In Search of the Lean Six Life

Smarter, not harder. Preferrably A LOT smarter.


Quick, Easy and Affordable Window Insulation

I remain convinced that lower energy living is critical given our uncertain future (both in the US and on the planet as a whole), and can even can be better and more enjoyable for the people making these changes. For this reason, I have made a few modifications around the house and in my life in an attempt to consume less energy.

One of my most successful experiments this winter was insulating some of our draftiest windows. Windows can be a huge source of heat loss for a home, particularly if they are large. Newer windows often have extra features for keeping the weather outside, but our big home improvement recently was a new roof. We don’t have money leftover for all new windows!

You can also buy insulating blinds, although these can add up too, depending on the quality, brand name, window size and whether you need an expert to install them for you.

Luckily, it is super easy and very affordable to improvise curtains made of polar fleece fabric. Not only does this help cut down on heating costs, but they also make the room more comfortable by removing that underlying chill that lingers no matter how high you crank up the thermostat. Everyone in my house was amazed at how different it felt as soon as I hung the curtains.

All it takes is polar fleece and S-hooks. You can find polar fleece at local fabric stores – often on sale, or with a coupon, which makes this project even more affordable. Both times I purchased fleece, I had a 40% off coupon! Polar fleece measures 59″ wide, so a little goes a long way.

There is almost no work involved once you get the fleece home. Just cut the fabric a little larger than your windows, punch a few holes along the top edge, and use S-hooks to attach the polar fleece to existing curtain hardware. (OK, if you have no existing curtains, this will be slightly more complicated.) If you have a very wide window to cover, you might need several S-hooks, for instance one at each end and one or two in the middle.

The fleece does not need to be hemmed, or have the edges finished in any way. For the kitchen bay windows, I tried adding a hem to the curtains so they would look nicer. That was a terrible idea, as you can see in the photo below! The fleece did not appreciate my efforts at dressing it up. And it makes no difference in the effectiveness of the insulation. If we ever had “sophisticated” company who might think the fleece looked cheap or trashy, I would just take the curtains down before they arrived and put them back up the second they left! (Luckily I don’t have any of those friends anyway!)

Polar fleece window insulation

Polar fleece window insulation

Tip! Cut your fabric to the width of your curtain rod, not the width of the window. I screwed this up TWICE. Luckily I had extra fabric!

Any color of fleece works equally well. For the kitchen, I chose a color that coordinated with the existing decor. I also put fleece over several windows in less-used rooms of our house, like the laundry room and a guest bedroom. For these, I just used white.

Another polar fleece "curtain"

Another polar fleece “curtain”

In the kitchen, I unhook the curtains during the day to allow natural light in. Since the windows face north-ish, the sunlight does not provide any additional warming this time of year, although it does allow us to leave the electric lights off. In the summer, we may reverse this practice and hang the curtains to block any heat streaming in.

There you have it! Easy, quick and affordable window insulation. Now you are empowered to cut down your own winter heating bill …. just in time for Spring!


2018 Foraging Year in Review

As 2018 draws to a close, I reflected on the past year of foraging in central Maryland. I mean, a “year in review” is a thing people do, right?

The most notable theme for 2018 was “learning” – both learning what plants grew in this area, where they were (or weren’t) to be found, when and how to harvest them, and how much I still have to learn about, well, everything!

2018 provided some unexpected surprises, finding plants I’d never even known existed (like the flying dragon citrus), and amazing successes (like the local proliferation of pawpaws). But even these successes were hampered by learning curves: how do best make use of this abundance, now that I’ve found it? For example, I still have the Mason jar of pawpaw liqueur from early October steeping on my counter top, because I’m not sure what else to do with it! Other wild edibles I found but didn’t know how to actually take advantage of included:

  • acorns (which got its own separate post)
  • amaranth (mentioned last week – and I STILL haven’t managed to get enough of the chaff out to count as edible in my opinion)
  • pokeweed shoots
  • black walnuts and hickory nuts, both of which are so difficult to shell that I have only made a token attempt to use what I harvested

Another recurring theme from this year was my inability to find and harvest enough of a given wild plant to actually use. Wild grapes, chinkapins, ground cherries, and spring beauties come to mind. This particular challenge closely relates to another theme of the year: accessibility issues. For instance, my two local American persimmon trees had plenty of fruit, but I couldn’t get to them easily enough for a bountiful harvest due to the overgrowth that prevented me from gathering fruit that had already fallen to the ground.

Accessibility was also a challenge for cattails, sumac berries, and evening primrose, all of which seemed to grow best along roadsides. Particularly busy highways!

Additionally, my timing still needs a lot of work! Since this was my first year foraging year round, this comes as no surprise. Everything in nature has a rhythm, and matures in its own season. For example, I think my recent failure to harvest nutsedge tubers was mostly an issue of timing. I also missed the mayapples due to my inexperience. To complicate matters, the excessively wet year and late frost probably impacted the timing of harvests in ways I can’t yet understand, given how new I am to this field.

Last but not least, 2018 saw me reaching out to the local foraging community (and the overlapping tribes of permaculture and sustainability). Through visiting the Mother Earth News Fair, taking a class at the Fox Haven Learning Center, and attending the Third Annual Pawpaw Festival at Long Creek Homestead (which I apparently forgot to blog about!).

I debated whether to continue my weekly foraging post into the new year. Particularly as it is winter, and cold, and what is there left to say? Then I realized as I was writing this post, that I still have SO much to learn about nature and its bounty, and how humans can live more healthily and sustainably through foraging, and the best way for me to learn is to share my learning process with you, my readers. (All three of you… yes, I am up to three! *waves*) I hope you will continue reading and learning with me in 2019!

Also, if you are interested in more “real time” updates from my world of permaculture, gardening, foraging, and lower-energy-living, you can follow me on Instagram as @lean6life.