Sunday, July 25, 2010

Greening up my world

I was stunned when I saw my power bill yesterday -- in a good way.  It has to be the lowest bill this house has ever had in a July, just $56.  The KWH used this year was 17 per day compared to 27 last year, even though the average daily temperature was two degrees higher THIS year at 77. 

After the new windows, roof, siding, furnace, and a/c over the past six years, my energy bills had already dropped significantly.  More than one-third after the windows alone.  I set the a/c at 78 when I'm home, and the heat at 68.  I thought I'd maxed out my ability to reduce energy consumption and still live comfortably.  But this summer I've made a concerted effort to utilize open windows and capture cool night air.  Some days the a/c doesn't kick on until 4 p.m.

It's something we've forgotten how to do -- keep the house cool without a/c.  I remember in the 50's I didn't know anyone who had air conditioning in the house.  People used strategically-placed trees, awnings on windows, opening and closing windows at just the right times, with shades and draperies to block out heat from direct sun.  Late afternoons were spent outdoors on the shady side of the house.  We acclimated to the temperatures and found ways to cool down when things were the hottest. 

This year, I decided to use some of those techniques again since I work from home and can easily do simple things like open and close windows and shades.  Sitting at my desk with its north-facing window, many mornings I need a sweater as the breeze is quite cool.  I've thoroughly enjoyed many more hours of fresh air flowing through the house (even though the downside is having to dust more often).  Even this week, with temperatures near 100, I may go to bed with the house closed up, but when I wake up at 2 or 3 a.m., as I often do, I'll walk around and open windows then.  When the temps drop into the 60's at night, you can collect a lot of nice cool air in the house which will last many hours into the day. 

I'm a little nervous to see my July water bill, however.  The yard is fully landscaped for the first time ever, and everything is getting watered with a new sprinkling system.  I have no idea how my water usage compares to the past.  The June bill was so low, I didn't exceed the regular monthly usage which applies year-round.  But June was extra cool.  July has been hot and dry.  Still, most of the yard is in drought-tolerant, low-water plantings with the annuals mostly clustered around the patio where I like to hang out.  I apply the tough love principle on the lawn and drought-tolerant areas.  They get water, but they aren't allowed to become lush.  The landscaper set each watering station to 15 minutes, but I backed them off to 12 each.  I water early in the morning only, but on some particularly hot evenings, I'll manually cycle through all the stations after sunset, giving them each a minute or two of water to cool down the parched plants and earth.  The bonus is that the temperature drops for the entire yard and house at the same time.  I do water every day, which I know is not recommended.  But I live on sand and water is not retained in the soil.  Watering for longer periods does no good as it drains off rapidly.  It's the nature of where I live.  I do give the newer trees some deep watering once or twice a month, however.  The established trees don't seem to need it.  I'll report back on the July water bill when it arrives in August.

I used to feel a little guilty about occupying a rather large house and yard by myself, and yet requiring heating and cooling just the same as if a whole family lived here.  But when I see the results of my efforts at reducing energy consumption, there is no need for guilt.  I realize it's not about the size of the space I occupy, but how I utilize resources to make my life comfortable. 

I didn't do this all overnight.  It has taken about six years for me to get to this point.  But I think this is proof that if people care and if they really want to do it, we could all drastically reduce our need for fossil fuels while we improve our environment.  Of course, the cost savings is a happy bonus. 

(Just as an after note, since I work from home, I consume far less fuel for my car.  I also conscientiously recycle, which has become more convenient with my city's curbside recycling program.  And I carry those reusable grocery bags with me when I shop.  These are just a few other things I'm doing to help green my world).

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

And a few more

The city came by today to clean up the parking strip, so I made some before shots and decided to grab a few more of the yard while I was at it.

Another angle of the lowest corner of my lot.  The day lilies exceed my expectations.
Here's another hybrid lily, a rare "black" lily toward the front of this photo.
The east side along the sidewalk, two views.
And the corner garden with a better view of the upper backyard.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A few more pics around the yard

I only posted the backyard the last time.  So here are some other areas. I posted earlier pics of some of these areas in May, and you can see things change constantly in these plots.

In the front garden the perennials have surged along with a few impatiens.

In the lower front garden, the hybrid day lilies are putting on a show like I haven't seen in about five years. This is slightly pre-dawn light, so they are not fully opened yet.

In the upper corner garden the tall day lilies are having their day as well (though here they are still closed up awaiting the hot sun before they'll show those brilliant orange trumpets) and I have since done some of needed deadheading seen here.

The east is all about perennials too. The daisies and other early summer bloomers have faded and the tall Russian Sage and hummingbird trumpet are coming on while the Jupiter's Beard is getting ready for its second blooming.  The black-eyed Susans are very late, but I see they are starting to produce buds.  Flowers soon.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Backyard pics

All of the yard is looking so nice this year, but here is where I spend most of my time. It is shady and cool under the patio all day. The yard itself gets hot sunlight at various times, but overall is mostly shady. The flowers have thrived in pots this year, and even a hosta is about to bloom.  Some of this photos I took at noon and the light is much too bright.  Others I took just before sunset and things are quite shady.  It's hard to get good balanced light in this area.  I'll try and get shots of the rest of the yard soon.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The McCartney Concert

I want to write this while still basking in the afterglow.  It was a thrill to be among the 40,000 fans at the Paul McCartney concert last night.  We were there! By "we" I mean three of my sisters and one brother-in-law, my son and his wife, two of my friends and their husbands -- those are the ones I know of.  We didn't all sit together, we were scattered about.  Where I was sitting, the seats were wonderful -- I had a great view of the stage.  I knew this would be good, but had no idea how truly fantastic it would be.

From the time McCartney took the stage around 8 p.m. until he exited at 11-ish, he was singing, dancing, playing all kinds of instruments, telling stories, and entirely positive and upbeat.  We all felt that he really was thrilled to be performing for us.  And the band members, too.  Each one appeared to not only be really into the performance, but also truly having the time of their lives doing it. 

I feel infused with so much positive energy today, I am practically floating.

And speaking of the band, really, what a sound from the most basic group.  A drummer, a bass, a lead guitar, and a keyboard -- and Paul switching off with every tune.  The band did the backup singing too.  The synergy of the group was marvelous.  You could tell they liked being together.

This was an event I've waited for for 46 years.  I've been a Beatles fan since there were Beatles.  The experience was everything I expected and more.  And now it's a memory, but it will be among the treasured memories of my lifetime.

And one thing I take away from the experience is the importance of producing positive energy in our lives.  Paul has certainly suffered tragedy and trial.  But he emerges smiling and happy, and then proceeds to make thousands of people around him feel happy too.  I have a desire to do the same with my small life -- to greet each day with a positive energy that feels good to me and influences those whose lives touch mine that day.

The final words of the concert: And in the end, the love you take, is equal to the love you make.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Surprise money

Got a check from the IRS marked "Tax Refund".  Not a big one, about 80 bucks.  But a surprise.  I owed this year - sent my check in last April.  Did I make a mistake?  No explanation accompanied the check.  I used my usual software and did the taxes myself.  My finances are not complicated.  But it may be time to hire a professional to do the taxes.  

Monday, July 12, 2010

A trip to the mountains

Yesterday my sister Peg posted a note on Facebook that she was taking a drive to the mountains in the afternoon if anyone would like to come.  After sitting around feeling bored all day, I jumped at the chance.   There are so many beautiful and accessible places we can go on a Sunday drive.  For this one, we headed up Weber Canyon, turned off towards Kamas and then took the road to Smith-Morehouse.  I'm not sure if this is considered part of the Uintahs -- you can certainly see the Uintah mountains from there.  But it was a great day for taking pictures and here are a few things we saw.
This last photo, I shot as I was just leaving my house and one of the tiny spotted fawns ran out in front of my car and down the street.  My camera was at hand, but I wasn't fast enough to get him before he was in the deep grass.  Darn.

Friday, July 2, 2010

A series of slightly strange and totally unrelated experiences

A series of small things have occurred this past week that by themselves are insignificant, but taken together, raise questions in my mind.

After struggling for a week with getting the tire back on my new bike and hooking up the brakes, I finally gave up and decided I would have to get some professional help.  And then, I tried one more time.  It was like I had an epiphany.  I looked at the brakes and knew exactly what I needed to do.  Click, snap, it was done.  I can't imagine why I had so much trouble or why I suddenly saw the solution.

A couple of days ago I blogged about a young female deer that wandered into my backyard and hung by very close to me nibbling at goodies in my yard.  It was a singularly thrilling moment to see that animal so close up while unaware of my presence.  Her front legs - so slender, they look incapable of supporting her.  Her extra tall ears that she will eventually grow into.  Her lovely tan fur that will go more gray in the winter and as she ages.  It was my second close encounter with her this week.

Later that evening, after dark, I was inside opening up windows to let the cool night breezes into the house when I was startled to find myself standing in front of the tall living room windows, brightly illuminated in the glare of a police spotlight.  The light stayed on me for awhile and then swept the front yard, and as the patrol car inched down the road, swept the houses and yards of my neighbors.  Looking for someone.  I didn't feel scared, but did lock the door to the patio where I'd just been sitting.  I have no idea what that was about.

Last night was the first night all summer I slept with the windows closed and the AC running as the temps were still in the 80's at bedtime.  But at 2 a.m., I awoke for no reason.  And decided to see if there were any cool breezes to be had.  I opened windows and then sat for a bit by the living room window looking out at the night.  I thought I could hear water running.  I could see water in the gutter under the street light by my neighbor's house.  Having had some real water disasters here in the past, I dressed quickly and went out to investigate.  Yes water was streaming out of cracks in the road and flowing down the street.  I called the city's emergency water number.  To make a long story short, it was a break in a water line, and about 12 hours later, the line was fixed and back in service.  Had I not awakened when I did, the broken pipe would have gotten worse and serious damage could have occurred as in the past.  Why did I wake up?  Why did I decide to open windows?

Now running on no sleep, I am glad I decided at the last minute yesterday to ask for the day off from work.  I had been working on a project that required me to work in raw HTML code -- not exactly my forte.  They wanted it finished by Friday.  I hit a roadblock.  Something was broken in my code and I couldn't figure out what.  Again, as if an epiphany, I realized the very simple thing I was doing wrong.  I finished the project on Thursday and was able to start my holiday weekend a day early.  Good thing.  My brain would not have functioned well today on so little sleep.

Although, today, after a little research online, I managed to purchase a simple bike rack that I thought I could manage.  And after studying the directions, got it assembled and mounted on the car, got the bike loaded on and tied down, and took it for a test drive.  Beautiful.  I'm ready for my ride tomorrow and no longer any need to remove the tire to fit the bike inside the car.

This morning as I was making coffee and keeping an eye on the street workers, a huge black cat came into my yard and onto my patio.  I turned on the outside lights to get a good look.  A well-fed fluffy beautiful cat.  I had never seen it before.  We almost never see stray cats or dogs in the neighborhood.  People keep their pets in their yards.  No idea where this cat came from or where it went.  Some people think animals come to us as messengers.  I'm a skeptic.  But the animal world is certainly making itself at home with me.

Tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the death of my ex-husband.  I have been thinking about this as the time has gotten closer.  I have decided that it will be a turning point for me.  I need to stop being sad about that loss.  I need to stop thinking of my house and yard as still his and mine.  It is just mine.  I need to stop hoping he would be pleased, and stop feeling regret that he didn't get to enjoy this new thing or that.  I looked up the 5 steps of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.  I know I didn't do any bargaining.  And there was very little anger.  But yes, denial, depression, and acceptance.  When my boyfriend moved to Minnesota two months ago, it was yet another loss and a setback.  But I am determined that there will be an end to sadness and it starts tomorrow.  Maybe I don't need to do all the steps.  I just need to want this change enough to make it happen.

Perhaps being alone so much of the time, I'm overthinking everything, and small things seem enlarged.  It occurs to me I may even be becoming weird or eccentric.  But I know one thing:  I am very very lucky to have the life that I have, with its opportunities and rewards.  I don't take that for granted.  Things can happen and life can change so quickly.  A year has passed.  There will be no more mourning.  Tomorrow truly is the first day of the rest of my life.

UPDATE:  Dammit!  The street sprung another leak.  This time water came bubbling up right in front of my house.  I called the city and quickly filled every sink, tub and every possible water-holding vessel, and finished filling the tub just as the water shut off. Police have blocked off part of the street and are directly traffic.  A crew is on the way.  And we just play the waiting game now.  I think it's time for an adult beverage.