Friday, June 29, 2007
We most certainly were not ignorant of the state of the world’s environment, oil issues, and climate change. Somehow though, we’d managed to convince ourselves that nothing would change substantially in our lifetime. Not that this belief meant we were wasteful, we just didn’t see it as changing our lives and our plans. We already live far less extravagantly than most Americans and conserve resources where we can.
Then I stumbled across Casaubon’s Book and from there began reading more blogs, articles, and information on the Internet. Whoa, baby! Time to reassess our future. Peak oil has already passed or will soon, depending on which number crunchers you believe. Climate change appears to be approaching far more rapidly than originally predicted.
Things are going to change and it looks like it will be well within our lifespan. How we and our families fare through these changes depends on how well we are prepared. Six months ago, I would have told you we could weather coming changes with no problem. The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know. My sweetie and I are already pretty handy and inclined to do-it-yourself projects. However, I’m finding that I lack some of the basic skills common to previous generations and, like Rachael, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by what I should be doing and what I should already know.
Gardening, for instance. My dad and granddad both gardened on our one acre lot in suburbia when I was growing up. I loved the fresh fruits and vegetables they produced from the back yard, even when I resented having to help weed or harvest. Unfortunately, gardening skills are not passed on as a genetic trait and I apparently did not pay enough attention back then. For years, I’ve had to describe myself as a “destructive gardener”. I am great at pruning and removing dead plants, but I really stink at growing vegetables.
Joining a CSA seemed like the perfect solution. I can get farm fresh organically-grown produce at a reasonable price without the uncertainty and disappointment of trying to grow my own. I am beginning to see the value and necessity of learning to grow some of my own food, though. So once again, I am subjecting poor innocent plants to my unskilled gardening attempts. I admit I’ve made some progress: the plants are still alive. However, weekly reports of huge tomato yields or tremendous plant growth from my friends here make me envious. My plants show no interest in producing any flowers. Perhaps I need to start playing sitar music for them, or at least ask my neighbors to turn down the rock music on their car stereos.
And then there’s my compost. I have crunchy compost. After years of rickety bins wired together, I sprung for a commercial composter last year. It is easy to turn, but the black bin has no holes for air. The summer sun seems to be baking my compost into little softball-sized brickettes. Jabbing at them with a pitchfork didn’t help, so I dumped them all out to dry hoping they could then be crushed. No such luck. My compost brickettes were too hard and still contain some plant material that is not completely broken down. I spent an entire day this week soaking buckets of compost and then breaking it all up by hand. (The plants really liked the soaking water!) One of this weekend’s projects will be to move the composter into a shadier spot and try again. Since my future plans include humanure composting, it’s essential that I figure out basic composting now!
Assuming that I will eventually have a bountiful garden, food preservation techniques are also on the list of skills I need to add to my repertoire. I helped my mom with canning as a child but never did it on my own as an adult. After overcoming some hurdles (warped canner, wrong size jars, missing ingredients for the recipe), I can proudly announce that 3 pint jars of watermelon rind pickles are cooling as I write. Now I only have to worry about whether we’ll die when we try eating some in a few months because I did something wrong in the processing.
I know I can learn these and other skills that will probably be helpful in any future we have. The problem is the sense of urgency I feel after reading some of the dire predictions on peak oil, climate change, and economic stability. It is at those times that I feel overwhelmed by how much I have to learn. Several people have commented on other blogs about how hard it can be to not be depressed about the direction this planet is heading. At first glance it really does seem like ignorance could be bliss. I know that in the long run awareness is the better option; it allows time for preparation. I just need a little time to adjust to thinking about a new way of life.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I'm a little overwhelmed by all the food I brought home from the CSA last night. In addition to my usual 1 1/2 shares, I purchased an extra share from a vacationing member for six weeks of the summer. For just the two of us, that's a lot of veggies!
The key to dealing with this much perishable food without losing any to spoilage is meal planning and rapid processing. The most fragile items above are the tomatoes and probably the corn. Heirloom tomatoes have wonderful flavor but they do not keep as well and they bruise very easily. I'll need to use those up within the next day or so. I've got plenty of basil in the garden that might lend itself to a nice little bruschetta.
The corn will start losing its sweetness quickly and would be best served for dinner tonight with leftovers for tomorrow's lunch. I may just put it out in the solar oven with a little water to steam. Sometimes the simplest preparation brings out the best flavor.
The zucchini will keep well. I hope to have one baking day this week to make multiple loaves of tasty zucchini bread. My experiment with baking it in the solar oven didn't turn out as well as the solar-baked yeast bread. The quick bread stayed a bit too moist due to the lack of venting in a solar oven. Grated zucchini also freezes well for future bread baking.
Those unusual looking carrots next to the corn are called purple cosmic carrots. They are beautifully colored on the outside and bright orange under the skin. Very tasty, too. I'm thinking some grated zucchini, carrot, and red onion would make a nice fresh salad, perhaps with a splash of balsamic vinaigrette.
The two fresh herbs pictured are savory and mint. I love fresh mint tea; it seems so cooling in the summer heat. I'm not very familiar with savory and undecided how to use it. Hm, a food co-op in Idaho has a delicious looking recipe for roasted potatoes with savory. That would be a nice way to prepare those red potatoes.
Finally, there are several bags of whole wheat berries in the photo. While they have proved intimidating to some members, wheat berries are quite versatile. They can be cooked whole for cereal, soups, and pilafs. They can be cracked in a food processor and used as - just call me Ms. Obvious - "cracked wheat" in breads, stuffings, pilafs, and cereals. Adding cooked cracked wheat to a vegetarian chili will give it some meat-like texture. I also have a grain mill, so I may grind a bag of the berries to use in the zucchini bread.
As you can see, the first day after bringing home a big haul of fresh foods is spent considering the best ways to use the ingredients to create delicious meals for the week. A distinct advantage of eating seasonally is that foods that grow at the same time of year often naturally work together very well in a menu plan. And after all this musing about how I want to prepare my vegetables, I'm hungry and heading to the kitchen!
Monday, June 25, 2007
I told you during Low Impact Week that I would report on what ends up in our garbage. Everything that our city accepts for recycling was recycled and that can went out today for the first time this month. Almost all compostable materials went into our compost bin. We re-use and repair everything we can. What was left as actual garbage fell into several categories.
Snotty tissues. Most of these are recycled paper tissues, although there are a few Kleenex intermixed from when my nose rebelled against the rough paper.
I have a pile of hankerchiefs purchased from several thrift stores but have been stalling on trying them out. Actually, they are napkins but since they are soft, I figure they should work for our noses. The bags are for holding the clean hankies, one for me and one for my sweetie. Since I want to minimize the purchase of additional tissues, I guess I need to get these washed and see how we like them.
(Should I admit to how many boxes of tissues are stockpiled in the closet? Nah, we just won’t mention that.)
Single use products
Sticky lint paper from those disposable rolls. I know I should use my lint brush but it’s so hard with tons of dog fur on everything (whine, whine, whine) and I already have several lint rolls on hand. The lint brush works well on some fabrics but less well on others. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it...at least until I run out of sticky rolls.
1 pair of disposable gloves. My sweetie massaged Tiger Balm into my sore calves. He has a hard time getting it all washed off his hands and then it stings if he rubs his eyes later.
A couple of disposable panty liners. My Diva cup and Luna pads have since arrived so this source of trash will be eliminated.
2 Bandaids and packaging. I’m clumsy. ‘nuff said.
Packaging from replacement filter sleeve and charcoal for fish tank. This filter is only changed once a month. I scattered the used charcoal granules in the garden and cleaned the old sleeve to use as a scrubby pad in the garage, so the only garbage was the packaging.
Packaging from dog’s heartworm medication. I don’t know of a way to re-use blister packs. None of these suggestions really sound practical.
Food packaging. I get our produce from the CSA, buy in bulk, and make most of our food from scratch. However, somehow the trash shows that we are still eating some prepared foods such as chocolate chips, tortilla chips, and Newman’s Own oreo-style cookies. Hm, it sounds like I need to avoid the store when I’m hungry, frustrated, sad, or have PMS.
Hard plastic packaging from compact fluorescent light bulbs. Home Depot gave away single CFL bulbs on Earth Day in recyclable cardboard boxes yet sells this same brand only in a big chunk of plastic.
Plastic pull tabs from soymilk cartons. The cartons are recyclable but most are currently being re-used for ice blocks.
Dog food bag. We buy in larger quantities to reduce cost and packaging but the bag still can’t be recycled.
Plastic packaging from Xtracycle. The box was recycled and the Xtracycle itself is significantly reducing our vehicle use.
Hair. While hair is listed as acceptable for compost systems, it doesn’t seem to be breaking down.
Dog fur. Same problem as with the hair, plus my dog sheds even more than me. Her fur is not long enough to spin.
Trimmings from cutting silicone baking mats to fit pans. Again, this waste was created in the effort to reduce other waste (parchment paper).
Vacuum bin contents. Okay, I tried to recycle the bin contents from my bagless vacuum, I really did. First I threw out the huge wad o’ dog fur. But then, I was dumping the dust and dirt into a hole next to the agave (century plant) instead of in the garbage. One problem. Remember the comment above about being clumsy? Well, I managed to stab myself in the head with a sharp agave spine while bending down to dump out the bin.
These spines are so sturdy and sharp that you can actually use them as a needle, as this picture from the National Park Service at Tonto Nat'l Monument shows. The leaf's fibers can be twisted into string. One of these buggers attacked me last Thursday. It still hurts today. I resisted the urge to get out my clippers and cut off all the sharp tips of the agave leaves, mostly because I had to take Benadryl, ibuprofen, and sit with ice on my bleeding wound for half an hour! I still glare at the plant every time I walk by it, though.
I'm always searching for more ways to reduce our garbage. Give me your best suggestions (other than sending me to charm school to cure my clumsiness)!
Sunday, June 24, 2007
But don’t fret. You won’t have to go through that whole process to make your own corn tortillas. Check your grocery store for masa harina, the dry flour version of masa dough, generally sold in 5-pound bags. Even Quaker Oats sells masa harina. If you can’t find it in the store, check the Latino stores in your area. You may also be able to find it at a natural food store.
Most packages will have a corn tortilla recipe on the back. While the ingredient list is short, the instructions are long. Don’t be intimidated. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll see that it really is a simple process. You can whip up a couple dozen fresh tortillas in less than 15 minutes.
First, make sure you have the cookware and supplies on hand.
You don’t need to go buy a tortilla press. While a tortilla press is fun to use, it is not necessary. Today, I simply pressed my dough flat with a small (8”x12”) cutting board.
You will need a cast iron skillet or griddle for cooking the tortillas as well as a spatula to flip and remove them (unless you’ve got Teflon fingers!)
You need something to line the tortilla press (or the counter) to keep the dough from sticking. The heavy plastic bag from inside a cereal box works better than foil, plastic wrap, or wax paper. Open the bag flat and cut two squares 7” wide, avoiding any folds or edges.
Set a dinner plate covered with a large dishtowel off to one side of the stovetop.
You’re ready to get started!
Ingredients for 2 dozen corn tortillas
2 c masa (Masa Harina)
1½ c tepid water
Mix the masa harina and water well in a medium bowl. It can be a little tricky to get the moisture level just right, so have a little extra masa harina and water on hand for adjustments. The dough should be moist but not too wet. It should not be so dry that it is crumbly.
Start heating the skillet or griddle over medium-high heat.
Roll some of the dough into a ball the size of a golf ball. If the ball won’t hold together, your dough is too dry. Put it back in the bowl and mix little more water into all the dough. (I often have to add a little water halfway through because the dough dries out as I’m working.)
Place one of your plastic squares on the middle of the tortilla press or right on the counter. Place the ball of dough in the middle of the plastic.
Put the other square of plastic on top of the ball. If using a tortilla press, close it and clamp down once. If using the low-tech method, place the small cutting board on the plastic and press down. Keep the board as level as possible so the tortilla is of a uniform thickness. Don’t make it so thin that you can’t remove the dough from the sheet but don’t leave it so thick that the cooked tortilla is doughy in the middle.
Open the press or remove the cutting board. Peel off the top sheet. The bottom sheet may be hard to remove, but this will get easier with practice. Flip it over so the tortilla is resting on your open palm. Peel off the plastic square carefully, pulling it away close to the tortilla. If a little dough from the edge peels off, don’t worry about it - you just won’t have perfectly round tortillas. If a lot starts to peel, try starting from another spot. If it peels badly, your dough is a tad too wet and you need to knead in a little more masa harina (flour).
Carefully place the tortilla on the hot skillet. When the edges look dry, flip it over and cook until dry on both sides. Place it on the towel-covered plate and fold the towel over to cover the tortillas. Sample the first couple of tortillas to check for doneness. (All good cooks nibble in the kitchen!)
These tortillas are small, about 4” in diameter, so you can fit three in a large skillet at the same time. It’s easiest if you work with someone else - one person forms the tortillas and the other cooks them.
Once you’ve had fresh homemade tortillas, you’ll never want to buy them from the store again. If you don’t eat them all up immediately, let them sit in the towel until cool. Then put them in a tightly closed plastic bag. They will keep several days in the refrigerator or can be frozen for another time.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Other than backpackers on the trail, people here do not carry much on foot. Sure, you'll see a few people carrying several bags of groceries or their laundry, but this is more the exception than the rule. Folks without cars often push their groceries home in a store cart or load up into a taxi for a one-way trip. Many stores are getting tired of having to pay for cart round-up and are installing devices which lock up the wheels when they reach the edge of the parking lot. I have to admit that I really hate the look of abandoned grocery carts in my own neighborhood and frequently call the stores to come collect them.
Other people around the world walk with very large and heavy loads. I’m sure everyone has seen pictures of African women carrying water jugs on their heads. I watched in amazement one day as a Sudanese refugee woman balanced a large heavy box on top of her head and proceeded down a staircase with perfect poise. A Belgium physiologist, Norman Heglund, studied the women in Africa and found they could carry up to 70% of their body weight on their head. They did this without expending as much energy as soldiers carrying the same amount of weight.
When he studied porters in Nepal, he found the men carried an average of 93% of their own body weight in a doko, or huge basket with a strap over the top of the head. One man managed 125% of his own body weight! The women carried an average of 66% of their body weight in the dokos, and both sexes used even less energy than the African women. The Nepali’s efficiency has not been explained yet but the African women achieve this energy conservation and balance by acting as better pendulums under the weight of the load. Photo from Science & Development Network.
When I was young, leaner, and more fit, my backpack frequently weighed in at 40% of my body weight. There is no way I could carry that now. Hm, well actually I do...but it's in the form of groceries previously eaten. Nothing will be riding on the top of my head either. As anyone who knows me will tell you, grace is most definitely not one of my strong qualities. The word clumsy would be more likely to spring to mind. And, as mentioned before, the asphalt heats up to 130 degrees this time of year.
Another limiting factor of traveling by foot is how long it takes. We often bike because it is faster than walking and takes less energy. In his analysis of biking versus walking, Michael Bluejay determined that riding a bike is 117% more efficient than walking because “cyclists travel nearly three times faster than walkers, but use only about 25% more calories to do so.”
This simple difference in transportation efficiency can allow someone in a poor economy to make a better living with a bike than without. For example, World Bike, a nonprofit company, is bringing load-bearing bicycles to Third World countries to help improve the economic opportunities of poverty-stricken residents.
Photo courtesy of Rupert Taylor-Price on flickr.com.
Although we have used our bikes for years, the Xtracycle-equipped mountain bike has significantly increased our ability to transport goods without a car. My sweetie has met me at the CSA for the past two weeks, which allows me to bike there for my volunteer work. When there are bulky items such as watermelons, I simply do not have the carrying capacity, even with two panniers, to get everything home. This is especially true now with my purchase of another member’s share for six weeks this summer while she is out of town. A couple days ago, my sweetie hauled 46.5 pounds of delicious farm fresh fruits and vegetables home on his Xtracycle. He wasn’t breaking any speed records, but it was not an unmanageable load. He suspects that putting the heavy watermelons towards the front next time will help prevent feeling like his back end is dragging.
I am now suffering from Xtracycle-envy. While I’ve hauled up to 40 pounds of groceries in my panniers, it can be a challenge to fit everything in them and balance the weight between the sides. Bulky items are difficult to manage. However, where there’s a will, there’s a way. This morning, I spied a water bath canner while at the hardware store. An employee was kind enough to give me twine to tie the huge box to my small rack but he didn’t really believe I’d be able to ride. The box was top heavy due to other items in it and wanted to tip to the side. I found that if I pressed my back into the box, it prevented it from tipping and was relatively stable. I made it home fairly easily by riding at a slow gentle pace.
We are thrilled about going car-light and empowered by the possibility of maybe even being car-free at some point. My sweetie has been scouring the Internet for inspiration. While cargo bikes of all sorts are common in many parts of the world and a Dutch model is now being marketed in the Portland, adding a trailer is cheaper than buying another bike. He's building one himself for just $30 using this open source design from Pedal People. He hopes to finish it up this weekend so he can show it off at the CSA next week.
How will you get to the store this week?
Monday, June 18, 2007
1 Green Chile*
Dial outside temperature gauge to 100 degrees.
Preheat asphalt to 130 degrees.
Clean and dry Chile.
Place Chile on bicycle with helmet on top.
Pedal Chile around for 2 hours while doing errands.
If wind reduces temperature too much, stop at more stop signs and red lights to take advantage of radiant heat from road surface.
Remove Chile from bicycle when skin is hot to touch and top is well-steamed.
Let sit in cool place until ready to peel (for a shower!)
*Um, that would be me.
Saturday, June 16, 2007
I had the opportunity to watch some television this week. We ditched ours years ago. Apparently this was a poor choice - here is just a partial list of what I learned in a few days:
- I am seriously under-medicated. I wasn’t even aware that I had so many ailments that required medical attention, but evidently I do. Thankfully, prescription and OTC drugs can fix every one of these problems.
- The cereal I eat is not an intelligent cereal.
- My vehicle is also stupid and unable to direct me to where I wish to go.
- Disposable cleaning products will make my house fresh and clean, and I won’t have to lift a finger.
- Aliens and mutant creatures can be defeated with technology and/or weapons. Please leave your ingenuity at home.
- I only wear clothes that belong in Stacy and Clinton’s trashcan.
- Slow cars are boring.
- It’s not safe to drive with a cannonball on the back window ledge of my car, but tissues are okay. I’m not sure about hankies.
- Hair must be brightened with chemicals and dyes in order to bring out its natural beauty.
- People pay for cable channels that air paid programming.
How can I possibly worry about climate change now that TV has shown me how to achieve true happiness*?
*True Happiness is available for a limited time only at the unbelievable price of $19.99 . And if you call in the next 10 minutes, we will throw in a case of Buyer's Remorse at no extra cost. Operators are standing by. Call now: 1-kill-your-tv!
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Here is the original recipe - unfortunately no author was listed for it.
Kohlrabi and Fennel Salad
2 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and sliced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon olive oil
pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
¼ cup feta cheese
Steam or boil the fennel and kohlrabi for about 15 minutes. Drain and cool.
Mix with salt, black pepper, oil, lemon juice and crumbled feta.
Overall, the recipe looked great but the feta wasn't an option. However, as a past feta fan, I know that it has a very distinctive strong taste. Without some kind of substitute, the salad would be a bit bland.
Vegans often use nutritional yeast as a substitute for cheesy flavor in foods. In fact, that's the basis for most of the "uncheese" recipes in Jo Stepaniak's cookbook mentioned recently. So, nutritional yeast could be added to the dish. Onion powder gives a nice depth to nutritional yeast and salt is a very important component of cheese substitution. Feta, for example, tends to be quite salty. I still needed a distinctive flavor, though. That's when I spotted the small bag of pinon nuts. Perfect! I toasted them until golden brown. Once cooled, I ground them to about cornmeal consistency. This could work.
Here is my final version of the recipe without formal measurements.
Vegan Kohlrabi and Fennel Salad
2 kohlrabi bulbs, peeled and sliced
1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon sesame tahini (in place of oil)
~2 tbs nutritional yeast
~1/4 tsp onion powder
~1/4 tsp salt
pepper to taste
juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tbs toasted and ground pinon nuts
Steam or boil the fennel and kohlrabi for about 20 minutes. Drain and cool.
Mix nutritional yeast, onion powder, salt, black pepper, and ground nuts.
Combine tahini and lemon juice.
Add both mixtures to vegetables and toss well.
It was delicious!
Monday, June 11, 2007
So how do you know when it is time to clean out your freezer? If you are afraid overnight guests will refuse to eat meals with you should they look inside your freezer, it’s time to empty it out. Another definite clue that it’s time to clean it out is when you wonder what year you put something in there, not what month. "Hey, Sweetie, was that 2006 or 2005 when we froze all those lima beans?" And can someone tell me how it gets all dusty inside there?!
Cleaning out your freezer doesn’t necessarily mean dumping all the food in the compost. (Note: for those readers who are not vegan, never put meat or dairy products in your compost...unless you like pathogens and rats.) Most of the freezer contents can be
Yesterday I thawed some of the frozen bananas leftover from the aid station we manned at a local bike race. Making a Banana Tea Loaf from Jo Stepaniak’s book Vegan Vittles gave me a chance to test out two recent purchases aimed at reducing our garbage. I’m pleased to report that the silicon baking mat (cut to fit the loaf pan) worked beautifully in place of parchment paper. No sticking to the pan or the loaf. A metal skewer worked just as well as a disposable toothpick to test the loaf for doneness.
Safety note: the silicon baking mat I cut up was red flexible silicone bakeware made by KitchenAid. I would not recommend cutting up the baking mats that are silicone-covered fibers.
I'm not sure the banana bread takes up less room in the freezer than the bananas, but it will disappear fast. My sweetie takes homemade quick bread or a muffin to work each day to combat the afternoon munchies. For convenience, I had been freezing these in sandwich baggies. I switched to a sandwich-size Tupperware container and he reports it’s no hassle at all. Yes, it’s still plastic but at least it’s reusable.
Here’s a tip on how to keep those quick bread slices from sticking together in the freezer. Allow the freshly baked bread to cool completely before slicing. Lay the slices out on a large baking sheet in a single layer; it’s okay for them to overlap slightly at the edges. Put the whole sheet in the freezer for a couple of hours. The slices can now be reassembled in loaf form and you won't need a prybar to retrieve a single slice later.
Other freezer contents include goodies from my CSA share. There are bags of pumpkin and cushaw squash puree from last fall. The fantastic beet year on the farm overwhelmed me and I had to resort to freezing roasted beet puree. (Beet puree can be used in this great chocolate cake from the Fatfree Vegan Kitchen.) There are several bags of frozen herbs that I love to dip into when I remember they are hiding in the door.
The most precious stash, though, is the last of the summer’s fire-roasted chiles. Other members sometimes complained, “Chiles again?!” Not me - I bought an extra 20 pounds of them from the farmer! They are so good that I want to hold onto these last two bags until I know this year’s chile crop is coming in. Chiles bring out the glutton in me. (So does soy mint chocolate chip ice cream, but that never lasts in the freezer more than a day.) The problem with fire-roasted chiles is they are soooo tasty that I eat too many while cleaning them. They are delicious still steaming after being roasted to that almost black charred state.
The simplest uses are the best as dishes with too many ingredients mask the chile's flavor. I prefer mild-medium chiles for the same reason. While I know this is extremely subjective, overwhelming burning heat diminishes the enjoyment of the taste for me. A succulent roasted chile laying across the top of a cheese crisp is all I need for dinner. Well, actually, I’d prefer at least 3 chiles on my cheese crisp. And of course by “cheese crisp”, I mean tortilla topped with a fake uncheese sauce not actual dairy cheese… At the risk of sounding like I’m getting paid for the endorsement, I can highly recommend another one of Jo Stepaniak’s cookbooks, Ultimate Uncheese Cookbook, for cheesy-style vegan recipes.
All this talk of chiles makes it very clear to me that I need to clean out a lot of freezer space. I intend to get 40 extra pounds of chiles this year!
More photos of the chile roasting process and some delicious recipes can be found at Fiery Foods.
Friday, June 8, 2007
Was it this unused tiled shower stall now equipped with our portable camping toilet and cloth toilet paper wipes that I used for my liquid wastes all week? Was it eating delicious solar-cooked local food for the past week? Or was it the joy with which my sweetie rode his new “sport utility bicycle” and our visions of a car-free future? No. While I value all of these things, they are not what I truly liked best about Low Impact Week.
What I appreciated most fully was having the community created by this project; a community in which all of us could discuss our efforts to lower our impact, no matter how outrageous, without judgment or ridicule. This supportive environment ensures we will succeed in our efforts much more easily than if we did it alone, in isolation. Thank you, Deanna, for organizing this event and motivating so many of us to join you for the journey. May it continue far beyond this week and be a long and fruitful one.
Thursday, June 7, 2007
Most houses in the desert are equipped with water-saving showerheads and low-flow toilets. We take pretty short showers and just this past week my sweetie installed a flow control valve above the showerhead. This makes it simple to flip off the water while soaping up and flip it back on to rinse. It is far easier than doing this at the tap because the water temperature stays the same.
We’ve been keeping a bucket in the shower for years, saving the cooler water while waiting for the hot water to come out. I collaged the outside of the bucket just for fun and so it would be more interesting for guests staying overnight. We also save the water from the kitchen sink while preparing to do dishes. Since this is perfectly clean water, I usually use it to fill the toilet tank after flushing down the browns. (If it's yellow...)
One way I’ve been able to reduce my showering time is by changing my hair care routine. I follow shampooing with a dilute vinegar rinse solution. This cuts down on my hair’s natural oils enough to double the number of days between shampoos. Unfortunately, it doesn’t prevent the nasty salt build-up from sweat when I do hard yard work or exercise outside in the summer.
On days when a shower isn’t really needed, another option is to take a sponge bath using a method I read about in Mother Earth News. Fill a basin with very hot water. Stir in a handful of baking soda. Wet a washcloth and then wring it almost dry. Wipe down thoroughly from head to toe, rinsing the washcloth frequently in the basin. This really does the trick. Well, nobody has held their nose around me anyway.
Letting the water run while brushing teeth is not something I’ve ever thought to do. In the desert, it’s a no-brainer to turn off the tap.
Our kitchen water use has increased in the past year, but not for dishes. The farm-fresh organic CSA produce has more dirt and mud on it than grocery store veggies. Instead of rinsing under a running faucet, I clean them in a big bowl of water and pour the muddy water on my garden. No worries about poisons either.
We save water, soap, and wear and tear on our clothes with a front-loading washing machine. While expensive initially, the savings in the long run offset the cost. For my hand-washing, I’ve switched from the sink to stomping in a bucket. It’s faster, more fun, and the water can be re-used on plants.
Our only source of cooling is an evaporative cooler. Water trickles down over pads cooling the air blown over them. The cooled air is vented into the house. The only way to reduce water use here is to run the cooler less. We run just the fan in the early morning hours to cool the house as much as possible and then close the windows and blinds up tight to keep the heat out. Last week, we weren’t turning the cooler on until about 3 pm. With rising temperatures and warmer nights coming, though, we'll be running the cooler earlier and longer. As I mentioned in discussing energy use, we can hold out up to 80 degrees inside but not higher.
Trees protect our house from most of the summer sun. One bare corner, however, takes the direct brunt of mid-afternoon sun. Several desert trees sprouted in this area during last year's monsoon rains. I’ve been nursing them along with hopes of future shade. Yesterday I created proper wells and mulched them with bark chips. With a couple more years' growth, they should be large enough to provide some shade in that corner. On a landscaping note, we’re lucky to have rented a house with primarily low water-use and desert landscaping. Drip irrigation minimizes water loss to evaporation, although all of the plants are far happier once the monsoon rains begin.
We harvest rainwater from half of the roof. It used to pour out of the rain gutter onto a brick patio. Last year, we bought downspouts and elbows to route that water over a small wall to two citrus trees. There are no rain gutters on the other half of the roof and even if we installed them, there are no close trees to use the water. Water harvesting here requires more than just a rain barrel. Homeowners must lay a cement pad and install a cistern to handle the quantity of rain received during the monsoon downpours. That’s more work and money than we can put into a rental house, even if we got permission to make the changes to the structure and yard.
Our only vehicle is washed maybe twice a year. (Same goes for the dog.) The water is either put on a thirsty tree or turned off while soaping up the vehicle. (It’s shut off when soaping up the dog.) I figure by the time I get around to washing the car, it will get improved gas mileage from having all the crud rinsed off it. (Can’t say the same for the dog but I don’t have to wash the bedspread as often.)
Tuesday, June 5, 2007
We joined the CSA over a year ago and currently get 1½ shares. The farm is within 100 miles and grows its produce by organic methods. Most of the vegetables, fruits, and beans we eat come from this local farmer. For other food, I buy organic when available and affordable. Other than honey, produce, and coffee, I don’t believe much other (vegan) food is available locally. To be honest, though, I haven’t looked too hard for local grains. The good news is that our CSA will soon have wheat and oats, a first for this farm. As mentioned before, we eat Thai jasmine rice even though we know brown rice is better for us and the environment. In my sweetie’s case, it is because he strongly prefers the white rice. In my case, it’s because I’m too
Although I frequently cook from scratch, I realized while writing about our garbage that we still use a fair amount of packaged products. This includes pasta, occasional cereal and sweets, soymilk, canned organic tomatoes and tomato products (salsa, pasta sauce), and a few other miscellaneous foods. I keep saying that I won’t replace these foods when they run out, but I forget about that decision when I’m in the store grocery-shopping and see something on sale at a really good price. I'm an opportunistic shopper, willing to snag up a good deal when I come across it so sticking strictly to a list has never really worked for me.
Besides ditching the convenience foods, a couple of ways that we could change our habits and reduce our impact would be to choose water over other beverages more frequently and to focus more on nutrition instead of just taste. The second would automatically lead to a reduction in the amount of unhealthy sugar that we currently consume. We both give in to our sweet tooth more often than not. How will I make my latte though?!
On planned shopping trips, I am very good about using cloth bags. In fact, the best wedding gift we received was four handmade denim grocery bags. We are still using them almost two decades later! We have another half dozen cloth bags and an insulated bag for cold foods. My problem is that on unplanned stops, I tend to forget to take a bag inside with me even though I always keep some in the car. Behavior modification is needed here and it may mean putting a sticky note on the dashboard for a while to remind myself to grab a bag. On the other hand, when I do accept plastic bags, they are never wasted. They are used for our garbage, little as there may be, and for picking up after our pup on walks through the neighborhood. Many of our veggies from the CSA also keep better and longer if put loosely in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.
We don't do much take-out anymore. We decided a few months ago to quit getting any take-out that comes in Styrofoam. The one restaurant where we continue to get take-out packages the food only in a sheet of foil and places it in a paper bag. No napkins, plasticware, or condiments unless you pick them up yourself. I wash and re-use the foil until it is in shreds and then recycle it. The bag is also re-used, recycled, or composted. But now I've digressed into garbage issues…
Last but certainly not least, we eat a predominantly vegan diet. This uses considerably less resources than a medical research has shown that a plant-based diet based on whole foods (not junk food!) maintains better health and prevents many chronic diseases. This, in turn, reduces resources needed for medical care. We feel strongly that this is one of the most important environmental choices we make.
Monday, June 4, 2007
We started down this path years ago when we lived in an area with private garbage collectors. It was costing us $10 per month to have only a little bit of trash picked up each week. We found out that we could haul our own garbage to the city’s transfer station for $5 per load. The transfer station had numerous recycling bins available and right next door was the city’s yard waste composting site. Talk about one-stop dumping! By consciously following the rules of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”, we were able to decrease our monthly garbage output to a single black garbage bag per month. We still do pretty well with our garbage years later. Here’s our current situation.
The changes we’re making to reduce our dependency on paper products automatically produce less waste.
In an effort to live more simply, greenly, and cheaply, we’ve reduced our need for “stuff”. Buying less stuff reduces the waste from receipts, packaging, care and cleaning of the stuff, and inevitable broken parts or eventual discarding of the stuff.
We get our produce from a CSA and re-use any plastic bags it may come in. I take my own denim grocery bags to the pick-up site as well as to grocery stores. We buy other food products in bulk to reduce waste, even if the packaging is recyclable. Grains and rice, pasta, beans, and even spices are available in bulk. My spice cabinet is mostly filled with the same jars I purchased when I left home for college.
One area that needs improvement is pre-packaged food. We use soymilk and end up with lots of empty cartons. Even though I use them to make ice, there is a limit to how many the freezer will hold. I have a soymilk maker but found that it was very time-consuming and water-intensive to clean the machine, so I’m back to buying cartons. My other failing is that I purchase pre-packaged food on impulse, especially if it’s on a good sale and I have a coupon. If it’s healthy and cheap, I am likely to buy it to save myself a little time in the kitchen. I’d estimate that 75% of this packaging is recyclable, but that leaves 25% that’s not. I need to learn to “just say no” to these temptations!
I keep a “snack kit” in car with bowls, cutlery, salt & pepper, knife, cutting board, and towel. I’ve now added re-fillable drink cups and mugs to the kit. This allows us to pick up a snack at a store or restaurant without buying as much packaging. For instance, one day after a long, hot hike, we wanted some nice refreshing pineapple. Since we didn’t have the snack kit at the time, we had to buy a plastic tub of pre-cut pineapple and get napkins and forks from the deli. Now we’d have the option of buying a whole pineapple, cutting it up ourselves, and composting the trimmings. ‘Course since we’re trying to eat more locally, pineapples are probably going to be a very rare treat anymore.
When we purchase non-food items, we carefully consider the durability of the item. We want it to last and be repairable if it breaks. I was savvy enough to marry a very handy guy so we don’t end up throwing away much just because it broke. When it comes to plumbing though, my sweetie really wishes I'd give to "Honey Do" list to someone else.
If an item is still useful but we no longer want it, we find it a new home other than the dump. It may be sold in a yard sale, given to a friend, or donated to a charity. Freecycle is also a great way to give things away. We try to reduce overall garbage by purchasing used goods as much as possible through craigslist, yard sales, and thrift stores.
I prefer products that I can re-use even if they were designed to be disposable. I wash and re-use ziploc bags and foil. My sweetie still uses plastic cutlery at work that we picked up before consciously trying to reduce acquisition of more disposables. When they have finally all broken, he will take real flatware from home. In the meantime, I just keep washing them for another lunch.
I also like products that can be refilled and find it frustrating when companies don’t offer this option. For instance, the Extra Life green disks in my produce bins extend the life of my veggies. The problem is the disks last 3 months and then must be replaced. I got curious when the current ones expired and popped the container open. Inside was the absorbing agent safely contained in a foil and paper pouch. (Note: don’t open this package unless you want your fingers dyed for several days!) I’d never seen replacement cartridges for the disks so I checked their website to see if I could order some. Nope. In the FAQs, they state there are no refill cartridges available. So, being the vocal consumer that I am, I called up the company to ask, “Why not?!” The answer was that the current design does not lend itself to easy opening and closing, and does not re-seal well. I recommended they look at re-designing it to reduce waste and got a fairly positive response. If you use these disks, be a vocal consumer. Call or email them to request that they produce a re-fillable disk and replacement cartridges. (To the nice Customer Service Rep at Extra Life – I warned you that I had a big mouth…)
Once we have exhausted an item’s usefulness, we look for recycling options. We recycle all packaging that is accepted in our area. We also check our city’s extensive recycling directory for a wider range of items, such as those discussed on the Earth 911 recycling site. Now that my sweetie has the Xtracycle, it will be possible to haul more recyclables to diverse locations. In the past, this choice has been complicated by considering whether to burn the gas to take a small quantity to a distant collector.
Food waste goes to our compost system. Since we eat a low-fat strict vegetarian diet, all of our food scraps and spoiled leftovers are compostable. In an effort to add more browns to the compost and avoid the problem of smaller paper products in recycling, I now put shredded toilet paper tubes in the compost. And after attending the Identity Theft workshop mentioned yesterday, I’m seriously considering adding our shredded personal documents to the compost pile as well. (For those of you with woodstoves and fireplaces, perhaps this could be used as kindling.)
When I sum up Low Impact Week on this weekend, I’ll discuss what actually appeared in my trash, recycling, and compost this week.
Sunday, June 3, 2007
This is a mixed bag for me. In some areas, I do great. In other ways, I am a paper hog. The question is whether this little hoggie can be reformed.
First, the good. We rarely use paper towels. For kitchen messes, there is an attractive container full of rags on the counter. To assure that none of these are used for other tasks, such as cleaning the toilet, I select a distinctly colored t-shirt ready to be recycled into rags. Five inch squares are a good size for the kitchen. For the last batch, I even used a sharpie pen to write “kitchen” on the edge of each one just in case we forgot which ones were for kitchen use only. I’ll admit to keeping one roll of 100% recycled paper towels on hand for really bad messes. I know that I could launder them, but I just can’t stomach dealing with soiled rags from cleaning up dog puke or goopy poopy dog butt residue. Those kind of clean-ups call for disposable plastic gloves, several paper towels, and a plastic bag to seal it in. A HazMat warning sticker might be nice too.
Paper napkins? Who uses those at home?! Our large stack of cloth napkins live in a pretty bowl right next to the table. However, it hadn’t occurred to me to take my own napkins to a restaurant. Nor had I thought of keeping a cloth in my bag or pocket for drying my hands in a public restroom. This is precisely why I read blogs – to get fresh ideas! I picked up a bandana at a thrift store that I am now using instead of paper towels in public restrooms. When we eat out, I’ll grab a couple of our cloth napkins to take with us as well.
I've taken another step to reduce paper use in the kitchen. Baking is one of my passions, and I especially enjoy developing fat-free vegan recipes. The catch is that the fats, like oil and margarine, are what keep baked goods from sticking to the pan. Since I also don’t spray my pans with oil, parchment paper is absolutely necessary to keep food from sticking. Ok, that’s not entirely true. I have two silicone muffin pans that work wonderfully, but I can’t afford to invest in an entire set of silicone bakeware. In hopes of eliminating the parchment paper habit, I purchased a pair of silicone baking mats. One fits my 13x9” pan and can be used on the cookie sheets. I cut the larger mat to fit my two loaf pans, the 8x8” pan, and fit together two scraps to line my 6x8” pan. These should work to release baked goods and eliminate some of the paper waste I generate. My apologies for not testing whether they work before posting this but baking would heat the kitchen up too much.
In the paper category, Kleenex is my downfall. As promised, though, I purchased 100% recycled tissues (and TP) to try this week. Ironically, when I distributed the four boxes around the house on Friday, my nasal drippings beat a fast retreat for a full 24 hours! By Saturday morning though, my nose recovered from its fright and launched a sneezing offensive requiring the use of seven tissues in rapid succession. By the seventh one, my nose cried uncle and I ran for the Kleenex. One box of evil nasty non-recycled tissue is on the counter as an emergency back-up. For the occasional sniffle, I’ll use recycled. For the serious onslaught, some virgin fiber is getting sacrificed. Please forgive me.
I’m not totally hopeless, though. I found some material with handkerchief potential at a thrift store Friday. My unskilled foot has not tread upon a sewing machine pedal since the tragic Girl Scouts mumu incident so it may be a while before I work up the courage to attempt making my own hankies. My mother-in-law has graciously loaned me her machine, but I think that was really just to get out of me asking her to make them for me. Smart lady…
Junk mail is an almost unavoidable source of paper waste. I abhor it so I keep on top of it pretty well. I contacted the Direct Marketing Association to get off mailing lists. I don’t fill out surveys. I return junk mail in the postage paid envelope with “Remove from mailing list” scrawled above my name. I call the 1-800 number in unwanted catalogs to be removed from the list. Most mail-order companies now have their full catalog online so there is really no reason to receive a printed one by mail. Unfortunately, there is no way to stop the general delivery weekly advertisements from filling my mailbox (and then my recycling bin).
One area where I probably use more paper than others is for my bills. I don’t do any bill-paying or banking online. This is due to my concerns with fraud, although after attending an Identity Theft workshop recently, I’m thinking maybe I need to guard my mailbox with shotgun in hand until the delivery person arrives. I’ve opted out of all mailing lists with the bank, insurance company, and utilities. In fact, I called my phone company on Friday to complain about the recent onslaught of advertising from them and found out I could opt out of their solicitations.
Anyone else out there a compulsive list-maker? If so, perhaps you’ll sympathize with my preference for a list made out on paper rather than on the computer screen. There’s just something about words on actual paper and the act of crossing them out that is very satisfying. I know this wastes paper, but I rationalize the habit by using the clean backside of mailed advertisements, handouts from workshops, and even a stash I still have left from my old college notes. And I always recycle the paper when done with it. I’ve been working on accepting that I don’t need a clean new list each day; I can just add to yesterday’s (long) list of things I didn’t finish. Maybe some day I will actually get everything done so I don’t need a list anymore.
On an intimate note, I reduced my use of feminine products years ago with The Keeper but could not find suitable pads. Thanks to pushy Crunchy Chicken, I decided to revisit the issue. I remembered I’d heard good things about Luna Pads so I ordered a stash of those along with a Diva Cup. Now I’m just waiting for the chance to test them out. TMI? Sorry, but these things must be discussed. Guys, just cover your eyes and sing, “lalalalalala”.
I’ll leave you with one last thought. Is this going too far? Will friends and family still come visit if I take this step? Will my sweetie rebel and head for the hills, taking the last of the non-recycled TP with him? He’s a little worried; on that thrift store run Friday, I picked up some flannel material…
Current checklist: get Silicone Zone bakeware, more checklists from Life Organizers, and HazMat stickers from SCCFD.
Saturday, June 2, 2007
On the vehicle front, we own just one carbon-spewing transportation device. For two out of the past three years, we drove it less than 7,500 miles annually. I was saddened to discover recently that I drove more than that this past year. As a result, I lost my car insurance discount which translates to a 41 cent per day “penalty” for driving more. According to State Farm, the national average is 12,000 miles annually. So, let’s run some numbers. Keep in mind that the average is 12,000 miles per car. Car ownership in the U.S. stood at 0.77 per person in 2005, according to the Earth Policy Institute. Census data from 2005 indicated that 79% of the 295 million people in the U.S. were age 16 or older. The math here is simple: approximately one car per person of driving age in the U.S. Of course, car ownership is not evenly distributed among the population but that is another issue entirely.
So what does that have to do with the fact that I personally burned up more gas this past year than in previous years. Well, it means that even though our vehicle racked up almost 10,000 miles last year, we still drove far less than most other couples (24,000 miles for two cars). I am not consoled, however; in fact, I’m still kicking myself for losing the low insurance rate, polluting the environment, and helping the oil companies reap in record profits.
We try to be responsible car owners. We follow the guidelines for better fuel economy recommended by the Union of Concerned Scientists and others. We don’t take many trips other than driving to visit family 100 miles away every couple of months. Family illness increased the number of trips this past year, something that is sadly not likely to ease up soon.
My sweetie already walks or bikes to work. I am the one responsible for putting many of the miles on the car, mostly with in-town driving. I make sure when driving to combine errands and plot the most efficient route with the least miles.
But why do I have to drive in the first place? I don’t take the bus for errands due to unshaded bus stops and crime concerns. I have walked and biked to do shopping and errands. In examining why I don’t do this more often, I’ve come up with the following
1. The weather is bad (too hot, too rainy causing flooded streets, lightning, windy, etc.)
2. I have too many stops to make and it’s really inconvenient to lock up the bike each time.
3. I don’t have time.
4. I can’t carry everything on the bike.
5. I’m tired or my muscles are sore from training.
The weather is most definitely a challenge, especially in the summer. Many businesses don’t open until 9 or 10 am, when temperature can already be in the high 90s and climbing rapidly. During monsoon season, an added danger, besides heat exhaustion, is lightning and flooding from sudden afternoon storms. Biking through knee deep water with passing cars throwing up huge sprays of water is not pleasant nor good for cargo.
So, what’s the solution? To be honest, the weather is really only a problem in summer, as the occasional windy day just means errands may have to be done another day. To avoid the summer storms and some of the heat, I can get out as early as the businesses open. When the temperatures are soaring, I can fill my water bottle or Camelbak with ice, take my mister bottle and soak my hair and shirt periodically. The nice thing about dry heat in the desert is that evaporative cooling works pretty well. I reserve the right to take the car when lightning and flooding is imminent, however!
When combining errands by car, it is very easy to park, grab the re-usable bags, lock the door, and go. Takes about 10 seconds. When traveling by bike, first you have to locate a bike rack. Figure on finding these less than 10% of the time. So now you must hunt for an appropriate and legal place to lock your bike. Then everything removable (seat bag with flat-tire repair kit, pump, cyclometer, lights, etc.) must be stripped from the bike unless you intend to donate it to someone involuntarily. These are stuffed into your backpack or saddlebags to be carried inside with you. Remember that if you’ve stopped one or two other places already, your bags may already be bulging. You lock the bike, making sure to thread the cable through the frame and both wheels so that you still have a bike when you come back out of the store. Now you can finally enter the store. Takes 2-5 minutes. Reverse the process when you exit the store. Oh, and don’t forget, when you’re in many stores, they will make you hand over your backpack or saddlebags so that you can’t steal anything while shopping. This does not mean that they will watch your bag or guard it from being stolen by someone else.
If you think it sounds like I’m frustrated with trying to shop by bike, you’re right. On an excursion yesterday, I locked up to: the edge of a metal bike rack because someone blocked all the tire slots by parking their bike lengthwise, a porch post, a small bike rack not bolted down, and a tree with spines. Just as businesses are required to have a certain number of parking spaces for cars, I think it’s high time they were required to supply a certain number of secure bike parking spaces. And I haven’t even mentioned the dangers of riding a bike (or walking) through a parking lot with lots of car traffic!
Okay, rant over. There is no easy solution to this one. My choices seem to include not doing the errands – not always an option, shopping with someone else that stays outside and watches the bikes – not an efficient use of time but can be a pleasant way to spend time together, or simply accepting that this is the way it is and making peace with the process. That last one is hard for Type A personalities such as myself but would most likely be the best approach to take. As we try to move towards a simpler slower-paced way of living, this will be an important quality to develop. I’ll work on that this week.
There is also no question that walking or biking usually takes longer than driving. Is this a bad thing though? That depends on perspective and priorities. No Impact Man has discovered the pleasures of slowing down. My perception of limited time is just that – a perception. I have just as much time as everyone else and it is up to me to choose how to spend it. Better planning, simplifying, and careful examination of real needs versus wants might go a long ways towards resolving this one. Besides, sleep is highly over-rated!
Despite having a rack, backpack, and good-sized panniers, there are times when I simply can’t carry everything on my bike. For several years, I’ve drooled over these trailers but realistically, I am not in shape for hauling cargo yet. My knees have not responded well the few times I’ve tried hauling our small bike trailer. I cannot even imagine hauling 300 pounds like this!
However, my sweetie is willing to do some of the hauling, even if it means having to give up his weekend time to help with errands. Today he found a used mountain bike in pretty good shape. After a tune-up, he installed the Xtracycle kit, transforming his new bike into a “sport utility bike”. We’re looking forward to putting this baby to use when the 40 pound watermelons come in at the CSA this summer!
Finally, we’ve reached my last excuse. This is a really tough one for me. I have been struggling with fitness issues for years. The occasional walk or ride to the store was not sufficient to increase my fitness enough to walk or ride to the store more often. More focused exercise has been very beneficial for my health in the past year. Unfortunately, training to walk a half-marathon last December sometimes left me too tired to ride my bike to the store and my new foray into running leaves me with limited energy to walk or bike for errands.
I am committed to avoiding the use of the car as much as possible this week, but let me tell you, my legs are tired! I’ve ridden 22 miles in the last two days and I’m beat. At this time, I think that continuing with my new running program will result in increased fitness and health that will enable me, eventually, to rely less on the car. I’m just really struggling right now with whether to continue running with friends and training for events after my class ends later this month, or to only engage in destination-based exercise. The running class and group is fulfilling a strong need to socialize with other women in a healthy environment that I am not sure I want to give up. Perhaps one option is to do as I did this morning and bike to meet the others for our running workout. I could also incorporate an errand or two into the bike ride home.
As you can see, I’ve worked really hard to rationalize my excuses not to walk or ride my bike. Being aware that these are excuses, though, and knowing that there are options available should make it easier for me to transition into using the carbon-spewing alternative less often.
Friday, June 1, 2007
The suggestions listed by Crunchy Chicken include a number of things that we already are doing. I want to share a bit more about those, along with some of the changes we're making now to lower our impact further. See if you can glean some ideas about what you can do in your life!
We don’t own a TV so we can’t turn it off. We got rid of the beast 4½ years ago after asking ourselves, “Do we want to spend our time watching other people do neat stuff or do we want to spend our time doing neat stuff?” Haven’t missed the shows or the commercials.
We use air dry on the dishwasher which is only run a couple times per month. Contrary to the studies, I do use less water washing my dishes by hand than our dishwasher. I also don’t require electricity to run - just beans and rice. We've lived just fine without one in the past but do appreciate its non-electric use as a giant drain rack.
We recently started unplugging appliances that draw energy when not in use, but I often forget about the microwave. I’ve got a note posted in the kitchen to remind myself until it becomes habit.
Full freezers use less energy, so we make iceblocks with soymilk cartons and vinegar jugs. We never have to buy ice for a trip and they are super handy for shopping in the summer heat. Small frozen containers can be slipped into a backpack or pannier to keep perishables fresh on a bike ride home from the store.
There are lots of little ways to save energy in the kitchen. I use a manual can opener rather than electric, chop and grate vegetables by hand instead of using the food processor, and knead bread by hand instead of using a bread machine. These activities serve as a quiet time to focus on only the task at hand and reduce stress. Try this. If you accept that this activity will take some time and don’t rush, you can relax and enjoy the process.
We often use hand tools instead of power tools in the workshop and yard to save natural resources while strengthening our muscles and dexterity. My sweetie laughs when I beg him for a chainsaw and says he doesn’t want to have to call me “Stumpy.” I think he’s more concerned that he’d have stumpy trees because he knows I really enjoy pruning and might get carried away if not limited by muscle fatigue.
I save a lot of energy by being lazy and letting the ironing pile up. Heating the iron to press 10 shirts at one time is far more efficient than heating it up 10 times for one shirt in the morning. Come to think of it, I don’t think we own 10 shirts that require ironing… If possible, avoid jobs that require pressed clothes.
One suggestion was rejected: “For our southern friends, set the A/C to above 90.” No way! My sweetie is heat-sensitive, I get pretty grouchy when hot, and our pets would suffer. The produce we don't keep in the refrigerator (and yes, Greenpa, Vanessa, and Colin - I still use mine) would spoil too fast in the heat. We agreed that our setting would be 80 degrees. We don’t have A/C; evaporative coolers are sufficient for most of the summer in the desert. By running the fan early in the morning to cool the house, I’m able to put off turning using the evaporative cooler until late afternoon or early evening. This means we’re not running it as much during peak demand times. Most of the day, I’m comfortable with just ceiling fans. If I start feeling warm, one option is to wet down my hair, and sometimes my t-shirt. The breeze from the fans cools me right down.
When we moved into this rental house 3 years ago, we added weather-stripping to the doors. This month, I put foil-faced insulation in the south-facing windows of a room that was always roasting by mid-afternoon. The room feels like the rest of the house now. We’re considering lining the inside of the garage door with it to keep that work area more comfortable over the summer.
We use natural light as much as possible, but must balance this with keeping heat out of the house. The most frequently used lights in the house were replaced with compact flourescent lightbulbs last month. Since I had a few still on hand, I replaced more this morning. We now have a total of 8 CFLs.
Natural Gas Conservation
We keep the temperature our hot water heater set moderately low. When we leave town, even just for overnight, we turn it to the pilot light.
We use less hot water by keeping showers short, avoiding baths, and washing dishes only once or twice a day. During the summer, the “cold” water comes out of the tap at about 85 degrees. This helps keep showers from being miserable. Washing dishes less often is tough because I love to cook and tend to get an unreasonable number of pots and pans, bowls, and utensils dirty.
Although I usually use cold water to wash clothes, I run a hot water load about once or twice a month to keep soap crud from building up in the machine. I figure the extra gas used to heat this water is offset by the extended life and performance of the machine.
We are finally air drying all our laundry. As renters, we can’t put a permanent clothesline in the yard. I found a wall-mounted small clothesline at a thrift store and we can now dry everything on the line, drying rack, and hangers. We use the dryer to tumble clothes with no heat for 5 minutes before and after line drying. Could we live without tumbling? Yes, but the amount of time required to remove all the dog fur with a lint brush could be better used for other low impact activities.
We turned off the pilot lights on the stove this morning and fetched the flint striker from the garage. It will take me some practice to light the burner with the striker, but an added benefit to this change should be less heat in the kitchen.
Another way I save gas and eliminate heating up the kitchen is by cooking in the Global SunOven solar oven I've had for years. It really heats up this time of year and works great for roasting vegetables, steaming dishes, cooking grains, and baking bread. I’ve even made toast in it. Last night, I used non-toxic BBQ spray paint to touch up scratches inside to help maximize its heating potential. I want to explore the solar cooking sites for ideas on more uses and recipes.
Sharon had a great post this week on Casaubon's Book about ways to save cooking energy. I love my pressure cooker because it not only saves energy, it saves time. Even if I didn’t plan ahead, I can cook up a fast healthy meal.
I was all set to try Frugal Veggie Mama’s idea of cooking outside and then discovered we don’t have a single electrical outlet on the exterior of the house! Running an extension cord through a window or door would result in a zillion mosquitos enjoying the comfort of our home. Lugging appliances out to the garage is an option, but somewhat unwieldy as a permanent summer cooking arrangement. I’m tempted to use our camp stove with the small propane bottles, but am not sure how cooking that way ranks on the low impact scale versus cooking in the house with gas. Thoughts?
I hope this gave you some ideas on how you can reduce your own energy consumption!