Monday, May 31, 2010

#12 Reduce your energy and water bill

I know that everyone in the world is changing their bulbs to CFLs, but many stop there. It saves energy when you install a CFL where an incandescent bulb was. But if you leave that light on all the time, the difference is too small.

When you leave a room, turn off the light. Open your drapes and curtains, let in the natural light.

Wash your clothes in cold, bleach with Hydrogen Peroxide. Hang a clothes line and air dry your clothes. I know that winter negates the possibility of hang drying your clothes for most, but the difference it makes when you can, can be great.

I take short showers, and one of my girls will turn off the water while she is lathering and scrubbing, but the shower is the place we can all make a difference with our water consumption. For the most part we don't turn on the hose in our back yard, with the exception of watering the bunnies. We water the garden with water from the rain barrels out back. We have four, but only three are set up with spigots. This still gets us enough water for about two weeks of watering our small garden. In the NW this is usually good enough to get us through to the next rain, but not always.

When we leave for a camping trip or an overnight with family, we unplug everything that is not vital to the survival of our house. This is where power strips come in handy, I also press the test button on my GFCI plugs in the kitchen (this turns off all the outlets in the kitchen).

There are many ways to reduce your energy consumption, these are a few of the ways we do it, I hope to learn more.

#11 Network

I do not mean hang out on Facespace or Mybook. I mean get to know your friends and their friends. Get to know your neighbors, your family, the people you work with.

You never know how much you can learn from the people that are around you every day. Or how much you can help them either. Share and share alike.

Offer your help with problems you have a unique ability to help with. Ask for help from those that have their own unique abilities. I have a brother-in-law that is a mechanic and I am good with computers, we help each other with those problems we, ourselves, are not experts at. This is networking at its finest. You can save a lot of money by utilizing the strengths of those around you, and always share your strengths with those around you (within reason of course).

When you have something to give/share people do the same in return. This the best way to build community.

#10 DIY

Do it yourself as much as you can. I try to do everything myself, with the plethora of information available (Internet,library, and otherwise) there is hardly anything you can't find some writing on.

When we think of a project that we need or want to do around the house, we check for DIY feasibility first. There have been only emergency situations where we have called in professionals (except the drywall in our bathroom remodel, I hung it, but we paid someone to tape and mud, I hate that part). We had to call a plumber in to snake our sewer-line when the big sugar maple in our front yard decided it needed that space for roots. But a year later when we ended up with another root/sewer-line problem, I just rented the power snake and did it myself, saving $700 or so (sewer snaking is apparently a lucrative business). The first time our furnace went out, I got out the ol' digital multi-meter and traced the circuit to find a bad board, and soldered a new trace on the board where the old one fried. Now we have a pilot light problem and I am sourcing a replacement part for the next furnace repair.

I did the entire bathroom remodel in our home myself (save the afore mentioned mud/tape). I demo'd the old room, put in the new tub with a drain opposite the old. Plumbed and wired it in (jetted tub from clearance section of Lowe's), and made a concrete counter-top for the sink to sit on. I did the tile surround and the tile floor, countersunk the medicine cabinets, put in the new toilet, and put in a floor to ceiling tile back splash for the sink. Now, I have helped with remodels in the past and have worked for a general contractor when I was younger so some of this was already well inside my skill-set, but even if it wasn't, there is plenty of help available on line. I am not writing about this to brag or boast, rather to demonstrate the possibilities of doing it yourself.

I have found information on every subject I have searched while trying to learn about it.

Welding? Check.
Gardening? Check.
Bicycle repair? Check.
Cooking? Check. is my friend. So is google.

It sometimes is not very easy, sometimes outright hard. But almost always gratifying beyond comprehension. The whole ends up being so much greater than the sum of its parts when you do it yourself.

Try doing it yourself first. Chances are you can.

"Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can't, you are absolutely right." Henry Ford

Friday, May 28, 2010

I like this:

Once again the youtube link-o-sphere has lead me to another nugget of wonder:

The Story of Stuff

Particularly this part:


I know many will try to debunk the facts stated in this video (some are misinformation others are opinion mixed with misinformation), but let us not be swayed from the message,


We do not need to have the newest, fanciest, shiniest stuff. I admit I am a geek, but a frugal geek. I am not an early-adopter for a lot of reasons, money the least of which.

I like stuff. I covet stuff. I have stuff. I rarely need stuff.

I want an electric car. I want more time in my life. I want people to realise that buying stuff does not placate the depression that is a product of the subconscious programming of the media.

Cut up your credit cards, buy used, buy local if you have to buy. Learn to make stuff yourself. Secede from the cash economy.

The revolution will not be televised. But the programming that stops the revolution surely is.

I am going to go read about the references made in this video, I want to learn something today.

#9 Don't buy bottled water or soda

I was just going to write an entry on not drinking bottled water, but realized it can make a huge difference in your consumption/waste, so I added it to the "list". I carry a re-usable water bottle, it is easy to do.

We have a filter for those in the house that prefer it,but I just take mine straight from the tap (the filter sits in the fridge and gets too cold for my liking).

There are numerous reasons to not buy bottled water. Perhaps rather than try to list them all myself, I can let someone else do it:

The Story of Bottled Water

We don't buy soda very often in our household, mostly because it is loaded with high-fructose corn syrup, but also because it is just all around crap. I do drink a soda once in a while, but I usually regret it, much like when I give in and get McDonald's food.

If I want something sweet, I'll make a cup of coffee with raw sugar added or have a glass of juice.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Slug hunting in the garden at night.

So I went out to close the chickens up in the coop two nights ago and glanced around with the flashlight. In the feed trough we have for the chickens were about fifteen slugs. They were all over the thing!! Big ones, little ones, tons were on the ground all around the food too!!!

I grabbed some gloves and a little bucket and went hunting with my wife. We must have pulled 60-100 slugs out of the yard/garden that night.

We went out again last night and pulled at least 30 more out of the yard.

I know it is cruel and a little against my credo of tossing as little as possible in the garbage, but I salted them and threw them in the garbage, I don't even want to throw dead slugs in my compost for fear of slug zombies. Last thing I need is an army of the un-dead leaving slime trails around my garden as they hungrily search for cauliflower (kinda looks like brains?).

Maybe now we can get some spinach to get past the sprout stage. We have lettuce only due to the scale in which we planted.

I have heard you can just go out and cut them in half, leaving their corpses as deterrents to future slugs, but then we risk the whole zombie thing.

Anyone know another way to deal with them that doesn't involve salting the earth or leaving chemical pellets all around my garden?

Until we find another solution, I will be the "Night Hunter".

#8 raise your own food

Backyard chickens are fun. They eat food scraps, give us fertilizer, and leave us eggs every day.

They are fun to watch too. Some of the funniest things I've seen in my back yard have been perpetrated by these birds.

We also raise rabbits for food and pelts.

This one is a little more difficult for most people to do. Mostly because they are cute. But we draw a line for the most part. The adult breeding stock get names, but the young do not (this doesn't stop the kids from naming them though). It is not an easy task to kill them, but once you have done it a couple times it gets easier. The slaughtering is much easier though. We have rabbit soup or stew once every one to two months. There is a plethora of information online about raising rabbits for food.

I know I keep listing things to do without giving too much information on each step, but this series was meant to be a list of things to reduce your waste and consumption, as well as become frugal and more self sustaining. It is more of a guide. Pick and choose the steps that you feel comfortable with, these are all things we have done/are doing, you certainly do not have to do all these things to make an impact. I am not by any means an expert on this subject, but I do have real world experience in every step on this list.

I will be doing another step every day for the next two to three weeks, so stay tuned (if there is anyone out there).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

#7 Compost

I said this was a list of simple things, I didn't say easy. But this one is easy.

You can start with just composting your fruit and veggie scraps. As you feel more comfortable, start adding all the bio-degradable waste products you generate. We have gotten to the point where we compost almost everything that is not plastic or metal (with some exceptions of course). We still recycle cardboard and some paper products, but we re-use or compost newspaper (it is a great weed barrier for planting). Paper towels, and the paper napkins go in the compost as well (we have tried on numerous occasions to switch to cloth napkins, but it is a transition that hasn't been able to get a foothold in our lives, yet). We have the smallest garbage can available through our local service. It is about 10gal or so. We occasionally fill it up over the top, but rarely.

We use the compost in the back yard garden and in our fruit island out front. We take some of our food scraps to the chickens and bunnies (yet another instalment), in return we get nutrient rich poop, which also goes in the gardens.

We just take the scraps as we prep our veggies for dinner and throw them in a bucket under the sink. The bucket gets emptied daily, sometimes twice. The scraps go into one of two rings in the back corner of the yard. Every couple months the dirt gets pulled from the second one and put in a pile next to it. The contents from the first ring get dumped in the second, and the cycle continues. the rings get turned every other week or so (just mix them in on themselves). The worms love this stuff!!!

click the pic

click the pic

Tomorrow we get into the meat of things............. sorry for the pun (you'll get it tomorrow)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

#6 Build a garden

Many of you already have a garden, some of you do not.

I have found it easy to start a small garden even if you don't own a house. I had a small planter-based garden in an old apartment long ago. Three 3gal. planters with a tomato, some lettuce, and some chives. It was a simple start, but as you get more land, you will/should want to make a larger garden, even a group of raised beds is a good start.

In front of my house the road is divided by an island. This island had been nothing but weeds for years, maintained by the city quarterly at best. I use the word maintained loosely, they weed-eatered it. We decided to take it back from the city and turn it into a fruit and spice garden. We stripped the top layer of weeds/landscape-plastic off and laid new cloth and top-soil. Now we have raspberries, blueberries, peaches, cherries, asian pears, and myriad spices growing out there.

You can find space, you just have to look.

The fresh veggies and fruit are well worth the minimal work required.

Monday, May 24, 2010

#5 Learn to can

This is one that has taken us a while to learn (still learning).

My parents never taught me to do this, my wife at least had an introduction when she was younger.

"We eat what we can. What we can't, we can."

We take advantage of the fruit seasons and make jam and preserves. This usually gets us through the year until the next season, as well as providing us with gifts for the giving season. This year will be the first year we will attempt to can out of our garden. The reason we haven't to date is we haven't had an over-abundant crop yet. This year is looking good for that though, wish us luck.

There is a wealth of information on canning online, and I suggest you find a source that works for you if you are not already used to doing it. This is where I have found most of the help I have used. I have used the "Utah Canning Guide" quite a bit:

a pdf guide
a link source

are both good sources.

I find garage sales are a great source for jars, as well as the local Goodwill. I also re-use as many jars as I can from my pantry, but check to see if a commercial lid (kerr or ball) fits, as some lids don't seal well when you re-use them (a pressure cooker alleviates the problem, but we all don't have access to this valuable resource).

Have fun canning!!! Strawberry/rhubarb jam is freaking fantastic. I'll edit later with the recipe once I find it.

#4 Use your pantry

This is one that is tied directly to buying bulk, but is SO much more.

I spend a couple minutes a week looking through the store fliers and coupon fliers to see what is offered. By buying in bulk and stocking up when there is a really good deal, I reduce my aggregate cost. I like to stock up on dry pasta or canned goods when they are cheap (I know this is obvious to some).

I know a very intelligent mother of two (RN, capable of decent conversation), that recently spent $200+ on a weeks groceries for the family. Admittedly, she may not be taking advantage of any of the other steps (buying pre-packaged convenience, or single serving stuff), but she still could have saved an additional ~$30 by using coupons. I find Albertson's and Safeway have really good deals once in a while.

When buying non-bulk items like breakfast cereal, crackers, and such wait for coupon/sales that drop the price by 20% or better, then buy twice as much or more, These items store well, and will hold you over until the next sale/coupon. I went to Albertson's once and picked up 16 boxes of cereal (we have since reduced our cereal consumption, but eat it for snacks still) and received coupons for six free gallons of milk for a total price of ~$14. I didn't need to store the milk, it was coupons for future redemption. These kinds of deals happen all the time, use this to your advantage and fill your pantry.

Almost every house has a pantry. If you do not, consider utilizing cupboard space or building some shelves in a closet or garage. The savings are worth it.

#3 Buy in bulk

Buying in bulk sounds like a trip to Costco.

I do not mean that kind of bulk. I mean buy 50# bags of flour and 25# bags of rolled oats at the co-op or other local source. I use enough to justify buying bulk because I cook every morning and every night. For some this might not sound feasible, but I assure you it makes a huge difference. Buying flour this way reduces the price of a loaf of bread from ~$1.40 (buying small bags of bread flour - 5# for ~$3) to ~$.60 (50# bag for $16). If that is too large a bag for your consumption, try splitting it with a like minded household. Rice and dry beans are equally cheap in comparison when purchased in bulk.

My breakfast of oatmeal and smoothies gets pretty expensive though, at $3.00, but that is for five people.

It takes a while to make these changes part of your routine, but once it is part of your life, you will never go back.

Friday, May 21, 2010

#2: Cook

It sounds so stupid. It seems silly that something as simple as cooking could impact your life so much. In the grand scheme of things this is the second biggest impact on our consumption and waste.

When you cook (I mean from scratch) dinners every night, then you have control over what you eat. Generally you throw less in the garbage too. We will go over more of the clean up from a night of cooking in later installments.

I know exactly what I am feeding my family. Don't get me wrong, we still buy packaged things, but not like we used to.

My morning goes as follows:
6:00 alarm goes off
6:14 I actually get out of bed (to my wife's dismay)
6:15 start coffee and water for oatmeal
6:17-7:00 make smoothie and oatmeal, get dressed, drink coffee, do homework, etc.
7:00 get the kids up
7:05-7:50 drink coffee and smoothie, eat oatmeal
7:58 take kids, late, to before-school activities (jazz band or chess club)

Our dinners are planned out a week (at least) ahead of time so our grocery list is complete for a week. This part is where we save money and waste also. By going once a week, we save gas (if we even drive, I did make a bike trailer which will hold an entire weeks groceries for the 2.5 mile return trip from the store). My shopping bill for a week is rarely over $90 for two adults and three children. This is a honed skill, using coupons and sale prices, and pantry space for the stock-up items. This will probably be another installment as well.

I realize that this series is not going to be revolutionary, but 20-30 small steps can make a huge difference when added up. I am also sure there are many sources for this information online, but these are the steps we have made in my home, not just a regurgitation of other people's ideas. These have worked for me and mine, they may work for you and your's.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Simply put, a series on frugality and, well, simplicity, with a dusting of anti-consumerism

I realize it has been a while since my last post, but I get busy sometimes and forget about this blog. I am trying to integrate it into my daily schedule, but it is hard to add new things.

Anyway, I will be trying to write everyday about one thing I/we have done at my/our house to simplify and reduce our impact on the planet as well as become more self-sufficient.

Today's installment:

Get rid of your TV.

I haven't had a television (cable or satellite) for over three years. This is even more amazing considering the fact I have three three adolescent children in my home. Don't get me wrong, we watch entertaining shows and movies, we do it at our own discretion, and without a monthly fee (save the internet fees). My brother-in-law is in the same boat, he has a display, but no TV. I have another friend in the same situation too. We are all more active than many people I run into with TVs.

The first thing we noticed is the time. We seem to have more time because we aren't veg-ing in front of a non-stop consumption promoter. No more do we get hit in the face with hours of advertising trying to sell us stuff we don't need or even want. "There is a reason it is called programming". A friend of mine said that to me. She also pointed out how she felt like crap after watching TV at work once. She said she just felt like a bad person because she wasn't part of the group she was seeing portrayed on TV, it was subtle and subliminal. Luckily we are group of people that seem to be aware of how outside stimuli affects us.

It can be hard. It was for us, but we read a lot, and work in the garden. The transition to no TV happened while I was working at a high-end A/V retailer, building home theaters for the well-off in Olympia. This made the transition even more difficult because I was literally SURROUNDED by TVs.

Netflix, sorry. I do have netflix. But it is worth it. But, no ads.

They say the average American household watches over eight hours (combined) of television per day, and that by the time a child has grown to age 70 they will have spent 7-10 years (at ~28 hours per week) in front of a TV.

This is the biggest, and hardest, step to making an impact on your consumption and waste. Trust me. Or don't. It helped us greatly.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Isn't it ironic? Don't you think?

I really wish this had come out better, but I was on my way to school (bicycle commuter contest) so I didn't have enough time to set up a good shot. Plus, this guy was a little ticked off anyway. 

This is a shot of a Prius getting a jump from a big diesel truck. I thought it was a little ironic.

-- Sent from my palm pixi aboard my spaceship