As I write this from my blustery blizzard perch in Chicago, the scene is something right out of Snowmageddon. They've closed Lake Shore Drive, and abandoned cars are piling up all over the city's snow-choked arteries. They're talking 20-foot waves on Lake Michigan, and every few minutes the swirling whirlwind is punctuated by thunder — yes, thunder — and police sirens.
About the only thing piling up faster than the snow outside my house is the angst inside it.
My son is whining because he accidentally deleted his driver's license from his Nintendo Wii racing game. My daughter is whining even louder because she'd rather watch 101 Dalmatians for the 102nd time. It's a race to the corkscrew between my wife and I to see who gets to the Merlot bottle first ... which ends in …
No vino, no whine: Now I know the errand I forgot to run before the Blizz hit the fan.
Not to worry. With a record-setting storm rocking the Windy City and much of the nation, I have just the ticket for that triple-whammy of snowdrifts, closed schools and cabin fever. And since "snow" rhymes with "eco," why no turn a whiteout into a green-up? Here's my list of ways to brave the Blizzard of 2011, proving that no matter how big a trail your winter boots leave, you can still reduce your carbon footprint.
Instead of rock salt, Use Magic Salt. It might surprise you to learn that rock salt, while organic, isn't environmentally friendly. Sodium chloride causes detrimental effects to water- and land-based ecosystems. This has led states such as Vermont to recommend abandoning the use of rock salt in favor of Magic Salt, a compound effective to -30°, and much friendlier to the environment. Magic Salt starts as ordinary rock salt, but is treated with a liquid, agricultural by-product of the distilling process and blended with magnesium chloride. Magic Salt works so well, and in the end saves enough money over rock salt, that they're using it on the Garden State Parkway in my native New Jersey.
Greener snow blowers. Yes, I know that for some, shoveling snow is hazardous to heart health. And when snow buildup needs to be moved in a hurry, blowers can prove beneficial. But for most of us, using a blower over a shovel boils down to pure sloth. That said: If you're going to use one, at least look into models that are greener. The website snowblower.com points out that while blowers create 25% of mobile-source hydrocarbon emissions, four-stroke models and battery powered blowers can cut back on the impact. Using their research, we located the Ariens AMP 24 a highly-rated model that uses no gasoline. It'll set you back about $1,500, but if you live in a continual state of blizzard and snow, it's definitely a sound investment in green living. And if you can coordinate with neighbors to split the purchase, all the better for your wallet and the environment.
Be a "dibs" narc. Chicago like other Midwestern cities has this crude tradition of "parking dibs," and it's more like a pagan fertility ritual. Here's how it works: You shovel out a street space in front of your home and mark it like a dog might mark a fire hydrant — using lawn chairs, buckets or any manner of bulky detritus to claim the space as semi-permanently "yours." The subtext for trespassers is, "Dare to park here, and your car might end up with nasty key marks on the paint." Besides being entirely un-neighborly and an illegal grab of public land, "dibs" also leaves litter on the streets. Last time I checked, littering was also against the law. So if the trash persists, call the police from the safety of your warm domicile. This will force your neighbors to either a) own up to the street garbage and clean it up or b) refuse to own up to it and thus sacrifice their "dibs." What a heart-warming vigilante thought on a cold winter's day.
If it's too cold to get naked, then weatherstrip. One good thing about a snow day is that it leaves you with lots of time for extracurriculars ... like checking out how your home is faring in the winter weather. It took a big storm for my wife and I to list all the places where cold air invaded our home — underneath doors, mostly — and then take action to seal them and save on heating. So if you can break away from the Glee reruns, check out some great weatherstripping tips at doityourself.com.
Turn off the TV and play a game. As this chart from cnet.com shows, some of those newfangled plasma TVs use more than $100 a year in energy. Screens also turn your kids into passive, insufferable couch potatoes, as I'm learning the hard way. Playing a game, by contrast (and we don't mean Nintendo Wii or Xbox) costs nothing, builds bonds with the family and will make you forget all about the miserable weather outside. Some favorites at our household for kids of all ages include Spot It and Monopoly, a round of which can outlast any blizzard ... even in Elephant Island, Antarctica.
Turn Down the Thermostat I: Wigwam Socks. Like the poet Pablo Neruda, I have this thing about socks: the warmer and poofier, the better. I used to buy and abandon socks by the drawer-ful in quest of that Ultimate Warm and Snuggly Sock, until I found the mighty Wigwam brand. Made right here in the U.S. (in Sheboygan, Wis.), Wigwam and its president Bob Chesebro have a foot fetish of a different sort, as they fuss over every detail of their product. My choice: the Merino Comfort Hiker, a sock so toasty and comfy I've permanently retired all my slippers, and can walk on the coldest hardwood floor without the slightest threat of Popsicle toes. Seriously, Wigwams are the only sock I wear in cold weather.
Turn the Thermostat Down II: Stock up on cocoa. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, turning your thermostat back 10°–15° for 8 hours can save about 5%–15% a year on your heating bill — a savings of as much as 1% for each degree if the setback period is eight hours long. To make up for lost heat, substitute hot tea or cocoa. As a chocolate fan, I have some favorites to recommend, including Starbucks Gourmet Hot Cocoa, which I made earlier today. If cocoa itself is enough to get you fired up, may I also suggest the Serendipity 3 Frrrozen Hot Chocolate Mix from the Manhattan eatery of the same name. I'm told Beyonce loves this stuff. Despite that, I'll recommend it anyway.
How many folks with cabin fever does it take to screw in a (fluorescent) light bulb?If you're inside without much to do, you might as well take stock of all the fixtures in your house that could use fluorescent bulbs instead of the standard incandescent ones. Why? As the government's Energy Star website points out, "If every American home replaced just one light with a light that's earned the Energy Star, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars." Wow.
So if you find 10 bulbs you can replace, you're well on your way to making up for all the slackers on your block ... who are no doubt using gas-guzzling snow blowers ... and claiming dibs on street parking spaces.
Photo credit: Lou Carlozo