Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Being Fit and Energy Consumption

We had a guy from the local Heating company over last week to look at our heat pump. We're considering getting it replaced with a more efficient (and quieter!) model at some point, and wanted him to evaluate our whole system and how it was working for the house. We did get some great information about new energy efficient models of heat pumps and air circulators, and we'll be putting that on the list of things we'd like to upgrade when time/money becomes available to do so (also on the list: solar panels, solar greenhouse, rainwater storage system... the list goes on).

The heating guy told us something interesting though, while he was here. We talked about our current heat pump usage and mentioned that we keep our thermostat set at 58 - 60 degrees and he said that we could only really do that because we are all very fit and healthy people in this family. Because we all exercise regularly, our metabolisms run at a fairly high rate, keeping us warmer than more sedentary humans. When we do something sedentary like watching a movie together in the evenings, we bundle under the blankets and keep warm that way.

It's always interesting to me how everything goes in circles. We eat healthy, which makes it possible for us to have lots of energy. Because we have lots of energy, we can lead very active lifestyles. Because we have sustainability as a goal, we tend to bicycle and walk a lot, and we garden and work outside as well. This in turn makes us healthier, more resistant to disease, and even allows us to keep our thermostat lower, which saves us money and furthers our goals of sustainability and using our resources wisely. It all comes around.

So here's to a daily walk or bike ride, keep those (internal human) fires burning!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Feels Like Spring: Time for Big Plans

We've had unseasonably warm weather here, and spring fever is setting in. The seed catalogs have arrived, I've got new bulbs in the ground, my husband built up our garden boxes so they can be deeper for this year's garden, and I've got about half of the massive leaf pile moved off of our second garden space. We're also hoping to build a solar greenhouse addition on to the front of our house this year, giving us some indoor gardening and seed-starting space, some passive solar heating, and an entryway/solarium to enjoy on those cold winter days.

In the next six weeks, we should also be getting some baby chicks to fill out our flock again, and the kids are very excited about that. Now the sun is shining and it's time to go muck out the chicken coop (one of my least favorite jobs) and move some more leaves.

Friday, February 02, 2007

When Values Collide

The other day was beautifully sunny and almost warm (if you didn't stand in the shade too long). The kids wanted to go to the park with some friends. However, their friends couldn't make it unless we drove (some had parents who were busy, others don't have a car and didn't want to bike). My kids didn't mind biking, but really wanted their friends there and didn't really want to hang out at the park without them. Thus begins yet another dilemma where the values of sustainability and meeting my kids needs and desires collide. There are many such times: when my son wants that new cool Lego set, or there's a great exhibit at the science museum a hundred miles away, a toy that can only be found in The Big Box Store That Shall Not be Named, or a desire for red licorice, a food containing almost nothing but artificially colored high fructose corn syrup.

Recently, on a discussion list, a parent-to-be was detailing their plans for living sustainably on a farm with their (future) kids, raising dairy goats and creating wooden toys that their children would delight in playing with. I was swept with a feeling of nostalgia because I remember clearly our own dreams and how neatly they played out in the imagination and planning, yet how incredibly complex they are to implement in reality. One of the great gifts that children bring to your life is the knowledge that most of what you thought was absolute is, in fact, malleable.

When we were pregnant with our first child, we lived on four acres of beautiful land in Washington state. In my mind, the kids would romp around our acreage and play with natural toys and make tree forts while I blissfully smiled over them while weeding in my organic garden or writing. Except that when the kids came along, we discovered that they had different plans for us.

Our kids are extremely gregarious. They're extremely active. They wanted to be part of groups and do activities. Where we were living was very isolated. To get to any other homeschoolers we had to drive 10 - 25 miles. The roads weren't safe for bicycling with kids and no one cycled there. I started being the mom driving the car all day, and my sustainable dream went up in smoke. I had barely any time to garden. The last year we lived there, I had put 20,000 miles on my car just driving 40 or 50 miles most days to take the kids places. Sure, we could've held the kids hostage on the organic farm, but that's not the unschooling lifestyle we had chosen, it's about helping our kids explore the world and explore their passions. So we picked up and moved. We now live right in a city, something I thought I would not be doing (I'm a born and bred country girl), but we can walk and bike everywhere. The kids are busier than ever, visiting their unschooling friends, being active in all the things they love to do. We managed to find a house with a semi-forested lot next door that was undeveloped, so we have a small bit of our dream, but we can't have the horses and goats I envisioned.

The bottom line is that for us, all of our dreams and passions in our family are important, not just those of the adults. That means finding balance between the kids needs and our values, between the kids activities and time for things we want to do, between busy time and quiet time, nutritious foods and red licorice. And yes, I drove the van to the park that day, but then bicycled to work myself that evening. It's all about the balance.