Monday, May 31, 2010

It Gets Better

"It gets worse before it gets better." Old maxim

Arg! I don't understand why decluttering is so clutter-y.

The problem is once I go to all the trouble to decide to get rid of something, it doesn't do the kindness of just disappearing. It hangs around, all dejected and sad-looking by the front door, waiting for me to figure out where it's heading.

Luckily these days we have Freecycle and Craig's List. There are also thrift stores and even the local recycle center. Should I ever feel really ambitious, I could also sell on eBay or Dumping to the landfill, so far, is for only when all other options are exhausted.

"Less is more." Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

As I excavate (that's what it feels like), I discover how deeply it goes. What keeps me clawing at it, donating and digging while living continually with ever new boxes and ever new stacks, is a clear vision of what my purged life will look like when I'm done. Time to re-define "Grandma's house." I'd rather not succumb to the traditional knick knack, standy-uppy decor.

I envision a smooth rock or a bouquet of wildflowers to be my seasonal decorating. I envision misplacing my glasseswhich I often doto be impossible. I envision my granddaughter showing me how she can now do a cartwheel, safely in my living room. I envision my grandson reading from my select nature book collection, not sneezing from too much for me to dust.

I envision plenty of room to do and be, not searching and dreading.

"Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least." Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

I frequently feel at the mercy of my sentimentality. I live in a finite space; we all do. How can I keep everything without eventually filling up? Once a gift is relegated to the back of a drawer or to some back room, time to admit the gift has stopped giving.

I'm coming to peace with saying goodbye to sentimental stuff. What matters most is my making room for today's doing, not for displaying yesterday's back when.

(To any reader I've given a gift, please, enjoy it for however long it gives you pleasure, be it a year, a month, or an hour. Then, by all means freecycle, recycle, re-purpose, re-gift, sell, or donate. Even compost if it will!)

"A man can live profoundly without masses of things." Richard E. Byrd

I look forward to when it gets better, to when I'm living profoundly. Until then, I'm off to find my glasses and another empty box.

For more inspiration for your own decluttering efforts, see Global Stewards' Motivational Quotes on Simplifying.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Day for the Scrapbook

My daughter and my grandchildren
Kit, Antigone, and Mr. C
My front porch
West Odessa, Texas

My daughter and my grandkids yesterday. She made them crowns (and rightly so) from things around my yard. For Kit, trumpet vine blooms. For Mr. C, stately stately chinquapin oak leaves.

My granddaughter My grandson

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

What Would You Rather?

Coleman, Texas
"Two Eras," road trip to the Heart of Texas with BFFs Nelda and Pat, April 2010
Coleman, Texas

That's the name of a car game my oldest daughter taught me. It's simple. You take turns asking each other, "What would rather, ____ or ____" and everyone has to answer, including the asker. Like, "What would you rather, an orange or a banana?" Or, "What would you rather, have your leg amputated, or your arm?" There's no points, no winner, but it can be surprising.

What would YOU rather?
Kill a snake,
or kill a chicken?

Get an incredible deal on a new car,
or find your great grandma's diary?

Stand tall,
or get along?
What does any of this have to do with my fossil fuel reduction? Not much. Or, maybe it does.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Digging into the Deep

Digging into the deep freeze, that is. More kilowatt sleuthing.

Ugh! What's in here? Who knows! Time to discard, empty, and unplug the 1980s model chest freezer. I'm sure it's terribly inefficient and a good place to cut back those kilowatt hours my electric company charges me for.

I can't quite bring myself to just dump it all, though, even unknown packages with obvious freezer burn. However, my dogs Ansel and Dixie aren't nearly so picky. Over the next few weeks, I'll be thawing, identifying, and cooking. One mystery package at a time.

My basic dog food recipe:
1/3 cooked vegetables
1/3 cooked rice
1/3 cooked meat (no bones; cooked bones are brittle and can harm your dog)

They love this recipe and lick their plates clean. But, hey, I've also seen them eat fuzzy things out of my compost bin, too.

Did you know your freezer runs more efficiently if it's full? Check it out: 5 Ways to Fill Your Freezer for Efficiency from

Monday, May 24, 2010

Gotta Have Jo

Seems kind of silly, but after posting yesterday I realized I wasn't entirely sure what a kWh was. I gave myself some basic schooling today.

A watt is the unit electric appliances and utility providers measure electricity usage. A kilowatt is 1,000 watts. A kilowatt hour is the same thing as a kilowatt. How are they different? Um, I don't think they are.

For my purposes, I need only understand the electric company bills me in 1000 increments, those kWh thingies.

Today I took a little tour around my house, paying special attention to items I use most often. Every appliance has their wattage listed on the back. I found one that immediately seemed like a real guzzler -- my coffee machine, listed at 900 watts. What that means is if I leave it on for an hour it will use 900 watts. Or, in the parlance of my electric bill, .9 kWh.

Holy beans, Mr. Coffee! I make coffee every day and leave the pot on for at least an hour. (Do not get between me and the coffee pot in the morning.) That means in a month I use 27 watts (.9 X 30 days) . Sure, that's only $3.30 a month, a pittance compared to Starbucking it. But here's a real kicker for me: it was 10% of my electric usage last month.

Here's another kicker that can be applied to us all: each kWh saved is almost half a kg shaved off your carbon footprint. (See "It's carbon judgment day" on for detailed information on how to calculate your carbon footprint.)

With my mom's help (she's very smart and has done a lot to reduce), I've got a painless solution to save most of those coffee kWhs and most of the 11.61 kg of CO2 I would otherwise emit monthly. After my coffee makes tomorrow, I'm pouring it into a thermos and turning off the pot.

Which makes me think of the refrain, "How low can you go? How low can you go?"

UPDATE: Read Eeyore's comment for an engineer's calm explanation of why I might have over-demonized my coffee pot. Thanks, Larry!

Photo is your author, with my gotta-have-it jo, August 2006.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Quieting the Slurp

Electric meter

I'm beginning to think more and more of my energy consumption as slurping loudly at the trough of diminishing fossil fuel. You could say this photo is my straw: my electric meter.

Since I posted last month where I hinted about making changes, a terrible disaster struck. The BP oil spill is tragic and a reminder why this subject is important. The need for ever more risky oil drilling isn't something just Corporate America demands. My own wanton usage has demanded it, too.

Starting last month I began seriously monitoring my electric consumption. While I didn't do anything radical like replacing appliances with a lower energy-rated ones -- not yet -- you might say I myself become an energy-efficient model.

I spent the month doggedly turning off everything when not in use. I looked at every item with a fresh eye for reduction or reuse. But mostly I spent the spring days allowing myself to feel the experience of the season. I opened windows wide when it was cool and closed curtains tight when it was too warm. To combat the heat, ironically I also spent lots of time outdoors, like when I was a kid. Remember when even the hot days of summer never seemed too hot because you were too busy doing "stuff?" (One difference now, I apply lots of sunscreen first).

Those small things apparently worked.

April...kWh Used


Holy cow! I reduced a whopping 424 kWh, down to almost a third of what I used last year. And this is the lowest usage I've had the last 30 months, going back as far as my provider keeps online records. I love the financial benefit, too. Based on my current rate of .122333 cents per kWh, I have an extra $52.30 in my pocket. Mine, all mine.

To be objective about the effectiveness of my actions, though, there is one other thing. I have to take into account the weather.

Heating and cooling are the biggest consumers of energy and in West Texas most of our annual energy goes toward cooling. This billing cycle happened to be mild, cooler, than last year's. I wondered how much of my savings was due to that cooperative weather and how much to my new diligence.

Meteorologists have devised something they call Heating Degree Days and Cooling Degree Days, HDD and CDD for short. Weirdly the calculation doesn't really report days. You can learn more about it by googling it. Basically it is a number that indicates variation in temperature, up or down, from 65F for any given day. I'm using it to put temperature into the mix.

Billing period...HDD + CDD =


The difference is significant. With 287 CDDs last year, and only 71 this, it was much milder this year. And that makes my comparison not quite apples with apples. :(

How do I incorporate this difference to fairly compare? I know that I didn't turn on the A/C or heater this billing cycle so that tells me that the 267 kWh I used is pretty much my bottom line.

As for using the degree days data I gathered, well, I have no idea how to use them scientifically in this case!

I guess it's going to take the whole summer -- June, July, and August when my kWh consumption has historically risen, yikes, over 1,000 each month -- to get the big picture of how well I will haven taken the responsibility to reduce my fossil fuel consumption.

Let's hope it's going to be a summer to be remembered fondly. Mild would be nice. If not, I'm sure I'll be hotter than last year, but also less worried about large carbon footprints and high bills. Ask any kid, they'll know the kind of summer I'm talking about.

How about you? How are you feeling these days? Cool? Hot? Saddened, maybe angered by the 5,000 barrels of oil spewing into the Gulf daily? What cooling techniques or other reductions have you tried? What worked best? Anyone else willing to monitor their use with me during the long, hot summer of 2010?

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Pomegranate bloom and new fruit
Pomegranate bloom and growing fruit
My pomegranate tree
West Odessa, Texas

I could write all about what I've been doing for the past month, listing reasons why I haven't blogged, and include promises to do better. Instead, I think I'll break the non-blogging ice by just saying hello.