2021 was a year. Actually, it felt like more than a year.
Looking back I do not know what I really did for an entire year. Work feels like pretending as our ad hoc work from home arrangement is entering its third year with no end in sight. Play feels like a constant question of “is this worth the risk of potential exposure?” Heck, every time I think about going out to grab a pizza my minds starts to think about transmission rates and air handlers. Yeah, that is what 2021 did to my brain.
Anyway, I digress. How did I do when it came to my goals for 2021? Read on below to find out.
Ride 3,000 miles on my bicycle—4,103.6 miles against a goal of 3,000. Victory.
Ride 3 “new to me” trails—I only rode one “new to me” trail: the High Trestle Trail in central Iowa. It seemed like coronavirus and weather killed every effort I made to ride new trails.
Local, direct, and packaging free beer—Pretty good. You can see the details here, but the theme was heavy on the local (only one non-local purchase all year) and decent on buying direct from the brewer and/or in a packaging neutral form factor.
No new car in 2020—Epic failure. We got through March before the reality of needing two cars that could travel more than 75 miles or so set in. Granted, I am glad we did not spend the first half of this year trying to rent cars for those few weekends of kids activities separated by hundreds of miles. A single weekend was going for about what our car payment is right now. That would have hurt.
Less lawn, more life—I feel like I am about halfway to my goal of ripping out my lawn in various spots. I started to build out a large pollinator garden in 2021, but 2022 is probably going to see my finish the project and undertake another similar style bed in another part of my lawn.
Deeper decarbonization—Like the prior year, I do not know how to categorize this goal. Without any effort on our part, my wife and I “avoided” 218 days of commutes to work. Since 2019 we have “avoided” 383 days of commutes to work. This is a lot of avoided carbon dioxide and other attendant pollution. I have also decarbonized my lawn care with a battery electric mower. It does feel, however, like we stalled out a little this past year. Our delayed effort to replace out natural gas water heater with a hybrid air source heat pump model ran into supply chain realities. As a household we made some efforts to reduce natural gas usage by keeping our house a little chillier and focusing on heating the person via electricity. If there is one thing I am going to work on in 2022 this is it.
I am nine months into the year and the end is coming into focus.
Let’s see how things are shaping up with just under a quarter of the year remaining.
Read 60 books—57 books down. Two in process should put me on the doorstep of my goal before mid-October. With some cooler weather there are going to be some good reading nights in the near future.
Ride 3,000 miles on my bicycle—Ended September having ridden 3,839.2 miles. Success and then some. Aiming for something closer to 4,500 miles as a “stretch” goal.
Ride 3 “new to me” trails—Rode 1 new trail (High Trestle Trail), but COVID-19 seems to be getting in the way of me riding anything else. Or the weather. I have taken three days of vacation where it has rained—during a summer of drought—so I am not thinking this is my year.
Local, direct, and packaging free beer—Keeping it local. You can check out my beer purchasing below:
No new car in 2021—Fail. I have spent enough time dwelling on this failure.
Less lawn, more life—Took out some scrubby turfgrass and planted the start of a large pollinator garden. (Part 1 and Part 2) I have a few more things to do in order to get the bed read for the winter and future planting next spring when I intend to complete my vision of a pollinator oasis.
Deeper decarbonization—Again this is an interesting case of how you frame the situation. I did not end up replacing our water heater or furnace with air source heat pump models because supply chain constraints meant high prices that pushed me to wait until next year. Plus, we finally got contractors in to complete repairs stemming from last year’s derecho so our house budget was kind of blown. However, consider that by the end of September my wife and I had not commuted to work for ~165 days or more than the entirety of 2020. With three months to go, we will have avoided well north of 200 days of commuting. Plus, we have not taken an airplane flight since the summer of 2019. The direct carbon emission savings of those two differences is a big deal.
It has been six months since January 1, which kind of blow my mind. In my household, that means we are on the downhill slide—pun intended—to winter and a, hopefully, abundant ski season. I hope that I have not pissed off Ullr and cursed my future years of skiing.
Ride 3,000 miles on my bicycle—1,441.72 miles by the end of June. Okay, it was really by June 23rd since we left on vacation. I was really ahead of prior years’ pace. If I do not lose 10 days in August to another derecho level event this should be another big year for miles ridden.
Ride 3 “new to me” trails—Nothing to report so far.
Local, direct, and packaging free beer—Keeping it local. About the only “misstep” was buying a six pack of Odell Brewing Company beer in Denver rather than something from one of the local breweries that I visited, but nothing was really hitting the spot that was packaged. You can check out my beer purchasing below:
No new car in 2021—Fail. I have spent enough time dwelling on this failure.
Less lawn, more life—Drought really helped this goal along in late-May and June. I mowed twice in six weeks and once only because we were leaving town.
Deeper decarbonization—This is an interesting case. Through six months my wife and I have avoided 112 days’ worth of commuting. This translates to a household savings of ~4,167 miles and 5,556 pounds of carbon dioxide. In June my household also went “into the black” in terms of solar PV production versus electricity consumption. Unfortunately, my goal of replacing natural gas fired appliances in my home—both water heater and furnace—has run up against supply chain realities. Our HVAC contractor advised us to wait a year unless we really needed to switch. Selection and price are not in your favor right now if you are looking to upgrade your home’s internals. At least lumber futures are coming down.
Ride 3,000 miles on my bicycle—38.77 miles so far. Obviously, this is a weather and seasonally dependent goal.
Ride 3 “new to me” trails—Nothing to report so far.
Local, direct, and packaging free beer—Save for my impulse purchase of a case of Costco Kirkland Signature beer I was keeping it local in 2021.
No new car in 2021—Fail. After nine months of reduced car ownership the reality of kids’ activities putting us in two different states at the same time set in. Combined with a killer deal on the Subaru Outback my wife wanted put us back into the car ownership column. We tried.
Less lawn, more life—Stay tuned.
Deeper decarbonization—The first three months have been interesting. Our household electricity usage seems to be running ahead of the prior year, which is not surprising given that the first quarter of 2020 was not impacted by coronavirus. Add in a wicked cold snap in February 2021 and a person ends up in a different spot. We ended the quarter about 641 kWh “in the red” versus 346 kWh “in the red” for the same period the prior year. Looking to turn net positive in April. On the good side, my wife and I worked 59 days from home saving ~2,259 miles of commuting and thereby avoiding 3,012 pounds of CO2 emissions.
Other than our epic fail of not buying a new car in 2021, I would venture to say that we are doing pretty well so far.
It is that time of year again when I think about goals for the forthcoming new year after reflecting back on my success or failure of the prior year.
2020 was…well…2020. There is not much more that can be said about a year that saw coronavirus upend nearly everything we did on a daily basis. Granted, the pandemic did help me succeed in some of my goals given the nature of limited options for activity. Exercise was about the only thing keeping me sane in 2020.
With the pandemic still a part of our lives in 2021 until the various vaccines can be rolled out to a significant enough percentage of the population my goals for the year are going to take into account a more limited scope. Granted, I never really set goals that are crazy in scope but I am not going to worry about things like commuting to work since that is out of the question at my employer until at least the summer.
Read 60 books—I blew past my goal of 50 books in 2020 and that included a period of time where I could not access the libraries in my area due to coronavirus. That was also the same period of time when I would just spend inordinate amounts of time doomscrolling.
Ride 3,000 miles on my bicycle—My goal last year was 2,500 miles and I went past 3,500 miles. I doubt that 2021 will allow as many opportunities to ride. Splitting the difference and making the goal 3,000 miles seems reasonable.
Ride 3 “new to me” trails—One of my favorite goals from last year that really forced me to think about getting out of my comfort zone. So, I added another trail experience to the goal. There are some interesting trails near me that I have never experienced and 2021 is going to be the year.
Local, direct, and packaging free beer—This is a repeat of last year’s goal, but I am hopeful that with coronavirus on the wane I can improve on 2020.
No new car in 2020—This is going to be the hard one if we start having to commute to work or if children’s activities pick up in the latter half of the year. We sold our Subaru Outback in June to my brother-in-law and used our Nissan Leaf as a primary daily driver. I would like to go the entire year without replacement for the Subaru given the cost of a new car and the hope that a new model year will bring more fully electric options. I never want to buy another ICE vehicle again.
Less lawn, more life—It’s been a process over the past few years, but some of the progress I made in 2020 really sets me up well in 2021 to take out some big swaths of lawn. I am thinking some more trees. I am always thinking about trees.
Deeper decarbonization—This is a goal I struggled with in 2020 because my plan for deeper decarbonization involved replacing out gas fired water heater with an air source heat pump water heater. Coronavirus got in the way and we did not really think about replacing the water heater. Granted, we drove a lot less in 2020 so I guess we succeeded on some level. I do not know what my plan for 2021 is right now, but I need to make progress down the path of deeper decarbonization.
These goals are somewhat repetitive when compared with last year, but there is something satisfying with building upon progress year-over-year.
2020 is in the bag, so to speak, although I feel like we will be living with the aftershocks of this year for a very long time.
Here were my goals for 2020 and how I did against them:
Deeper decarbonization: All good plans go awry in some way at some time during the year and coronavirus blew a hole in this plan. Granted, we drove a lot less this year so I guess that is deeper decarbonization in a way. Like how much less? Well, we did not commute to work for 164 work days of the year which works out to ~6,171 miles driven and ~8,300 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions avoided. That was just the commuting that we avoided. We also did not take any flights for the entire year, which is unusual given work and leisure travel. So, maybe this is a win.
Replace 500 Vehicle Miles with Human Powered Transit: Total fail in some respects. I replace no vehicle miles with human powered transit. However, in total the two drivers in my household drove a lot less this year because of coronavirus lockdowns and working from home. It’s hard to quantify because I did not track the miles driven in my wife’s Subaru Outback in prior years but we drove our Nissan Leaf ~25% fewer miles for the year and it was our daily driver from June onward.
Ride 2,500 Miles on my Bicycle: A total of 3,503.07 miles to be exact. It would have been higher if not for the derecho in August that closed down trails all over the area.
Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer: I did well with regard to the local component of the challenge, but not so much with the direct or packaging neutral components. Coronavirus had a lot to do with this since heading out for a beer or a growler became a game of risk calculus that I was not willing to undertake most days.
Reduce Lawn, Increase Landscape Variety: Several big projects that had long been in gestation were completed. Our side yard hardscaping, including a multi-tier retaining wall, was installed. Now it is filled in with topsoil, mulched, and ready for plants in 2021. I also planted trees in a couple of yard locations that are part of larger landscaping beds. This sets things up very nicely for the next year.
Maximize Local Food: For the entire year, my household spent ~27% of its food dollars with local providers. This numbers was depressed by stores being closed or limited at the outbreak of the coronavirus and the “stock up” culture that followed. We were as guilty as anyone else for living via warehouse club size package of everything through the spring and summer. By October our food dollars were 46% local with an increase to 47% in November. I am going to consider 27% the baseline to measure against for 2021 as I work to spend more of our food dollars locally.
Not bad in total considering the changes that the coronavirus made to our lies on a daily basis in 2020. The year served as sort of a baseline for me to measure success in the coming year as I work to decarbonize, spend more food dollars locally, and generally try to be a more mindful member of my community.
My goals for 2021 will be coming out shorty. Stay tuned!
This is a project that I have been working on for a while and it is a project that has a long way to go until it is complete. I am speaking about the removal of turf grass or lawn in my yard that is to be replaced with a broad variety of landscaping.
Up front, this is hard work. Just edging the bed for four trees took the better part of a day to dig out and rebuild. Granted, there are tools I could rent to make the project go faster but using an internal combustion engine to easy my suffering seems a little hypocritical.
Over the past couple of weekends my wife and I have completed the first stage of our project to replace the monoculture of turf grass. Ok, ok…I recognize that my yard was already fairly varied when it comes to plants but there is so much more we could be doing.
The biggest change is the side yard along the west edge of my house:
Prior, this bed only was as deep as the compost bins so that gives you some idea of how much grass cam out. Here is what it looks like from the backyard looking up the hill:
Over the years this has been a failed butterfly garden, a small vegetable garden, and a cutting garden that got blown down by the derecho in August.
This bed has now been deeply mulched—about three inches in most spots—and top dressed with compost that will “cool down” over the winter so the soil is ready for vegetables in the spring. The upper part of the bed closest to the driveway is going to be a cutting garden again, but more focused on perennials now that we have the edging in place. Some bulbs are already in the ground, but it will take a couple of seasons to really build things out.
The second bed was created around the sycamore and birch trees in the swampy back corner of my yard:
Like the side yard bed this bed is deeply mulched and the soil has been amended with a lot of compost. My hope is that water will now percolate into the soil as the hard surface layer has been broken up.
The rocks are random pick-ups from projects around my house and work around a friend’s house in Colorado. I thought it would be cool to slowly fill in some of the empty space with some additional stones. A constant evolution.
Lastly, it’s the “point” at the far end of my odd shaped yard:
It’s only two tree rings, but this is foundation for a larger bed that will probably get built out next spring. My goal is to place edgers between the tree rings and dig out the rest of the turf grass that remains. The bed will get deeply mulched and planted with pollinator friendly perennials. That is the goal anyway.
We are about halfway through 2020 and I can safely say that no one thought it would look anything like it does right now at the beginning of the year. If you had coronavirus and “white power” as predictions I suggest you buy a grip load of lottery tickets because you are a modern day Nostradamus.
Replace 500 Vehicle Miles with Human Powered Transit: I do not know what to say about this one. First, I took a new job right before the coronavirus shutdowns occurred and it is likely that I would have been working remotely regardless of the situation. Second, both my wife and I have been working from home since mid-March so there has not been a lot of opportunities to replace vehicle miles. Heck, we are “down” with regards to miles driven somewhere in the range of 55-90% depending upon what you use as the baseline. Since mid-March we have worked from home 63 days. In terms of commuting avoided this represents almost 2,580 miles and almost 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide. We are not replacing miles with human powered transit because we are just not replacing miles travelled at all. Maybe this is better.
Ride 2,500 Miles on my Bicycle: As of the morning of July 1, I had ridden approximately 1,470 miles. My goal was to be at 1,500 by that date but I lost almost a week of potential rides to my truck and bike being stranded after a catastrophic water pump failure on the way home from Colorado in June. Still, I am very much on target.
Read 40 Books: Sitting at 31 books seems like fairly good progress until you recognize that more than two thirds of that was accomplished in the first quarter. I will get there.
Reduce Lawn, Increase Landscape Variety: This seems to be the task that eludes me every summer. However, we do have someone contracted to do some hardscaping later in the summer that will hopefully be the impetus for a transformation of a large percentage of our yard. Plus, we replaced all of the plants in our front landscaping beds this summer. That translates into a lot of work moving rock, amending soil, and what not to end up with the same landscaping footprint as prior. It does look better now.
Maximize Local Food: Our grocery shopping habits really changed after things started shutting down in mid-March. Grocery shopping was done online and in as few trips as possible. As a result, my spending on local food (defined by me as purchased directly from farmers or from my local co-op) declined significantly. It has started to pick back up recently as things have relaxed a bit. Regardless, for the year my local grocery spend accounts for about 20% of my total which is down from over 30% before March.
Here is a breakdown by goal of my progress so far in 2020:
Deeper decarbonization: An electric lawn mower and weed eater are in the garage ready to go. I cannot wait to report on the run times for the batteries and the overall experience of completely shedding small engines for yard maintenance. Some other projects, most notably a new electric air source heat pump water heater, are going to have to wait until the restrictions around coronavirus subside. In a way, all of this restriction on travel, which leads to less shopping and wasteful trips, is decarbonizing my life. It’s not good to be going through this saga, but the energy diet is a nice side effect.
Replace 500 Vehicle Miles with Human Powered Transit: This one is a little hard for me to imagine right now as we are not driving at all. The cars in our garage are basically sitting save for a weekly trip to get groceries. I will be very curious to see what our mileage totals look like for the month of April as the lockdown continues.
Ride 2,500 Miles on my Bicycle: 47.93 miles by the end of March. It’s not much, but it is ahead of last year’s pace.
Ride 2 “New to Me” Trails: A goal for warmer weather. Stay tuned.
Local, Direct, and Packaging Neutral Beer: Check out the details here. A little bit of a misstep as I prepared for coronavirus lockdown by buying up some cans from local breweries.
Reduce Lawn, Increase Landscape Variety: This is a goal for the spring, so look forward to some progress now that the temperature has gone up and the snow is off the ground. Plus, what else am I going to do in a world where we are sheltering in place.
Maximize Local Food: Until about mid-March I was killing it with local food. According to my calculations, local food comprised almost 50% of my grocery spend. Then coronavirus happened and we decided to stock up. A couple of big trips to warehouse clubs and weekly grocery pickup have killed my local grocery shopping. Even so, local groceries make up about 33% of my household grocery spend. I am hoping to improve upon that in the coming months as we all learn how to navigate a world impacted by coronavirus.
Now, with COVID-19’s spread leading to varying degrees of closure, we are all being forced to live a home based life.
We are increasingly working from home and it seems like everyone is using Zoom to keep in touch.
We are eating most, if not all, our meals from our own kitchens as restaurants are being forced to close or go to take-out only service and grocery stores cease offering prepared food.
We have stopped shopping in retail stores and waves of closures have shown us just how little we actually need to shop for in most cases.
We have dramatically reduced our daily driving, cratering demand for oil, and reducing the amount of transportation related pollution in our skies.
None of this is “good” because it comes as a result of an external crisis rather than internal determination, but it can illuminate a future that is a little less focused on pure consumer consumption and go-go lifestyles centered on fast paced work cultures.
Granted, a lot of us are going a little stir crazy as our kids are entering another week away from school and there are just so many dishes. Multiple meals a day inside the house and snacks make so much work for hands already stripped of moisture from vigorous hand washing.