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So … yeah. Three years between posts. My excuse? We’re just too bloody busy. So busy, in fact, that while we continue to adhere to a more or less environmentally friendly lifestyle, we haven’t really done anything new since that last post. We’re just maintaining.

That said, we have discovered a new product or two, and we’ve seen our efforts pay off in several practical directions. As winter settles over us and my hippie instincts kick into high gear (an annual occurrence for as long as I can remember), I’m feeling inspired to write about the joys of living lightly. A few quick updates:

1. Product endorsement: LED lights have taken a quantum leap forward in terms of quality and price since we bought our first one in 2007. Back then, they were hard to find, expensive (over $30 apiece, plus shipping), and ill-suited for general illumination. Today, LED “bulbs” are much cheaper ($10 to $20), readily available at big-box hardware stores, and will illuminate a room as evenly and effectively as the spiral CFLs we’ve been using since the late ’90s.

2. Solar panels: Still going strong. We still have cheaper power bills than any of our friends, and we’re still delighted with the performance of the system.

3. Chickens: Hot weather and old age took their toll on our flock, so we bought two buff Orpingtons and a barred Rock from an ol’ boy down at Broken Arrow. They’re producing well and seem to be getting along well with our rooster, Bond, who is a remarkably quiet chap.

4. Bees: We had a record honey harvest and captured an incredibly strong, productive Buckfast swarm this spring.

5. Garden: Droughts, heat waves, blossom-end rot, fusarium wilt, and an intolerably busy schedule have more or less destroyed our tomato crops every year. Someday, when I’m not a teacher any more, I will have time to baby my plants and get them through these issues. Until then, the best I can do is support the local farmers’ market.

6. Woodstove: We haven’t had to pay for heat since the ice storm of 2007. Between that and Oklahoma’s frequent tornadoes, we find a steady supply of firewood piled up on curbs, readily available to anyone with a truck, a chainsaw, and a little initiative. I just used some of the money we saved on heat to buy a ridiculously expensive teakettle from Lehman’s.

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Apologies for the long delay between posts; it’s been an insane year.

Anyway, we are now getting ready for winter here at the House of the Lifted Lorax. We had more insulation installed in the attic a few weeks ago, so we should be able to stay warmer while consuming less energy this winter.

This afternoon, Ron winterized the chicken tractor by installing a little corrugated plastic around one end to block the wind while letting in the light. Here’s a picture of his handiwork:

I was cleaning the kitchen this afternoon and found a couple of styrofoam trays I’d saved, so I turned them into insulation for the outlets. If you want to try something similar, here’s a quick how-to:

1. Gather your materials. You will need styrofoam trays (the kind that come with meat or mushrooms), an Xacto knife, a pen or pencil, an outlet cover, and — if you want to be really precise — a ruler.

2. Lay the outlet cover on the tray and trace around it with a pencil.

3. Cut along the lines. You can use the ruler if you want. I didn’t bother, because the styrofoam cutout is concealed between the outlet cover and the wall anyway. To install it, just put it under the outlet cover and screw both into the wall. (The notch in the middle is for the screw to go through.)

We had the chimney serviced in September to make sure it was safe and ready for winter. Aside from a few spiders hiding out behind the stove, everything was copacetic.

I was chilly this afternoon, so I burned a little cardboard and a couple of pieces of bark in the stove. It wasn’t a big fire or a particularly hot fire, but it was just enough to warm me up and remind me of the nicer parts of winter: toasted marshmallows, slow-cooked posole in the Dutch oven, and Red Zinger brewed from water heated in the teakettle.

Emily

Big ice storms that knock down branches and destroy power lines are really terrible … unless, y’know, you happen to own a woodstove, a chainsaw, and a pickup truck:

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We’ll have to rent a splitter to bust up some of the really huge pieces, but we’re not crying about it. Four ricks of free firewood, all laid in for next year, and all Ron had to do was spend a couple of afternoons driving around the neighborhood, gathering it off the curbs. It’s all too green to burn right now, but by next winter, it will be seasoned and ready to go.

If you have access to a truck and a saw, you can be a big help to your neighbors (and every taxpayer in your community) by removing branches from curbs in exchange for the firewood after a storm. Most people don’t have a fireplace or woodstove … so if you do, they’ll be happy for you to come and haul away their storm debris in exchange for the wood.

Emily

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With a woodstove in the middle of the living room, we have a ready supply of very warm, very dry air to dry our clothes. Sometimes that air is a little too dry, which is one reason I keep a teakettle of water on top of the stove at all times.

I decided to kill two birds with one stone this evening by putting up this handy-dandy winter clothes dryer, which hangs next to the woodstove, saves us money on gas and electricity, and effectively turns our wet garments into makeshift humidifiers.

All I did was screw some hooks into the wall just above our bay window and hang large-link decorative chain from the hooks. I just put all the laundry on plastic coathangers (no metal — they’ll rust and ruin your clothes) and hang it from the chains, which will easily accommodate an entire load of laundry. When the clothes are dry, I just put the clothes in the closet and stash the chains in the laundry room.

As you can see in the picture, the hooks are also performing a decorative function at the moment, holding up a string of energy-efficient LED Christmas lights, which I got for about $8 at Home Depot.