Friday, November 13, 2009

What can you build with six toothpicks?

I read a whole list of Simple Living and Green blogs, and one of the topics which comes up frequently is, "How do you do it all?" How do you manage to live a sustainable lifestyle, i.e. garden, put away food in season, cook from scratch, hang the laundry, recycle, avoid noxious chemicals in cleaning solutions and garden, plus hold down a job, take care of a family, and participate in your community?

Over at "One Green Generation" there's talk of prioritizing and Community Building. Yesterday Rhonda Jean at "Down to Earth" wrote of seeing things differently now that's she and her husband are older and less physically capable of sustained hard work.

Personally my frequently asked question is, "How do I do it?" It's estimated that 17% of Canadians and Americans have a significant disability. Many others have chronic illnesses which limit their capacity to do physical work. That's our peer group.

Rhonda Jean says that until she was older and had begun to experience the effects of aging she thought she wanted to live to be 110, and felt that illness was a weakness. That's pretty typical. Few people understand what it is like to live with a fraction of the capacity for physical work that the "average" person has. But like everyone, the house must be cleaned, you have to clean yourself, laundry has to be done, shopping must be done and food must be prepared.

Picture a toothpick as 10 minutes of capacity for work. At the beginning of the day you are given six toothpicks, and every time you are active for 10 minutes you lay a toothpick on the table. Once the six are on the table you must sit for the rest of the day.

How do you play this game? Do you get in the car and go grocery shopping? All six toothpicks get laid on the table. Did it take two hours? Then tomorrow and the day after you only get three toothpicks a day. Be gone three hours and for four days you get two toothpicks per day.

Yesterday we did some insulating jobs, and a fair bit of cleaning. We both spent 10 toothpicks. Today we have two toothpicks each to spend, tomorrow will probably be the same. As Tony just said, "Not much movement in the hacienda today." Irritatingly enough, the chores have no idea that we have only a limited supply of energy to work with. They march on like an army bent on reaching the battlefield.

Living the Simple Life is anything but easy. There's a reason the stores are bursting with energy-hogging but time and labour-saving devices. In the late 70s we lived the Simple Life. I've washed clothes on a washboard, we heated and cooked with a woodstove, lived without electricity or running water, and it was no picnic. It was educational but very hard work and damned uncomfortable much of the time, and we were in our 30's, and much stronger then.

Having had this "education" in simplicity we are not at all eager to repeat it. We are deeply committed to using energy sparingly and wisely, to grow what we can, put away food in season for use in the winter. We buy and eat local foods as much as is possible. But frankly it takes most of our available energy to do these things and we could use some new ideas.

Here are some things I already do:

I cook in quantity so we can eat the same meal for two or three days.
I try to prepare ingredients so they can be used quickly, like cooking a dozen potatoes instead of two, chopping onions and putting them in the fridge, make extra rice
Make easy dishes in the crockpot, etc.

Most of the time we cope with this quite well. But we can get temporarily discouraged when both of us are fighting colds or for some reason we absolutely can't keep up over a period of weeks. We need to keep a clear head and think outside the box. We need ideas. Your energy saving and/or efficiency strategies would be greatly appreciated.


Patchkat ~ Susan in TX said...

This is the busiest time of year when it comes to cleaning/clearing gardens, yards and the land. Seems there are always sticks and branches to pick up and leaves to rake...and like you...2 sticks a day is about my limit.

I agree with the multi meal cooking. Do you package it by the meal? Do you have a freezer? I cook pots of soup, beans, chili and freeze enough for 2 people. I cook 2 pork roasts at a time and portion for 2 and freeze. Same with most everything else. Makes it so easy to prepare a meal. Most everything goes from freezer to oven quite well.

We eat tons of green salads. I have a container that I mix different lettuces and greens in...chop up an onion, some celery and sometimes broccoli...I put a wet paper towel over the top and seal the container. We pull out enough for a meal and leave the rest with the paper towel in the refrigerator. I only have to stand and tear, cut, chop once every 3 or 4 days. I add tomatoes, olives or whatever we're in the mood for as I serve the salad.

If I'm chopping broccoli for salad, I'll cut the rest and steam it for another meal. That saves me some cleaning time for the second meal.

I'm all for conserving energy mine and the environment's!

Love ya, neice Susan

Laura said...

When your cleaning your produce can you sit at the table to save some energy?

kdorian said...

I've come across this though before - try googling "spoon theory". What can be even more frustrating is when you don't know how many spoons, or toothpicks, you're going to have one day to the next, and how people somehow cannot comprehend that something you've done before is beyond you today.