Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Green Clean- Recipes for Everybody

When I first set out to make my own cleaning products, the greatest inhibitor was logistical. When the spray bottle emptied, anxiety set in. Now I would have to gather the various ingredients from opposite ends of the house, pull out the recipe from yet another corner, then make the stuff. It seemed more of a production than it was worth. 

Then came the birth of my 'Green Clean Kit', and my family was saved my whining. 

To make a Green Clean Kit, find a crate (a green or blue bin works great) and fill it with the items pictured above:

1. Vinegar 
2. Baking Soda 
3. Castile (ex. Dr. Bronner's) or Pure Glycerine Soap (buy at Grocery/Health Food Store or Online)
4. Oil (olive or otherwise)
5. Borax (found in Laundry aisle)
6. Washing Soda (found in Laundry aisle)
7. Tea Tree
8. Rags

With these ingredients you will be able to make most of the homemade recipes available on the internet or plethora of books on the subject.

To be honest, I use only two recipes for just about every cleaning emergency. I have numerous spray bottles around the house, most marked in Sharpie with the recipes so everyone in the household can make up a new batch of cleaner.

General Purpose Cleaner
(For use everywhere, but on marble. If using on mirrors, experiment with amount of soap.)

1 Cup Water
1 Cup White Vinegar
1 teaspoon Castile Soap (or detergent if that's what you have)
5- 10 drops Tea Tree Oil (optional antibacterial)


2 Cup Hot Water
3 teaspoons Borax
3 Tablespoons Castile Soap (or detergent if that's what you have)
3 Tablespoons White Vinegar

More oversight is required of this one if kids are cleaning. Borax is a natural mineral, however use it carefully as its highly toxic for animals and children. It is used here for its disinfectant properties in place of bleach.

I've also stumbled onto super cheap liquid hand soap!  Use 1 part Castile Soap to 7 parts Water. Works like a charm and for pennies (okay, maybe it'll cost you $1 to fill a standard soap pump).

Happy Cleaning, Guys, Gals and children of all ages. 

An Update- Square Foot Gardening in Edmonton's 2010 Season

(Check out the Square Foot Gardening Label for more square foot gardening in Edmonton.)

Being so far north, one would imagine that our summer here in Edmonton is as short as our winter is long. But not so fast, oh-prejudiced-one-against-northern-communities, Edmonton's got a longer season than Calgary (which counts for a lot as we shiver through the winter, cursing our lack of warming chinooks). Edmonton's frost free date this year was May 2. I planted broccoli, spinach, some carrots, peas and chard at the very beginning of April, and I optimistically planted out my beans, corn and tomatoes May 9.

June 2, snow and frost! Grrr, northern communities be damned.

Well, I and the rest of my plants survived the cold and rain of spring, but its sure been slow going for my little garden. Around mid June I added extra compost and some all purpose fertilizer to give the plants a boost that the weather couldn't or wouldn't. 

Here are my boxes, pictures taken around the middle of June:
The Spinach and Garlic actually overwintered (above ground!), the peas along the fence have desperately persevered mowing by birds. In the nearest corners are marigolds, seeded in other parts of the garden from last year, then transplanted here this year.

Again, garlic has overwintered successfully, as did the lettuce. I have tried planting onion seeds (not sets) in this bed, but they are desperately slow.  Beets and carrots are in the empty squares, tomatoes and cukes are at the back.

This year, I used this box as a cold frame. I planted my broccoli, alpine strawberries, marigolds, strawberry spinach and some lettuce in this bed early April, then when the weather got cold I covered it with a blanket or tarp over the pvc pipe and held in place with bricks. I transplanted all of those seedlings to other, more appropriate parts of the boxes and gardens. It worked so well I will add another cold frame set up in 2011.

The transplanted broccoli is a new crop for me... Peas are growing at the back of each square to cover the lattice, and carrots are planted at either end.

A new bed to compliment a weedy back alley! Mat built this bed for a demonatration we did on square foot gardening in May. He bought two 10 foot, 1x6s then cut it to make a 2x8' bed. He then added the 2x2' potato box at the end, which has a false bottom so its only 1 foot deep (I wanted the aestetic of this part being higher). Then, creative guy that he is, he fancied it up by adding cedar trim. The box cost us $10 since we had the screws, stain and trim.

In seeding it, I experimented with the familiar companion planting 'Three Sisters'. One row is planted with corn and beans (3 corn and 1 bean to every square foot), the second row is squash, marigolds, onions and nasturtiums (to trail along the front). In the higher section I've planted 16 seed potatoes in 4 square feet, with a depth of 1 foot.  

Here is the new bed, as of June 30:

The potatoes are doing really well; I now must add more dirt. 

This new bed has proved to be in an excellent position. Lots of sun, lots of reflection off the cement, easy access to the rain barrel. I think I may have to convince Mat to build four more beds to stretch across the 'guest parking spot' affectionately known as 'dandelion cove'. The dandelions may serve as excellent ground cover for all my aisles!


Monday, June 14, 2010

Hanging my skivies

Our new dryer was replaced with a second model exactly the same as the first, after four months of me complaining to customer service that the dryer didn’t dry my clothes. I was informed that these new LG dryers were set up to not dry clothes completely- so to save wear and tear on fabric.  Silly me, I could not accept this idea that I hang my clothes to dry AFTER placing them in my $800 dryer.

Turned out that the second dryer was the same as the first. Back to the warehouse it went and the nice folks at LG were going to send us a third dryer, exactly the same as the second, when Mat called and said, “No thanks, we’d like a refund.”

“Sir, a refund can’t be issued until your machine has been logged in our warehouse database.”

Fine. That tiny step has taken over two months. We have been without a dryer for TWO MONTHS! My whole life, I have been an avowed dryer- advocate. Sure I’ve been known to use the clothes line on those picture perfect ‘clothes line days’ when nostalgia gets the better of me, but at the sight of rain or a busy day I non-apologetically use the dryer.

Until two months ago that is. Surprisingly for such a dryer addict, I report here that using my clothesline and indoor drying rack has presented a shocking number of positives:

1. Everything in our closets is folded! It’s much easier to fold items directly off the rack because they have dried partially folded. I’m ashamed to admit that with my dryer I regularly pulled all the items out into one knotted mass in the ‘clean’ hamper. We then proceeded to dress from this tangled mess.

2. Having such a clear visual of every piece of fabric in our home hanging in the back yard, I am more aware of our family’s clothing inventory. Therefore, I buy fewer clothes. Even a $1 skirt at the thrift store isn’t worth the increasing my laundry pile.

3. My clothes, especially my thin cotton shirts, aren’t nearly as worn out. And at press time I have shrunk zero of Mat’s wool sweaters.

4. Lily’s diapers, Madi’s paint shirts, and my whites are stain free thanks to Mr. Sun.

5. Our towels have morphed into beautiful pumice stones! Due to the crisp air-dry our towels receive, my skin has never been better exfoliated.

6. We’re forced, in a good way (as in, I’m not resenting it yet), to be on top of the laundry. In our past days as dryer-owners, we often had washdays on Sundays. Eight loads through the machines, few folded. In this current regime, there is space for three washer loads on the line and rack that means we do the wash every couple days. I’m not nearly as daunted by the laundry as before when faced with piles of textiles from every closet in the house, barfed out at the foot of the basement steps.

7. I’m saving some money. Granted its not really a lot considering the time it takes to hang a load of wash (approximately 5 minutes per day). The clothes dryer is typically the second-largest electricity-using appliance after the refrigerator.  It costs about $85 to operate annually, so I’ve saved $14. Or rather, I’ve paid myself $7 for 2.5 hours of labour per month… 

8. But how can I quantify the spiritual benefits? I’m not a smoker, so there are not many times when I take a break to breath in some fresh air, release some tension in my shoulders, and pause. Hanging the laundry has been just that for me. It has offered me opportunity to pause.

And in those times of pause, I’ve been faced with the fact that my dishcloths are in disgusting shape. The whole lot of them must be purged.

And so, until we buy another dryer and I resort to my old habits, I will continue to hang my clean laundry while wondering if the neighbourhood boys are laughing at my knickers.

Monday, June 7, 2010

On Gentrification in the Urban Centre

I post this here because acts of Urban Homesteading are impacting, and will continue to impact, communities and neighbourhoods in the city. It's an important wrestle for anyone homesteading in areas where revitalization is occurring.

The font screamed from the lamppost, its capital letters in heavy black Sharpie: “GENTRIFICATION IS THE NEW COLONIALISM”.

I liked how this simple, succinct statement of withering contempt made me think. I liked the challenge of it. I marveled at how the use of five words can so swiftly turn a dialogue into a big, bloody battle.

Gentrification is a word that digs back into English history and refers to the gentry or ‘landed people’. It is used today to describe the middle class’s return to the centre of the city to live. It is usually used with a negative connotation.

“What’s so wrong with people who have money, power and education?” You ask.

Besides what’s wrong with most people- occasional bad humour, indigestion, and secret families- the fear is less about them as people and more on their impact on the most vulnerable residents in a neighbourhood. The fear is that the middle class move in and- well- there goes the community. Literally. No one else, but other middle and upper class people can afford to buy or rent the houses that have ‘desirable neighbourhood’ price tags attached.

Of course, gentrification doesn’t happen over night in a neighbourhood with significant crime and social upheaval. Gentrification happens in spurts over time. The amount of time it takes and number of times properties change hands is different in each city and region. And it’s hard to say when gentrification is complete. Is it when everyone has the same income? When everyone has the same values? When bylaws are introduced to forbid clotheslines?

As long as there is free market and free movement of people, the city’s neighbourhood demographics will change. In the 50s, our neighbourhood began to see significant movement of people away from the centre. The suburbs were being built in earnest and they were more attractive, affordable and accessible than ever before. My grandfather grew up in Alberta Avenue (his father owned an appliance store on 95 Street), and in 1948 was part of a new church plant. All of the twelve families that started the church lived in the neighbourhood however by 1970 only one member of the congregation still called Norwood home. This was a significant time of transition for many in the community. People moved for all sorts of reasons, and in their place investors purchased homes that often quickly deteriorated. Locally owned businesses closed or moved to more prime locations, leaving gaping holes in the landscapes of 111 and 118 Ave.  Churches closed or reinvented themselves as commuter churches. Many of the new residents were the working poor or newcomers to Canada and were often caught in cycles of poverty- preyed upon by slum landlords or greasy drug dealers. By 1970, the increased presence of the sex trade in the community further stressed market values and community optimism.

This was the story across North America’s city cores. However, for some time now, the trend is changing. With the onset of ideals of the New Urbanism, the city is no longer viewed through the lenses of rat infested, polluted Industrial Revolution cities (Charles Dickens impacted our neighbourhoods more than we give him credit!). City living has become desirable for its own aesthetic and quality of life. And there are other advantages: shorter commute means more time with family and friends, better access to city cultural events and public transportation.

Here in Alberta Avenue, the gentrification trend was clearly also fuelled by a red-hot real estate market through the early 2000s into 2008. In 2007, the inner city areas in Edmonton were the only areas you could find a single detached home for under $250,000. As the market climbed, many people began to worry that they would never be able to get into the market and so they bought whatever they could. And it often meant living in an area that for years had been maligned by parents or feared by classmates.

My husband and I have lived here since 2004 when we bought our first home for what my family thought was an exorbitant price considering the address ($130,000). We moved here to be close to our work and so that we could live alongside neighbours with diversity of background, culture and class. I love the cheap espresso at the bakeries. I love the easygoing atmosphere of the library. I love our boulevard trees. And depending on the renovation schedule, I either love or hate my home.

In all of my coming and goings, I am keenly aware of my role in revitalization and my fear of contributing to gentrification. I’m not sure where our family fits (and there aren’t any gentrification centres that determine its parameters), but we earn a middle class salary, own a vehicle, and have university degrees so I think I may be a threat. Will planting flowers in my back alley just make the neighbourhood prettier, hence more attractive for a prospective home buyer who turns the rooming house across the alley into a single family dwelling which in turn displaces six people? Perhaps I shouldn’t plant flowers, or paint my fence, or walk my dog, or have a coffee on the porch or… I might just negatively impact the city.

It’s like ‘gentrification’ is some wild, giant boogeyman that might snatch my children or feed on my liver… Or worse still, it will feed on really poor children’s livers.

TV dramas thrive on this stuff:

Scene #1- Young woman runs wildly from the dark alley. She screams: “They’re coming, in a huge Mercedes with house plans the size of a meteor.”

Scene #2- Senior man in a wheel chair wearing a ratty cardigan weeps at his kitchen table while his super rich landlady drums her manicured nails on the counter and barks, “You’ve got until tomorrow to find another place. I’ll take the keys now.”  The camera zooms in on the five year old’s iphone as she watches Hannah Montana.

Satire aside, I don’t want to undermine the injustice that displacement of already vulnerable people can cause. I’ve worked with families facing few options in life and it is a painful place to be. In my opinion, however, the primary challenge in looking at revitalization through the lens of gentrification is that we begin to read situations and meet people from a primarily classist perspective. Surely being aware of one’s privilege is critical in being a more empathetic individual that in turn makes us better neighbours and friends. Certainly being conscious of one’s impact on one’s neighbourhood is critical for building holistic communities. However looking at everything from a class perspective undermines the strengths and options that many in the low-income bracket might have to offer.  People are people are people; we’ve got strengths and weakness that we have to live and work together with.

From my experience, how people use their personal power is more critical an issue when building healthy community than income level and class ever is.

Class, money, power, and education when used for personal gain will create individualistic and distant neighbourhoods. If used for good, however, these things can create profoundly sustainable, connected and diverse communities.

So, instead of fear mongering and class-dissing, let’s starting talking to people about what their dreams for this neighbourhood and their families are. In the course of our community and city’s history, this is a unique time. The local economy is growing, there are grassroots initiatives beginning, my grandfather’s church has new community residents joining the congregation. The neighbourhood is experiencing an upswing.

Just how far upscale should we justly let it go?