Although we have neglected the blog as of late we have not neglected our slow tilt towards green. Sarah’s summer school has finally come to a close (astonishingly with straight A’s I might add!), the slew of summer birthdays is at an end and the final preparations for my best friend’s wedding are drawing to a close. I know some of you might question the title of this blog because it is only the end of July which, by the calendar, leaves a good 3rd of summer left, but school starts early this year and with it all of the fall things I always look forward too. So in our house summer is winding down even as we battle the beastly heat and drying sun of summer skies.
This has been a hot summer. Very Hot. Last summer our air conditioner went out. At first we dealt with a sorry window unit that sent our electric bill skyrocketing and only kept the house slightly under boiling. We met some very nice Heating & Cooling guys through some friends of ours and they came out and patched together our ailing system. They were reasonably priced and very honest. They came back twice at no cost to check different things and help us out. However, they did warn us that if the unit limped along through last summer that maybe all the life it had. Well it did quite fine last summer and was great through the winter.
Fred and I talk a lot about energy consumption and cutting our utility bills and we both agreed that we would go as long as possible without air conditioning this summer before turning on the unit. We recently receive a 16% hike in an already enormous bill and suffered electric bills through the winter that were sometimes equivalent of a house or car payment. That is a struggle. This year we will look into converting our bottle gas fireplace and seeking alternative heat sources, but that is another blog.
We went well into mid July without turning on the air and really as long as we keep the lights low and cook in the mornings and hang the laundry on the line instead of in the dryer our house is pretty comfortable. The real challenge came on a day when we were trying to get “dressed up” for something. Now, I do not even remember what the event was but it was special enough that I broke out some makeup and a hair dryer. As I stood in the bathroom sweltering and unsuccessfully trying to put makeup on my streaming face Fred had pity on me and switched on the air. As with many good intentions that was a mistake. The unit choked and sputtered and blew hot air for 20 minutes before we finally gave up and switched it off.
Up until this point we had been living without AC as a choice. Suddenly now we were stuck. We sat and talked about it and really discussed our commitment to a green lifestyle and finally decided AC is something we can live without, at least for now. To cool the house we open windows and place box fans in front of the screens. On really hot days the house is warm but not unbearable, we can always escape outside into the shade. We have drunk a great deal more ice water this summer than ever before but I am happy and proud to say that our electric bill was cut by more than half! And that is including running fans non-stop and cooking and washing and heating water with electricity. Last month our bill was around sixty dollars, (comparatively some electric bills last winter were almost three-hundred dollars).
I am very proud of our commitment to use less and to be more responsible consumers and I am equally proud that when the rubber met the road my family chose to live green and not just talk about it. Don’t get me wrong we are not saints we go to the movies and lavishly enjoy the freezing cold theaters like diabetics in the closet with chocolate truffles, but it is not an everyday thing for us. I will also admit, on the ninety-seven degree day of my best friend’s bridal shower, to going to my parents and putting on my makeup there. All that said that is probably our most intense and dramatic commitment to being green this summer.
Fred and I talk a great deal about how things, like air conditioning, that we think we “NEED” now are really luxuries. But you know even growing up we did not always have central air. We had fans and sometimes window units but people lived for centuries without AC and they probably lived much healthier than we do now. They were not constantly breathing recycled and chemically cooled air. There are lots of appliances and things that, although they make life easier or more comfortable temporarily, in the long run they are a financial drain on individuals and a global drain on natural resources.
Now that most of the summer dramatics are behind us I plan to devote more attention to the blog. The changes we have made and the struggles we have endured as we take this journey together. Lots of things have happened even just between the last blog and this one. I will not take time to detail them all here; the air conditioner was just an example. Instead, I write with my eye to the future and want to share with the readers some of the things we are planning for the upcoming year.
We did not plant a vegetable garden this year. We have relied heavily on our local farmers market and our friends and family who have shared their harvest abundance with us. We got a late start on our journey and had to pick and choose the few things we could manage without overwhelming ourselves to the point of giving up. We chose the bees because they provided us with a great opportunity to start something at an affordable price that always interested both of us, and we chose the chickens because they required a very small initial investment and provided us with an almost instant product.
We do plan to plant a vegetable garden next year although we have not yet decided where to place it. In looking towards that goal we have done some pre-planning and bought all our seeds at Green’s when they were reduced to half price recently. According to many of the books I read, seeds can be stored for up to several years if properly cared for. This saved us a considerable amount of money. It also gave us all winter to plan the placement and design of our garden without the buyer’s lust that ensues every spring when the new seed catalogues come and the bright and colorful seedlings are in the store.
I have also been reading quite a lot about food preservation and the pluses and minuses of different methods. I plan to harvest the apples from the front yard this year and try my hand at canning. Although from everything I have read canning is the most difficult and time consuming method of preservation, it is also the cheapest and last the longest. I am still presently debating the virtues of pressure canning versus the boiling bath canning method. One of my friends, who reads this blog, has graciously offered to let me borrow her mother-in-laws pressure canner so that I can give it a try. I’m still about half afraid of blowing up the house or putting out an eye with it so I have not quite worked up the nerve yet! But many thanks to Joni!
Along the lines of food preservation one of the things that Fred and I are considering investing in (and using electricity for) is a deep freezer. The Encyclopedia of Country Living extols the value of freezing as the best way to get the most nutrients out of your crop and to keep the most food on hand in the smallest and closest amount of space. If we do decide to go with a freezer it probably will not be until next fall’s harvest and we are still researching and debating the merits of buying a freezer and running up the electric bill versus canning everything. Canning is so time consuming that I am not sure, if we were to have a bountiful harvest, I would be able to can it all. We may decide on a small chest freezer, can part and freeze the rest.
On my dream list for next year is an outdoor kitchen. I do not mean one of those elaborate things seen on the home and garden shows I simply mean a stove on which I can can stuff outside and possibly, if I really put my ingenuity to work an outdoor oven in which to bake. I could easily survive without AC forever if I had an outdoor kitchen. Several issues ago there was a really affordable and easy to follow do-it-yourself plan in Mother Earth News on how to build your own. Like I said this is on the wish list, although who knows if I really put my nose to the grind maybe I can build it this fall!
Some of the other things we have planned, in addition to a garden and food preservation is another addition to our menagerie, or maybe a few additions to our menagerie. Top on the list is a nanny goat. I intend to make some our own dairy products in an additional attempt to slice our food bill and become more self-sufficient. We are considering a couple of turkeys and maybe a goose. However, when all of the chickens begin to lay increasing our flock of bird may not be the best use of our fund. We will probably have more eggs than we can eat and use as is, but I am considering a roadside sign to offer fresh eggs for sale. We will see.
All of these things are just our loose plans as we look back on a successful first partially green summer and as we look forward to our green lives. God is so very good to us, and although we have struggled he has caught us and held us up and we praise his name.
Thanks for reading,
Here is an interesting note. While doing some research about greener energy alternatives Fred and I brought up our actual usage graph on AEPs website. Here is the breakdown:
As you can see "going green" and "baby steps" have added up to a real and tangible savings in our pockets! Now I am even happier! ~A