January 11, 2014
We went from zero for a high (with a low of -10) on Monday or Tuesday of last week to thirty-four for a low tonight and sixty degrees for a high tomorrow. Like much of the country, I have weather whiplash. The backyard went from eight or nine inches of snow to what seems like an equal amount of mud after a day or two of sunshine and above freezing weather followed by rain and temperatures in the forties yesterday.
The house is a mess of muddy dog and human tracks and, being the crotchety old gal that I am, it will stay that way until the next few days of warm, sunny weather dries up the mud in the yard. At that time, I will assess the damage and give the muddy tracks a good go-over with broom and brush before vacuuming and returning the house to some semblance of cleanliness and order. Until then, I will – with a clear conscience – ignore it. Being old and crotchety has it perks.
As I have been unwilling to go out much in the ice and snow, other than seeing the dog through her daily constitutionals, I’ve used the time to reassess and address the ongoing battle to reduce my energy use, water consumption and waste, now that I’ve moved downstairs into electric appliance heaven (or hell, if you’re into reducing energy use and waste). So, for those of you who are struggling with the same things, here’s where I am, now:
The maintenance man came over and sealed the big hole in the foundation that was letting so much cold air seep into the house. As a result, I’ve managed to keep the furnace around 70 on the colder days and today, while it’s sunny and in the mid-forties outside, it’s set at 60, so it’s essentially off (as it is most nights).
Upstairs, with no one living there, I closed off the bedrooms and stairway, set the wall heater on the lowest setting to keep the water pipes from freezing and have pretty much ignored things up there, other than checking it during the worst of the cold.
As to the plethora of appliances I inherited with the move, I don’t use the dishwasher. Cooking only for myself, I certainly don’t need it. My son used the refrigerator while he lived upstairs and left quite a bit of food in it when he left. I’ve either eaten or frozen most of that and, next week, should be able to switch the condiments that are left back to the camp cooler and unplug the refrigerator permanently. I don’t anticipate needing it. I use the washer and dryer once a month to do a load of whites and a load of colored clothes – much as I did when I lived upstairs and did my laundry down here, so no real savings there, other than the fact that the tenant who was living down here also did (copious amounts of) laundry. So, overall, there is that savings in energy use. Of the toaster oven, the gas stovetop burners and the microwave, I use whichever I think will use the least amount of energy for what’s cooking. (The small toaster oven seems more practical for the small amounts of baking I do, than heating up the big gas oven on the stove.)
And this brings us to consumption. I do need a new pair of shoes. One of the old ones is beginning to separate from the sole. (Yes, I have only one pair of shoes, but I also have only one pair of feet to put them on.) The old ones will become my gardening shoes until they fall apart. Other than that, I have all the clothing, bathroom and kitchen gadgets, towels, sheets and bedding I will need for a very long time. What food I bought at the super-duper store a couple of weeks ago has been sliced, diced and added to the freezer with the little my winter garden has produced so far and I am pretty much good to go until spring.
I’m having somewhat mixed results with the winter garden. The squash and melon plants died within a month or so of having been planted. One pepper plant died; the other and the two tomato plants are still growing, but haven’t produced anything yet. I pulled the last two cabbage plants (which never did head), diced and blanched the leaves and added them to the freezer for soups and such. The green beans produced about a quart bag of beans before they died – from lack of enough light, I think – so I pulled them and replanted some in separate pots that I could set in front of that south window. We’ll see what happens. I planted more lettuce and spinach to replace what I ate. In the meantime, I’ll concentrate on the tomatoes and peppers in hopes that they will, yet, get with the program.
And that brings me to waste. All the dead plants and kitchen waste have gone into a compost pail. Any paper that isn’t plasticized or mylarized has gone into another pail. These will be added to the layers of straw on the backyard garden through the winter. I save glass jars to store dried food stuff in, tin cans for nails, screws and other odds and ends in my (hopefully) soon-to-be tool area in the back room. And I still save plastic soda bottles for garden starts. This has reduced my trash from one pretty full 13 gallon bag per week down to a couple per month. So far; so good.
All of this may sound like a lot of bother and I will concede that it’s more difficult to do when you have a family, (though my son and I lived much this way when I was raising him on minimum wage jobs, simply because we were poor). But in spite of the weather across much of the U.S. this week, the world is warming and climate change is increasing at a rapid pace as we continue to burn fossil fuels. World supplies of conventional oil has plateaued and is decreasing despite the hoopla we hear from our own oil industry and politicians. The too big to fail banks have only gotten bigger and little has changed about the way they do business, despite half-hearted attempts to regulate them.
We can continue to pretend that business as usual can go on forever, in spite of numerous indications that it cannot and will not. Or we can find ways to reduce our dependence on these things before the next tipping point is reached or the next black swan lands and what has now become a lower level of business as usual for most of us, takes the next step down. What may seem like a lot of bother is really just a series of small habits we need to get into until they become routine.
There are those who think that, whatever we do will be too little, too late. Perhaps they’re right. I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that sitting back and doing nothing is the fastest way to find out.