Monthly Archives: May 2009

My discomfort with stuff

I wanted to say “hatred of stuff”, but that sounds a little too violent. I cleaned out the storage sheds of all the last landlord’s junk and it wasn’t pretty. It took all day last Sunday, and then I tried to have a yard sale on Monday, but it being memorial day and all, everyone was either bbq-ing or out of town, or at least didn’t want my junk! I made a total of $23, $20 of it on a reasonably good condition futon. That will pay the $20 disposal/recycling fee (for freon inspection and removal) for the non-working mini-fridge. I have already loaded 2 trunk loads of bags of clothes, bedding, etc in the back of Gil’s car for donation. Someone from freecycle took some shelves, others have expressed interest in the washer and dryer (which may or may not work), a heavy table, and more shelves. The two mattress/boxsprings were rejected and pronounced junk. I would have slept on them, but prefer a futon. I have low standards. They have now been rained on for 2 days, so they will go to the dump, as probably will a floor lamp (switch doesn’t work) and the sink/vanity I removed from the bathroom. These items are all too poor condition/old for the ReStore or other places to take, and freecyclers have not bit. A small electric stove (also can’t verify if it works) is on craigslist, but probably will have to be recycled.

This makes me very, very sad. I hate the burden of stuff, the money outlay to get it, the work of maintaining it, the sadness and effort and money (again) of disposal. Some things are better than others. Most of my futon and natural fiber clothing can go in the compost if/when it is unusable. I can burn wood items (and may go to the effort to remove the wood frame of the boxsprings and burn in the fire pit or donate to someone who actually heats a home with wood). The firepit outputs CO2 for just a bit of enjoyment, but I can use the ashes on my apple trees and cook over the fire, so not all waste. The metal appliances can be recycled, but it is a pain and requires a vehicle or paying someone to haul off.

I do acquire plenty of stuff. I did just buy a rack and waterproof panniers for my bike. The panniers had been returned by someone, so used and a deal. I should get years of service, and I can stop ruining my back with heavy pack loads on my bike. Or I can ruin my back and still put more stuff on my bike. Still – someday that metal rack will have to be biked to the recycle pile, and probably long before that the plastic panniers will rip beyond all repair and end up in the dump. Still less trash than even one seat in a car, I guess. But this unnecessary, yet fairly unavoidable, flowthrough of bulky, non-recyclable material depresses me. The prevalence of plastic, the specialized, hard to repair, hard to componentize, hard to re-purpose parts strains my creativity in turning one thing into another, truly useful object.

If anyone has any suggestions of what to do with my junk before I do haul it to the dump, let me know! And give me your inspiring examples of how you successfully keep packaging, old appliances, and other annoying trash out of your life!


Spring Gardening Pictures

Compost center

Compost center

Here is my compost bin (made of pallets – and I plan to add a second right next to it) with sign/instructions.


Here is me planting my new, locally grown, organic, Hyer-20 apple seedling. It is a good keeper apple. Thanks, dad, for the birthday funds to puchase it! My butt is hiding the substantially smaller (than my butt and the other seedling apple) Norland seedling that I grafted last year – it looks like it might have made it! Also you can see in the far background where we tore down the old, prison-like, 6′ cedar fence, repaired the posts/etc and stapled on pig-wire (2″x3″ garden wire fencing). It looks lovely, lets in more light, and lets us see the nice wooded area on the other side.

The business of clean energy in Alaska conference

The last two days I attended the Business of Clean Energy Conference hosted by the Renewable Energy Alaska Project. I love conferences – free food, lots of information, like-minded people to talk to. I always end up envious of those people with real credibility and influence, and find myself figuring out if I could be there in 5 or 10 years, or if I’ll always be a minor player. Like it matters. This conference had some key local players, like Gwen Holdmann, who is one of my personal heroes for being very smart, savvy, well-respected and the mom of twins. It also had a lot of national experts from states such as California, Colorado, Texas, and Oregon and organizations like NREL, etc.

A couple of take home messages of the conference: Alaska needs policy, most likely an appropriately written RPS (renewable portfolio standard) making it necessary for a certain percentage of energy to come from renewables by a given date. Our (normally loopy) Gov has said 50% by 2025, but that is not backed up by legislation. REAP (Renewable Energy Alaska Project) has been key in getting our Renewable Energy Grant Fund through and getting $125 million worth of projects funded. However, REAP may not touch this with a 10 foot pole (I’m guessing), as part of REAP’s success is from being a coalition containing players from many sectors, including the utilities. The utilities are quite hostile to net metering and RPS’s. There are some legitimate reasons for this , due to the special conditions in Alaska (small, isolated communities, etc), but these problems could be solved by appropriate wording. I am disappointed that no one passed around a piece of paper to sign up to form a working group for a state RPS. The key players were probably in the room. I had a heady moment where I pictured myself starting the list and passing it around at the end of the conference, but it didn’t happen. I’m not that cool yet.

Secondly, it was great that the need to officially concentrate on energy efficiency first was universally touted and acknowledged. When you really get into it, foam insulation turns me on just as much as solar hot water these days, if not more. Removing north-facing windows really gets me hot. Energy efficiency may have had an awkward childhood, but I think it is getting pretty sexy as it matures. Just like renewables, Alaska already has funding and programs for weatherization and energy efficiency (I’ll blog about my Home Energy Rebate audit soon), but policy on the books is needed to keep things stable and going the right direction, and encourage continued investment in line with good goals.

I schizophrenically hopped in my mind between big picture thinking, to planning for the ecoplex, to figuring out my company’s role and my professional role in the clean energy economy. It was good.

I like to ride my bike

It’s bike to work day in Anchorage! It’s been sunny for 2 weeks and it just started raining and got cold this morning. I’m sick, and I don’t live far from work, but I rode the bike today anyway (I normally walk). It was good, because I had to go down the road a mile to the lab to run some tests, and it was nice to bike instead of borrowing a work vehicle. I realized on the way back how much I enjoy biking. I am mainly a walker, and I have, in my life, chosen to walk when biking would have been much more quick and easy. I like the slow pace of walking, the calmness. When I bike I push it to make green lights, avoiding the cars that thought they could finally turn left (sorry, I know I shouldn’t make enemies with drivers). Biking in Anchorage can have other downsides – traffic can be uneducated, infrastructure is often sub-par or absent, snow and gravel and pot holes the size of the Great Lakes can make things challenging. But I do love biking. It feels elegant and powerful and swurvey-swift-agile. It is an excellent way to get around this town, despite the downsides, and often quicker than the bus, or even driving.

So if you missed bike to work day because of the rain, remember May is national bike to work month, and get out there! Hopefully you’ll see how great and feasible it is and make a habit of it.

Alaska Springtime Junkie

This is the season that no one can get enough of, at least in years like this. The temperature is T-shirt perfect in the sun. No need to show off those dimpled, unshaven legs – it’s cool enough for jeans until you really start moving. The sun shifts through the sticky new, pale green leaves on the birches, and the float planes drone lazily in the soft, clear blue sky. The smell is fresh – willows by the bank even along streets in town. All the winter garbage and gravel has finally been (or is being) cleaned away. The earth is cool and moist, the nights crisp and light. Life is sweet and sad, knowing the timer has been started and there are only about a dozen weekends before it all starts to shut down and freeze out. Sweet regret for time at work, time in bed with this damn spring flu/strep throat/whatever, for any time inside. Nostalgia for summer days sunning with my sister on the flat black roof of my dad’s old place in Sand Lake, eating grapefruit halves and listening to KGOT (no, the music on it isn’t any better today). Compulsion to garden until midnight, even though the kid needs to be in bed for school by 9 (should be 8, really turns into 10 after stories). Frenzy to make each weekend count – can you fish, camp, garden, go to a downtown park fair, hang out with friends, remodel the building with all of them? How to decide which parties to attend and when to just lounge in the backyard? There is no way to get enough. Any minute the cold storm clouds could roll in. Does the 2+ perfect weeks we’ve had mean this summer will be as warm as the one in 2005, or did we use it all up and it’ll be cloudy and cold for the rest of the summer like last year? The promise of meeting the neighbors, being sublimated, overgrown, encompassed by the community. We are all outdoors, amazed that this could all happen again, primitive sun worshipers to the core. And not a one of us (well, maybe a few) would want to be anywhere else now. Who could hack the 90 F plus of the lower 48 summer? Who could hack the lack of rest and dark of the tropics? How would you know when to give it up, go to bed, and sleep off the summer if the sun didn’t pack it up and go away?

Can I relocate my 4-plex to Berkeley?

Pinko Bastion Spawns Capitalist Solution to Solar Financing – I liked living in Berkeley, despite the big city feel, and this article from Grist gives me another reason to miss it. Mmmm – Cheese Board Pizza Collective! As I ponder how to pay for all my energy efficiency improvements, and put down almost 20 grand for a solar hot water heating system, the Berkeley model looks pretty tasty too!

You are not in good hands with Allstate

As I fill in the potholes in my drive with gravel, I am reminded of my very poor experience with Allstate Home Insurance up here in Alaska. Soon after choosing them and closing on the property, I received notice (at my old rental address – forwarded) that I was being dropped for a pothole in the drive (frozen, iced over ground admitted no possibility of a fix until spring), for an owner not being in residence (false), for lack of gutters (I have adequate roof overhang and no need of gutters), and for a small patch of missing siding (repaired by me in about 10 minutes).
My agent’s rep kept assuring me that all was going to be ok, and that I would not go without coverage. On the day my policy was to expire, he said he had written me a new one. I found out from my mortgage company that wasn’t true. With lapsed coverage, and facing an expensive interim policy from my mortgage co, I was told that the person I had been dealing with at Allstate no longer worked there, that he had messed up a lot of stuff, and they were also having issues with the inspection people. But they wrote me a new policy. When I signed it, I noticed it had the address as my old, rental, address (at least the first policy was written for my correct address, even if correspondence kept going to my old address). I crossed that out and wrote in my real address, and brought it to their attention.
A week later, I got notice that my policy was being canceled for a lapse in coverage!!
I called the office and they apologized and said that they would help me find a new insurer, since they were still having lots of problems with Allstate national’s inpections – people that had potholes or exterior paint issues (neither of which can be dealt with in Alaska in the winter) were being dropped and hassled. She did deal with my mortgage co though, so I was not responsible for the expensive interim policy. That was decent.

Allstate only found me one other insurer to talk to, and they were mega expensive, so I found my own new insurance. All of my correspondence from Allstate continued to come to my old address (and was forwarded by the PO) to the bitter end, despite calling them repeatedly to update my address. They were my cheapest original quote for insurance, but I certainly paid for it in a horrible experience! I’m not saying this would all be universally true for everyone, but they sure messed me around almost every way they could! And I didn’t even have any claims! At least it was just a big hassle, and didn’t end up costing me extra money.