Four months ago we had a utility bill that was almost twice our usual. Tom was “fixing” our front door, which involved a lot of it being open, also I was cavalierly opening windows in dead of winter for fresh air. So we turned our thermostat down to 60. (With an intermediate stop at 62 because we’re not survivalists or anything). Most of our windows are south-facing, so on a good sunny day our main living area can reach 67 degrees and stay there awhile. On a bad snowy stretch like spring break last week I wanted to smash porcelain doll faces on volcanic rock, but that was due more to the gray than the chill, which is actually nice for pregnancy).
The only time I felt cold, once I was used to layering, was when I was sluggish on the couch watching TV after the kids were in bed. Between that and the evening sickness, I started going to bed earlier (our bedroom is on the second floor). Before I knew it I was canceling our cable, waking up earlier, shopping on a tight budget once a week, feeling invincible and virtuous and capable of orchestrating three separate school carpools for next year.
So then Lent rolled around, which Mormons don’t celebrate/observe, but we do a monthly food-and-water fast, though by “we” I mean several people I know fast. I have never been good at fasting — one of the best things about pregnancy and breastfeeding is the free fast-pass; but that has nothing to do with my current plans to nurse Scout until she’s seven.
Anyway, Lent. Every Lent (since I started reading Conversion Diary and Writer-Mommy anyway) I get Lent-envy, not only because it sounds like a great time of renewal, sacrifice, and inspiration, but because you can give up something besides food and beverages. Food and I are in what you might call a committed relationship, so giving up electricity instead is pretty appealing.
It also seems like a great way to live deliberately, as my old boyfriend Thoreau would say. But since the point is to live deliberately, to re-match our wakings and sleepings and comings and goings with the seasons and the sun, to enjoy (discover) oldfashioned pleasures rather than to just live as austerely as possible, it’s not as simple as turning off our main power. I’ve decided to make exceptions in a few cases where the disuse of electricity would create drudgery that interferes with the spirit of the experiment or would encourage us to make other bad choices like consuming more processed foods.
In other words, this isn’t a gimmick. I want to fast from enough electricity (especially the electronic variety) that we re-set our default expectations of what life is like, but I’m not going to say “no electricity period” in hopes of getting a book deal or something. (That’s my jab at no-impact man who somehow blogged through his entire year of living without using electricity or purchasing anything.)
For example, I’m not planning to unplug my refrigerator/freezer, because, really — I don’t want to spend all my time figuring out how to live without it. I’m sure I could; I’m sure we could learn a lot from that sort of experiment, but I want to free myself from things rather than burden myself with new tasks (at this point). Here’s another quandary: do I not use my oven ever which means I have to start buying bread again, or do I figure that homemade bread is more “natural” than using no electricity? (Too bad I don’t have a gas oven, right?). We could live for forty days with no bread, no yeast bread, just pitas and tortillas on the grill, or I could fashion an outdoor fire-based oven (I think). I might make an exception for my crockpot since it is such an efficient use of energy, but we’ll try to eat raw or grilled food as much as possible.
The stove is also a hard one, because I make pancakes and breakfast burritos so often (for dinner, too). Obviously whole wheat pancakes are better for you and cheaper than cold cereal, so these are legitimately competing goals. (I’ll probably make and freeze a bunch of granola beforehand.) Another thing I don’t want to do is acquire a bunch of gadgets (like emergency preparedness or camping-type work-arounds), because a) we have no money, and b) if I just get lanterns for every room, we won’t be going to bed with the sun. And batteries are out because they’re just stored electricity.
What we will give up completely for sure: lights, blender, vacuum, dishwasher, clothes dryer (though not the washing machine; maybe next year), TV/dvd player, computer, hair dryer, toaster, air-conditioner, fans, humidifier, microwave, waffle iron, mixer, iPod, popcorn popper, rice cooker (or maybe that gets the crockpot exception?).
I have asked Tom to think about how he can cut back on his computer use; he does a lot of freelance work, so obviously he’ll make exceptions, but I am confident he will agree to keep the computer off until the kids are in bed so that our family time is protected. (Right, honey?)
Since I am making food (and laundry) -based exceptions, I think the hardest thing will be the internet, obviously. For a couple months I’ve been thinking a good rule would be I could go online once a week during the fast, just to check my email and write a short update post, but the more I think about it, the more it seems that that’s the most important part of this, to be unplugged virtually. (So if you need to contact me between June 1 and July 10, you should probably ask me now for my cell number. Speaking of which, the cellphone charger would be an exception for emergencies, since we don’t have a landline — though if I think about it, I can get Tom to charge them both in the car during his commute.)
This whole thing is possible because Utah summers are gloriously sunny, from 5 am till 9:30 pm. I have so many plans, the first being to wallow outside barefoot all day long. That’s also the second and third plan, too, actually, although I may put on shoes if there is any shoveling needed in the garden. This is also why I will probably survive without internet for forty days, because who wants to be in front of a screen when there is sunshine, and grass, and . . . air . . . out there?
The other big change will be the air conditioning/fan/cool mist humidifier, especially because of this internal heater I’m growing. But I plan (well, plan to get Tom) to move our master bedroom to the unfinished basement), which is always cooler than the second story, no matter how cold you set the thermostat. On the main level we get a nice north-south cross-breeze, and hey, I will remind myself daily that it’s nothing like my summer pregnancies in Florida.
I’m curious how this will affect my kids. The only TV show they have asked about since I canceled our cable (we don’t get any channels out here without cable, so they have watched maybe one movie a week, that’s it, for two months now) is Little Einsteins, and they are not the ones with the problem staying up late watching Justified on hulu.com (not that I’m recommending Justified; it may be awesome, but it’s also weird and violent in a strange, justified, sort of way).
But I do want this to have a spiritual component, in more than a transcendental appreciate-the-earth-and-life sort of way (though we will read some Emily Dickinson and Emerson just for fun). I’m not exactly sure what that will be, beyond the negative (taking-away) part of eliminating all media influence. Maybe I should explore my Adoration-envy for inspiration on that. Maybe I can meditate on what Jesus meant by abundance when He said: “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Either way I’ll have to visit the library more often. No more late-night reading on Project Gutenberg, which really is almost enough to make me wonder if my parents and sister are right in thinking I’ve finally gone crazy.