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Last week, I participated in the No Impact Week Experiment.  One of the days focused on ways to give back to the community.  As I was reflecting on the ways that I have and am currently volunteering, I was interested in seeing how my volunteering had shifted from being more community-focused to more family-focused. 

During 2011, I expect that my family responsibilities/caregiving will continue and/or increase.  However, I would also like to step up my effort in giving back to the community – whether it is by offering my time, talents, or resources. 

Giving back doesn’t have to be on a large scale. And doesn’t have to be about money.

Oftentimes charities, organizations, and foundations need support beyond donations. And that’s what I’m going to try to focus on.

I will be sharing what the girls and I will be doing each week.  Perhaps you, too, will be inspired to give back.  If you do, please comment below to share what you are doing.

Together we can make a difference.

***

52 Weeks of Giving: Week 1

During the first week in January, Sophia, Olivia, and I visited The Hunger Site multiple times and pressed a button which resulted in a donation of food to someone in need.

Sophia clicking on one of the Hunger Site’s buttons

The Hunger Site which was founded to focus the power of the Internet on a specific humanitarian need: the eradication of world hunger. Since its launch in June 1999, the site has established itself as a leader in online activism, helping to feed the world’s hungry.

On average, over 220,000 individuals from around the world visit the site each day to click the yellow “Click Here to Give – it’s FREE” button. To date, more than 300 million visitors have given more than 671 million cups of staple food.  To do this, click HERE.

The staple food funded by clicks at The Hunger Site is paid for by site sponsors and distributed to those in need by Mercy Corps, Feeding America (formerly America’s Second Harvest), and Millennium Promise. 100% of sponsor advertising fees goes to the charitable partners. Funds are split between these organizations and go to the aid of hungry people in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and North America.

This is such a wonderful, simple – and free – way to help others who are hungry. 

While you’re at the site, there are tabs at the top for additional (free) way to give. By simply clicking on a button, you can help provide:

– Mammograms to low-income women;

– Healthcare for children in need.

– Free books to children in need.

– Awareness and prevention of deforestation; and help preserve rainforest land.

– Funding for food and care is paid by site sponsors and distributed to animals in need by The Fund for Animals, the Petfinder Foundation, North Shore Animal League America, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and other worthy animal rescue organizations supported by the GreaterGood.org foundation.

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Today’s focus of the No Impact Week Experiment is about awareness and taking some time back for oneself.

According to YES! magazine, “This is a chance to lay off the lights, televisions, computers, appliances, cell phones, flashing gadgets, and other stuff that seems to make the world go round. It’s a special time to hang out (or in) by yourself or with friends and family. It is a time to reflect on the well-being of yourself and the planet.”

Sunrise - 7:01 a.m.
Sunrise – view from the front yard

Eco-Sabbath Definition

What exactly is an “eco-sabbath.” YES! magazine describes it as:

Ecology – The interrelationship between organisms and their environment
Sabbath – A time of rest
Eco-Sabbath – Together, you and the environment take a break

Flower after a mid-day rain
Flower after the rain

Time for Reflection

One of the activities that is suggested is to reflect upon the past No Impact Week. Consider what worked well, what was particularly difficult, and what could be permanently changed.

When I think about the past week, these are things that worked well:

Reduced the amount of trash generated.  The amount that was recycled was about the same.

Sophia and Bailey
Sophia with Bailey

Reduced the amount of new items I purchased.  The only things I purchased during the past week were six bales of hay (for the horses); dog and cat food; one tank of gasoline; and flowers and a card for my dad for his birthday (I was going to make a gift, but have been sick and didn’t have the energy to make something.  I ended up making a gift for him yesterday which I’ll give to him on January 15th when I see him next).

Used items on hand rather than purchasing new things or going out to eat.  I made a miniature quilt and matching pillow using fabric that I have on hand (this is for my dad’s stuffed animal – his “Corgi” – which he carries around and provides comfort to him [my dad has Alzheimer’s disease]).  For all 21 meals this past week, I was able to make them from items I had in the refrigerator, freezer, or cupboards. 

Cinnamon Roll Cookies
Homemade Cinnamon Roll Cookies

Made food from scratch.  I made a lot of different foods this week, and tried some new recipes. There’s no comparison to fresh, homemade bread or cookies right out of the oven.  What’s even better is that I can make the food dairy-free (since Sophia has a dairy-allergy), and there are no chemicals or preservatives in the food I’m making.

Turned the thermostat lower.  Several times during the week, I lowered the thermostat by 1-2 degrees during the day.  We also made fires in the woodstove for a couple of the days so the furnace wouldn’t turn on.  This saved 6-8 hours of heating (propane), yet kept the key areas of the home warm.

Fire in the Wood Stove
Fire in the woodstove
to reduce the amount of propane used during the winter

Reduced the amount of energy used by the oven.  I made a point of filling the oven with items to bake so that I was making everything at once rather than at different times during the day.  This worked well, especially when things could be baked at the same temperature.  When things had different temperatures, I simply averaged them together and then adjusted the baking time.

Washed the dishes when the dishwasher and/or sink was full.  I normally do the former, but try not to do the latter.  This week, I did both and found that it did, in fact, save water by doing a full sink of dishes that had soaked for awhile rather than doing a few here and there.  Most the dishes and silverware can fit in the dishwasher.  The items I was washing by hand were the baking dishes and cookie sheets.

Finding inspiring ideas and websites for giving back to the community.  I particularly liked the idea of 52 Weeks of Giving or 52 Weeks of Impact where you do something good each week of the year.  It’s the intention and focus of wanting to make a difference that I like.
 
These were the items that were difficult:

– I still have not found a good (and practical) way to compost.  When I used to have chickens, I would throw out all food scraps to them.  The food waste would be gone…and the hens and roosters would be happy.  I would love to get chickens again, but with Montague he would end up chasing and trying to catch them which isn’t fair to the chickens, and it’s stressful for me. 

ATC Traded - Embroidered Henny Penny Taking a Stroll
Hand-embroidered chicken I made
(it’s small – about 2 1/2″ x 3 1/2″)

I’ve tried a compost container under the sink – even ones with the carbon filters – and they still seem to attract fruit flies.  Haven’t tried worm composting yet…maybe that’s worth a try.  This is a good introduction to vermiculture for children which I could easily integrate into homeschooling.  It would certainly make good, on-going, hands-on science/environmental lessons.

Measuring a Worm
Sophia measuring a worm she found in the backyard
during the summer

Eating local in the middle of the winter in Minnesota.  This is easy to do during the spring through fall when crops are growing, but the ground is completely frozen in Minnesota during the winter.  Unless I’m using food I’ve stored in some way (e.g., canned, frozen, dried), I don’t know how to eat food that is locally grown in the winter. 

Not using paper towels.  Ironically, I ran out of paper towels right before the No Impact Week Experiment began.  I chose not to purchase new ones.  There were a few times that I would have much preferred to use paper towels than a rag, but I did make it through the week. 

Finding alternative sources of transportation in a rural area.  There isn’t a good system set up in the country.  Biking 5 miles round trip to the post office on a county road (where cars and trucks travel at 55 mph or more) where there’s no bike lane with two children under the age of 10 is a bit stressful for me.  Biking 26-30 miles round trip to go to Target or the grocery store…I just don’t see that as a practical option.  Combining errands so I’m reducing the amount of gasoline I use…that’s much more practical.

Accepting that I am not as active in giving back to the community as I once was.  Although I try to make a difference by giving back, I have found that (due to family circumstances) my focus during the past year has been of being of service to my family and parents versus the greater community (local, statewide, and international). 

What could be permanently changed

– Continue to look for ways to reduce purchasing.  The past week made me more aware of the resources that I have right in the home.  I should use these before even thinking of purchasing new things.  With the amount of fabric, wool, and crafting supplies I have on hand, I could certainly be busy for at least a year, for example.

Felt Balls in Lots of Colors
Wool felt balls I made –
natural eco-friendly toys for children

Eating locally during the spring through fall.  I look forward to growing food in the garden again this year, and would like to add a couple more gardens in sunny and accessible spots.  Scheduling time to go to Farmer’s Markets would also be enjoyable. 

Preserving more produce.  When I’m going to Farmer’s Markets, I’d like to purchase extra produce to preserve (can, freeze, or dry) so we can enjoy it during the winter.  It would be nice to get a pressure cooker as well so I can can vegetables and/or soups.

Cranberry Salsa
Cranberry salsa

Making homemade soaps, bath salts, and laundry soap.  I checked out several books from the library about making homemade versions of soaps for personal care and the laundry.  There are so many great ideas and recipes for doing this.  Olivia saw one of the books and was very intrigued.  “We should do this!” she said.  I think she’ll be my helper in this area.

Continue to try to lower the thermostat by a couple of degrees.  This is particularly important not just from an energy/environmental standpoint.  The propane tank was just filled this week – $847.  Combined with $424 from the November bill…that’s a big chunk of money. 

Granted, the propane is not just for heating (it’s for appliances – like the washer/dryer, stove, water heater), but that’s still a considerable amount to spend.  If this could stretch over two months (the coldest months in Minnesota), that would be ideal. 

Although this amount is high, it is a substantial reduction from just a few years ago when the propane bill for the winter was more than double this amount.  (Thanks to re-insulating the entire home and adding insulation in many areas a couple years ago due to storm damage, the propane bill has decreased.)

Look for little ways to make an impact on the community each week.  I find that when I write a schedule (or a plan) of things I want to accomplish that I do a lot more.  I did this during the holiday season (from November 1-January 1) and enjoyed the variety of things I did to celebrate the season and make it memorable and meaningful, particularly for my daughters.  Taking some time to plan the upcoming year in terms of volunteering and giving back would ensure that I could increase the impact I’m making.

The Experiment’s Effect on Others

The No Impact Week Experiment encourages participants about how they can go even further. It suggests the following: “Think about how the week affected others and what adjustments, if any, are in order. This is a time to discover and appreciate the bare necessities.”

The past week definitely affected my family, though they may not always have been aware of the changes.  One of the biggest changes was with food.  Even though the Experiment said that new food could be purchased during the week, I wanted to go a step further and use only what I had on hand this week. 

There were several “successes” – such as an incredibly good fruit smoothie made from frozen strawberries and blueberries that were picked during the summer; and honey from our bees.  Sophia and I combined the berries with some juices (apple and grape) as well as an orange.  We mixed it in the Vita-Mix mixer, and it was very thick…almost like a milkshake in a way.  “This is the best smoothie we’ve ever made!  We should measure out the ingredients next time and make a cookbook so I can use it with my children!” Sophia said. 

Black Raspberries Ready for Jam
Black raspberries that grow wild here at the farm. 
They seem to spread and multiply with each passing year!
I used up lots of pre-packaged food (which I’m not terribly proud of purchasing, but have ended up using at times during the past year when I’ve been rushed or simply too tired to prepare a made-from-scratch meal).  This now gives us a fresh start to eating healthier…something that’s easier to do when the “not so healthy” food isn’t there.

The Girls Strawberry Picking
Picking strawberries – an annual activity

I used produce that I canned during the summer – peaches and applesauce – to supplement the fresh fruit and vegetables I served with almost every meal. 
 
Despite the “successes” there were also some challenges.  For some meals, I decreased the amount of meat that was served while increasing the amount of other options (e.g., freshly-baked pumpkin bread or cornbread, steamed carrots or corn).  “Is this all we’re having for dinner?” I was asked a couple of times.  Or…worse yet…”I’m still hungry.”  Those are things that are hard to hear…at least for me.  (Note: the girls didn’t go to bed hungry…after a little dessert – a homemade cookie or brownies – they were fine.  No complaints then.)
 
No Impact Week Experiment suggested some steps for observing an eco-sabbath.  These steps are noted below.

Reflect on Your Days Off

One of the questions the Experiment asked was, “How do you usually spend your day off? Consider how different — if at all — this day will be.” 

As a mother to two children under the age of 10 and owner of two dogs, five cats, and two horses, I don’t think there’s such a thing as a “day off.”  There’s always something that needs to be done.

Ready to Eat
Saw this heron at the bird sanctuary in Texas.

A “day off” for me happens when I am able to physically go somewhere else and not be responsible for anyone or anything.  I was able to go to San Padre Island back in May during the off-season.  It was quiet, peaceful, and relaxing.  I explored the beaches and the tidelines, went to museums, the bird sanctuary, and turtle sanctuary/rehabilitation center.  I watched the wildlife there – birds and alligators, mostly.  It was wonderful. 

Chipmunk on Stairs
An overly friendly chipmunk who enjoyed being fed. 
Saw it on the Gunflint Trail in September. 
The girls named it “Mr. Chippy.”

Today won’t be like one of the days off that are relaxing and nourish my soul.  I don’t know when I’ll be able to take a vacation again. 

Perhaps the goal is just to use the quiet time here – in the early morning hours – more like a rest/sabbath period than a work time (which I do now).  Even dedicating an hour each day when it is quiet and peaceful – and everyone (except me) is resting – to a “sabbath” mentality would be a good goal to have.

Planning for an Eco-Sabbath

The No Impact Week Experiment suggests planning for an eco-sabbath day by determining how to not use any appliances, electronics, motorized transport, or money. 

Being Grateful

Each day during the past week, the No Impact Week Experiment encouraged participants to keep a list of five things for which they were grateful.  Today, look back at the grateful lists and count the number of times a consumable item (something that was purchased) was listed.

For some time now, I’ve done a “I am Grateful…” posting each Sunday.  Although I understand the benefit of taking time to reflect each day about things one is grateful for, for me, it’s a nice thing to do on a weekly basis.

Close-up of Pileated Woodpecker on Cherry Tree
Pileated woodpecker on the cherry tree in the front yard.

In doing today’s list, I came up with 18 different things that stood out during the past week.  On that list, only one was gratitude for a purchased item.  Many of the items that I was grateful for this past week were experiences I’ve had with nature – watching birds, the little vole, or squirrels; or for people (family, friends, and health-care professionals I deal with).

Something that I learned from making this list – as with all the other gratitude lists I’ve done – is that it isn’t things that make me happy.  It’s often times tiny experiences…some so insignificant if taken at face-value…that truly sustain me and bring me joy.

Montague with Snow on His Nose
Montague with his nose covered in snow. 
Gretel and Montague enjoying playing outdoors.

Generating Less Trash

At the beginning of the No Impact Week Experiment, one of the activities was to collect one day’s worth of trash.  Today, one of the activities was supposed to be taking out that bag as well as any other trash collected during the week and empty the contents. The purpose of doing this is to determine if more or less trash was created over the week.

I didn’t kep the bag of trash (garbage pick-up was on Thursday), nor do I want to go through the trash in the can.  However, I know that the amount of garbage generated is substantially less this week than in past weeks.  The biggest area of reduction is in food packaging waste.

Thoughts on Rest and Sabbaths

All life requires a rhythm of rest…We have lost this essential rhythm.

Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something – anything – is better than doing nothing.

Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest.

Because we do not rest, we lose our way.

We miss the compass points that would show us where to go, we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor.

We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom.

We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight.

Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest.

And for want of rest, our lives are in danger.

This is an excerpt taken from page one of Sabbath: Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest by Wayne Muller. I have had this book for many years now, and I think it’s time to revisit it.  The book is filled with practical ideas about how to remember the sabbath and taking time for oneself.  Some ideas that I like are:

– Lighting Sabbath candles.
– Having a Sabbath meal.
– Taking a Sabbath walk in nature.
– Creating an altar at home.
– Finding and nourishing companionship.
– Thinning – or letting go – of things.
– Cleansing – bathing with fragrance, candles, and music.
– Giving away things to others – especially beautiful, nourishing, and inspiring things.

Quilling on Ann's Hand

Be content with what you have;
rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize there is nothing lacking,
the whole world belongs to you.
~ Lao-Tzu

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The seventh day of the No Impact Week Experiment focuses on giving back.  According to Yes! magazine’s website, “By giving back, you slow down and appreciate what you have. The conversation and community that you will experience will give you that all-important, essential nutrient: happiness.”

The challenge today is to be charitable, act in good faith, and become one with others. As the website says, “Ultimately, you will not only be giving back — you’ll be getting back.”

Volunteering and Health

According to Yes! magazine’s website, “More than 30 peer-reviewed, longitudinal studies have found a strong connection between volunteering and a decreased risk of heart disease, lower rates of depression, and greater longevity.”

The No Impact Week Experiment suggests making a list of all the ways you contribute to your community now. Here are some ways that I contribute to the community:

– Volunteer at the homeschool co-op on Mondays throughout the school year.
– Hold doors open for people if they are near me when they are entering a building.
– Donate items on a regular basis to the second-hand shop so the proceeds from their sales can support programs that help individuals, families, and seniors in need.

Donation to Project Quin
Sophia and Olivia with clothes and diapers that we donated to
Project Quinn – a special project serving Native families in Alaska.
On an on-going basis, we also donate clothes to the local second-hand store.

– Help my dad with his medical and dental appointments; and work with his case manager at the senior day care program to ensure he’s receiving personalized and meaningful care as he deals with Alzheimer’s Disease.

Looking at the Sensory and Memory Quilt
Quilt I made for my dad that has photographs that he and I picked out out. 
Almost every time I see or talk with him, he mentions the quilt.

– Donate my hair to Locks of Love. I just donated a ponytail in Fall 2010 and am growing my hair out again. This was the third time I’ve grown and cut my hair, and donated it to Locks of Love.

Ponytail to Donate
The third ponytail I donated to Locks of Love in Fall 2010.

– Share my sewing skills with different non-profit organizations.

Pillowcase Dress for Little Dresses for Africa
A pillowcase dress that I sewed and then sent to a non-profit organization
that provides dresses to girls in Africa.

These are the things that come to mind immediately.  I use to be much more active in the community – especially when I ran a non-profit here at the farm.  However, once that ended in 2003, I became more focused on raising Sophia and Olivia (both of whom have special needs); homeschooling them; and working with different agencies that provide therapeutic care to address sensory issues as well as developmental and speech delays.

Handmade Pillowcase
A set of pillowcases that I made for a hospital
that has a section that serves children who have cancer.

Even from 2003-2009, I had many more ways I was giving back to the community through a variety of organizations and interests of mine.  This is making me very aware that I have definitely pulled back considerably during 2010 – particularly the latter half of the year. 

Operation Christmas Child
Several years ago, Sophia and Olivia filled shoeboxes with gifts
as part of Operation Christmas Child.

Increasing One’s Impact on the Community

Many years ago, my doctor observed, “You’re burning the candle at both ends and in the middle.”  More recently, I completed a six-week caregiving program through Family Means.  The main focus of the program was learning how to take care of oneself when you’re a caregiver.  Often times, caregivers give too much of themselves, leaving behind the things they once enjoyed and people with whom they enjoyed spending time. 

One of the activities that we did during the caregiving program was set one goal each week that we wanted to do that would bring enjoyment to our lives.  In doing this, people become stronger and healthier so that they can have the energy and enthusiasm to continue to make a difference in the community. 

The No Impact Week Experiment asks, “How can you step up what you’re already doing and do more?” At this point in my life, I think the following actions would be achievable (spread throughout the year)

Continue to look for little ways each day to make at least one person’s life a bit easier.

Send letters or postcards to people.  One thing that my dad use to do was clip articles from the paper if he knew the person mentioned in the article.  He would send it along with a little note to the person.  I like that idea. 

  I also read somewhere that rather than sending a Christmas/holiday newsletter, to send personalized letters to people you’ve received them from.  Each week pick one or two people, and share with them how they’ve brought joy to your life.

Incorporate volunteering into the homeschool curriculum. Find organizations that would welcome young volunteers.  The Doing Good Together website has some wonderful ideas for ways that families can volunteer without leaving their home as well as ways families can volunteer in the community.

Setting Up Pumpkins in Memory Care Area
I drove the girls to a local nursing home where they
helped put out pumpkins that their 4-H club carved. 
This was taken outside the Memory Care Unit.

Participate in the fall fundraising event sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association. This year’s event, Walk to End Alzheimer’s, is scheduled for September 24th.  More information is HERE.

Go on a mission trip to Tanzania! There’s an opportunity to do so in 2011…and I have wanted to go to Africa for many years now.  I’m hoping to raise enough money to be able to go.

 “For it is in giving that we receive.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi

Identify Your Level of Impact

The No Impact Week Experiment had the following pyramid on its website and asked participants to identify where they are on it.

At this stage in my life, I’m between the “Weekly” and “Monthly” levels.  From 1989-2003, I was at the top of the pyramid – working for various non-profit organizations and/or running a non-profit that I founded.  The important thing I need to remind myself is that I’m still on the pyramid. 

Crafting for Charity Class
“Crafting for Charity” class I taught in Spring 2010
to a group of homeschool students.

A Life of Service and Giving Back

Giving back and being of service was a value that was deeply instilled in me when I was growing up.  As an adult, I can’t imagine living a life any other way.  The amount that I give…and how I choose to give…varies with my interests and with factors I cannot control (e.g., my parents’ declining health). 

What I have realized in reflecting about today’s focus of giving back, is that I have shifted my focus of service from the community to family.  Recognizing that caregiving responsibilities will not cease in 2011, my goal is to determine how to gradually incorporate being of more service to the community – local, country, and world. 

Perhaps one way to do this is follow Tiffani Titus’ idea of doing 52 Weeks of Giving.  She was looking for ways that she and her children could do volunteering on a regular basis, and ended up doing small weekly projects.  She found a variety of opportunities, and she and her family made a commitment to do one good deed per week. 

In doing an internet search for “52 Weeks of Giving” I came across a church website that is doing a program with the same name.  At the bottom of this LINK there are numerous ideas for projects that can be done throughout the year.  It’s worth checking out.

If it’s easier to follow a plan that someone else has created, take a look at 52 Weeks of Impact.  Each week through 2011, the website will feature a different cause or theme; and offer ideas for action toward making the world a better place.   

“Kindness in words creates confidence.
Kindness in thinking creates profoundness.
Kindness in giving creates love.”
~ Lao Tzo

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Side View of Cascade Falls
Cascade Falls

Today’s focus of the No Impact Week Experiment is using less water.  According to the Experiment, 71 percent of Americans are trying to reduce their footprint on the earth.  Of the 71 percent, 60 percent are trying to reduce the amount of water they consume.

There’s a website where you can go calculate your individual water footprint.  Your individual water footprint is equal to the water required to produce the goods and services consumed by you. The calculations are based on the water requirements per unit of product as in your country of residence.

Feet Covered in Pebbles
Sophia’s feet covered in pebbles
while she looks for rocks
by Cutface Creek on Lake Superior

After answering the questions, the website said that my total water footprint is equal to 1206 cubic meters per year. The components of my total water footprint are:

913 – Food
277  – Domestic
16 – Industrial
1206 – Total

So, how does that compare to other people in the U.S.?  A study was done that looked at different nations’ water footprints.  The U.S. showed a water footprint at 2,803 cubic meters. 

Some ideas for change from the No Impact Week Experiment and YES Magazine include:

Use Less Water When Washing Dishes

Fill the sink with hot, soapy water and let the dishes soak.  Less water will be used because the food will be easier to remove.  When using a dishwasher, make sure that it is run only when the entire dishwasher is full. 

Inspire the Artist Within You - Eat An Orange in 15 Minutes
After eating, soak your plates
to reduce the amount of water you use.

Take Shorter Showers, Turn off the Water When Brushing Your Teeth

I remember going to Long Lake Conservation Camp when I was in sixth grade.  These lessons (and more) were shared with the students.  They’re good reminders. 

Olivia Drinking Normal Water
Olivia drinking water (she was learning about the difference
between the taste of tap water and ocean water
as part of her homeschool lesson). 
Why is she drinking from a disposable paper cup? 
These are used to make homemade popscicles
during the warmer months (they’re made with
juice, yogurt, and/or fresh berries…and no chemicals or preservatives!)

Drink Water in Restaurants

Water is the least-processed of all drinks that you can order in a restaurant.  Ideally, order tap water rather than bottled water.

There are additional suggestions, but ones that I don’t envision using just from a time-saving perspective.  For example, it was suggested that you could wash clothes by putting them in your bathtub and then stomping on them (like grapes).  Here’s a blog posting about someone who did it.  Not sure if he and his family are still doing this, but he did try a variety of different ways to help lessen his impact on the environment. 

That’s the whole point of the week.  To try new things this week that can lessen your impact on the environment.  Equally important, is collecting ideas for trying things in the future.

Footprints in the Snow
Footprints in the Snow

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Today’s focus of the No Impact Week Experiment is reducing one’s energy consumption.  One of the steps is to go from room to room and write down each item that uses energy (electricity, batteries, oil, gas). 

Put a star next to the items that you would normally use over the next few days.  Next to each starred item, figure out if you’re going to eliminate or mitigate the use of the item. 

This is an activity that I’d like to come back to at some point.  Right now, I have quite a few things that are needing more attention that I need to address first.  When things slow down a bit, this would be a great exercise to do.

Unplug, Power Down, Go off the Grid

Another idea that the Experiment suggested was to unplug, power down, or go off the grid.  For the truly adventurous, they suggested turning off the electricity and see what happens. 

I can tell you what happens here when the electricity goes off (most often during the summer when there are major storms going through the area).  If the electricity goes off during the day, we don’t open the freezer or refrigerator for fear that we’ll lose all our food.

After that – and if it is safe to stay in the home and not go the basement to wait out the storm (e.g., a tornado is headed towards the area), then we end up playing games, reading, or cleaning the home. 

We play with the dogs and cats; we play the piano; or we simply watch the storm (often times the clouds and lightening put on a rather impressive show).

Storm Clouds to the West - May 31st - Drop Down Cloud
An interesting cloud that dropped down out of the clouds above it.

What I always notice when the power goes off – whether it’s during the day or night – is how quiet it gets.  It’s amazing how there are little “hums” or sounds that the lights and other electrical appliance make when they are on.  When the power goes off, there is complete silence.  It’s quiet, peaceful, and refreshing. 

Some ideas for change include:

Cut Back on the Heating and Turn Your Themostat to as Low as it will Go

During the day, I turn the thermostat to 68 degrees and at night to 60 degrees.  This is a change from keeping it around 70-71 degrees during the day and 65 at night many years ago.  Last winter, at night I kept the home at 62 degrees.  Gradually decreasing the temperature over the years has helped everyone adjust to the change. 

As soon as the weather is warm enough in the spring (over 40 degrees), I turn off the heat for part of the day and often times at night.  Sometimes the nights do get a bit chilly, but I have many handmade quilts and blankets in the closet that can be used.  Several of the quilts are made with wool from sheep that I had here in the ’90s, and are incredibly warm.

A Closer View of Sophia's Adoption Quilt
Quilt I made for Sophia to celebrate her adoption. 
The fabric squares are from family and friends. 
Each square came with a wish/thought for her.

It’s important – at least in this house (which was built in 1890) – to not be overly eager and turn off the heat too soon.  If I do that and it gets well below freezing, the pipes in the basement can freeze (and could burst) resulting in a lot of water damage.

Wake up with the Sun, and Go to Bed When it Sets

In the summer time when the sun rises around 4 a.m. and sets around 9:30 or 10 p.m., this is a very easy schedule to follow.  In the winter, the sun rises between 7:30-8:00 a.m. and sets between 4:00-5:00 p.m. (depending on the day/month).  Around the winter solstice, there is about 8 hours of sunlight.

The point of doing this is that if you get up and go to bed when the sun rises/sets, you’ll use less electricity and artificial lighting/illumination.

Use Beeswax Candles If You Must Be Up in the Dark

The No Impact Week Experiment suggested using locally-made beeswax candles if you must be up when it is still dark.  I’m not sure how many one would need to sufficiently be able to see well, but I’d imagine it would be quite a few. 

The smell would be amazing and seeing all the flickering lights would be beautiful.  Honestly, I’m not sure how practical (or cost-effective) this would be.  Sounds nice for a change of pace or to celebrate a special holiday or birthday.

Nature Table Candles Lit
Candles on Candlemas
We ate dinner one night using only the light from the candles.

Dry Your Clothes on a Clothes Line or Rack

When the weather is above freezing, I do dry the clothes, towels, sheets, and rugs outdoors.  There is no comparison to the smell of clothes that have dried outside.  They smell fresh and clean.  My parents use to do this as well, stringing a clothesline between a tree and the posts that supported the deck.

Many years ago, I strung a clothesline from the apple tree near the home to the barn.  The line was too long, and it sagged when the clothes were put on it.  Some each touched the ground.  Put a piece of wood with two nails on top (the clothesline went between them), and propped it up.  Didn’t work.

Next option:  I put in a square clotheline in a sunny spot in the backyard.  It worked out great until I didn’t work around the line (in a square) and loaded one side first and then began work on the next adjacent side.  The one side became too heavy and the metal post snapped.  So much for that option.

Sashiko Fabric is Stitched
Sashiko fabric that I hand-embroidered
drying on the clothesline during the summer.

Third attempt at drying clothes outside (and the one I’ve used ever since):  drying them on the chainlink fence.  I lay the larger items over the fence (e.g., clothes, sheets, blankets, towels) and tuck the smaller items (e.g., socks, potholders, dishcloths) into the holes.  This has worked out very well for many years, and I look forward to being able to dry the clothes outside again.

I was curious one year to see if I could dry clothes outside in the winter (in Minnesota).  There was a neighbor who use to dry her clothes on a clothesline in the middle of winter.  I’m not sure if her clothes dried or not.  Mine ended up freezing into odd shapes – like this one:

Drying Clothes Outside in Freezing Weather
Sophia holding one of her frozen shirts after
I wanted to see if clothes could be dried in the winter.

Use Alternatives to Refrigeration

This is an interesting article about zeer pots that are used in Africa.  According to the article, “The zeer is a large pot inside which fits another smaller pot with a clay lid. The space between the two pots is filled with sand, creating an insulating layer around the inner pot. The sand is then kept damp by adding water at regular intervals — generally twice a day — reducing the temperature within the inner post decrease.

Each zeer can contain 12 kg of vegetables, and costs less than US$2 to produce.

Experiments assessing its ability to extend shelf life show that tomatoes and guavas can be kept for 20 days, compared to just two without.

Zeer pots in Africa
For One Day Use Your Computer Only for Work
With the exception of briefly checking my computer in the morning and late-afternoon today to check emails and do a bit of work for my shop (Harvest Moon by Hand), I didn’t use it all. 
I ended up finishing a batch of homemade mini-notecards, paying bills, balancing the checkbook, spending the day with my parents to celebrate my dad’s 79th birthday (I helped them with chores around their home, took them to various places where they needed to shop, we went out to lunch, and then to movie), went to the library and picked up books I ordered, and came home.  
It was a long, but nice day.  I enjoyed being able to spend the day with my parents…and helping them do things they no longer can do. 

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Today’s focus of the No Impact Week Experiment is food and lessening one’s carbon footprint. 

As a mother who homeschools her two daughters, I particularly appreciated this interesting article by Shannon Hayes about one homeschool family’s quest to eat locally and an educational trip they took where the children eagerly ate snails.  As Shannon said, “Each year at this time, we pack up the kids for a journey that is one part celebration of the close of the growing season, one part homeschool study.”

This article, 8 Ways to Join the Local Food Movement, by Sarah van Gelder offers some great ideas.  Some of them I’ve already done, and others I’m definitely going to try this spring and summer when the growing season begins again.  (Right now the ground is covered with a good foot of snow.)

From Lawn to Lunch

One idea offered in the article was to “convert your sunny lawn to a lunch box by removing the turf in long, 18-inch strips. Cut the edges of each strip with a sharp-bladed edging tool. While one partner rolls up the grass like a jellyroll, another slices through grass roots with the edging tool. Remove about an inch of rooty soil with the top growth. When the roll gets heavy, slice it off and load it in a wheelbarrow. 

“Make beds 10 to 20 feet long and six to eight feet wide (so you can reach the center from each side). Mulch three to four-foot wide paths between beds (grass left in the path will infiltrate your beds) to accommodate a wheelbarrow.”  The turf can be added to the compost pile. From there, prepare the garden beds for planting.  Further instructions are at the link above.

This is such a great idea!  The garden would be easily accessible from both sides and make weeding and harvesting so much easier. 

Olivia Holding Basil
Olivia holding some basil –
one of the many things harvested one night from the garden.

This past year, Sophia, Olivia, and I planted vegetable gardens in three spots: the existing raised beds next to the driveway, in the butterfly garden in the backyard, and in an old flower garden on the east side of the front yard.  The first two gardens did very well, but the last one was too shady and didn’t produce much. 

There are many sunny spots in the backyard, and this spring it would be good to add another spot where we can plant more vegetables. 

In the meantime, I’m thinking about the delicious salads and cornbread that I enjoyed for many lunches. The majority of the ingredients for the salads came right out of the garden:

Cornbread with Salad
One of the many lunches I enjoyed during Summer 2010
using fresh produce the girls and I grew in the garden.
This is something I’ve never done, but love the idea (it’s from the article noted above): 
Party with Your Preserves

Ten quarts of pumpkin puree in the pantry, and not a jar of tomato sauce left? Throw a canning swap party. Here are some tips and recommendations from foodroutes.org:
Plan ahead.

Gauge interest with your friends early on. Then remind them throughout the planting, growing, and harvesting season to set aside extras for canning and swapping.

Don’t be afraid to grow a lot of something.

If you’re a budding salsa artist, plant that extra row of tomatoes. Or if you see a good deal on a box of local pears—get them.

Try new recipes on your swappers.

Canned Peaches Pears and Applesauce
Canned applesauce, peaches, and pears.

Bust out that crazy 5-alarm salsa verde recipe you’ve always been scared to try. Make sure to can extra so you can pop a jar open for samples.

Be aware of what constitutes a “fair” trade.

This is simple. You’re all friends and canners who know how time-consuming canning can be. Be open and ask what your neighbor feels comfortable receiving in exchange for one jar of Grandma Edie’s apricot chutney.

Think outside the Ball Jar.

Not everything at the canning swap party has to be pressure-canned or boiled in a hot water bath. Dried items, homemade baked goods, and candies are all eligible. You’ll be amazed by what can be preserved from the season’s bounty.

Shop Outside of Supermarkets

The article suggested that you could “ask around at farmers markets, look for road-side food stands, and U-pick places. Watch for hand-painted signs. You may find a wide variety of freshly harvested foods and get to know new communities and regional traditions at the same time.”

One of my favorite memories of the past summer was visiting Amish farms in Cashton, Wisconsin.  My parents and daughters went to many different farms, and purchased fresh produce – much of it well under the price in the grocery store.

Following a Buggy
Following an Amish buggy on the way to different farms in the Cashton area.

Several years ago, we joined at CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) farm.  My daughters were a bit too young at the time to fully appreciate fresh vegetables on their plate, so (unfortunately) there was more food waste than I was comfortable with.  So, I’ve taken a break for a couple years now, but am thinking that 2011 would be a good year to begin again. 

One of the CSA farms also had a gleaning program where we could pick all the tomatoes we wanted that were not being used so they wouldn’t go to waste.  This was wonderful – and a huge source of savings.  I ended up canning and drying a considerable amount of tomatoes. 

This website helps locate CSAs across the United States.  I was happy to find 43 listings near me for a variety of CSA farms as well as ones that offer organic or natural products – some even year round! 

Share Your Table

The article also suggested that “the best antidote to fast-food culture is as close as your table. Invite friends and a few strangers to a local-foods potluck. In good weather, eat outside. Share an evening of conversation and enjoy the good life.” 

There was also an interesting article about a man who lives in Paris and invites people over every Sunday evening.  A changing group of about 50-60 people from around the world have joined him over the past 40 years.  Here’s the article.

One of the steps suggested today is to eat locally.  In January in Minnesota, there’s not a lot growing naturally.  Out of curiousity, I wanted to see the NRDC’s (National Resoures Defense Council) list of local food and produce available in early-January in Minnesota.

Supposedly, the following are growing in Minnesota: Apples, Beets, Cabbage, Carrots, Mushrooms, Onions, Raspberries, Rutabaga, Sweet Potatoes, and Turnips.  These are all summer and late-fall crops – not middle of January crops.  So much for that idea.

One Evening's Harvest
Ingredients from the garden that were used
to make dinner one night this past summer.

Next recommended step:  look at the Sierra Club’s list of ways to eat well.  My favorite suggestion from the list is:

Make Your Own and Try New Recipes

As the article said, “Most of the best recipes on Earth were created by peasants who wouldn’t be able to read the directions on a modern food package…The truth is that cheap, healthy, and tasty meals, from cereals to sautés to soups, can easily be made from scratch.”

I agree!  Last night for dinner I made some homemade pumpkin spice bread and a pastry filled with a variety of ingredients – including sauteed onions and fresh parsley.  It takes a bit longer to prepare items from scratch, but the good thing is that I know (and can pronounce) all the ingredients that are being consumed.  There were no chemicals or preservatives in any of the ingredients.

Cranberry Pumpkin Bread
Pumpkin Spice Bread with Cranberries

The pastry was a new recipe from a Russian cookbook.  The girls learned about Russia (as part of a homeschool unit study I’m doing with them where they learn about a different country each month…they’re on “T” now), and there are still a couple of Russian recipes we want to try.

The No Impact Week Experiment Challenge had the following ideas for making a change in one’s eating habits:

Eat More Vegetarian Meals

It was suggested to try vegetarian meals for the entire week, for one day, or even just 2/3 of the meals in one day. 

Vegetarian Lasagna Rolls
Vegetarian lasagna rolls with spinach and homemade tomato sauce

Find Ways to Use Your Oven For Shorter Time Periods

I already try to make multiple items at one time when I have the oven on.  However, it was suggested to put the food in during the preheating stage and turn off the oven early and let the food continue to cook in the warm oven.  That’s a great idea!  I’ve done that with homemade rolls (made from yeast) and it helps speed along the rising process. 

Sourdough Cinnamon Rolls
Homemade sourdough cinnamon and raisin rolls

Save Money and Can Your Food

This is something I do each summer and fall.  A couple years ago, I even tried canning my own ketchup and apple pie filling in addition to canning the regular items (peaches, pears, jams, salsa, tomatoes, applesauce).  I’d like to try more recipes this year; and invest in a pressure cooker so I can can vegetables.

Apple Pie Filling
Canned Apple Pie Filling

When Eating Out, Ask for Tap Water

Instead of asking for bottled water, request tap water when eating out.  This is such a simple action, but one that does make a difference.

According to an article by YES! Magazine, “Bottled water is marketed as superior to tap, but public water supplies are actually cleaner, less expensive, and more environmentally responsible, according to organizations like Take Back the Tap, Food and Water Watch, and Stop Corporate Abuse.” 

“The 38 billion plastic bottles sold in 2005 used 900,000 tons of plastic,
which required more than 1.7 million barrels of oil for transport.
More than 75 percent of discarded water bottles end up in landfills
where they take up to 1,000 years to decompose.”
~ The Pacific Institute

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The focus of Day 3 of the No Impact Week Experiment is to examine the transportation that one uses. When I use to live in Minneapolis and San Francisco, I would use public transportation since it was convenient, cost-effective, and helped the environment.
I particularly liked San Francisco’s system which is referred to as Muni. Founded in 1912, Muni is one of America’s oldest public transit agencies and today carries over 200 million customers per year. Muni provides transit service within the city and county of San Francisco 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Muni operates approximately 80 routes throughout San Francisco with stops within 2 blocks of 90% of all residences in the city. Operating historic streetcars, modern light rail vehicles, diesel buses, alternative fuel vehicles, electric trolley coaches, and the world famous cable cars, Muni’s fleet is among the most diverse in the world.

Currently, the closest public transportation is about 13 miles away from home.  There’s a bus service that began a couple of years ago that connects residents to the downtown areas.  It departs in the morning and arrives back in the afternoon (after work).  I haven’t used the bus service yet since I don’t work in the city. 

When I did work in the city many years ago, I used a vanpool which was great.  I woke up early and drove about 14 miles to the nearest city where the pickup point was located.  A driver picked up the riders and we drove together downtown.  In the afternoon, the van picked me up right outside my office and drove me back.  There were many days that I was so thankful that I wasn’t the one driving in the snow or ice. 

Now, I’m at home the majority of the time homeschooling my daughters.  My business, Harvest Moon by Hand, is located at home so I don’t have to commute.  This saves money and environmental resources. 

Sophia Riding Her Bike
Sophia riding her old bike in the front yard.  She now has a small women’s bike (which should last through high school).  I have a women’s bike with an attached tandem bike for Olivia.

In May 2010, my daughters and I got bicycles with the hope that we could do some of our errands and spend some of our recreational time biking.  We ended up going on many bike rides, but all were recreational. 

We had hoped to bike to the Post Office, chiropractor, and local supermarket for a treat (about 2 1/2 miles away from home), but haven’t figured out a relatively safe route for us to go.  The main road to get there does not have a bike path (it is a County Road with vehicles moving at least 55 mph). It is a bit unnerving to have cars and trucks speed by…especially with two children under the age of 10 years old. 

Bicycle Wheel Decoration
Crocheted bike wheel cover.  This was in a museum in Pella, Iowa.
So, at this point, I use a car.  However, there are many days each week where we don’t need to leave the house.  Some ways that we try to conserve environmental resources given that our home is far from public transporation are:
Combining Errands
When I take the girls to a homeschool co-op on Mondays, I try to do all the errands for the week.  This saves a lot of time, gasoline, and wear-and-tear on the car.  I try to shop only twice a month at the grocery store, so that I’m not spending all my time at the grocery store each Monday.  Rather, I can accomplish a variety of errands and use my time wisely.
“An extra 100 pounds in the trunk
cuts a typical vehicle‘s fuel economy by up to 2%.
You can save up to 12 gallons of gasoline per year – almost $30 –
by removing an extra 100 pounds of unneeded items from the trunk.”
Removing Unncessary Items from the Car
The above fact how excess weight in the trunk affects a car’s fuel consumption prompted me to clean out the car.  The car didn’t have 100 pounds of items in it, however it was good to take out the items that were not being used. 
With winter, some items need to go back into the car – like wool blankets, ice melt, and window scrapers.  It’s good to have these items on hand and to be prepared…especially with the cold weather. 
I’m looking forward to less than 90 days from now when warmer weather appears and there will be no need for window scrapers and wool blankets! 
Open Blossom with 5 Buds
One of the signs of spring…blossoms on the apple tree in the backyard.

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