. We haven't seen her since the kids were toddlers.
8) Seeing the Wylie's Earthship near Nanaimo. It was the first completed earthship our children have been inside and it went a long way to convincing them their parents aren't cracked...very comfortable inside!
9) Ferry rides!!!! We are such land-lubbers....

More to follow in the next 24 hours (with pictures!)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Back to business!

With November 30th looming, I'm back on the payroll getting ready for year end. All of the paperwork that got put aside this year while we finished up two house orders and started our own house now has to be dealt with!

I'm also researching possible new directions for the business, including the sale of tiffin carriers, which I convinced Chris about a year ago that we should import from India and start selling! Well, the tiffin carriers arrived but we never got organized enough to start selling. Since then we've been busy completing orders for the business and planning our own house.

Tiffin is a snack or light meal (often hot) that came into being in India. A tiffin carrier is just that, something that carries "tiffins". Traditionally (and currently!) tiffin carriers (most often referred to simply as "tiffins") have been stainless steel containers, often nested in one another, with lids. They come in all shapes and sizes. I like to refer to them to North Americans, as stainless steel lunchkits. Most interesting is that for over 100 years, about 4,000 dabbawallas (the men who deliver more than 100,000 tiffins daily from homes to offices) have been accurately delivering tiffins in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) using a code system (most dabbawallas are illiterate) and the success rate is so high (only four mis-deliveries per 100,000), that the network was rated among the highest of any courier system in the world (according to Forbes Magazine several years ago). Check this link out for more information about dabbawallas.

Here's a picture of the kind our company is selling:

Notice the small metal container in the middle of this photo. We looked for a non-plastic container to put nuts, yogurt and dips in and finally settled on the magnetic spice containers that are readily available at most grocery/kitchen stores. It does have a small see through plastic top and yogurt and dips can get a bit messy if the entire tiffin is swung around or carried upside down. The magnetic bottom does not stick to the tiffin but does stick to our fridge, making instant storage for unused containers!


Obviously one of the drawbacks is that the tiffin carrier is non microwaveable...but our kids (and we) have been using them successfully for a year without this being a big deal. The sturdiness and the low environmental impact (you may never have to buy another lunch kit again!) is a huge plus.

We've personalized the kids' tiffins by buying metal keychains with their names or initials on it and clipping it to the carrier. At first they felt a bit conspicuous with the lunchkits, but now it is completely natural to them to use the tiffins. When we go into town on errands or out of town, we will pack our tiffins with our home made snacks and light lunches, to save on saran wrap, tin foil and other extra packaging (saves money when we don't eat out, too!)

In my spare time last fall, I started making bags for them. Here's one I made for Katie (the kids picked out their own fabric. This one is all sorts of red and blue insects on a lime green background). The top has a drawstring and the strap is adjustable. I made it to feel like a purse for the girls. There's a contrasting outer pocket to slip in metal utensils and a cloth napkin.

Stephen picked out NHL fabric and I went to great lenghts to cut the fabric so that whole hockey players could be seen on the bag. Rather than a purse strap, I made a short buckled strap (the buckles are the same as would be found on a backpack) and the idea is to strap it to your backpack somewhere. He used this bag once and then unfortunately somebody at school made a comment about it being baby-ish and that was THAT!)

This is Helen's and is a very rich butterfly pattern made very similarly to Katie's.

Right now, as I'm working on the company year end, I'm also investigating a method of selling the tiffins online. The tiffins are $25 plus taxes (I haven't decided if I'm entirely happy with the bag design, yet so those aren't for sale, but I have a really wide range of fabric with which to make more bags, when I'm ready). I currently have 100 tiffins in stock. We can sell them now locally without any issues.

Chris is also prepared to start selling composting worms. He's been building up the worm composters gradually over the last year and they are now ready to move onto new homes. He's setting the price at $25 per pound right now, which should get a sytem up and running. He's not sure if the company will get into selling worm composting bins at the present time, but his advice is free on how to make your own! There are companies that sell worms online ($35 per pound is the going rate) and shipping them does not seem to be a problem. However, with his small operation I don't think we'll be able to serve more than a local market.

The struggle with online sales is that we don't like the idea of shipping the tiffins too far because of the carbon footprint it generates. Also, although we use credit cards responsibly, we don't necessarily want to set this product line up such that it makes it easy for people to go deeper into debt. On the other hand, would the carbon footprint of shipping these offset the footprint of annual purchases of plastic lunchkits? Also, I question whether I have to be responsible for others' financial decisions...lots to think about.

At the same time, Chris has a few R&D projects in mind for the winter, that could also be sell-able at some point, perhaps on an online store...

So I'm carrying forward and investigating all options. Right now I'm trying to find a credit card merchant for selling on line that doesn't have long-term contracts or cancellation fees. I want the absolute basics -- I don't mind phoning in for card authorizations if I can bypass the cost of renting a fancy wireless machine! And I'm looking for one that would be easy for our Canadian company to deal with. After that, I will research how to tie in an online store with our accounting software (we use Simply Accounting). Suggestions and comments welcome!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Building Site - Winter is here

We've had snow over the last couple of days. So far none of it is sticking!

I have been slow to post updates the last while ... so lets see.

In mid-october we backfilled the exterior walls. The walls are now ten tires high (8') and bermed on the outside right up to the tenth row. The exterior walls are very stable, but the interior walls (which are currently unsupported) are wobbly when you stand on the top and hit them hard with something. Most of the construction accounts I have read describe this instability. When the walls are restrained by the bond beam and roof they are very solid.

Before we bermed to the tops of the walls we had some heavy rain. At that point we had not sloped the ground behind the building site away from the building. Runoff pooled behind the wall in the kids' bedroom and flowed through the tire wall. Not something you want to see! When we backfilled in October, we also contoured and sloped the land behind the building so that runoff moves away from the building. We have since had even heavier rain and the walls looked great. It is always nice to see things work the way they are supposed to!

Since that time Sandra and I have been winterizing the property and getting ready for winter.

At this point we do not think we will make significant progress on the house over the winter, but we will take things as they come. The next steps are pouring the bond beam and starting the roof.

I have been thinking and doing more about electrical generation and heating systems, and I will start posting some of my thoughts and work in these areas in the next little while!

Monday, November 2, 2009

The BIG Field Trip!

We are getting excited.

Next week (barring H1N1) we will be taking the kids out of school and travelling to Vancouver Island. We have booked a tour and a night's accomodation at OUR Ecovillage, located between Victoria and Nanaimo. Chris was quite delighted to be told to bring biodegradeable toiletries because otherwise "the worms don't like it". Worms! They use worms in their sustainable living system! We are pretty stoked as we have heard a lot about OUR Ecovillage over the last few years but have had little time to wander to the Island to check it out.

We are also spending a day and night in Victoria. I have found a fairly inexpensive hostel and we will check out the sights and take a tour of the Legislature. Henry and Lee-Ann's daughter, Lana Popham, is the MLA for Saanich South and we hope to find her in Victoria the day we are there. She came to see our house earlier this fall on her way to meetings in the Cariboo, so after hearing so much about her for years, we finally met her. She also owns an organic vinyard on the Island and one day (when she's not busy being a politician) we also hope to see her farm, too.

While in Victoria we are going to look up Josh and James, two of the "fab four" from the summer volunteer crew. My mom's childhood friend, Lucille, lives near Victoria and I hope to see her for the first time in five years.

Then, Chris has asked and been invited to see the aquaponic work that Vancouver Island University in Nanaimo is working on. He is pretty keen to see this. Not only worms and fish, but worms and fish all in one weekend! My cousin James first put us onto this by sending us this link: but Chris stumbled on it from another source at almost the same time.

Then on to visit with the Robinson's and hear all about their plans for their land and for their cob/earthship hybrid. The kids are looking forward to finally meeting them; they were all away the week the Robinsons were here.

And, maybe I can squeeze in a visit with my cousin Janna and her family in Nanoose Bay!

Sunday, November 1, 2009


We in the North Thompson have not been immune to the effects (or the fear) of the H1N1. It seems in the last few weeks it has ramped up and so have people's fear.

We've gone in big circles many times regarding vaccinating the kids and ourselves. Ultimately our decision not to is probably moot now that it has become apparent that the vaccine will not be prepared in time for every Canadian to be vaccinated in a timely fashion.

Our discussions are probably not much different than occur in most families in the developed world right now...and don't need to be reiterated here.

In fact, we are wondering if two or more of us have already had it's hard to tell. If so, it was pretty mild. Just a few nights waking up to administer Tylenol to the girls.

Good luck to every other family during the flu season, be it swine or otherwise!