Monday, March 29, 2010

Fake It To Make It

I don't have a job. But I want one. Pretty badly in fact. But I also refuse to go backwards when it comes to my health and fitness. So as I diligently send in resumes, work as many connections as I can, and continue to educate myself on every aspect of the energy efficiency/alternative energy field, I am pretending that I do have a job.

It's my "TJ" (theoretical job) if you will. This means that Monday thru Friday I am up at 6:00 5:50 am, working out at 6:15 (either cardio or weight lifting) and showered, dressed and breakfast eaten (or carried) and ready to go out the door at 8:15 am. (I figure my start time will be 9 am with a 45 minute commute.)

It's working quite well so far, it encourages me to prep my clothes the night before, gets me off the floor quicker after my workout and keeps me focused on the necessary tasks.

And if I need to start work at 8 am? Oh, I have a plan for that too. But for now, I am just focusing on refining the one I have.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Make A Lot Happen In Only 10 months

10 months. That's how long it's been since I started exercising and eating with intention (including back surgery and recovery).

10 months ago I never thought I'd ever be psyched to do an elevated feet plank, to love the burn of my muscle fibers tearing, or to be in awe as the layers of fat on my stomach are slowly burning off and revealing a hint of my rectus abdominis.

But I do. And it's glorious. And I'm not stopping now.

It took research from three books and various web sites, but I've come up with 4 weight training programs that I will switch between every six weeks. Weeks 1-2 has 1 set of 15 reps, Weeks 3-4 has 2 sets of 15 reps, and Week 5-6 has 3 sets of 15 reps. When I get to the end of the 6th week, I increase my weights by 5 lbs, start with a new program and begin again at 1 set of 15 reps.

In order to make the exercises that don't usually involved weights (push-ups, planks, etc.) progressively harder I've added variations for them in each new program.

In total, this should last me for 36 weeks. Or about 9 months.
Want to know what crazy things I will doing then? Single leg stability ball jackknives, and chair to chair triceps dips with a 5 lb weight in my lap.

Yes, I know. I've completely lost my mind.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Close Those Holes: Home Energy Audit #2

As you know, I'm doing energy audits for friends and family aka "clients". My second client is the proud owner of a 1 story, 3 bedroom, 1.75 bathroom, house with a full basement built in 1958.

I did a full energy audit (as always), plugged in my Kill-A-Watt and did my usual thing. The biggest issue I found involved part of the garage that had been converted in to the mudroom and then led to the basement. Upon opening the door between the kitchen and the mudroom you could immediately feel a cold blast of air, even though the room was insulated. My high priority recommendations were about keeping the cold air out and keeping the warm air in.

Close Those Holes

1. Replace broken cat door. (It was letting in cold air from the garage.)

2. Fix weatherstripping on door from mudroom to the outside. (You could actually see light pouring through the opening.)

3. Plug up unused basement chimney (You could almost see the dollar bills floating up it.) I suggest they buy a inflatable chimney plug (about $50) or just wrap some foam (or an old seat cushion) in plastic and shove it up there.

Once again it was the little things that added up to lots of wasted energy.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Make Your Own Yogurt

Or at least think about making your own yogurt.

I eat about 1/2 cup of yogurt every morning. And that can add up. Luckily, I just learned from the Spring 2010 Edible Portland Magazine that you can make your own! So while I consider actually doing this, you can too:


3 1/2 cups milk
2 heaping Tbsp plain yogurt

1. Place yogurt in a bowl, whisk until smooth, and leave on the counter until it reaches room temperature.

2. Heat the milk to 180 to 190 degrees. Remove the milk from the heat and let cool to between 115 and 120 degrees.

3. Whisk a small amount of the warm milk into the yogurt to thin it. Then pour the loose yogurt back in to the milk.

4. Pour the milk into a sterile quart jar or an insulated bottle, cover it, and keep still and warm until the yogurt sets-anywhere from 4 to 10 hours.

5. Once the container is set, place it in the refrigerator to firm its structure and slow the continuing acid production. Then enjoy! But remember: Before you've eaten all the yogurt, set aside 2 heaping Tbsp as a starter for the next batch. Make yogurt again within 4 to 5 days for the best results.

Makes 3 3/4 cups.

Recipe by Lola Milholland, of Ecotrust Food & Farms.

This should be a very interesting adventure.

You can pick up free copies of Edible Portland.

OR subscribe to Edible Portland for only $28 a year.

Don't live in Portland, OR? There might be an Edible edition for your city.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Use Some Common Sense: Home Energy Audit #1

As you know, I've been doing residential energy audits for clients, and since I cannot do every one's house, I thought I'd hi-light different lessons I've learned from each.

The client owns a 2 story, 4 bedroom, 3 bathroom home built in 1997. I did the full energy audit, measured various appliances with my Kill-A-Watt meter and then sat down with the home owner. I've found that spending time to hear about how the family actually uses their house is vital.

I wrote up a list of areas for improvement, but one of the most glaring (& easy) ways to improve energy efficiency was to use some common sense.

1. Replace vestibule light that is left on when away (and is connected to outdoor lights on motion sensors) with a CFL.

2. Stop using the 6 bulb vanity mirror bathroom switch when using the upstairs bathroom. Instead use the single light (it is more than sufficient for most activities). (The owner ended up putting painter's tape on the switch to remind her not to flip it.)

3. Close the upstairs bedroom doors (currently used as offices) to utilize the heat the computers generate.

4. Replace the dirty air filters in the furnace.

Pretty boring I know. But the boring things are often what will make the biggest difference.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Use Your Brain & Save Your Bulbs

You must have been hiding in a cave for the last few years, if you haven't heard that Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs) (we call them squiggly bulbs) are more energy efficient than standard incandescent bulbs.

But before you go out and buy a bazillion CFLs and then flood the landfill with your old incandescents (and possibly spend loads of money in the process) listen up.

Rather than going in to the detailed mechanics of how each bulb works,(one heats up a filament & one uses electricity to excite gas) I will give you the punch line.

Incandescents: 10% of the power used actually creates light

CFL: 70% of the power used actually creates light

See the difference?

Now, I still don't want you to rush out and buy all new CFLs. CFLs can cost you much more than incandescent. And even though incandescent bulbs will be phased out in the United States in 2014, I want you to buy and use them strategically.

6 Easy Ways To Reduce Your Lighting Bill

1. Turn off lights when not in the room, and use less lighting in general (but safety comes first!).

2. Any light that is used for more than 2 hours a day should have a CFL.

3. Install motion sensors to outdoor lights, rather than leaving them on all night.

4. Use night lights. Safely walk from the bedroom to the bathroom without needing to turn on any light.

5. Find out if your local utility company swaps old CFLs for new ones for free. (Mine does.)

6. When replacing an incandescent with a CFL, divide the wattage by 4 to determine the wattage, or just match the lumens (should be on the package).

Now, the drawback with CFLs is that they contain mercury (not good for humans). So you MUST recycle them properly. And follow careful procedures when one breaks.

Take them to IKEA, The Home Depot, your local utility company (call first) or find a local recycler at Earth911. If you cannot find someone to recycle the CFLs, you can also just hang on to them until your area gets up to speed.

There is currently a bill on the Washington State governor's desk waiting to be signed that will improve recycling of CFL bulbs even more.

Perhaps your state is next?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Know How Hard To Work

As you know, I'm committed myself to life long fitness. And part of this commitment is understanding how my body works, and the best way to "work" it.

So far, the best book I've found is

Men's Health Peak Conditioning Guides: Essential ABS

While most of it is focused on ab work, it also contains a full body weight strength training routine. I like the book because it doesn't spend time on the crap that Women's' books usually spend way too much time on. It just gets to the facts.

One of the most valuable things I found was the reference to General Adaptation Syndrome.

Stage #1: Alarm Stage
Initial response to exercise: you will get sore. Minimize the negative effects of the alarm stage (by working hard, but not too hard) to prevent quitting the program entirely.

Stage #2: Resistance Stage
Start to see the benefits: physiological (muscles get bigger & stronger), mechanical (get better at exercises), and psychological (bolstered self confidence).

Stage #3: Exhaustion/Overwork Stage
Signs include:
chronic fatigue
loss of appetite
loss of weight/muscle
decreased motivation

This stage can be created by working out too hard or by life's other stressful events.

The goal is to switch between Stage #1 and Stage #2 and avoid Stage #3 altogether.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Conserve Your Energy & Your Money

Energy costs are going up. Water bills are going up. Everything is going up. And I'm sorry to say, I doubt it will stop. The best way to beat this? Learn to conserve energy now.

I've started doing basic home energy audits for friends and wanted to share what works best.

Now, most utility companies will do a free home energy audit, but I suggest you follow the three basic steps outlined below, fix the issues you find, and then call the utility company for the audit. This way, they will catch anything you might have missed.

1. Read: Energy Efficient Homes For Dummies (Rik DeGunther) (Est. time: 1.5 hrs)
It will fill you in on the basics, is easy to read, and is very sensible. You'll soon learn the most powerful tool in energy efficiency is plain old common sense.

2. Do: Do It Yourself Home Energy Audit (Est. time: 2 hrs)
Read through the packet before you start and have fun exploring your house.

3. Get: Kill-A-Watt Electricity Meter (Est. time 1 hr.)
This device (only $36) will tell you how much an appliance costs to run a year, and if appliances are using energy when they are "off". It's very valuable for deciding if it's time for a new, more energy efficient appliance or if it's worth plugging appliances in to a power strip (that you can click off when not using).

You might also want to consider buying this item with a few friends, or seeing if you have a tool library in town that has one.

With just a few hours of your time you can reduce your energy costs by about 20%, and improve your energy knowledge by 100%.