Friday, June 27, 2008

groceries take two

Today I went to the farm store and grocery store. I went a little overboard when I saw all the fresh local produce! Apparently the very end of June is when food production begins around here. I bought strawberries, tomatoes and lettuce from Massachusetts. Asparagus came from New Jersey and an artichoke came from some unknown location (I forgot to check). That makes 5 fresh whole items, 3 of which were known local. Then I headed to the grocery store. 3 fresh whole items, 6 dry packaged items (do raisins really fit here?) and 6 wet packaged items. Two were local, three were organic.

Grand total: 8 fresh whole, 6 dry packaged, 6 wet packaged. 5 local, 3 organic.

Compared to last trip: 6 fresh whole, 2 dry packaged and 7 wet packaged. 1 local, 4 organic.

New goals: Find out what else is local, cut down on wet packaged things (especially the ones that aren't organic or local) and head to the farmers market.

I also tried to go on a bike ride, which ended up extending as far as the driveway of my apartment complex. I live on a hill. A really steep one. To get from the road to my apartment you have to traverse .5 mile of switchbacks. I got a great workout just heading down to drop off the trash. I really do want to do this bike commute thing, but lingering allergies combined with the fact that I can't easily ride up my own driveway? I'm also a little wary of leaving my bike at the train station for 12 hours. I'll drive it on Monday and see how things look, but I might need some new ideas on how to cut down transportation numbers.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Its all relative

I was checking my budget today and realized I haven't paid an electricity bill in a while. In every other case I love my e-bills, but somehow National Grid and I don't always sync up. So, I found that there were two bills waiting for me, and the initial shock of the high price had me worried about usage. Then when I went to my bill the graph showed an increase for June! I hadn't increased since January- maybe the J months have it out to get me. In a panic I went and input my number in the Riot Calculator, it showed 2%, which had me further confused. My numbers have never been that low. How could I possible have used more electricity and had a smaller percent? Even my worst math students could tell you that just doesn't work. I finally figured out that in my last calculations I was still using the conventional box, even though I switched to renewable a while back. So in fact, even with my increase, I get to decrease my published number. And to think, all I set out to do was pay an overdue bill!

And now to the regularly scheduled post... (Do I ever post regularly? Hm, that might be an interesting regression. Focus!)

Now that its summer I get to do all the things that I really want to do, like drive 1.5 hours to Newton every day. Okay, so thats not exactly the best way to start out my summer of reduced fuel consumption but for a lot of reasons, its what happened for 3 days. To distract myself from my plummeting mileage as I sat in traffic I listened to radio lab podcasts. I love this show, it combines the child and the nerd in me. They ask a seemingly simple question such as "can you live without lies?" and get some fascinating answers from experts in a number of relevant fields. One study showed that lying to yourself (denial) makes people happier and more successful. I've always been a big fan of denial, and I love having science to back me up. This study made me think that the key to life is captured perfectly in the words of this prayer:

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

In other words- let denial take over when worry is getting in the way of your life. When worry will motivate necessary action, you should be worried until you take care of the problem. The eternal optimist that I am, this resonates with me. Sometimes I feel guilty for not being depressed about the state of the world, but then I think of all the things that I am doing along with so many others. And none of us would be accomplishing anything if we were sitting around being depressed. So, go live life joyfully and when you encounter yet another problem, just fix it!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Economically Stimulating

As of yesterday at 3:07 I am a veteran teacher. Yes, all it takes to get that title in my school is surviving one year and making the insane decision to return for another.

A week ago I got a water bill saying I had used 1038 gallons in 40 days. That puts me at 26% of the average American (down from 34% at last check). The drop is due to shorter showers (turning off water in the middle), plus some general awareness. I'm surprised how much it dropped! Maybe I really will reach 10% with the changes I've made recently, although the plants have been very thirsty as of late.

I finally took the plunge, wiped my computer, and installed Ubuntu. Wow. Its amazing. The 8 minute start up? Replaced by 1 minute. The slow run time from using incompatible programs? Gone. I easily installed every program I wanted and removed everything I didn't. The interface is easy, logical and simple- just like I want life to be! Plus, Linux people are often mathy, which means that a standard program is one that develops beautiful fractals. This makes me happy in a way I can't put in words.

Today as I was driving home there was a huge thunder/lightning/rain/hail storm. It was intense enough to slow even the crazy Boston drivers to a crawl. The sky was dark and the noise of the rain and hail drowned out the booming thunder, not to mention my podcast. At one point so much pea sized hail was falling that it felt like I was driving on gravel. I know rain and hail occur during the summer in New England, but it made me wonder what sorts of intense weather we'll be experience as the climate continues to shift and morph.

Last Friday I received my "Economic Stimulus Package" and decided to put it right to work. For Father's day (a week after most celebrated it) my family convened in CT to canoe down the Farmington River. I was more than happy to hand over $120 of economic stimulation to a local company that provided canoes and a van service to drop us upriver. It was an exciting (rapids) and peaceful (calm water) experience that the four of us will remember forever. Even though I think the check sending program is absurd, I look forward to being economically stimulating by donating to and supporting small organizations that emphasize experiences, not things.

Monday, June 16, 2008


My worms arrived on Saturday and seem to be settling in nicely. There was plenty of food in various states of decomposition ready and waiting for them. I know that you aren't supposed to disturb them, but I can't help but peak, frequently, to see how they're doing, make sure they aren't dying en masse and coo at them for finding their food so quickly. Yea, I know, "seriously woman, adopt some kids already so you have something normal to coo at." I'll get there some day, but for now worms, vegetation and degus are the only available recipients for my incessant nurturing.

The grey water flushing has been working like a charm. By leaving my 6 quart pot in the sink I collect nearly enough water with normal hand washing and tooth brushing type activities for a flush. Plus when I showered I plugged the drain and that got me a few more. My scooping method is not ideal (flimsy plastic flower pot liners that I was using as pots for the seedlings) but it was functional for a lazy Sunday. I also don't mind running the fresh water a little since I know its significantly less fresh water than would be used typically. The pot is almost sink shaped, so it doesn't get in the way too much, but I do have to remove it to wet my hair (on the days I don't shower).

I'm still in the data collection stage of analyzing my food. Yes, I am a math teacher, how did you guess? Today I went to the grocery store (since I forgot the farm store is closed on Mondays but I was out of food, and already in town). I bought 6 fresh, whole items (fruits, veggies and fungi); 2 dry packaged items (bread and wraps) and 7 wet packaged items. Four things were certified organic (3 wet, one dry). The only things I know are local are the wraps (the Cedar's factory is just up the road from here). One goal is to buy what I can from the farm store, since at least I'm supporting a local business. The next goal is to check out the farmer's market, which starts July 5. Beyond that, we'll see what the data shows!

One other thing-
When I turned my computer on today it showed a blue screen of death. I was secretly pleased. Then I restarted and everything worked perfectly. It almost motivated me to wipe and install Linux. But I'm scared.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Riot Progress

I have a few Riot updates. Last post I didn't have a good estimate of my garbage use, so I took note what day I emptied the trash and one week later weighed in. This was highly unscientific since a) I have no scale and b) I had a friend stay with me a few days of last week. However, I managed to accumulate very little trash and used my resources to calculate its mass. Holding trash and recycling (glass, plastic and metal) in one hand, and a container of salt in the other hand, I felt like a balanced scale. The salt container says it is 1 lb 10 ounces, but it wasn't full, but I didn't include my paper recycling. Even if I round up to 2 pounds that puts me at 6% of the average consumer. The weight was primarily in the glass bottles (we splurged on ginger beer), so I'm going to go out on a limb and say my trash production is really low, and not a personal priority. I'm still waiting on my actual worms, but their compost pile is getting nicely decomposed so they'll be able to dig right in. The decrease in water use for the disposal is definitely a plus.

I received a gas bill today, my lowest yet! This certainly has everything to do with the warm weather and nothing to do with me, but it was still exciting. Seven therms puts me at 9% in the heating and cooking category.

I've been doing some research on how to cut down on water use. Constantly cutting down on shower time is goal one, but its not a very fun goal. Goal two is reusing "waste" water. I've determined that it takes two small containers of water for the shower to heat up, and I use those to water my very thirsty plants. I lost my peas to the heat wave, and the peppers are barely holding on. Outdoor container gardening requires a lot of vigilance! I have also determined that when people instruct you to use a pipe wrench, metal pliers are not a good substitute. The PVC pipes under my sink look like the degus got in there to nibble, but still refuse to release their water. Not gonna lie though, the warning about noxious gases makes me reconsider my planned method of water collection. Plus the fact that I'm renting and my only remaining option is to use that really cool saw I bought... This leaves me searching for a suitable container to collect sink and shower water. Green Bean and I have decided I could become a rich woman selling tub and sink shaped containers or scoops in drought ridden areas. I can't wait to find even some vaguely appropriate container since I discovered (via Riot emails) that I can flush merely by pouring water into the toilet bowl, using even less water than a normal flush and not leaving any grey water to fester in the tank. If you're as curious as I am, here is the explanation of the wonders of your toilet's inner workings. Now I'm off to find something to hold two gallons of water in, I'm starting to see the benefits of being a pack rat!

Update: 6 quart pot worked perfectly! This is too cool.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Riot 4 Austerity

Since I have been using the riot calculator so much I decided that I may as well officially join. To mark my progress as a rioter I'm comparing baseline of when I moved in to this apartment to now. From now on I'll also post every time I calculate.

August/First Available:
R4A Calculator summary:
| Transport: 41% | Elec: 17% | H&C: 9% | Water: 45% | Goods: 49% |

17 gallons gas per month
152 kwh electricity per month (conventional)
7 therms natural gas per month
1347 gallons water per month
$400 new consumer goods per month

Most Recent:
R4A Calculator summary:
| Transport: 54% | Elec: 10% | H&C: 10% | Water: 34% | Goods: 8% |

22 gallons gasoline per month
92 kwh electricity per month (all renewable, mainly hydro)
8 therms natural gas per month
1014 gallons water per month
$65 new consumer goods per month ($45 for compost bin supplies)

Transport is the biggest thing I have to work on. It went up since I wasn't working in August. I drive 10 minutes to work, 10 minutes home, 5 days a week. My car is not terribly efficient (I've worked my way up to 26 mpg), but my driving is. I run errands on the way home so I don't have to make extra trips and I don't really drive many places anyway. Now that allergy season has ended I'll be biking more. I rode to the farm store today, cars aren't nearly as scary as I expected! But, this summer I'll be commuting to Boston every day. It will be a bike + train commute, but 80 miles of public transport a day still comes out to a lot.

I'm proud of my electricity and natural gas numbers, I don't intend to make any more changes in those areas. I just hope that summer heat won't change them (I'll require limited AC so I don't kill my pets).

Water is the area that I'm stuck on. I can't fathom where all that water is going! I shower 3 times a week (and only have the water on to get wet and rinse off), do 1 load of laundry a week, run the dishwasher maybe 2 times a week, cook, flush 2-3 times a day and water 22 pots of plants. I guess all that adds up. I use grey water for plants when I can. Next step is to figure out how hard it is to set up a collection system from the faucet(s).

I was shocked to see how low my purchases are compared to average. I was fully aware that I don't buy much, but in August I set up my entire apartment. I moved here from college, so all I had was my parent's old basement furniture to use in the living room and my grandmother's old kitchen supplies. I bought a dining room table set, bed, dresser, tv, tv stand and those million little things that you forget you need until its not there. That month I spent $400 on new stuff, which doesn't amount to half of what the average person spends! I also had a $200 gift certificate to target, even if I spent the entire thing in August (which I didn't) I would have spent 73% of what the average American buys in a month. What on earth is everyone buying??? I hope this category includes car payments or something that I'm not thinking of. Otherwise this planet is doomed.

Overall, I'm happy with my numbers. I look forward to biking a lot this summer, hopefully so much that I'll want to continue when I return to work in the fall. Any suggestions on how to help the water situation would be greatly appreciated!

Friday, June 06, 2008

Crunchy Chicken

One amazing woman has had a huge impact on the carbon footprint of countless people, myself included. This woman is Crunchy Chicken. We are currently thanking her for her continued efforts and selfless initiatives, even in the face of great hardship, through donating to her organization Goods For Girls. When Crunchy made the decision to sign off of her blog for a while she said that she wouldn't be missed since there were so many other blogs like hers. I was shocked to hear that there was anyone else out there anywhere near her level, so I went on a crazed search for an appropriate substitute. I did stumble upon a few great blogs, but none could replace her. No one else offers constant challenges and inspiration that makes you feel like anything would be easy. She had me convinced that I could live without electricity for a month! Granted a lot of things got in the way of me going all the way off the grid (particularly the fact that the chosen month was May which is peak allergy season when I am not feeling up to finding creative ways around things), but I did make another significant dent in my electricity usage because I was motivated and didn't want to get left out. Crunchy is always making us think, then laugh, then feel proud of our accomplishments while knowing that we still have a long way to go. Thank goodness she is continuing to do this after her 24 hour "sign off." Thank you!!

Wednesday, June 04, 2008


Yesterday I had a very productive day. During the day I got tons of organizing and grading done since I was proctoring MCAS for three hours (sooo long). On the way home I went grocery shopping. When I arrived at my door there was a package waiting- my compost bin! More accurately, the box contained some of the parts which would be necessary in the creation of my compost bin. I bought two "extra" levels of a worm condominium. They were made from recycled plastic so I don't feel as guilty about buying something to throw my trash in. Since I didn't get the whole set up I needed to make my own lid and base. I bought mesh, a 6 foot piece of wood and a saw. Not gonna lie, I'm really excited that I now own a saw. Using my really impressive carpentry skills I cut the wood into a frame (with a few bits left over to use as feet) and nailed it together. Add a little duct tape to attach the mesh and I have a stable lid to keep the worms happily inside their home. With an extra layer of mesh on the bottom of the lower level, a plastic sheet (unfolded bag) underneath and the feet in place I now have a worm-friendly, but escape free, compost bin with air flow. While doing all of this I also baked 12 pumpkin muffins and 2.5 loaves of pumpkin bread. Delicious breakfast for several weeks!

Today I added shredded paper and some food waste to the bins so the hungry worms due to arrive in the mail any day will have something to dig right in to. I also watered plants. I'm beginning to wonder if the plants are the reason my water usage is so high (34% of the US average according to Riot for Austerity). Cooking my own meals and washing my own dishes every day probably also contributes, but I'm willing to bet that 22 pots of thirsty plants is a significant factor in my inability to get down to the goal of 10%.

Sunday, June 01, 2008


In order to get directions today I had to turn on my computer, wait 8 minutes, go to google maps and look them up. I could have gotten them from my friend, but she uses a gps, so she didn't know where she was going until she was already there. People used to get directions from maps, but I only have maps of my local area, not places an hour away.

This experience makes me want to be less dependent on my computer. But, I also really want a new one. It takes 8 minutes for me to do anything, then another minute to open a program, unless its excel, that will take several minutes. Waiting might be good for me, it certainly makes me hesitant to use the computer until I need it. But its also wasting tons of electricity I'm sure. And it doesn't help that I just really want a Mac. Five years doesn't seem like a long time for a piece of equipment to last, but for a laptop, it is. I wonder if I could wipe the computer and download Apple's interface. It wouldn't change the battery life (shorter than the time it takes to turn on) but it might clear out whatever causes it to take so long to turn on... I want the cool new thing and to be eco-friendly, dilemma!