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 ...

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Fellow Earthshippers

Check out this link about a couple in Ontario who are also building an earthship.  They obtained their building permit in September 2009.  Their photos are under "Breaking Ground".

Coming Soon: New Blog and Webstore!

Chris and I have been working together with a friend to redesign the look of our blog and add a webstore!  The new site will have a brand new address and a bright, fresh look.  We'll keep this address so that when we go to the new one in a few weeks (?) we can redirect from here.

The webstore will initially feature stainless steel tifiin carriers and composting worms.  With a bit of organization I may be selling homemade tiffin carrier bags and other useful fabric products in the short-term. In the long-term we will add other products that support an environmentally aware lifestyle.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

DIY Hair Colouring

Last Tuesday when I was in Kamloops I stopped by Sally Beauty and picked up everything I need to colour my own hair. I've been talking about doing this for some time, especially since my DIY eye brow waxing has been so successful.
I stopped at Chatters first (it was closer to one of my other errands) but they don't sell hair colouring products, presumeably because there is a salon attached to the store...
The lady at Sally Beauty spent quite a bit of time with me explaining what I needed and how the process worked. I chose the two colours that were closest to what my hair colour is now, which actually mimics the colour of my hair BEFORE the grey set in. We were getting confused about the highlight colour (a blonde) because the saleslady kept talking about it being a two part process and I don't think Crystie (the lady who, before now, has been doing my hair) has ever messed around with the blonde colour any differently. I'm goning to read the packages I've got and perhaps get the blonde colour next time I'm in.
I've enlisted a friend to help me (it's that or get Chris to do it!) and although I think she is worried about wrecking my hair, I'm pretty optimistic it will go well. And, in the end, it's just hair!

To get all the equipment, foils, and the two colours, cost me $51 taxes in. I figure there's 4-5 applications in the tubes, so as long as I don't have to creep back to Crystie for repair work, it should be a great savings.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Re: Udated Expenses

Whoops!  I wasn't thinking.  The next expense is the concrete for the bond beam.  We will either pour it ourselves (4-5 cubic yards) or have a truck come. 

If we pour it ourselves, then we have the cost of the portland cement (about $13 per bag).  Presumeably if we pour ourselves then we feel we have enough clean gravel/sand on site to do so (and enough friends with cement mixers!)  Each yard of cement takes about 6 bags of portland cement.  So we would need roughly 30 bags at $13 for $390.  The question is whether we have good soil on site in sufficient quantity to undertake the pour.

If we decide to bring a truck in we have figured out that it would cost us in the neighbourhood of $800+. AND if we brought a truck in, could we unload cement on the far side of the building (the slope of the back wall is such that a truck would  have to park way below the level of the bond beam). We would have to factor in gravity, or lack of it, in this case).  Another factor in a decision to bring in a truck is to build the forms for the post pads in the house. Any extra concrete we've paid for needs a home...

Our next step in making this decision is to grab a pail of gravel from the best part of the pit and give it a wash to see what kind of organic material is in it.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Updated Expenses

I've had a few requests to update our expenses.  No update, because we haven't paid out any money since the Fall.  Granted, we haven't really worked on the house until just recently, but I'm not anticipating any expenses until we get to the roof tin/rollon/living roof, etc. 

We hope to take the very worst of our low grade lumber (which is a VERY hard sell) and try to recover 2x6 from it for the decking. If we can't then that will be our next expense, as we will have to buy the rough material.  We are using old and recycled materials for the time being, and leftover materials from projects at our previous property...

Isn't that great?

Bond Beam started! Grade 11 math required!

Over the last several days, Chris and I have been working on the bond beam. The bond beam needs to be continuous (without joins) along the top of the tire walls. All the weight of the roof will be resting on the bond beam.

Traditionally, earthship bond beams are constructed by making an 8” high wall of mortar and pop cans on each side of the tires (with 8” of space in between for the concrete bond beam). The inside of every second tire will be scooped out (about a gallon’s worth) and the bond beam will fill these holes, securing the tires to the bond beam. The bond beam also serves to fix all the interior walls in place in readiness for the roof beams.

That’s the theory.

We have enough pop cans to do the bond beam in this manner but it would leave us without many to continue on with building planter walls and interior walls ( which use the same method as the side forms of the bond beam).

We have wood. In fact, we have a lot of off-grade machined house logs that we have decided to use. The logs are mostly off grade because of skip on the round face, some wane (missing wood) and too many pin holes to have made the premium house grade of logs we used to sell.

Here’s a photo of the first few pieces in place on the ousdie wall of the kids’ room.

Once we needed to turn the corner, we had to measure the angle.  We have this handy protractor tool for the job!

After measuring, we took the log up to the truss saw (cuts angles).  Here's Chris setting the angle...

We took the log back to the building site only to discover our grade 11 math had failed us! We figured it out right away and redid the piece.

First we check the angle on a test piece before cutting our log.

Here's Chris putting the angle cut on our bond beam "form".

Screwing it to the adjoining piece...

Here's what it looks like so far.  Now we have to excavate every second tire...which is difficult now that it is cold again.  We tried.  I think we will install the outside log and pin them together and wait for some above zero weather to excavate the tires.  Worse case scenario if it stays too cold?  Start working on the 12" round log beams.  They will look beautiful throughout the house!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Overlander Ski Marathon

Today was the annual Overlander Ski Marathon. It's one of the races we target each year for our kids and the club kids to participate in. It's a smaller, local race (held at Stake Lake near Kamloops) that is not part of an organized race series for the kids. However, it's attached to an adult Loppet series taking part at the same time.

Each year we take approximately 10-13 skiers plus a few coach racers and a good handful of parents. This year would have been a big year for the Barriere Outdoor Club (the North Thompson Recreation Society) except that kids were toppling like dominoes to various bugs...Katie and Helen were unable to race (Chris stayed home and further reduced our coach racer numbers).  Levi Kempter (6) had an unfortunate bout of projectile vomiting last night and Lauren Tremblay (9) underwent surgery a few weeks ago and presented herself as an animated spectator who will soon be back on the race course! Jacob Peterson was also feeling under the weather! The Smiths were spending a downhill ski weekend at Sun Peaks (gone to the dark side!)

Despite our diminshed numbers the kids were awesome! Several skiers moved up into new age categories, making them the youngest skiers again in their divisions. And they still posted fabulous times! Others became the oldest in their age categories and walked away with placings.

Building a cross country ski racing team became a given several years ago when many of our club skiers were graduating from the “Jackrabbit” program. It was either implement the “Track Attack” program (racing), or send kids on their way at 10 or 11 years with no club program to keep them interested in the sport.

After two years and much training by Chris and me (to a Learn To Train Level) and the upgrading of skills by several other coaches (all graciously funded by our parent organization, The North Thompson Recreation Society) the coaches pulled together a complete ski lesson program under the new provincial standard, the SDP, including a racing component, which Chris and I have been building up ever since.

I am thrilled to say that with a great group of wonderful kids and their parents, we have nudged our way onto the racing scene, with our first BC Cup on the January 9/10 weekend in Kelowna, BC. It, like today, was FABULOUS.  Loudspeakers, concessions, starting guns or gates, cow bells, race bibs, hot chocolate, and lots and lots of really good racers!

I was very impressed by the club skiers who waited so patiently for me to cross the finish line today and who cheered me on. To me this is the essence of a racing team. Racing is competition (a good thing) but it’s also patience, learning, goofiness, respect, and the ability to win and lose graciously. In another post, I’ll post some goofy pictures of an informal ski day we spent at Sun Peaks (with no snow at our own trails we went…higher to find some).

For now, in no particular order, some pictures from today’s race. Way to go everyone!

O.K., Blogger put my picture first! I placed last again in my age divison (10k-women 40-49). The last time I raced was two years ago. LAST year I had gained just a bit too much weight to feel able to do a good race, so by this year I had dropped 20 pounds and decided I was back in. I believe that if I am teaching kids to race, than I need to practice what I preach! As such, I know how to teach losing graciously! Personal goals are what matter to me and this year I shaved off a few minutes and finished the race still able to walk!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Wood Gasification and an Earthship

The on-line magazine Low-Tech Magazine has a great introductory article about wood fired cars.

Quoting from the above-linked article, ... Dutch John strongly believes in wood gas generators, mainly for stationary uses such as heating, electricity generation or even the production of plastics. The Volvo is meant to demonstrate the possibilities of the technology. "Park an Italian sports car next to a wood gas car and the crowd gathers around the woodmobile. Nevertheless, wood gas cars are only for idealists and for times of crisis.

I am convinced that using wood as a heating source and potentially an energy source makes a lot of sense where I live.  The forest products industry in British Columbia is huge, and we do not effectively utilize the waste wood from this industry (it is often completely wasted).

There is significant potential energy generation lost from all of that waste wood.  Most proposals and projects that attempt to harness this potential energy are large-scale and designed to fit with our existing centralized power generation and distribution grid. I (as I suspect are most people building earthships) am interested in a small-scale energy system that powers my needs and possibly the neighbor's.

There are now some excellent prototypes for wood gasification available, including free plans!  The typical route when considering independent energy generation typically starts with solar power.  I think we also need to be thinking about other locally appropriate, low-technology solutions.

I love this stuff!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Bond Beam

Given the warm weather we have had lately (all our snow is gone and it has consistently been above 0 degrees celcius), we are planning the next stage of our building project.  If the weather stays warm we hope to start building again too!

The main tire wall was finished last fall.  The next step is placing a bond beam on top of this wall.  This beam ties the walls and roof of the building together and increases the stability of the walls.
We have decided to pour a concrete bond beam as detailed in Volume III of the Eartship books, as opposed to using the laminated 2x12 bond beam described in volume  I.  We chose this route as we would prefer to minimize any wood that ultimately might be back filled.  Also, the sad reality is that I am trained as an engineer; both solutions seem adequate, but concrete just leaves me feeling that much better about the situation.  This decision does mean more time and cost.

The Bond Beam
Our bond beam will be 8" wide by 8" high with two continuous runs of 1/2" rebar.  The beam will be anchored to the tire wall by; excavating every second tire, and driving a 3' length of 1/2" rebar into each excavation such that approximately 6" of rebar remains above the top of the tire and will be buried in the concrete poured for the beam.

The perimeter of the back tire wall of the earthship is (I simply took this from the plans):

12' + 08' + 12' + 16' + 28' + 11' + 15'+ 11' + 11' + 12' + 28' (7x4') + 18' = 182'
So, our bond beam will have an approximate length of 182'.

Figuring out the concrete required for this bond beam:

concrete in beam =    2/3' x 2/3' x 182'  = 81 cubic feet = 3 cubic yards

This does not allow for the holes excavated in the tops of the tire or variations in tire heights that mean more concrete is used.  So ... rough estimate of 4 cubic yards.

I figure on the following materials for the bond beam:

  • 24 bags portland cement (4 cubic yards of concrete)
  • engineered fibres (how much?)
  • 550 lineal feet 1/2" rebar (2 runs x 182' + 40 tires x 3' + min. 18" lapping = 550 ?)
  • hay wire (to wire the lapped rebar)
  • embedded fasteners in the concrete to secure the beams (not sure what these are yet)

The Bond Beam Form
 A form needs to be built to hold the concrete after it is poured, until it sets up.  I figure I have two options here...
Option 1: A Pop Can and Concrete Form for the Bond Beam
As outlined in Volume III many earthship builders use a pop can and concrete form instead of wood.  This is done primarily (I believe) to reduce the amount of wood used in the project.
Some rough calculations ...

  • A pop can is basically 5" long x 2.5" in diameter.
  • This means each can has a volume of 3.14 x (2.5/2)^2 x 5"  =  24.54 cubic inches = 0.0142 cubic ft.
  • A lineal foot of can wall will use at a minimum 3 cans in each horizontal course (total of 9 cans for 1 sqft of wall).
  • A lineal foot of the bond beam form wall will use a total of 6 cans as it is only 8" high.  Ignoring these 6 cans, a lineal foot of the form wall needs 5" x 8" x12" = 480 cubic inches of concrete.  Subtracting the volume of the tin cans this works out to 332.76 cubic inches of concrete or 0.00713 cubic yards of concrete per running foot of can wall for the bond beam form
So, for our 182' bond beam the form would need the following materials:
  • volume of concrete  = 2 x 182' x 0.00713 cu.yards/' = 2.6 cubic yards
  • number of cans = 2 x 182' x 6 cans/' = 2184 cans
  • fasteners to hold rebar in place during the pour
I am guessing we have accumulated enough cans to form this beam but I will not have many left over for other walls in the building.  Also, there is a material cost in portland cement to mix the concrete form.

Option 2: A Lumber Form for the Bond Beam: My rough numbers
Assuming I use lumber for my forms, I need the following materials:
  • fasteners to hold the two sides of the form together while concrete is poured,
  • fasteners to hold rebar in place during the pour,
  • lumber fasteners for the lumber, 
  • lumber for the forms
I believe I have gathered enough pop cans to consider the first option for forming the beam.  However, I would probably use all the pop cans I have accumulated to date, and be left looking for more later on.

I actually have access to low grade lumber suitable for forming the beam.  It makes more sense to me to use lumber for this form; the material is available to me, and I think it will be easier to finish around the roof beams down the road.  The simple reality is that if I do not use the lumber for this job, it will need to be re-worked for some other use.

Using lumber will probably not save me much money, as I will require fasteners for the form which I currently do not have.  I do hope that this decision will save us time and labour.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Earthship Guest Book

Here is the lovely, handmade guest book that Dad and Gail made for us for Christmas.  Dad selected beetle killed pine (hence the blue stain) from his basement and he and Gail crafted the wooden guest book container.  It was a thoughtful gift, using materials they already had on hand.  Although, Gail did admit the most expensive part was the engraving.  So I'm apologizing now for not calling our home the "hut"!

Nobody's signed it yet, but we are saving the first four lines for the Fab Four:  Anna & Sean, James and Josh.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Can we do it? Yes we can!

O.K. so a hokey rip off of Bob the Builder.  But Bob's on our side (having built an earthship on his show; sadly only in the U.K so we can't get it here).  I figure Bob wouldn't mind me ripping off his chant as the introduction to our can collection post.

Earthships use pop (beer) cans as part of the building process.  Cans are pressed into a form of cement for interior walls and planter walls to limit the amount of concrete used in the building.

Last year we did a rough estimate of how many cans we would need.  We arrived at 10,000. 

We don't drink pop and we don't drink much beer.  Thankfully, many volunteers, friends and family have been regularly donating cans and we figure we now have, perhaps 2,500. 

A week ago Chris and I walked to our mail box.  We walked there the back way but came home along the highway, bringing back with us, about 10 cans (a 200m stretch).

The following day Chris went on his own for a walk down the highway but took a grocery bag with him. He walked 2km on one side of the highway and 2 km back along the opposite side.  He got honked at, too, by our friend Dave Tremblay, who must have thought we were running out of money!

Here's Chris' haul from that walk.

The next day we drove the Upper Louis Creek Heffley road from Barriere to Sun Peaks (where we ski).  After 6 km of the 30 km stretch of road, we finally started stopping.  The kids thought we were cracked, but they soon got right into it (laughing and talking and spotting).  Stephen and Chris would retrieve cans and the girls would laugh. 

The 36 cans we picked up were all beer cans. This prompted a discussion in the car about why we weren't finding pop cans.  The kids were interested to learn that even if you are a passenger, open alcohol is against the law.  So the conclusion we came to is that the risk of being caught far outweighed the benefits of getting the 5 cent deposit back.  Also Chris pointed out that lots of people travel that road after a day of skiing and the beverage of choice quite obviously neither Coke nor Pepsi!  BTW it is overwhelmingly Bud Light!

The next day we found another 16 cans.  Some we obviously missed the first time, but some were newly discarded.  Chris then found some on the road to Dad and Gail's and on his last walk in the northern direction from our house, he found 110!  Recently my brothers gave us big bags, too!

If anybody wants to contribute to our research, please peruse the back roads that you travel and commit to picking up cans.  Then let us know what the beer of choice is in your neck of the woods.  (And if you wanted to donate the cans to our building, it will guarantee a photo on this blog!)

Update on eyebrows

Since embarking on a DIY (frugal) beauty program (starting with my eyebrows)  I am happy to report that I am entirely satisfied with how I have eventually fine tuned my technique.  My latest hair removal session was done in five minutes, with the use of the regular magnification of the mirror WHILE carrying on a conversation with Helen and Stephen about Heritage Fair.  And as any Barriere Elementary School parent can attest...that can be very distracting!

Next?  Hair colouring.  I'm trying to find a product (salon sophisticated) that I can use (well, get a friend to use) to cover my grey.  I do have somebody lined up to experiement on me but the product I'd like to use is not sold to non-hair dressers by the distributor.  I'm sure I could find it somewhere else...well, I'm not sure, but my next mission is to see if I can find it somewhere else.

Anybody else have a favourite DIY hair colour system?  Do share!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Home made birthday party loot bags

Yesterday we held Helen's sleepover birthday party at Dad and Gail's house.  We had been planning it for some time and five girls came with four of them sleeping over with Helen (and me).

I did not want to buy any more plastic loot bags (despite the fact that they were only a dollar for 10 at the dollar store).  So Helen and I looked up a sewing pattern on the internet for easy-peasy patterned jewelry pouches  Go to this link to see where we got our pattern. 

We started with the protractor-type rotary cutter that I bought after Christmas with my 50% coupon at Michael's.  I have circles I will be cutting regularly for a different pattern in the near future and I had been eyeing this tool for some time.

We used some fabric ends that Santa stuffed in Helen's stocking (I happen to know that Mrs. Clause picked these ends up for $1 at the Royal Inland Hospital Auxiliary Thrift store in Kamloops. :)

We cut two circles of contrasting fabric for a total of 16 circles (8 bags).  We had LOTS of fabric left over.

Then I put them right side together and sewed a 1/4" seam around the circumference, leaving a few inches so that I could turn it right side out and sew up the opening.  I used my quilter's foot for this as it is exactly 1/4" and has a guide. It made turning the circle very easy.

I nipped the circle a few times so that it would lay flat when I turned it right side out.

I ironed it flat...

And hand stitched it closed...

I made eight...

Once it was stitched closed I made another run of stitiching 1/4" from the edge (used the quilter's foot again).  Then another on the inside of that one about 1/4" away.  I had to use my regular sewing foot so I guessed for this.

Then I cut two small openings opposite each other through a single layer of fabric and put two strands of cord through.  I had to read the online directions closely to figure this out.

This is what we ended up with.  We filled them with a few high quality chocolates and that was that.  Only pennies per bag and they are re-useable!

Friday, January 15, 2010

New laptop

The Future Shop gift cards I traded for Avion points finally came in a few days ago.  It's as well  I had to wait a month for them; the laptop I wanted went down in price by $100.  It was the last one in stock so they gave us an open box discount too.  The gift cards ($550) covered all but the taxes. 

I'm now spending quality time getting used to the keyboard which is a little different than the last Toshiba.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Sears debacle...resolved

Today I arrived at Sears Kamloops and explained my plight to a woman named Sherry (who was very nice).  She gamely phoned the number I gave her and spoke to Eddie.  Eddie then quizzed me as to my birthday, address and phone number.  When he was satisfied that I was the person who could pay my account (I'm wondering why they wouldn't just let anybody pay it, if they were confused enough to do so!) he told me that Sherry could take my payment.

And we said goodbye.

Then Sherry and I looked at each other and asked at the same time, "How much do I (you) pay?"  Arrghhh.  Apparently she still couldn't tell me how much was owing; Eddie was supposed to tell me.  After a fit of giggles, Sherry's supervisor showed up and suggested she simply call head office and ask for my balance (she said not to say anything about my saga).

After much time on hold with me resigned to being a resident of the Sears store, Sherry straightened up and motioned to me.  Then she gave me the total, which I wrote down.  Then paid.

I was a bit incredulous that this is what it might have taken all along but after telling Chris my story, he suggested that perhaps while Sherry was on hold, Eddie was "unlocking" my account so that Sears could access it.  This made a lot of sense as I was told that only the collection agency could access it.

So thanks to Lauren, Eddie and Sherry my life in debt is over (I hope).  I've made a note to check Equifax in a few months to make sure my credit rating is spanky again.

Reflections on our tire press

We've been getting emailed questions about our tire press, so I thought I would attempt to recap our experiences with it.

As described in an earlier posting we built the press out of materials we had on hand. The press design is quite simple.  The unit consists of:
  • a stubby hydraulic cylinder, 
  • two rounded steel plates welded at either end of the cylinder, 
  • a control valve to extend and retract the cylinder, 
  • hydraulic hose plus fittings,
  • and a portable hydraulic pump that plugs into a standard 120 volt wall outlet.

The hydraulic cylinder is approximately 1' retracted length (including the attached steel plates) and extends out another 3-4" at full extension. The steel plates are 5/16" thick and were cut from steel pipe that was approximately 16 inches in diameter.  The photo shows the initial plates that I used that came close to packing an entire tire in one pass.  These plates were impractical ... it was too hard to place the packer in a tire, and it simply did not pack well.  We settled on much smaller plates that were only about 6" wide.

As shown in the video (below this paragraph) the size of the packer is dictated by the inside diameter of the tires being filled.  The packer is dropped into a previously hand packed tire that is still hollow in the middle.  With the packer fully retracted, dirt is then shoveled into the tire so that when the packer cylinder is extended the new and existing dirt is packed into the tire.  The packer is rotated and this process is repeated until the tire is sufficiently packed.

After the tire is sufficiently packed, the packer is removed.  The tamper is then used to fill and compact the centre of the tire.
 Our tamper was simply an old sprocket welded to a five foot length of steel pipe.  The whole 
unit weighs significantly more and has a much wider packing head (approximately 8" diameter) than a sledge hammer.  It was very effective at packing the centre of the tires.
Many thanks to Mike Casey for building and lending this packer to us!

Tamping requires a person to straddle the tire and compact the dirt by pounding the tamper up and down while periodically adding dirt until the tire is filled and compacted.
Care needs to be taken to not stand on the edges of the tire being tamped initially, as you run the risk of reducing the compaction of the tire by collapsing the dirt in the rim.  You also do no want to strike the side walls of the tire with the packer as this will also reduce the compaction of the tire.

Our packer was fairly small and portable.  We mounted the hydraulic pump and electric motor combination on a wheel barrow so that it could be moved easily from tire to tire.  We ran a 50' extension cord to an available electrical outlet.  (We also ran the unit off of a 3500 watt gas generator during a power failure.)  The hoses were long enough such that the packer could be used at the top of an eight foot wall with the packer at the base of the wall.
As the walls got higher the packer stayed inside the building, and we brought dirt to the tires from the outside of the building and backfilled as we went.  This meant that moving the dirt was done at ground level and the operator of the packer stood on a ladder as the walls got higher.  We had to extend the lever controlling the cylinder so that the person operating it could still extend and retract the ram.

I guess the important question is was it worth it?  Was the packer effective? Did we save time, money or labour?

In terms of cost our packer was essentially free.  I had all of the parts needed to make this unit, although I did cannibalize one piece of equipment that will have to be put back together.  Also, I did all of the welding and assembly, and it went together surprisingly quickly.  So, there was very little cost in building this unit. I suspect you could pay a few thousand dollars buying and scrounging the parts needed.

The packer proved to be very effective in packing the tires, it did a very consistent job of filling and compacting the rims of the tires.  I can only compare the effectiveness of the packer to tires we filled with sledge hammers on our first tier and tires I have seen in finished buildings.  Both methods seem equally effective at compacting dirt in a tire.  One advantage of the packer is that it did not get tired, and loose oomph as the day went on.  Quality control was critical regardless of the method used, and we were careful to consistently inspect finished tires.

We definitely saved a lot of hard labour using the packer.  We were exhausted after a day of hand packing the tires.  The hydraulic press eliminated the physically demanding effort of packing with the sledge hammer.  The tamping was still done by hand (and generated lots of complaints) but was far easier than the alternative.

I also think that the packer saved us time.  A crew of three was very efficient when filling tires; one to operate the packer, one to shovel dirt and one to tamp tires and supply dirt to the shoveler.  I am estimating (guessing?) that we could easily have done half a row of tires a day (approximately 40) and finished the main tire wall in under a month with a dedicated crew of three to four people.  It took us three months, we did not work steadily, and our crew of volunteers changed constantly.  I suspect that either method can be very efficient.  The bigger issue with either method is keeping people busy packing tires.  A lot of time and effort goes into moving, supplying and preparing material (dirt, tires, water and cardboard).  More than once we stopped working to scrounge tires, move dirt or cut cardboard!

Ultimately, at the end of the day using a hydraulic packer meant that the crew was as happy at the end of the day as at the beginning!

Sunday, January 10, 2010


I'm still working on Chris' computer while my new laptop acquisition gets lined up.  This means that anybody who has been emailing to my personal email address will still have to be patient.  Chris has not re-routed my email to his computer so it may seem that all queries have fallen into a cyber abyss.  A few more weeks at most!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Happy Birthday to Me!

My birthday is almost over!  It was a happy day despite the fact that Chris and I worked on year end all day.  I did have a glass of red wine for dinner and the kids sang Happy Birthday to me.  No presents (except a bottle of red wine from the Tremblays; yay!) so nobody had to race around too much. No cake, either.  We're topped up from Christmas and Helen's birthday!

Everybody's birthday should be as relaxed when they turn 43 get older.  :)

I abhor debt....and I've got a collection agency on my tail!

For the last several weeks I've been playing chase-down-the-invoice with several collection agencies.  It appears that there is an upaid balance on my Sears card and nobody has been able to tell me what the balance is despite the fact that I acknowledge making a purchase last summer on the card.

Ironically it was my screamin' deal purchase I blogged about in July.  Read about my Sears purchase here.

To get this screaming deal I had to use my Sears card.  I have to stop right here and digress.  Chris and I only use one credit card regularly.  We have a joint VISA that collects points and that we pay $150 to renew each year.  When we used to put $100,000 a year on it for the business this made a lot of sense. In three years we've recouped about $2500 of merchandise and accommodations.  We always paid the credit card off each month.  Now that we don't run much through the business and we live more frugally we have decided not to renew this card in a few months.

We apply for an receive department store cards only when doing so nets us a discount.  Usually this happens when you first use the card or on special in store days.  I've probably used my Bay card four times in the last decade, each time getting me 15-20 percent off my purchase.

We used the Sears card many years ago when we bought a side table on clearance.  It took another 50 per cent off the price when we received it.

On my screaming deal day last July I was very excited to get almost 50 per cent of my purchase, even though I had to use my Sears card.  NO PROBLEM!  Except when they looked me up (I didn't have it on me, of course). they said it had expired.  They renewed it for me, issued a temporary card (expiry at the end of August 09) gave me my screamin' deal and sent me on my merry kayaking way (we were headed out on our Bowron Lakes trip shortly following my shopping spree).

In October we started getting calls from Chase bank asking me to call them (no message was left saying why I should call them).  I'd never had calls from them before so I googled them and sure enough, they sell Mastercard.  I got call display for this very reason:  to stop telemarketers from selling me credit cards.  So ,I ignored them, despite the fact they called ALL month.  I was quite gleeful actually.  Serves them right, I thought, to try to bother me in my precious evenings.

In early December I had a very strange message from a woman named Jennifer from a company called A.R.O.  She said she was a bit confused as she thought she was getting Sandra Burkholder's phone number and that she'd even called my father, Gary, to get it.  Was Sandra at this number or was she unrelated to the Newtons?  Our message simply identifies us as Newtons, so occasionally people do get a tad confused when they don't know me.

I figured if she went to that effort, I'd better find out what was going on.

Turns out A.R.O. is a pre-collection company (?) and that my Sears card was in arrears.  It still wasn't making much sense to me so she started rhyming dates off to me.  I finally clued in that she was talking about my July purchase.  And, I realized at the same time, that I had not paid it.

As the little lights were going on in my head I started to shine them on Jennifer.  I never received a replacement card when my temporary card expired.  I also never received a statement from Sears (Chase..ah ha!), and nobody who was leaving messages left any indication that it was my Sears card that was the issue.

I acknowledged that I hadn't paid it and asked her to tell me or send me a statement.  She said she's have the company send another statement and that I should receive it in a week.

In a week's time Jennifer called and left a message saying she hoped I'd paid it because if not the file would be turned over to the "collection" agency (I began to wonder exactly what happens at "post collection"...)

I was started to get a tad irritated and told her that it had not arrived and perhaps somebody could just give me the amount and an address and I would just pay it to get it over with.  But, apparently with privacy laws, this cannot be done!  I told her I was going into Sears Kamloops to pay it there.

On the Tuesday after Christmas I went to Sears Kamloops and asked for Customer Service.  It no longer exists. I tracked down a harried manager, who, because of the holidays, was working on the floor.  The woman offere to call Sears headquarters the next morning and see what she could do.

The next morning she called me and told me because of privacy laws, they wouldn't give her the information.  But she did give me another 1-800 #.  Which I called.  Five times.  Leaving a message with each option's answering machine. The last message wasn't altogether calm and ended with a rather terse, "JUST CALL ME!"  I left several messages with Jennifer telling her what I had done and asked her to call me to suggest what I should do next.

I finally heard from Jennifer (message) on December 30th telling me that if I didn't pay it by December 31st it would not only go to collections but my credit rating would be affected.  In desperation I called Chase and spoke to a lovely woman named Lauren.  In this whole mess she was the first person who admitted it may have been an error in the mailing (even though when the mailing address and phone number were read to me, they were correct).  She put me on hold for some time and came back to tell me that when files get turned over from Chase to a collections company, the file is locked and they can't access it anymore, so SHE couldn't tell me the amount either.  She did try to call the collections company and returned to say that the company was closed from Christmas to January 2nd.  Bleh!

On January 2nd I called the collections company and Jennifer.  Many times.  The last few times were a simple (but not so calm) request to JUST CALL ME!  Finally I googled Sears Canada headquarters and found a press release with Vincent Powers, Corporate Communication along the bottom.  Along with a phone number!  I called Vincent and left a message -- he was on holidays until the 6th but was checking voice messages periodically.

On January 4th I called Jennifer again and actually spoke to her.  I asked if she'd received my six messages and her reply...  Yes she did, she asked the collections company to send me another statement!  I'm very sorry to have to admit that I lost it.  Or in my sister-in-law, Tracey's words, popped my whistle.  I gave her a piece of my mind and demanded to speak to her supervisor.  I'm also sorry to say I rattled her and it probably wasn't fair.  But you know, as I told Jennifer, if she can't help me her job is to get somebody who can and if she's not trained to deal with irate people in her business, then she needs to ask for more authority and more advice on how to resolve issues.  I don't think she cared.  She gave me the number of her supervisor because he was on holiday until the 6th.  (Of course he was).

Miraculously, yesterday Vincent called me and listened to my tale very quietly. He was a textbook example of how I was trained in the PR world to deal with a rattled person.  He said all the right things, asked me to email him the details and promised to get it going.

He did. Today I spoke to Eddie, in the executive office of JPMorgan-Chase and he apologized for the whole mess. He told me to go into Sears Kamloops and ask to use their phones to call him. He would then verify my account with me and with the Sears associates.  He would give me the outstanding amount (no interest or penalties) and I could pay right there.  He even promised to remove anything from my credit rating with the major credit bureaus.  When I told him I couldn't be in Kamloops until Tuesday of next week, he said that he would notify the collections agencies to stop calling me and that paying it next Tuesday would be fine.

I love Eddie.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Apologies and mutterings

Since coming out of the environmental closet last year I've noticed an alarming trend.  Friends and family are starting to edit their conversations with me.  We will be deep in conversations and I will suddenly get a muttered, "oh, I'm sorry, that's not very environmental of me," or "yeah, well, I know I shouldn't do that, but you know."

I'd like to go on record as saying, "Yes, I do know!".  It's really hard to always be thinking of making the right choice for the environment.  I'm constantly confronted with things I do or have been doing that I realize could be done differently.  Some of them I DO NOTHING ABOUT.  Sometimes somebody else has to point them out to me and I'm amazed I didn't see it staring right at me.  I'm not perfect.  I have yet to find ski waxes that are environmentally friendly...actually I haven't tried.  Although I don't have a lot of chemical cleaners in my house, I'm staring at a bottle of windex right now.  I haven't gotten around to mixing that other stuff. (Sorry, sorry, I know I should!)  There, you see?  I do it too.

One of the reasons we started this blog was to show others that our thought process was pretty typical.  We are no different (or were no different) in how we lived than most of the population.  By showing our warts and misguided attempts as we build our sustainable house and live a little cleaner and better, we thought it might encourage others to try something different, too. And to make people realize that you don't have to do it all to make a difference.

And I'm finding that lots of other people are like me..they just don't make it so public!

Happy 9th Birthday Helen!

Turtle's Road Trip

My stuffed animal, Turtle, (named after her species) is going on a road trip. I wanted to see more of Canada and the United States, but I didn't want to leave home. I decided that sending Turtle was a good solution. On January 3rd 2010 I put Turtle into a bag with a journal and some money. On the inside of her journal I wrote the following letter,

My name is Katie Newton, I want to see Canada and the United States, but I can't really do that. This is my teddy bear, she needs your help. Turtle wants to see as much of Canada and the United States as she can. Write about yourself in her journal and then introduce her to someone new. Talk to her lots because I will miss her. I got her for my birthday. Turtle wants to meet as many new people as she can. If you keep her for more than one day, try to write in her journal often.

What is your name? Where are you going? Do you have kids? Do you have siblings? (I do.)

In January 2011 she will be ready to come home. In her journal is some money. If you have Turtle in January 2011 find a sturdy box and use the money to mail her to this address: K. Newton, Box 646, Barriere, B.C. VOE 1EO.

If you would like to hear how her trip went when she gets back, leave your address in the back of this book. Thanks and I hope to hear from you. Your friends Turtle and Katie.

Today I took her to school and gave her to my teacher, thus starting her journey. Check back in January 2011 to learn about Turtle's trip.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Canadian Nomad

I follow a number of blogs (as you'll see from the right hand sidebar). One of my favourites is by James Hornett, a fellow who came to work on our earthship this summer for a few weeks.

Chris and I both enjoy James' understated wit and incredibly thoughtful musings, both in person and on his blog.  I was updating myself on his latest post (he's been home to Newfoundland for Christmas) and the quote he included at the end of it really grabbed me...couldn't have said it better myself, so I won't!  Check out Canadian Nomad at the right and the New Decade post.

My only beef with James' blog is he doesn't write often enough and he only has one committed!

One teabag left!

My title says it all...I have one teabag left (and one mint teabag for Chris).  Please see my post below about eating from pantry and freezer if you are really confused!

It took me a month and I had fun a few times trying to guess the "mystery" tea.  I still don't know what one kind was and because it had no tags or identifying marks, I was at a loss.  There seemed to be a lot of it, which makes me think it was something I bought on a whim and ignored. 

There was nothing I drank that I had to choke down (although a few I added honey to).

Thankfully all the meat in the freezer is labelled.

Candles for Christmas

I alluded to our ideas for Christmas gifts last year.  We decided to give handmade and homemade gifts that could either be eaten or enjoyed and re-used.

We had great fun buying candle making supplies (Chris' project) and buying up cute little cups and containers from the thrift store to put them in. In addition, we made several "Cookies in a Jar" gifts as well as home-made bread and preserves. 

We made a list of family and friends to whom we wished to present these gifts and eagerly went shopping for baskets. It was my desire to buy baskets for no more than $1.99 each and I was fairly successful in this as I shopped the thrift stores (full price at Michaels started at $10.00 each!)

I bought fabric ends from the Royal Inland Hospital Thrift store in Kamloops where I discovered one metre ends were selling for as little as $0.50! 

The girls and I made candy cane bark (see previous post).

I wish I could say that we were more successful in our attempt.  We seemed to be pouring candle wax into teacups the night BEFORE we were seeing family to hand off our gifts.  We did enjoy it very much and still have 10 or so baskets that will probably become Groundhog Day Gift baskets and Easter Baskets and Canada Day baskets. Perhaps next Christmas we will start just a bit earlier!  I'm not sure exactly what the price of each basket came to (or will come to) but my gut feeling was about $12.  For those we gave out this year we attached a neat little card that asked for the basket and jars to be returned so that we could continue to give gifts throughout the year.  As long as our dear family and friends help out out here, the "recycled" baskets filled with different goodies, would cost $8-9 each.  If you count our time and effort...priceless, especially because we spent a whole lot of time together!

Here are a few photos of our attempts at no particular order.


Helen's Quilt

Here are some photos of Helen's quilt project.  I would like to thank our friend Judy Davis who swiftly offered to sell her sewing machine to me to give to Helen for Christmas when I came to her for advice about buying one.  Judy is my December Frugal Friend!  The story behind the little Jenome Jem is one to be proud of!

Judy found it is the Kamloops Value Village.  It was still in its packaging and was listed for $30.  She snapped it up but because she has lots of sewing machines (including a long arm sewing machine that comprises her business activity, "Rather Be Quilting") she had only used the little Jem a few times.  She turned around and offered it to me at the same price; as if I had been the bargain finder!!!

We put a big bow around it and put it under the tree, which confused Helen to no end!  Since then we've bought her a few extra bobbins and a quilting presser foot.  Helen's been madly stitching squares together and plans on making little drawstring bags from scraps for her birthday give-aways on the 16th (she turns 9 tomorrow!)

Here's a few pictures of her project and one of mine, using up scraps from my fabric bag...



Here's the quilting bag that Judy hand sewed and GAVE to Helen. It stores the cutting board and fabric and the rulers.  Really handy for our space as Helen can slide it under her bunkbed.

My project below.  My challenge was that I did not have pieces more than 2-1/2" wide (this is why they are quilters' scraps).  I've moved onto other colours and patterns since this was taken.