Posts Tagged "sustainability"

Why We Do It

Posted on Oct 25, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured, Simple Living | 8 comments

Why We Do It

The Tiny House Listings blog recently asked Why Do People Fall in Love With Tiny Houses? I have a lot of thoughts on this ranging from financial freedom to humans are wired to like cute, diminutive things. Tonight, I would like to explore the question a bit and give some of our history at the same time. I’m sure for most people who meet us or stumble across our story, there is a big silent (or not so silent) “WHY?!?” hovering in the air. On more than one occasion, there has also been some question as to whether or not we are doing this because we are poor, as one lovely 8 year old put it. Why do we live in a converted school bus? Is it because we are poor? No, we’re not living in a bus out of financial necessity per se. It wasn’t  a case of losing our home and having to move our family into a bus or be homeless. In fact, our previous rental was $1200/month and we were managing that. And yes. We are too poor to buy into the housing market where we live. One of the “mistakes” we made was not getting into the market earlier with a starter home (a condo or an 800 sq ft 1 bedroom bungalow). Now, with three kids and a business with multiple business vehicles, our needs in a home have put us in position where all the suitable homes are far above our income level. Furthermore, with the rental market the way it is, we don’t have much opportunity to save a down payment while we’re busy paying the mortgage on someone else’s investment property. We also can’t afford to buy property and build our own home. Property values in our area are inflated by out-of-province and off-shore interests to the place where raw land is almost as expensive as buying a home in town leaving no extra funds for bringing in services and building a home, and the required down payment on land without a house further prices us out of the market. Still, in a lot of ways, we don’t see any of this as a mistake, but rather a choice as I’ve discussed before in my post Just Renting. We have consistently made decisions to prioritize our family, rather than the financial success–whatever that means–of owning a home. Why have we chosen to live in a converted bus? For Fun!! Yes, our initial motivation was because it seemed like a fun project. We were caught up in our new relationship (read: we were suffering from the impulsiveness of those newly in love). We were excited by the idea of doing the project together (as opposed to buying an RV). I personally (I don’t speak for Aaron here) was in a place of needing to do something different and shake up my life a bit as I was stuck in a rut.  Aaron had lived in a van for a couple of years while treeplanting and had seen some bus conversions. My parents had talked about bus conversions when I was growing up in the 70’s and 80’s. Aaron’s neighbour was a journalist who had recently interviewed some folks who lived in and around Vancouver (off-the-grid) in converted vehicles of all kinds (milk trucks, buses, etc.) and we were inspired and intrigued by what they called the Urban Technomad movement. This was before I had ever heard of the Tiny House movement and I can honestly say that our initial motivations didn’t have much to do with saving money or living lightly on the earth. Thankfully, all these years later, despite the inconveniences, we still do it because it’s fun! Finances. While the conversion itself cost more than we would like to admit (to the point where we actually stopped keeping track), we did appreciate the financial benefits that came with paying less rent. In the five years we lived in the bus in Vancouver, we paid off more than $30,000 of joint student loan debt. We could never have done that...

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How We Do It

Posted on Oct 5, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Simple Living | 3 comments

How We Do It

Here are some truths about our family that make our current adventure living in a 300 sq ft bus possible for us, and might not make the same lifestyle possible for you: We have always slept with our kids. We co-slept with our babies, and we often let them come into our bed even when they got older and had transitioned to their own bed in their own room (or slept in their beds if they wanted us to). We realize that this musical beds and sharing sleep with our kids is only going to happen for a few years. We can live with that. We’ll have lots of time with our beds to ourselves in the future. As much as we can, if our children express a wish to be close to us, we try to say yes. And as for parental intimacy, you can always google cosleeping and sexto find out that there has been a lot said about this even in the context of house dwelling. For a little laugh, I’ve always liked the t-shirt that says “Cosleepers do it in the kitchen.” We rarely close doors to bedrooms or bathrooms even when we’ve lived in houses. We like being in the same space. I like being able to see and hear what the kids are watching while I make dinner – not because I love kids’ programming or watching the same show over and over, but because I can supervise what they are watching, can discuss content with them, and have a reference point if something comes up in play or at school that is coming from what they are watching. I like being able to sit side-by-side with my children as we are each involved in a project of our own. I like being in the same room with Aaron in the evening when he’s doing office work for our business. Sure, he’s working most evenings after the kids are in bed – but at least I still get to see him. We can chat, have tea together, discuss plans for the business and because he’s putting in the hours in the evening after the kids are in bed, he gets to come home a little earlier and he helps with dinner and bedtime so it helps us find balance between work and family. Our kids shared a room in every house we rented, and likely would have continued sharing rooms for a long time. It doesn’t hurt them to learn to share and get along. We had already developed methods of getting them to bed in the same room by staggering bedtimes and tackling the job together. We have prioritized having fewer toys. We’ve been making the switch to natural toys, with an emphasis on having a few good quality toys rather than on having a lot of cheap toys. I don’t wash my hair and shower daily. I have heard the argument that some people just have to wash their hair daily or it is impossibly oily. To me, this demonstrates an overdependence on shampoo and conditioner, which can disrupt the balance of natural oils in the hair. Many people who use No-Poo can attest to this. I weaned my hair from needing to be shampooed daily over  ten years ago (and for the first two weeks, it was hard). I was still showering before work every morning, but gradually dropped that habit too. Showering every couple of days is more than sufficient to keep clean and smelling nice. We are domestic adrenaline junkies. That is, we thrive on change. In the in-between times, between moves, new babies, new businesses, career changes, big projects, we often feel bored or stuck in a rut. Sure, we like structure and stability as much as the next guys, and we aren’t likely to make decisions solely for the purpose of not getting bored, but at the same time, we do like the excitement that comes with crafting a life less ordinary. We’ve done this before.We lived in this very bus for 5 years. This means:...

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Enough

Posted on Oct 4, 2012 in Eliza Brownhome, Featured, Simple Living | 21 comments

Enough

{Disclaimer: this post is meant to address specific comments regarding how we manage to live in a bus without what some people consider necessities. This is not meant in any way to come across Holier Than Thou. This post isn’t a judgment on how the majority of North Americans live, but rather a moment to consider that even with a family of five in 300 square feet, we are lucky.} I’m going to get a little heavy today and ask a big question: How do you know when you have enough? How much do you need? Where do you draw the line between necessity and excess? Two weeks ago, Tiny House Blog featured our bus and posted about it on their Facebook page. Overnight Eliza Brownhome got a lot of attention. It was heart-warming and encouraging to read all of the many, many positive comments. There were also some quite legitimate questions about our situation because I haven’t been posting often enough to give the full scoop. To address the specifics of those questions, I am creating an FAQ page, but here I want to address the idea of whether or not a 300 sq ft bus is adequate for a family of five. I’ll start by saying that in the months leading up to our move I was really anxious about that very question and I had dark moments in the middle of the night where I really thought that the answer was no. A month before we moved my stress level became physical when I broke out in eczema for the first time in my life. So, you know, I’m not crazy – I had the same concerns as some of you when I lay awake in bed in our 1900 sq ft 4 bedroom house and thought about what we were about to do. But this afternoon (and most moments in the last three months), I felt differently. Aaron was at work. Rain was at school. Silas was napping on the bed in the back. I was reading a book on the couch and Noa was sitting opposite me, doing a puzzle at the table. The bus was clean, dishes done, floor swept, and a fire was burning in the woodstove. I thought to myself: “This is enough.” Seriously, why do I need more? Then some reality hit me. Like we don’t have a proper bathroom at the moment, and this is my laundry room: Well, it’s my laundry room as long as the sun holds out – which it has until now, but usually it starts raining in September so I’m already on borrowed time. Of course, our current sleeping arrangements aren’t for everyone either, and they certainly aren’t for me in the long term as well. But then I took a minute to listen to myself, and I realized that all of these little things had come to mind prefaced by “It would be nice to _____________ (fill in the blank: have another bedroom, have a full bathroom, dry clothes on rainy days, etc.” Sure, a lot of things would be nice. Sure, it was nice to live in a 1900 sq ft house last year. It was. It would also be nice to have an infinity pool. But the truth is, none of those things are necessities. Even the bathroom. I’m serious. We’ve been culturally conditioned to think otherwise because we are lucky enough to live in North America, but it isn’t true. There are moments in here when it can get annoying. Try getting three little kids to sit up and eat dinner at a table where the seats are also a couch – just try it. Every kid who has ever eaten in here has tried to eat their dinner LYING DOWN – they can’t help it. Other than that, offhand I would say: I miss having a shower and proper laundry facilities. I miss having a decent size dining table (this is not a design flaw of the bus, just something we’ve never gotten to yet). I sometimes feel that...

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You Are What You Eat

Posted on Sep 27, 2010 in Featured, Food | 2 comments

You Are What You Eat

Last night I had the pleasure of getting out for an evening with Aaron (!) and the privilege of seeing Joel Salatin speak. I first saw Joel in the movie Food, Inc. (which I highly recommend, by the way) and I was captivated by his passion for sustainable farming. He operates a family farm in Virginia called Polyface Farm and has been featured in Michael Pollan’s book The Omnivore’s Dilemma and also in the documentary Fresh. Here is a clip of Joel from Fresh: Joel’s family raises pasture-fed beef, pork and poultry on their once totally depleted, almost soil-less farm which they completely revitalized without sowing any seed. Refining methods introduced by his father, Joel rotates his herds through his land using portable electric fences to allow the land to replenish itself naturally, without fertilizers. The animals eat grass and roam in the open air. This is the exact opposite of the feedlots and industrial food system. Salatin argues for the local food movement, for transparency in the food production system, for a re-integration of our rural and urban lifestyles where we respect our food producers and include them in the communities where we live and work. He urged us not to expect change overnight but to do what we can every day to change our food system. Ideas included turning the millions of acres of lawns in North America to edible food gardens, reinstating the kitchen as the heart of our homes where we make our food from scratch from real ingredients (not unpronounceable ingredients that come in packages), buying from local farms that allow us to tour the premises and of course, gardening with our children. With sparkling eyes and a big grin, he is a compelling, even mischievous speaker, as he said last night, “I definitely recommend that you break a lot of laws.” This was in response to the question at the end of the night from a man who stated that everything he wants to do is illegal so what laws should he break first. Of course, Joel is referring to the over-regulation of ordinary citizens who want to make their own choices about the food they eat: whether it’s to buy eggs from the neighbour, have backyard chickens or drink unpasteurized milk. I was already sold on his message, but I was further enamored when with a roll of his eyes he stated that our disconnect with food began back in the day when people decided that breastfeeding wasn’t good enough for our babies. He went on to tout the virtues of La Leche League, Lamaze and having dads in the delivery room as examples of ways the pendulum is starting to swing back towards an acceptance of the sanctity of life, even the sanctity of life of the least among us (the animals and plants we eat). Maybe it’s because I’m a hormonal pregnant woman but when he ended his speech by saying, “May your children call you blessed for they have inherited a better earth than we had,” I had just a little tear in my...

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A Culture of Less

Posted on Mar 8, 2010 in Birth Stories, Birthing, Featured, Parenting, Simple Living | 16 comments

A Culture of Less

Welcome to the March Carnival of Natural Parenting: Vintage green! This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month we’re writing about being green — both how green we were when we were young and how green our kids are today. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants. Today is my birthday. Thirty-two years ago my mom started having contractions while she was grocery shopping. She went about her day, took care of my older siblings, visited with my grandmother. After my dad got home from work, grandma left and around supper time, I was born at home. Grandma called to say she’d thought of a name if the baby was a boy and dad informed her, “Too late; It’s a girl!” Grandma came back, made everyone dinner and they had leftover birthday cake from mom’s birthday on the 7th. And so it is that I grew up thinking that homebirth was special, not dangerous. And so it is that twenty-seven years later, I had my first homebirth. In some ways, I think that this is as vintage green as it gets. The oldest thing in the book: having babies the way our bodies were designed to, without a lot of wasted resources and unnecessary technology. There are plenty of instances where the resources and technology are useful, life-saving but increasingly, birth, like our culture as a whole, is characterized by excess and waste, with damaging consequences. Homebirth is only one of the green values I picked up from my parents without even realising until I was older that it was green. My parents moved a lot while I was growing up, from the Yukon to the Canadian prairies to BC, but I think at heart they always think of themselves as Northerners. The term encompasses everyone up north and a Yukoner probably has more in common with an Alaskan than they would with anyone in the rest of Canada. A northerner is a crazy mélange of hippie and redneck: 4x4s and guns mixed with folk music and a back to the land mentality. My dad subscribed to Mother Earth News and the Canadian counterpart, Harrowsmith. They had good friends who lived year round in a Tipi. It was there in the North that they decided to have me at home. At the time, in the 70s and 80s, it was just how we lived. A kind of quiet environmentalism that was born of Depression era great-grandparents, exalted by our Mennonite heritage (world-renowned cheapskates) and idealized by the Northerners and hippies. They were a product of their location but also of their generation. Now, I wouldn’t really classify my parents as environmentalists at all. But when I think back to the green actions of my parents, what comes to mind is this: Before recycling, there was reduce and re-use. My parents reduced and re-used like nobody’s business. We wore hand-me-downs. We never had new furniture; it was always used or antique. We didn’t buy fancy toys. My dad fixed things when they broke: from electronics to the car to the plumbing. My mom had a garden and she canned. My mouth waters when I think of her pickled beets and carrots, her canned pears and peaches. She sewed dresses for my sister and me for special occasions. We were a single car family and we drove used cars. My parents only bought one new vehicle ever: a 1974 International Scout. They still have it. We shared bedrooms. We lived within our means, never on credit. Even when my dad went back to University with three kids in tow. They did not over-consume. They did not throw things away. They reduced. They re-used. Tonight I look around my house and see the same lifestyle. Fifteen year old minivan, used or antique furniture, a house smaller than we might like, a garden. A willingness to build things, grow things, borrow things, make things or do without things rather...

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