Friday, June 08, 2007

Debriefing: Energy Conservation

We enjoy traveling because it gives us the chance to see our lives from the outside, to question our assumptions about the way we do things in the day-to-day and why. When we get home, we see opportunities to make changes that are healthier for ourselves and for the environment too. Since we got home from Europe, here are some differences in the way we live each day. And by the way, as you read this, are you reminded of the way our grandparents lived??? We are...

  • Skipping takeout food. Do you realize how much waste we generate from the "need" to eat food while we go from place to place? Think of the paper and styrofoam and plastic used by one fast food place for one day. If you to to Starbucks (which I never saw the whole time we were in Europe by the way) and order your coffee to go rather than "for here" in a ceramic mug, it seems like no big deal, but multiply that choice by the number of customers, and it's a mountain of trash. If you don't have time to sit down and have that snack or meal, either you don't need it or--just perhaps--your life is too complicated.
  • Using a clothesline. In Estepona, our clothes dried much faster on the line than in the dryer anyway because the sun is so hot and bright there! I couldn't stand using the dryer when the sun was shining here, so I strung up a makeshift clothesline on the back porch as a placeholder. We'll probably put in a permanent clothesline out in the sunny part of our yard later this month.
  • much more conscious of turning electrical appliances off when not in use, even to the point that we unplug the coffee maker, since we don't really need a third clock in the kitchen. When I walk away from the computer, I don't leave the speakers, printer and screen on.
  • installing water conservation devices around the house. In Estepona, there are often water shortages, to the point that we were encouraged to water plants with waste water from cooking, rather than putting it down the drain. We will be replacing an old high-capacity toilet tank with the dual-flush type that is ubiquitous in Europe. The design allows you to use a small flush for pee and a more powerful flush for the other stuff. Why haven't we been using this kind of thing all along? They're not impossible to find here either, if you were looking for a convenient excuse. Your local home supply store can order one for you. I found ours on the web with free shipping. The brand is "Toto." The other thing we're likely to do is put in at least one rain barrel to catch gutter runoff for use in gardening and cleaning. I read that the average suburban house catches 24,000 gallons a year!!! Perhaps we should be putting some of that to use. Funny thing is, our 100-year-old house seems to have had a cistern and pump at one point, but all that's left are some terra cotta pipes near the gutters and a pump mechanism with no handle. Wish they'd left it alone instead of making "improvements," whoever's decision that was.
  • eating "greener." We're lucky to have a farmer's market twice a week right down the street where we can buy locally grown produce. It stays so much fresher and tastes so much better. In Europe we paid a bit more for our groceries but everything was so much closer to the source, whether it was bread, meats, cheeses, even chocolate. We look at labels much more carefully, and if something has a bunch of high fructose partially hydrogenated crapola in it, it stays on the shelf.
  • driving about as much as we did before. On this score, I have to say we have been doing better than most, because we live a 3-minute bicycle commute from work (even closer to the Family Travel Journal World Headquarters, ha). Once MeiMei finishes preschool, they'll both walk up the street to their elementary school, so we won't need to drive much of anywhere except the grocery store.
  • composting. The city of Antwerp has everyone separate out biodegradable food waste, partly because the plumbing system wouldn't be able to handle a bunch of disposals pureeing food waste and putting it directly into the wastewater pipes. I would like to find one of those barrel things that you turn with a crank every once in a while.
  • reining in spending on home decorating. Look at HGTV and you realize that America has given itself a House Fetish. People are tearing out perfectly good rooms because the stove is suddenly not trendy anymore or the light fixtures are just all wrong. Where does all that waste go? In Belgium, since it's far more common to entertain friends out at a restaurant than to invite them to your home, nobody needs to have a house with all kinds of room to show off a few times a year at a party. You just need a place to live everyday family life. We enjoy our house here, but have realized how much we spend on pretty frivolous things. I'm having a yard sale on Saturday to de-clutter a bit.

So I challenge you...will it take a trip out of the country to get you thinking about ways you could waste not and want not? Or at least waste less and want less?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Ouch, my heart!

Ok, so I just got an email from JieJie's teacher. We had promised to keep in touch. She said that every morning, when they take attendance and notice who is absent, they mention our daughters' names. Then they say that JieJie and MeiMei are home in America and that we are all thinking of each other. The postcard we sent from Estepona is posted in the classroom. Massive sniff and sigh.

I'm glad for email, but it's such a tease. It makes us seem so close, and then we realize that we are so far away. I just have to believe we will see one another again. That school is so fantastic, I wish the commute weren't so impossible.

The girls went to the last day of their old preschool today. They were invited to the last day of school party and they had a fantastic time running through sprinklers and getting their faces painted. Their teacher here said it was as though they had never left, though she noted that both of them seem much more confident and intrepid, which I absolutely credit to our semester abroad.

If I'd known the school in Antwerp was going to be so incredible, I'd have arranged to stay and let them finish out the year somehow, I think.

Monday, June 04, 2007

You too can hear Belgian radio!

Click on the title of this post, and you will find yourself on the homepage of Radio Twee (two), which was my favorite station to have on while hanging out in the Antwerp apartment. Eclectic and stimulating, the songs are a mix of pop and one-of-a-kind Flemish folk and singer-songwriter music. When you get to the home page, make sure pop-ups are enabled, and then choose "Luister Live" to get audio streaming. I heard a news update and missed the sound of the little "between stories" punctuation sound, which had wormed its way into my everyday sounds without my even knowing it. Listening to Radio Twee lets me imagine I'm not so far from Belgium.

Give it a try!

And by the way, you would never believe how much more internet is out there beyond the .com's and the .org's--every European country has its own suffix, and there are hundreds of thousands of webpages you'll never find if your Google is set only to English language sites.

Gotta love the internet.

You can search FTJ for past posts, e.g. China info...