24 Jun 2010

A Mood Lightener

We were in a little bidding war for a great apartment yesterday and didn't get it. Boo.

And so, I take my solace in Muppets. This video gets bonus points for its cameos with Ira Glass and Zac Galifianakis:


21 Jun 2010

What Do You Value?

WARNING: This post is loooooong (even by my standards). Do yourself a favour; go to the washroom, pour yourself a drink and then settle in. I also admit to show my bias throughout - but, hey, that's my right as a blogger and not a journalist. But please read it all the same.

During our most recent trip to Europe, I took a lot of photographs of darling old buildings and homes. I'm a sucker for history and architecture, although I don't claim to be an expert in either. I'm really more of an ignorant admirer of it all - someone who finds romantic beauty in old glass windows, wrought iron balconies and rusted, ornate door handles. I dreamily envision all the people throughout history who touched these objects and then I feel a funny, fuzzy connection to them all.

I obviously knew that Canada was a relatively new country - I never realized just how new it was (or just how ancient everything else was) until I came face-to-face with the oldness of Europe. And never was this fact brought home more than during a conversation with Gauthier, our friend and host who had all but given us his Parisian apartment during our stay (have I mentioned that Gauthier is one of my very favourite people in the world?).

We were discussing real estate - in Paris and Toronto (a city he lived in for a short period of time). We had explained that we used to rent an apartment in an old house in the Annex, loved the neighbourhood but couldn't afford to own, so we bought a not-so-new condo unit in Old Toronto instead.

With an amused look, he asked, "When was this old house you rented built?"

"Around 1905," we said.

"And this 'not-so-new' apartment. When was it built?" he inquired.

"We think 1994, or so. I mean, it's not *old* exactly, but not new compared to some of the condos in the area," I explained.

He laughed to himself and shook his head.

"My apartment," he said between a long drag of his cigarette, "is older than your country."

That shut us up. The fact is, we were staying in a home that was well over 400 years old.

"And it's nothing," he said after another drag. "There's many like it. It's just a place that I get to sleep in for a while."

That conversation from a spring day in Paris is what first came to mind when I heard about the conflict over 204 Beech Avenue. The story has been circulating around Toronto for some time, but if you're not among the Centre of the Universe Dwellers, I'll give you a recap:

Geoff and Melissa Teehan were (and are, in many regards) a lucky couple. They have two beautiful sons. Geoff had successfully launched his own digital marketing agency (yes, he's in marketing and advertising, but let's not hold that against him). The couple owned a home in the coveted Beaches area of Toronto. Life was good.

Then, one day, without warning, Melissa experienced a series of scary symptoms that led to a 911 call and a long hospital stay. She went from being an active, healthy woman to a wheelchair-bound wife and mother with Transverse Myelitis who had a whole new set of obstacles to deal with. When Melissa was finally released from the hospital, the couple quickly realized that their forever home didn't work with their new life (for example, all their washrooms were on the second floor - something impossible for someone in a wheelchair to deal with). They decided to sell and find a place in the same neighbourhood (so their kids could still go to the same school) that was more accessible-friendly. They settled on a condo but quickly discovered that the place was tight for a family of four. To which, as a condo dweller, I say, "duh."

They decided on the next best course of action - find a space in their neighbourhood that they could build an accessible home on.

Sidebar: Accessibility is actually a huge issue in this city. I firmly believe it's the major reason why we lost the Canadian Olympic bid way-back-when. Just try to maneuver our sidewalks, catch the subway (which involves getting into the subway station to being with), go to your favourite restaurant or enjoy a visit to a home in a lovely neighbourhood while a) carrying a load of groceries or b) hobbling on crutches or c) pushing a baby stroller or d) depending on a wheelchair. And if you don't have any of these completely normal issues to deal with - PRETEND. For just one day, PRETEND that you do, Torontonians. See how incredibly horrible it is for so many people.

After much searching, the Teehans found the piece of land they could live on in the neighbourhood they called home for the past 10 years. This was 204 Beech Avenue. Because it was always their intention to scrap the house (it turns out that homes built in 1910 were rarely code-friendly, let alone accessibility-friendly - and the majority of homes in the area were from around this time), the Teehans investigated whether they could, indeed, bulldoze what was there and build something new before finalizing their home purchase. You see, just because you own something, doesn't mean you can do whatever you like to it. Rather, you have to make sure, plaque or not, that your home hasn't been deemed "historically worthy" by the yuppie a-holes powers that be. So, they did their homework.

Supposedly (she said with journalistic integrity), they did three things - they researched the City of Toronto’s online registry for heritage properties, they investigated the area (their street had voted against being included in the Heritage Conservation District), and they called the city twice to confirm their findings - although the city claims to have no record of this last point. Only they and the city know for sure about that last factoid. That said, I had a job in the past where I had to work with the city to get permits. They also told me, at one point, that they had no record of my requests - this despite of the fact that they had cashed the cheque that was included in the envelope with said requests. Just saying.

With the supposed all-clear given, the Teehans formalized their home purchase in January 2010 and began the long and costly process of developing a new accessible home on the land.

Then the new trubs started.

A neighbour caught wind of the Teehans' plans and was deeply offended that the face of her beloved street would be forever marred by a home that didn't fit "the look" she had come to expect from her window. She attempted to launch a petition, but when many of her neighbours were less than outraged over a homeowner doing what he wished with his own non-heritage-designated property, she took it to her city councillor, Sandra Bussin.

Bussin then requested that the city's Preservation Service investigate the property for its heritage value. She eventually received a report back that stated:

“The building, built prior to 1910, is an important surviving example of the early development of the Balmy Beach Neighbourhood. ... This home is also representative of the local beach cottage building tradition, and speaks of the district’s beginnings as a summer retreat.”
This was apparently good enough to delay and deny the Teehans' building permits and warrant a formal request to declare the home "historic." After they purchased it, to be clear. Councillor Bussin went so far as to say that the Teehans didn't do their due diligence in buying the property, as apparently, they should have contacted her directly to find out if their home was of interest to the yuppie a-holes historical folks of the city. Um, seriously? I don't know about you, but I've had the *pleasure* of speaking with city councillors - and every one I've encountered has been a flaky, fake, egocentric d-bag who I wouldn't trust with my real estate decisions if my life depended on it. Nor would I ever, in my wildest dreams, think to contact as part of "due diligence." Please. Anyhoo - a more thorough explanation of this process is available at Beach Metro Community News.

The family is now fighting tooth and nail to retain the property rights they believe that they bought into and their right to build the accessible home they need.

And that was the recap!

If, after all that, you remember my Parisian cafe conversation with Gauthier that intro'd this blog post - bravo! In any case, it was his astute observations that our sense of history, of 'old' and sacred that really made me think and give perspective to our life in Toronto.

In Paris, what was built 100 years ago would still be considered modern. What was built 400 years ago, but not "pretty" (like Gauthier's apartment) would be historically significant by our terms, but "nothing" by his. So, I wonder, what was at 204 Beech Avenue 400 years ago, when dear Gauthier's apartment was being built? A forest? An Ojibwe village? Should those have been saved? And later, when a totally wacky home with a castle-like cone was propped up - did the neighbours complain? (History tells us that they probably did. Too gaudy!) What has been built, over time, on the land, was suited the people who lived there then. Why must we halt progress, now that we realize that people (the disabled, the aged, the with-children, and my personal cross to bear - the lazy) need accessible homes too? In neighbourhoods they like? In neighbourhoods they've called home for over a decade? In neighbourhoods their children were raised in?

If people want to conserve what's been there for 100 years - and it's been deemed "protection worthy" - the more power to them. But when it hasn't been deemed so in the decades it's been standing there? And if the new homeowners, those who are alive and thriving, don't desire it to look as people a hundred years ago thought it should? I truly don't understand the sulking. Must we save every scrap of "history" or can we please save ourselves from being featured on Hoarders?

Our friend Gauthier is more wise than I think he would ever give himself credit for. When, between sips of wine and puffs of cigarettes, he referred to his home as "nothing" and "a place that I get to sleep in for a while," he was surprisingly in tune with some of the most deep philosophical thinkers of our time.

The Tibetan monks who meticulously build the Sand Mandalas knew what Gauthier knew. Their creation, in this girl's opinion, is more beautiful, more sacred and more awe-inspiring than the "historical" home we stayed in while touring Paris - and yet, it is not forever, nor do its creators pretend it should be:

It is a thing. It is beautiful, but it is impermanent. What was in the place at 204 Beech Avenue, before the "cottage" was erected, was likely also cherished at one point. But it is gone, and life continues.

What it comes down to, is what do you value?

Do you value history, for history's sake?
Do you value beauty, even though it is in the eye of the beholder?
Do you value quality of life for those who live in your neighbourhood now?
Do you value progress?
Do you value life and happiness over bricks and memories?
Do you value property values over life values?

If you would like to support the Teehan family, you can sign their petition. If you live in the GTA, I strongly suggest that you attend this meeting that will decide if 204 Beech Avenue will be their home:

When: Wed, July 7, 9:30am
Where: Council Chamber, City Hall, 100 Queen St West, Toronto

Have thoughts? Comment them! Have compassion for this family? Support them at City Hall!

Edited to Add: The Teehans received their demolition permits two days after I wrote this blog (so, yah, you can thank ME for that, har har). They did what anyone would do in their situation and used 'em. The City Hall meeting is obviously off. Congrats, Teehan Family! Happy building!


15 Jun 2010

The Recent Stuff

While "The Wifestyle" (a modern housewife experiment) isn't officially on (but will be soon - must develop my "rules" and post them) - I have been attempting to keep two things up:

  • Keeping the house semi-presentable
  • Preparing more vegetarian and vegan homemade foods
As for the homemaking aspect, I haven't exactly been "50s Housewife good" with it, but the messes get knocked down a lot quicker than they did before. Our kitchen table has amazingly not yet reverted back into The Island of Misfit Mail, Purse Contents and Other Junk and the bed gets made each morning. If someone were to tell me they were coming over, I'd probably only need about 25 minutes to get the place guest-worthy (presuming I hadn't just made dinner. The kitchen seems to explode into a tremendous mess after each meal) . I think this is all pretty good considering I've been busy with freelance work for the last while. Hurray for me for finally acting like the adult I supposedly am.

When it comes to our meals, I've been a-ok about putting together a few things, although it could be better. The previous night's meal of veggie chips and candy during the True Blood premiere wasn't exactly a high point - but the rest hasn't been so bad. Some of these eats were served with a standard green / garden salad, but I really should try to keep more lettuce in the house to make it a given ...

A meal from last week included some wine from organic grapes, salad and homemade vegan / veggie pizza. Half the pizza had goat cheese and half went without. Dessert was homemade poppy seed cake (not vegan - it contained eggs) decorated lightly with icing and edible violets:

The next day, I made a vegan sweet potato and black bean breakfast burrito with homemade salsa from The Get Healthy, Go Vegan Cookbook by Dr. Neal Barnard. This cookbook features primarily low-fat vegan recipes. Patrick mowed it down but didn't go for his usual second serving - I'm guessing because it was so dense and filling (and not just because he was indulging in his secret stash of Doritos that I'm not supposed to know about). Dinner was a vegan mixed-vegetable pasta and salad. Would have liked to have used whole grain pasta but didn't have any left:

By this point, I was feeling like we were overloading on gluten, so I decided to go for a raw vegan food day (I'll explain raw vegan eating in another post, but simply, it's gluten and soy-free fruit, veg, nuts and certain grains that haven't been heated above 105 F). I mainly had fruit in the day, including my first dragon fruit. On appearances, it's very cartoonish and reminds me of something you'd imagine Mario and Luigi throwing at King Koopa. The taste is similar to kiwi but much milder. As I discovered later, our bodies don't really process those little black seeds. To share in my experience, just imagine what the lovechild of Mr. Hankey and a strawberry would look like. Did you properly visualize that? Good - on with more tasty food talk! For dinner, I made Ani Phyo's raw pad thai salad using kelp noodles. Even though I told him it was a salad, Patrick was irked by the fact that it was cold and didn't eat more than a couple bites. Oh well. I suppose getting him to eat dragon fruit (which I did by literally spoon feeding him like a suspicious baby) was enough to ask of a picky, non-adventurous eater for one day:

For the first time since before the 50s housewife experiment, we got take-out the other night. We decided to try an Indian place called Veda. They specialize in "healthier" Indian food (lower fat) and highlight the vegetarian and vegan eats on their menu. We opted to try the Saag Paneer, Chana Masala, Butter Tofu, Vegetable Basmati Rice and Naan. I won't lie - I've definitely had better. While it was flavourful and packed with spice, I really do love the full fat yumminess of Butter Chicken Tofu. However, it seemed to improve the next day as leftovers, and as you can see from a certain someone's thumbs up in the pic, Patrick enjoyed it and that's all that matters.

Then, last night, we had leftovers along with some summer rolls I made with rice paper, rice vermicelli and veggies (carrots, red pepper, snow peas, and green onion) served with a soy-vinegar-sesame oil dip. They were very tasty, but next time I make them, I'm going to omit the vermicelli and use greens to fill it up.
Going forward, I'm going to try to make meals that feature more greens and a bit less gluten. Probably attempt some more raw dishes, too. We're also going to ban chips, pop and other junk from entering the house for the next little while. Basically, I'm creating Patrick's nightmare - and you're all invited!


8 Jun 2010

It Ain't Meat, Babe

Last night I decided to cook a vegan meal for Patrick (and myself, of course). It's from The Conscious Cook - and a demo of this recipe can be seen here.

Now, I'm not totally wild about using soy products - there's a fair bit of debate on whether soy is truly good for you - so this isn't going to be standard fare 'round these parts. Plus, there's practically nothing local or fresh about this particular dish - it's actually quite processed when you think about it.

Oh, but it's pretty. And a certain someone who announced he wasn't interested in vegan food hoovered this dish down at such a rate that it gave James Dyson chills.

"Is this healthy?" Patrick asked me in those rare moments between bites.

"Umm ... well, not exactly," said the wife.

"But there's no meat in this, right?" he asked. "Or dairy or eggs or anything?"

"True - but just because something is vegan, doesn't mean it's healthy. I mean, I bet Doritos are vegan but you wouldn't ..."

"DORITOS ARE VEGAN?!?" he squealed.

Ah, crap.


6 Jun 2010

Sneak Peak of the Modern Eats

To clean the pipes from the 50s Housewife Experiment and to get both myself and my husband to a healthier place, I'll be making meals throughout the Modern Housewife Experiment (which I think I'm just going to call "The Wifestyle" - thoughts?) that are primarily vegan or vegetarian, local, seasonal, whole and homemade. It won't be perfect - and I'm sure you'll see a few things that fly squarely in the face of everything listed (we be human) - but the overall intention is there.

Yesterday's trip to the farmer's market netted many a tasty item. Today I made a "slow supper" containing loads of locally-grown produce. It took me the bulk of the afternoon to do everything, but it was a nice, relaxing way to spend a Sunday - and we have great leftovers from this all as well!

First, I made Pistou Soup, using a recipe from the Food Network's Laura Calder (I like her, but everyone who's ever mentioned her to me talks about their HATRED for this woman. I think it all stems from her what-is-that / what-are-you-trying-to-be accent. Any thoughts on this, Canadian TV snarkers?). This is one of my favourite soups - and it's so basic and lovely. Since the veg was all organic and I'm lazy peels contain a lot of fibre and nutrients, I didn't peel the potatoes or carrots (just gave them a good scrub). I also used plain ol' water rather than vegetable stock and skipped topping the soup with Parmesan. I made a very simple pesto with just fresh basil and olive oil (didn't bother with adding pine nuts or cheese - which is often normally included) to dollop on top. The only non-local ingredients used for this soup were the white kidney beans, olive oil, salt and pepper.

Next up (or, actually, while I was doing the soup), I made the Fresh Rosemary Focaccia from the cookbook Veganomnicon. I opted to use half white and half whole-wheat flour. Really yum, although the only truly local ingredient in it was the fresh rosemary. Maybe I should look into an Ontario flour mill ... ugh ... effort.

Finally, I got cracking on the 'fill' for the sandwich. It contained my homemade pesto, eggplant, roasted red peppers (done in the oven super easily - I also keep their skins on when serving them), sauteed mushrooms and sauteed leeks.

I "made up" this sandwich, but for the eggplant, I used a cooking method that I found in Vegetarian Times's Farmer's Market Cookbook (which is really just a magazine, but whatev). This is their trick: After you let the sliced eggplant 'sweat' a little (set the slices in a colander, sprinkle with salt and leave them for 45 minutes), pat them dry. Then with a really, really minimal amount of olive oil, lightly brown one side of the eggplants in a large frying pan over medium heat. You then flip them, pour some white wine vinegar on top, pop the lid on, and let it cook until all the vinegar has evaporated. Done! Yummy pan-fried look and taste without a lot of added fat.

Throw your fill ingredients all together in the focaccia (layer your veggies or mix them together - whatever you want!), broil it a bit to warm everything and you have dinner! The only non-local stuff used to make the sandwich stuffing was olive oil, vinegar and salt (used in the cooking process).
For Patrick's sandwich (not pictured), I gave him a generous slice of mozzarella cheese made from the sheep at Bestbaa Farm (their farm is 100 clicks NW of the city but they sell their milk, cheese and lamb at the St. Lawrence Farmer's Market on Saturdays). Patrick is on board with vegetarian foods, but giving up cheese, milk and eggs is going to be a bit tougher for that boy. I figure as long as I buy products from happy, healthy, local animals - and we don't use loads of it - we're still eating conscientiously (that said, I'll be seeing how he feels when he eats dairy-free - sometimes he gets stuffed up all of a sudden and I wonder if it's a milk thing).

In any case - he loved it all as did I. The meal was really filling and earthy with great flavour. While he enjoyed the mozza on the sandwich, I think feta cheese would have been really nice too. Might pick some up from the goat farmers next week...

Off to enjoy the last hours of the weekend ...


4 Jun 2010

Old School Brand Talk

I can't tell you how much fun it was to research for the 50s Housewife Experiment. One of the goodies of said research that I came across was an article in a soft-cover manual from the editors of The Bride's Magazine called the The Bride's Reference Book. Within it, there was a very straight-forward article about brand names and the whole purpose behind buying a brand to begin with.

I've never read a consumer-facing (a.k.a.: written for you and me) piece that spelled out why brands are brands and why brand loyalty is important. And is it just me, or has branding (or maybe our reasons for buying into it) lost its path in the whole brand-is-an-extension-of-your-personality rather than a brand-is-a-promise-to-the-consumer kind of way?

In any case - enjoy (click 'em to expand)!


Lessons from the 50s Housewife Experiment

When I decided to do the 50s Housewife Experiment, it was not to make fun of the ladies of the 1950s. After all, they are - depending on who's reading this - our mothers and grandmothers. Without them, we all wouldn't be here to enjoy the brilliant prose of a certain long-winded blogger.

No, I was never here to mock them. Well, except for the food thing. Because ... seriously? Seriously? No, seriously?

I thought the 50s housewife was such a neat little specimen, doing her thing, looking so darling - but a part of me felt sorry for her. After all, she didn't have the bevy of choices women have today. The expectations on her, if you're to believe everything in my household guides at the time, were rather exacting. Plus, she likely went to work to support the war effort in the 40s, discovered she could do more than anyone ever allowed her to believe, and then she was stuffed back in the kitchen - to serve her man and, eventually, a brood of children that she was expected to produce on the double.

The following is the intro to my Bride's Reference Book, which basically spells out the role of the 50s housewife. If you click on it, it will expand (hopefully in a new tab) to full size.:That last sentence - "woman's most important job, husbandry" - causes many a modern person (and not just women) to flinch.

I'm not sure if it's residual resentment from societal expectations / limitations like the one above, a new set of expectations that you're not really contributing (to society / your home / womanhood, even) unless you bring home a paycheck, or new standards of living that insist we need to be making more money - but the appreciation for the homemaker has dwindled along with the number of people who actually earnestly take on the role. You don't hear of many people who have chosen a career in homemaking. Yes, there is the stay-at-home mom (although of the stay-at-home moms I personally know, all but one brings in some revenue through at-home businesses, part-time work or consulting - so even she often wears a career hat). But the stay-at-home wife (and not the trophy-wife-with-a-maid variety)? She's officially on the endangered list.

But regardless of whether you think the homemaker has any value or role today, there's still plenty we can learn from her - or at least, plenty that I did. Here are ten lessons I learned from being a 50s housewife:

1. Maybe We're a Bit Too Distracted

Pre-50s Experiment, Patrick would get home and I'd be at the computer. Always. There I'd stay until he eventually wandered in the house and found me. Then he'd start complaining about something (his transit ride home, something about work, the strange sounds emanating from our cleaning closet) and I'd barely turn my head from the computer but just make those "Uh huh. Mm. Yep" noises. Eventually Patrick would say, "Oh, wait, you're still working, aren't you?" I'd give him a relieved look that he finally noticed he was interrupting me, say I was almost done (but wouldn't actually finish until several hours later) and then he'd wander off and complain about being hungry.

It wasn't unusual for my husband and I to be sitting in the same room, amongst a mess, both wishing dinner would somehow appear, each staring into laptops, with no conversation between us for hours. We weren't in a fight - we were just hugely distracted with non-stop work, yapping with strangers on Twitter and the fleeting entertainment of websites that feature a bunch of asshole cats (better than a site of cats' assholes, I suppose). And when we did stop and eat, it was on the couch with the TV on. Both of our faces would be pointed at the blinky box or at whatever made-in-10-minutes meal was in our hands. Our main interaction during this time was when something funny happened on TV or one of us spilled something.

Our life together, ladies and gentlemen.


The 50s housewife was a smart, smart lady and she would have none of that. She greeted her partner when he arrived and aimed to have dinner timed so they could both enjoy it shortly thereafter.

Eating at the table (with cutlery!) was an instant change. We suddenly were sitting across from each other twice a day, enjoying a meal that both of us contributed to (he with the $, me with the cooking) and with nothing but the other for entertainment and communication. And for the first time in a long time, I'm ashamed to admit, I listened to what Patrick was saying about his job, his day, his - sigh - fantasy baseball league. While that last one required many silent prayers to Ron MacLean, the Patron Saint of Keeping a Straight Face, it was actually really nice - for both of us - to have time devoted to the others' thoughts. Even though not every meal was a culinary delight, I got to see his appreciation for it all the same, which goes a long way when you've worked on it for a while.

* Greeting each other when we get home - keeping it!
* Eating our dinners at the table without distractions - keeping it!

* Reducing TV time - keeping it!
* Setting greater limits on how much work gets done while we're together - keeping it!

2. The Benefits of a Clean House Go Beyond the Surface
So - using metal polish on the bathroom taps, deep-cleaning the oven and flipping the mattress every week was a bit much. That, you can guarantee, will not be kept (at least not at that frequency!), but man, was it / is it nice to have a tidy, organized home. Here are some things we noticed:

  • It was relaxing! The place just felt ... calm. Having a made bed each day made such a difference in the evenings, too. Sometimes when a show was on, Patrick and I would watch it in the bedroom, on the bed (not in the bed), curled up - because it was just so cozy in there!
  • With less dust about, we slept better!
  • We found stuff! I was so pleased to discover a pair of sandals during one of my cleans. Yes!
  • We created more space! With things put away and stuff donated to Goodwill, our home felt larger and better used.
  • Friends came over! No more house shame! And when you can have friends over, you still spend less feeding them than all going out for coffee or to a bar. Yes!
* Clean up daily. Have a checklist of things to do so that dust and clutter don't get a chance to pile up - keeping it!
* Washing everything by hand - no thanks! Forget the Internet, the best invention ever was the dishwasher!

3. Jell-o Molds are the Devil
Sorry, Aunt Janice! (But I challenge you to prove me wrong at the next family gathering!) While I made fun of the 50s housewife food quite a bit - and there is much to make fun of - she did have a few things right:
  • Have a larger, well-rounded breakfast
  • Fresh-squeezed orange juice is super yum and really doesn't take that much time to make
  • Having a meal plan for a few days in advance can keep you organized and your nutrition and / or food variety well-rounded
  • Men and women don't need to eat the same serving sizes
* Making salads and entrees that contain gelatin - no thanks!
* Doing breakfast - keeping it!
* More homemade juices - keeping it!

4. There are Always Ways to Save More Money
Before this experiment, I had figured we were doing pretty good with keeping spending in check. When I decided to drop the full-time job and go freelance, our income went down (but my sanity increased), which meant that I had to ensure we were better with our budgets. But when I discovered during this 50s housewife experiment that we probably saved $340 in two weeks - while still having fun, seeing friends - and I couldn't believe it. Alright - some of that was by buying cheaper (canned, yarg) food. But a lot of it was just not buying as much random crap, having people in instead of going out and avoiding convenience foods (like bagged salad, pre-made sandwiches) and take-out / restaurant offerings. Savings like that actually make being a housewife more economically viable! Here are some of the tips of the 50s housewife trade that helped cut our spending budget:

* Checking for coupons before shopping - keeping it!
* Sticking to a list with no impulse buys (using cash-only forces this more!) - keeping it!
* Expecting more from brands. If you buy something and you don't like it, write a letter (or e-mail, nowadays) and ask for a refund - keeping it!
* Look toward the top and bottom level of grocery shelves for lower priced items - keeping it!
* Use your "byproducts" more efficiently (more on that below) - keeping it!
* Buying and cooking strategically to get oomph out of leftovers - keeping it!
* Reducing purchases of pre-made foods, ordering out and take out - keeping
* Suggesting socializing with friends at home more often rather than out & buying drinks and food - keeping it!

5. The 50s Housewife Was a Natural Eco-Warrior
You wouldn't find a 'Save The Whales' t-shirt under her apron, but the 50s housewife's penchant for saving money made her the queen of reuse, reduce and recycle. Not only did she not waste money and resources when she didn't need to (you realize every time you buy something new - even the eco-friendly and green stuff we get to make ourselves feel superior to others less guilty - it had to be made and shipped, right?), she used the unavoidable byproducts of her purchases as best she could. To put it in early Social Studies terms - she used the whole buffalo.

For example, when the lady of house came back from the store with crackers, she realized she didn't just have crackers - she also had a box and a waxy bag that contained the snack food. The box was used to store stuff - even if it was just rags in the garage. The waxy bag was cut and used to wrap her husband's sandwich with for lunch.

Some other examples:
  • The plastic bags you get when you buy bulk items, produce or our favourite - hot dog buns - can be used as lunch bags, ice bags (if you need to make extra ice, dump your ice cubes into one of these and leave it in the freezer), even shower caps
  • Paper bags - including the type flour and sugar come in - can be reused or cut open and used as package wrapping
  • An empty tissue box can serve as a great plastic bag holder
  • You can clean your windows and glass with crumpled newspaper instead of paper towel (and you can still recycle the newspaper afterward)
  • Newspaper can also be stuffed in shoes to remove some odours
  • Jars can always be used for storage, preserves or for keeping bulk foods (plus, your stuff is less likely to get pantry bugs when it's in an airtight container rather than a bag)
  • Besides storage, a cleaned can would be used for making candles
  • She fixed things as best she could (even if it was just sewing the button on a pair of pants) or sent them out to be fixed
  • Old, worn-out clothes were cut for rags. "Twinless" socks made for great "dust puppets" (slip one over your hand and do your dusting that way!)
  • Vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, water and soap (esp. castile soap) can clean just about anything - and they're safe to dump down the drain or have around the body
Keep it from the landfill, get one more use from something (and delay it from getting tossed) and avoid consuming more *stuff* - that's the 50s housewife way. It saved money, it used common sense and it actually showed how creative she could get.

* Buy less, reuse more, fix stuff, clean with natural products - keeping it!

6. Johnny Cash Makes Everything Better
The world was once a bleak place. But then, in 1955, a man named Johnny Cash hit the airwaves and brought the awesome. It didn't matter if I was sweeping away mouse turds, picking up Patrick's socks for the millionth time or making something truly ridiculous for dinner - when I had a Johnny Cash song on my "radio", all was fine. In fact, I think The Man in Black may be the one responsible for my blood pressure going down.

* Whistling while you work, especially if it's to "Guess Things Happen That Way" - keeping it!

7. Prettying-Up Gives You a Lift
There was one day - the day of the Bridge Luncheon - that I was running way behind schedule. I ended up trucking to the grocery store in oversized jeans, a sweatshirt and my hair held back in an elastic that used to be around a bundle of carrots. I looked like crap, I felt like crap. Then, as I was preparing everything, still in slob chic, I felt hurried and rushed and sweaty and blobby. Even though a part of me told me that I DID NOT have the time to get dolled up, I took a few minutes and freshened up, put on my dress, did my hair and a touch of make-up. And even though I was still totally behind, I felt ... calmer. More in charge. More like an adult who actually had her shit together. And everything was fine.

* Putting a bit of effort into the looks department each day - keeping it!
* Wearing a bow in the morning - no thanks!
* Wearing a hard-core girdle and bra - only if I'm going somewhere where I get to lay down the entire time

8. My Friends and Family are Awesome (but I knew that already)
They called the house and jokingly asked for "Mrs. Patrick Byck." They proudly posted my very silly entries on their Facebook pages. They tried the molds. I have to say that one again: THEY TRIED THE MOLDS. Are they amazing, or what? Having friends and family over to my place and speaking with them on the phone rather than just doing Facebook messages, e-mail and texts reminded me how important that one-on-one, real-time connecting is - and just how awesome all the people in my life are. Awww ... heart, heart, heart.

*Inviting people over to our place more often - keeping it!

9. Prioritizing Your Partner's Happiness Doesn't Make You Submissive
It turns out that when you're both pulling the weight you agreed to and your relationship is working, you want to make that other person happy - and your partner makes your happiness a priority right back. Whether or not you think it's unfair, sometimes in order to get that process started one of you may have to do this without getting something in return right away. But the return does come. The more I genuinely wanted my husband to feel good, supported, healthy and happy - the more I felt he was reflecting those desires for me.

For example, as the first week of the experiment went on, I realized that I wasn't just greeting my husband at the door so that he knew he was welcomed and missed, it was also because I got to see that he was happy to see me. It didn't fail, when he'd walk in and I'd stop what I was doing to see him right away (because really, the computer / TV / stove / laundry / whatever isn't going anywhere - you can leave it for a minute), you could practically see his tail wag. And that makes me feel good. So, why not?

You don't need to work in the home to do this. It's not about being a man or a woman. It's about showing everyday kindness, appreciation and effort toward a person you respect as a partner.

* Aim to do things that make him happy - keeping it!

10. Life is Short, Mix it up, and Have Fun

When was the last time you went bowling? Or planned a goofy theme meal? Or did a ridiculous family experiment and blogged about it? I think getting outside the usual, comfortable thing can make life interesting, can bond you and your partner in the experience and may even introduce you to something you didn't know you'd like. This experiment was that for us. But you don't have to just take my word for it:

* Doing something other than ordering in pizza and watching a movie - keeping it!

And here's a bonus #11: There's Plenty of Value in Being a Homemaker
As I began to live the 50s housewife life, with the idea that I was in charge of the business of our home, I started to gain a much better appreciation for the job and the person who took the helm of such an enterprise sixty years ago (and that lovely picture to the left is of one such lady, my Grandma Price with my grandfather).

Running a home, cooking the meals and managing the money requires dedication, planning, organization, physicality, decision-making skills, an eye for detail, creativity, intelligence and patience. Doing this all while catering to the schedules, preferences and needs of the people you love, depend on, and some days - can't stand! - is no small feat. But what I found interesting is that I was not only busy - but I felt surprisingly accomplished each day.

Every day, I saw the results of my efforts. And every day, myself and my husband directly reaped the rewards of those efforts - and perhaps that was the biggest revelation. Day in, day out - people go to work for other people. What's so wrong about going to work for yourself and your family? Or discovering you really don't need that much money or stuff to be happy and successful? How is that we think devoting oneself to our major life investments - that being our health, our relationships, our home and our financial management - investments that we are the controlling stock holders in – is somehow not contributing? Or isn't something to be admired like anyone else flourishing in their career? Or is insulting to feminism? If anything, isn't making your quality of life a priority - if that's what you want to choose - rather empowering?

... And those are just some of the rambling thoughts I have while I'm making the bed and fixing Patrick a bacon sandwich. Ha.

So, what's next?

The 50s housewife ideals are merely what were considered the best practices for running the business of homemaking at the time. In the sixty years since my 1950 household guide was printed, we've learned more about nutrition, developed plenty of household conveniences and contraptions, changed our expectations and introduced different priorities.

Next up, I plan to go about the goals (with some tweaks!) they way *I* want to do them, with my own set of 'best practices', and using all the resources available to me. Details of this Modern Housewife Experiment will come shortly ... but not before a final word on the 50s Housewife Experiment from the man who lived through it! His guest blog post is coming up next.

Image Sources: The Bride's Reference Book; MIT Open Coursewear; Country in the Town; Wix.com; AJC


3 Jun 2010

Results from the 50s Housewife Experiment

Over the course of two weeks, yours truly attempted to live the life of a 1950's housewife - through recipes and meal planning, a housekeeping schedule, a dedication to being frugal, and by maintaining specific beauty standards.

So, what did that all achieve? How did participating in this project impact our bodies, our finances, our home, our relationship, and our overall mood?

About the Body

Weight Change:

  • Jen's Weight: Up 2 lbs.
  • Patrick's Weight: Up 0.5 lbs.
Ugh. Of course. One thing I didn't explain about this experiment is that the pictures you saw were of Patrick's meals. I gave myself a "feminine" serving size of about 2/3 to 3/4 of what you saw Patrick ate. I had secretly hoped that with the smaller portions and all the on-my-feetness involved in the daily chores that I might actually lose weight. Dare to dream, Jen. Dare to dream. While I'm never happy to gain weight, it could have been worse. In fact, it was worse. At one point during the experiment, I couldn't help myself and stepped on the ol' self esteem machine. It indicated I was up 5.5 pounds. FML. I have to come clean and admit that toward the end, on days that Patrick was served a bacon and eggs-style breakfast, I would often have one or none of those options and just have toast and / or cereal with fruit. Once I did that, I noticed my weight came down a bit.

Patrick's weight change is pretty nominal - it's the difference between having the Frank n' Bean Bake in your belly and not. That said, he said he felt clothes were a little snugger around the waist by the end of the experiment and he is now actually eager to eat cooking that didn't have butter, flour, sugar and /or hot dog in it. A true miracle.

Blood Pressure Change:
  • Jen: Systolic went down about 8 points. Diastolic stayed the same.
  • Patrick: Both Patrick's Systolic and Diastolic pressure went UP about 5 points each. I won't go into the deets, but he really, really didn't need it to go up.
This one both surprises me and concerns me. I thought it would be the other way around, if anything. I especially believed Patrick's blood pressure would mellow out as he was arriving each day to a clean home, a hot meal and generally a more relaxing atmosphere of reading (there was less TV on in the house), unwinding by talking about his day, and a generally more pleasant wife (and I swear, I only raged out on that last day!). Patrick is sort of known to lose his temper, but I noticed he didn't really do that during the experiment, so I had hoped it meant he was more relaxed and the blood pressure would come down. Maybe it was a bad idea to do this while the Habs were in the Stanley Cup playoffs? Or maybe it was the hard liquor, the salt and the grease? In any case, the Modern Housewife Experiment can't come soon enough - the healthy food is coming at him ASAP.

Other Body Notes:
  • Jen: My feet hurt a fair bit at first - seeing as they were taking on the load normally shouldered by my ass - but after about the fourth day I seemed to have adjusted and didn't have that issue any longer. Toward the end I could really feel my lower back getting stiff, though - in fact, it still feels a bit tight. My biggest body observation, besides the ever-protruding gut, was that I noticed I started getting acne, especially around my chin and mouth. I'm sure it was a combination of the food, smearing Pond's Cold Grease Cream on my face, the increased use of make-up and the fact that I found I wasn't drinking as much water as normal (when you're sitting at the computer, it's easy to have a few glasses - but when you're go-go-go, you sometimes forget to stop and hydrate). It's not horrible acne or anything but I'm eager to reacquaint myself with Proactiv.
  • Patrick: He had some allergy symptoms part-way through, but we're not totally sure to what. He also had (unrelated to the 50s Housewife Experiment) somewhat injured his wrist and ankle while playing soccer. Good thing he barely had to lift a finger at home!
I wish we could have tested other things like our cholesterol and hormone levels before and after, but Shoppers Drug Mart sadly doesn’t have an in-store device that the public can conveniently pee or bleed in to get insta-results. (Is that a bad new idea, or what? Ugh, I gross myself out sometimes.)

About The Finances and Shopping

Keeping things frugal wasn't a particular challenge for me as I'm the gate-keeper of our family finances anyway and tend to be rather thrifty. But there were some definite strides made!

Food & Groceries

Our fridge always felt full during the experiment, we hosted friends, and I was constantly cooking - and yet grocery spending (and I'm including booze in the number) was down roughly 20%. It actually would have been more of a difference had it not been for the fact that I insisted on buying Harmony Organic milk and cream (in the glass bottle - so retro!) as well as organic eggs and butter. These all cost more than the regular type, but whatever; knowing that the animals involved in these products are being treated more humanely matters to me, regardless of what decade I'm in / pretending to be in. Most meat and vegetables were bought at the farmer's market - which kept some things low cost and some things not so much (gah, the halibut!). The canned products were incredibly cheap as was the organ meat - I could see how a family struggling to get by would rely on these things.

We didn't eat anything that I didn't personally prepare during this time, so there was no dining out or take-out (post-midnight on the last day didn't count! Riiiight?).

Normally, Patrick might buy about two lunches out a week (even if it was just grabbing those pre-made sandwiches from a grocery store) and get few coffees out while at work and on the weekend. We'd normally also order in something for dinner at least once a week and probably go out for dinner together maybe once every two weeks. In two "normal" weeks, the bill for our not-made-by-us food probably worked out to about $100 - $200. Compare this to the $0 housewife project. Crazy!

Entertainment & Going Out

We did spend some money on our bowling date (which, did I mention, I had a $5 coupon for?! Yay, frugal me!) - between the lane, shoe rentals and the beer (heh) at Bowlerama, we spent a total of $65. Had we gone with friends, our own cost would have gone down quite a bit as they charge by the lane (which can fit six) and not by the person and the bulk of the cost would have been split.

The last disastrous day of the 50s Housewife Experiment also saw us spending some money out when we got silly-drunk, had beer and took two cabs. As that was "off brand" of the project, it feels weird to count it, but I will. I believe we spent about $70 that night. Blargh.

We also hosted people in our home rather than going out for the usual coffee / drink / dinner. This was a big change from our norm - we, like, never have people over. I was thinking back on the number of people we had in at our house in the two weeks before the experiment, and the only person who did come by was Siobhan. During the project, we hosted eight people (and two dogs) - and were sure to feed them and / or quench their thirsts. The cost of that was already accounted for in the grocery / food costs.

If it had been a normal two weeks, I would have gone out with a friends for drinks about twice in total (which would have included appetizers, of course!) and Patrick would have gone out after work or on the weekend at least four times in total (which almost never includes appetizers, just beer). Between us, we normally would have spent about $250. During the 50s Housewife Experiment, Patrick brought some beer over to his friend's place for their BBQ / poker night but only spent about $15.

Random Household Stuff

In "regular life", now and again I'll go on a bit of an online spending spree and our concierge - who receives our packages - will make little jokes with Patrick - who is often the one picking up the packages - about the influx of boxes with my name on it ("I see Jennifer has been busy! Hope you've got a good job, Patrick."). Har. Har. Har.

But besides those little, minor, tiny, barely-ever-ever happen moments ... ahem ... we really don't buy that much stuff besides the basics. So, how did living as a housewife impact us? During the course of the experiment's two weeks, I only spent money on four things (two were just for me) that weren't your typical household / food items:
  • Ramekins (a pair to be used for desserts, on sale) - $6.50
  • Batiste Dry Shampoo - $9
  • Nail polish (at the place I used a gift certificate to get my mani / pedi, so I could do touch-ups in the same colour) - $9
  • An overdue fine at the library - $1.80
No magazines. No "hmm ... this looks neat!" purchases. No "Ooh, just got an e-mail about a sale" buys. Not even gum! So, $26.30 in two weeks (and that includes the ramekins that we'll both use for years)? Not bad at all! Plus, the 50s housewife frugality gave way to other sorts of savings, which I'll chat more in the "Lessons Learned" section!

It's tough to say what we spend on "little stuff" normally as it fluctuates - but it's conservative to say we'd spend at least triple that normally in the same time frame.

SO ... If I had to make my best approximation, I'd say that by living by the stricter 50s lifestyle (especially when it came to eating in, hosting in), we saved a minimum of $340 in two weeks. Yowza. And here I thought we were already doing pretty good with the family budget!

About The Home

Dudes, our place is clllleeean. And organized! I really went to town, doing everything from getting rid of old make-up and prescriptions to putting bags together for Goodwill (with surprise expired meds in a coat pocket for one lucky person! Kidding, kidding), reorganized our filing, found a bunch of things we thought we lost (a pair of sandals, a camera, a hat) and even cleaned to the point that I found something that belonged to the previous homeowner.

For the first few days, the cleaning was heavy-duty - but after about day four or so, it was actually quite manageable. I was even able to keep right up with the schedule that I thought was so psychotic when I started. And yes, I was able to get through all 21 "morning" activities before lunch on several occasions. Yay, hard-working me.

To quote The Office, I really used some of that famous Hispanic cleaning ethic that makes us such a respected people.

How did this compare to the pre-50s days? We cleaned when someone was coming over - and as mentioned above, almost no one ever came over. It wasn't a dump - but it was pretty dusty. And maybe a bit rough around the edges. And maybe a one-time sex club for mice.

About The Marriage

Don't worry - there will be no talk of things that require a Daddy Disclaimer!

During the 50s Housewife Experiment, Patrick and I celebrated six years of being together (our third wedding anniversary is coming up in July). Our relationship was/is a-ok, doing just fine and all that. We both like and love each other. We are lucky.

I won't lie and say that being the sole keeper of the home didn't have a downside on the relationship front. There were moments that I felt more like a mother than a wife and partner ... like when someone was screaming about peas being in a dish, or when I'd walk into the bathroom and see that it had exploded in wet towels, empty toilet paper rolls and shavings, or when I'd be furiously trying to get food together for our group BBQ while a certain someone was blissfully involved in a video game. Those moments certainly felt challenging on my end and I had to really fight back the urge to get my rage on.

However, the project had us take on a few different behaviours, and I have to say that, although small, they eventually made us feel closer and perhaps even strengthened what we had. Unlike the pre-50s days:
  • We woke up together at the same time
  • We ate two meals together, at the table, without TV or phones or laptops about - and during that time, we talked about our days, what was on our minds, and so on
  • We kissed goodbye at the door when he went to work
  • He generally came home straight away from work (except when he had sports) rather than stopping and having a drink with a friend or co-worker (which wasn't an everyday thing for him before, but a couple times a week)
  • I greeted him and we kissed hello when he came in
  • We relaxed a little bit with a drink and then had dinner
  • By the time Patrick came home, there was little housework to do (dinner dishes, mainly), so we got to enjoy a clean, comfortable home each evening
  • We went out together and hosted people together more often than normal
They're such little things, and at first, they were things we had to remind ourselves to do, but now we look forward to them. And without getting all soppy, I'll just say that they matter and I'll happily take on another 2 lbs of flabulous to be reminded of that.

About The Overall Mood

This is an area that's obviously tough to measure (again, Shoppers Drug Mart, why don't you have such a machine in place?).

I do believe we're happier, more relaxed, more connected now than before. Throughout the 50s Housewife Experiment, it felt like we were having several mini adventures together - whether it was diving into weird jiggly food, having our I Love Lucy TV dinner night or going bowling - it was all a little different from the norm - and something I think we quite welcomed.

Personally, I think unplugging from the Internets and TV and doing more things that actually mattered - taking care of our home and my husband, seeing my friends more often, tickling my brain through the "fun writing" that is this blog - made a big difference in my own happiness. And when I'm happy, it tends to rub off on my husband - in part because he has less to worry about when I'm in a good mood, ha (the phrase that describes this phenomenon is "Happy wife, happy life." Learn it, live it, love it, gentlemen.).

Before starting the experiment, I asked Patrick how he'd rate his overall stress level; if 1 was floating on a cloud (like that idyllic couple up there from a bedding ad) and 10 was being the middle guy in The Human Centipede. He gave himself a 6. After the experiment, I asked what he'd rank things at and he gave it a 3. Considering he's dealing with a crunch of stuff at work, I'd say that's a definite improvement! Patrick still has his "guest post" to do on this blog, so I'll leave any other thoughts he has on this to him!

SO ... those were "the results" - what are our non-numbers-based conclusions of the 50s Housewife Experiment? What did we learn? What will we want to keep in our lives? What will help shape the Modern Housewife Experiment? That's all coming up next!

Image Sources: Tide advertisement, circa 1952; The Esquire Cook Book; General Electric advertisement, circa 1955; The Bride's Reference Book; Martex Towels advertisement, circa 1946.


1 Jun 2010

It Had To Be Done

I present to you, the Frank N' Bean Bake:

It sparkles like a Twilight vampire. Who would have guessed Edward's secret was bacon grease?

This is the original from Good Housekeeping's 10 P.M. Cook Book, for those who wish to do the erect wiener comparison (and who among us would pass up that opportunity?):

A summary of our findings and overall observations of the 50s Housewife Experiment are coming up very shortly!

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Need words? I'm a Toronto-based freelance writer who injects great ones into blogs, websites, magazines, ads and more. So many services, one lovely Jen (with one 'n').

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