Posts Tagged With: Saving Energy

Tips for Using Your Push Mower

I realize that in some parts of the country, there is still snow on the ground.  Down here in central Texas, though, I just finished mowing the lawn for the second time.  Whew!  I’m grateful that our backyard here is modest, since even this “mild” spring weather is hot to me.

Here are some tips in case you are new to using a push-reel mower and finding it difficult.

Push mower

1. Clean the yard first.  Our power mower could chop up sticks, but twigs will get caught in the reel of the push mower, bringing you to a stop and you’ll have to reverse the blades to get it out before you continue mowing.  Frequent starts and stops require a lot more energy than maintaining momentum.  A few minutes spent looking for sticks and rocks and small kids’ toys, anything that might get caught in the mower’s blades, and removing them from the grass before you get started is time well spent.

2.  Set your blades higher.  Longer grass uses less water, and higher blades will promote that, taking just a little off the top.  If you cut the grass shorter, it might need more passes of the mower, which can double (or more) the time you spend mowing.

3.  Mow more often.  While longer grass is good for water conservation, let it get too long and you’ll have trouble getting the push mower through it at all.  This is especially true of thick lawns or lawns with hills.  Our new lawn has a bit of a rise in one area and that grass is harder to mow.  If we were to “let it go” it would be very difficult to cut with the push mower.

4.  Use a trimmer for the edges.  I’ve had a  hard time getting the push mower to do a good job cutting the grass at the edges of the lawn where it meets with the fence or the patio.  Instead of struggling over those areas over and over, I just mow as close as I can and then clean up the edges with the trimmer.

5.  Mow in sections.  Our front yard here is about the same size as it was in Colorado, but the grass here is thick and harder to get the mower through.  It makes the job tough for me in the heat (I know!  Wimpy Colorado girl in Texas!).  Instead of sweating my way through the whole job at once, I break it into two or three more manageable chunks.  The mower is lightweight so it’s no big deal to walk it back to the backyard while I take a break, get a drink or water my garlic.  Then after I’m refreshed, I take on the next section of lawn.  I can still get the job done, both front and back yards, in under an hour including the breaks.

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

Plugging In

During a long talk with Rick at the beginning of November, during which I was feeling quite overwhelmed with projects and homeschooling and life in general, I decided to go ahead and normalize our kitchen again.  We plugged the fridge back in.

We unplugged the fridge in May of 2011. It was supposed to be a month-long experiment.  We left it unplugged for a year and a half.  So, I guess in that way, it was a total success.  We had a great system down, and we pretty much forgot what life with a refrigerator was like.

I liked it, being weird and different and extreme.  But also, Rick and I were getting to the point where we craved a little normalcy and simplicity in our lives in general.  The fridge was a sort of symbol for me of this crazy, hippie extreme life that I wanted to have.  And, Rick, being super supportive, has come along for the ride, and for the most part, we have that life.

We grow our food or buy from local farms, we have chickens and bees.  I never buy cereal or use paper plates or paper towels.  I’ve made our own laundry soap and dishwasher detergent.  We’ve cloth diapered (3 kids), etc.  You get the point.

IMG_6868

But sometimes being weird can wear on you.  It was wearing on us both (not the fridge, but you know… everything).

One of my good friends talks about how tough it can be to live in two worlds.  You know the two… one in which all your friends only buy gluten-free, sustainably harvested, BPA-free, GMO-free, soy-free, local, handmade, hand loomed, home-grown, vegetarian fed, and free range.  And the other world: the on sale, easy clean-up, big box, double coupon, plastic, convenient, drive-thru, battery operated, disposable one.

I mean, take a kid’s birthday party.  Imagine hosting 25 people but using nothing disposable.  No paper plates or plastic forks or crêpe paper streamers.  Or if you do use plastic cups you feel guilty, even for the biodegradable ones.  The guilt.

So I decided to let go.  Not of everything.  Sometimes I use a paper towel or 100% recycled paper plate.  The fridge was something simple that could go back to normal, not be so weird.

You wouldn’t believe how novel it felt.  Having a freezer inside the house, having room for anything in the fridge.  We hosted Thanksgiving dinner this year.  I let the turkey thaw in the fridge, and there was room for other things.  It was amazing!   (By the way, we also hosted T-day without a fridge, it’s totally doable).

This doesn’t mean I’m going all conventional, back to disposable everything.  But it does mean I’m giving myself more grace.  I don’t need to be perfect or extreme.  I just need to keep trying.

Categories: Simple Living, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , | 10 Comments

Thinking Outside the [Ice] Box

Someone recently asked me how the fridge experiment was going, and I realized that I missed the anniversary of when we first unplugged!  To me, that’s a pretty good sign that the project is going well.  The anniversary came and went totally unnoticed.  I imagined (a year ago) that I’d want some sort of fanfare or some official celebration, but I realize that it is better this way.

Running our home without a fridge has become so much a part of our lives that it’s almost mundane to us.  I forget about it completely until someone asks.

Changing ice jugs is routine.  Although we eat mainly fresh food, I don’t shop daily as many people have asked (I have three kids, people, are you nuts!??!), we love dairy (we regularly have milk, yogurt, cheese, half and half and butter in there), and none of us have suffered from Listeria.

Is it for everyone?  Well… I think that if we can do it with three children, probably most other families could too, certainly most single people.  But I realize that living without a fridge in 2012 is pretty far on the other side of the extreme line for many people.  It hasn’t really been an inconvenience for us at all.

I think the key to making it successful for us has been thinking outside of the box.  Many people we’ve talked to about it say they like the idea, but they could never do it because they prefer fresh food too much or that it’s not possible in an urban environment.  We are doing it in Denver and eating fresh foods (including meat and dairy)!  It is basically like using a cooler when camping. We’ve even gone out of town and left it.

Of course it would not be practical for us at all if we did not have the freezer in the garage where we could regularly get ice jugs.  But we run the freezer regardless.

So how long will we keep going?  Right now, we don’t see a reason to stop.  The only question now is what to do with the refrigerator?  Use it for storage for things prone to pests, like flour?  Make a pantry out of it?  A china cupboard? Long-term food storage area for the zombie apocalypse?  Fireproof safe?

We’re currently taking suggestions on that one.

Categories: Food, Sustainability, Unplugging the Fridge | Tags: , , , , , , | 19 Comments

Pros and Cons of a Push-Reel Mower

Like many people around the country last week, we mowed our lawn for the first time this season.  The difference between us and our neighbors, however, is I talked on the phone while I did it.

We have a push-reel mower.

Last summer, I sold my husband’s shiny, red, super-charged, front-wheel-drive, 9 billion horsepower, mulching power mower for this little green machine powered by ye ole chevrolegs.

Now I love this thing, and truth be told, Rick hates it.  He teases me all the time about how I’m saving approximately 6 gallons of gas a year.  If that.  And, pretty much, he leaves the mowing to me now, where before it used to be solely his domain.  I think he’s embarrassed.  But I like it anyway.

In case you have been considering getting one yourself, here are the pros and cons (yes, there are some) of a push-reel mower…

The top five things I love about the push-reel mower:

  1. It’s quiet.  I really did talk on the phone while I was mowing the lawn last week.  My mom asked me, what that sound was, and I said, “Oh, I’m mowing the lawn.”  Then we both laughed.  I was talking on the phone while mowing the lawn.  Preposterous!  I could mow at six in the morning or ten at night and the neighbors would never know.  It’s the stealth mower.  I actually like the sound it makes.
  2. It uses no fuel or oil and takes little to no maintenance.  By the time my neighbor is done checking his oil and fuel and pumping and priming, reconnecting the spark plug and whatever else, I’m ¾ the way done mowing my lawn.  One time, no joke, with the old power mower I stood outside for like 15 minutes trying to start the thing before I realized the spark plug was disconnected (hubby did this for safety’s sake).  The neighbor had to come over and point it out. 
  3. It’s lightweight.  All the power it uses comes from your legs and arms pushing this machine; it’s easy to maneuver and I can easily lift it up the couple of steps to our front yard and takes up very little space in the garage.  With the old machine, I could barely get it up the steps, and had to go up all backwards and strategic.  It was super heavy and could chop off my arm – the little label on the side said so.
  4. There is NO string pulling to start it up.
  5. There is no exhaust.  No stinky fumes makes me feel all green and hip and environmentally conscious.  And also the lack of fumes keeps me from feeling sick.  I know six gallons (or whatever) of gas per year is not much, but I don’t mind mowing the lawn now, because I don’t get a headache from the noise/fume combo.

Five things I don’t love:

  1. You can’t mow over sticks.  The power mower mulched and could chop up a stick or a twig that had fallen from the tree in the front yard, but the push mower can’t.  I send the boys out in the yard before I mow with the mission to pick up all the sticks.  If I accidentally mow over a stick, I have to stop to get it out of the mower, because it will jam the blades.
  2. Sharpening the blades will be a challenge.  Not many places know how to sharpen the blades of a push-reel mower anymore, and those who do charge a lot for it – almost as much as the mower cost.  Since the blades will stay sharp a long time though, we at least have a while to learn how to do it ourselves.
  3. It doesn’t always get every piece of grass in one pass.  Because of this, it is really important to overlap or mow two ways.  Otherwise your lawn looks like it’s received a haircut from a barber half in the bag.
  4. The neighbors look at us funny.  When I first bought the mower, I thought people would think we were so cool – all hip and eco-friendly.  Turns out, they either think we are crazy or too poor for a “real” mower.  Hmm… this must be why Rick is embarrassed to use it.
  5. You can’t be a lazy lawn keeper.  If your grass gets too long, the push mower is a real bear to use.  In fact, there was a time last summer, when we first got the mower, that we had to borrow our neighbor’s power mower because we had waited a couple of weeks too long to mow and the push mower, literally, couldn’t cut it.  Lesson learned.

I feel like the push mower and the power mower take about the same amount of physical effort to use.  The push mower is all pushing, which isn’t that much work (hey if I can handle that giant cart thingy at Target I can handle the mower).  The power mower took more effort for me in the starting, holding down the lever thing, and then holding it back from running my flowers down (since it pulled itself).  I think the trade-off of putting the kids on stick patrol and enduring funny looks is a pretty good one.  Plus, I can catch up with my mom on the phone while I’m at it.  ;)

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , , | 29 Comments

Practical Ways to Store Food without a Fridge

Over the last couple of weeks there has been an article from treehugger.com floating around Facebook, Reddit, and Pinterest highlighting Korean designer, Jihyun Ryou’s five creative ways to store food without a fridge.  The designer’s goal was “re-introducing and re-evaluating traditional oral knowledge of food, which is closer to nature,” by using objects to make this knowledge visible.  The designs are super modern looking with clean lines and things like sand and water mounted to your wall.  And, I have to admit, they do look cool, despite being kind of impractical.

In light of their impracticality, and because we’ve lived without a fridge for the last 9 months, I’m offering up some practical answers to Ryou’s modern artworks; while less artistic, everyday homesteaders can apply them to their own kitchens.

Symbiosis of apple and potato:

Most fruits don’t need to be stored in the refrigerator.  The taste of tomatoes will rapidly deteriorate in the fridge.  The fridge stops the process of ripening fruits, which if you are buying them from the store is the opposite of what you want.  Potatoes don’t need refrigeration either.  As Ryou points out, potatoes can be kept from sprouting if stored underneath apples, since apples, like many fruits, emit ethylene gas.  Ryou’s design offers a wall mounted box to store your potatoes underneath a shelf to set your apples on.

My mom had one of these hanging produce baskets.  You could do a quick search on Amazon and find a multitude of both hanging and counter-top baskets, and even some bins in which you could keep your potatoes stored beneath your apples. Some of them are pretty cool looking.

Verticality of Root Vegetables:

Ryou’s design is quite beautiful with carrots and green onions sticking out of wet sand (again wall mounted; I’m wondering how heavy these things are).  Here is my solution for keeping vegetables both vertical and moist:

We used this clever design for carrots, onions and celery from the CSA last summer.  Turnips, beets and radishes could go in a bowl.  And a sink filled with cold water will revive a head of lettuce that you thought was a goner too.

Breathing of Eggs:

Many people know that eggs don’t need to be refrigerated.  In Europe, eggs are purchased from a plain old unrefrigerated shelf in the grocery.  Without a fridge, eggs from the grocery store will last about three weeks.  Because egg shells are porous, Ryou offers another reason to keep them from the fridge:

An egg has millions of holes in its shell. It absorbs the odour and substance around itself very easily. This creates a bad taste if it’s kept in the fridge with other food ingredients. This shelf provides a place for eggs outside of the fridge. Also the freshness of eggs can be tested in the water. The fresher they are, the further they sink.

We use this to keep our eggs on the counter.

I’ve been told the eggs at the store can be up to 30 days old already when you buy them, so imagine how long fresh eggs from the back yard would last.  Of course, our eggs rarely make it more than a few days before they are eaten, so we don’t worry about testing their freshness, but I could easily get a glass of water to test them in if needed.

The Dryness of Spices:

Ryou’s design for  a spice bottle is really very clever.  It takes the grandmother’s tradition of keeping some grains of rice in your spices to absorb moisture to keep it from clumping one step further by keeping the rice in its own compartment within the jar.  We don’t really have this problem in Colorado, it is not ever humid enough to make our spices clump.  The only fault I find with this design is that it is once again on a wall mounted shelf.  Spices actually lose flavor when exposed to the light.  It is better to keep them in a cabinet behind closed doors where they can stay in the dark.

Note that this is not my spice cabinet (though I might wish it was).  Thanks to Louise at My Food Voice  for sharing.  My spice cabinet is a jumbled mess, not fit for photography.  ;)

Now, of course, I know that Ryou’s designs are meant to be art, not necessarily practical.  But the purpose of this art besides being beautiful, and the purpose of Ryou’s project, is to get people to see (and therefore think about and use) their food and to think outside of the ice box when it comes to storing it.

What are some other ways to keep food fresh without of the fridge?

Categories: Simple Living, Top 5, Unplugging the Fridge, Urban Homesteading | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

2011 on the Bike

Happy birthday today to my Hard-working Husband, Rick!

I want to take a minute to say that nothing, and I mean nothing, would ever get accomplished around the homestead if it weren’t for him.  I’m really great at the ideas, but Rick is the hard worker that actually makes the ideas turn into something real.  He works hard all week at his job and then he comes home to work hard here on weekends, and I’m so grateful for him.

Last January, I asked Rick to set the odometer on his bike to track how many miles he rode for the entire year.  Then I promptly forgot all about this until last week when he gave me his final numbers.

In 2011 Rick rode 378.83 miles on his bike.  Most of these miles were commuter miles; riding to and from work.  Since I had a baby in July, we didn’t do much recreational riding as a family.  His office is 2.67 miles from our house and his average speed was 11.4 miles per hour.

Most days, due to traffic, he can get to his office or home faster on the bike than if he drove the car.  A fourteen minute commute, mostly on the bike path.

We estimate that he rode his bike to work about 70 days last year.  It’s not clear, because there have been days when he didn’t ride to work, but came home at lunch with his work van to get his bike and then rode home.  But that’s almost 20% of the year commuting on two wheels.    (!)

Rick saved about 20 gallons of gas, about a tank and a half in our car.  His total time spent on the bike:  31 hours, 47 minutes and 43 seconds.

He might argue that it’s actually not work to ride.  I think he likes it.  At least a lot more than driving in traffic.  He’s already had the bike out this year (yep, with snow and everything), and I think he’s going to try to get even more miles racked up for 2012.

Thanks, Rick for all you do.  Especially for supporting my habit of starting crazy projects…  and then finishing them for me.  You are the best!  Happy birthday!!

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability | Tags: , , | 6 Comments

Putting it All on the Line

I am in love.  My clothesline is actually making me happy.  I find the few quiet minutes it takes to hang the clothes up both meditative and satisfying.  Wait.  Did I just say laundry makes me happy?

This isn’t my first clothesline, but so far, it is the best.  Granted, it’s new, so I don’t know how it will stand the test of time.  But I really love the design.  Which is funny.  I actually wanted a traditional, two post with lines stretched between set up.  I envisioned my kiddos running between the sheets as they hung on the lines.  But we’re short on space, so we went for the umbrella style.  And I love it.  Here’s why…

It holds a lot.  A LOT a lot.  Like four or five loads.  Maybe more.  More clothes than I have clothespins for.  All the cloth diapers, inserts and wipes, all the kids’ bedding, all of my clothes and towels, tons and tons.

It spins.  This means that I can hang the whites on one side and the darks on the other.  Then I can rotate it so the whites get bleached by the sun, and the darks stay in the shade.  Awesome.  Also, I can stand in one place, with the sun behind me, to hang and turn the line as I fill each side instead of moving around or staring into the sun.

What are you hanging under there? In the past, I would hang lots of items, but not everything.  I never hung our unders up, for example.  I didn’t want the whole neighborhood ogling my ultra sexy nursing bras.  ;)  But with the new line, that’s just not a concern.

The trick to hanging the tightie-whities is pretending you’re wearing them – they go under all your other clothes.  That’s right, if you don’t want the neighborhood to know if the husband wears boxers or briefs, keep them on the inside.  Those t-shirts and dish towels are totally concealing the undies from prying neighborhood eyes.

Clothesline?  What Clothesline?  I can take it down and put it away if we’re having a garden party or something.  Not that this has happened, but it’s a nice option.  Also I think taking it down in the winter to protect it from the weather will probably make it last longer.

It is pretty and it smells good.  Ok, that is true of drying clothes outdoors, no matter what kind of line you are using.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t still love it.  Nothing smells so nice as sun-dried sheets.  And I really love how laundry looks on the line.  I feel like I’ve accomplished something when I see a full line fluttering in the breeze.

Do you hang your laundry out?  What do you love about it?

Categories: Simple Living, Sustainability, Top 5 | Tags: , , , , , | 10 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

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