Saturday, February 3, 2018

Fun with Food Storage

So it's been about a year since I went totally off my rocker and decided to start stockpiling food.

Honestly, when you walk down the aisles of the grocery store - brimming with more food than one can really comprehend, well, I do think I'm a bit crazy. Like, why would people living in the land of plenty possibly need to worry about running out of food?

Perhaps I am just nuts, and that would be the best possible scenario, but on the off chance that I'm not, it does give me some level of comfort knowing that food is one thing I won't have to immediately worry about should something bad happen - whether it's economic, environmental, political, or who knows what.

Plus (and now you'll know that I'm REALLY crazy) I am having tons of fun with my food stockpile! First of all, it's soooo nice not to run out of things. Like if I'm cooking and I run out of olive oil, I don't have to panic - I just run downstairs, grab another bottle, and add it to the shopping list to replace the one I took out of storage.

And then there's the system. This is the part that I was really missing in my previous attempts to stockpile food - you can't just buy stuff willy-nilly and shove it in a closet somewhere. You have to have a system for rotating and using up your stock.

Soooo... when I buy stuff now, the first thing I do is mark the expiration date on the can or jar. I know the date is already on there, but making it clearly visible at a glance makes the whole process WAY easier.

Then when I'm putting it away, I take that opportunity to do a bit of rearranging. I put the new stuff in the back, and check for anything with an approaching expiration date. I bring anything that needs to be used soon (or that I'm planning on using soon) upstairs, and put in in the kitchen cabinet where it can get used quickly.

It's a bit like a never ending pantry challenge - which I consider to be great fun. I currently have some cream of mushroom soup and frozen peas that need to be eaten... so I see some tuna noodle casserole in my future!

My original plan was to try to stockpile a year's worth of food. Honestly, figuring out how much that is... well, let's just say that was a challenge. There are prepper sites online that offer guidelines, but they varied wildly, and some of it was downright comical. One said you needed 5000 calories per person per day. Seriously?!? I guess they're planning to burn a lot of calories during the apocalypse.

Well anyhow, my general approach is to just try to store enough short term food (like stuff that keeps for 1-5 years) so that I can eat it before it goes bad and continue rotating. With the longer term stuff (stuff meant to be stored for 20-30 years) - well, I bought some of that too, and honestly I haven't really figured out the best plan for making sure I use it before it goes bad - but hey, I've got a while before I really have to worry about that one.

So... here's what you've been waiting for. The crazy lady pictures - ordered by descending craziness level.

1) The canned food shelf.

This bookshelf worked nicely as a place for storing canned goods. There's a little screen door of sorts that covers it up so that the cats can't knock something on the floor and injure themselves with a falling can. I'm not a huge fan of canned food, but canned beans really are convenient, plus it's nice to have some occasional convenience food and treats (like canned pineapple - yum!)

2. Pantry Cabinet number One.

This cabinet stores the canned cat food as well as other short term stuff - especially things that needed more sheltering from light than the canned stuff, or stuff that wouldn't fit easily on those shelves.

3. The Kitty Bin.

And while we're talking kitties - I used an airtight plastic bin for storing bags of dry cat food. I figured it would keep out any mice or bugs, as well as any kitties who decided they wanted to open a fresh bag for themselves - which isn't really as out of the question as it might sound... ask me how I know!

4. Pantry Cabinet Two

And then we have this cabinet, which stores mostly dry goods. Only one of those shelves is actually full of protein powder, the other one is old protein powder containers filled with oatmeal. There's also pasta and dried beans and some random grains like millet and quinoa in there. Note the empty shelf on top! Always room for more!

5. Pantry Cabinet Three

Now we're getting to more long term stuff. The white rice (there's Jasmine, Basmati, Parboiled & regular) will theoretically store for 10+ years in glass jars, and there's also sugar & Gatorade, and then stuff that I bought both from the Mormon church and various prepper sites - there's some beans & rice as well as freeze dried fruits, veggies, cheese, butter, milk, and even some chicken.

6. The Crazy Lady Closet

And then we have the deep storage. This is all stuff that I ordered from the Mormons. It's all 30 year long term storage stuff including dried onions, potatoes, beans, apples, rolled oats, and milk.

And that's about it... except for... the freezer!

Oy! This is one area where I really need a better system. It's the shape of the darned thing that makes it so hard to keep it organized. My current system is to try to have a bag for each category of food - breads & flours, meats & meat alternatives, cheese & butter, and fruit & veggies. But as you can see... I'm not doing a very good job keeping up with it - it's just such a pain to pull everything out when you need to get something or put something away. So if anybody's got any suggestions for better freezer organization - I'm all ears!

So that's the news from the crazy lady. I'm curious if anybody else out there has dabbled in food stockpiling. I'd love to hear about your systems if you have!

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

History in my Closet

We FINALLY got some decent snow here in the Mile High City. It wasn't a big storm, but we got about 5 inches, which is the biggest snowfall we've had in over a year, so yay! There was great rejoicing.

Since winter finally decided to make an appearance, I figured it was time to pull my down jacket out of storage... and to my great disappointment, the broken zipper hadn't magically fixed itself in the year or so that it had been stored away. Harumph! Where are those magic elves when you need them anyway?

I used to think that I had a zipper curse, because they always seem to die on me. Then CatMan pointed out that most people don't keep their clothes around as long as I do, and perhaps that's why my zippers always seem to die. Hmm... At any rate, I can deal with it if the little puller thing falls off, but once the insertion pin starts to separate from the fabric, well, it's all over but the shouting.

Not my photo, but you get the idea

Time to replace the zipper! This is not a terribly big job, and I've done it many times before, but as I was shelling out $10 for a new zipper, I was sorta thinking that I could probably buy a whole new-to-me jacket at the thrift store for that price. But I like this jacket - it's nice and warm, and besides, we've been together for a good long time.

Waaaaay back when I first got out of college in the early 1990s, I was working at a non-profit music school making dirt for pay. The organization operated on a shoestring, and every year we'd have a big fundraising rummage sale to help make ends meet. This jacket was donated for the sale, but nobody wanted it. Hard to blame them. It was definitely a "vintage" item by that point, I figured it had probably been made in the 1970s. Plus, the fabric cuffs & collar were tattered and torn, and it definitely looked like it had seen better days.

But... I was broke, and needed a warm jacket, and since the staff were allowed to take anything that hadn't sold, well, the price was right, so I decided to give it a new home.

I'm not a great seamstress by any stretch of the imagination, but I found a scrap of fabric and covered over the worn collar and cuffs - originally they were an orange plaid, and I liked the new color much better anyway, so I considered it a big win. And after a good cleaning, it looked good as new!

Anyhow, I had a few challenges with the zipper - mostly because getting the old one out was a bit more complicated than usual. The snaps had been put in straight through the fabric of the zipper, so I had to cut it to get it out.

But I persevered... and along the way I noticed this tag - which I'd never really looked at before.

Made in Denver, Colorado?!? I didn't know there were any local companies that actually made outerwear. And the brand name, Gerry, wasn't familiar either.

I asked CatMan if he recognized it, and to my great surprise, his eyes lit up. "Your jacket is a Gerry?" he said excitedly. Apparently Gerry was one of the very first companies to manufacture outdoor gear for hiking, camping, mountaineering and the like, and it was a name he recognized from back in his rock climbing days in the 1960s.

Hmmm... perhaps there was more to my little jacket than I realized.

So I did a bit of research, and what I found sorta amazed me.

Gerry was founded by a fellow named Gerry Cunningham, who was an avid outdoorsman. He served in the 10th mountain division during WWII. I'm not sure if that means much to folks outside of Colorado, but in these parts it's a pretty big deal. They trained outside of the town of Leadville (where my family is from) and fought in some of the toughest terrain of Italy during the war. They are widely credited with turning the tide on that front.

After the war, Gerry and his wife started making backpacks and opened a mail order company which eventually expanded to stores in both Boulder and Denver. He is credited with a long list of amazing innovations, including the first zippered backpack, a redesign of the carabiner, the first drawstring cordlock clamps, the first kiddie carrier, and yes, the first down jackets!

He was even inducted into the National Sporting Goods Hall of Fame! Who knew? I mean, I didn't know there was such a thing as the national sporting goods hall of fame, but I still think it's pretty cool that my jacket was designed by someone who was inducted into it!

So after learning all that, I'm pretty glad I decided to replace the zipper instead of the jacket. In this age of mass produced junk manufactured overseas, there's something pretty cool about owning an item with such a storied provenance. I figure my jacket is probably at least 40 years old by now, and with any luck it will continue to serve me for another 40 years to come.

So tell me, do you own anything with an interesting history? I'd love to hear your stories!

Friday, January 12, 2018

2017 Energy and Carbon Footprint Review

Soooo... since January seems to be the season for annual reviews, I figured I take some time to peek at my energy usage and see how it's looking.

First of all, my energy company (Xcel) offers a bill averaging service where instead of paying for your actual monthly usage, you pay an averaged amount based on you previous year's usage at the time you sign up. If your usage starts to vary wildly from the previous year, they'll adjust your monthly payment mid-year, otherwise they just adjust in on the anniversary of your sign up month.

I LOVE this service. Not only does it make it easy to budget for utilities costs, it also makes conserving energy into a fun little game. Each year as September rolls around, I start to get excited to see if I'm gonna be able to hold steady or even lower my bill. Yes, I am a total nerd.

This year I was super excited because my bill went down a bit, and my monthly energy cost (natural gas & electricity) is now only $78. Woo Hoo!

That's especially exciting since I pay a voluntary "green guilt" tax of 1.5 cents per kilowatt hour on my electricity so that I can get all of it from wind power, which worked out to a total of about $73 for the year. At some point I would love to explore the option of rooftop solar, but my yard has several big trees that might make it unworkable, plus the fact that I've lost 2 roofs to hail in the 20-some-odd years I have lived here sorta makes me nervous about going that route.

Anyhow, this year I decided it might be fun to delve a little deeper into my energy usage to see if there are places I can save a little bit more, both in terms of money and environmental impact.

So, 2017 energy usage for my 900 square foot house with full basement was:

Natural Gas: 390 therms (32.5/month average)
Electricity: 4848 kWh (404/month average)

Each month Xcel sends out a cute little email that allows you to compare your usage to that of your neighbors, and mine always comes in as "better than your efficient neighbors." But I started to wonder, what exactly does that mean? And how does "better" translate in terms of environmental impact?

I know getting firm numbers on this sort of thing is sorta impossible, but I decided to explore some other options and happened upon a fairly decent carbon footprint calculator created by the folks out at Berkeley in California.

Now, I don't know if you've ever played with carbon footprint calculators, but let's just say that once you get beyond things for which you might have firm numbers - like energy use and mileage, well, the numbers start to get pretty hand wavy at best.

Nevertheless, according to this calculator, my annual carbon footprint is somewhere between 7-8 tons depending on how I answered certain questions. Seriously, it asked how much I spent per month on health care, and gave me radically different carbon numbers depending on whether I entered my insurance premium before or after the tax credit. (Waves hands wildly.) But it did say that the average one person household in my zip code with similar income is around 22 tons per year.

That's interesting, but I'm still not sure how much it tells me in terms of my own usage and how I might improve. I mean, I read another study which said that a homeless person in the US has a carbon footprint of 8.5 tons/year! So... my carbon footprint is slightly better than that of a homeless person?!?

Well anyhow, since none of that seemed terribly helpful, I decided that instead of trying to calculate my entire carbon footprint, I'd just focus on the stuff for which I had hard numbers and see what that would tell me.

Sooo... figuring that my car gets around 29 MPG and I only drove about 668 miles, that comes out to 0.3 tons of carbon emissions last year. Electricity would be the big one at 4.6 tons, but since all of my electricity came from wind power, that number went to 0. Woot Woot! $73 well spent, IMHO. So that leaves natural gas, where my emissions totaled 2.4 tons.

Looking at it that way, it's pretty clear that the biggest place I can save - at least in terms of carbon emissions, is my natural gas usage.

There are only 3 appliances in my home that use natural gas: the furnace, hot water heater, and clothes dryer.

Now, at this point I should probably mention that my home has a hybrid furnace. When I replaced the ancient furnace about 10 years ago I decided to upgrade and get whole house air conditioning as well. And since I was doing that, it made sense to pay a little bit more and get an air conditioner which could run backwards as a heat pump, because it's a significantly more efficient method of heating... at least until it gets really cold. Once the weather drops below about 40 degrees (around 4C) the heat pump has a hard time keeping up, so it switches over to the gas furnace (which is a 95% efficient model.) 

The hybrid furnace is so efficient that my energy bills stayed pretty much flat after installing it, even though I now had air conditioning. Plus, a lot of the burden for heating was switched from gas to electricity, and since that all comes from wind power, I figure that's an environmental win.

At any rate, the way the hybrid furnace ends up working is that it mostly uses the heat pump during the day and then switches over to the gas furnace at night when the temperature gets colder. So, one way to get an easy savings on natural gas is to turn the temperature down a few more degrees at night. I did have it set to 64 at night, but a few weeks ago I turned it down to 62. With an extra blanket on the bed I honestly haven't noticed any difference, so I might consider going a bit lower still. I also set it to lower the temperature an hour earlier in an effort to encourage myself to get to bed at a decent hour.

Lest you worry that my little kitties are cold at night, they each have a 4 watt heated cat bed so they can stay nice and warm.

There are plenty of other things that I might explore to save on heating costs, but these are probably topics for another post. But things I'm considering include bumping up the level of insulation in my attic, weather stripping around the attic door & insulating ceiling light fixtures, blown in wall insulation, upgrading my siding to stucco (which involves adding a layer of insulation board), cellular shades on the windows, and maybe even new windows. 

So that leaves the dryer and the hot water heater. The dryer is an easy one. I sorta got out of the habit of hanging my clothes to dry because of the carpet beetles. One way to kill the eggs and larvae is heat, so I've been using the dryer in an effort to kill off the little buggers. But since I seem to have turned the corner on that issue (knock on wood) I think it's probably safe to go back to line drying - at least for most things. I'll probably still put big things like bedding in the dryer.

Similarly, I had the hot water heater turned up to the highest setting so that I could use the hot cycle on the washer to kill beetles. But once again, there's no need for that anymore (I hope), so I've turned it down a notch or two - plus I'm going back to washing laundry in cold water.

I also bought some foam pipe insulators and covered the first few feet of pipe coming out of the hot water heater. I'd like to do more, but alas, that's as far as I can reach without ripping out the basement ceiling - which sorta seems like a bad idea.

So that leaves my Achilles heel of hot water use... bathing.

Yes folks, I am a hopeless bathtub addict. I like to soak for at least an hour until I turn into a complete prune. It is one of my true vices, and I am loath to give it up, especially in the winter time. But, since I did finally get the diverter valve fixed so I now have the option of taking a shower, I do think that some of my hot water use will go down there too - especially in the warmer months of the year.

So that's my plan for the moment. I'm hopeful that it will pay dividends both in terms of my natural gas bill and my carbon footprint - all without sacrificing anything in terms of comfort or convenience.

Have any of you ever calculated your carbon footprint or energy usage? I'm curious to hear how our numbers compare.