Friday, November 23, 2007

Living Frugally

I just read a blog by a young man who'd spent several years depleting his bank account with extravagant spending. He had an epiphany and decided all of a sudden to go Extremely Frugal. He made a list of the things he's being frugal about: never eating out, buying food in bulk, riding his bicycle instead of driving the car, etc.

Bless him for his efforts, but he's missing the boat. I speak with knowledge on this subject, because I know how to live frugally where it counts. This young man didn't list the more obvious (and green) things one can do to live frugally, such as lowering the thermostat on the furnace, combining errands during an outing, taking shorter showers, drying one's clothes on a clothesline in the summer and a wooden clothesrack in the winter. (If you like your towels fluffy, toss them in the dryer for 5 minutes, first.)

By turning my thermostat down and being frugal in the use of electrical appliances, I have lowered my energy consumption by 29%. By growing my own fruits and vegetables, I have lowered my grocery bill. I carpool to my weekly writers' critique group with a fellow writer.

And I recycle like crazy. In fact, I only have to go to the dump with "real" garbage a couple times a year because I recycle the rest and burn my paper trash. The real garbage comprises one or two brown paper grocery bags per year.

Are you frugal? What are you doing, frugal-wise, that has made a difference in your life? Please feel welcome to list any tips!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Nostalgia #6

Long, long ago, when I was a kid, going to the garbage dump used to be an eagerly anticipated family event. Back then, the dump attendants didn't mind if you plowed through piles of garbage looking for cool stuff. To us kids, going to the dump was like a massive treasure hunt.
There were the regulars, too, people who went to the dump on a routine basis, looking for things they could take home and fix up for personal use or to sell. They collected broken lamps, tricycles, clothing, chairs, hubcaps, knick-knacks, record albums . . . you name it. It's astonishing the amount of stuff people threw away that had nothing wrong with it.

There aren't that many open-air, dump-on-the-ground, garbage dumps left, and that's a good thing. Nowadays the handling of garbage has gone high-tech. For one thing, recycling has helped reduce the amount of garbage thrown away each year. Many dumps have been turned into solid waste transfer stations, where garbage is hauled away. Sanitary landfills now have liners to prevent contamination of ground water. They have systems to collect the methane gas generated by rotting garbage. Liquid leachate is collected and sprayed back onto the garbage to hasten decomposing. Some landfills use gigantic 59-ton trash compactors. Others incinerate their trash. Still others bury garbage with tons of dirt, compressing the garbage so much that they gain an extra 30-40 feet of depth when they scrape off the dirt 6 months later to add more garbage.

New York City produces 25,000 tons of garbage every day, which they send to other states and cities. Americans produce 330 million tons of garbage every year. Thankfully, people are becoming more diligent about recycling. Now that I recycle, I only have to go to the dump once or twice a year, with a brown grocery bag full of unrecyclable/unburnable trash. The rest is recycled. And while I love the idea of being a greenie, I have to confess to a nostalgic longing for the fun and excitement of the garbage dump days of my childhood. Which is probably why I still love flea markets and garage sales.

What about you? As a kid did you know your garbage men? Did you ever go to the dump? Did you ever remove a treasured something from the garbage that your mom had thrown away?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Big Brother is Watching You!

Taking another break from the nostalgia series to tell you about a funny that just happened. I am looking for pricing on new windows, to get an idea what it would cost to replace my old single pane jobs. I Googled "window prices" and came up with a least a trillion hits. So I clicked on the Home Depot link and suddenly this man in a Home Depot shirt pops up on my screen and starts talking to me about windows. It was REALLY startling, because he was looking right at me and chatting in a chummy way, and there I was sitting in my chair in front of him . . . buck naked and trying hastily to cover myself. Yes, I know he couldn't really see me, but it was still a shock when he suddenly appeared and started talking! Here's the link if you'd like to see what I mean:

I think I've become paranoid because of all the companies that use hidden surveillance devices. I didn't realize how widespread it was until I got hooked on YouTube and saw all those video clips from surveillance cameras. Most of them were funny or alarming, of the bungled bank robbery or high-speed car chase variety.

But it has become evident that Big Brother is out there, and you'd best not pick your nose or scratch your butt when you think no one can see, because chances are, there's a surveillance camera recording it. They're everywhere: restrooms, shopping malls, ATM machines, fitting rooms, gyms, taxis, nursing homes, you name it. If you don't believe me, go to YouTube and check out all the video clips from surveillance cameras.

Certainly they have a place in this day and age of terrorism, theft, and other nefarious deeds. For instance, surveillance cameras were instrumental in identifying Timothy McVeigh in the Oklahoma City bombing. Surveillance videos can help the public identify criminals when they are broadcast on news stations.

Where things get dicey is when the person monitoring a surveillance camera abuses the position. A JC Penney store manager sued her employer when she discovered that male employees monitoring a camera zoomed in on her breasts, and then shared the pictures with their friends. I read a recent article by a man who discovered naked pictures of himself on the Internet. He'd been showering at the YMCA, and the person monitoring the surveillance camera posted the pictures on the Internet.

Have you ever found yourself monitored when you didn't expect it? What do you think about grocery stores that show a TV monitor where you can watch yourself entering the store? How do you feel about Big Brother?