Sunday, November 24, 2013


Thanksgiving, and shortly after all of the December holidays, always brings up the topic of traditions. I have a back & forth relationship with traditions. Some I love, some I dislike, some I love until they are conveyed in a manner I dislike.

Traditions, as in something done over a period of time on repeat, have a gazillion different reasons. Some don’t have any reason at all. And most people get warm, fuzzy feelings thinking & talking about their various traditions. How many happy thoughts begin with: "We always did…"? James & I love to reminisce about our family traditions… and have blended them into our own unique set over time.

Some traditions have no further reason than “Just because” or “That’s the way we have always done it.” Some people eat at x time on Thanksgiving, nap, & then go out for Friday morning sales. Some people have ham instead of turkey. Some always go to Midnight Mass at Christmas. They enjoy it, it works for them. Great, fantastic, carry on sir!

Some traditions have very specific reasons. My mom always put up the Christmas tree on Thanksgiving weekend because that was the last long weekend before Christmas. She always took it down on or after January 6, which is the Epiphany (aka Wise Men arrive). She had distinct reasons why she did it that way. We always had a small family gathering for birthdays. Just Mom & Dad, me, & my 2 siblings. The reason was that it was a chance to be together.

No matter what the reason, people are very attached to their personal traditions. I was crushed the first year Mom didn’t put up the tree. I didn’t even live at home anymore but the tradition had that much power to undo my foundation. I recovered, but learned an important lesson about messing with the traditions of others.

The lesson was simply that each person (or group of people) has their own traditions & they can be powerful. Each approaches events, big & small, in their own way. Others aren’t, or shouldn’t be, expected to do something in the same way as anyone else. I would find it strange to assume someone else did something exactly the same way we do, and kind of boring. But please don't ask me to not participate in my traditions.

Which brings me to traditions I dislike. Generally, they aren’t actual traditions at all, but ways of conveying those traditions to others. I’m not going to mention specific instances. I could, already had it written, but I’m not looking for a fight. We all know it when we see it:

“But it’s tradition!”
“Why aren’t you participating in x?”
“What do you mean you don’t do y?”

Instead, I simply want to encourage all of us to remember – we each come from different life experiences, with different traditions, & It is Beautiful. Share your stories with others. Share the solemn, the joyful, the silly. Listen to the stories of others. Go ahead & acknowledge the differences. More importantly, find the similarities. Look underneath & see the joy people have when they experience their traditions.

Happy traditions!

Monday, November 11, 2013

Changing seasons – Into the dark

More & more, I appreciate the change of the seasons. And after a slow start, fall is here in full glory. The leaves are a rainbow of colors, the air is crisp, & the days are shorter. I find that shorter days encourage nesting or hibernating type activities. After the long, hot summer, the fall is a welcome respite. And the coming winter is a chance to re-center & look within. A chance to rest.

I generally start the dark season with an epic cleaning fest that puts spring cleaning to shame. We are talking a wash the walls, scrub the baseboards type cleaning. I see fall as my last chance to get the house open & clean before winter keeps us indoors. So I take full advantage.

Once the deep cleaning is done, I situate the house plants to soak up the best winter sun, batten down the hatches, & settle in. I set candles out in force, dig out my books & “sitting” crafts (crochet, sewing, etc), & strategically place blankets for easy snuggle time reach.

As odd as it sounds, I also “turn down” the lights. I avoid harsh or bright overhead lights & favor somewhat dimmer task lighting. Artificial lighting doesn’t offer any of the benefits of natural lighting anyway. This allows me to tune into the seasonal changes more. I soak in the daylight that is available & then quiet my body & mind when it gets dark. Aahh, sweet rest.

I use the extended dark hours to not only rest, but to take stock of my life, home, body, mind, & heart. An extended resolutions period, if you will. When we aren’t distracted by outside activities, it is easier to find the time & energy for introspection. I look at what I’ve accomplished & what I still want to do. Sometimes I revise the to-do list – adding & subtracting what suits or doesn’t. I look at what I’ve brought in & what I have removed. This counts for physical items as well as intangible. I evaluate & adjust – maybe something should be brought back in, maybe something else should be removed.

I spend the winter determining any changes, acting on the insights, & repeating. Some efforts are for the short term, others are for the long haul. By the time spring rolls around, I will have refocused, rested, and be ready to rock another summer.

Some parting thoughts:

The air is getting cool,
The world is getting dark,
Now is the time to look within,
Search your soul & tend your heart.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Being Creative in Reducing

I’ve previously discussed recycling & reusing as Where change started. After we got some steam behind those efforts, we set our sights on reducing. We figured that we could save some money if we were more aware of what we consumed. And, again, we could make a difference in our corner of the world.

We started simply by switching to energy efficient bulbs when one burned out. We’ve found that the CFLs are ok, but they tended to burn out almost as quickly as incandescent. Upon further research, you need special “quick on & off” ones that will stand up to turning the lights on & off. Otherwise, they are meant to be left on for minimum 4 hours at a time to last the rated number of hours. Once we found the “quick on & off” ones, we had much better success. We even have a few LEDs in the house, but those are expensive. As the price is coming down, we are buying a few more. We also made strong efforts to turn off the lights in rooms we aren’t currently occupying. I try to avoid turning on a light if I don’t absolutely need to. Natural lighting helps. So does keeping hallways & walking paths clutter free.

There are a lot of little efforts that can add up to big results over time. I grew up saving glass & plastic containers for leftovers & other storage. I don’t save the plastic much anymore but still save glass. I use the jars for all sorts of leftovers, dry goods storage, misc parts in the garage, paint, etc. No need to buy new storage & no need to pitch or recycle what you already have.
I also grew up washing Ziploc & bread bags. We won’t be buying a car with the savings, but we also won’t be buying any new bags but maybe once a year. Buying bags has gone down even further because we buy tortillas that come in a resealable bag. We save those bags & use them in place of Ziploc bags when we need one. I do have a few standards – no reuse after raw meat & no holes. At that point, they gotta go. But I get a lot of use out of them before they get to that point.
We also put out solar yard lights & buy rechargeable batteries – nothing especially hard, but they help make a difference.

Other efforts include switching to a programmable thermostat & making layering an art. We keep the house at 75 (night), 85 (day – not home), and 78 (day – home) during the summer. We keep the house at 62 (night), 60 (day – not home), and 68 (day – home) during the winter. We dress light in the summer & try to keep the shades drawn during the heat of the day. We dress in layers in the winter & keep the shades open to let in the light & heat. Sealing air leaks has helped tremendously. Our electricity & gas bills took a visible drop since we started this. And we stay moderately acclimated to the seasonal temperatures.

We also use timers, though the savings here are debatable. The light isn’t on, but the timer is drawing electricity. Even without the timer, there is the issue of phantom electricity. Small (and large) appliances, chargers, and electronics all pull small levels of electricity at all times. So, we started unplugging most of these. At least 1 tv was unplugged when it wasn’t in use (we have since parted with the tv). The radio, stereo, and all chargers are the same. Some things are plugged into power strips that are turned off when not in use. All extra appliances (toaster, coffee maker, blender) are unplugged when not in use. We even bought special power strips that control all items plugged in when the main item is turned off (computer & components). These are supposed to eliminate phantom energy usage. Results are mixed. Energy is reduced but getting them to work properly is touchy.

We have saved on water too. James built me a 110 gallon rain barrel and bought me another 50 gallon one. About 1 inch of rain fills all 160 gallons. We use the rain barrels for vegetables & potted plants. We refuse to water the lawn, whose only purpose is to hold down dirt – and it does that brown & crispy too. I do let drought tolerant ground cover & flowers grow. If it can’t handle the dry, it doesn’t get to stay. The yard doesn’t look as bad as you might think & we save time, money, & water.
In the winter the barrels have to be drained. I fill up a handful of 5 gallon buckets for watering potted plants indoors. When that runs out, I use water from drained vegetables or pasta. This has the extra benefit of adding nutrients to my plants. I’ve also placed a bucket in the shower while letting the water run to get warm. That water isn’t being used anyway, might as well give it a purpose.

Some of these things involve a commitment to a bit of work or a less than fully convenient lifestyle. Others are fairly easy. But seeing, for example, how much water fills a bucket just by letting it run – resolve & effort are strengthened.

Before you think I am off my rocker, I’ve seen Extreme Cheapskates – no, just no. Let’s be reasonable. We can reduce without being or going crazy. The things we do were added a little at a time & some got scrapped as actual energy savers (timers). Some stuck. We keep looking for new ways to do a little more, here & there. Some things are obvious, others take a little creative thinking.

Is there a small effort you can make today? And then make it a habit? Try walking through the house, or even just down the hallway, without turning on a light. Or have a nickel jar for every time a light gets left on in an unoccupied room. Give it a shot, see where it takes you.