Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Big 3-0

Alright everyone, the inevitable is almost upon me. 30. The big 3-0. The time when I say goodbye to my youthful 20s and on to a more mature and wise decade. To say that I am freaking out is an understatement. Finding those two disco ball colored strands of hair the other day didn't help things either. I know I'm probably making this into a bigger deal than it should be. I know many have gone before me and survived, but freaking out over changing decades is a rite of passage thank you very much.

In an effort to cope with the fact that yes, indeed I am aging and indeed I am not as immortal as I thought when I was 19 going on 20. I've decided to celebrate my birthday in a month long process by taking the focus off of me and my feelings and turning them into something good.  My birthday is on Decemeber 28th and in the busiest month of the year I plan to do 30 Random Acts of Kindness in the community. I'm super excited about this. Like so excited I am starting to plan (not so random for this Type A Capricorn over here) many different things I can do each day in the month of December leading to my birthday.

I have a good list so far, but suggestions are welcome!

I'm going to try and blog each day/week to give updates on how it went. Not to be all, "Look at me and what I can do" but to share ideas we can all do to spread love and help make our world a better place. Please, when you read this and my future posts take me and myself out of it. It is not me doing these things. It's my faith in action. It's the Spirit working through me and in Christ's name. Everything we have is not our own so it is not me doing this, but Him working through me!

I desire to be the good and the change I want to see in the world. I can't think of a better way to ring in the next decade!

Friday, October 11, 2013

How we did this...

I'm not saying this to brag but to really enforce that this was not a fluke, this reprot is actually our second Home Energy report in a row that had these results. For Xcel customers Home Energy reports are given every three months. Our last report stated that we used less than this report. I'm chalking that up to being gone for our summer vacation for a week.

I'm sure you've all heard some of these before, so it may not be anything new.  Also, I can say, these didn't always come at once. We took steps gradually to become more efficient. Another factor is we have a relatively small home. We have big gorgeous windows that let in a lot of light during the day and also work to keep the house breezy and cool in the summer.

Steps we've taken and that have worked for us:

1. Lights: Energy efficient light bulbs...everywhere. To keep costs down, buy them in bulk when they are on sale.

I found an excellent rule of thumb while reading a fiction book. RULE: Rooms that are lit up in a home should be less than or equal to the number of people in the house. So, for a family of four this means that at any given time there are only four rooms that have lights on. Usually we have less because we are most often in the room with someone else. Learning and getting used to this rule will really start to point out how often we leave lights on. Bathrooms and staircases are some of the worst!

Always use natural light when you can! Do "light checks" before you leave the house. That's my job. Dana takes the kids to the car and I run around quickly making sure everything is off and unplugged.

2. Plugs: If it's not in use it's unplugged. Start with the kitchen. Right now in our house the only items plugged in are the refrigerator and the stove. Every other item is unplugged (yes, this includes the microwave which is actually on our  bar in the basement...more on this later). This one takes some getting used to, the habit doesn't come right away.

When your phone, iPad, etc is done charging. Remove the plug from the socket! Don't let it sit there all day long with no purpose besides draining tiny amounts of electricity that add up! I found through research that they can increase your monthly energy usage by 10%. That's huge for something so small. Also, be mindful of not letting your item sit fully charged for longer than it needs too.

In high energy traffic areas like home office and around the television. Use the surge power chords. Turn all items off with just a switch of the button when you are done! (Honestly, our house is still working on this one!)

Home computers running all day but not being used can really consume the energy too. In the past, we would keep ours on all day. It was so nice to jump on and jump off when I needed to. Let's be honest, waiting, even for your computer to start up, sucks when you are busy cooking dinner, wrestling your child out of their play clothes and keeping the cats from bothering each other. Now that I have an iPhone, my husband an iPod, I find that I am using our home computer less and less. Sometimes it is off for days at a time! (Never did I ever think that would happen!)

If you are going out of town, even for a night. Unplug everything that you can: including alarm clocks and wireless routers which are often missed in the "plug checks".

3. Thermostat: In the summer, when we use our air, we set it to 65-68. In the winter we keep the heat at 72-75 turning it down at night or when we leave. This takes some getting used to. If you need to do some tweaking in this area, try starting with just a degree or two at a time.We are also blessed with a wood burning insert for our fireplace. On a cold winters night we like to snuggle together in the living room in front of the fire. Popcorn, hot chocolate and our favorite adult beverage while watching Doctor Who makes for some fun family memories.

4. Appliances: Of course having energy efficient everything makes a huge difference. The switch and cost of this can take time. Around Valentine's Day, I finally gave in to my husbands persistent pleading that we buy a toaster oven to use in place of our microwave and toaster. This is when we noticed the biggest drop in our energy bill. Instead of warming up the oven for little items like pizzas, hoagies, and nachos we now use the toaster oven that uses half the time and half the energy. (I really should work for an infomercial) Now, the oven is only used for those comfort food dishes that are best heated up in the fall/winter months and baking. We LOVE our toaster oven!

Get rid of unnecessary items that use electricity. Example: We decided about a year ago that we both didn't need alarm clocks. Now, with having an alarm clock on our phones we don't really need one at all...

5. Teach Your Kids: Like every lesson, learning to change the way we live and mold new habits take time in the beginning (sometimes even stomping feet and tears). Invest that time with your kids. Don't do the work for them. If they forgot to turn a light off but now they are deep into a movie or playing? Guess what, time to pause or stop and they can go and shut the light off. At the time it seems like such a small deal. It would be so easy to just flip the switch yourself and continue on with laundry, dinner, bug slaying, etc. The goal here is to teach your kids that you will hold them accountable and maybe next time (x1,000) they will remember to shut the light off knowing they don't want to be interrupted in play later and soon it will become their habit.

Tell the Why? For a child, knowing the reason  behind what you are asking them to do can make all the difference. It's not just "Big Bad Parent" mode telling them one more thing they need to do because they were told so. We do this because it helps save our family money so that we can use that money to do fun things like go out to eat. We do this because being a good stewardship of our environment and home is not just good practice, but for us a form of worshiping God who blessed us with everything we have. It teaches self-control and being aware of the effect we as humans have on our surroundings. So much more I could go on and on!!

Set a family goal for your energy usage and plan a reward if you make it!

Consider a Home Energy Audit. Sometimes these can even be done for free or very low cost so check with your energy company. We had one soon after we moved in and it really helped us to know what the problem areas of our house was and what we could do to fix it. (Still saving for those new windows *sigh*)

This is what has worked for us. I can't think of any other way to end this without sounding cheesy, so I'll leave with a quote from LeVare Burton of Reading Rainbow: "Don't take my word for it" *wink*

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Watch Me Grow!

This weekend, my husband and I accomplished something that I have been wanting to do for years! We finally built our first raised garden. I was actually surprised by how very little work and cost went into it. Anyone can do this and I am so thrilled to see the results.

My Jesus look-alike with all the materials. The lumber totaled $11 and some change. Chicken wire for the bottom to keep out pesky moles was around $7. 

Preparing and leveling the ground.

The chicken wire is under the cardboard. The cardboard will decompose back into the ground and while it's taking it's time doing this invasive weeds are bocked out and it was free and natural. Score!

Filling the bed with compost. Our city has an area for residents to get compost for free. Unfortunately, it was closed for the holiday weekend. My husband and I are not people. We had the time and energy to get the job done, so we paid about double what we would have. After the special topsoil was bought, we spent about $30 on "dark matter". I do have a compost pile of my own, although it is not very well maintained and has no usable "dark matter" as of late. We were both surprised at the quantity of "dark matter" we needed to fill the boxes.

All filled! We chose to go with an organic top soil that is best for vegetables. We learned that the top part should not be compacted to much. You should be able to push your finger to the third knuckle in easily.

 Lastly, came the planting. What a breeze! We have a few herbs, lots of various peppers (we're a spicy family), a few different tomatoes, and my favorite: asparagus. Now the really hard part comes...the wait for nature to take it's course. We're not patient people you'll remember. 

And that's it! I'll post pictures of the progress and harvest as we go! It really is a simple and enjoyable project. It's eco-friendly and will keep us eating healthy all summer long. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Day After May Day

It is reported that Red Wing, MN received about 17 inches of snow overnight. With the snow still falling...

In May? You say!

I don't believe it! You say.

Proof. I will show you it!

Heavy wet snow on the roof.

A view from our porch. May

Heavy snow weighs down trees.

Our neighbor's solider pines bowing down to the snow.

Our back yard. Thankfully all the weighted down trees are not focused on your house.

Spring Wonderland

We lost a couple big branches.

Buds on the trees, covered in snow. 

Shelter from the storm. Thankful we put Elaina's bird house up last weekend!

"I'm taking a snow day with the girls." -Something I'd never thought I'd say in May.