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2011: Another year of making do. January 3, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, wit and wisdom.
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Here in the Lehigh Valley, the part of Pennsylvania where our friend Ben and Silence Dogood live, the recession has hit hard. Unemployment remains high and hiring remains low. Reading the dismal headlines, we wonder where the so-called economic recovery is taking place.

We were especially horrified to read an article in yesterday’s local paper, the Allentown, PA Morning Call, which predicted that gasoline prices would soon hit $4 a gallon, and continue to climb to $5 by 2012. Heating oil prices were also headed through the roof. Given that this has been the most bitterly (and consistently bitterly) cold winter we can remember, with temperatures consistently in the teens or below at night from November on, and barely making the twenties during the day, this is very bad news for those of us who heat with oil. A stratospheric December electric bill merely presaged the horrors of January’s deregulation, when the cost of electricity may shoot up by 30%.

People with ample disposable income can counter all this with a series of sensible moves: Buy a hybrid or electric car to reduce gas dependency, or, if you live in the city, take public transportation, carpool, or bike to work and save your car (if you even keep one) for an emergency. Trade in your inefficient, energy-guzzling appliances for new Energy Star models.

Bring in the experts to trade your doors and windows for the latest in heat- (and, in summer, cold-) retention and add the best insulation, and plenty of it. Switch to LED lighting. Set up solar arrays, hydropower units, and/or wind turbines to reduce or eliminate dependency on fossil fuels. Go greener, and berm your house and/or add a living roof and rain catchments. Install solar showers, composting toilets, and greywater retention systems.

We applaud each and every one of these improvements, and every other one that helps people become more energy-efficient and energy-independent. But, as in so many cases, it takes money to save money. Either you need to have the money in hand, or you need a rock-solid job that lets you borrow it against your future earnings. If, like us, you have neither, these longed-for changes remain pipe dreams.

Instead, we do what we can. We dial the thermostat down to 50 and add layers to compensate. We try to combine as many errands as possible so we don’t have to drive more often or farther than we must. We abandon eating out and going to movies, much less concerts and other performances. We put up insulating curtains and Bubble Wrap. We wash our dishes by hand and do one or two loads of laundry a week, air-drying as much as we can. We restrict travel to unavoidable family obligations. We have rainbarrel systems (made from recycled 55-gallon plastic drums) set up to catch roof runoff for our outdoor plants.

And, most important, we avoid temptation. Our friend Ben and Silence are very easily tempted. We see, we want, we buy. But if we don’t see, we don’t buy. So in 2011, it’s going to be another year of not going on Amazon, not going to bookstores, not going to the wonderful olive oil and vinegar emporium in nearby Bethlehem, not going to flea markets, not going antiquing, not going to crafts fairs and towns renowned for their delightful shops, not going on eBay, not going, period.

Instead, we’ll patronize our local library, and if we desperately need clothes, we’ll head to the Goodwill or Salvation Army. We enjoy Netflix and will see our movies through them. We’ll remind ourselves that no restaurant in our area can make better food than Silence can, so eating at home is no hardship. We may have had to sacrifice our gym membership, but there’s a public park within walking distance, and we have weights and an exercycle at home.

Our greatest vulnerability lies in our dependence on gas, fuel oil, and electricity—that triumvirate of skyrocketing commodities. Unlike city folk, we live in the precise middle of nowhere, where we must drive ten minutes to get to a grocery, pharmacy, or pet store. (Or, obviously, anything else, and much farther to get to a mechanic or specialist.) We work from home, so having access to electricity and high-speed internet is a given. And we couldn’t afford to trade our venerable fuel-oil furnace for, say, an efficient propane model, even if we wanted to. So we’re stuck with car transport, oil heat, and electric bills. And frankly, we’re just grateful that we still have the resources to make the weekly grocery run.

2011: Another year of making do. Punching a few more holes in the already-tightened belt. We could sell off some of our family heirlooms, but sadly, we’re both really pathetic when it comes to bargaining, and we don’t know anyone with that killer instinct who could sell them for us. So instead, we’d rather sell our collective brainpower, the ultimate renewable resource. We have plenty to spare and love to think!

What are your plans to survive 2011?



1. alan - January 3, 2011

We are having the same “recovery” here in East Central Ohio (Way past the middle of nowhere.) This year we are going to opt out of the industrial food system. Eat Local 2011 is our new project. You can see a bit about it here. http://www.robertsroostfarm.com/2011/01/eat-local-2011.html I’ll let you know how we do. (we may show up on you doorstep begging for food…)

Good for you, Alan! (Eating locally, not “recovery.”) Very cool. We’ll be checking on you! And we’ll have a hot home-cooked meal ready just in case you all turn up…

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