Power Down

I am going to keep this post short, I am a few days away from my fortnight off and a few hours away from hubby setting off for his motherland for two months.

Over the last few weeks I have been running low on energy, both physically and emotionally. I am much in need for a bit of hibernation. I am not a fan of vehicles, but the analogy of running on fumes would best describe where I am right now.

Switching to a plant-based diet helped keep me going a little longer. The thing is, when you need a break then nothing else will really help you feel better than time to chill and power down.

That said, and not wanting to be too gloomy, I am psyched and prepped for my month free from electricity and just about anything else that needs money. With the exception of my laptop for work in the second two weeks.

I shall resist any temptations to sneakily browse the Interweb between meetings and such. And I have a fully stocked kitchen. I have plenty of books to read and am learning to play some games designed to be played be 1 person (or more). There’ll be lots of sleep, gardening and maybe some hikes too.

I am not as fully prepared as I’d hoped and may not be able to avoid using water as much as I had planned, but let’s see. If I can start cutting back/down/off on water consumption a few days later, I’ll also finish later.

I may allow myself some extra laptop time, to share an update, on my first day back to work. Otherwise I’ll keep a journal with good ol’ pen and paper until August comes round.

Hope you all have a good start to your summer, cheers for now. :)

Distorted Digit

I am at danger of wishing away the entire year, and it’s only May!

The problem is paying of a significant chunk of our loan, which ends with the New Year, at which time our monthly repayments drop by more than half. Meaning I don’t have to sit biting my nails that I’ll have enough hours each month to just get by.

Next year, I can accept less hours and even save some money!

But, to wish away all this time is a problem I’ve had for too long. I need to enjoy the here and now and be prepared for tomorrow, but not to think or worry about it excessively.

This was a post I’d started before injuring my finger, which is as crooked as you’d like but healing up well and not painful any longer. Funny how being forced to take a step back changes things.

I am no longer worrying away my time, I was itching to get baking and gardening again and after two weeks or so off I have now utterly exhausted myself trying to catch up on chores.

My morning wasn’t so great either, discovering that the cat has decided to dig up our planters once more. All my wild flower seedlings and most of the new veggies (just planted out last week) have been utterly devastated. I can’t be angry at her by I am damned fucking disappointed. I was really looking forward to those wild flowers and the potential wildlife they’d attract.

No idea where I even got the seeds from. :-(

I’ve now staked out the bare patch to form a strange piece of garden art. I secretly hope that something grows back, but the reality isn’t so promising.

We are making progress towards my Big Summer Plan we’ve unplugged more electronics, but won’t let them go just yet. We’ve sold off some more things, but I have also decided that I’d like my home to feel like a home once more.

All the ornaments are back out on show. I won’t acquire any new and may let a few more go, but I’ve always been a nest builder. Maybe I was a Bowerbird in a previous life. :)

Shortly after injuring my finger I did show weakness and get myself a month of Netflix, but I am proud to say the few things I’ve watched/will watch are all documentaries and are mostly related to food, environment and health. Here’s a quick list in no particular order:

  • Gas Land
  • Requiem for the American Dream
  • Inside Job
  • Resistance
  • Fat, Sick & Nearly Dead (Part 1 and 2)
  • The Human Experiment
  • Sustainable
  • Super Size Me
  • Forks Over Knives
  • Food Choices
  • Terra
  • Live and Let Live
  • Foodmatters
  • Minimalism

Some insightful, depressing, intriguing, worrying but mainly though provoking stuff.

I have much more to tell you all but will have to leave it here for today. Time to work, only one more month before the first step down in hours, & salary. Cannot wait!

I’ll leave you with photos of the oh-so-delicious cherry tomato chutney I made this past weekend. YUM!

Baking, Making, Cooking

I’ve spent the week baking more bread, making jams, a sourdough starter and am planning to spend this afternoon cooking a vegetarian onion and potato tart.

Here’s a few pictures from the past week’s results, will post some of today’s tart later:

I am very aware of how much more I am using the (electric) oven, but I can justify that for knowing that our food is healthier and homemade.

While writing this, I’ve decided to bake a traditional Victoria Sponge cake, but will likely do that tomorrow. Will have to keep you waiting for those pics until tomorrow. ;)

The Big Summer Plan!

My Big Green Summer.

I had decided on this plan sometime ago, but my time here in the UK has made me more determined than ever to go ahead with it.

My partner will be heading home to the Philippines for six weeks this summer. I had decided to take two weeks off during that time, as we won’t be able to find time for a holiday together until Christmas at the earliest.

Wanting to save money during my holiday rather than spend more, especially as my time-off is unpaid, I will stay home and set myself a challenge.

So, for the whole of July I will avoid using any electricity. That means the first fortnight literally using none, but I will need to charge and power my laptop and the modem (only) for work in the second-half of the month.

I will fetch water from the local fountain for watering the plants and also for my showers. Which I will take on the terrace, using the sun to heat a bag of water – much like a camping shower.

I will hopefully have a good crop by then and will in the coming months preserve food we grow and from the market. The only thing I will spend on is my drinking water and will try stock up on dry ingredients like oats and rice and possibly stuff for baking bread.

However, I will have to cook all my food on the wood burning stove or eat it fresh. Additionally, I will try going vegetarian during this time. Excluding the eggs, I guess I’ll be vegan. We’ve already unplugged the fridge-freezer, so preserving is going to become essential in future. And what with only eating local we’ll need to stock-up for winter too. So this should be good practice.

That also means using only candle light once more, reading or playing tabletop games for entertainment during daylight hours plus going for long walks and hopefully some foraging. Cooling the house will not be an option, aside from opening windows and hoping for a cool breeze.

Who knows, all being well this could easily become a permanent/long-term switch. Heating in the deepest of winter would still be an issue and keeping my partner off of games consoles another. Well, let’s not worry about that for now.

I am very excited and eager to try going back to basics as much as possible. :-D

The Big Update!

It has been six months since starting this blog, and now feels like the ideal time to give you all an update and help remind myself of what we’ve already achieved and what we want to work towards in the months and years ahead.

It’s also time again to spend a little more, in hope of saving a lot later. I’m also really keen to lessen our impact on the planet some more and in the process become a smidgen more self-sufficient.

Food, Shopping & Waste .

I am working more hours than I’d like, to pay off our little loan. However, we have found ourselves with a few extra pennies each week. Rather than continue to cut our food budget to the absolute minimum, we have decided to take responsibility and have set ourselves a few guidelines for the food we will buy in future.

Our food should meet as many of the following points as possible:

  • be organic
  • be vegetarian (but we’re still eating eggs)
  • be fair-trade
  • be as locally produced as we can find
  • have minimal packaging, especially plastics

There’s one exception to buying local, as I’m not aware of any coffee plantations in Spain.

Giving up caffeine is something I’ll work towards, but not before my hours drop back down. It’s also a bit too cold for us to grow olives here, something that has become a favourite snack of ours.

Organic, fair-trade and local produce tend to be a little pricier than normal products found in supermarkets, but we’ll also be supporting local businesses, small shops, and also local producers when buying fresh stuff in the bi-weekly farmer’s market. Which seems like a good compromise.

We’ve already come to accept that going totally moneyless is not a reality for us, not just yet. We will of course continue to reduce our need for money as much as we can.

And of course, we’re hopeful that the majority of our vegetables and some of our fruit will be home-grown… eventually.

Also, we hope to reduce our weekly waste. Something that has already happened without much thought. 80-90% of our weekly rubbish is recyclable and another 5-10% is organic.

After last summer’s worm massacre, we’ve yet to set up a real composting system. This is something else we will address. Having today spent some money on a decent compost bin, both one for the kitchen and one for the terrace.

I’m hoping to get all those rubbish numbers as close to 0% as I can. Composting kitchen waste and using reusable bags not just for carrying our groceries but for rice, oats and anything else I can find bought from larger sacks. Thankfully most of the organic shops have options for buying these plus nuts, quinoa, couscous and more in this manner.

So, we’ll try to make some sacks of our own to avoid using the plastic (supposedly biodegradable) from the shops loose produce section. We’ve also paid a bit more than usual for truly biodegradable bin bags, made from corn starch[!?] or something similar.

We’ve not gone fully vegan, but are still largely vegetarian. We eat eggs and have the odd treat of some cheese. Once in a while we still eat some chicken too.
(More about chickens/eggs in the garden section.)

I’m currently looking into healthier options for our cat, the food we buy her now is expensive and processed. I have found a supplement that can be added to meat. Sure, we’ll still be supporting the meat industry and all the problems that brings, but my cat is a part of the family and deserves a healthy diet.

Keeping Warm.

We’ve given up on the olive oil lamps, not great light sources and yet amazing little heaters. I’ll try to find some way to use the parts and might come back to them next winter. The heating is now off and will stay that way indefinitely.

We’re also using our current small increase in financial stability to invest in beeswax tea lights. I hadn’t really thought about the ones we were using before, it was only when the last batch we bought produced a very nasty smell that we decided (much like our food) to go as natural/organic as possible.

I’ve found some that are sold with the option of not having the aluminium cups/containers. I have actually been keeping all of the ones we’ve used with the idea of an art project or upcycling of some sort in future. So, I can reuse them again for now with the new candles. I should do the same with our other light-candles, but we will use what we have first.

Power.

We found out where our power comes from, a nice move on our power company. Utter transparency and honesty, but not such a pleasant surprise. The breakdown was more or less:

    • 20% renewable (a good start)
    • 25% coal (the horror!!!!)
    • 25% nuclear (oh dear!!)

I still need to translate the remaining 30% which came from several different sources.

Well, finding alternatives to both save money and not use this wicked electricity has become an even bigger issue for me.

Thankfully we have unplugged the fridge-freezer and the only major energy we use is my computer for work. Having eventually failed at trying a tablet and a low-energy computer like the Raspberry Pi.

The other three big items is the washing machine, and my husband’s Xbox and TV. He is very much willing to take on this lifestyle change with the exception of one of his favourite games. I’ve asked him to play less, but have promised not to ask him to stop altogether.

Let’s see how it goes, sometimes he says he wants a new electric razor and this and that. Maybe it’s old habits or maybe he’s just thinking out loud and not entirely serious about getting these things.

Currently we are generating our own power from the wood burning oven and kettle that both use heat to make power, plus the old small solar panels and a some wind-up torches.

In the future I’d really like a small wind turbine, rather than a questionable (environmentally-friendly speaking) solar panel and perhaps more human-powered options.

I’ve decided to donate my Kindle to my father, once I’ve read all the books, as I know he is interested in getting one. I’ll ask that he sells/hands it on in future and so my concerns over its sustainability should have been solved.

Cleanliness.

I have been using soaps and shampoos again, and I did need a shave last month.

I had a Xmas treat of a haircut too. I kept the top long, and just had the sides shaved. So, I can still see exactly how much my hair has grown.

I am not changing my mind about not shaving or cutting my hair, this was simply an end of year treat.

I am reading about making my own soap/shampoo and won’t buy new products. I need to be ready with my own by the time our supply runs out, or go a few weeks again without any.

I am still peeing in the bidet to save water, but once our compost bin is established I’ll be peeing there. I’m sure the neighbours will be giving me some funny looks, but I need to set up a screen for me to also have showers outdoors come summer.

It’s entirely possible for this screen to evolve into an outdoor shower and compost toilet cabin. I have been doing my research into compost toilets. And am wondering why these aren’t mandatory in all new buildings?! Well, it’s at the top of my wish-list but being one of the more pricey items, will not necessarily happen this year.

What about the garden?

I spent the princely sum of €0.80 to buy some garlic, lettuce, cabbage and a little more on a new apple tree, raspberry bush and I forget one more. We’ve planted seeds for some insect friendly flowers, more peas (our current ones were badly damaged in gales), cornflower, borage and chard.

I’m finally getting organized and have began making monthly planting schedules that I can refer to again year after year.

I also harvested some onions, but have replanted them to produce more. I was very excited to see five little onions had grown from the one I planted last year. Never have I smelt fresh onion before, wow!

We need to get more soil but have plenty of wood chippings left, and we’re avoiding spending money on more pots by upcycling anything and everything that has no other value or use. As part of our cutting down on rubbish, we now only have one bin, our old coffee maker, which no-one wants to buy, joins an old kettle, old cat litter box, mugs, vases, packets and more.

Having bees is a long way-a-way, given finding them locally has proven a headache. My source of worms has also disappeared, meaning I can’t get some once our compost bin has been established. :-(

And chickens? Given we still eat meat, and that I have found much cheaper starting options than I originally posted? Yes, they are back on the radar – but with no clear date in mind for when we’ll get them. I can always feed the kitchen scraps too, but will there be enough for feed and compost?

What else is new/old?

We’ve still got plenty of old pallets and wood to make more things but have no real need for anything just yet. Maybe our outdoor bathroom/screen or some pot containers. I guess there’s no rush to decide.

Sadly, I am still waiting for my Altered Nozzle, the sooner we get this and save some water the better.

We’re ready to sell on more items such as books and other odds, but having got sick of boxes, we recycled or upcycled them and will now just have to accept less for items than we had once hoped.

I’ve been checking through my social media and have lost access to my Tumblr, but I’m not currently too bothered by this. If you’re messaging me there, I won’t get it.

The future?

Let’s just see what happens with Instagram, vlogging and other social media, but for sure I am excited to continue writing here.

As I said, chickens sometime this year and hopefully bees who knows when.

Willow coppice for firewood is also on my list, but this may not be a reality until we have our own land… along with the wind turbine.

I plan on getting/making a camping shower for free hot water this summer, but in the meantime we will need the boiler and gas for short hot showers.

Other things for the longer future that require we own our home, need more land or basically money are a plant-based grey-water filtration system and that compost toilet.

I don’t expect many people dream and wish for a compost toilet, but I’m one of them now.

And of course, more crop plants.

 

Phew. I think I’ve said enough. Thanks for reading this mammoth post. I’m so excited for the year ahead, and hope you continue to follow us on this journey.

Sustainability Bites!

And so too does the cold!

Yeah… I’m back. I didn’t mean to be gone for so long, but, well, what can I say? Life gets in the way. Especially when you’re enjoying living a simpler lifestyle.

We did however take a break for three weeks, from the week before Christmas and the week after New Year. Covering both my and my partner’s holidays.

During those few weeks we ate traditional home-cooked food which had partly to be bought online, included excess meat & sweets and has now added some extra insulation to our waists.

We also turned on some lights, lamps and decorated the house (with decorations we already owned). Yes, we relaxed all the rules we had previously set ourselves.

The best thing of all was central heating and hot baths. Especially as the winter here has been one of the worst in a decade. Not exactly white, unless you count the thick frost and even thicker fogs.

We’re prepared though, and have effectively ‘closed down’ more than half of our apartment. We are living in the two bedrooms which are relatively easy to keep warm through non-power or gas hungry means.

There is however a new challenge coming our way, this winter is about to get even worse. With local temperatures dropping below -10°C, at least during the nights. Something that is really not common here at all.

What with the added inability of local builders to make decent insulated walls, I am concerned. We may need to awaken that gas behemoth yet again and let it breathe hot air once more. Otherwise water pipes may well freeze, and the walls will crumble altogether.

What else has changed? Still working more than I’d like to, what with our mini-loan.

And given a third of my salary goes to the government, as there is a flat tax rate for self-employed people, I will only need work more.

If my salary goes down my tax rate does not. In fact, I am not yet paying the full amount due to discounts for the first 3 and 9 months. :-/

My ideal salary breakdown would go something like;
Rent 61% – but until we can find land we can afford, this will never be gone.
Bills <8% – the closer to zero the better, but had best plan for more. Just to be safe.
Mobiles/Internet 8-9% – need these to earn money in the first place.
Food 22% – things we cannot grow/provide for ourselves (yet).

I didn’t include saving any money for rainy days, because in an ideal situation there wouldn’t be any! :-D

We all need more holidays and less work to be productive, the systems we live under now are totally flawed. Having a fortnight off has given me the boost to get through a few more weeks or months, but this cannot go on indefinitely.

Oh! I’ve been considering a change of name, liking the idea of Selfish-Sufficiency, with the hope of attracting people looking to save some pennies but who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in choosing sustainable or green solutions for their need to cut back.

I fear though that I am falling into the trap of old habits, getting bored and changing names or abandoning blogs entirely to start something new. I am pretty much going to drop social media. If nobody finds the blog, so be it.

I’ll leave it there for now and promise to write again soon.

Hi!

Just on to let you all know that I am very much alive.

I had my auntie and cousin/best-friend come to visit us for a few days, was a little naughty spending too much, heading off into the big city and not forcing them to be stingy with the water and electricity.

Absolutely knackered and back to living on as little as possible now, feels good to know that I’m no longer consuming more than need be.

I’m happy to say that I saw sense and didn’t spend money on any new or secondhand gadgets. I wasn’t seeing the wood for the trees, it’s calls I need and not messaging.

Quite frankly, my friends will just have to accept the need to call or text (SMS) me. Why should I be stuck with something I don’t want nor need just because they prefer to use some messaging app or another? If this means they don’t communicate with me, well then perhaps they aren’t such good friends. :-P

What else, so the vegetarian diet is going well. I am eating a little bit of chicken once a week, but this is from my partner’s plate. That means no extra costs, dead animals or environmental impacts… or so I tell myself. This will only continue until I am sure that I have this meatless thing figured out and I will go on eating eggs and some cheese for the foreseeable future.

Next though is milk, I have tried alternatives before without much success but this time I am more determined. That said, this is not a cheaper option and is very much a matter of health before bank balance situation.

I am also cutting back more on my hours, but I’ll explain that and update you all more in the next post as I still need to catch up on my sleep.

G’night!

Tick, tock

I feel like bit of a yo-yo, determined that I don’t need or want a smartphone and any gadgets, gizmos or devices that consume more than is necessary.

Then I swing, like pendulum?, back to thinking maybe a smartphone and some devices that allow me to communicate for free isn’t such a bad idea. When I do the maths, if I had no mobile contract then I would make my money back in a little over a year!

Not bad, given the mobile I am looking at is designed to be repaired and live 5+ years. As for the portable-personal antennas, well I’d hope they could last just as long with proper care.

If I am going to spend my days wandering, foraging and losing myself in the forests and mountains, then there is a lot to be gained from an emergency communications system too. I can already negate the need to charge these, having sorted my renewable/free supply of power for a handful of things.

A ‘less-money’ lifestyle is very much a balancing act, sometimes spending in order to save. Ideally a little investment for a big return.

I wish these companies would make a repairable dumb phone which worked with your own antenna network, that would be ideal. So many of these new ideas for socially, environmentally and sustainable technologies all have one too many gimmicks, an app for your smartphone. Common, society needs to sort itself out. People need to divorce their mobiles and re-engage with reality.

At the moment I no longer have many electronics, less than I started with and the list is steadily growing short. The number of devices I use daily has dropped dramatically.

I use my camera when the mood to snap photos hits me, this was my partner’s camera so I feel that I should get brownie points for having a secondhand one. I only have my dumb phone now, having sold my tablet and smartphone, which I use a lot for work. And I have my computer (laptop) which I use for work, watching videos, reading the news and blogging. Then of course there’s the washing machine, fridge-freezer and occasionally the electric hob. Oh yeah and my eReader, I’d read about the environmental benefits of these once before. Given that any books I want will need to be shipped to me, often from the UK, I am very confident that once I’ve finished all 48 books, previously bought, then the carbon footprint has been balanced out. That said, I would in future prefer to buy secondhand books. Can anybody recommend a cheap-yet-green courier?

Having previously used a smart weighing scales, pedometer, fitness tracker, smartwatch, smartphone, tablet, laptop, printer, wireless mouse & keyboard, smart lights, TV, games consoles (one portable and two regular), VR headset, internet radio, action camera, coffee machine (2), kettle, oven, microwave*, hairdryer and a landline handset. Phew! What a list.

Don’t worry, these have or will all be sold, donated or recycled. Hence another swing to this indecisive pendulum, I do not want to increase my impact on the environment anymore, especially in terms of e-waste.

It’s not too late to pledge again on Kickstarter, but the clock is ticking. What to do!?!

 

*We haven’t bought one since moving house, I am yet to do some research and find out if it is a good/cheaper/greener option than the oven and hob. Although not as good as the wood stove, but sometimes starting a fire to heat milk is such a pain in the ass.

fire

I bring fire. You bring meat.

I may be on a personal quest to spend less, and if I save the environment in the process then… well I guess that’s good, but more importantly than either the health of the planet or my bank balance – I feel like a man today.

Yesterday less so, I failed to keep my fire burning and had to restart it three times before giving up. I also stupidly burnt myself in the process. I was a grumpy bastard after that, less of a man. Small man syndrome? Perhaps.

So today I tried again, I had to. After spending money on this hi-tech oven. (A BaseCamp stove by BioLite.)

Whoa!! Wait a minute. Spending money on some gadget?
Yup. *sheepish looks*

I wanted to make my own rocket stove from old tins and cans (like professional kitchen sized) and then forage for firewood. That would mean no longer needing to use our electric stove/hob or oven. Saving us precious pennies.

My partner wasn’t convinced, complained about smoke and danger and undercooked food. What? Didn’t think I could do it? Me, a man raised and blanketed his whole life in western comforts!? Bloody cheek.

Then I found this ready-made oven which could generate power from the heat, enough to charge a smartphone, tablet and stuff like that. Yeah we still have some of these. I have a tablet for work and my better-half has a smartphone for work.

This futuristic camping stove also sold itself on the idea that it used some of that energy to power a fan and reduce smoke (claims of 97% less) and improve the fire. It is being given away under a charity to parts of the world where cooking is still done over fires and where death by smoke inhalation is a significant problem. Blah, blah, great. But let’s focus on me.

Would it help me be a better cheapskate, post-purchase?

My partner was convinced and we spent a large chunk of our emergency funds. To be honest this small amount of money is not so much an emergency fund as a some of our remaining savings earmarked for anything that helps us save more. In future this could get us chickens, bees or replenish soil and fruit & veg seed stocks.

I got up at 7am, a sin on a Sunday morning, and began building the fire. Plenty of prodding, poking and praying to the gods of consumerism and nature resulted in a steady flame. Sure enough the oven began to make a whirling noise, making this space-age stainless steel saucer sound like it was about to take off. Was it also a drone!?! I’m sure these things have been spotted flying over campsites for years, sparking stories of UFOs.

Eventually I managed to boil enough water to make two cups of coffee. It seems the god of fire sensed my glee with this and the fire soon faded. I proudly marched indoors, my balls swollen and heavy with primitive manly feelings.

I poured the hot water into my hot pink French press and made my morning coffee. And now here I sit telling you this story of masculine accomplishment, a power over nature and economy and a desire to march forward head held high on this penniless project.

Old Habits

Well, yes they aren’t easy to kill, are they?

I saw someone convert a kerosene lamp into an olive oil lamp for a smokeless, safer and cheaper light (and heat) alternative. Candles aren’t that cheap these days!

So I paid between 30 and 40 euros for two lamps and two mason jars. Far, far too much!!

The glass bottom of the lamps are rather nice so I will need to find an alternative use for them. The reason they need changing is that olive or vegetable oil are much heavier than usual lamp oils and cannot travel up the wick so easily.

I do not really know how long it will take me to make any savings on my lighting/electric bill, but this is also a psychological game. After this initial cost my lighting will be free. Knowing that I am not paying a cent to light my home is very liberating.

Yes, I do mean free. We have litres and litres of olive oil that we will not use before its best before date (will have to write another post on that) which would otherwise have gone to waste. We do try to avoid cooking with too much oil, even the healthier kinds.

A good friend of ours owns some olive trees and gifts us more oil every six months or so, more than we ever use. We have insisted that she gives less, but they have more than they need too. So we have an almost unlimited supply for free. :)

Well, this is just a quick post. I’ll update you when I have converted the lamps.