M. is back with her view from how the class is going - after an amazingly brief pause to give birth to a new baby!
o my week 4 update was simply labor, labor and more labor. We finally had the baby! We are home and healthy. And I get to brag that he was born in a bathtub (it was a water birth)! Do you think he will appreciate that when he's twelve? After another sleepy week off, I am back with week 6.
The class has been slowly zeroing in on brainstorming solutions to some of the more mundane issues of low power living. Things like sustainable rat population control, stockpiling toilet paper or going family cloth, and whether or not it seems prudent to be investing in a 401K right now. And I've been thinking about our rowhouse, which is a typical Baltimore six room rowhouse, and how it might be set up to run on low or no power. Since so much in our house relies on power, I'm trying to think through my day chronologically to identify the biggest everyday systems to tackle. A couple of things I'm thinking about this week: time, water and communication.
We don't wake up to an alarm in the morning, I tend to wake up with the birds (when the windows are open, and do you know how early the robins actually wake up in in my neighborhood? 4am!) or with the sun. We have several clocks in our house, mostly digital, and one analog clock that uses batteries. What we also have is a broken mantle clock from my grandparents that chimes the quarter hour and gets wound with a key every night. If we wanted time without power we could take that to a clock repair shop and get an estimate for fixing it, it may be as simple as me not knowing how to wind it correctly. I remember staying in my grandparents' house as a child and always knowing the time from the chime of that clock, which was short but could be heard throughout the house. There are also churches that ring bells on the quarter hour in our neighborhood, which I must say I rely on a lot when we are out and about since I don't normally carry a watch or a cell phone. They are hard to hear inside with the windows closed.
The first thing I do after getting dressed is drink a big cup of water. Now water is a system I don't have a lot of control over in the middle of the city. We have water from our tap. We have a water filter we use to clean it up a little bit. Water is available for purchase at the store, and it falls from the sky. Roofwater collected in a rainbarrel is pretty hard to clean up for drinking, and I have no idea if rainwater that I collected in a clean cistern would be anywhere near appropriate for drinking. Hmm. Other than that, city streams are pretty gross even for my boys to wade in, with high bacteria counts. The water main system in my city, like many cities with shrinking populations, is seriously unstable, there are a thousand water main breaks in Baltimore every year and the city would need an estimated $1 billion to fix the sewer system alone. So I'm not sure where that cup of water would come from if it didn't come out of my tap.
After I'm hydrated and if nobody needs me I often check my email and phone messages, my calender and the news and weather before breakfast. We have a laptop and an ipod touch, and I typically field a lot of scheduling questions and issues from my students via email, and also do a lot of homeschooling and social scheduling over the internet. I love to read the news and commentary, and I follow the weather closely in regards to my garden and our outdoor plans (we make an effort to spend a significant amount of time outside, a side benefit of being on our own schedule). So something to put of the list would be to research the availability and cost of solar options for charging one of our devices. Without internet I may revert to the phone for lesson arrangements, or if that was unavailable my job would be a little less stable but could continue. It might make sense for me to teach out of my house instead of renting space elsewhere if I had no way of being notified of a missed lesson. This system is actually still in use in my community for Shabbat (sabbath) plans, if someone doesn't use electricity on the sabbath they will often make dinner or lunch plans to go to someone's house with the caveat of if it rains/gets late/snows/just doesn't work out- don't wait for us! I do get a significant number of my music students over the internet, and if that dried up I would have to post posters in the nearby neighborhoods and spend more time talking to people about what I do.
One thing about living in the city is that I imagine getting news is a lot easier to facilitate during a short (or long) emergency. During a power outage, after the earthquake, or whenever the weather in nice everyone is out talking in my neighborhood, and the houses are only 20 or so feet wide so there are a lot of people available to talk to a short distance away. We have a neighborhood bulletin board which gets updated frequently and an active civic organization. We are only a few blocks from a university and the stores and shops that go along with it, and small and large weekly and daily newspapers and bulletins are frequently and easily available. So that's not quite to breakfast yet, but maybe I'll save eggs and toast for next week.
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Rainwater is not as hard as it looks. Being blessed with a surplus in the rainy NW, it was one of the first projects we took on. We collect it off our asphalt composition roof and filter it through a Big Berkey gravity filter, transferring it from barrel to filter with a largish glass jar. The jar originally held apple juice from a discount grocer. I have no idea if this system would work in your situation, but maybe you could adapt it? There are lots of resources online about how to do this.
It always saddens me to see people afraid of rainwater, brainwashed by corporate propaganda into thinking it's filthy. It's DISTILLED WATER, for pete's sake. Once it has been raining a few minutes and the air is washed free of particulates, there isn't anything better. I wouldn't want it collected off anything but a metal roof, but that's me. And once you run it through a filter, it's better than anything you can buy, whether out of a bottle or tap.
We collect rainwater from our asphalt shingle roof, store it in 50 gallon blue plastic barrels, and use it to water the garden, to save the cost of purchased city water. (In the Pacific Northwest). I'm worried about radiation contamination, and certainly not happy about the asphalt shingles. But we don't have a convenient metal roof, and I am resigned to doing what I can with the situation I have. If we had an emergency and badly needed water, I imagine I'd filter and boil it for drinking, since at that point, the urgent need for water would outweigh the concern about nasty chemicals from the roof, or storage in non-sterile plastic barrels. Eventually, I hope we'll manage something better. At the moment, I'm happy to have gotten this far; it's ahead of where we were a year ago.