Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Guerilla Wedding

Weddings, which should be celebrations of love and dedication, have transformed into consumer nightmares. Bizarre and expensive customs have became popular in the last 50 years of commercial advertising (including the ubiquitous diamond engagement ring).
Weddings threaten to take over the lives of many a young woman bombarded with decisions to make about the "right" invitations, flowers, dress, shoes, color scheme, party favors, catering, reception site, etc. Insidious marketing tempts even the best of us to succumb to the wedding industry and pay way more than we should for any single day. Pressure from parents subverts our intentions, from small and sacred to big and impressive, from eloping to ceremonial, and from environmentally friendly to environmental calamity.

But resist! Resist the idea that you must do things a certain way, buy certain things, invite certain people. In order to avoid so many of these newly-traditional purchases and customs, while still having a meaningful and beautiful experience, my husband and I had a guerilla wedding. I call it a guerilla wedding because guerilla means "small war". It was a small battle in the war against the American consumerist juggernaut. Luckily, my parents were on board with our plan, so we didn't have to put up with any flak.

We decided to have the wedding at the nearby Denver Botanical Gardens, and invited our parents and siblings to attend the ceremony. In Colorado, you can marry yourselves, so we didn't have to make any decisions about religious affiliation. We also decided to spring for a professional photographer. She was well worth it - she was great at taking spontaneous shots and making me look good (a difficult task :). We got a bargain because we scheduled our wedding in March, a non-traditional month, and we also received a CD with all of our digital pictures, for us to process as we wished.

We purchased a DBG membership and paid a photography fee to have photos taken at the Gardens, and showed up on the appointed day. DBG was none the wiser that an actual wedding was about to take place. Cost for photographer, tux rental, photo fee, wedding dress (actually a prom dress) and accessories, and flowers for bouquet and corsages: $800.

We met in the Orchid Room and said our vows (five minutes of love, devotion, and euphoria). Pictures were taken, kisses exchanged, and we adjourned outside for the rest of the pictures. Huh! Who would have thought I would be so cold in a strapless dress in Denver in March? Then we met back at our bungalow, had a champagne toast and a first dance ("Yellow" by Coldplay), and went to dinner. Voila! Cost for champagne and dinner for 10: $400.

Next stop: the Party Train. First, we hosted a party for about 30 close friends at a family-style Italian place. Invitations by E-vite. We paid for the food and wine, and a friend baked our cake. We placed pictures of the ceremony on all the tables. I had sweated for months to select meaningful songs to make into mixed CD as favors for our guests. What was most special to me was my 4 closest friends, who would have been my bridesmaids, coming out the day before the party. They threw me a post-wedding bachelorette party (a very clean one :), and we nursed our hangovers next morning at the Tallgrass Spa in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Cost of "reception", favors, and spa day - about $1300.

We then had a small family party in Oklahoma City, courtesy of MIL. Then, another small family party in New Jersey (timed to coincide with another wedding we had to go to), courtesy of my uncle. Cost: plane tickets and gas for 2 (in 2004) - about $500. Not sure if I should count this expense since we would have made these trips anyway, but what the heck.

Total estimated cost: $3000. I realize that this might seem expensive to some people. But compared to the average of $20K, and compared to the beautiful but extravagant weddings that most of our friends and family have hosted, it is much less. (With the money we saved, we went to Kauai for 2 weeks.)

Once everything was over, I was so happy we had decided to do it the way that we did. Way reduced carbon emissions for reduced plane travel. Way reduced consumption of frivolous items. Way reduced financial impact on my parents, guests, and ourselves. And most of all, we had the satisfaction of having fun, not stress, on our wedding day.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Technical difficulties

Here is a picture of my wonderful technical difficulty, who just turned one year old last weekend. He has a virus and an ear infection. Posting temporarily suspended until issue resolved.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Great Expectations

Have you ever had other people's expectations de-rail your Peak Oil preparation efforts or your goal to live more lightly?

Social expectations permeate all we do, even in our own home. It's awkward to explain the 17 buckets of rice, beans, and wheat berries (and the grain mill) to clueless in-laws. Some neighbors have a grudge against veggies or fruit trees in the front yard. It can even be illegal or against code in some areas to have compost bins or vegetable gardens, raise bees or chickens, or hang clotheslines on your own property.

On the job, at school, or in public, it seems even more important to look "normal", not only for the sake of our salaries, but for ease of getting along and fitting in. Letting the yellow mellow just won't cut it in most offices, let alone bringing your cloth t.p. (Wow - that'd be brave). It's hard to bike to work when there's no shower and you need to wear a suit. Unless you live in Boulder, people expect the ladies to have neatly shaved armpits and legs.

A radical change to improve your finances can leave your friends and family scratching their heads. Irritating questions arise, like Why won't you go to happy hour anymore? How come you can't make it to the Mets game? Why don't you want to have the usual Christmas consumaganza this year? Why do you buy all your clothes at the consignment store?

The raising of children can be an especially sensitive area. Everyone's got an opinion. To some, themed birthday parties and fashionable accessories are totally necessary. Asking people to buy your children "gently used" presents can seem gauche. And just try explaining why you are not encouraging your kid to incur $40K in college debt.

The judgement of your closest loved ones - spouse and kids - can be the worst of all. Perhaps your husband won't even watch A Crude Awakening with you or read the Energy Bulletin articles you send him, much less pony up the $1000 for insulation or dig holes for your fruit trees. When two visions of the future diverge so completely, it can be hard to come to an agreement on finances and expenditures.

So what say you? Are these opportunities for education, mere annoyances, or serious obstacles? Has anyone else's opinion or negative comment changed your course? How about HOA or local ordinances - obey to the letter or go guerilla? How do you handle being the crazy one in the family :)?

Monday, July 21, 2008


I = PAT, like the Ecological Footprint, is one quick way to measure the impact of the human species on our environment.

I = PAT is shorthand for Impact = Population x Affluence x Technology Efficiency Factor. In other words, our impact on our environment is equal to our population multiplied by our consumption multiplied by the efficiency of our technologies that create our affluence.

If you have ever heard a politician advocate for the environment, he or she will always focus on the "T". Why? Hmmm... improving efficiency and technology is not controversial. It does not require sacrifice, or changing habits, challenging sacred cows, mentioning the gigantic elephants in the room. It does not require asking people to wear a sweater or suggesting fewer children.

No one wants to give things up. People want their stuff. They want the way of life that they have grown accustomed to. They want to have as many children as they'd like. And who can blame them? The American middle class promise is that if you work hard and smart, you can have whatever you want.

So the technology factor provides a nice little loophole for politicians. It provides a way for them to assure us that we can have our cake, and eat yours too.

Technology provides business with an opportunity to sell new products and make a profit. It offers a way to promote the new Apollo Project, with plenty of government-supported programs for every Senator's constituency. It appeals to the American's fondness for gadgets and faith in ingenuity. Technology is new, and slick, and sexy.

Al Gore has proposed a prime example of the technological approach. Now I'm not sure what the downsides are to turning us into a nation of wind and solar users - I support wind and solar power - except that it allows us to maintain the illusion that this is the answer. Could his strategy be to get the country to build the right infrastructure first, and sacrifice later? I don't know. Personally, I think we should conserve first, and re-think the way that we have developed our lives and our infrastructure.

Still, the truth is that any type of approach to our serious ecological and resource dilemmas will have to take into account ALL 3 of the I=PAT factors - population, affluence/consumption, and efficiency. No one wants to admit this, so we keep on producing technology-will-save-us ideas and pretending they are going to solve everything.

Al has proposed a bold idea, and gotten climate change and energy policy back in the news. He's trying to give us a hope for a better future, if we all pull together and get our butts in gear. Thanks to him for that. It's just too bad that our most high-profile guru can't buck it up and propose something really controversial ... like conservation, which could have an immediate impact on our climate emissions, instead of renewable energy, which won't be in place for at least 5 years down the road.

13 ways to Promote Consumption

When the entire economy depends on infinite growth, it is important to remind the consumers of their primary job - buying expensive stuff and wasting energy. Here are some highly effective methods to promote these very behaviors.

1. Design the built environment properly

No house should have a bike rack, a clothesline, or a Sun Oven. Homes should be far from anything useful and require maximum energy usage. Design highways, not public transport and bicycle lanes. Power stations, not solar panels. Make it difficult for consumers to be energy efficient, use less stuff and burn less gasoline. Make them spend tons of time and energy on research if they want to do something differently. Let them know: It's so much easier just to use what's already there!

2. Break up familes

Families should be as separated as possible - no more living in close proximity to each other, and definitely not 3 or 4 generations in one household. Spread them out! This way, when families part ways, a whole household of things must be purchased - furniture, lawn equipment, linens, kitchenware, tools, decorations. Even items used only once or twice per year will be purchased. Isolation from family also promotes consumption of leisure and entertainment goods. Plus, they will need to purchase frequent flights to visit Grandma and Pa. Bonus!

3. Promote ignorance and specialization

Make sure the consumers know that they should specialize in one thing - their job - and buy products or pay other people to do everything else.

Remember, for every problem, there is a product or a service. Here's a list of things the consumers should not know:

  • How to fix things.

  • How to grow food.

  • How to cook bake or sew.

  • How to calculate the true costs of maintenance of appliances, cars, homes.

  • How to figure the cost of the interest on credit cards, mortgage, the auto note.
4. Stimulate fashion

Anything that is visible to others is a good candidate to be replaced every 3 or 4 years. Clothing, the color of paint, the material for countertops, carpet, and especially cars. Since cars can easily last 15 years, fashion is especially important!

5. Create social expectations

When our consumer shows up to work, they should be expected to look and smell a certain way. We undertand that this requires soap, facial soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion, deoderant, razors, shaving gel, hair dryers, hair gel, mascara, nail polish, toilet paper, tampons, toothbrush, and toothpaste. Not to mention cover up makeup, lipstick, eye makeup, base, powder, lip liners, eyeliners, eyelash curlers, and perfume as well. Ha ha ha ha ha!

When our consumer buys a house, it (and especially the yard) should be expected to look and function a certain way. The lawn requires a trimmer, a mower, a fertilizer spreader, fertilizer, pre-emergent, water hoses, a sprinkler, pesticides, herbicides. The house needs updated kitchen and bathrooms and floors, appliances, cleaning agents, new furniture, decorations, art, entertainment system. It's something new every year. Trust me folks, it's like printing money.

6. Design products with obsolescence in mind

Make sure that technology changes frequently. After 5 or 6 years, new programs won't work on the old computer any more. And what use is a VCR or tape player now?

Design things so that they break after a certain period of time. They might not have to, if they were made well, without cheap plastic parts. What's the point in fixing broken things when it costs more to fix them as it does to buy one brand new?

7. Provide cheap credit

Why wait to buy something when you can have it now instead? If we have done our jobs properly, our consumers can't figure out the cost of the interest, so they don't even really know how much they are paying. (Do you know what the true cost of the mortgage of a $250,000 house over the course of a 30-year mortgage at 6%? It's $539,000. That's called a PROFIT.)

8. Send women to the workplace and expect a 10-hour day

With mothers working, families have to purchase daycare, Pampers and formula. With 2 people working long hours, there is less time to cook meals at home, cook meals from scratch, clean the house, do the yardwork, grow a garden, shop for bargains - and there is more money to pay someone else to do these things instead.

9. Kill off public places and community events

In many places, if you want to be around people, that literally means paying to go somewhere, or exposing yourself to lots of tempting shopping opportunities. And people do need to be around people. This is why teenagers hang out at the mall all day long. There's no real public equivalent anymore.

Or we could encourage the consumer to just watch or interact with people electronically. So feather their nest at home with computers, entertainment centers, media rooms (!!!), cable television, high-speed internet, stocked liquor cabinets, etc. etc. etc.

10. Sell disposables

An easy way to get people to buy more is to make something only worth using once. So sell them paper towels instead of rags, Kleenex instead of handkerchiefs, tampons and pads instead of Divas and Lunapads, toilet paper instead of cloth wipes. These are so prevalent now that no one can even imagine the alternatives. Good job, folks!

11. Isolate people and make them anxious and afraid

Give them more of what they don't need, and less of what they do need. Less time with families, less interesting work, less nutritious food, but more anxiety about the kid's education, Grandpa's health, retirement, the state of the economy, the dying planet.

How will they treat themselves right? How will they get through the day with all these worries and not enough fun and relaxation, no interesting conversation about things that matter, no time to spend with friends? Will they buy a latte and a martini, or Prozac and a gym membership? Maybe they need a manicure and some highlights in their hair. A snazzy new car or a kitchen remodel might make them feel better. But really, the best thing would be a vacation, or a house in the country. If they have to take on loans or pay with credit, all the better.

12. Structure their lives

Everyone knows how life is supposed to look. First you go to high school, then college. Of course, then you need a job and a new car. Then you get married, have kids, buy a house (not necessarily in that order). If you can associate huge, expensive costs with all these things that people "must" do to live like normal middle-class folk, you've won half the battle! Why, by the time they get out of college they owe us 10 years of debt service. And what GENIUS came up with the requirement to spend $20,000 on one day of celebration? We owe that guy, big time.

13. Sell them "Health" care

If we've done our job properly, people will be reeling from all the toxins in the environment, lack of nutritious organic food, stress, and no time to take care of themselves. Just one more opportunity to sock it to them twice - with insurance and health care!

This is also a clever way to keep them where they belong - working for us. Trust me, they will never be able to leave a job with health care benefits once they have kids. Keep them on the treadmill, ok?

Seriously, if we can make people miserable by starting them off in debt, working them to death, while expecting that they look and act a certain way, and making sure they don't know any different, we can lay back and watch the money roll in.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The fruit tree commitment

The peach trees finally quit giving. We have been harvesting fresh peaches from the 2 semi-dwarf trees for several weeks now, and we canned 5 pints, jammed 3 1/2 pints, and dehydrated 4 trays in the American Harvest dehydrator. ( has a lot of good on-line canning tutorials if you don't have a book.) Also, we gave Granny several buckets of peaches, which she promptly jammed into 8 pints - one time while she was baby-sitting our toddler boy. Don't know how she does it!

I also tried dehydrating in my Tulsi Sun Oven - but the peaches only got about 1/2 dry between 10:30 am and 6 pm - they turned into a kind of peach candy, which were so sweet I immediately ate the whole batch. And I do mean the WHOLE batch. Next time I will try dehydrating the peaches in my car, the way that I have seen suggested on some other sites.

For all the yumminess, we did in fact have to work a bit. Enjoyable work, but still work. Some books will imply that you just plant trees and harvest fruit forever! No. Here's my time estimate of the work I have done this year on the 2 peach trees (probably times will decrease as we become more experienced):
  • Pruning - 2 hours (more because I am a pruning novice)

  • Thinning - 3 hours (3 different times)

  • Harvesting - 3 hours (3 different times)

  • Picking up overripe fruit off the ground - 2 hours

  • Canning, jamming, and dehydrating - 8 hours

What did I learn this year about peaches?

  • Next year I will try to spray the trees with some kind of organic oil.

  • If we don't spray, we lose about 1/2 the peaches to larvae (which must be cut out of each peach - gross, but still worth it.)

  • I must, must, must be severely brutal when thinning. No mercy!

  • Peaches are much sweeter if I pick them just ripe.
  • But if I pick the peaches just before they are ripe, they are slightly less likely to have larvae inside.

  • Home grown peaches beat grocery store peaches by about a million miles.

  • If I don't pick the peaches off the tree, I must pick them off the ground.
  • If you are choosing a variety of peach, consider picking a "freestone" variety - we picked JH Hale and Hale Haven, which seem to be "clingstone" - harder to process because you have to do more cutting.
  • Dehydrating peaches for 16 hours might be a little overkill. Next year will check them after about 6 hours.

So, all in all, growing peach trees is worth the work - especially if we can preserve more of the crop next year. Keep in mind that we will have to do this EVERY year of the peach tree's lives (although apparently peaches only live about 10 - 15 years, rather short lived compared to an apple tree). Right now, that may seem like a burden to some people. In the years to come, I believe it will seem more like a blessing.

PS - Don' t ever try putting your jars in a pyramid for a cute picture like I did above - we lost a pint that way. RIP.

I just love Sharon Astyk

Her latest post is Why You Should Think about Peak Oil even if it seems much Nicer Not to.

I like Sharon's work because she is so practical, she is walking the talk, and on days like this, she is not afraid to give it to us straight - but make us think about hard truths in a new way. A way that makes Peak Oil seem not so scary.

PLUS she has rediscovered and popularized so many old practices that we have really lost in the last 2 or 3 generations - ways to live without electricity and gas, ways to preserve the harvest without electricity, ways to do things on a budget, extending the garden season.

In honor of Sharon, here are some of my favorite posts of hers:

Low Energy Food Preservation

A Seed Savers Garden

Dispense with Disposables

What to do with Appliances when You get over them

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

What to do with money

First the disclaimer. This should not be construed as financial advice. Consult your financial planner - I'm sure you have one, right :)?

Money is a tricky topic, here in the US. It's all very hush-hush. No one talks about how much they make, even to their children or parents. Usually the spouse is the only one who knows all the details. Sometimes money has a very negative connotation - "filthy rich", "dirty money", and all that.

Despite that, money is what we use as a substitute or stand in for freedom, security, and social acceptance. Naturally, when we begin to understand that our economy, based on infinite growth and ever-growing energy, is unsustainable, we worry about what is going to happen to our money.

So here are some thoughts about different ways to approach Peak Oil - wise investing.

1. Stay the Course

You have decided to stick with conventional wisdom. 401K, IRA, bank, etc. You are trying to pay down debt, pay off the house and fund a 12-month emergency fund, on top of the standard retirement accounts. This is for people who just can't bring themselves to give up on the system.

2. Pull the Ripcord

You've had enough of the rollercoaster and you can see that the financial system is deteriorating. You put all (or a whole lot) of your money in cash and some is in fact under the mattress - you never know when the grid is going down, and credit cards will be no good then. You may not have a retirement fund, but at least you'll be able to pay the bills and the property taxes.

3. Goldbug

Well, the Fed has gone and done it - the dollar seems to be hitting new lows every month. You believe that there is no way for the government to pay off their insane debts except to try to print their way out. Which will of course, make the dollar nearly worthless. See, Zimbabwe. See, Confederate gov't. See, Weimar Republic. See, Roman empire. The only timeless form of money you want to own is gold and silver, either physically or in an ETF.

4. Bet big

In the ashes of every empire is a way to make a whole heck of a lot of money. You are into commodities, reverse index funds, and oil service corporations. This is definitely high risk, and potential high reward. Or, potential bankruptcy.

5. Back to basics

Regardless of what happens, you will be eating well and clothing your kids. You have decided to opt out of the peak oil investment debate and put your money into physical goods. Get your house in order, with energy efficient windows and insulation, non-electrical appliances, and lots and lots of stored goods. Wheat berries, rice, oats, beans, toilet paper, soap, and shoes. "Invest" in the gifts that keep on giving - gardens, orchards, community solidarity, books, and skills like preserving the harvest and homebrewing. "Invest" in tradeable goods that will be valuable after TSHTF - like alcohol or whatever.

6. Invest in a trade
You want to have something to do after the peak - besides your worthless job now. You are learning how to be a carpenter, an herbalist, or whatever. You've got the tools, you've got the talent.

7. Diversify
Who the heck knows what's going to happen? You do a little of everything and hope it all turns out.

So, dear readers, what did I miss? What other options are there available and which is your favorite?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The first stage of collapse?

News of financial doom has been increasing lately - the neverending mortgage mess, the collapse of IndyMac, the troubles of the largest mortgage holders (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac), the skyrocketing price of oil, the groundbreaking fall of the dollar, softening economy, rising joblessness, record consumer and government debt..... and to top it all off, our sober Peak Oil investment banker Matt Simmons is sounding more and more doomish every day.

I become more and more worried that SERIOUS financial trouble is just around the corner. Something along the lines of the Great Depression - too many bank failures for the FDIC to take care of. Savings wiped out. 10 - 15% joblessness, if not more. Inflation - or hyperinflation. Another Black Thursday.

After all, most of the financial innovations that we rely on, take advantage of, and assume will be there forever were only invented... 25 years ago? 100 years? Innovations like stocks, bonds, and mutual funds are supposedly the key to outpacing inflation and guaranteeing a safe retirement. Investing techniques like index funds, diversification, and dollar cost averaging are supposed to see us through our golden years. But how reliable could they possibly be? Their track record is less than 100 years old! And they are all based on the assumption that we will have an ever growing economy, which requires a cheap and easy supply of oil.

Unfortunately, financial disasters - bear markets, stock market crashes, periods of hyperinflation, bank failures, recessions and depressions - are more commonplace than we might think. For example, if your retirement money was fully invested by the Stock Market Crash of 1929, you would not even have broken even until 1954 - 25 years later. According to PBS:

By the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president in March 1933, the banking system of the United States had largely ceased to function. Depositors had seen $140 billion disappear when their banks failed. Businesses could not get credit for inventory. Checks could not be used for payments because no one knew which checks were worthless and which were sound.

Of course, financial systems have a momentum of their own, the juggernaut of history, expectations and the concept of reality. They tend to hold together far longer than logic would predict. All sorts of bubbles -, the tulip fiasco, unwise mortgage lending - could all be reasonably foreseen years ahead of time. But they went on and on until they convinced the very last nay-sayers to join in the game. And then, they burst.

Does any one think that we have a financial tipping point approaching? A paradigm shift, where the financial landscape no longer looks familiar? Where we can no longer assume money in the bank is safe and retirement is an option? On the flip side, how many of you think that all these messes will straighten out and the global financial system is in no danger?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Is Solar Cooking for You?

I love my solar cooker! I use it as often as is practical, and I find that the investment in a purchased Sun Oven was well worth the money. I get a lot of satisfaction out of saving energy and showing off the Sun Oven to friends, family and the blogging community :).

But is solar cooking worth it to YOU? Is it worth purchasing one and learning how to use it? Or is it worth the time to figure out how to build one? Whether solar cooking is right for you depends on several factors:

1. Geographical location
2. Location for your solar cooker
3. Your goals
4. What you want to cook
5. Your schedule and adaptability

Your geographical location
If you live in Southern California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Colorado, Nevado, Utah or Oklahoma, look no further. You are in prime solar cooking-ville. In fact, any place south of the 40 degree latitude has around 150 prime cooking days. The authors of Cooking with Sunshine report that you can use a solar cooker if you live between the 60th parallels of latitude on Planet Earth :).

The best places for cooking are, obviously, ones with many sunny days. Surprise! Oklahoma City is the 11th sunniest major city in the United States!

Personally, I have found that in June and July it is possible to cook 2 - 3 different things (bread, lunch and dinner) on sunny days in OKC, which I have found to be 4 - 5 times per week on average. I'm sure this will decrease as the days grow shorter, and in the winter I will probably have to cook dinner at lunchtime. I'll report on that later...

Location for your Solar Cooker
As a guideline, your solar cooker/ Sun Oven will usually need at least 4 hours in an unshaded location between 10 am and 4 pm in the spring, autumn, and winter; and as few as 2 - 3 hours between 9 am and 6 pm in the summer (depending on your cooker and what you are cooking). I find it easy to cook in my Sun Oven because it is located right outside my back door and I can pop out to check on food or adjust the cooker in just a few seconds.

Your Goals
Why do you want a solar cooker? Here are a few common reasons:
1. You want to decrease your environmental impact by using less energy (natural gas, electricity, wood, etc.)
2. You want a back up option in the case that your usual energy source is not available. For instance, many peak oil theorists predict rolling blackouts or grid crashes as energy becomes more scarce or rationed.
3. You want a way to cook during camping, park cookouts, or at a remote, non-grid location, such as a cabin.
4. You want to avoid heating up the house in summer. (As a bonus, your food is already cooked by the evening, when your house is getting the hottest!)
5. You want to hedge your bets against rising energy prices by reducing your energy usage now.
6. You want a cool way to demonstrate Earth-friendly technologies to your doubting family or friends. You want an easy way to get people talking about reducing energy use or preparing for the peak oil future.

What you want to cook
Keep in mind, you can solar cook both "oven" food and "cooktop" food (although maybe not sauteeing). The fastest foods to cook are fish, chicken, egg and cheese dishes, rice, some grains (like quinoa and couscous), fruit, beans from a can, pizzas, non-root veggies, sweet potatoes, and warming up leftovers. You can cook these in 1 - 2 hours, so it is easy in even marginal areas. I have found that I can cook foods like enchiladas, quesadilla stacks, and lasagna in 2 hours as well.

Foods that take a little longer (3-4 hours) include bread, root veggies (potatoes, carrots), lentils, and meats. I have to note that with my Global Sun Oven, I have found that I can cook banana bread in under 2 hours in prime conditions. If you cut up potatoes you may be able to cook them in a shorter time.

Foods that take the longest (5 - 8 hours) include large roasts, soups, and dried beans. I haven't even tried these yet, so I can't comment.

Your Schedule and Adaptability
Solar cooking is a little different - you have to cook during daylight hours and allow enough time to get the food cooked. According to some sources, you can put dinner in the solar cooker (facing due South) in the morning and come back home to a cooked meal. However, I have not tried that. I have always monitored the cooker and adjusted it as the sun moved. Maybe I should try it - it sounds pretty darn easy.

Bottom Line
Basically, if you live in a prime solar cooking area and have any of the goals listed above, you might at least try making your own solar cooker. Although I do love my Global Sun Oven, there are cheaper ways to solar cook.

If you want to cook mostly fast-cooking dishes, you should consider getting or making a solar cooker, even if you live in a somewhat marginal area.

If you only cook dried beans and you live in Alaska, don't even bother :).

Bee update

Air Pollution Impedes Bees' Ability to Find Flowers

Excerpts from the article:

Fuentes said scientists now have a more sophisticated understanding of the signals for which insects are searching, and that air pollution rapidly eliminates as much as 90 percent of flowers' aroma.

In the prevailing conditions before the 1800s, the researchers calculated that a flower's scent could travel between 3,280 feet and 4,000 feet, Fuentes said in an interview, but today, that scent might travel 650 feet to 1,000 feet in highly polluted areas such as the District of Columbia, Los Angeles or Houston.

This phenomenon triggers a cycle, the authors noted, in which the pollinators have trouble finding sufficient food, and as a result their populations decline. That, in turn, translates into decreased pollination and keeps flowering plants, including many fruits and vegetables, from proliferating.

Hopefully peak oil will have a positive benefit of decreasing air pollution... but I won't hold my breath. Maybe I DO need to get some bees for the backyard. I think this may be the reason why I am getting only one or two zukes and cukes per week, and why I had to self-pollinate the pumpkin. (Although I do see bees buzzing around my plants... hmmm).

I live in the middle of a city, in the middle of an area with FOUR highways/expressways. I have never thought of this area as "polluted" but I can see how it might be hard for bees to find their way, despite my efforts with clover, catmint, lemon balm, and borage.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Wishful thinking

If we must decrease our collective carbon footprints by 90% to avert the worst effects of global warming... that means cutting electricity use, along with everything else, by 90%. So, if we are only going to be using 10% of our former electricity, plus maybe a little extra from wind and solar, what functions and products would you like to keep? What is most vital to our society's well-being?

I think we can cross Nintendo and clothes dryers off the list. And while undoubtedly it won't work out this way (probably the rich will keep getting as much as they want while the rest get what they can afford), I think it's good to think ahead - in case we have the chance to make intelligent choices.

Here's my short list for best use of electricity:

Public services
  • Neighborhood canning kitchens
  • Libraries
  • Emergency rooms
  • Wellness & family planning clinics
  • Water
  • Firefighters
  • Police
  • Weather information & alerts
  • Dentists

Home usage

  • Lighting
  • Ceiling fans
  • Telephones
  • Efficient cookstoves (only to be used when the sun isn't shining ;)
  • Radios


  • Immunizations
  • Anaesthesia
  • Alleve :)
  • Birth control
  • Canning lids
  • Bike tires
  • Soap & detergent & floss & toothpaste
  • Books!
  • Chocolate & coffee

Your thoughts and wish lists?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Hoteling - Or, Convincing your Workplace

If you or a group of people at your workplace are trying to get increased telecommuting priveleges, here's a tip: make it all about the benefits to your employer. And we all know, nothing talks like money. One way to save your employer some money, and help persuade them to see it your way, is the hoteling technique.

My former employer was a consulting firm. Since they had people in and out of the office, usually at client's offices or telecommuting, they used a money-saving technique called "hoteling".

How it worked: Only senior managers or partners had their own, reserved office. Everyone else had temporary cubicles when they were in the office and reserved storage drawers (for the inevitable paperwork). Consultants or senior consultant who wanted to work in the office would reserve a seat at the office using special hoteling software, for however many days. Or, we could schedule a recurring spot - like every Thursday. If we forgot to reserve a cubicle or office ahead of time, we got one at a kiosk when we walked in that morning. After we arrived, we would plug in our laptops at our temporary desk, and the hoteling software program automatically routed all our calls to the phone at the reserved seat.

Using hoteling, my employer was able to radically reduce the size of the office space that they rented. Of course, this meant a huge cost-savings, in rental, maintenance, and utility costs. We underlings liked it too because it meant that we could work from home when we wanted or needed to.

The tradeoff: everyone had their own laptop, which had to be carried home every night (we were allowed to use them for personal reasons at home). Although, if you are only going to be working from home this may not be strictly necessary. But having standardized laptops and software did make computer trouble-shooting a lot easier for the help desk. And of course, our cubes at work were blank anonymous grey wastelands, but what the heck. Carry a few pictures with you and tack them up.

One study by the IRS found that 100 hoteling participants saved the employer $414,000. Additionally, 88% had lower stress, 59% were more motivated, and 100% of managers were satisfied or highly satisfied with the arrangement.

This arrangement does require a critical mass of people who will be telecommuting or otherwise out of the office for most of the time - but if that's the situation, or if your co-workers would like that situation, than hoteling may be a good option for your employer.

Other times to suggest hoteling + telecommuting include office expansions (no longer necessary), cost-cutting projects (better than layoffs!), new computer rollouts (your employer could buy laptops instead, for telecommuters, or may not need to buy new ones at all, if telecommuters have their own computers) or "greening" projects when your employer is looking to actually get more environmental. Be a hero and suggest the hoteling + telecommuting combo - less commuting, less gas wasted, less carbon footprint, and money saved!

Saturday, July 5, 2008

My 3-Day Workweek

Many people are pressing for a 4 - Day workweek as part of efforts to decrease our collective gas consumption. The whole state government of Utah has even signed up!

First, I have to mention that I think while this would be a great idea and help slow down our carbon emissions, it's an interim solution, at best. Still, there are some excellent reasons for a 4-day workweek, including:

  • Gas savings
  • Decrease in pollution, auto accidents, and traffic congestion,
  • Savings on childcare (possibly),
  • Greater family time (possibly),
  • Less stress / more time to decompress
  • More time to focus on preparing for peak oil :)
  • And for businesses - about the same amount of productivity, with decreased electrical and operational costs.

I had a 3-day workweek for a year and LOVED it, although I was only paid 60% of normal salary (although I did get full health benefits). I used the rest of my workweek to start preparing for peak oil - improving the energy efficiency of the house, doing research, and starting my garden and orchard.

I would definitely recommend it. On the downside, there was the decreased pay, decreased visibility, and I accepted that I wouldn't be on track for big promotions. Of course, a 40% reduction in pay ain't peanuts. You have to have a pretty compelling reason to take a pay cut like that.

I was only able to bring myself to ask for this option because I seriously wanted to think about a different way of life, a way of life that would have less and less energy every year. When I asked my employer if I could have this type of arrangement, I found that my firm was incredibly flexible and helpful.

What is keeping us in our old ways, the 5 day a week grind? For many, possibly most people, it's the pay and the fear of losing health benefits, or company policy. Of course, if your employer went to 4 ten-hour days or 9 nine-hour days, with every other Friday off, that would not be an issue. Besides pay, there's also habit and fear of asking for something different.

SO think about it.... you could try a 4 day workweek, or maybe one day working from home, yourself. How could you rearrange your schedule to make it possible? Could you move meetings around? Could you teleconference in to meetings? Could you do most of your non-interactive work on the one day you work from home (a paperwork day?)? Could you get rid of non-productive time spent on e-mails or unnecessary meetings? Could you delegate?

Think seriously about it. The more people that ask, the more willing companies and governments will be to create 4-day weeks and telecommuting policies. If gas goes over $5, the reduced workweek may not only be a privelege, but a necessity.

Friday, July 4, 2008

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Millions of peaches

I have 2 peach trees in my front yard (J.H. Hale and Hale Haven) and they are ripe for the pickin'. Well, one is. The other will be ready next week. Thank goodness, because one tree at a time is enough for me to deal with. BTW, peach trees are ideal for edible landscaping. They have pretty shapes, pretty leaves, pretty blooms and gorgeous fruit. Unfortunately, they don't live very long and are prone to infestation (we have some little wormies every year - we have to cut them out). I guess you take the bad with the good.

Keep in mind, this is after I pruned and thinned - buckets of thinned peaches. Unfortunately I could not reach the tops of the trees and so they have started bending over. Whoops. A few days ago I had to do an emergency thinning during a rainstorm, when I thought the weight of the rain was going to be the straw that broke the peach tree's back. I just ran out and started pulling them off and throwing them on the ground. Next year I will have to be BRUTAL.

The first small batch was harvested today. This picture shows about 5% of the first batch. These ones were damaged (bruised, pecked, pockmarked) and ripe so I want to process them first before they go bad. Some of them also have little wormies, which have to be cut out - I guess that's the price you pay for going organic, although I've heard there are some oil sprays that we can use. I just never got around to it.

Last year we harvested all the peaches at once (eight full grocery bags), then tried to figure out what to do with them (we gave them away and froze them). This year we are going to harvest in batches, picking all the ripe ones on successive days and processing them - canning, jamming, freezing, drying. We may lose a few more that way to birds and buggies, but that's ok - we have more than enough. Whew! The thought of it exhausts me. But a proper Peak Oil Hausfrau needs to learn how to do these things - they may be necessary next year.