Simple Living

Riot for Austerity: My Insanity Knows No Bounds

Have you heard of this?  Sharon Astyk, who I have mentioned  few times before, posted last month about the Riot for Austerity.  Back in 2007 a bunch of people made it their goal to live on 10 % of what the average American consumed.  TEN percent.  Ninety percent less than what everyone else was doing.  It was a movement that grew to several thousand people and crossed 14 countries.  It was a huge goal.  Sharon is doing it again, and I’ve decided to join her.

Apparently my crazy knows no bounds.  The Riot focuses on consuming 90% less than the average for seven categories: transportation energy, electricity, other fuels (like natural gas or wood), water, garbage, food and consumer goods.  This is huge.  Read the goal details in her post linked above.

At first, I was really excited about the Riot.  Heck yeah!  I can do that!  I unplugged my fridge, for goodness sake.  I’m an extremest rock star!  And Rick has always laughed at my crazy but come along, I’m sure I can get him to go for it!  We can bike everywhere.  We can totally do this!  I will start September 1st!

And here it is, the beginning of September.  And I’m totally freaked about it.  Rick is so not on board.  Ten percent is such a crazy low goal.  We are slated to drive 240 miles one-way to pick peaches in the next couple of weeks and Rick has two hunting trips planned.  That sinks our transportation energy in the first two months.  What the hell was I thinking – I can’t do this.  Why must I put my family through these crazy experiments.  Henry is going to grow up and be able to one-up all his friends by saying, “Yeah, well, my mom wouldn’t let us have a fridge.”

Thankfully, Sharon was smart enough to create a facebook group, which has been great for ideas and support already.  No, Rick is not yet on board.  Yes, if I count the miles for the peaches and hunting, our transportation gets blown, right off the bat.  But a lot of people are starting this off without their whole family being on board.  And as the group pointed out, no one else is counting their food costs in their transportation budget.  The tough thing about the riot, besides the obvious of course, is that it makes transparent the otherwise hidden costs of the way we consume.  So we spend 25 gallons of gas to get a year’s supply of peaches or meat.  That cost is in front of us.  The cost of fuel to get peaches shipped from another state (or country) is hidden.  But it’s still a real cost.  The cost of commercially produced meat in fossil fuels is not very clear to most consumers at the grocery store.  But there is a cost and it’s high.

When I posted my peach/hunting debacle and sudden discouragement to the group, Sharon’s response was “Maybe one of the questions to ask is, “even if we’re not going to change this this year, what would we do if the cost of gas did exceed the other costs? What would we do if we felt we couldn’t? Are there are other ways to do this?'”  Those are very real and hard questions.  Lots of people asked if there were closer orchards or ways to  split the cost by getting peaches of others while we were there, which we’ve done in the past.

Perhaps my favorite response was a quote though, “The perfect is the enemy of the good.”  -Voltaire

It is so easy to get discouraged before you even get anything off the ground.  I thought I was ready to start cruising the house for things to unplug and start taking sponge baths, September first.  But I realized that with three kiddos under five years old and a husband not yet on board, maybe I should use September to evaluate where we are at.  How much are we using in all of these categories?  Where is our real, low hanging fruit – things we can do now, painlessly that will cut our energy consumption (using a clothesline, for example)?  Also, Maybe I should cut myself (and my man) a bit of a break.  I’m not the only one still waking up a couple times a night with the baby.

Then Apron Stringz jumped in.  She beat me to the punch with a Riot post (see I’m still not even back on the blogging ball yet).  And she announced her Quiet Riot idea, which I love.  I think it’s a wonderful idea. I’m not necessarily going to Quiet Riot, though I’m reserving the right to go back on that too.  I really want to see if I can hit that 10% benchmark.  But to get there, I’m going to take my time.  For my family’s sake, I am going to cut myself some slack.  September will be the evaluation month. I know I can’t do this all at once (none of us can).

More on this to come… my mind is reeling a bit, both with ideas and little inner battles.  Stick with me, and don’t judge me, please.  I know how crazy I am.

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Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability | Tags: , , , | 11 Comments

What We’ve Been Up To…

Sorry for the lack of posts lately.  We’ve been up to a lot.  We spent some time pulling weeds, trimming hedges, cleaning up the flower beds and mowing this weekend too, but I didn’t get a picture.  This is very sad, because it was the first time Rick used the new push mower!   Other garden news – the sunflowers and okra I planted are up and should make a nice screen soon.  But between all the projects, I’ve been pretty exhausted and have had weird hip-nerve-fire-stabbing pain going on my right side.  Because of that, I’ve been spending the boys’ nap time (my usual blog writing time) napping myself.  38 weeks pregnant and counting.  Here are some pictures of what we’ve been up to over the last couple weeks.  As always, click to view larger.

The tree stump came out:

 

The garden is growing:

 

The rest of the basement got “finished”:

The nursery got a few more touches:

 

 

Baby’s ETA is any time now.  I was 12 days early with E, and although I know I can’t count on a repeat of that goodness, I can still hope.  You can bet there will be pictures.  ;)

Categories: DIY, Garden, Hugelkultur, Simple Living | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

20 Weeks: Nursery Done… ish.

Last week I posted pics of the before and after job I did on the basement junk room – turned guest room.  This project kinda happened along side it.  The new nursery was formerly the office and getting it in shape was pretty intertwined with the basement project.  Neither of these things were on my 20 Weeks of Organizing Challenge list.  But I did them, so here is the second part for you to see.

   

Since this used to be the office and you saw how that changed already, these are sort of “during” pictures.  Here you can see the three chairs that I’m selling on craigslist.  The book shelf went downstairs to the guest room.  The cedar chest under the shelf was packed and there were some blankets without homes.  You can see that Rick’s work clothes are no longer in the closet, but there is a new hanging organizer in there for the newbie and a nightstand that went downstairs too.

Here are the after pictures:

   

You can actually SEE the cedar chest now, blankets have been organized (some donated) and the shelf above cleaned off.  The afghan on top of the chest was made by my great-grandmother for me when I was a baby.  I kept it stored all this time, but I finally decided that, girl or boy, it’s coming out and getting used.

The closet is cleaned out and ready for some baby clothes (some are in the wash, some I need to buy yet), and a hamper.  I might (if I get ambitious) make a little curtain to hide my birth class supplies on the top shelf.  but I might not.

This corner has the crib and dresser.  I had that dresser as a little girl too, and I gave it a fresh coat of paint before H was born.  I changed out a few knobs this week, since one of the old ones was broken.  You can’t really tell in the picture, but the sheet in the crib has little lambs all over it.

 

I stole the idea for fabric in embroidery hoops from my friend Meg.  Her nursery is SUPER cute… perfect to go with her new super cute baby boy!  And the sheep and shepherd mobile is probably my second favorite item after the afghan.  Last is the shelf-turned changing table.  I’d like to get some picture frames put on the wall above this.

As you can see, it’s pretty simple.  I’m still missing some details, like curtains for the window, a lamp… a few little things to make it feel homey.

This week, the Organizing Junkie posted about Enough.  The bones of the space are essentially done.  I’d like to get a rug and some cute things for the shelf and the walls too.  But, the set up, cleaning and organizing is finally done.  The rest is just details.  That’s good enough for me right now.

Categories: 20 Weeks of Organizing, Simple Living | Tags: , , , | 3 Comments

Unplugging the Fridge: Cost vs. Inconvenience and Project Review

Nice Jugs!

A few weeks ago, I posted on what we had saved for the first two weeks of our fridge-less project. I got some interesting responses!  Some of which made me realize that not everyone who is a current browser on my blog fully understood what we were doing.  I had a hair-brained idea to see if we could live without a refrigerator for a month.  No reason.  Not really to save money (though I knew we probably would).  More like, I just wonder if we can?

I got a lot of “I’d love to do that, but I can’t live without my [insert favorite cold food or drink item here]” comments.  That was never the point of our experiment.  More like the opposite.  How could we unplug the fridge and still eat and drink all the things we like to have?

So if you’re a newer reader and have not followed since the beginning of this project, which we started in May, or if you just can’t remember that far back (I know I can’t!), please read my first post about it.  It summarized the old and inefficient fridge we were using, and some of what we thought we were getting into.  This post explains how we are keeping food cool.  Yes we still have milk and yogurt and cheese and meat.  And we use the chest freezer in the garage.  I have two boys, a preschooler and a toddler.  And they love them some yogurt.  ;)

One of the more interesting comments I got after that post a couple weeks ago came from a reader on Facebook.  She said:

I watched “No Impact Man” with my yoga class and we had a discussion afterwards about the movie and in particular the getting rid of the fridge part. Even though they were “saving electricity” in their apartment, they were using someone else’s electricity to procure the ice they were using, not to mention that spoilage was possible by not keeping cold foods at a safe temperature, especially considering they had a baby in the house. Most of us in the yoga class came to the conclusion that we *could* go for a time without a fridge – I’ve done it myself after several hurricanes for up to 3 weeks – but the energy that shutting off most new energy efficient refrigerators actually saves is often negligible.Your family saved approximately $4. You didn’t say in your blog post, so I have to ask: was $4.00 worth the extra trouble and inconvenience?

So first, I want to talk about the inconvenience.  Here’s what is currently in the “icebox” (the freezer compartment of our unplugged refrigerator):  A gallon of milk, a quart of half and half, a half gallon of yogurt, four kinds of cheese, a tub of cottage cheese, lemon juice concentrate, fish sauce, homemade jam that’s a little too runny at room temperature, peanut butter (so I don’t have to stir it every time), green onions, grapes, a pound of butter, hoisin sauce, ginger, my bacon grease container, half a bottle of bleu cheese dressing, and mustard.  Oh, and two one-gallon jugs of ice.  Normally there would also be mayonnaise, possibly some orange juice, and usually some carrots and celery, but I need to go to the store.  Meat for tonight’s dinner is defrosting on the counter.

To keep all of this cold, I walk out to the chest freezer in the garage each morning (usually while I’m on my way to get chicken food) and swap the half-melted ice jugs for two completely frozen ones.  I also grab meat for that night’s dinner and a pack of peaches or frozen veggies or whatever I’m going to use later in the day.  Pretty simple, and we didn’t change our diet or menu at all.  The only thing is that I now buy only one gallon of milk instead of two each week, or it will go bad too soon.  I don’t go to the store more often, we just are drinking less milk (but this hasn’t been an effort, not sure how it’s working actually?).

We did leave for the weekend at the end of May, and that entailed a bit of planning for the condiments we left behind, but it really wasn’t a big deal.

Next, cost.  From May 1 to May 18, we saved $0.31/day or $5.58 for the month compared to the previous year.  That was 15.5%.  Unlike No Impact Man, we were still running our chest freezer in the garage, regardless of the experiment, so this was a true and actual savings, since we run our own freezer year round, and we ran it last year as well.

Now it’s been a full billing cycle.  From 5/18/11 to 6/17/11:

This Year Last Year
Average Daily Temperature
62°
64°
Gas/Therms per Day
0.57
0.38
Gas/Cost per Day
$0.71
$0.59
Electric/kWh per Day
12.67
18.52
Electric/Cost per Day
$1.53
$2.29

Translation:  We saved $0.76 per DAY over what we spent last year!  For a month, that’s $22.80 in electricity.  Um – math people, correct me, but is that really 33.2% !?!??!?!  REALLY!??!?!  Whoa.

Is it worth it?  Um, yes, 33.2% savings over a year in electricity is worth a daily trip to the garage freezer to swap out ice jugs to us!  That amount of money would put a decent dent into buying a newer, more efficient freezer (which would really save us a lot more, since ours is from the 1980’s).

Will we keep it unplugged?  As it stands, Y.E.S.!!  Now, admittedly, this is the first week of distribution from the CSA, so we’re not sure how all of that will be handled once the major produce really starts rolling in.  I am 35 weeks pregnant, which means I can expect to be less available to handle food preservation duties for a few weeks.  But Rick and I make a pretty good tag team.  There’s no law that says if the going gets tough (or we’re just plain going crazy), we can’t plug back in to catch up.  But I really don’t think that will happen.  I will, of course, tell you if it does.  Full disclosure here. The plan for now is to keep going without it.  Feels kind of liberating, actually!

So what do you think?  Would you be willing to try it?  Any ideas of how we could improve?  Do you think it’s worth it?

Also, I think I linked to nearly all of them, but just in case, here is the entire series of posts covering our Unplugging the Fridge experiment.  Happy reading! 

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , , | 19 Comments

Wanted: Fridge-Sitter

Ever wonder what happens when you leave town for the weekend, and you have resolved not to plug in your fridge?  Probably not, huh.

Last weekend we wanted to take a spur-of-the-moment mini trip to the mountains.  It was the last weekend we had free before we hit the end of June-holiday/birthday craziness, and then it would be July and the baby would be due at any time.  My mom was a gem and said we could camp in their motor home for the weekend.  So we went for it.

I basically packed up the whole icebox into a cooler.  I put in the ice jugs, the quart of milk we had left (I put it into a jar instead of the big jug), the half and half, the cheese, some green onions and the pork chops we’d planned to cook.  All that was left in the icebox was my jar of bacon grease that I save to cook with, a jar of mayonnaise, some celery and a few other random condiments that required the cold.  We packed all of these into a smaller cooler with ice packs.  And then we took the shelf out of the freezer compartment, and put the little cooler in to stay the weekend without us.

The verdict?  Everything in the little cooler/freezer compartment/condiment and bacon-grease-preserver thing-a-ma-jiggy stayed cold.  The whole weekend.  Everything we took with us in the cooler for the weekend got used, with the exception of the last of the milk, which soured due to us neglecting the expiration date and then leaving it in the heat without replenishing the ice (since we’d used everything else by then, we forgot it).  So, yay.  A weekend away, a full three days and two nights, without plugging in a fridge and nothing but the neglected milk going bad.

So, if you decide to be crazy like me, rest assured that you can preserve your condiments without a fridge for a weekend, without changing ice packs or inviting your neighbors to see just how nutso you really are, if you use a good cooler that you don’t open ever until you’re ready to unpack it upon your return.  ;)  Heh. Longer than a weekend, you should probably make other arrangements though.  Either use those condiments up, give them away, or resolve to make peace without them, I’d think.  Or you can invite the same neighbor that is collecting your eggs for you to fridge-sit.  ;)

Categories: Food, Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments

No Fridge = Saving Money?

So – we went the whole month of May without a fridge.  Was it hard?  No.  In fact, it was surprisingly easy.  Kind of undramatic actually.  In my last update, I mentioned that we’d continue the experiment for at least a full billing cycle from our electric company to see how our energy saving (if any) was adding up.  This month’s bill showed up, and although it wasn’t a full cycle, we’re seeing some savings at least.  From 4/18/11 to 5/18/11, this is what our bill looked like:

This Year Last Year
Average Daily Temperature
49°
49°
Gas/Therms per Day
1.03
0.90
Gas/Cost per Day
$0.98
$0.84
Electric/kWh per Day
14.27
15.76
Electric/Cost per Day
$1.69
$2.00

Note: if you’re curious, Nick over at Northwest Edible gave a great explanation of watts vs. kilowatts vs. watt hours, last week.  It was a bit over my head, but good info. 

Obviously we’re using less electricity than we did last year (wonder why we’re using more gas though?).  But it’s not a full billing cycle yet, since we started this project on May 1st.  We’re going to keep it up at least one more month to see what we get.  But so far, I’m happy that there has been some impact already… if I’m doing my math right, that 31 cents works out to an average savings of 15.5% per day.  (!!)

Categories: Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , | 7 Comments

Summertime Top Five

To me, this weekend is the official kick off for summer.  To celebrate, here are my top five favorite things about the upcoming season!

Sun-warmed tomatoes, straight from the garden.  We have thirteen varieties this year.  I truly, truly can’t get enough.

Farmers markets  Even though we have a big garden and a CSA membership, I really love strolling around a Saturday farmers market.  We always come home with a treasure.  Like the time we bought five kinds of mushrooms – just because.  Or some late-season strawberries that we had eaten practically before we left the stall.  Amazing breads, greens to die for, radishes in the colors of the rainbow.  And all the varieties of squash at the end of the season.  Such an adventure.

Dining alfresco  Whether an impromptu picnic lunch with the kiddos, a late-night backyard BBQ with friends or an everyday dinner on the back patio.  Eating outside is fun.  Bonus points for cooking outside too.  Sun tea, s’mores, and grilled corn on the cob to name a few.  Through some experimentation, we’ve managed to grill a few somewhat unusual things too, like pizza, biscuits and peach cobbler.

The Fourth of July  I love, love, love the fourth.  A BBQ with friends, sparklers and spinners with the kids, popsicles, watermelon, staying up late.  One year (2005) we saw fireworks from the beach with our friends in San Diego.  Last year it rained, so the neighbor invited us all to pile into his Volkswagen Bus.  We drove to an empty parking lot, popped the top and watched the fireworks display through the window of the top bunk.  We’re hoping for a repeat (with or without the rain) this year.  Every year, I can’t wait to get my patriot on.

Bare-feet and Line-dried Clothes  Ok… I know it’s really two things.  But I love being barefoot in the cool grass.  I’d run around barefoot everywhere if I thought I could get away with it.  And I love the smell of line-dried clothes in the summer time.  Particularly sheets.  We hang clothes to dry throughout the year, but laundry that’s been crisped by the summer sun and kissed by a warm breeze is just better.

What are your favorite things about summer?

Categories: Garden, Simple Living, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

To Be Continued

Four weeks now without a fridge and going strong.  We’ve had a lot of questions about the experiment and how it’s gone so far.  Last week, a friend asked if we knew yet if we planned to continue, or if we were going to plug back in after the month was up.  The honest answer, at this point is yes, and I don’t know yet.

Yes, we plan to continue living without the fridge plugged in, at least for a while.  Partially because it’s not been that hard or that big of an inconvenience.  Partially because I really want to get a full month’s billing cycle (or maybe two) from our power company under our belts, so we can compare the bills to last year.  I don’t know how significant of an impact not running the refrigerator will have on our energy consumption and bills for just the one or two months.  I’m hoping it’s a lot, but I realize that translating those kilowatt-hours to dollars isn’t always that huge of an impact either.

When asked what amount was significant enough to keep it unplugged, I didn’t really have an answer.  I like the idea that by unplugging the fridge for a year we could save enough money to upgrade our older, less efficient freezers to new, super efficient machines.  But I don’t know how realistic that is.  And if it’s not, I don’t know that that will make me plug back in either.  It’s sort of an open question right now I guess.

The other reason I don’t know how long the experiment will continue is that we’re coming up on summer when the CSA will be in full swing and we will have a lot of vegetables to get through every week.  This was Rick’s first major concern when I originally brought up the unplugging idea to him.  I plan to take it one week at a time.  To try to be efficient and wise about getting veggies put away in the freezer, kept cool in water, and used up within the week as we can.  But I’m not going to just let them waste or rot if it gets down to it.

I expressed the possibility of using the fridge in the summer if we are overwhelmed with produce and then re-unplugging it again in the fall and through the spring until it’s needed again.  But we’ll see if that’s even an issue as the summer gets here.  The CSA season starts usually in mid-June and takes a few weeks to get into full gear before we’re bring home loads and loads of food.  We’ll be able to adjust and take it as it comes, I think.  ;)

So far, we’ve learned a lot already.  I learned that once you open the cheese, you better use it up, and don’t store it in the door unless you want it to go moldy.  Also, I learned not to buy two gallons of milk at a time.  They take up too much space and we ended up giving about half a gallon to the chickens that was spoiled during the first week, simply because it’s not quite as cold in the icebox as the fridge was, and the expiration date wasn’t at the end of the week.

At this point, we’re looking to keep going.  We still have a week left in the experiment, but I just don’t see us plugging in yet.

Categories: Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

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