Thursday, December 31, 2009
The Compact is a group of people that decide to avoid purchases of new products for a full year with the exception of personal care items and food. Recycled and used items are allowed in place of new purchases. I have considered joining the Compact in prior years but felt I did a pretty good of managing purchases on my own. Lately, living in a more style conscious area, I have found myself more influenced by consumer goods and really would like to stem the flow of stuff from entering my house. Since moving here six months ago, I have purchased (or received as gifts for Christmas) three new pairs of pants, four t-shirts, three long sleeve shirts, three fleece shirts, two pairs of shoes, 3 scarfs, a hat, and two down sweaters. Unfortunately, in the month prior to moving here, I picked up about eight other articles of clothing. Yikes, all total, probably enough stuff to keep me clothed for many, many years.
In the days leading up to the start of the Compact I have felt the challenge of not buying anything new for a year sounded easy, but as I sit here writing about my purchases in 2009, I am worried. Obviously, I am much more caught up in stuff than I have been willing to let myself believe. In my defense, I think of the ironed patches covering the holes on my bedsheets, my ten year old car in the drive, my antique bedspreads, shoes in my closet I have had forever, and many, many other old goods I own and use. I am reminded that not all the stuff I have in my life has to be new. Maybe it is just the clothing...and the shoes...and the coats. Yes, that really is where my problem lies, but it probably is in other areas that I am not even aware of as well. Starting the Compact and thinking about not buying anything for a year will shine a light on where I need to make changes. As I think about it now, after writing this post, I am afraid. The challenge doesn't sound easy anymore and I hope I am able to live up to the challenge. I want to be successful because I understand from others that have participated in the Compact before me that much insight can be gained about what really is important in life. A big lesson for the cost of a few less pairs of pants.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Many times, I find myself approaching life the way I approached the labyrinth that day. I rush forward, wondering what I will receive after I complete a task, or once a holiday is upon me. Most of the time, I am let down when a gift doesn't materialize. Maybe my hard efforts go unrecognized or the good times I created don't last long enough. Even now with Christmas past, I find myself looking toward the next holiday or activity and wondering what I can do to make that time special. Rushing toward that place with excitement and wonder, giving little thought to the days preceding it. Life sometimes feels like little fits and starts, days to hurry through as we work toward those days to savor. Hurry and slow.
Obviously, I didn't embrace the lesson the labyrinth wanted to teach me that day in North Carolina. To go slow along life's paths and enjoy the entire journey. While I seemed to have heard the message to go slow sometimes, I hadn't learned how to live slowly each and every day. So as in most cases with life when something isn't learned, the problem usually circles around and comes back at you. The labyrinth beckoned to me again today. Not in the same way it did all those years ago, but while on the Internet this morning as I read the web page of a UU church. The word "labyrinth" jumped out from the page, seeped into my brain, and immediately felt like the solution to what had been making me feel unsettled for days.
I felt an immediate urge to go walk a labyrinth and this time to do it with more contemplation. To go slow and take it in and to be open to what it wants to show me about my life. Many websites on the Internet talk about labyrinths being metaphors for your life's journey such as the quote below found on the website Lesson's 4 Living :
"Your life is a scared journey. And it is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges every step of the way. You are on the path...exactly where you are meant to be right now...And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing and courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love.
~ Caroline Adams
There are many ways to walk a labyrinth- while walking in person, with your fingers on paper, or even virtually while on your computer. I am thinking I would like to replicate the setting I had when I walked my first labyrinth and have found one located in a wooded site not too far from my home by using the labyrinth locator on the Labyrinth Society website. Walking a labyrinth and thinking about my life's path- a good way to start the New Year.
Sunday, December 27, 2009
The best, most hopeful thing about this whole experience, was witnessing the many people out in nature on this winter day. They weren't at the mall looking for after Christmas markdowns and they weren't sitting in front of the TV letting advertisements encourage them to buy stuff. Almost a year ago, I wrote a post called "Where is everybody?" after spending the day skiing in a Chicago area nature preserve. In that post, I wondered where everybody was on that beautiful winter day. Thankfully today, I get to title this post "Everybody's here". Even if it means I can't have the beach to myself, I love to see many people choosing to spend time in nature. It gives me hope that more and more people are discovering the benefits of spending time outdoors.
Saturday, December 26, 2009
Thursday, December 24, 2009
I just received a card yesterday from a woman who lived below my husband and I when my oldest son was born 22 years ago. Through the exchange of yearly Christmas cards, we have maintained our connection and grown richer as I have shared my life with her and her with me. I have enjoyed hearing about her children's successes and more recently, those of her grandchildren's.
I still exchange cards with friends from high school, roommates from college, co-workers from long ago, and friends from every one of the eight or so states my husband and I have lived in. These cards remind me of the community of people I have in my life, especially when I am new to an area and it is easy to feel disconnected. These cards, arriving at my door, bridge the distance between my friend and I and make me think of the time we once spent together.
So, even though it takes lots of effort to get out the pen and address the cards and to line my kids up to take a Christmas picture, I do it. Not so much because I want to share my news, but more so because I know if I do, I will hear back from my friends about theirs. As our news has changed over the years from sharing the births of our children, to sending them off to college, now it is shifting to our children getting married and having children of their own.
Time passes, but some things never change I hope. In this fast paced era of emails, sending holiday cards allows for a tangible form of connection that is hard to beat. Holding a card in your hand, gazing at a picture of your friend and their family, or just reading their handwritten sentiments, makes me feel special and brightens my day. A simple gift that carries a big punch.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
With less to do at other times of the year, slow living is easier to accomplish. But for the busy month of December, I need to rethink how I have been doing things. I need to stop trying to do it all for the holidays and pick and choose just a few quality activities that bring meaning. It is impossible to make gifts, write cards, stitch up reusable cloth gift bags while preparing a local slow meal, all while cleaning my house and attending homeschool holiday parties. Unfortunately, trying to do it all, even if it fits the bill of being a quality family activity, makes the holidays rush by without really enjoying family togetherness.
All that being said, I think I will cross a few things off my list, especially those things that bring little reward. I will decorate and clean less, choose easier recipies when cooking, and not worry if the holiday cards don't make it to their destinations by Christmas. Instead, I will play games with the kids, and take them to a few museums, but not worry about what the house looks like through it all. I will visit with family and take the dog to the beach, but not care if the wash isn't done. I am going to try to live slowly and simply, and do less overall. Wish me luck as I pursue slowness starting...tomorrow! This afternoon I have to take Ryan to rock climing...then come back home and make dinner, work on cards this evening, finish the laundry and....wait, did I not learn anything from this post???
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Friday, December 11, 2009
Even today out on the beach, I still felt a bit of distraction. Was not fully present in the moment, somewhat oblivious to the beauty around me. Proof that I need to get away more often. Proof that my life has been too busy lately. Rather than rush about this weekend, preparing for the upcoming holiday, I am going to take my dog out to the beach and let her romp and play and let her pure unadulterated joy become mine.
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Friday, December 4, 2009
In fact, I don't think any type of Christmas tree can be considered zero waste- not the artificial type that gets used year after year, or the live type which appears to be more natural and less environmental costly. Given that all Christmas trees make an impact of some kind, is there any real zero impact sort of solution that one can make in regard to Christmas trees?
Looking back to the origins of the Christmas tree, it seems Pagans had the answer on how to celebrate using no waste methods. During winter solstice celebrations, evergreen boughs would be cut and brought into homes as decorations to celebrate the return of the light. Nature respecting Pagans could not bring themselves to cut down an entire tree for something as silly as household decoration.
So maybe that is how we have gone astray. Rather than use just part of an evergreen tree to celebrate the holidays, we have moved to a place where we destroy the entire tree. Our disconnection from nature has allowed us to feel comfortable doing this. Taking clues from the Pagans, we can find some zero waste options. How about decorating a live tree that stands in your yard and not bringing a cut tree into your house? Or try cutting some boughs from a tree and bring them inside. I even read a post somewhere about how you can cut branches from an evergreen and arrange them in such a way that they look like a Christmas tree.
My family tradition is such that we cut a live tree each year and look forward to the experience of heading out to a local Christmas tree farm to find that perfect tree. The time spent as a family walking on the farm and drinking hot chocolate has always been a special time of togetherness. How do I change tradition for the good of creating zero waste? I think it would be pretty difficult and herein lies the problem. If I am unwilling to change my traditions for the good of the planet in this one area, how many other ingrained practices do I have that I am unwilling to change? Many I am sure, and that is what scares me.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
1) Acclimate to colder temperatures.
It takes awhile to get your body used to colder temperatures. Start by lowering your thermostat every few days while adding more layers of clothing until you find your comfort zone. Last winter, I needed the temperature to be at least 68-70 degrees to be comfortable. This winter, I kept the heat off through October and November and find that I can now be cozy in a range of 60-65 degrees.
2) Turn down the heat to 55.
The University of Minnesota Extension Service suggests lowering your heat to 55 or 60 degrees at night when wrapped in bed with warm blankets. I take this suggestion one step further by applying it during the daytime as well. I have two heating zones in my house, one downstairs which contains the kitchen and family room and the other upstairs which has the bedrooms. I keep both zones at a constant 55 degrees and only turn the downstairs zone up to 65 between 5 pm and bedtime. Because my house uses hot water radiators to heat, I find they maintain comfortable temperatures for about 2 hours after I turn them back down to 55 for the night. On the flip side, my forced air furnace in Illinois made the house feel cool within minutes after scaling back temps for the night. Notice what your furnace does and adjust accordingly.
3) Use less rooms.
Figure out the one area of your house where the entire family can hang out and only heat those rooms to 65 in the evening when everyone is home and gathered together, keeping the rest of the house always at 55. This winter I moved my computer downstairs so that I could work at it in the evening when the family room was warmer. Being together in one room also provides for more family time to play board games or just allowing time to talk.
4) Only warm the rooms you use.
Close the doors to the rooms you are keeping the heat down in. Hang drapes or sheets between arches so that heated areas don't lose precious heat to the cooler areas. We hung a spring rod between a large arch from our heated family room area to the foyer which leads upstairs to the cooler areas. We then ran the rod through the bottom of an old sheet to form a curtain which traps warm air downstairs. Despite the sheet being thin, it is amazing how much heat it holds in.
5) Cover your windows with plastic.
Just before the cold weather set in, I bought some plastic window coverings from Home Depot. These inexpensive coverings are made to fit various window sizes from small to patio door size and form a seal around the window which keeps out cold air beautifully. I covered the three air conditioning units in my house and can no longer feel a breeze when standing near them.
6) Surround yourself with down.
I happened to have a very comfortable down jacket...one of those thin ones with good fill power, which I started wearing in the house as the weather got colder this fall. At first it felt silly to wear a jacket in the house, but as the days went by, I got accustomed to it and it felt more normal. I now find my down jacket is the last thing I take off at night and the first thing I put on in the morning. It is the single most important thing which allows me to keep my heat down and I really couldn't survive without it. Make sure your down is either 600 or 800 fill. The larger the number, the better the down quality. Something called "Down alternative" is not a good alternative for keeping you warm I have found.
7) Keep your core warm.
I find that as long as my core is warm, then I will be warm. I haven't had to resort to hats or gloves yet this year because it just hasn't been cold enough. I also haven't had to wear long underwear either, but figure it will come in handy as the weather gets even colder. For now, keeping my core warm has been enough. Whatever material you use to keep warm- be it wool, fleece, or down, make sure that your core is covered adequately and the rest of your body will stay warmer overall.
8) Invest in a down blanket.
Again, I must mention down. There is nothing like a good down comforter to keep you warm in a 55 degree room at night. It only takes a few minutes to warm it up with your body heat and then you are toasty for the duration.
9) Don't set your thermostat to auto heat in the morning.
When I wake in the morning and slip into my down coat, I find that I have enough residual heat in my body that I don't need to step into a warmed-to-65 degree room. Before you switch the heat from 55 to 65 first thing in the morning, gauge how you are feeling and determine what your plans are for the day. If you will be leaving soon for work or such, why warm your place for only a few hours? You may be surprised that while rushing around in the morning, you don't have the need for much heat and can skip jacking up your thermostat until you arrive back home later in the day.
10) Eat and drink warm things.
I start each day with a cup of coffee and some hot oatmeal. The act of moving about and preparing my food helps to keep me warm while eating the food warms me from inside. It also feels good to stand over a hot stove and take the chill off while stirring the cereal.
11) Use other people's heat for free.
Admittedly, it does start to get cold in a 55 degree house after a few hours in the morning, so at that point, I tend to head out to a heated place like the library or coffee shop to take advantage of the free heat. Kinda like using public transportation- the subway is using energy whether we are riding on it or not and the same is true of the library. It is going to be heated if I am wandering the stacks or not, so I may as well take advantage of the free heat it provides by hanging out a bit.
12) Let the sun shine in.
Before I leave the house on sunny days, I make sure that my blinds are open on the south side of the house to take advantage of any ambient heat that may want to stray through my windows and help to heat the house up. I keep the blinds on the northern colder side closed to keep out the cold.
13) Get outside.
When it is only 55 degrees in the house, stepping out into 35 or 45 degree air feels relatively balmy. Taking a walk helps to get my blood flowing and warms me up perfectly. The sun on my face feels great and lends me the benefit of much needed wintertime Vitamin D.
14)Stay active in your house.
Usually after a morning of running errands and soaking up free heat at various places, I am then faced with returning to a cold 55 degree house. This can be the hardest time of the day, especially on cold and rainy days. Sometimes, I give into the temptation and turn the heat to 65 in my downstairs zone. Other times I get busy doing laundry or cleaning which keeps me moving (and warm) until the evening.
15) Cook your meals at home.
Why buy precooked meals and bring them home when you can make meals yourself and gain the benefits of heating your house in the process? I found this to be particularly true on Thanksgiving Day. While it was cool outside, we didn't need heat inside with warmth of the oven and the body heat of our guests. Again, before you turn up the heat, think if the heat from the stove will do the trick.
16) Layer your clothes.
I suppose this goes without saying. We have been hearing about this for a long time now, but it really helps to keep you warm. Typically I wear a t-shirt, thin fleece shirt and then my 600 fill down coat and find I can stay warm while alternating between moving about and sitting in a 55 degree room.
17) Tuck your shirt in.
Again, this simple trick goes a long way toward keeping you warm. I find if I am feeling cold, if I simply tuck my t-shirt into my pants, I will be warm. Try it.
18) Be engaged.
I tend to get the coldest during the evening if I am siting at home reading or watching TV. Rather than let the cold seep into my bones and force me to think about turning up the heat, I find if I get engaged in a conversation with my son or husband or we play a board game that involves talking or laughter, I forget about the cold and find I feel warmer.
19) Wear a scarf, socks, slippers, and maybe even a hat.
Wearing a scarf is key. It goes a long way toward keeping your body heat locked in and is comfortable to boot. Socks and slippers make a huge difference in how warm I feel too, especially if they are closed slippers with a back and sides. I haven't had to wear a hat in the house yet, but I bet if I did, I could keep my heat a bit lower from 5-10pm.
20)Take showers differently.
Nothing like taking off your warm clothing for a shower to ruin your attempts at keeping the heat down. In order to stay warm after your shower, take all of your clothes into the bathroom and put them back on the minute you dry off. Don't forget to put on your down coat right away too...it will help keep the warmth of the shower acquired by your body trapped in for a good long while. Wash your hair less frequently...cold hair makes for a cold person. Besides, it isn't good to wash your hair too frequently anyway.
21)Sleep with your dog.
Last of all, use the trick my son uses to help keep him warm- sleep with your dog. I am not sure if there have been any studies done on the warming properties of a dog, but my son manages to sleep in a T-shirt with a thin blanket each night and never complains about getting cold.
Maybe after reading this, you may think I am just as crazy as my dad or that we both are genetically wired to put frugality above common sensibilities. You may also feel that your family wouldn't adopt any of these methods without complaint, or you may think that they would just as soon move out than do any of the above. I say, give it a try. Adopting one or two of these ideas could help to reduce your energy impact if it results in lowering your thermostat even a few degrees. If you are interested in how low others are willing to set their thermostat (so that I don't appear as the only crazy one), check out the "Freeze Yer Buns" post at The Crunchy Chicken.