Thursday, May 31

Ideas from Vegas - post 3

From Louise Hay on Saturday morning:

The turmoil in the world in regard to weather is a reflection of the turmoil in the state of human consciousness.
I'm not convinced there is a direct-line connection between human thought and the material world, but I am convinced that we act in ways that are consistent with our beliefs about the world, whether we are conscious or unconscious of those beliefs. I have experienced how changing my thoughts has made my life better. I know that the pace of change can be sudden or slow and methodical.

In particular, my life has become richer -- emotionally, physically, and professionally -- as I have moved away from the need for enemies. I know that at times I have used the perception of "enemies" to motivate me into actions that were fundamentally out of sync with my nature. When I believed fat was my enemy, I exercised myself into injury and eventually knee surgery.

I don't know what would happen on the global warming front if the world made a sudden shift to not needing to create enemies, ala 1984, but it's interesting to consider.

Wednesday, May 30

Recipe of the Week

Update: Let's make potato salad out of potatoes instead of onions. ;-)

I got my first delivery of food from Coastalfields last week and I am making my way through the spinach, salad greens, green garlic (early garlic pulled like green onions), and cilantro. I don't have all the ingredients on hand for salsa right now, so I decided to use what I had... and made a cilantro potato salad for the Memorial Day barbeque.

2 lbs red (waxy) potatoes, washed and cubed.

Boil potatoes until done.

1/2 cup diced red onion
1/4 - 1/2 chopped cilantro

Toss potatoes in a bowl with the above. Then add, to taste:


Lime is an exceptionally good flavor with cilantro. I have lime salt, but lime juice mixed with the mayo as a dressing, or a lime vinaigrette would be good too.

The Fridge is on Hold

I mentioned a week or so ago that the next culprit I was looking to replace was my fridge. I ran the Kill-A-Watt meter on it over the weekend and it came up with 1.75 kilowatt hours in 24 hours. Extrapolating that out, it's using 638.75 kWh in a year, which is significantly worse than its efficiency rating new. So, yes, I do need to plan for a new fridge.

The fridge is using 53.23 kWhs a month, which is 6.5% of my monthly usage of 815 kWhs.

However, the difference between 638.75 kWhs a year for this one and 415 kWh per year for a new Energy Star-rated one is 223.75 kWhs per year, for 18.65 extra kWhs per month. That's only 2% of the 815 kWhs I've been using per month, so that's not going to help significantly.

At the beginning of the month, we realized the heater was kicking on when the house was comfortably cool. That's the difference between having the air temp in the house be a homogeneous 60 degrees instead of having the spot by the thermostat be 64 degrees and the rest of the house vary based on windows and heat outlets and other environmental things. So we turned the heat off. I'll be getting a utility bill in the next week and I'm really curious to see how much of a difference the heater makes.

Friday, May 25

Ideas from Vegas - post 2

From Bill Phillips' talk on Saturday morning:

When you are trying to make a change, you have far more power to make it when your heart is in the change than when you try to do it out of your head alone.
Bill's new work is on the process of transformation -- inspired by his work in helping people transform their bodies through exercise and nutrition, but also bigger than that. In this point in his talk, he was using the work of the Heartmath Institute. But even without electromagnetic measurements, we can see the sense of a change being more powerful when it comes from the desire to have a different experience of the world than when we want to see political change, or we want to see less littering, or we want to know the polar bears will have their icy habitat for centuries to come. Or because we know we should.

Heartful changes the ones that have real staying power. And they're the ones that seem authentic and compelling to others.

Thursday, May 24


Popular Mechanics article on what's keeping wind power in the US from reaching the proportions of European generation and how to fix that.

Colorado Matters (a locally-originated public radio program) reports on why Tri-state, an electricity provider for rural Colorado is planning to build just one coal plant instead of their original three. (Link will launch a .wmf file.)

Colorado Matters reports on Danish wind turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems building their first US plant in Weld county, Colorado. (Link will launch a .wmf file.)

Arkel-OD pannier hook system These folks sell a pair of their pannier hooks for $40. I'll be retro-fitting a pair of "grocery bag" pannier bags which -- between the length of my chainstay and that I use toe-clips on my utility bike -- I've been kicking when I ride.

Wednesday, May 23

A tale of four lamps

I got my Kill-A-Watt meter in the mail on Monday and finally had a chance to test it out tonight. I took pictures of four lighting combinations in my bedroom.

The first is my florescent nightstand lamp

That's 18 watts, which means that it takes about 55 hours of continuous usage to use one kilowatt hour of electricity. (The units my bill is counted in.)

The second is my full-spectrum SAD light

59 watts. This seems to be an incandescent, despite the lack of that word on the packaging. (It just said it would last longer than regular bulbs.) 17 hours to burn a kilowatt hour.

The third is the two of them running together

A not-too-surprising 80 watts for 12.5 hours per kilowatt hour.

And the final entry

Clocking in at 220 watts (this is exactly the same setting as the other photos), my halogen torchiere. It takes a mere 4.5 hours to clock a kilowatt hour with this baby.

Suddenly my $20 lamp doesn't seem so cheap. ;-)

I am watching the meter while posting this and my computer is using 150 watts without the hard drive and 175 with the hard drive. My halogen seems like a total energy hog!

I was also watching the watts setting on the stationary bike this morning. Apparently I can run a 22 watt device off my pedaling. This may be why my dad was never enthusiastic about wiring the TV to an exercise bike...

Ideas from Vegas - post 1

One thing that keeps echoing in my head is something Wayne Dyer said in the keynote session on Friday night:

Three lies of the ego:

  • I am what I own.
  • I am what I do.
  • I am what people think about me.
It's easy enough to understand that "I am what I own" includes what I refuse to own, what I'm too poor to own, what I'm too rich to own and what I could never imagine owning. And it's pretty easy to see that "I am what I do" includes what I don't do, what I do for work, what my hobbies are, who I'm married to, who I'm parenting, what kind of exercise I do and the spiritual teachers I'm listening to. And "I am what people think about me" means I need to manage what people think about me to make sure they have the right impression of me.

If these are all lies of the ego, then when I am busy acting them out, I'm acting out of my ego and not my authentic self.

In terms of pursuing a smaller carbon footprint, my ego can threaten to derail me by whining about the fun toys I'm missing out on, by encouraging me to feel inadequate when I buy a cheaper car, or carpool, or ride the bus, or ride a bike, or walk. Alternately, it can tempt me with the idea that somehow I've achieved something by engaging in a project like this. And finally, it can tempt me to listen to the positive and negative opinions of others about me and change so that I can improve those opinions.

So, it seems to me that the ego is one of the forces that's resisting the changes necessary for sustainability.

Recipe of the week

I am still working on getting thoughts from the weekend grounded and me-centered, so instead I'm gonna post my recipe for the week. I have been experimenting with food as part of living not-so-big, and I have a weekly schedule of making a big pot of something at the beginning of the week and eating on it for most of my meals.

This week I'm having my version of the Southwestern Bowl sold by Amy's. Their bowl is beans, cheese and veggies in an enchilada sauce, topped by a polenta crust.

Here's mine:
Ingredients: corn grits, 2 cans or 4 cups of cooked beans, 1 medium-sized onion, chili powder, canned chopped tomatoes, soup stock or bullion, garlic, salt, cheese

Polenta - 1 cup corn grits (I use Bob's Red Mill) + 4 cups water. Bring water to a boil. Add grits slowly enough that they are spread out in the water and not clumped up. Stir every couple of minutes for 5 or so minutes, cover and let simmer, stirring every few minutes, for half an hour or until the liquid is absorbed and the polenta is a gooey mass.

Beans - So it turns out that red chili and enchilada sauce are two implementations of the same meta recipe. So, start out with a couple cups of broth (I used veggie stock from bullion). Chop and add one medium onion. Add about a 1/4 cup of dried mild chili powder. (Substitute or add hot chili powder to taste.) Let the pot return to boiling. Add two cups of cooked beans. Return to boiling. Add another two cups of beans. Return to boiling. Add one can chopped tomatoes with juice. Add garlic and salt to taste. Return to boiling. Cover and remove from heat.

To serve: Place about half a cup of polenta in the center of a bowl. Pour half a cup of beans and liquid over the top. Top with cheese. Eat with a spoon and enjoy!

To use leftover polenta, try using it how you'd use mashed potatoes. Stir in butter or cheese. Or heat a scoop of plain polenta in the microwave and top with honey and milk for a sweet snack. Of course, polenta is another name for cornmeal mush, so you can chill it and fry it up too.

To use leftover beans, eat with a tortilla, or wrap beans and eggs in a tortilla. Serve over rice. Or add another can of tomatoes and ground turkey for a "chili con carne y con frijoles" soup. Eat that with cornbread.

Tuesday, May 22

Dim-able CFLs

Hi all - back from Vegas and full of lofty thoughts. I'm working on writing about that, but I'm gonna focus on the practical to get grounded again.

I finally found some dim-able screw-in CFLs, though not at Lowe's, Ace, Home Depot, Wal-mart, or the family owned hardware store in Boulder. I got them from Amazon. This is listed as an 8-pack, it comes as 4 two packs, though lovingly packed. I put five of them in my dim-able hanging lamp and they work pretty darn well. They come on at the same point the incandescents do. They do hum if not turned all the way up, but that's a good reminder to ask myself whether I'm ready to turn the light all the way off. Four more bulbs and a fixture to change on the main floor and then it will be incandescent-free.

I think my next culprit is the fridge. The meter out back runs twice as fast on an 80-degree day with the fridge running than it does without. Plus, when I put my hand in the center of the freezer door it is notably cooler than the air around it which means insulation would help.

I will be getting my first delivery of food from Coastalfields this week. Looks like they have mostly greens right now. I used to enjoy early carrot and radish greens from a friend's garden plot, so I'm looking forward to discovering what's in the box when it gets here.

Thursday, May 17

Blogger ate my post

Blogger ate my post yesterday -- twice -- and I'm running around getting ready for a trip today. I am bringing my ancient laptop with me and am planning to update from the road... but if not, I'll be back Tuesday, with a report on my first delivery from Coastal Fields.

I am following through with the initial stages of the CitizenRE ReNU program. There are still lots of hurdles, but I think it makes sense for me, right now, to lease a system instead of buying one. More on that later.

Have a great weekend and if I don't post before then, see you Tuesday!

Wednesday, May 16

Quote of the day

Ask yourself whether you are happy and you cease to be so.
- John Stuart Mill

Tuesday, May 15

Book Review: Plenty

I started reading Plenty on Sunday and finished it up this morning over breakfast. It has been touted as a variety of things, but it is the autobiographical work of a literary couple as they embark on a food experiment -- discovering what grows within 100 miles of Vancouver B.C.. It is a story of food, but more than that it is a story of the people who make food and the people who consume it.

I was worried by the attribution to two authors, by the order of "One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally" in the sub-title. Was this another exercise where a man gets a wild hair and his long-suffering partner goes along for the ride? Was this another book where two writers attempt to subsume their voices into a whole? Whose voice would be dominant? Who would I really be reading? I breathed an audible sigh of relief at the start of the second chapter. This is the work of two authors who each bring their own voice to the project... each taking a month/chapter by turns and talking about what he or she experienced in that month and where she or he was observing radical underground shifts in thinking about the world.

The book is written with the kind of intensely personal detail that makes it fascinating reading, whether or not you ever intend to eat locally. It is not a how-to manual... which makes sense because folks living in Vancouver, B.C. do have different foods available than folks living in Des Moines, Iowa; or Charlotte, North Carolina; or Boulder, Colorado... but a delightful, intimate look into lives on a journey.

Changes in eating (updated)

Yesterday I started experimenting with my third major change in eating. The first was shifting to making hot and iced tea at work instead of reaching for the company-provided soda. The second was popping corn in my $4 thrift-store air popper and bringing it for my afternoon snack instead of reaching for chips or sweets. And now I'm exploring using honey as my primary sweetener.

Yesterday the honey in my usual morning English Breakfast was kind of a shock. There was a combination of flavors I didn't expect, and I found myself coding that experience as negative. I think I've put a hold on that encoding. Honey in my chai this morning was pleasant. And although I didn't want honey in my oatmeal this morning (I used dried dates instead), I am open to doing it in the future.

I'm really pleased and comforted that I have the local honey sources I do. Our local manufacturers are Madhava and Clarks, but we also have a thriving community of beekeepers in the county. I discovered this on a snowy evening when I headed to the Boulder library for a movie called Sister Bee. The library theater was packed, and I was turned away, so instead I took home a copy of the documentary.

And that bit of insight into the world of bees was followed by the news that bees are in trouble ... which has made the news all the more poignant. The moderately good news is that colony collapse disorder seems to have affected the workers, but the queens are still laying eggs, so colonies will likely be back by-mid summer.

Meanwhile, Colorado still grows sugar beets, although the Great Wester Sugar Company was bought out by a Texas sugar manufacturer. I wonder if I can still get beet sugar locally?

Update: Great Western (now the Western Sugar Cooperative) claims it's grower owned and that most sugar beets are grown within 60 miles of their processing plant. I can't find any guarantees that the sugar that shows up around me is from the plant 30 miles away, but it's worth checking into.

Monday, May 14

Road Trip!

One of the things that went under the microscope in a big way after my Inconvenient Truth Oscar Win epiphany was my travel plans for the year. Up until that point, and even that night, I'd planned on flying to Ft. Lauderdale to take a 5 day cruise to the Bahamas for my big vacation this year.

That's been shelved. I can hardly get a train to Ft. Lauderdale, as the Amtrak route through the south was wiped out by Hurricane Katrina and hasn't been re-opened.

I'm now splitting that vacation into two road trips, the first of which happens this weekend. I'm splitting the drive to Las Vegas with a friend. She'll be making the pilgrimage home to visit her mom, I'm going to a spiritual growth conference. I'm hoping this will be the trip I get to stop at all the scenic overlooks... and that sitting there for a bit will be as wonderful as sitting on slickrock watching the sun set in Moab was.

We decided to look at renting a car for the trip... her beetle gets 40 mpg, but needs repairs. My 17,000 mile Subaru only gets 22 mpg and is a stick shift. I looked around to find a place that did green car rentals and was surprised to find they're not available. I can't get a rental agency to commit to renting me a Honda Civic, let alone a Honda Civic Hybrid, a Mini, a diesel Golf, or a Prius. I can rent a U-Haul truck at 7 mpg at the drop of a hat, but a Smart car? Fuggedaboudit.

Anyway. If you know any good local restaurants or natural food stores along I-70 or I-15, let me know in the comments.

My 2 favorite shopping bags

I've gotten both of my favorite shopping bags at my local natural foods store (Vitamin Cottage) but they're available on-line too. Not as cheap as re-using plastic or using up canvas bags, but these bags have their benefits too:

The Chico Bag: Made by a company in Chico, CA, these bags are woven nylon and tuck into remarkably small places. They have their own pocket which makes them smaller than a fist and still squeezable. I can keep one of these in my shoulder bag for those impulse purchases at the book store, garage sales, and sidewalk sales. These are $5 each at their on-line shop.

1BagAtATime: These bags combine the best features of the paper bag and the plastic bag. They are square-bottomed, stand up on their own, and have handles. I carried two large bottles of laundry soap in one of these and it was comfortable in my hand. These are $2 each, with a minimum order of 10, at their on-line shop.

I've gotten both of these bags with the logo of the grocery store printed on them, so they have some way to arrange custom printing for stores and organizations.

Garden update

I got into gardening mindset this weekend. It looks like the arugula I planted a month ago has bolted, despite being on the north side of my house. I moved its pot into the shade.

With the help of my friend the chef, I discovered that the previous owner had at least oregano, rosemary, chives, and peppermint planted, and they're coming back. I added cilantro, and basil to the herbs.

When I bought the house late last summer, there were summer squash vined taking over the patio. There seem to be three large, shallow basins planned for those kinds of plants. So I planted a pumpkin vine, a watermelon vine, and one zucchini. I put two tomato plants in containers. I put a leaf lettuce variety in a planter box in the shade.

I had moments of near panic yesterday... I really don't know what I'm doing. I've read a lot, one of my roommates has done a lot of gardening herself, but I think ultimately it has to come down to trying something. I alternate between being frustrated that I don't have more dirt and overwhelmed by the planters I do have, so I think this is a good starting place.

Back in March, I was exploring the idea of renting a community garden plot for the summer. I'm anxious about that because I'm the type of person who lives to watch big projects get off the ground. I am not a good maintainer. Also, given that I don't know what I'm doing, I figure starting small and asking lots of questions is a good place to start. 400 square feet did not seem like starting small to me.

So, I'm starting with the patio and will be volunteering at farms over the summer to satisfy my desire to have more of a hand in producing my own food.

Friday, May 11

The Power of One

No Impact Man's post Wednesday got me to thinking about the power of one person to change the world. Mahatma Gandi and Martin Luther King Jr. are evidence that it can be done, Theodore Kaczynski is a reminder that -- paradoxically -- one can't do it alone. The Lord of the Rings is a modern epic about the tension of everything important resting on the shoulders of individuals and the power of community and belonging to support and balance that load. Turning the tide against Sauron, against fascism, against global warming, took and takes both.

Our power is leveraged by the number of people we are connected to. Stephen Covey calls the things we can change directly our "sphere of control" and the things we can affect through people we know our "sphere of influence". As Rebecca Manley Pippert writes in Out of the Saltshaker and Into the World, we need a diversity of relationships and people in our lives -- people we are connected deeply enough to that we can talk passionately and intimately about different perspectives on the world -- to really have the give and take that changes minds.

My sphere of control includes the power to burn less fossil fuel, consume less, and demand food that is grown sustainably instead of in a monoculture. I have the power to eat locally and in season. That's a blip in the global picture. One point of light, in the language of the administration of President George H.W. Bush.

But then I also have the power to talk to 10 good friends about the choices I'm making, present a workshop on shrinking your carbon footprint to 100 people, and report on my experience with different attempts to 1000 people.

In addition, if I am willing to let others be critical of me, I have two other opportunities:

  • At home, I expect to have to talk to my HOA at times. (I have not determined whether they can actually keep me from installing solar, but I expect to do a presentation either way.) and I expect that as solar goes up, as I argue for less grass and more community spaces in our complex, I'll get to meet some strangers who are truly curious and who might be sparked to action. I don't expect to change the world through rock music, but I think I can take one tiny subdivision and start them thinking about being a pre-existing green community as new-built green communities start going up around us.
  • At the church I'm involved in about how we can reduce our carbon footprint and spark some more changes. I think I can find some folks and start a re-localization effort in my town, which is in danger of thinking of itself as only a suburb, rather than as the 100+ year old town it is.
As I said after I got my last power bill, the specific, tangible effects may be slow in coming. But in ISP class this week we were talking about "passionate indifference" which means staying engaged and passionate about things without getting invested in how others respond to us.

I come from a not-very-socially-skilled background. I won't blame that entirely on my family, some of it is a gift. But I've been very aware of the process it's taken me to be able to live in a house with friends. Coming to understand that there's a benefit to being engaged with others is part of that growth.

Quote of the Day

Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.
Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, May 10

New book!

Usually when I post an interesting book I haven't read, I put it under a links heading. But Sarah Susanka's new book, the not so big life, is getting a post.

One reason is that her very first book -- The Not So Big House -- inspired me over a decade ago to put how I am living under a microscope. It challenged me to focus on the things about homes that increase comfort and to see houses as places for people and not as status symbols. So there's the tribute factor.

A second reason is that there is an excellent blog by Susanka which links to resources to be used while reading the book and to a Community section which allows the reader to discuss the book, real time, with other readers. And I do think exploring new ways of making reading materials part of a larger conversation is worth observing.

The third reason is that I am excited about reading this. I have gotten frustrated with the Not So Big line, and in a larger sense Taunton, because they produce lucious books of homes you could have if you have the resources to get an architect and a flock of workers to build or remake your property. Early indications are that this book is a break from that (interview and excerpt here), and is more about taking the idea of breaking down your life -- including your house -- and figuring out what works.

I have the book on my library list and I'll let you know what I think when I get to it.

Wednesday, May 9

Four More Links

I really am kicking around a content post for today... but the things that are grabbing my heart and mind aren't settling down into coherent thoughts easily. And it doesn't help that I've come across four mind-expanding sites in the last 24 hours. So, in case I don't get something of my own posted today, the following sites may provide some grist for you:

Coastalfield Farms and Ranch -- Looks to be a local version of the Polyface farm in The Omnivore's Dilemma, although without the meat. Perhaps a local installation of the Bountiful Gardens ideas. They say they've opted out of the organic labeling because USDA oversight requires them to be too disconnected from the land. Many branches on their site with content to provoke thought.

Thomas J. Elpel's Hollowtop portal connects a multi-faceted set of sites about modern, non-Anabaptist, primitive living. For example, the Green University -- "Our Mission: to change the world."

The Home Energy Saver no-regrets remodeling site seems to be the kind of thing I like from the government... lots of links to resources and reports in a clean, but simple format without a lot of corporate fingerprints. Very thought-provoking for someone in an existing home.

And finally, CitizenRe's ReNU program. Basically a program where you agree to host and care for a solar system and to buy the power from it. There's a back-side to the story though, which you can find out by searching for terms. The company is also attempting to address the back-side story by being transparent and available, so it's a very interesting horse-race. I signed up for more info on the program, so expect future posts on my experiences with them.


Stuff to do:
The Colorado Renewable Energy Conference
The Rocky Mountain Sustainable Living Association

And a couple of films:
The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil
Kilowatt Ours: A Plan to Re-energize America

Quote of the day

"Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation."

- Robert F. Kennedy

Tuesday, May 8


The Climate Registry begins. It's an association of US states and tribes with this stated purpose:

  • Develop and manage a common greenhouse gas emissions reporting system with high integrity that is capable of supporting multiple greenhouse gas emissions reporting and emissions reduction policies for its member states/tribes and reporting entities; and
  • Provide an accurate, complete, consistent, transparent, and verified set of greenhouse gas emissions data from reporting entities, supported by a robust accounting and verification infrastructure.

Quote of the day

Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric.
- Bertrand Russell

Forbes: It's not so bad

Since I read about the International Report on Climate Change is last week -- the one that summarized our options as Mitigation, Adaptation, and Suffering -- I've been thinking about Vice President's Cheney's comment on global warming last February:

You can't shut down the world economy in the name of trying to eliminate greenhouse gases.
--Vice President Richard Cheney, Feb. 23, 2007
Today, Forbes is running an article from Oxford Analytica which summarizes the conclusion of Working Group 3 (WG3):
The report finds that overall costs will be relatively modest.
Now, I believe that the article today is on the same report as last weeks, and I believe today's conclusions come from a sub-group of the group that released the previous report, so the interesting point is that Forbes ran this. Perhaps with the business media beginning to pay attention to the costs and required changes in practices, we can get some traction.

Also interesting was today's New York Times article on how some Native American tribes are producing income from tribal lands by re-planting the forests that historically grew there.

Monday, May 7


I went to the new Vox Feminista show over the weekend. They did a series of skits inspired by The Omnivore's Dilemma this time out. It was by turns funny and painful, and the final skit wrapped up how I was feeling pretty well. A couple goes to their local ecologically sensitive grocery store and wanders around wondering what they can buy that is local, not part of the monoculture, and not wrapped in plastic ("An hour in the store and we have ... kale! You can't make a casserole out of just kale!").

I went home wondering how I can take the next step in my eating. A partial answer was investigating what's being produced in 100 miles of me... but I had only the vaguest idea of how to find that out. I thought about writing a Google Maps mash-up that cross-linked a growers directory to an interface that let you limit your search by miles from a given zipcode...

But then, on a completely different thread, I found Local Harvest, which is set up to do exactly that! Yay! (h/t to the Almost Sustainable Kitchen.)

A couple other things I found along the way...
Bill McKibbin's Relocalization network, about finding other local folks preparing for a carbon-less economy
So All May Eat (SAME) Cafe in Denver (Pay what you can restaurant)

And if you've been wondering what "Hot in Herre" might sound like with banjo and jaw harp, or what Jill Sobule's been up to, or just need a light moment in your day... Jill's cover of "Hot in Herre"


I grew up in a transitional urban neighborhood in Denver in the 70's. If you were to paint my life in broad strokes one that would have to be included was the time I spent across the street at our Mennonite neighbors' house. B., the father, was in training for ordination and his life in Denver involved what was essentially a re-localization project for the Hispanic main street and the neighborhoods surrounding it. K., the mother, ran the home front, which included taking in me and my siblings while my mom was going through job retraining and my dad was putting in long hours starting a business.

So, for a couple of years, their home was a second home for me, and it has taken up residence in my memory as a living witness to the power to opt out.

Some of the things I remember from their home are: The huge garden they planted in the back yard; the expectation that everyone contribute combined with the gentle, personal recognition for contributions; the encouragement to play, build, explore, and discover instead of sitting in front of the TV; eating fruits and vegetables with every meal; the way they created neighborhood around them by inviting people to show up; and the Dolly Parton poster in the bathroom... but that's a story for another place and time. ;-)

I don't know, but I think that their lives were pretty good examples of Mennonite principles. I know what I saw in their home was consistent with the More with Less cookbook. And I think, given that, the whole Mennonite culture of living simply and putting people before stuff is a light on the path of lower-carbon living.

Friday, May 4


Frontline documentary on Global Warming. All 60 minutes of the documentary are available on the web for viewing.

Quote of the day

"The single most effective way of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions would be full social-cost pricing of fossil fuel," said Dr. Rees. "The price we pay for a litre of gasoline or a cubic meter of natural gas should reflect the cost of the damage caused by the use of that material. . . . if we were to do that, we would be paying $3 to $6 a litre for gasoline."

- Dr. William Rees, an environmental economist at the University of B.C. and the inventor of the ecological footprint, a tool used worldwide to measure human impact on the environment.

1 liter = .264 gallons
1 gallon = 3.788 liters
$/gallon = 3.788 * 3 = $11.364/gal
$/gallon max = 3.788 * 6 = $22.728/gal

This may be Canadian dollars, so using the universal currency converter (As of May 4, 2007):

1 Canadian dollar = .903710 US dollars

CA$11.364/gal * .903710 = $10.27/gallon (USD)
CA$22.728/gal * .903710 = $20.54/gallon (USD)

Hmm... $10 to $20 a gallon in real costs that we're mostly paying in other ways...

Report Card Day

I just got my utility bill for the month of April. I am starting to feel like I'm into my third month of a new exercise program... the giddiness from the newness of it all is lessening, and new giddiness from seeing progress is in short supply.

Here's the bottom line:


The 80-odd KWh drop from the 15 cfls I changed is still holding up, and therms are about the same for average temps that were exactly the same as March's. I keep thinking that the change from spring into summer is going to show up, but we're obviously not there yet. We had about 5 days with snow last month and the chilly temps that accompany that. We also had days in the 80's, and the swing between the two may have meant that windows were left cracked and/or electric blankets were used more...

I have about 10 more moderate-use bulbs I can change to CFLs, and then I think I'm stuck on the easy stuff.

I still have this voice from my solar assessment that says, "I'd be surprised if you were using that much electricity regularly." And apparently we are.

I find it's easy to blame other people for the discomfort I'm feeling. I wonder if this is universal? If this is the impulse behind our pattern of ever-increasing separation? I am reminded of C.S. Lewis's description of hell (The Great Divorce) as a perpetually growing city where people move farther and farther apart as the result of pettiness and perceived slights.

Okay... back to the focus on what I can do. Ten things I can do to lower the electricity bill next month:
1.) Change the remaining CFLs
2.) Put up a clothes line and hang dry my clothes.
3.) Put the entertainment system on a timed outlet so that the power is off even when people forget the power strip.
4.) Hang the foil insulation in the cold room and the utility room so the basement bedroom keeps more of it's heat.
5.) Give myself permission to consume a bit more since I am using the utility company's electricity more and buying it in little tubes less.
6.) I have plans for an electricity-generating bike trainer. I can look at how I want to use the batteries I can charge with it.
7.) Put the cat and dog on hamster wheels to generate power for the lights. (Joking, but something I *could* do...)
8.) Pull the breaker on the house. (Joking, but something I *could* do...)
9.) Bring up conservation as a topic at the next house meeting. Brainstorm with my roommates instead of acting unilaterally.
10.) Pick two or three things to do and then forget about it and go do something fun... so that I'm not tempted to medicate my depression by watching a bunch of media.

Thursday, May 3

Y'all are quiet.

So, according to my Google Analytics account, there are about 60 folks who visit here per day, and more than half of you visit regularly. Most of you ended up here through No Impact Man, although more and more of you come directly here or through your account or another bookmark keeping program.

You may have noticed my "neighbors" bar... if you keep a blog on your efforts to reduce your carbon impact, I'd love to add you. Say 'hi' in the comments!

Quote of the day

We are more ready to try the untried when what we do is inconsequential. Hence the fact that many inventions had their birth as toys.
- Eric Hoffer

Wednesday, May 2

The Challenge of Buying Less

The home I bought last year is not the home a real-estate agent would have picked out for me. I am reminded of this because a co-worker is buying a home and has already gone through one round of falling in love with a house just beyond his means and not being able to pull it off. What is it with agents only showing us houses that max out our borrowing capacity?

I have a hunch this is why every agent I've talked to has sent me to their mortgage person first... so they can get a picture of absolutely how much we have to spend. But maybe what we have to spend will buy us lots of things that make us less happy.

When I bought my very first home -- an 880 sq ft condo in a depressed area -- more than 10 years ago, I ran across Hugh Chou's financial calculator page. At the time he was posting mostly real estate calculators, and in the middle of the calculators, he posted this article on how much house one really should buy. I also had a good friend who was stretched to the breaking point to make the payments on her suburban home and then had a surprise baby. Another friend had to sell her family home because a business deal gone bad.

So, betwixt and between, I became convinced that I should shop for the house I want, at a price I'm willing to pay, and that my agent is really just there to do the research and to make sure the paperwork protects me. And I think there are agents out there who view their job that way. But lots of agents, and lots of agents I've worked with, seem to view their job as selling me the best house they'd live in for the money I have available.

My ex bought a house through an agent who specialized in a tony part of town. After we'd met and gotten serious, we started looking at houses and found one that was four bedrooms, a nice community, had a full shop built in the back, and was half the price of the house we were in. She exclaimed, "Where was this house when I was shopping before? How come I didn't see things like this?" The answer has to be because she was able to buy something in a community her agent knew, she got shown the things in that community.

When I was shopping last year, I was very intentional about looking for these things: an existing house so that I wasn't sending waste to the landfill; a connected house to increase energy efficiency; a modest house that used space well, that could be shared with other adults without a lot of space or noise conflicts; one that was close to the things I cared about; and one that didn't need a lot of effort in things I'm bad at (like yard work). I found one... and for about $30,000 less than my previous agents would have started me at.

I didn't have an agent when I found it, so I sounded out a friend at church about representing me. He started back at square one of the traditional route... "let me give you the name of my mortgage broker so we can see what you can afford, then we can start looking around." I'm still amazed that our realities are so different. Why isn't buying a house like buying a car? You find something you like for a price you're willing to pay, you take it to the shop and have it checked out, you run the VIN, you make a pitch to the bank, you buy it. What's the great mystery about real estate that you have to pay as much as you can possibly afford to get something you like?

I have a hunch, but in the spirit of trying to keep the things I write here in the voice of my best, most optimistic, playful self, I'll just skip over that and say that shopping and then buying has worked out fine for me. This is my third house, I am happy, and I am not house poor.

Barbara Kingsolver Follow-up

I mentioned an essay by Barbara Kingsolver last week and now that it's May, she seems to be busting out all over.

Here's the Mother Jones essay (about tomatoes, mostly).
Here's an interview with her about local eating on
Here's an interview at Salon
And it becomes obvious that she's not just a local eating convert, she has a new book out.

And as long as I'm linking to local eating writers, let's add:
No Impact Man's food guru
and Alice Waters

Tuesday, May 1

First Thunder

I looked up from my desk in response to the first thunder of the year. Here's the view from the window.

Unbox Videos


NotSoBigLiving is the story of a woman inspired by Sarah Susanka, Bill McKibben, Airstreams, Tumbleweed houses, Mennonites, Jimmy Carter, hippies, survivalists, Anasazi, Pema Chodron and Joko Beck, Scott Peck, Buckminster Fuller, and Al Gore to see what she can do to reduce her carbon footprint in her mid-80's suburban townhome. Strategies include roommates, alternative travel, organic eating, planting a victory garden, mindfulness, and a belly full of laughter.