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!