Sunday, December 26, 2010

2010 Year in Review

This will probably be our final blog posting since the year is over, and the blog has served its purpose and run its course. We've made a few lists to summarize the year here.

Biggest Money-savings:
Aside from reducing consumption in general, big savings came from Day 8: Buying only used clothing (along with Day 126: Shopping Diet and Day 132: Minimalist Fashion), and Day 2: Free Over-the-Air TV and Day 37: Giving Up Cable.

Biggest Eco-impact:
Day 3: One Car or Two? and Day 33: One Car Family - This has also been a trying experience at times but we're still hanging in there.

Biggest Surprise:
Day 131: Homemade Microwave Popcorn and Day 94: Using a Mason Jar - Homemade popcorn tastes great and a mason jar is super-handy.

Biggest Disaster:
Day 38: Find a used cargo trike - It was too heavy to be practical in our hilly neighborhood.

Most popular postings:
Tony's Pee Week Series (Day 84, Day 83, Day 82)

Things that worked great and we will keep doing:

Day 4: Buy Local Milk
Day 7: Make Bread, Don't Buy It
Day 13: Composting
Day 16: Buying Local Ice Cream
Day 21: Cut Down on Junk Mail
Day 22: Buy Eco-Friendly Toilet Paper
Day 23: Use Cloth Napkins
Day 24: Buy Recycled Paper Towels
Day 30: Stop Wearing Nail Polish - I actually stopped wearing makeup altogether but somehow forgot to post about it.
Day 47: Organic Half-n-Half
Day 48: Do a Spin Class
Day 58: Wash Clothes in Cold Water - I forget sometimes; Tony forgets all of the time.
Day 59: Find a Way to Recycle #5 Plastic - I won't ship it anymore; I found a recycling center for it.
Day 60: Re-Use Glass Jars
Day 65: Not Wasting Food
Day 66: Dr. Bronner's Castile Soap
Day 67: Handkerchiefs instead of tissues
Day 79: Get Kids Involved with Food and Day 80: Pack Better Kid Lunches
Day 86: Eco-Toothpaste and Day 85: Eco-Deodorant
Day 81: Start a Garden, Day 87: Keep Planting Things, and Day 104: Keep a Garden -I wouldn't say this worked "great" but it was inexpensive and fun, and I enjoyed watching my "black thumb" attempts at growing stuff.
Day 35: Eco-Dishwashing detergent and Day 88: Dishwashing Detergent
Day 94: Keep a Mason Jar Handy
Day 95: Pick Up Trash
Day 102: Have a Car-Free Weekend
Day 106: Buy in Bulk
Day 109: Drink Local Beer
Day 14: Reduce Use of Meat and Day 114: Meatless Monday
Day 118: Reduce Consumption
Day 98: Support Local Farmers and Day 128: Farmer's Market
Day 126: Shopping Diet and Day 132: Minimalist Fashion
Day 133: Do Some Yoga
Day 134: Buy Local Eggs - It is harder than it sounds, but so worth it.
Day 139: Rake Leaves - I enjoyed this even if Tony prefers the lawn blower!
Day 143: Skip Black Friday

Things that didn't work out so well or were more trouble than they were worth:

Day 6: Tony's Shampoo Experiment
Day 19: Unsubscribe from all magazines -Rather than banning all magazines, we've settled on two that we like: Runner's World for Megan and New York for Tony.
Day 20: The 3/50 Project - It's a great project but we don't really spend that much each month, so technically we're not truly participating.
Day 27: Tony Running Barefoot
Day 18: Turn off the Freezer and Day 34: Trying to turn off the freezer
Day 36: Buy Carbon Offsets - Annie Leonard came to Elon and basically told me they were a waste.
Day 44: Use Human Power to Get Groceries - I'm lazy, what can I say.
Day 57: Wash my face with water heated in microwave - I just quit wearing makeup, so this isn't an issue.
Day 78: Smile More - Just kidding, I'll keep working on this.
Day 90: Save graywater for plants - This felt too disgusting and not worth it.
Day 92: Homemade beet lipstick - This was too mushy, smells bad, and is not portable.
Using Flattr for tips and Day 1: Using Adsense
Vinegar as Cleaning Agent - It's not that it was all that terrible, but it wasn't all that effective either.
Day 142: Tankless Water Heater &; Day 138: Energy Star Tax Credit
Day 144: Small Business Saturday - It turns out most small businesses don't actually take Amex.

Recipes & Cooking:

Day 10: Homemade Yogurt
Day 15: Homemade Apple Sauce
Day 32: Lentils
Day 43: Homemade Broth
Day 64: Homemade Granola
Whole Wheat Bread
Day 93: Eat Dandelions
Day 110: Sugar Snaps and Shiitakes
Day 111: Loca-Zania
Day 112: Blackberries
Day 113: Sweet Eggplant Zucchini Salad
Day 115: Simple Food
Day 120: Orzo Pasta Salad and Grilled Eggplant with Peanut Sauce
Day 122: Quick Zucchini "Pasta"
Day 123: Fingerling Potato Salad with Capers and Dill
Day 127: Blueberry-Cinnamon Muffins
Day 129: Scuppernong-Peach Salsa
Day 140: Collard Greens
Day 141: Pepper Steak

Things we learned about:

Day 89: How Processed Food is Made Pt 1 and Day 91: Part Two
Offshore Drilling
Day 105: Coal Ash and more coal ash
Day 106: Medical Waste Incineration
Day 107: Home Star Legislation
Day 108: The School Lunch Program
Day 100: Mountaintop Removal and More on Mountaintop Removal Mining
Day 121: Single Use Disposables
Genetically-Modified Foods
Day 137: Mechanically Separated Meat

Friday, December 24, 2010

Project 1969: The Cabin That Time Forgot

Throughout the past year, Megan and I have frequently discussed foregoing modern amenities in the name of "saving green" or "going green." However, during the past two days we have taken the experiment to another level and in a different direction.

Pilot Knob Inn, Cabin 1
About a week ago, the two of us were discussing our annual trip to Pilot Mountain and trying concoct ways to make it more "awesome." Last year, we braved an ice storm that had closed much of the state, hiked to the top of the mountain, did some rock climbing, and then cuddled up in a cozy tobacco barn-turned-log cabin. This year, with no snow in the forecast and less motivation to do the climbing, we were struggling to find some other way to make this holiday trip special. When I suggested that we leave behind our phones and laptops, Megan one-upped me by suggesting we should leave behind all technology. Within a few minutes, though, we realized that "no technology = no fun" and opted to choose an arbitrary year as our technology cutoff. 

We eventually settled on 1969. This was almost two generations ago, which meant we would be walking in the footsteps of our grandparents. It also was just a few years before Megan and I were born, so it is distant enough to be challenging but not impossible for us to imagine the lifestyle. It was also a pivotal year for technology. In July, men walked on the moon. In October, the first data packets were sent over DARPANet, the network that would later become the Internet.

We spent a week watching movies (Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, Easy Rider, Midnight Cowboy) and listening to music (Led Zeppelin's first album, Jimi Hendrix) from the 1960s to set the mood. We wouldn't be able to watch or listen to any of these during the trip because we don't have an 8-track player or a record player or even a cassette player. We quickly discovered that even AM radio no longer offers the musical selection it once did. After doing a bit of research on the Web, relying heavily on Wikipedia and the 1969 Sears Wish Book, we left behind the following items that we would have normally taken:

  • iPad
  • mobile phones (smart phone and dumb phone - we left them in separate rooms so they wouldn't get into trouble)
  • GPS navigator
  • laptops
  • digital cameras
  • CD/DVD players
  • automatic door lock key fob
  • clothes with Thinsulate
  • digital watch
  • Bailey's Irish Cream (not invented until 1974!)
  • dark chocolate M&Ms (not invented until 2006)

While credit cards existed in 1968 (the predecessors to Visa and Mastercard appeared in 1958 and 1966), we opted to take only one and try really hard not to use it, relying instead on cash (invented 3000 years ago). A few other things that I packed that I felt were very appropriate for the 1960s included:

  • guitar
  • white cotton undershirts and briefs
  • thick wool socks
  • cotton/polyester blend sweatshirts (non-fleece)
  • Boggle
  • Yahtzee
  • wood pencils
  • Jiffy Pop popcorn (in the foil pan)
  • peanuts
  • beef jerky
  • buggy whip and oil lamp (just kidding)

We tried to find and purchase a 35mm camera for use on the trip. At Grandpappy's Antique Emporium, we found a few that dated back to the 1950s. However, I was not sure if these would take a modern 35mm cartridge. Trying again at Camera Corner, we discovered the only 35mm camera they had was a disposable one! Once out of its cardboard packaging, it looked and worked (only 27 exposures, simple flash, no LCD preview or photo review) much like the Kodak cameras of the late 60s so we felt this would meet the requirements of the project. Megan really wanted a typewriter but the only ones we found were about $25 and did not come with extra ribbon and we had no idea how to get a ribbon to fit. She thought about various strategies for re-inking an existing ribbon, but time was a'ticking.

While I have three watches, I rarely wear one since I can always check my iPhone for the time. Of the three, only two are analog and only one of those has a working battery. However, after watching Peter Fonda throws his watch to the ground before beginning his cross-country journey in Easy Rider, I opted to go without a timepiece for my own time-traveling adventure. Megan thought that not having watches made it fun when it was time for the free B&B breakfast, since there was only a one-hour window and missing it meant struggling to find a 1969-style breakfast in a pinch. Luckily, we made it both days.

Stopping to get fuel for the truck along the way, I insisted that Megan sit in the driver's seat while I did my best to play the role of the gas station attendant. I vaguely recall full service gas stations and enjoyed slowly checking the fluid levels, cleaning the windows, and addressing Megan as "Ma'am" a lot.

When we arrived at the cabin, one of the first things I did was stow the microwave and the VHS player into the closet. I left the color TV out, though it was useless since without a satellite receiver or VHS/DVD, it would have only worked with analog TV signals that are no longer broadcast.

Remarkably, we spent the rest of the weekend doing pretty much the same things that we would have done even if we weren't trying to get by on 1969 technology. We hiked. We made a fire. We drank wine. We talked. My hand would reach for an iPhone that wasn't there each time sat down at a restaurant. No check-ins to Foursquare. No updates to Facebook. Megan argued convincingly that my hand should be reaching for HER HAND when we sit down, instead of grasping my electronic pocket pal. Still, it was mildly odd to be so detached from the internet. Megan and I usually are quite quick to broadcast some interesting experience or photo with friends and family. Broadcasting in 1969 consisted of speaking loudly to the people in the same room, or maybe having a ham radio. Without the ability to instantly update her status or Google for some fact, Megan started a queue of things to do when she returned to her digital life. She kept a list of things she needed to look up, wrote her Facebook statuses in a journal with a pen, and attempted to timestamp each one. Of course, without a watch, that was an exercise in guessing.

As Megan pointed out, being as unplugged from the world as we were borders on irresponsible. To leave behind phones or to not check email daily is seen by many to be shirking duty to family and to work. ("What if there is an emergency!?!") However, by disconnecting from the world, I felt we connected with each other better. Without the distractions of the ever-present glowing rectangles, I could focus more intently on what Megan was saying to me. When Timothy Leary popularized the phrase, "Turn on, tune in, drop out," he was extolling psychedelic drugs as a way to remove oneself from society and to gain better knowledge of oneself. Forty years later, I think that simply pressing the OFF button might be a better alternative.

And now, Megan's list of "mosts" for your enjoyment.

Most Missed Item: contact lenses

Least Missed Item: cell phone

Most Annoying Thing to Try to Do in 1969 Style: operate the car as if it did not have automatic locks

Most Disappointing Thing: Jiffy Pop

Most Thrilling: walking around with giant wads of cash

Most Guaranteed to Make You Feel Poor: using a disposable camera

Note from Megan: Dude, in 2010 even Barbie dolls come with video cameras in them now. People looked at this expired, plastic cheapo camera like it had cooties when we handed it to them to take our picture. Actually, maybe we smelled like 1969 and that face they made was really about us. Oh, now I feel bad...

Thing We Most Need to Bring Back from 1969 into 2010: hot food served a la carte 

Note from Megan: An egg sandwich should be one egg on toast. It should cost $1.25. It should not be served on stale "ciabatta" with limp frisee and come with two crappy side dishes and cost $6.99.

The 1969 Thing That You Didn't Expect to See in 2010 But Actually There Are a Lot More Than You'd Think: pay phones

Thing That She Refused to Give Up for This Experiment Even Though It Didn't Exist So She Totally Cheated and She Doesn't Care What You Say: fleece 

Note from Megan: I mean, are you crazy? It's 20 degrees out and I'm not buying a whole new wardrobe for this cockamamy project. Please. Polyester was invented then, just not in this particular format. It's close. Cut me some slack.

Things That Were Technically Invented But We Still Didn't Use: credit cards, ATMs (1967), TaB cola, fast food, soft contacts (invented but not commercially available in the US until 1971), microwave (1946 but not commercially available until 70s).

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Day 144: Small Business Saturday

Register your American Express card for Small Business Saturday (11/27) and they'll give a $25 credit on your billing statement if you spend at least $25 at a small business. Way to support local businesses! Of course, you have to find a small business that actually takes Amex, but it doesn't hurt to try.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Day 143: Skip Black Friday

To me, Black Friday shopping means going to some hellish Big Box at 5am to stampede through the doors trying to beat other shoppers to some plastic gadget gizmo that I don't need and probably don't really want but have been brainwashed into thinking that I do, and have been advertised to believe is of great value to me and worth getting up at an ungodly hour for.


This Thanksgiving, give yourself a break and just hang out with your family and friends or your cat or whatever. Watch a movie, play board games, go for a run. But don't feed the shopping machine.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Day 142: Why is it so D@#* tough to get a tankless water heater?!?

A few days ago, Megan mentioned the Energy Star tax credit for tankless water heaters. I thought I'd share a few details from our experience in water heater shopping for those of you that might be considering this option.

A few weeks ago, Megan pointed out that there was a puddle of water under our hot water heater and I should "do something about it." I wasn't sure if this was a condensation or a slow leak that we hadn't noticed from before so I soaked up the spill, dried the floor with a fan, and went about my other chores for awhile. When I came back, there as a pancake-sized puddle again. I still couldn't tell where the leak was coming from, though, so I cleaned it up a second time. Checking on it a few minutes later, I noticed that the puddle in the back was a bit muddier and a small bit of rust-colored water was running down the back seam of the heater. As I stood up, I realized that the seam had actually ruptured near the top. A spray of dried mud was clearly visible on the wall behind the heater. I sighed realizing this meant buying a new hot water heater.

The water heater we had was 40-gallon, gas-powered, vented Rheem Fury that was installed when the house was constructed in 1991. In the spirit of "going green," I started searching the Energy Star options at both Sears and Home Depot. There was three replacement Kenmore models at Sears, ranging from $530 to $750.

Of course, Megan and I had been talking about tankless water heaters for awhile. The 30% tax rebate on tankless water heaters ends in December 2010, so we took this as a sign that it might be the right time to invest in this. While Consumer Reports noted that it would take 20 years to see a return on tankless models, I don't think they factored in the 30% tax rebate.

Checking Home Depot, I found the Rheem EcoSense ECO-200PVN. Home Depot offers Rheem models that deliver 5.3, 7.4, 8.4, and 9.5 gallons per minute. However, the 5.3 and 7.4 GPM models can raise the temperature of the water 45 degrees while the 8.4 and 9.5 GPM models can only raise it 35 degrees. The cost comparison shows how these factors counterbalance.

5.3 GPM, 45° = $860
7.4 GPM, 45° = $1200
8.4 GPM, 35° = $1000
9.5 GPM, 35° = $1200

I called Home Depot, was put on hold for about 15 minutes, and was eventually told that they didn't have any tankless units in stock but could order one. I'd also have to call a separate number (1-800-HOME-DEPOT) to arrange installation. This number turned out to be a computer that had trouble understanding me.

Since I really wanted hot water today, I tried calling some smaller places. At Carolina Supply, a guy named Jimmy gave me the scoop. Good news, first. They have the Rheem 7.4 GPM (RTG-74) on clearance for $675! Bad news, they could not do installs. I'd have to find a plumber for that. Calling Willie Saul & Son here in Alamance County, I found out they could do it. The guy I talked to there almost always installs Rinnai units. When I described where my current water heater was, though, we discovered that this was not going to work. The tankless systems require direct venting. This is a special dual-purpose pipe that brings air in from the outside and allows exhaust. (I imagine this is similar to a coaxial cable.) The cost of the piping is expensive and to run it through two-stories (and an attic) would be much more than I was willing to spend.

Ultimately, I had Willie Saul & Son Plumbing deliver and install a Rheem Fury 22V4036F1 (energy factor of 0.59) that was nearly identical to what we already had but twenty years newer. Based on someone's else water heater calculations, I think that the old unit had an energy factor of 0.49. Based on data from the California Energy Commisssion's Consumer Energy Center, I estimate the new unit will only save me an extra $27.5 per year.

So much for living in the green future...

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Day 141: Pepper Steak

Local grass-fed flank steak from Walters Unlimited and green peppers from our friends at Redbud. Absolutely delicious. I just winged it and didn't really use a recipe, but if you need one, I'll point you to "blogchef" who I am borrowing this picture from too. Man, I'm getting lazy on this blog...

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Day 140: Collard Greens

It wouldn't be fall without collard greens. Here's the collard greens with bacon recipe I used. They were fabulous. Thank you Redbud Farm for providing. I used 1 bunch of collards and half a bunch of kale. Bumped up the bacon by a few slices...

(not my picture! Mine had the lighting all funky...)

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Day 139: Rake Leaves

I decided to rake the front yard on Friday instead of asking Tony to use the leaf blower. Couple of advantages here: I got to surprise him with the yard being done already, and I used human power rather than gas-powered leaf blower.

Benefits: It only took 40 minutes to do the entire front yard, and Claire enjoyed jumping in the piles. Plus it was a great upper body workout, so that makes up for my missed trip to the gym that morning... not to mention getting to spend some time outdoors.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Day 138: Energy Star Tax Credit

If you find yourself needing a new appliance in 2010, check out the Energy Star tax credits. These expire Dec 31, 2010.

We needed a new hot water heater this week, unfortunately the place in our house where the heater goes will not allow us to get a tankless one (needs some kind of special exhaust), and tankless is the only kind that meets the specs (Energy Factor ≥ 0.82 OR a thermal efficiency of at least 90%) to qualify for the tax credit, so we are out of luck again! (We missed out on the new house credit last year too for a bunch of silly reasons.)

Anyway, maybe one of you lucky readers can take advantage of this program.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Day 137: Avoid Mechanically-Separated "Meat"

As if this were even an option over here at Green V. Green. Well, this is more an excuse to blog about mechanically-separated "meat" than anything. Consider yourselves educated.

Have you ever read an ingredients label and seen an item called "mechanically-separated chicken" or "mechanically-separated pork"? This is how that item (I hesitate to call it food) is made.

First a machine vacuums every last piece of flesh or fat off the difficult bones, such as head bones or tiny foot bones. The result is turned into a paste:

This paste is soaked in ammonia to kill bacteria. Then, since it's lost its flavor, artificial flavors are re-introduced, and the mash is colored to not be pink anymore.

Here is the result:


Both of these are foods made and sold by Tyson (for example here and here). Just because it comes in a shiny plastic bag with a label on it of a company you recognize, doesn't mean the methods used to produce it aren't medieval.