Big City, Little Homestead

Living rural in the city.

Month: December 2012

Why we need to be energy-efficient with electricity

Here in Quebec, our hydro-electricity is so abundant that we have the cheapest rates in North America (which is also a factor the provincial gov’t uses to keep us in the “have-not” calculus, to keep Federal transfer payments flowing into Quebec rather than to provinces that do need more than we do, like the Maritimes. But that’s another story…told by someone else). So why, when the valleys are already flooded, ecosystems lost, and resulting methane production dwindling, would anyone here care about electricity usage? It’s renewable, and it’s the best in Canada (therefore, North America) for GHG emissions. We seem to have done a few things right, right?

But wait. As more people move to the cities [that is, fail to move back to the regions when they should], the draw on the power grid increases, as does the need for power line transport [aside: when are we going to stop mowing the trees beneath them, when we could be planting managed stands and orchards instead?]. That power still needs to come from somewhere, because the cities are not doing the math for themselves to keep the demand steady-or-less as efficiency supposedly increases, or supply more of their own.
HydroQuebec does not load-balance the demand with consumer participation by using electricity at preferred rates after businesses close down for the evening. And HydroQuebec does not have many incentive programs to help people switch to off-grid electricity generation (though, unbeknowst to many, it finally established a net metering option for self-generators to feed power back in.) The kicker is that cheap electricity is practically designed for waste.

Which is objectionable, when we could be making more money if we were more conserving. HydroQuebec exports its power to Ontario, New York, New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, where non-hydro sources are still used: nuclear, coal, other. So, if we collectively cut down our electricity consumption, HydroQuebec is encouraged or obliged to make better deals and improve long-distance transmission efficiency to other markets. This would mean that fewer mountain top habitats in Appalachia (which extends into Quebec, by the way) would be blasted into oblivion in order to get at the coal. And if we help load-balance by only running the laundry and dishwasher and taking baths or showers at night (and not run our electronics 24/7), it would send further into the future HydroQuebec’s new construction projects for sources of electricity to meet peak demand, including very harmful ones like biomass – because they mean forest litter, and not garbage or sewage digestion, which would be far better used to feed into Gaz Metropolitain’s supply chain, which instead comes from Alberta. The land of Mordor (tar sands) and Mammon (greed and extreme self-interest).

Almost irrelevant to our consumption in Quebec, but something we should all know anyhow: the planned life span of an electric plant is 50 years. There is only a 2% turnover rate of existing electric plants per year, but plants that are turned over can be – and hopefully are – upgraded to the greenest technology available. Still it’s a sobering thought, for every new plant installed. In China, one new coal-fired plant goes online every two weeks. (Source: A Geography of Hope, Chris Turner)
In related news, the Nastapoka River has been permanently protected in a new park: Tursujuc. The previous government wanted to keep it outside of park boundaries to reserve it for HydroQuebec’s future use. (Read about the park – it’s really impressive.)

What you can do to meet the mandate

So where does the homestead fit in with this? With the recent blizzard that swept through Montreal, leaving about two feet of snow, I had an ample draft of -10º air coming in, to track down the cracks and seal them (direct effect of sloppy construction inspection related to the side effect of cheap electricity in the 1980s). I wrapped my AC unit in window plastic on the inside and duct-taped it on the outside a few days ago – I was the one who installed it and it was evidently not the best unit for the job nor the best result of a difficult job, so I will be getting rid of it at some point. This is one source of cold air getting into the walls at the back, but there was a bad job done insulating the front of the house where the second floor overhangs my front porch. I have to keep that bedroom door closed, to keep its cold air from taking the heat from the rest of the house.
I went to the hardware store Thursday morning and picked up these little plug seals, and applied the insulators to them like I had done to all the electric outlets I flipped this summer. I then sealed all the electric outlets. Electric outlets are a major cause of drafts and loss of heated air, and I wish more apartment dwellers would make this small investment (probably $20 to kit out a large one-bedroom apartment) and reduce their heating bill in turn.

Today, the temperature difference between the cold bedroom and the rest of the house feels less extreme.

There is at least one other electricity-saving post coming down the draft line, and it will underscore the real difference you can make in being more energy-conscious. I will be mathing on the blog! How exciting.

In the meantime: Wear an undershirt. Put on a sweater or a housecoat and slippers. It’s winter, and we’re not in California. The better your clothes, and the lower you keep your thermostat (18º-20ºC – lower overnight, or while away), the less rude winter actually seems when you venture between home and away. Animals habituate to the cold, and so do we.

Christmas decorations: a mostly homemade wreath

So here I was thinking “what the heck am I going to write about this week?” (you can tell if I’m writing about cell phones, I’m really hard up for ideas) and then…the clue comes in…it’s Christmas! And I’ve put up my lights in the window, and hung the wreath by my front door.
The wreath is one of my favourite things ever. I made it two years ago. Here is the play-by-play:

These are sticks cut from my box hedge in the fall, softened up in a hot shower, and then wrapped around and woven into a wreath.  [I suspect there’s some Virginia creeper in there, too.]

Then, wrapped around again with be-buttoned burlap ribbon bought at the dollar store many years ago, and then tied with a complicated bow. Off now to find out what else is suitable for decorating it. I know I have cranberries…

so now you have an idea what I look like on any given morning.
Using the plastic mistletoe and a foil ball spray with a ribbon – from the trove of Christmas decorations:

How about with a rat? Too cute, especially with his cheek spots. (My dearly departed Benjamin, AKA Beelzebubbles.)

Well, I can’t hang it outside with Benjamin, but I can use IKEA rats or mice:
The mice work better. The brown mouse on the right (real left; this photo is inverse) has a ribbon around its neck. The white mouse swinging on the mistletoe keeps the mistletoe in place. Because of the lopsidedness of the wreath, I re-centred it to the left – as you will see in the next pic. 
I even had a red-anodized-coated copper wire in my tool box (now, how can I be the Queen of Discardia, when the things I keep suddenly find a great purpose?) from which to hang the wreath outside. 

In the past year the wreath has one small addition that is just perfect: the trapeze mouse has a little bell on a red cord around its neck. 

I hope this post inspires you to make use of nature’s materials and foundling elements to create a work of awesome joy and fun. 

As an aside, one of my friends across the pond who saw my wreath pics wrote to me: Our neighbours didn’t take their wreath down after Christmas one year because they liked it so much. When they finally wanted to put it away in spring, they found that a robin had built a nest in it. They had to use the back door for months, until all the nestlings had left…

The sun, daylight, the night, and work

Now that it’s back to Standard Daylight Time (for a few weeks now), we’re confronted by the shortness of days. When it was still dark when my alarm went off at 7:30, I was more ready to go than I am now, when 7:30 is already bright. Sometimes – not every single day, but most – it’s special to get up before dawn and watch the world come to life. At the bird observatory, we’d have to get out there to the tip of the island a half-hour before dawn, and I liked moving through early-morning traffic. And as the day begins, my three squirrels come to the door, hoping to see some life on the inside, too. In Denmark, where winter days were 7 hours long (8:30 to 3:30; summer nights seeming even shorter), I revelled in the gloaming. So do the Danes: they consume more candles per person than the rest of the world. It’s called “at hygge” [ah hoogeh], being cozy and comfortable.

In the mornings, my brain is not up for deep thought (she says as she writes this at twenty after 8 o’clock, having slept on it the night before) or for being on the ball, so that is when I prefer having physical work. Winter has less physical work, so it changes that tendency. Winter also changes my afternoon habit, where six months out of the year I take my reading and whatever paperwork I can muster and sit in the sun or shade to do it (back deck, front step/stoop, doesn’t matter: outside! My parents raised me well in that regard). Whatever the time of year, when I take my afternoon nap – 20 minutes when I get that postprandial dip, which some people erroneously think is a bad thing – I do it in a patch of sunlight. Being sequestered for winter is when I do the most cuddling up to the computer, when in other seasons, I can’t get that game on until the sun is on its way down. Winter is, therefore, productive time, and it has been throughout the world a time of cultural production.

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How November’s NaNoWriMo went

Some readers may have noticed the loud turquoise images on the side of this blog during the month of November. They were titled “My NaNoWriMo Accountability Meter.” Right up where I could not fail to see them. And you, too. Must not embarrass myself by truancy….
NaNoWriMo is National Novel Writing Month. Most participants write fiction, in fact, most do fantasy and science fiction, but there is a goodly subset doing memoir. (I’d wildly wager that most first-time long-form writers are writing memoir in disguise.) I was writing memoir because, as Marion Roach Smith wrote in her clear, short, entertaining book The Memoir Project, it needed to exist.
The red days: I did zero writing. The orange day was 500 words or less. The yellow days were somewhere between 500 and 1666 words, and the green days I made my 1666-word quota. The end goal was 50 000 words in 30 days and I took a day off when I hit it, but considering how very much source material I had to work from, I set myself a higher goal of 60K. By the time I hit 40K, I could tell  that I had the material and pace to exceed even that goal. I considered 70 to 75K for about five minutes, but I was already befuddled and had enough to do. So I tried for 65K, but didn’t quite make it. That’s OK; I worked about 47 hours on a movie set this week, and that last red day was 17 hours on set (but as I publish this post, I just did a 20-hour day of film delirium). Writing 2000 words took between 2 and 4 hours per night – and I managed to get some writing underway on set. It was quite easy to get into the groove of it. That’s what challenges are good for. 
That coffee is mine.

My avatar has a halo because once I attained Winner status, I donated to the organization. Anyone who can focus me and make me perform beyond standard expectations deserves a reward.

The Memoir Project has a list of great tips for the whole process of writing a memoir or any form of book, starting with write with intent, with a goal and an audience, not just to practice. But it also says what every author has always said: the best tip to writing long-form is to write – five pages every day – regardless of quality. Just spitting it out is key to getting out the emotional truth as well as tenuous, but vital, connections between thoughts. If you do this, in three months you will have a first draft that should be around 275 pages of 350 words. It’ll probably take another year to two (or, like a friend’s PhD, ten) to rewrite and revise. 
In June, Camp NaNoWriMo gets underway. If you think you have something to say, you really have nothing to lose to add it to your calendar for 2013. The key to winning, as I learned from previous not-winning experiences, is structuring your work and transcribing your references.* I am hoping that I can use June to hurl up a new book, even a short one (50 000 words = 147 pages) based on facts and opinion, and I hope to successfully pitch it before then in order to have resources and an end in sight. After all, we all have something to say, but it is the pitch and the revision process that shows if you’ve got something the world wants or needs to hear. And that is where you make your living.

Until then, I’ve put the “how’s the first draft going?” meter on the right side of this blog. The goal, for now, is 90K. With 26K to go, I’ll get it done in December, but I’ll be flexible about how many words per day versus other priorities. I gave November to the book project. I’m glad I did so.

And I almost forgot: a key to winning is having what I have dubbed writer’s hygiene, where you have a set of tools for writing and you are consistent in using them. This means one place to stick your ideas (e.g EverNote, Notational Velocity), one place to stick your references (e.g. Evernote and EndNote), a document for the main writing (e.g. Word), and a structure to your document that makes navigation easier (which is where most people who don’t properly use Word fall down). The better option, especially for those who’ve used a coding or publishing development environment before, is to use an application for writing, like Scrivener