Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Power of Awe and the Sustainability of Time

One of the nice things about winter (There!  I knew I'd find one!) is that I can take a break from so many garden-related posts and look at some of the larger issues of sustainability. And my latest revelation has been about the importance of our perception of time.

A recent study has determined that experiencing feelings of awe can actually put us more solidly in the moment, making it seem that time has slowed down.  And while nothing slows the passage of time (making it the ultimate non-renewable resource), it is a great feeling when you are so present that you are sure you are using your time wisely.

Recently, my husband and I returned to Key West, our favorite haunt, for a long weekend.  This boondoggle plan of "down on Friday and back on Monday" was born in a sea of November frustration, when work had piled up and the days were growing shorter, and I knew that I'd never make it through the winter if I felt that blue already before the cold truly hit.  We just had to go "back to the island" in January.

As it turns out, I was much more right than I had imagined.  Once Christmas was over, Mr. FC&G and I were pretty much running on fumes, and both of us were exhibiting at least mild self-diagnosed symptoms of SAD.  And so we climbed on the plane in the midst of a white-out snowstorm and prayed we'd get to Key West to recharge.

What I experienced when I was there was true awe.  Now, as you know from reading this blog, we visit Key West regularly, and while it never fails to make me happy, I thought I had seen its beauty.  I had seen the hot, pulsating summer, I had seen the late spring ripe with blossoms on every corner, I had even seen the late "winter" with its promise of a long and humid season to come.  But I had never seen January on the island, and I promise I had never seen anything in my life that looked like this.

As you can see from the above, it defied the ability to take pictures; there was simply too much light.  The sun was so bright, in a clear, humidity-free sky, that the colors simply popped up at you, making the surroundings look like a vivid painting more than a landscape.  The whites of some buildings and roofs reflected the light like a spotlight. The ocean, which I love for its pinks and purples and oranges in summer, was silver.  Everything about it was topped with silver.  It crested silver, and even the teal of its depths was tinged with silver.  I had never in my life seen colors that bright and clean.

And the way the air felt was a revelation.  As someone used to the Midwest, I expect to feel the ground cold and the sun warm in the spring and the reverse in the fall.  When I go to Key West, I expect to feel heat everywhere, even if it is the mild heat of spring.  But January brought with it a very unexpected feeling of heat from the sun and heat from the ground (which has never seen a frost), but a hint of a chill from the ocean breezes.  It lent a certain fragility to everything, like if you tried to reach out and touch things they would crumble as if spun from sugar.

Obviously, I was awe-struck.  And I experienced that pleasant feeling of all the cylinders of time clicking into place and unlocking.  I was reminded that this was one of only two places on Earth that I feel this comfortable.  I was reminded that nothing in life matters more than the people and the places I love, and that money and achievement are only a pathway to those things, not an end to themselves.  And I was reminded of how lucky I am to have found my version of paradise.

Awestruck?  Oh, yes.  Using time to its fullest?  Being present?  Definitely.

I'd say that was a pretty sustainable use of a resource. 

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

How Much Does a Garden Grow: 2013 Summary

As we sit under a blanket of snow and unseasonably cold temps (seriously, it was colder last night here than it was in Barrow, AK!), it is time to sum up the garden for 2013.  

So how much did my garden grow?

  • 3 ounces of dried herbs preserved ($10.17)
  • 1 ounce of carrots ($0.19)
  • 201 ounces of miscellaneous squash ($38.19)
  • 72 ounces of Brandywine tomatoes ($15.84)
  • 100 ounces of Hungarian tomatoes ($22.00)
  • 96 ounces of Ox Heart tomatoes ($21.12)
  • 232 ounces of Italian tomatoes ($51.04)
  • 257 ounces of Big Daddy tomatoes ($56.54)
  • 113 ounces of Black Krim tomatoes ($24.86)
  • 97 ounces of Amish Paste tomatoes ($21.34)
  • 81 ounces of Super Sauce tomatoes ($17.82)
  • 191 ounces of butternut squash ($36.29)
  • 8 ounces of apples ($1.78)
  • 30 ounces of corn ($2.45)
  • 55 ounces of beans ($9.35)
  • 26 ounces of miscellaneous peppers ($4.94)
  • 11 ounces of jalapeno peppers ($2.09)
  • 76 ounces of fresh basil ($76.00)
  • 1274 ounces of cucumbers ($204.71)
  • 594 ounces of zucchini ($124.74)
  • 26.5 ounces of blueberries ($11.93)
  • 4 ounces of radishes ($0.24)
  • 5 ounces of peas ($0.95)
  • 6 ounces of strawberries ($1.08)
  • 82 ounces of potatoes ($7.38)
  • 9 ounces of leeks ($4.50)
  • 11.5 ounces of greens ($6.90)
All for a grand total of 229.0625 pounds of produce, a total retail value of $774.44.  Subtract $303.88 in expenditures, and I cut $470.56 off our grocery bill for the year.  All on a modest suburban lot with very littel sunny growing room.

Overall, suburban gardening can be a rousing success.  Not only do you save money and get a lot of exercise, but you can control exactly what varieties you grow (depending on climate) and how they are grown.  Could I have purchased more tomatoes than I grew?  Yes.  But it I wanted organically grown Black Krim tomatoes for eating or Amish Paste tomatoes for canning, I pretty much had to grow them -- even our local farmer's market has limited all-organic offerings and no listings of tomato variety.

So stay tuned.  This experiment will repeat, as I track how much my garden grows in 2014.  I'm excited to share January results with you, because the year is starting with a bang!

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Sustainable Tool: the Eat'n Tool

I used to love to watch Alton Brown on the Food Network.  Brown always managed to amuse me with his dislike for "unitaskers" -- tools that would only do one thing.  Out with the panini press and the smoothie maker, and in with a griddle and a blender.  And somehow, Brown's philosophy sunk in, and I adopted it as part of my sustainability efforts:  no sense buying multiple tools if just one will do.

That's why I was thrilled, three days before Christmas, to discover the "Eat'N Tool."  And while this little beauty won't replace every tool, it is a wonderful option for people who need to keep a few tools in a small place.

The tool is a lightweight yet solid piece of metal that functions as a screwdriver, pry tool, metric wrench, bottle opener, and a spork.  It is just the thing to rescue you a minor mechanical emergency or car problem, or it can come in handy to tackle that sloppy joe that the drive-thru thought was a sandwich but you think requires a utensil.

I immediately ordered one for myself (for my purse/bug-out bag), one for my dad (who shows a car during the summer at events known both for engines and juicy cheeseburgers), and one for my father-in-law, who advises Boy Scouts on camping.  (I ordered from REI and got them all in time for Christmas!)

Although I haven't gotten a chance to use my tool in an emergency, I think this a great option to handle all sorts of surprises.  I particularly recommend this for my fellow ladies, since we often have less complete tool boxes than some gentlemen do.  This is a great starter for anyone who may have to do a couple of basic chores in a first apartment, too.  If you want one for yourself, click here.

(Note:  I bought this tool for myself and have received no compensation from either Eat'N Tool or REI.)
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Friday, January 10, 2014

Results of the 2013 52-Week Money Challenge

So last year I, like many others, tried to do the 52-week money challenge, that little savings trick where you save as many dollars each week as that week's number in the year.  So, $1 for week one, $21 on week 21, and $52 on week 52. At then end, if you saved every week, you should have $1,378.  People report saving for their emergency fund or for their kid's college fund -- I saved out of my pocket cash for our vacation fund.

I did not completely reach the goal.  Last year I had the most uneven year I have had since starting my business.  I had one quarter in which I made almost nothing, followed by a fourth quarter in which I made half my income for the year and still wound up making as much as I typically do for the yer.  Obviously, there were many weeks I couldn't contribute at all -- all of my low numbers were taken up during the first weeks of the year, and it was very hard to catch back up.

The good news, however, is that I did almost catch up, and I am still pleased with the results.  Today, I took $1,090 to the bank to add to our vacation fund, and I look forward to spending some of it next weekend!  It is always so nice to have vacations paid for ahead of time, so you don't dread the credit card statements coming.

I'll be trying the 52-week money challenge again this year.  Will you?
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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Best of: Snow-Washing Rugs

I don't usually re-run columns, but as I sat here in a balmy 5 degrees (after a low of -10 last night), I decided to go out and snow wash some rugs.  They came out great -- this extra-cold snap is ideal for this project.  I wrote about it when I first started the blog, and I thought I should remind everyone home-bound because of the storm about this great, sustainable practice.  Enjoy!


As I hope it is becoming clear in these posts, I am no fan of winter.  I am so eager to go south that I grow a dwarf key lime tree, letting it live outside during the warm months and bringing it in to a south-facing window in winter, where we both look longingly out, searching for sun.

However, there is one thing that you can do in winter that meets our trifecta of fast, cheap, and good.  (Well, two things, but the other one really shouldn't be all that fast....)  You can snow-wash your wool (and other fiber) rugs.

Cleaning wool throw rugs is problematic, because you can't always vacuum them completely clean, and they don't wash well.  So, you are often forced to use a spray or sprinkle carpet cleaner, which just introduces unnecessary chemicals into your house.

A better solution is snow-washing, the traditional technique for cleaning rugs from before the era of vacuum cleaners.  Nothing could be easier:

  1. Wait for a snowfall.  A fairly cold snow is best; a good packing snow has a tendency to pack itself right onto the rug, making it a little too wet.
  2. Take your wool rugs outside and turn upside down in clean snow.
  3. Beat out your frustrations on the backs of those rugs.  I have a rug beater because I actually clean rugs with it, but you can get the same result using a clean broom.
  4. Pick your rugs up.  If you have really waited a while between cleanings, you will be rewarded with a spot of dirt in the snow where the rug once was.  The snow flakes and granules have worked their way into the rug and scrubbed gently on their way out, removing the dirt.
  5. Shake off the excess snow and lay the rug flat in the house in a place it can dry.  A basement or foyer with a hard surface floor is perfect, as you don't want any residual snow melting onto other carpets.
  6. Return to its place when dry.
The Analysis:

Fast:  Yes.  I feel this strategy is actually faster than spraying on a chemical and dragging out the vacuum to sweep.

Cheap:  Yes, this one is my favorite kind of cheap:  free.  You just wait for Mother Nature to provide a snowfall.

Good:  I think so.  The rugs get clean without introducing chemicals into your home at a time when your home is likely closed up and less ventilated anyway.  You even burn a few calories and work out some frustrations in the process of beating.
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Thursday, January 2, 2014

5 Reasons I'm Going Back to a Paper Day Planner

That's it; I've had it.  After two years of trying to exist with only electronic day planners and calendars, I give up.  I'm going back to paper (mostly).

I have used a Franklin Planner since graduate school, and I was always happy with the sense of control I had over my schedule and information.  But in 2012, I decided I should give up the paper planner in favor of various electronic calendaring systems that promised to synchronize, be available across devices, and allow me to seamlessly share information with others.  And while these have their place, I have spent two years with the nagging feeling I'm going to forget a deadline or an important to-do.

It may seem odd for a sustainability blog to urge the use of paper, graphite, and ink, but I argue that the way I am managing my information is much more sustainable - for me - than any other system.  Here are my five reasons why:

1.  No more losses from computer crashes.  
In the past two years, my computer has crashed not once but twice.  And while I run an automatic back-up every day and move key files to an external hard drive regularly, that won't protect against every possible loss.  I've tried to restore Outlook calendar files multiple times, with little success.  Clearly, a paper calendar is a great way to be sure you have your information at hand regardless what your devices are doing.

2.  It's a sensible "prep" against grid melt-down.
Prepper fiction is full of horror stories of what might happen if the nation's or the world's electricity or data grids were compromised.  While emergencies like an EMP are unlikely, it is very likely that most of us will experience a power outage or two in the next few years.  If your computer is dead and your phone is out of juice, it might be good to have access to your important contacts and information in paper form.

3.  It's a way manage "journal" data.
Unlike most writers, I don't keep a diary or journal.  But I do like to look back on certain information that is difficult to manage with electronic planners.  For example, I like to keep a short record of my exercise each day.  I also like to jot numbers down that allow me to count the days until my next vacation.  I've not found a great way to do this on a single electronic calendar, so I kept buying apps for my phone to manage the data. They do so, but then I can't "flip back" through the information in quite so nice a way as I do with paper.  Also, I can keep my old planner pages as a kind of record of my life should I wish to.  And it is a great way to see system-wide patterns that might not emerge otherwise.  For example, if I had a terrible headache last week, I can look back to see if I took an unusual exercise class or had atypical work stress that might have brought it on.

4.  Managing multiple views is easier.
I know I'll catch a lot of flack for this, but I find flipping between day, month, and year views on electronic calendars to be unsatisfying.  On a paper planner, I keep different kinds of data on each calendar type:  day pages get color-coded brackets for appointment and the requisite travel time; month views hold deadlines, vacation days, pay days, and count-downs; year views hold a visual code for big events, like the amount of time we plan to spend in Key West.  I've not found effective ways for me to carry all of this information in a single electronic calendar. This year, I may even experiment with keeping my garden harvest data in my planner.

5.  I just like the feel of paper.
Just as there are some books that I want to read on paper, I like the aesthetic feel of a paper day planner.  I like the weight of it in my bag, and I like the way I can see my color codes and deadline bars from across the room if I'm on the phone (I've never figured out how to access my calendar while talking on speaker phone). I like that I can keep personal and professional schedules together without feeling like I'm sharing them with the world.  (Yes, I know I can do the same with Google calendars, but I don't like the "feel" of it.)  I like that I can keep my to-do lists the way I want them.  I like that I have privacy.  I like that I can erase or even burn all evidence of something I've written without worrying if it is somewhere in the cloud.

What can I say?  I'll continue to keep an electronic calendar for some things, but I'm happy to be back to my paper planner. I have a Roomba vacuum, but I have an old-fashioned rug beater, too, and I like them both.  The right tool for the right job.

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