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Don’t Halve Your Friends

I know this post will be a little different than many of my previous posts, but I felt I needed to get some balance back into what we do. Halving things is good, but some things simply shouldn’t be minimized. There were a number of factors leading up to this that I need to explain, so stay with me, OK? This might be a bit of a circuitous journey today.
First, the picture is of my wife Brenda on the left and her friend Shelley. They grew up together and both couples of us are all still friends. It’s from a hiking trip the four of us took a couple of years ago. But that isn’t where this post started.
Last night I was at a BBQ and was talking with another friend of mine. He mentioned how he was blogging at a local coffee shop with some friends of his and related that story to me. But that isn’t where this blog started, either. It was, however, the trigger.
What it did was remind me of the day, some weeks ago, I was at that same coffee shop (the best coffee shop in Eugene, by the way), waiting to meet a friend when the most vivd example of friendship unfolded right before my eyes. And this is where this blog started.
As I was waiting for my friend, I was people-watching. Coffee shops especially are great places for this activity. And what I saw was the most incredible thing. Carefully, methodically, two men came up to the door together. Not typically unusual except one was in a wheelchair and the other was pushing him. Also not terribly unusual except the man pushing him was blind. Now before we go to “a blind guy was pushing a guy in a wheelchair” jokes, stop and think about what was being played out for a minute.
As they approached the door, the man in the wheelchair was speaking directions to the blind man pushing him. He was carefully, descriptively letting him know what to do, left, right, wait a bit while I get the door handle, now inside over a bump, here’s a table, there’s a chair to your left. The blind man sat down next to the man in the wheelchair who then looked up at the menu and said “I see something you’d really like” and proceeded to describe it to him.
It was the most amazing and beautiful example of friendship I think I’ve seen. Their relationship was one of mutual need. The man in the wheelchair needed a push, the blind man needed direction. They each had something the other needed and willingly shared it. In a word, relationship.
And that brings me back to the BBQ last night. That was the simple, but often missed point my friend was making: that we need to concentrate on building our relationships with each other. 
Because we need relationship. So halve your electricity use, your driving, etc, but don’t halve your friendships.
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TV Commercials

I was trying to think of a blog topic that relates to “halving it all” and started to feel like I had exhausted a lot of the topics. Then I thought of TV commercials. And that sent me down an interesting path of thought.

My wife and I some time ago cut our cable TV subscription back to the bare basic minimum. In fact, we would have cut it out completely, but with our internet service, the basic cable TV is almost free, so we kept it. What we discovered some time ago was iTunes and AppleTV. We have found we can buy our TV shows (the few we watch) for less money than the expanded basic cable service. So we did. And while that didn’t “halve” our costs, it did something much deeper.

It eliminated the commercials.

Not only can we watch a one hour show in 42 minutes (yes, a typical one hour show has 18 minutes of commercials), we don’t see the commercials. And while that can sometimes be a conversation blocker in a social setting when someone asks “did you see the new Pepsi commercial?”, it really hasn’t hurt us any. What it HAS done is we now find we want less “stuff”.

We realized in kind of an epiphany yesterday that we are much more content with what we have. We’re not bombarded with the constant 18 minutes per hour of all the stuff we can’t live without. And we’re finding we can live without a lot of it. We don’t need the latest this or that or the new whatever.

And we’re much happier.

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Hannah’s Lunchbox

No need to say more in this post; just watch the video.
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Junk Mail

So last time I talked about phone books. Today I’d like to talk about junk mail. No one gets junk mail do we? Oh, really? You do?

Our recycle bin at home is dominated by the junk mail that comes to us in the snail mail. I think that’s the dominant form of paper we recycle. Some, we don’t even open or look at. It simply goes from mail box to recycle bin to making more junk mail.

It’s even worse at my office; and with the economy the way it is, it seems to have ramped up. We get some of the trade magazines for free. And we get eight copies– one for each staff. Sometimes two or three per staff if they have multiple spellings of our names. One trade company I know was sending us 10 copies. I contacted them, said we really only need one (it’s still a good publication), they said they would get it down to one. We’re still getting 10 and it’s been over a year. Maybe I should publish their name here…

There is a company I discovered a few years ago and I will publish their name here. I discovered them when I was getting 3 copies a month of an Eddie Bauer mailing advertisement (when there isn’t an Eddie Bauer store within 100 miles of my home). It’s called Catalog Choice (http://www.catalogchoice.org/). It’s free and it works. Think of the number of trees and water used simply to make and print the paper junk mail is sent to us on.

Like I mentioned with the phone books last time, it’s a way to opt-out of catalogues you don’t want to get. Or multiple catalogues to one address. It’s easy to use. And, since I originally joined, they have added an opt-in for electronic catalogs called iCatalog. The way it works is retailers really do want to target their mail ads. We really only want to get what we want to get. Catalog Choice puts that together in a database and viola! less junk mail. Retailers are happy, I’m happy, it’s a win win.

And, with diligence, it has made a difference. Our home junk mail has been probably cut 60 to 70%. Not all retailers participate, but many do. And there are more and more each month. Check it out; it’s a way to more the “halve” your junk mail.

Posted in consume, double, energy, garbage, half, halves, junk mail, less, paper, recycle | Leave a comment

Saving Water

Water. Something we in the US take largely for granted. We go to the faucet, turn it on and don’t really think twice about it. For us it’s abundant, cheap and clean. And for those of us in the Pacific Northwest, it’s cool, refreshing and drinkable — right out of the tap.
But a lot of the world doesn’t have access to good, clean water. So why should I care? I should care because there is only so much water in the world. And being less wasteful is always a good thing. Americans use, on average almost 70 gallons of water per day per person. That’s a huge amount of water. And if we simply installed more water efficient fixtures and regularly checked for leaks, we could reduce that by about 35% to about 45 gallons per day. Not quite “half”, but darn close.
Most of the savings would come in more efficient toilets. I had a friend suggest taking the water bottles we throw away, filling them with water and putting them in our toilet tanks to reduce each flush. I remember a long time ago, they suggested doing a similar thing with bricks to displace the water, but it got brick gunk in the toilet and didn’t work too well.
So I wonder how this would work? We don’t use plastic water bottles, and I don’t want to buy them just to try this (I have one of those fundamental issues with water bottles), so here’s the challenge: give it a try and let me know how it works.
Some other ways to save water are to run the faucet when brushing your teeth only to get the toothbrush wet, then shut it off and only turn it back on when you go to rinse. Small step, but ask “would this be good if EVERYONE did it? I think so.
Shorter showers, only running full loads of dishes and clothes also would help. And, water efficient landscaping (another topic on another day), would be huge. Lawns are the number one irrigated crop in the world.
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Phantom Electricity

This handy little device is called “Kill A Watt”. I have one. It’s been very educational. You can buy them at most any hardware store and our local library will even check one out to you for free.
What is does is measure the amount of electricity flowing to any device: computer, TV, DVD player, stereo. You may or may not know this, but many devices draw electricity even when they are off. If you have a tv with a remote, it’s sucking electricity 24/7. All so you can have that “instant on” feature we absolutely can’t live without (forgive the sarcasm). This post meshes well with our thirty second rule I talked about earlier, only it could be almost a 24/7 rule.
It’s estimated that about 10% of our electricity use in our homes goes to phantom power. and that might not seem like much, but would you enjoy getting a check in the mail for 10% of your electricity use each month? I would.
Newer TVs and devices can get an Energy Star rating, and that’s better, but plug strips are becoming very popular. We have a TV/DVD/Apple TV in our bedroom. The TV and DVD are Energy Star and draw barely 1 to 3 watts while off (that’s not bad, but two devices x 3 watts x 24 hours x 365 days adds up). Plus, as big a fan as I am of Apple, our Apple TV (an older model, I’m an early adopter), was drawing 29 watts just sitting there!
So I got a plug strip. After, all, it’s not often we watch TV in bed, so even the 3 watts was more than we wanted to consume. Now, when we want to watch TV, I click on the plug strip. The down side is instead of instant on, I have to wait about 15 – 20 seconds. What’s unbelievable about this is that in our culture we would actually notice that. We should all just step back, take a deep breath and relax. We’d all be healthier for it.

I recommend you get or borrow a Kill A Watt and check out the phantom power in your home. It may be educational for you, too.
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If you’re following a recent wave on Facebook, you’ll have noticed women posting their bra color to raise awareness about breast cancer. Well, I had already planned this post, so thought it timely to go for it. I was originally going to call it “Halves and Doubles: Underwear”, but decided to change simply to “White”.
But what does this have to do with our desire to “halve it all”? Thanks for asking. Today’s post is actually about doubling. I have about 20 pair of briefs. There, I said it. TMI. But why does this even matter? Thanks for asking that, too.
If we adjust the amount of clothing we own so that we are able to run full loads of wash, not partial loads (and not even “almost full” loads), we will save water. So actually doubling the amount of underwear we own may ultimately save in the long run. So you see, it’s not just about doing with less, it’s about being smart about what we do.
I buy underwear that is well-made, all the same color (so they don’t need to be washed separately) and they last. Durability is a factor to consider, too, since that saves material, manufacturing, money, etc.
This can apply to clothing other than underwear, too, but a picture of a shirt here wouldn’t have been as eye-catching to you. And, just so you know, it was quite an experience Googling underwear images. THAT was truly TMI. It took me a very long time to find an image I felt was appropriate. Finally found this one on about page 24 of the search list.
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Grouping Your Trips

Depending on how you drive or get around, you might be able to “halve” your gasoline consumption. I used to think that riding my bike or the bus to work would save a majority of my gasoline consumption. But I recently learned that the majority of our VMTs (vehicle miles traveled) are NOT going to and from work. They are in the day-to-day trips to the grocery store, school, restaurants and the like.

Trips to and from work only account for about 30% to 40% of our VMTs. Now I’m not saying that riding my bike to work doesn’t have an impact or isn’t substantial, after all, 30% to 40% is still a pretty big chunk of consumption. What I’m saying is trips to and from work are kind of a given. Five days a week, same times of day and mostly incoming and outgoing with little variety or opportunity is more difficult to reduce than the trip to the grocery store, back home and, oops, I need to go here, then there.

Plan out your trips. If you need to go by the bank, try and group it with another trip in that general direction. If we only grouped two trips instead of just one, we would be well on our way to “halving” it all.

Posted in cars, consume, gasoline, half, halves, reduce, trips, vmt, vmts, work | Leave a comment

Vinegar and Baking Soda

Household chemicals. Probably some of the most dangerous things we have around. Have you ever really looked at the labels on some of that stuff? My wife and I have a rule (seems like we have lots of rules, huh?) that relates to food and is making its way into many aspects of our lives. And that rule is we look at the ingredients in our food or in our cleaning supplies or household items such as toothpaste and if we can’t spell it or pronounce it, we try to avoid it.
This especially can apply to cleaning supplies. From window and countertop cleaners to scrubbing cleansers, we typically use products containing things such as ethylene glycol mono butyl ether (I think that’s just one ingredient with five words) and, here’s a good one: n-Alkyl dimethyl Benzyl ammonium chlorides. And, to top it all off, there are warning labels to seek medical attention if you get this in your eyes or on your skin.
And we’re cleaning our kitchen countertops with this stuff? The same countertop we prepare our food on? Does any of this seem even a little bit weird to you?
For several years, we have been using what I call “natural” cleaning supplies. And, no, we don’t buy the latest “green” cleaning product (although some are very good). For 99% of our cleaning, we have been using white vinegar in a 50-50 mix with water and baking soda.
We have cotton cleaning towels and we have an old spray bottle we’ve reused and filled with our vinegar solution. This works on bathroom and kitchen sinks, countertops, mirrors, pretty much everything. For scrubbing and more difficult areas (like our stainless steel sinks), we use baking soda and a little water, make a paste, get an old toothbrush and we’re set.
There have been few areas of our house that we haven’t been able to clean with these products. And the big advantages are they are cheap (A gallon of white vinegar costs just under $3 around here and a large box of baking soda is about the same), and we don’t worry using them around the kitchen counters and our food. In fact, there are some pretty good recipes using vinegar and others using baking soda. Hmmm…

But probably one of the best compliments we’ve had, though, is when my mom called me the other day and asked what we used to clean our house, because “it always looks so nice”. Oh yeah.
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