Resolve to be always beginning—to be a beginner.Rainer Maria Rilke
Happy New Year!
Looking back at my 2021 evolutions, I’m pretty pleased with how it all went. My 2021 evolutions came about in January last year when I decided that Evolutions were better than Resolutions because resolutions imply product, imply ending, and evolutions are an ongoing process that recognizes setbacks and changes. Here are my progress reports from April and August. I had several general themes and a few specific actions.
Continue to reduce plastic
We continue to do really well with this; it has become a habit. We have the grocery shopping down pretty well, even began getting lotion in bulk. And finally found some good vegan dental floss made from bamboo. We have so little garbage most of the time, that sometimes it would take 2-3 weeks to fill our 1-gallon trash bin. We realized during the summer that purchasing something online, even if it is eco-friendly, usually means it comes encased in a lot of plastic. This realization means that we have dramatically reduced online purchases unless we are unable to find what we need locally.
Buy quality/buy less/ buy eco-friendly/buy nothing
Most of the time we bought nothing. We have a local Buy Nothing group and we were able to get a few things we needed or wanted. James decided he wanted to learn how to play the guitar and someone on Buy Nothing had an old guitar they gave him. I needed some kind of mat that was mostly waterproof to put down under my winter bike for snow and ice to drip onto, and I was able to obtain an old yoga mat from someone. It works great!
As winter bike commuting approached, I did decide I needed a different base layer than the one I had from last year and a mid-weight neck gaiter. I found them both through Patagonia. Expensive, but high quality and carefully made. They are perfect and will last a long time. I can still wear the base layer I have from last year, but it was cheap, completely synthetic, and already showing wear, so it’s nice to have two choices, especially since the new layer is warmer.
In previous jobs, James has always had to wear a dress shirt and tie, or business casual attire, jeans were never allowed. But at the bookstore where he is now, he can wear jeans. But the jeans he owns are all pretty scruffy. So he did his research and decided to get a couple pairs of Levi’s 501s made from organic cotton. I have Levis from 20 years ago I still wear, so hopefully these will last him a good long time.
This summer during the drought, I got really good at taking five-minute showers and I continue to keep them at 5 minutes or less. We also had insulation added in our attic in September. It has made an enormous difference. Not only do we not have cold air pouring down the stairs from the attic, but we have very little heat escaping through our roof. I can tell this because the snow doesn’t melt off the roof like it used to, which also means we don’t have problems with ice building up on the southeast corner of the roof like we used to. Yay! It turned out to be not very expensive as far as house things go, and we even got a nice rebate. We are now debating whether we should have more insulation put into the outside walls or get some new windows first. I suspect we will go for the walls.
This winter we have also decided to set the thermostat lower. In years past we had it set at 64F during the day and 59F at night. We have moved it down a few notches to 62F during the day and 58F at night. Yes, this means we wear layers in the house, wrap blankets around ourselves if we are sitting still for longer than 10 minutes, and sometimes wear fingerless gloves. But it’s worth it.
I did a bunch of research about the possibility of installing a rocket mass heater. It would not be illegal, but, because we have a basement and rocket mass heaters of a proper size weigh in at 1,000 – 2,000 pounds (I never realized how serious the mass part of the equation was!), we would have to have our foundation and floor reinforced, which is prohibitively expensive. So now we are researching small wood stoves, trying to find the most efficient and best size for our alternative heating needs.
Nothing new here. I was hoping to be able to freeze a bunch of greens from the garden to use in soups throughout winter, but I didn’t manage it. I’m going to try again this coming summer.
Take a foraging class
I never did take a foraging class but I still managed to learn about foraging and find some places to do it. I found some staghorn sumac only a mile and half from my house, but when it was time to go picking, circumstances conspired against me and I never got to go do it. Next year!
I was hoping to forage acorns but it was not a mast year. And, allegedly, they need to be picked up before they have been long on the ground otherwise insects will get into them. So I am not quite sure how acorn foraging can work. I also found some walnut trees in my local park, but judging by all the broken open shells, birds and squirrels know all about them already and my chances of getting any are zero.
Community and speaking out
This has gone really well. I actually managed to get the neighborhood green committee I co-chair to host a climate change discussion, something they had never done before. There were not many people, but everyone who was there participated and it felt great!
I was really happy to see the city plans for rebuilding a section of one of the busiest streets in the city. Of the three potential plans, only one of them had protected bike lanes and dedicated bus transit lanes. I was among the majority of people during the public comment period who insisted there needed to be bike lanes. And that’s the plan that was chosen! This month is the public comment period for the chosen design, which includes a two-way off-street protected bike lane, dedicated bus transit lanes, and lots of great pedestrian safety improvements. There will be only one lane for cars going in each direction and a whole lot of street parking will be lost. A couple of restaurants are not happy about the parking, but study after study shows that improving bike, transit, and pedestrian access is good for business. So of course I have sent in my comment on the chosen plan, saying how fantastic it is. James’s bookstore is on the section of street that will be affected and he is really happy about the bike lane that will make bike commuting for him much safer.
Overall, the year went pretty well. Can I do more? Absolutely. And I will continue with the themes from 2021. In terms of the energy theme, this includes finally getting around to building a solar dehydrator. I’d like to make a solar oven too if I can manage it. In addition, I am going to try and grow some annual vines on the south side of the house and see 1) if they will grow in the tiny space and 2) if they help keep that side of the house cooler. If it works, then I will make plans for perennial vines.
It wasn’t specifically included in my evolutions of 2021, but James and I have been trying as much as possible to localize. We decided to ditch our national bank and use a local credit union. We’ve been with this bank for about 27 years. Well, when we moved to Minnesota the bank was a small, regional bank and then it got bought by a bigger regional bank and then it got bought by a national bank. It’s taken us six months to get everything switched over to the credit union, but we are finally ready to close out our accounts with the bank. Really happy about that.
We also are trying to use local businesses over big national retailers. It isn’t always possible, but more often than not we’ve found what we need at the local hardware store and other small businesses. Our mantra is local first. I’m looking forward to seeing how that plays out in 2022.
How about you? Do you have any evolutionary plans for 2022?
- A Woven World by Alison Hawthorne Deming. A nonfiction book about fish, fashion, and family. And yes, she is a descendent of Nathaniel Hawthorne.
- Gijigijigaaneshiinh gikendaan: What the Chickadee Knows, poems in Anishinaabemowin and English by Margaret Noodin
- Steady Stater Podcast, Shrink Globally, Act Locally with Helena Norberg-Hodge
- Frontiers of Commoning Podcast: Jose Luis Vivero Pol: Treating Food as Commons, Not Commodities
- Frontiers of Commoning Podcast: David Cayley on Why Ivan Illich Still Matters
- Wild Nights with Emily (2018) A funny Emily Dickinson movie!