Friday, December 31, 2010

Fun with Permaculture Principles

When I first discovered permaculture a couple of years ago, I was immediately struck by what a sensible, efficient and elegant a way of thinking about growing things it was. Of course, these principles can apply to a much broader range of human activities than that, and I'm noticing lately how much of a kick I get out of stacking functionality -- finding multiple ways that an action, activity or object can be useful and making simultaneous use of that.

I'm an inveterate multi-tasker, for better or for worse, and long before I first read about the concept of Peak Oil I was already stockpiling driving errands until I could string together a number of them that made geographic sense. I reduce my guilt about taking long hot showers by going a day or two between showers and by brushing my teeth, washing my eyeglasses, peeing, and, when it merits it, cleaning the tub while I'm in it. What I'd really like to do is divert the graywater from the shower to the yard, but that would only be feasible in the warmer half of the year and should only be done on landscape plants, of which I have fewer and fewer as the food gardening seasons go by.

I notice that paying attention to stacked functionality helps positively reframe for me things I think I should be doing anyway.

Talking with my son about wanting to get more physically active this year and brainstorming fun ways to do that, we hit upon martial arts, which has interested him for a while. I became more interested in it as I realized that I would not only be engaging in something fun with my son, but I'd also be learning a useful skill -- self-defense -- and building or retaining physical capabilities such as strength and balance that I would otherwise lose as I move into the second half of my lifespan. Suddenly, jujitsu seemed like more than just an arcane, rule-bound way to expend an hour of my life and physical energy that could be put to more productive use elsewhere, and I was on board with it.

We're in the midst of one of those arctic blasts that are fortunately only an occasional feature of Front Range winters and are experimenting with how little we can run our furnace and still be comfortable. The wood stove that Steve installed a year ago is of course the key player in this game. And if I had gotten on the ball and replaced the clouded panels on the solar hot air collector that came with the house when we bought it, that would be a more useful element as well. But yesterday, Steve was inspired to slice up a ripe pineapple and some apples and dehydrate them with our electric dehydrator, which we moved into the bedroom later in the evening, to add heat source, white noise generator and aromatherapy diffuser to its original use.

I decided to bake like a fiend today -- four loaves of white bread for the rest of the family, a loaf of wheat-free for me, three trays of enchiladas (one for some friends who have just had a baby, one for our freezer and one for tonight's  progressive New Year's Eve potluck with neighbors) and two trays of granola. Other ways we're stacking heating function are running the dishwasher and opening it after the drying cycle is done, and taking a bath and leaving the full tub to radiate its heat for an hour or two. If I were feeling particularly energetic, I'd hand wash some clothes in the bathwater, but I won't have time before tonight's party. Willow and I did that earlier in the week just as an experiment and had fun stomping and agitating what ended up being an entire load. We were amazed at the color of the bath water when we were finished (I ran the clothes through the final rinse cycle in the washing machine, then hung them to dry outside) and decided that the clothes definitely looked brighter than they do with a regular machine wash.

Stacking functionality can look like something small and simple, such as, instead of washing out the bottle of milk from the dairy after we empty it, filling it half way with water, giving it a swish or two and pouring it on the houseplants that I'm no doubt overdue to water anyway, giving them needed calcium.

Or it can be done on a somewhat grander scale, such as the sun porch Steve is building for me. We have two aluminum-framed sliding glass doors on the back of our house that leak heat like crazy in the winter. Replacing them with more efficient sliders runs $1100 each and that's if Steve does the installation himself. For hundreds of dollars less than that, using free recycled windows of Craigslist and reclaimed lumber, plywood, oak flooring and hardware from used building materials store Resource, plus new insulation and wallboard from the local big box building store, I get a sunroom that turns the master bedroom into a master suite, provides me with a retreat space and room to grow and harden off the sprouts and seedlings for my edible gardens and not only insulates and reduces heat loss from that slider in winter, but will act as a passive solar heat source for that end of the house on milder days than today.

As I think about the concept of stacking functionality, I notice that the choices and actions I've taken that give me the most satisfaction in life are the ones with the greatest amount of stacking going on. It makes sense that if I can find reason after reason that something I'm doing is beneficial to me or others on the planet, I'm going to be more satisfied with it than with a less multi-functional choice.

I'm going to keep looking for more ways to stack functionality, but only because I really do enjoy the challenge and I recognize the happiness payoff to me of finding these multi-functional solutions and actions. I don't believe in making myself do things out of a sense of guilt, impending crisis or obligation. That immediately sucks all the joy out of life for me and leaves me much less able to be kind, energetic and otherwise of benefit in this moment.

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