Tuesday, June 26

Good Reasons to Ride the Bus

Over the month of June I've been chronicling my shift to being a regular three-days-a-week bus rider. I thought an update on the benefits would be good:

  • I arrive at work happier and less stressed out.
  • I am going to the gas station about half as often.
  • I am catching up on my reading.
  • Since my riding plan includes an hour walk, I am finally back in a regular exercise habit.
  • It's probably a combination of the walk, less stress, and having to eat what I bring for lunch, but I've lost at least 2 inches off my waist in the last three weeks.
  • I am spending less money. I know this because I take out $80 in cash on Fridays (usually), and the last time I went to the ATM, I took out $60 and I still have cash in my pocket 10 days later.
  • I know of two friends who have tried riding this month because they see me riding.
  • I am having fun challenging my creativity.
  • I feel more connected to my neighborhoods and my environment.

Monday, June 25


I was going to skip posting today, but I guess if I'm gonna post progress, I should post setbacks also.

  • I tried making a haybox cooker this weekend out of a sleeping bag and a cooler. The sleeping bag was a recreational 35 degrees and up bag. The cooler was a Coleman plastic chest cooler. I did a container of rice and a container of lentils. After 6 hours, the containers were still a little warm, but the food inside was crunchy.
  • I inherited a container garden from the previous home owner. When I moved in, the back patio had been taken over by four thriving zucchini plants. This year the squirrels got the first set and the re-plants are struggling under temps that have already gotten to 100. Plus I am an absolute beginner at gardening.
  • I was quite excited about my new-to-me 1995 Toyota corolla that gets 150% of the gas mileage of my current car and then my roommate mentioned that she was very interested in watching me deal with having an older car and especially the car repairs that go along with it and how maybe having an old car will be even more of an incentive to drive less. Then another friend needed a car to borrow and I loaned it to her and she complained about the age and the broken AC.
But I guess it's not all bad:
  • we got two comments this weekend about how cool the house is. We're managing to keep it in the 70's by closing the windows and pulling the blinds about 7 am. It does help that our south-facing windows are shaded in the afternoon (one by a virgina creeper, another by a mature cottonwood tree). I'm hoping a couple folks have some new experiences to apply to their own homes.
  • And my 1.5 yr old nephew (AJ) was so brilliant about what he needed to keep him cool at the zoo yesterday. I suggested wetting down his hair. About half an hour later when his dad offered him a drink of water (and his hair was dry again), AJ stuck his hand in the bottle and put his wet hand on his head.

Friday, June 22


It's Friday afternoon and time for a story. I have had a few opportunities to live at the 10% consumption level instead of the 100% consumption level. One of those was during my college years when I took a year off and traveled in the Gulf of Mexico and to Central America with a missionary organization.

This was an international, not a US group, and for the first part of the trip I lived on a refurbished 1950's combination cargo/cruise ship with 300 some-odd folks. We were all expected to live at basically the same level of consumption. I had one suitcase for an entire trip, a small locker to put things in, and a bunk bed. My three roommates and I shared a room that was about 10x10, had a small desk and a bookshelf.

Showers and bathrooms were down the hall, shared by about 30 folks. The standard for taking a shower was to get in, turn on the water, once you were wet turn it off, soap up, turn it back on and rinse off.

Meals were communal and served buffet-style. Breakfast featured tubs of granola, milk, juice, coffee, and fruit. Lunch was salad and leftovers from dinner the night before (or any of the previous nights). Dinners were recognizable to American palates, but rarely our star dishes like steak and potatoes. I actually forget most of the dinners, but I assume we had things like meatloaf and spaghetti and taco salad. (I do remember the catfish and the liver and onions... the only two dishes I couldn't work up the courage to try. ;-) )

Despite the word "cruise" in an earlier paragraph, the ship was pretty much in a 100% working state. Our visits to US ports consisted of making presentations to businesses and professionals to collect donations and recruit folks for the 3rd world parts of the trip. Well, that's the glamor side. For people like me, it was to do intensive maintenance on the ship for her 3rd world trips. (I got to refinish the teak railings.)

Another difference from a standard cruise was that fuel was an incredibly short resource for us. Cruise ships maximize their time in international waters to maximize the time people spend gambling. We sailed from one close port to the next and stayed in port for at least two weeks.

The one exception was when a Hurricane Gilbert hit Jamaica. We were docked in New Orleans at the time, and there was a huge outpouring of compassion for the people of Jamaica. Companies donated fuel to fill our tanks and charities filled our holds with food and clothing donations and we sailed off to Kingston.

We didn't have TV on the ship. There was a movie room, and movies were always a group affair. It's hard to get away from people when there are 300 of you on a 552 ft ship. The galley was a place to read quietly, and the former bar had group-inducing round booths that always had an interesting conversation, or 5, to check out. During our off hours we could explore the city... anywhere we could get by foot or public transportation. There were also always extra tasks that could be done. I remember one afternoon that I spent shoveling ice out of one of the walk-in freezers, and got a Twix bar as a thank-you. ;-)

As an American, my fee to join the ship was in the highest tier -- $3,500 for the 5 months. That's nearly $6,000 in today's dollars, or $1,200 a month. I think my carbon footprint would go down pretty quickly if I were living on that instead of most of my current take-home pay.

Thursday, June 21

Ray Bradbury and Transportation

I had an interesting set of experiences coming into work this morning and they got me to thinking about two Ray Bradbury works that use very different transportation settings.

In "The Illustrated Man", published in a collection in 1951, the title character travels in a world where being on foot is normal. It is the ride in a car that is unusual. But that's slipping away. The story is partially about how it is the weird who get left out of progress. In Fahrenheit 451, published in 1953, driving incredibly fast down the road is the goal. Roads predominate, but they are also insulated as hitting animals and people on the road is a kind of sport. It is not until the main character falls completely outside of modern life that he finds a world not dominated by the presence and danger of roads.

So, where are we 50 years on from the publication of the books (and 60 from the actual writing, and 70 from the experiences that seeded the writing)?

  • This morning I walked to my local bus stop instead of driving to the park n' ride. I got to see the faces of people zooming by in their cars. They were looking at me, trying to figure out why I was there. Or whether the brown-skinned man next to me was a threat. Or why we were there together.
  • The man, an Indian immigrant told me about his work, asked about my family, showed me his flip-flops and talked about his early-morning walk through the grass.
  • When I arrived at my destination, where I change from riding to walking the last 1.5 miles to work, a woman stopped in the parking lot and asked if I needed a ride somewhere. I said "no" and "thanks" and headed on. At the major intersection on the corner, a car rolled into the cross walk after watching the stream of left-hand turns from the opposite side of the intersection go... but at least there weren't several cars in the crosswalk.
  • In the construction section, the sidewalk is back to being all filled (it had two holes and no crossings in it last Friday), very pristine, white, and empty.
  • At the next light, another lady stopped and asked if I wanted a ride.
  • Then the section where I walk the shoulder because there's a half-mile span where the sidewalk hasn't been built. In general, people in this section give me some extra space, staying on the left side of their lane, which gives a good 10 feet between the edge of the road where I walk and the passenger side of their car. But one nervous older man cruised along the road with the right tire of his half-ton pickup on the shoulder line.
  • A friend of mine who was out for a ride over the weekend got caught in a rain storm. She took shelter under an overpass, taking herself and her bike off the shoulder to wait it out. She was struck by a car that was that far out of its lane. During the day. (She's bruised and has some ligament damage but otherwise fine.)
So, we haven't made the full transition to Fahrenheit 451, but we're closer to that than we are to "The Illustrated Man". It looks like Bradbury correctly interpreted many of the trends of his day.

I heard a car industry lobbiest on the radio yesterday whining that "many car manufacturers have had to pull their efficient models because people weren't buying them." Well, they're often ugly. My former roommate, a good guy who ate organic and recycled and biked and walked, would comment on how ugly the Prius was every time he saw one, and then go back to converting his truck to biodiesel.
I sent a note to my senator to encourage increased CAFE standards and got a reply yesterday. He doesn't want a fixed standard because it's important to let the industry to make advances in safety and comfort too.

I wanted to reply with the report out last week that shows that smaller cars are also safer than SUVs, but then I got my Real Age report, where I got told that I would add time to my life if I drove a bigger car. When a 5-star crash test rated for driver and passenger car isn't safe enough because it isn't big enough on a test that's being advertised on all media channels and even mentioned in a book I'm reading.... well, that's when the mountain looks too big.

But my dad taught me how to hike big mountains:
  • Go with a friend.
  • Take a map, some food, some clothing, and a way to call for help.
  • Wear good shoes.
  • Find a pace that keeps you from being breathless, but keeps you headed onward. Don't stop and start.
  • Don't focus on the trail or how high the mountain is. Keep an eye on it, but spend most of your time enjoying where you are.

Wednesday, June 20


Way back in 1993, after I finished six months of managing a fast-food burger joint, I read Diet for a New America and announced I was going vegetarian. I remember it lasting a year or so, but I doubt I made it that long as the change wasn't permanent. What was permanent was a prominent place for beans in my diet and a love of investigating new foods.

However, tofu -- that staple of the vegetarian diet -- stumped me. I got my boxes at the grocery store and pressed it, froze it, marinated it, seasoned it, and mixed it with flavoring packets. I couldn't find a way to make it work. I did eventually try the shelf-stable packs of Mori-nu, and found I liked them in my pad thai... but they were expensive and the packs are wasteful, so they were a rare treat.

I knew it wasn't that I just don't like tofu, because I was happy to eat it when it came in dishes I ate out... like hot and sour soup, stir-fried veggies and tofu, and the like.

It turns out that the tofu I was buying isn't very good! I finally got permission to blame the tofu when my chef friend, who grew up eating tofu, recently mentioned it by name and declared how bad she finds that one. Fortunately in the last 14 years, we've had several other tofu brands become available.

Over the weekend she helped me pick out a brand she likes that's available at the Asian market, and fixed one of her favorite childhood dishes. I'm cooking with the rest of it this week. In fact, I just finished my first tofu-based lunch -- a cup of brown rice, two cups of stir-fried veggies, and half a cup of stir fried tofu strips. There was some profound anxiety internally when I was packing it though...I don't know how much of food like this I need to satisfy me through the afternoon. But I also bring beans and polenta for lunch fairly regularly, so it's not like I'm totally clueless about going meatless for lunch.

I guess, like with riding the bus, changing how I eat -- even though I know it's better for me and the environment -- means facing a variety of resistive self-talk. There's the fear of the unknown, security fears, emotional attachments to the behavior that's being challenged, worries about social approval, and the extra time it takes to do something new over the old habitual behavior. But here I am, having a darn good tofu lunch and looking forward to the CSA pickup tonight. I think I'm gonna be all right. (But I have a pack of M&Ms in my desk just in case.)

Tuesday, June 19

Things that need reusing

In addition to recovering old usable tools from thrift stores (and learning to use them), here's my current re-using list. (I post these hoping that someone in need of a good, recycling-based business idea will run across them!)

  • Clothing fabric. Americans throw away an average of 68 lbs of clothing a year. We clothe entire nations in our cast-offs, while buying new ourselves. I was at an event where there were these wonderful, classic patterned quilts. The friend I was with asked about them, they're made in a factory from new materials. There's just something wrong about making a classic quilt from new materials instead of re-using the ones you have...
  • Newsprint - Okay, yes. It can be composted ground up into pulp. But what about another use before that? What about turning them into take out containers? (Maybe with a food-based wax coating...)
  • Greeting cards. I am experimenting with making wire-bound journals from these, preferably with recycled wire.
  • I need a plastic container swap. My local recycling company doesn't take #5 plastic and I have a small box of lidless containers and container-less lids. Seems like someone could collect 'em, match em up, run 'em through a sanitizing dishwasher and then sell them... as used of course.
  • This is more of a reducing thing than a reusing thing, but supporting local dairies that still deliver milk in re-usable glass containers. The market for plastic recycled milk jugs is incredibly, depressingly small.
  • On a similar tangent, EcoDragon, which used to make woven hemp shoes without glue, seems to have disappeared. If the plans were available somewhere, it seems like there are fibers that could be recycled into woven shoes.
  • CDs and cases. No ideas here, but they're ubiquitous and durable. Seems like something could be done with them... Hey... how about a purse lined with a t-shirt to keep things from falling out? They can be broken, what about cutting or drilling them?
Feel free to continue the brainstorm in comments. (Note: Brainstorming is tossing out ideas sparked by previous thoughts, not the evaluation of ideas. You can do that when you're writing your business plan. ;-) )

Monday, June 18

Recipe of the Week

This week's recipe is less about tons of ingredients and heading off in amazing new directions in cooking and more about recovering cooking knowledge.

I picked up several pounds of split tomatoes at the farmer's market with the intention of making tomato sauce for my very first time. Then on the way home, my clever chef friend and I stopped at a local thrift store where she spotted a food mill -- which looked very much like the one in that photo and not very much like this one: OXO food mill -- on sale for $2.00. So, home we went.

She sweated chopped green onions and 3 teeth of garlic (whole) in a stewpot while I chopped our 6 lbs of tomatoes into 1" - 1.5" chunks. Then they went in the pot too. The pot got covered and brought up to a boil. As it cooked, we added fresh rosemary and oregano from the garden. The fresh basil is struggling, so we added dried basil and parsley, along with ground pepper and sea salt.

Boil until all the tomatoes have lost most of their structure.

Take it off the heat and put the food mill over a bowl. Add a cup of the tomato mixture to the mill. Start turning the crank. It is helpful to have a spatula handy for encouraging the tomatoes to stay under the pressing part of the mill. It is also helpful to know that on these kinds of food processors turning the crank in the reverse direction will cause the trailing edge of the press to scrape up the solid matter (seeds, skins, pulp) into a pile for another squeezing.

The goal of this process is to get all the liquid out of the tomatoes.

We ended up with a thin sauce which we decided was really tomato soup. Perhaps Romas or other meaty tomatoes would have resulted in a more saucy sauce. Either way, the result was incredibly tasty and made a great complement to grilled cheese sandwiches.

Thursday, June 14


This morning I had an appointment and I'd planned all week to drive in to work to make the time fit. But when I got up this morning, I was actually brainstorming about how to walk/ride my bike/take the bus and make the time work. I ended up driving anyway, but it felt really weird. If it is the consuming that is feeling weird and the conserving that is comforting and normal, I must be making change.

One anxiety I've had is what the folks I work with would think of me. But two weeks ago, in sending an invitation to the office to participate in Bike to Work day, one of my co-workers said that she hasn't driven to work since March. And last week, two of the managers in my suite biked in on at least one day. This week I've had good exchanges with the coworker who's on Weight Watchers and trying to walk more, an engineer who bikes in regularly, and the afore-mentioned message-sender. So I'm experiencing some very real belonging, if not actual support. This is nice. In my home life, I've talked with four close friends and in spite of sharing a concern about the state of the world and shopping at natural food stores and taking other conservation measures, none of them are ready to re-think the assumptions they make about driving.

I get frustrated, but I think "ready" is the operative word. Four months ago I was happy that I'd cut my commute in half by moving. One month ago, I started to realize that I'd bought the car I'm driving to try to cover 100% of my driving, instead of shopping for the far more practical and economical 90% of my driving. And then it wasn't until Low Impact Week that I was ready to see my life schedule as flexible enough to encompass an hour of walking and 40 minutes of reading every day (that's the bus commute).

And that adds up to a kind of coming-out process. Being willing to be identified as others as something different from an assumed "normal." For most office jobs in the US it is "normal" to drive an SUV a half hour to work each day, eat processed food, work out in a gym, and then go shopping for more stuff to put in the 2000 sq ft home you share with one other person. But "normal" isn't healthy, or responsible, or even practical. It wasn't normal for our parents, it's just what it seems like every one else is doing. Or rather... what the people we notice are doing. And who are the people we notice? The ones we choose to look for. Bit of a catch-22 there. Look for people who are doing what you want to do and you'll find 'em, whether that behavior is actually healthy and happiness-making or not.

Tuesday, June 12

Averages and Absolutes

I have always hated being graded on the curve. My physics teacher in high school tried to explain that the curve is just a way of assigning grades to the natural distribution in class and plotted several sets of test scores on the board to demonstrate how sensible it was, but that only increased my resentment. I am much more of the kind of person who likes a list of expectations that I can live up to. Although my favorite grading system of all was the class where there were 1100 points available on assignments during the semester and if you got 900 to 1000 points you got an A.

There are two things that frustrate me about using the bell curve as a standard. First, my results are as much dependent on what everyone else is doing as they are on my own efforts. If I start out in the average range at the beginning of a class, and we're all presented the same opportunities to learn and take them at the same rate, I am still looking at a C, regardless of how much I've learned. Yuck. Second, the curve is completely reflective of groupthink. If in that physics class, we all had decided that it was fun to give the wrong answers on the test, we would have instant grade inflation.

So, when it comes to talking about what our carbon footprints look like, it frustrates me that all the carbon calculators talk about results in relative terms. Okay, so I'm doing better than average for a US citizen. Fine. Tell me how I'm doing in relationship to what it would feel like if the US had signed on to Kyoto and if we were actually holding steady at 1990 emissions in spite of increased population.

The Riot for Austerity -- 90% reduction rules take what looks like a really good stab at that. They are using the figure that the world needs to reduce its emissions by 80% to reverse global warming, and since the west, and primarily the US contributes the most, we need to cut farther for it to average out. This is beyond Kyoto, but it targets the final destination: getting the ice cap and glaciers back soon enough that species like the polar bear have a chance at survival.

Of course, being a real-world event, carbon emission does follow a bell curve. And volunteering to be 5-sigma on the austerity end of the curve reshapes the curve when what we actually need is to move the curve. I wonder about this with gas. So I volunteer (and am planning) to make further changes that will allow me to save 500 gallons a year over what I was using two years ago (15,000 miles at 22 mpg verses 6,000 miles at 34 mpg). With the way things are, it's not like the 500 gallons aren't going to be burned anyway. They'll be burned, but at a modestly lower cost for the person who buys them because demand is down.

So in addition to personal action, we also need community action so that people who might have consumed more but who are able to consume less make different choices, and we need political action. We are in another energy crisis, not because of a lack of supply, but because of the negative effects of trying to consume an over-abundance. We should be looking at what worked in the 1970's to address that crisis and look for ways to build that into our system today.

Thursday, June 7

Recipe of the Week

Since it's still early in the growing season, my local farmer's market has tons of greens for sale, I thought I'd post about what I do with them. This week's recipe is so incredibly simple--once you know how to do it--that I feel embarrassed putting it up. But I have to admit that in spite of cooking at least one meal a week for the last 30 years, I didn't braise greens until about 3 years ago, when a Mark Bittman cookbook game me the courage to experiment.

Here's the approximate recipe I started with:
Braised Kale

4 slices of bacon
1 bunch kale
1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar

In a pan with a tight-fitting cover, cook the bacon. Remove and crumble, leaving the grease in the pan.

Wash kale leave and tear into something like 2"x2" squares, removing the center vein.

Put the greens in the pot with the bacon grease. Put over low-medium heat with the lid on. After a minute or two, the greens should have shrunk some and become bright green. Stir them so every piece gets some of the bacon fat on them. Add the apple cider. Steam the greens until they are all bright and shiny and green and the cider is mostly gone.

Put a portion on a plate and sprinkle with bacon crumbles.

One of my mom's meta-recipe lessons was: "when you mix an oil and a vinegar you have a dressing." So obviously this recipe is actually braised kale in a bacon-cider vinaigrette. Which are wonderful flavors together. But while it introduced me to greens, I found myself stuck on two points. Would it work with those other greens I saw at the store? Which parts of the recipe were actually about braising?

The answer to question 1 is that braising works with all greens, including kale, collard, mustard, spinach and the leaves that come on your radishes and beets. In fact, if you run across a really "meaty" salad mix that's a little bitter, try braising it. Braising is just an application of moist heat and it seems to change all kinds of greens in wonderful ways.

The answer to question 2 is that the cider provides moistness, but isn't necessary. And as I said above, it makes a great dressing with the bacon. But totally not necessary. I have a friend who for breakfast fries an egg, removes it from the pan, throws a couple of hands-full of greens into the same pan, braises them a bit, and then serves them up with dressing.

Related to that, you don't even need the pan with the tight-fitting lid. As long as the pan you're using is already warm when the greens go in, and there's some moisture to work with, and you can remove the greens from heat in something like 5 minutes, you can cook 'em in just about anything. Lately, I've been tossing them on a cast-iron skillet as I'm making breakfast.

Once you get the hang of braising greens, they can become a component in other meals. I have a recipe from Lynne Rossetto Kasper that is basically browned hamburger and onions mixed with braised greens. Crescent Dragonwagon calls for braised greens in her Mexican style casseroles... you put them on top of the potatoes and salsa and under the tortillas and cheese.


Low Impact Thursday

Ahhh. There's nothing like reading Barbara Kingsolver on the problem of cheap food over breakfast and Bill McKibbin on the field of Hedonics on my bus ride to get the big questions rolling around in the hopper. Am I happier when I ride the bus?

Of course that's a chicken-and-egg question. This week I've ridden on the three days that I woke up happier. In addition, I know I am happier after exercising. Since I have planned for my commute to include a 1.5 mile walk, I start my work day after half an hour of moderate exercise, and I am happier. I have also observed that as much as I like driving my sound system and arriving at my destination with my favorite tunes filling the air around me... I am actually less stressed when I ride.

I think those things add up to a kind of happiness. There's also the enjoyment of being connected to bigger things -- my goal to use my resources better, my goal to reduce my carbon footprint, my goal to be less of a consumer and more of a citizen.

I have been developing a theory for several years now. It started with an observation about food. A friend of mine spent a few years at a Benedictine monastery and over breakfast one morning she told me about the feasts they would have on St. Benedict's day. It struck me that what she was describing happened several times a year in my life. And then reading about historical food patterns, I realized that I eat (ate) what was traditionally "Sunday Dinner" pretty near every day of the week. So my theory is that in the US we have a trend of making the historically special things completely common.

Daniel Gilbert, in his book Stumbling on Happiness, suggests a biological reason for this. Since our brains have developed to anticipate the future based on past experience, we can fall into repeating the events that led to an emotion in pursuit of the emotion.

When I was young, going to Disneyland was a once-in-a-childhood trip. It was something I dreamt about. I finally went during my Junior year on a youth group trip, and it more than lived up to my dreams... In part because I was with friends who shared my wonder and delight. But now I have a friend who is a single mom who always feels strapped for cash and yet takes her 4-year-old on a Disney trip every year. I wonder whether there will be anything for Emily to feel delighted and surprised and grateful about when she gets to be a Junior in high school.

So I think there's a trick to determining whether I am actually happier. It could be that I am experiencing something unique and new and those feelings are contributing to my happiness. Or it may be that riding the bus and walking every day is a way for me to get in touch with my creativity and passion in a really grounded way, and so it may lead to a fundamental improvement in happiness.

At any rate, I think it's an experiment worth continuing.

It's also the last day of low impact week, so I want to post some final numbers.

Driving: on pace for 90 miles instead of my usual 150. At 22 mpg, that's a 2.77 gallons of gas, which translates to 54.5 fewer lbs of carbon in the air this week (using the factor of 20lbs/gallon given at fueleconomy.gov).
Eating: I've had three meals out this week, all around spending time with others and 2 of the 3 at small, family-owned eateries. So no mindless food-grabbing.
Appliances: Washed one load of laundry this week instead of my usual two. Still used the dryer.
Community: I've taken more walks in my community, had more conversations, and met some new neighbors by going to church locally.

When I started this project, all indications were that my impact, according to the ClimateCrisis.net calculator, was about "average" at 7.5 tons per year.

Today I am doing "smaller than average" at 5.7 tons, mostly as a result of driving 8,000 miles a year instead of 12,000. If I keep up the bus commuting and the 90 miles per week of driving, that drops to 4680 miles per year and a carbon contribution of 4.25 tons.

Tuesday, June 5

Report Card Day

I just got my utility bill for the month of May. Finally! Spring has sprung.

Here's the bottom line:


The big difference from April into May was the average temp went from 49 degrees to 60 degrees. As mentioned here before, we helped the thermostat figure out it was spring by turning the heat off at the beginning of the month, and that definitely shows in the therms drop. There's a chance my basement-dwelling roommate has been using the space heater in this marginal period, so the kilowatt hour number may have some more room to go down. (And since I don't have central AC I don't expect it to go up by much.)

Since we have all had pretty much the same schedule for the last month as for previous months, I think this is pretty close to our baseline usage for hot water, dish washing, clothes washing, lights, etc. This means that my best use of money to reduce my usage is for insulation and weather proofing. I'll be doing research on this.

Of the list I made last month about things I could do to lower use, I didn't really do any of them. I did change two of my high-use bulbs and unplugged my halogen so that I wasn't running it accidentally (or conveniently). I also showed roommate #1 the Kill-a-watt meter and she's very excited about checking out what she's using. Yay for toys! Roommate #2 and I have talked about what we're comfortable doing to keep the house cool on hot days. Fortunately, she already knows that shading windows that get sun and closing windows while the house is cool so I don't have to wait for a stretch of really hot weather to demonstrate that to her.

My current home-energy goals are:
1.) Hang a clothes line.
2.) Hang a shade curtain over my south-facing patio doors
3.) Insulate and ventilate my root cellar room. Continue experimenting with keeping food down there instead of in the fridge.
4.) Hire a handyman and get the ceiling fan put up in the living room.
5.) Start hanging foil insulation in the attic.
6.) Insulate the attic door and other spots as needed.
7.) Research replacement windows.
8.) Research weather-proofing options for the fireplace.
9.) Research patterns for window quilts.
10.) Replace fridge with an Energy Star model.

Low Impact Tuesday

I woke up this morning crabby and depressed. I think my body needs a recovery day after suddenly being called on to walk 5+ miles a day instead of my usual 2-ish. So I drove in to work. After several glasses of water, a couple glasses of tea, some extra vitamin C and a recovery drink, I'm feeling better.

I'm also enjoying a CD I apparently downloaded from iTunes and never listened to. Better than discovering a $5 in my pocket. ;-) This is Verve Remixed 2. I really enjoy being able to buy music with practically zero packaging and re-using equipment I already have to listen to it. When I subscribed to my local NPR station last month, they were offering the Eaton hand-cranked emergency radio as a premium and I eagerly signed up. I was enjoying listening to the radio carbon-free while chopping for stir fry earlier this week.

Speaking of carbon-free music, I want to pass along a band I got to see a couple times last summer. The Ditty Bops completed a continent-crossing tour last year on bike. When I think it is impossible to have a satisfying life that is also low impact, I remember their creativity and innovation. Perhaps it is a form of passing to try to have a conventional life on the carbon cheap and perhaps there is a radical re-thinking of life in store. What would my life look like with no need to commute to work or to keep up a huge house payment? What would I do if by doing it I knew I could barter for food and/or supplies?

And today's closing thought... I was poking around the David Suzuki Foundation's site today looking for information on what the Kyoto Protocol limits would look like on a per capita basis for a North American individual and found this interesting report(pdf) on what it would take to cut Canada's 2002 emissions in *half*. As the authors note, that's more than Kyoto asks for, but bigger cuts while maintaining satisfying lives can only help the overall situation.

Monday, June 4

Talking to Scientists

My Dad is one of those guys who doesn't believe that humans are causing whatever global warming we might be experiencing. Luckily, his beliefs don't translate to an over-consuming lifestyle. He loves the job he's created and the building he bought for it is less than 10 miles from the house. He is an engineer, but he can also mark the day when he canceled the Scientific American subscription he'd had for decades.

Part of his decision came from a trip we made to the Georgetown Loop railroad one summer. The exhibits there included photos of the valley the loop was built to surmount completely bereft of trees as a result of local building and fires. Looking around the now-tree-lined valley, Dad could observe the self-healing nature of the Earth.

And the Earth is self-healing. It will self-correct on a global scale. But the question is whether the new equilibrium it comes to will be hospitable to life as we know it. After all, the cataclysms at the end of the Cretaceous Era that sequestered the carbon we're now releasing nearly did all life in. (Smithsonian Natural History Museum Site, The Paleontology Portal). So, the Earth may find a way to fix herself, but there's no guarantee we'll survive the fix.

So, how to break through the mental block? Dr. Heidi Cullen, Climate Expert at The Weather Channel suggested a solution in December... be strict about presenting the science about climate. What does the science say? According to the American Meteorological Society;

There is convincing evidence that since the industrial revolution, human activities, resulting in increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases and other trace constituents in the atmosphere, have become a major agent of climate change.
She goes on to suggest that the Pew Center's Climate Change 101 site might be a good place to catch up on the science for those who are pressed for time.

Low Impact Monday

I took the plunge and got a bus pass for the month of June. I also made an appointment to ride this morning with a friend who works at a neighboring building to keep both of us to our good intentions. She travels for work, so I won't always have her company, but I'll take it when I can get it. My roommate also offered to drop me and my bike off on her way to work when I want to do something different. And another friend would take the same bus to her work, so she may join us at times. It's fun when talking about something sparks creativity in other people.

This weekend I was really conscious about not using the TV or the computer for entertainment. Instead I played miniature golf with a friend, took a walk along a trail I've been meaning to check out, and had a cookout with friends -- over wood and charcoal instead of natural gas. I meant to take the bus to church, but I woke up late on Sunday; so I drove to a new, local, church -- for five driving miles instead of 40.

One of the books I was reading this weekend is Simply in Season, one of the Mennonite Church's World Community Cookbook. I had to smile at the introduction of one of the authors, who noted that while she and her husband were raised to be frugal, eating local, organic, and seasonal sometimes isn't the absolutely cheapest option, so it was a shift for them. I also enjoyed a chat I had with a farmer this week who runs the Abbodanza Farm in Boulder. He had the last of his 2006 beans out on the table at $4 a pound. I realized as we were talking that he was arguing for his price... since the beans are all hand-picked, etc. He was comparing his price to what I might get at Wal-mart. I told him I knew that on a per-calorie basis, his beans were the cheapest thing at the whole farmer's market. I think he put some extra beans in the bag for me. ;-)

Friday, June 1

Low Impact Week

In the manner of time in my life, Low Impact Week snuck up on me. I guess that's appropriate in a way, it keeps me from making this week easier by doing extra work last week to prepare for it.

I have been meaning to ride the bus to work from my local park-n-ride, I have the coupons and everything. And for the last week my cat has been waking me up about 5. So this morning I grabbed the opportunity and headed out of the house with a full lunch bag and no delays to check the schedule. My bus left about 5 minutes after I got to the plaza, I had a lovely 20 minute ride through farms and great vistas (and I got to enjoy them since I wasn't driving), and then a 30 min. walk. All kinds of things I've been wanting more of in my life.

I even got to chat with a friend who was on her way to work.

I went to a commuter college for my bachelors and spent those years riding the bus and walking a lot. There's a part of me that knows *most* of the time, the weather's going to be fine. The walking part isn't too far. If I need more food than I have, I can find it. But in spite of all kinds of really positive, self-sufficient experiences with bus-aided mobility, when I get away from it for a while, shadows creep in. I think, "I can't take the bus today... it might rain/snow/be too hot." And yet I've taken the bus in those conditions, and learned that the really uncomfortable times are out at the margins.

There is a pocket of my poverty consciousness that gets triggered when I ride the bus. I did it because I was broke so much of the time, and now when I get on, I often feel broke in spite of the richness in my life.

I also feel a kind of defensiveness. I feel like people I know would only take the bus if they didn't have gas money, a friend to ride with, or if their cars were in the shop. So the joy in chatting with my friend today was that none of those questions came up. It seemed completely normal that I was walking to work. I would like more of those experiences.

And then there's the quote that was in my inbox when I fired up my computer:

Business opportunities are like buses, there's always another one coming.
-- Richard Branson (Virgin Founder)
I love that Richard Branson, who in many ways represents a "cool" I find appealing, knows about buses, and knows about them with a familiarity that gives him a point of grounding when it comes to the business game. It certainly challenges my poverty trigger.

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) is sponsoring their 2nd Annual Dump the Pump day on June 21. It's an invitation to pick a day to go without using gas (or diesel); but also a day to try public transportation. Look for events near you.

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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.