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Yesterday was EcoSabbath… – Day 8 of No Impact Week

January 10, 2011

and we did observe it… mostly. I logged on last night to record Day 7, since I hadn’t had the chance to do it on Saturday. It was snowing and cold yesterday, so a pot of coffee got made (and then unplugged immediately upon finishing brewing) and then I set hot cocoa to simmering on the stove on the lowest possible temperature. My two boys and I sat around the dining room table talking and reading books, drinking cocoa, and listening to Mussorsky’s Pictures from an Exhibition and Ravel’s Bolero (the teen-ager chose the music), and watching the snow fall. Then it was time to go out in it. Little Frog wanted to try out his brand-new (from the thrift store) snowboots and winter coat (also from the thrift store) that he got for the holidays. We tromped in the yard, stomping and kicking the snow, letting the snowflakes collect on our shoulders and head, revelling in the second snowfall of Winter. As the chill set in, we headed back in, had a little more cocoa and then it was naptime for the littlest, and my teen-ager headed out to shovel our driveway and sidewalk, and to see if my heart-sister needed her driveway shoveled.

The snow let up later, letting my Hubby get home from work in relative safety. At this point, we had only the flourescent light in kitchen on, and then the lights and computers downstairs. Dinner was a re-warmed affair, using as little energy as we could. Leftover chili over sausages, with pickles and sliced pears on the side. Something that was quick and easy to make, especially nice since I had a migraine coming on (weather-induced headaches are a wonder in a state where the weather is in a perpetual state of flux). I wrote my blog last night while I could still think well enough to do so, and then was done. The Hubby took Little Frog into the Lego room to play – CFL’s for lights in that part of the basement, and the teen-ager watched some tv.

It was such a peaceful day, I just might see if we can do it more often. Just one day a month, and maybe as a compromise at first – only part of a day… power down as much as we can. From that start, maybe we can make it once every couple of weeks, or even once a week. It’ll be easier in Summer, when we can leave the stove off for a good majority of our meals. It was fun to see what we could accomplish on a cold, snowy day in Winter.


Giving back – Day 7 of No Impact Week

January 9, 2011

I was pretty stumped when it came to this one. I wasn’t sure where to look, or what I could do. On top of it all, I have a two yr old that I’d be taking with me (or seeing if I can con our teen-ager into staying with his little brother), and right now, we have only one vehicle. Taking a potentially tired and cranky toddler on the bus after my volunteer time is done is a thing I don’t want to subject the other passengers to. I could wait until one of my husband’s days off – and do a few hours of volunteering then, but it does give us less time to things together as a family (and less time to get other things done).

Then it occured to me that one of the big ways I could give back would be by becoming a local contact/volunteer for the group that’s helped us with our food sensitivity/allergy issues. So I sent them an email letting them know that I’d like to volunteer – to be a ear to listen and a guide for those just starting out, to drop off pamphlets at the libraries so that people can find about us, or to help research food companies to add to the foodguide that we use. I’ve received so much advice and friendly how-tos that it seemed like it was time to give back. Though it’s not a local group, it is a non-profit group staffed mostly by volunteers. I can’t help at most of their local stuff (they’re East Coast based), but I can do stuff for them here in Colorado.

That’s great, but what about local stuff? Where do I go to find out what needs doing, and is any of it potentially stuff that I can do? So I went to city’s community center website. There, I found a section for Getting Involved and from there Volunteering. Hooray! There’s a myriad of things that can be done, so I’m going to look through them, see which ones really spark my interest and find out if any of them will allow me to bring my toddler along. I’d love to be able to get both of my kids involved, since being involved as a child will promote the continued involvement as an adult. In order to facilitate that, I’ll need to sit down with my oldest, and see what he’d like to do. It’s important, it connects us – not just us the family, but us the community – and it serves to remind us why all this is so important.

Water, water… everywhere? Day 6 of No Impact Week

January 9, 2011

Didn’t post last night, since it was Date Night In, and today was our usual gaming get-together with two couples who are our neighbors and close friends.

Growing up in southern California, I learned quite a bit about water conservation. Replace your showerheads with low-flow showerheads, change your toilets for efficient low-water usage ones (or use the brick or 2-liter bottle in the tank trick), the catchy “if it’s yellow, let it mellow”, do full loads of laundry. Don’t water the lawn during the middle of the day, and only water a few times a week. Don’t use water to wash your driveway off, use a broom and sweep it instead. Don’t wash your cars, or if you must, use the absolute least amount of water you can. Always turn off the water when not actively using it (washing your hands, rinsing your toothbrush, etc). Yeah, I heard it and absorbed it, and took it with me. I remember being a young adult, newly married, and making sure we did as many of these things as we could so as to keep our water bill down and make sure we weren’t using more water than we should be.

Then I moved to western Washington, where drought conditions weren’t as desperate, and I relaxed in my stance some. Now I’m in Colorado, and again, not as serious in the drought department, so some things have slid to a place that I’m not happy with. In the middle of the night, we totally let the yellow mellow, but not so during the day. We don’t wash our car, at all, preferring to let the rains take care of that – no water usage, and no soaps being washed into the water supply. We do turn the water off while brushing teeth, but it runs more than I’d like while we’re doing stuff in the kitchen. It gets turned on with a fair amount of pressure, and left to run while dishes are being put in the dishwasher… or while the coffee pot is being filled (and we’re waiting for hot water to warm the carafe)… or while other things are being done. We do 3-4 full loads of laundry a week, but our machine – which belongs with the rental house we live in – is a several-years-old, top-loading, not energy or water efficient model. We have a water-saving showerhead on one of the showers, but not on the other, and neither of the toilets is low-water or set up to use less water per flush. We run the dishwasher once a day (at night while we sleep, so not peak energy hours), but again, it was installed by the owner of the house, and though it’s a newer model, but I’m not sure how water or energy efficient it is. When we water the lawn, it’s in the later afternoon, 3 times a week. 

Then I look at other things. What we eat actually winds up using water in the growing/feeding of it, and we do eat a fair amount of animal foodstuffs: cheese, meat, dairy, eggs. That meat and dairy consumption increases the amount of water we consume by a pretty fair amount, and then you add in other food things like grains and produce and there’s more water consumed, though much less than the meat/dairy amount. What about clothes? Well, we don’t buy organic clothing nearly as often as I’d like to be able to (thus helping to limit the amount of pesticides making their way into our water supply), but we do try to limit our purchases of new clothes, and try to get as many items from the thrift stores as we can. That way, we’re helping to use up clothes that are already out there (keeping the thrift stores from dumping them into landfills if they don’t sell) and being able to stay within our monetary limits.

So what changes can we make to help get back on the water conservation track (especially important since we’re planning to move back to California sometime this year)? We can start by doing dishes by hand… fill one sink with water and a little soap, put dishes in throughout the day, fill the other sink with a few inches of clean water for rinsing, and use the dishwasher as a drying rack. Put a water displacer in the tanks of our toilets, so less water is used per flush, and let it mellow so we’re not flushing as often thus using even less water. This next week, we’re going to pick up a second low-flow shower head to replace the one that isn’t. I can’t do much about the laundry – the loads are already full loads, we use cold water on all the loads (except the whites), and we use an environmentally friendly soap. We can try to reduce the amount of meat/dairy that we eat, and supplement with more grains and produce (though produce is limited in Colorado at this time of year). I’m sure there are other things that I’m not writing about right now, but as I think about them, I’ll be writing about them.

Energy and Day 5 of No Impact Week

January 6, 2011

So… here I am on my computer talking about reducing my energy impact. Ha! After I stopped laughing, I looked around and started tallying the number of electronics we have plugged in that are constantly leeching power. The microwave, the refrigerator/freezer, the coffee pot, two digital alarm clocks, two VCRs, two DVD players, the CD player, and the chargers for our cell phones (we don’t have a land-line). Other energy users – water heater, two TVs, satellite receiver, stereo (including a separate tuner and a tape deck), two desktop computers (they’re on a block that gets fully turned off at night), my 7 yr old laptop (which is positively ancient in computer years – but is rarely plugged in), washer and dryer, furnace, and various floor lamps throughout the house (to combat the lack of overhead lighting in most of the rooms), and two vacuum cleaners.

The 3-level house we rent was not designed to be energy friendly, and over the 30-some years since it’s construction, it’s become even less so. The front and back doors have gaps where the house settled, and left slight gaps around the door. The upper floor has a swamp cooler installed on the roof, dropping the nighttime temperatures into the upper 50s – which we don’t mind, but it still signifies an energy leak. The thermostat on the forced-air heating is old (regulating temperature is an approximation), as is the whole system, but at least the registers are on the floor. Down in the basement (one section of which is fully finished, the other half only partially finished) is where our computers and entertainment system reside, as does my work area for papercrafting and the laundry area/lego-building area. The fully finished portion has two canister lights on a dimmer switch, and a torchiere I added to my workspace for more light, as well as my Ott-light desklamp. The torchiere and desklamp are only on when I’m working. In the laundry room/lego room there are two overhead light fixtures with daylight CFLs and one Ott floorlamp. Most of the light fixtures in our house don’t currently have CFLs in them, some because they won’t fit, some because we don’t use the lights for that long. We’re going to look at what light options are available, and what will fit our needs. We might even switch over to some of the LED bulbs, since they’ll be even more cost-effective than the CFLs and are sturdier, without the worry of mercury.

The computers are on most of the day – keeping in touch with faraway friends and family, blogging, playing games, reading and researching. But we’ve renewed our commitment to making sure that we turn them and the tv off during dinner. Dinner at the table is always a great time for catching up, life-learning questions, and just in general talking about whatever comes to mind. We sometimes find ourselves distracted by the computers or whatever show is currently lined up for showing, and dinner becomes very catch-as-catch can, which is not what we want for our family. We like the time together, visiting, without the electronic distractions. I might have to see if I can find some beeswax candles so we can have candlelight dinners – which makes for a fun way to spend the evening.

Our coffee-pot, which gets used every morning can be unplugged right after the brewing cycle is finished – it brews into a carafe that keeps it warm without any extra power being used. Our computers, which are newer models, and thus take virtually no time to start up can be powered down during the day when I’m doing stuff in the kitchen or outside. We’ve been trying to keep the lights down in the basement, or turning on the torchiere next to my desk, since it’s one light and not two (like the ones on the dimmer). We can plug in our cellphone chargers only when we’ve actually got the phones on them. We can make sure that our electronics that are always on (like the ones in perpetual stand-by mode) are plugged into power strips with an on/off switch so that we can actually shut them off. We’re trying to figure out how to cover the swamp cooler vent in the ceiling, so that during the winter months we don’t lose heat through it. One of the alarm clocks needs to be on always, but the other clock can be switched to battery operated and used with rechargeable batteries… or perhaps find a different type altogether. Little things, each one by itself, but when added up they become a larger whole in creating a smaller impact.

Foo-o-od! Day 4 of No Impact Week

January 6, 2011

Didn’t get a chance to post yesterday, so there will be two blog posts today – Day 4 now, Day 5 later this evening.

Because of some food-related issues in our family, food and what’s in it has been a topic in our house for several years now. We don’t eat much in the way of over-processed/packaged foods. We don’t buy or eat foods made with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or sweeteners. I make our bread, we make our own pastas, I buy stuff in bulk when I can, and we do a lot of our own cooking.  Hubby takes his lunch to work everyday in a small cooler, and reuses the plastic bags that he wraps his food in. I’ve recently started looking at other options for him to wrap or contain his food that doesn’t involve using plastic bags – and still fit in the space of his lunchbox, but for now, reusing them at least keeps them out of landfills or oceans.

A few years back, we started getting our milk and cream from a local family-owned dairy that delivers – in glass bottles no less – every week. When we’ve finished a bottle of milk, we rinse the bottle and put it back in the dairy box. On delivery day, they take the empties back to the dairy, clean and sterilize them, and use them again. When the bottles are finally taken out of circulation (because they’ve chipped or cracked) they get sent to a local company who breaks them down and uses them in creating countertops. They don’t feed supplemental growth hormones to their cows, and they buy the feed and alfalfa hay from local providers. The milk tastes great, the cream is fantastic – and I’m happy knowing that my two kids aren’t getting unnecessary hormones in their milk.

We stopped purchasing only organic produce (whether fresh or frozen) after this happened: Walked up to the freezer section, pulled out a bag of frozen organic broccoli and on the back of the package it says Grown in China. What?! I live in Colorado, but I’m buying organic broccoli shipped from China?! That’s not a good choice – sure it was grown organically, but the carbon footprint of that 1-pound package of broccoli just increased by I don’t know how much… lots, to be sure. So I’ve been trying to buy from local growers when I can, and definitely buying organic for the Dirty Dozen. I looked at what produce is locally available in this season – apples, potatoes, and onions. Not a lot of variety – but purchasing only that which is grown locally and seasonally will certainly push me to make sure I get busy canning and preserving food during spring, summer, and early fall months so that we have some available for the colder months.

Thoughts on transportation – Day 3 of No Impact Week

January 4, 2011

So today is when we’re supposed to be looking at our transportation habits, and seeing what, if anything, we can do to make them lower-impact. Carpooling, ride-sharing, taking the bus or other public transit, cycling, walking… all good options. In looking at the Hubby’s schedule and checking out the options, I realized they’re somewhat limited… actually more than somewhat.

He works at a customer service call-center for a satellite tv provider, and so his mostly regular hours are subject to call flow – there have been days when they have to work overtime because the call volume is up, so carpooling or ride-sharing is out of the picture, since he doesn’t want to miss his ride home, or be responsible for someone else being late getting home. It’s an almost 11 mile trip from our house to his workplace, which would be an extremely long, cold walk or bike ride on the mornings when the overnight temperatures have dropped to the teens or 20s fahrenheit – a little over three hours on foot, or an hour cycling (if he sticks to bike paths, possibly shorter if he does mainly street riding).

Since those options aren’t really options, especially during the cold months here in Colorado, we looked at public transit – the bus. In order to take the bus and be able to be at his desk, logged in on his computer and ready to go by 8 o’clock, we figured an arrival time at the closest to work bus-stop by 7:45. He’d need to leave the house by 6:00 to make the first bus, and from there it would be 60 minutes before he’d be dropped off to walk the last 11 minutes of the trip – getting him to work about 45 minutes before he needs to be there… and that’s the closest time we could figure that still allowed for him to not be sweating (from having to run after leaving the bus) when he arrived at work. Mind you, by car, this trip is only about 25 minutes long. We talked about what it would mean for him to take the bus; leaving the house earlier means going to bed earlier by a couple of hours – lights out no later than 10:00, and getting home later – about 7 p.m., which means he’d only have about three hours to eat, visit with family, and unwind before it’s time for bed. This is not really an acceptable option for us – we’d be lowering our impact, but getting less time together… not a trade-off we’re willing to make.

This is going to be one of those areas that we can’t change right now… but we’ll keep watching for opportunities to do so. If something changes, we’ll recheck the options and possibilities. Who knows, next year, he may be using a different mode of transportation to get to work.

Day 2 of No Impact Week

January 3, 2011

Yesterday was the start of the “No Impact Experiment” on Yes! magazine’s website. The goal throughout the week is to really examine your consumption on all fronts, and see what you can really reduce the amount of stuff that you use, buy, or really think you “need” to have in order to have a happy life. Since we live on a fairly limited income (family of four living on a single income of $34k a year), I’m always trying to keep costs down, and have been thinking I’m doing a pretty good job of it.

This week, though, is opening my eyes to the fact that there’s still plenty of room for improvement! Today was my bi-weekly grocery shopping trip with my heart-sister. We carpool, laugh, have a good time, and get this sometimes onerous task done. Along the way, we usually stop for coffee and breakfast, and occasionally lunch. This time we remembered our travel mugs, so no paper cups were used, but we grabbed a breakfast sandwich to eat on the road, which meant paper to wrap it in, and a bag. Lunch was at a restaurant that uses ceramic plates, metal utensils, and plastic cups for their dine-in customers (which we usually are). Not too much consumption, but a little. In the survey for the start of No Impact Week, I’d said that I never drink bottled water – but I realized today, that wasn’t correct. When we’re grocery shopping, we each grab one bottle of Hint water (water flavored with fruit essences and not sweetened or carbonated). It’s a treat for us, but it’s a totally unnecessary purchase, and one that generates the use of a plastic bottle that must then be recycled. I buy foods in bulk when I can, but I don’t always remember to bring containers or bags with me to reuse. I’ve placed the bags from today’s shopping trip in a basket next to my shopping bags, so I can grab them when next shopping trip rolls around.

While making my list of things we constantly consume, I realized that paper towels and napkins are pretty high on the list. So I’ll be repurposing a double-bed sized top sheet that’s still in great condition – I’m going to cut the sheet into squares and create a whole bunch of napkins that we’ll then be able to launder with the rest of our weekly washing. I’m sure as I get further into this, there will be more eye-openers.