Monday, May 31, 2010

The Green

Well, I just gave the lawn mower a tune up, which in my case means a quick coat of WD-40 and a gentle torque of the cutting adjustment screws. That's right, even without a picture you guessed that I'm mowing with an old fashioned reel mower.

This, however, is not your grandad's push mower. While that old hunk you may have pushed around as a kid was made of cast iron and maple, the new breed is exceedingly light and when sharp does one heck of a job on your lawn. I find that I can mow my whole lawn faster than with a self propelled gas model because I'm not limited to one speed, and it also seems easier to push and has the added benefit of being nearly silent. (With a not-so-quiet roll of the eyeballs toward all my neighbors that seem to want to rev their tiny engines during naptime on the weekends.)

My current method takes four days to cut the grass, but less than an hour each day. I divided the lawn into four sections. Each one takes about half an hour to mow and another half hour to rake. The clippings go in the chicken pens or on the garden. And while it may seem dreadfully archaic to rake one's lawn in the age of mulching mowers, don't forget that for my efforts I also remove nearly all sharp objects like nut shells and such from the path of tiny feet.

The real benefit though is that I'm getting a full body cardio workout four days a week. And it spreads out an odious chore so that I don't wind up huffing and puffing after a long slog behind the Toro feeling like I just wasted two and a half hours of my life. AND... in addition to whipping myself back into shape, I'm saving about $25 per mow (that would be $20 to hire a neighborhood kid and $5 in fuel) by doing it myself the old fashioned way. That's about $400 over the course of the summer.

For people with small yards it's almost a no-brainer to get one of these things. Picture ditching that roaring monster and all the gas, oil, smog and repair bills that go along with it. Greens tenders will tell you that a reel mower is better for your lawn too, it actually cuts the blades as opposed to just basically bashing the tops off. Anyway, that's enough plugging for the Crunchy Granola life style. Just felt like puttin that out there.

I have received no compensation from the reel mower industry for my writing.

I would also like to point out that unlike internal combustion powered mowers, my manual model starts on the first pull (er... push) every time.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Save Water - Save Money

I was reading on some trendy gadget/DIY website the other day and came across a little known (in the US) technology called Dual Flush that can save a lot of water in the bathroom. Widely used in areas where water is limited, environmentally conscious (or stingy) folks are starting to pick up on it. The article said that retrofit kits cost less than $40 so it wasn't long before I was at the hardware store looking to pick one up.

The first one I purchased was for our old fashioned toilet that still uses about 4.5 gallons per flush. With enthusiastic potty trainers and drastically rising water prices I was glad to see that one get a tune up. Our other toilet was already a 1.6 GPF model, but same scenario, happy to save a few bucks/gallons a day. Here's the breakdown.

Upstairs on the old water hog I bought a One2Flush kit for $34. It promises to save 20 to 30 gallons per day for an average family which it estimates to be about $15 a month with water at $2.50 a gallon. Installation took about half an hour, mostly because it involved removing the tank. Depending on the age of one's commode this can be annoying but I had mine off with minimum difficulty despite thirty years of faithful service. The new flush valve threads in and the tank goes back on. Once filled and checked for leaks you snap in the new flush handle and make a few adjustments. There are separate floats for liquid and solid flushes, I adjusted mine so it uses just enough to clear the bowl for liquids and set the other float for max. The new lever is plastic and not super easy to read so I used the label maker to make it easier on the kids and house guests to figure out. The lever works easily and the short people declared it a major hit.

After that great success I purchased a HydroRight kit for our 1.6 GPF toilet downstairs. It was $25 on sale and promises to save $100 a year (that's $8.33 a month to compare to the other) Thinking I'd get a jump on things I spent a sweaty twenty minutes detaching the tank only to open the instructions and find out that it's not necessary with this model. After bolting the tank back on and restarting the clock I found the installation to take the promised ten minutes. (and no tools needed if you follow the instructions!) Similar to the other unit there were two floats to adjust for min and max flushes and after half a dozen tries I had it set. The flush mechanism is a push button rig which is a little more difficult for tiny fingers (although my three-year-old managed all right after a couple tries) but more easily readable. The smaller button on top has one drop, the larger button on the bottom has two. Unless I hear that visitors are confused I'll skip the extra labeling on this one.

So now all that remains is to wait out the remaining two months on the billing cycle and see how things add up. I know I hear fill valves running a lot less which is a good indicator. Another small fix I'm going to try is to throttle down the bathroom sinks. Both our bathrooms have short throw fixtures which make it easy to run them wide open. With little ones washing and brushing that can add up to a lot of water going down the drain. The simple fix is to open each tap in turn, wide open, and reach under the sink and slowly turn the shutoff valve until a satisfactory flow is reached.

Well, I know I'm not exactly Consumer Reports but I hope the information is helpful and that you won't be afraid to take the flush, er... plunge and start to save some water (and a little green) with some simple DIY around the house.


Monday, May 3, 2010

So Long Old Puss

Our old cat Jake has gone on to the great hunting ground in the sky. Once fat and sassy, well not sassy, he was so laid back he wouldn't even meow properly he just sort of grunted, he got sick and thin and today was the day to take him to the vet. The Missus wrote about it as well.

The poor doc got sad right away and kept talking about putting $1000 into the animal and still not having much hope. Without doing a lot of testing we'll never know but it was likely feline lukemia and pretty advanced. So he got a little injection, closed his eyes and went to his rest a few beats of his little heart later.

It was a perfect day. Just balmy, with the sweet smell of growing things in the gentle breeze as we laid him to rest under an apple tree where he liked to hang out. J-Man helped wrap him in a towel so he'd be cozy and then helped me with his little shovel.

There were tears of course, and a lot to be said about missing and wanting and fairness. Miss O, who is easily hurt had a pretty good outlook. We've been reading All Creatures Great And Small so she seems to understand about what happens when there's nothing you can do for an animal.

So here's one last goodbye for my old Jake Bear. I don't know if animals go to Heaven but if they do I'll rest easy knowing that there won't be any mice or rabbits getting the tomatoes up there. And some saint will find a nice companion in my fat cat who would never sit on your lap but snuggle up to your knee instead and just purr away. Go easy old son.