Wednesday, June 28, 2017

What am I doing? (home improvement)

Around 2 years ago,  Google had a special Google Doodle for solar power, it was linked to Google  Earth, where you could input your address and they would calculate how much usable roof area you had, they factored in which way the roof was facing and any  shade from trees or  nearby buildings, etc.  Then they gave links to local companies that install solar power. It made it easy to figure out how much energy you could produce and to  compare it with your current usage on your electric bill, etc.  Using their calculator app, I found out my house was a perfect candidate for solar power.  One slope of my roof has a southern orientation and has no shade from trees or other houses. Plus, my house is only one story, which means the roof to square footage ratio is higher than a 2 story house. I had plenty of usable roof space that could  cover all my current electric usage.

  I got the idea at that time that I really wanted to get solar power  for my house. But I had a lot of other home improvement jobs that were more urgent, so I didn't get around to it right away. Last summer I got the house painted (which was long overdue) and last fall I got a fence rebuilt between my house and my neighbor's house (also long overdue- the fence had literally rotted and fallen down in many places.).
So finally this summer's project  was to get  solar power installed.

As it happened, I signed the final contract on the same day that president Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, and  the installation was the day after the summer solstice (the longest day of the year- i.e. the most hours of sunlight). Both dates were  very meaningful for this project! Many people get solar power for financial reasons  and of course I like saving money as much as the next person ( I will go more into the savings later), but I also wanted solar power  because it is clean, it does not release any pollution, it is better for the planet , not just better for my wallet.
Listening to all the lies  and  bad science Trump told during that speech when he withdrew from the Paris agreement, it made me feel slightly less frustrated and helpless to know that even though he was moving our country backwards, I could still make a tiny step forward on my own. Our country under this president was  abandoning the leadership role in   innovative  energy technology, but my state, other states, and many private businesses will continue to lead the way to the future, which is clean energy.

So now my solar system has been up and running for a week and I am so happy with the decision.
It's not just a win, it is a win/win/win/win/win.  Let me explain all the ways  I am winning!

1.   Normally they calculate how many panels to  install based on your current electric bill.  But I  really conserve electricity,  every month  when the bill compares   my use to other similar homes,  I am scored "excellent" for conserving. For example, I have air conditioning but I  rarely use it, only on the very hottest days.  But if all my electricity was clean then I could use more and not have to conserve so much. So I decided I wanted more panels than just my current use., I wanted to  have some extra power in case of increased future use.  I even got enough to power an electric car charging station in the future. I don't have an electric car now, but if I  ever wanted to get one, I could power it with my solar system. Imagine driving your car with free fuel  forever!
So now, I can use the air conditioner as much as I want! I can do my laundry at peak hours instead of waiting until after 6 PM, because my system makes the most power at peak hours.

2. I got a discount for being over 50, and another discount for paying  cash up front. Not everyone can pay  cash, but they have very reasonable financing so that your monthly payment for the financing is still less than your electric bill would have been. So your net monthly budget is better (win) and  you pay off the system after about 9 years (win) and then you have free electricity after those 9 years (WIN!).
 If you do pay the whole thing at once, like I did, then it pays for itself  in 7-9 years.   ( 7 years of no electric bill= the cost of the system) Win!
After  the 7 years then it's just totally free electricity. The system requires very little maintenance.
I definitely recommend BUYING your system, not leasing it.  Even if you have to finance it,    you own it at the end of paying for it. But if you lease it,   it's the same as paying your electric bill every month- you will never own the means of production.

3.  There is a 30%  federal tax credit that you can spread out over 15 years. Win!
If you lease instead of buying,  then you don't get this tax credit.

4.   If you produce more electricity than you use, then you  can sell it back to the grid. Win!
I'm producing more than I use, and I can actually see on my  electric meter that the usage number is a NEGATIVE number. That is the surplus that is going back into the grid. And then whoever uses that electricity surplus form my system,   is also cleaner because that is less  electricity that the power plants have to make from potentially polluting fuels.

5.  One of the lies that Trump said when he pulled out of the Paris climate accord was he stated a false dichotomy pitting the environment VS the economy.  He made it sound like you have to pick one or the other, like clean energy was going to destroy our short term economy.   But this is a falsehood.  Clean energy makes jobs!  Innovation and technology is the future,  coal is the past. Every  component of my solar system is made in the USA. The panels are made in Texas, the inverters are made in California, the racks are made in New Mexico.  These are good, high paying  American jobs in an industry that can continue far into the future. So it's not just a win for me, it's a win for the American economy.

6.    It's better for the environment too. You don't have to pick economy or environment- you can help both at the same time.

7.  A solar system raises the value of the house. Any buyer will be getting free electricity from the day they move in.

So that was pretty long. It was a great experience and I  am kind of an evangelist for solar power now, I hope to get some of my neighbors to get it. My neighborhood is all 1 story ranch houses so they are perfect candidates,  we get so much sun  for  8 or 9 months of the year,  most  summer and fall days have a clear cloudless sky.. It's just really a climate that is ideal for  solar power. It's awesome to be able to crank the AC with no guilt.

Monday, May 29, 2017

What am I making: Fashion Revolution Week (belated)

 Fashion Revolution Week was April 24-30, and I made this project during that week, but I just had not photographed it or blogged about it until now.  Only a month late!

Fashion Revolution is a movement  to raise awareness about the human and ecological impact of the clothing industry.

 Fashion Revolution Week happens on the anniversary of the Rana Plaza factory collapse, where 1,138 garment workers  in Bangladesh were killed and many more injured on 24th April 2013. more than half the victims were women.  The day before the collapse, large cracks were showing, but the next day,  garment workers were ordered to return to work or else they'd be docked a month's pay. The clothing sweatshops in the building made clothes for many  brands, including  cheap fast-fashion  brands Primark, Walmart,  and  more expensive brands like  Benetton. People often think that    more expensive brands of clothing will have better worker pay and working conditions, but it's not always true.
The hashtag #whomademyclothes  is used on twitter for consumers to ask various brands for transparency about their production.

 In addition to the poor working conditions of many garment workers around the world,  there are large ecological issues with the entire fashion industry. Even if the workers are well paid and have safe conditions,  the clothing and textile industry  produces very much chemical waste and pollution.  The entire life cycle of a garment (from  growing the cotton, milling the fabric, dyeing, cutting and sewing) consumes so much water. It takes around 1,800 gallons of water to grow enough cotton to produce just one pair of  jeans.
With the current sped-up fashion cycle where trends only last a few months and clothing is so cheap,  clothing is purchased  and quickly thrown away in huge quantities.  Americans alone throw away approximately 14 million tons of garments each year, and most of this does not decompose in landfills because  even if it's biodegradable (like cotton),  it is usually inside plastic bags or does not receive enough  oxygen to break down.  Clothing is not frequently recycled, and it's a difficult process when a single garment may be a blend of  different fibers. It's not like aluminum cans where you can just melt it all down.
I also  recommend the movie called "The True Cost"  , about the  fast fashion/disposable fashion problem.It's on Netflix and Youtube.

 I've  drastically cut back the amount of clothing I buy, but I do still like to make clothes,  it's a creative outlet even if I don't always need more clothes. Even though homemade clothes are not exploiting workers, there is still the issue of the fabric, where was it made, etc.  Fabric production has the same ecological issues as clothing production. So my project for  Fashion Revolution week used my own labor and used scrap fabric that I had left over from older projects.  The scraps weren't big enough to make a whole garment from, but I  combined a solid knit with a floral knit to make this top. It's a simple  cap sleeved top but the fabric splicing gives it more visual interest than a T-shirt.

Monday, May 8, 2017

What am I making

I made these tiles a couple of years ago in a ceramics class,  but I just glued them to a board and grouted them this past weekend. I'm trying to  finish incomplete projects and use up   materials from my craft hoard.
When I made the tiles,  I just glazed them random colors instead of having a set picture in mind of how they would fit together. So it is a somewhat random layout, I just tried to make a couple of sort-of continuous diagonal stripes. I don't know if I will use this for a table or just an outdoor decorative thing. It's about 18" square so it could be a small table but  I might hang it on the wall of the back patio.
I do  wish I had glazed the colors more in a planned way to make a more cohesive design.
This is so weird, in the edit screen this is all normal lowercase but in the published post, it shows all caps. I swear I did not type this whole post in capslock and I don't know why it's showing that way!

What I'm nomming- cheese plate

 We've had some hot weather last week so I  like to make a simple, no-cook dinner like a cheese plate.
 Here is a particularly nice one I made  this past weekend.
Featured cheeses:
Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk- In the 1:00 position. This is a local California- made triple-crème, aged, cow's milk cheese with a brine-washed rind.
Aged Mimolette-  In the 6:00 position.  This  cheese  from Northern France is made in a ball shape and the rind looks so much like a cantaloupe rind , and then the cheese itself is the exact orange color of a cantaloupe.  It's really delicious and reminds me of an aged cheddar mixed with gouda.
Vintage Irish Cheddar  with Irish Porter -  In the 3:00 position. This is a nice sharp aged  white cheddar, marbled with a dark smoky porter beer flavor. I saw it in the store  and I was like, beer and cheese? Together? SOLD!
This is relevant to my interests.

Featured crackers:
 Original plain Triscuits.  In the center. Good old triscuits- still the best with so many cheeses.
Blue Diamond pecan thins- In the 10:00 position.  These are a gluten-free cracker made  with nut meal instead of flour. They have  an almond version too, but I love these pecan thins the most.
Wild California fruit and nut crisps in the 9:00 position.

Abate Fetel pear slices
 Local California- grown  Strawberries
Marcona  Almonds- In the separate bowl. these are a Spanish almond that is blanched (skinned) and then fried in olive oil.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

What I'm nomming

 Time for another snack review.

Whisps Parmesan cheese crisps
These are delicious and crispy  and light, almost melt in your mouth.

La Mere Poulard French Sables
These  are very simple  buttery cookies,  but so perfect.  I like them with ice cream. They are  similar to shortbread but crispier.

Smashmallow root beer float flavor marshmallows
They really do taste like root beer. It would be interesting to try them toasted.

Cheetos Sweetos  caramel puffs
I love salted caramel  anything, but these were just listed as caramel puffs, not as salted caramel, so I was not sure if they would be good. I was worried they might just taste like super sweet kids breakfast  cereal. But they are nice and  salty,  almost equal parts sweet and salty like kettle corn,  so they are really delicious and  perfect for snacking.

Mike's harder blood orange 
I'm including this not as a favorite, but as an anti-fave.    Luckily I just bought one can at 7-11 to drink at the beach.  I  like  every other blood orange soda I have tasted, it's one of my favorite flavors,  and I like Mike's hard lemonade, so I thought for sure I would like this. But it was a huge disappointment.  It is TERRIBLE. It tastes like you mixed artificial cherry flavor cough medicine with artificial orange flavor cough medicine. So freakin nasty. I drank like 3 sips and threw the rest away.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What I'm nomming

These are some snacks I actually bought a couple weeks ago and enjoyed,.
 Right now I am  on a no  grocery shopping challenge, which is not to save money or anything, I am just trying to use up what I've already got in my pantry. I don't know if anyone else does this, but I tend to  do a thing where I   buy things to try them, and they are okay but not my favorite, so  instead of finishing them, I just go  buy something else. And it ends up with a lot of stuff that just kind of  accumulates and gets ignored. It's not bad enough to throw away, it's not really 'bad' at all, just not my favorite.  So right now I am only shopping for perishables like milk and eggs, but when it comes to  shelf-stable   pantry items like cereal, chips, cookies, dry pasta,  nuts,  granola bars, etc, I am not buying  anything like that until I really empty out my pantry. And like, if I want chips and there are no chips, I will make popcorn. If I want cookies and there are no cookies, I bake some (using up some nuts and chocolate in the process).
So I've been doing that for a couple of weeks but here are some things I bought before I started this challenge.

Icelandic Provisions Skyr- peach and cloudberry  flavor
This is like a thick yogurt but has more protein than normal yogurt. it's really good.  I  had a Finnish friend who  used to always rave about cloudberries, which are a  rare type of berry from Scandinavia.
Cadbury Wispa cookies
These are  shortbread cookies covered in chocolate, but they also have a filling layer of  fluffy chocolate similar to an Aero bar.

 Cherry Limeade Peeps
These are a nice sour cherry flavored peep with a coating  of lime candy coating on the bottom.  I LOVE lime flavored things and it is not a very common flavor, so these are my favorite of the limited edition 'dipped' Peeps.  I once wrote a letter of complaint to Starburst when they replace lime starburst with strawberry, in the 80s. They wrote back and told me lime was the least popular flavor.

 Lays Poppables in white cheddar flavor
These are new, they taste similar to  Pringles, they are made with potato flour and remind me of like a giant chex cereal piece.Sort of a mesh pillow  shape. It's  very light and  crunchy, because each one is filled with air. but that also means that even a big bag of them doesn't have that many servings. You can easily eat the whole bag if you aren't careful.


Monday, April 10, 2017

Slow vs quick

In the middle ages, there used to be a form of torture and execution  where they would lay a person down, and then place a large board on top of them, like a door. They would start piling rocks on top of the board.
They were not large rocks, and any one of them alone wouldn't have really done much  to hurt the person. Especially with the board distributing the pressure over the whole body.
But there were a lot of these small rocks, and they kept piling up. Eventually it would kill a person but it was very slow. And very painful.
I can imagine , at some point the person would wish for one large  boulder to  squish them quickly, rather than the pile of hundreds of small rocks.

 This form of torture is like life. Sometimes, if you only see one little pebble   piled on someone, you might not understand the person's reaction, because you don't know how many rocks came before it.  We never know how many rocks each person has already  squashing them down.
And  if you can ever lift a pebble off of someone, you might think it's so small it would never make a difference. But all those  pebbles add up.