Coffee heat rising

No Crash Here: Riches in the Department of What Matters

Spring has sprung in these parts. The weather—never bad this winter, really—has been spectacular for the past several weeks. Everything is in blossom. At this time of year, the citrus perfumes the air like frangipani in the South Pacific islands. It reminds us that our strange, abstract human constructs of “wealth” are so silly as to be meaningless. Does losing a quarter million bucks in real estate and the stock market really matter when far more believable riches surround us?

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Wonderful as flowers are, I’m planting a lot more vegetables in the garden. That chard borders the pool, and probably will grow there through the summer. Soon its neighbors, the beets and carrots, will be ready to harvest. Meanwhile, yesterday in a part of the yard that gets more sun I put in some cantaloupe and some butternut squash, which I hope will grow from grocery-scavenged seeds.As times grow even harder, food is going to be more expensive; possibly even scarce. So, the flowers will have to make way for things that can be eaten.

The yard already has plenty of that: I’ve been scarfing tree-ripened oranges for the past two and a half months, and now the oranges, lemon, and lime are all covered with new blossoms. Next winter will see another bumper crop of citrus, I think.

Those oranges are sweet as candy. Eat your heart out, Warren Buffett!

Decluttering for fun and profit

I’m more and more intrigued with the idea of focusing the yard’s landscaping on two or three limited outdoor living spaces and letting the rest go dormant. Why consume water and energy on elaborate plantings that you never see and that never directly benefit you?

Matter of fact, my yard lends itself to this proposed new philosophy. The large front courtyard, enclosed by a thick screen of shrubbery blocking the view of Dave’s Marina, Used Car Lot, and Weed Arboretum, makes a nice place to sit in the evenings and functions as a welcoming front entry. The back porch is a wonderful outdoor dining room when the weather is nice, which is all of autumn, winter, and spring. And the covered deck to the west, with its climbing roses and shady trees, is a lovely green bower in which to enjoy a cup of coffee and read the morning paper at pretty much any time of year.

Thinking of exterior space as living space renders about a third of my large lot redundant. The chunk of real estate to the west of the driveway, which hosts a water-intensive (and dying) ash tree, wads of asparagus ferns, nine large shrubs, three desert morning glories the size of giant squids, a pointless lantana, a struggling Meyer lemon, a mountain laurel, a bougainvillea, a sickly cactus garden, and a feral bougainvillea, does nothing for the quality of my life. Or for anyone else except Gerardo, who gets hired now and again to beat back the jungle. The narrow strip along the east wall has only one function: to grow three desert birds of paradise and three yellow cassia until they block the public sidewalk, at which point they enrich Gerardo a bit more. These plants do nothing other than to add to Gerardo’s income: they provide no privacy, they bear no edible fruit, and they’re not visible from any part of the house that I inhabit.

So: in front, west of the driveway, all the shrubs go except three cassia along the west lot line. Out with the ugly morning glory mats. Move some of the irrigation drippers over to give the lemon tree extra water and shut off the rest. Out with the moribund ash tree! Replace it with one of the infant vitex trees, potted babes of the pretty tree in back, which someday will become a nice xeriscapic shade tree (possibly not in my lifetime, but someday). Out with the water-intensive asparagus ferns. Boug stays. Mountain laurel stays. Meyer lemon stays. Turn off the water to everything else.

In back, remove three unthriving, unseen, and unappreciated roses. Turn off the water to those beds.

Remove all the pointless shrubs along the east exterior side wall. Turn off the water.

Prune the trees and shrubs that form the visual barrier between my front windows and Dave’s pig sty. Cut off the water to all these extremely xeriscapic weeds. They should do just fine without being watered all the time.

I think of getting rid of the overgrown and redundant plantings as a variety of decluttering, one that should work to frugal effect. It will shut off the watering system to a third or a half of the yard.

Will the plan save money? Dunno. It stands to reason that turning off a third of the watering system would cut my bill by 33%, but it’s not that simple.Part of the city water bill goes to pay for trash pickup and sewer service.Some of the water, of course, is consumed by dish- and clothes-washing and by bathing. In the heat of summer, all the potted plants clustered on the deck and back porch have to be watered every single day, or they will die. The 18,000-gallon pool also draws a fair amount of water, particularly in summer, when it loses two or three inches a week to evaporation. The time I wandered off and left the hose running in the pool, almost overflowing the darn thing, did not help matters.

Let’s say it saves 25% on the water bill. My highest bill this year (so far) was $208. My lowest bill last winter was $63; at that time almost none of the exterior plantings got any water, nor did the pool need refilling. Assuming the base cost of water, sewer, and trash pickup is $63, the summertime cost of watering the yard and potted plants must be around $145 (i.e., $208 – $63). Twenty-five percent of the hot-weather exterior water bill would be $36.25, a modest but respectable saving that will grow as the city jacks up the cost of water.

In addition to closing down all the flora that doesn’t bear food, cast significant shade, or contribute to livable space, I’m also putting timers on the hose bibs. These will shut the water off after a specified time, obviating another pool overflow fiasco.

This is stage one of a larger project to cut the costs of living in the house, hopefully to the point where I can stay in my home during retirement.

Tomorrow I plan to call the air-conditioning company and ask them to install a programmable thermostat, and also to find out if they can restore the rusted-out swamp cooler so it will run next summer without my having to replace it. A new swamp cooler costs as much as a new refrigeration unit. While a swamp cooler runs much cheaper than a regular air-conditioner, it would take several years to pay for itself in savings. The one I put on my old house made my allergies kick up so badly it gave me excruciating headaches. Coolers at other people’s houses haven’t had that effect, but since Proserpine said she and Satan never used this one because it gave her headaches, I’m not springing to install a new one.

I’m also going to find out if it’s possible to shut off the central air conditioning on summer nights and run only a room air conditioner in the bedroom. If doing so wouldn’t cause any harm (I’ve been told that closing off a single room in summer is counterproductive, and so this could be, too), then surely cooling just one room instead of ten (twelve, if you count the bathrooms as “rooms”) would save a ton of money.

This winter I’m going to buy space heaters and heat only the room I’m sitting in. I hope to avoid running the central heating altogether, or at least limit its use to the few days when temperatures are close to freezing and it’s raining, too. Even on cold nights, the sun usually warms the house to tolerable levels by ten in the morning. Cassie has a natural fur coat, and I can wear sweatshirts.

It will be interesting to see if these strategies work to bring down the cost of running the house. If they don’t, I will not be able to stay here after my job ends.