Begin Again

There was an old man
named Michael Finnegan
He grew fat
and then grew thin again
Went on diets
and couldn’t get skin-again
Poor old Michael Finnegan
Begin again.

Tomorrow we start our two weeks of standardized testing.  We’ve been pumping up the kids – lots of positive thinking, you can do it, hall decorations, pep rallies and promises of rewards. Friday afternoon when school let out we had one last meeting to go over everything and the principal offered the teachers a reward – we can wear jeans to school for the next two weeks! Everyone (except the PE teachers) was excited. Me, not so much because I’ve gained too much weight to find my jeans at all comfortable.

Teaching, I’ve decided, has not been good for my health. My blood pressure remains high, I don’t sleep enough or very well at all and I’ve easily gained 15 pounds this school year. Teaching is stressful and feeling old, fat and depressed just makes it harder.

I don’t eat breakfast (too early for me at 5 AM) and I just eat a salad for lunch 4 days out of 5.  I have early lunch (10:20) and I’m not that hungry. But I don’t leave school until after 5 PM and so once the students are gone and I’m grading or setting up labs or writing lesson plans I nibble and snack. That snacking, inactivity and late dinners have piled on the weight.

So recently I decided it was time to do something about it. And luckily for me the gym near school was having a membership drive – only $30 a month and no signing fee so I paid for a month right before spring break. I went twice, both days during break. I slow jogged on the treadmill for 40-minutes, lifted a few weights and enjoyed a 20-minute shower (oh joy).  But it was tough to make the 50-minute trip from home when I didn’t need to go out that way and I told myself I’d get into the habit of going more regularly once school started.

But once school started I was getting up at 5 AM, arriving at school by 6:30, leaving around 5:00 PM and rushing straight past the gym in a hurry to get to our hometown an hour away to pickup kids from the after school program before it closed, or from tennis, choir rehearsal or play practice. I haven’t made it back to the gym.

So like Michael Finnegan I’m going to begin again! I’m going back to the Eat to Live diet rich in fresh raw foods because when I tried it before I lost weight, slept better, stopped having headaches and lowered my blood pressure. It’s not an easy diet – especially the first six weeks and especially if you derive comfort from food. And having left other comforts (friends for instance) behind in California I guess I’ve kind of turned to food as a substitute. But it’s an ultra healthy diet, based in health and nutrition science and easier to do in the summer when there’s a plethora of fresh fruits and veggies available. And feeling healthier and lighter and being able to fit into my jeans will be the reward!

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Mobile Home

I’ve decided that “mobile” home refers not only to the fact that the house is on wheels and can be moved, but also to the way it endlessly moves after it’s put in place! It shudders and sways in strong winds and I can clearly see how tornados could pluck a mobile home up and send it spinning end over end.  Those sorts of winds are reasonably rare so while alarming at the time – especially if they come in the wee hours of the night- they are not a day to day concern.

What is a day to day concern is the way the house, perched on its concrete block pillars, settles, sinking first on one side, then on an opposite corner, then on the other side.  This shifting creates cracks in the drywall, causes doors to refuse to latch, and floor boards to separate. Leaks appear around window edges on one side of the house during rainstorms and the windows on the other side are stuck shut. It’s like residing inside a living creature that isn’t any too keen on playing host.

The most recent victim of the current settling seems to be the plumbing. The valve inside the toilet no longer sits flat so it doesn’t produce a seal.  This is not the minor inconvenience it might seem to be as we discovered when the entire amount of water stored in the cistern cycled into the house, through the running toilet and out to the septic system one day when we were away from home! We had at least 200 gallons stored in the morning, by evening the pipes were dry.

Turning on and off the water to the toilet is just one more of the many ‘eccentricities’ to our living situation.  It’s a real struggle to feel at home in this house.

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Water, Glorious Water

I’d like you to take a moment to consider water in the context of a normal day at your house.  Just mentally walk through your day and note all the times you use water. Washing your face, flushing the toilet, pouring your morning cup of coffee, wiping down the counter, washing breakfast dishes and so on throughout the day.  Even if you don’t bathe or shower every day and it’s not laundry day (41 gallons on average per load), the amount of water you and your family uses on a daily basis adds up.

Now imagine if each and every drop of that water had to be hauled by hand in order for you to use it.  This is the case for people in many developing nations where up to 750 million people lack access to clean water. In these areas women and children spend many hours everyday collecting water for drinking, cleaning and cooking.

So as a social science experiment, in order to see just how much time and energy it would take to procure water by hand, and to see how many innovative ways I could develop to conserve the hard won water, we have spent the past month (or more) without any running water in our house.

We filled up gallon jugs at my relative’s house (where we showered once a week) almost daily, and bought bottled water (in 5 gallon containers) for drinking and cooking. We perfected the water conservation method of dish washing – first heat a gallon of water on the stove, pour about 1/3 of the water into a large bowl, wash everything starting with the cleanest dishes and ending with pots and pans, setting aside the soapy clean dishes for a mass rinse.  Once dishes are rinsed the rinse water goes into a bucket for use in flushing a toilet later on.  When you have to haul water you try not to waste any.

water runAs you might have guessed this wasn’t really a social science experiment to learn how people in third world countries cope.  This was just life in our somewhat off grid setting where we capture rainwater from the roof of our barn and funnel it first into a 280 gallon tote and then into a 1,000 gallon cistern.  Sometimes we don’t have enough rain.  So we cope.

Coping became more difficult as the weeks turned into a month and winter took its toll. The severe cold cracked our water pump and froze the output in our sewer pipe so that any water that was poured down the drain eventually came back up – flooding the bathtub with disgusting brown water.  That meant resorting to a do-it-yourself composting toilet and making sure that all the water that we used for cooking or cleaning went out the door, not down the drain.

I’m happy to say our experiment came to an end today – we had some nice snow melt followed by rain and have at least a couple hundred gallons of water in the cistern (and more rain in the forecast for  Friday).  The pump was repaired and the frozen clog in the sewer pipe has melted with the warming weather.  We have water, glorious water!

By the way, the USGS has a survey you can complete to get an idea just how much water you use in total gallons per day if you are curious about your water use.  Since it was down this afternoon when I was writing this post I will share that according to the EPA a typical U.S. household uses 260 gallons of water a day. We (family of five with pets) found we could make it on about 12-15 gallons on week days (so away from home most of the day) without bathing or doing laundry and by being less than finicky about how often the toilet had to be flushed!

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