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"Growing Up with Solar – Before it was Cool"

John Patterson3By JENNIFER GIANNETTONI

Above Jennifer, John and sister Suzanne


 

Living in Los Angeles as an adult I find myself hypnotized into the ever popular eco-culture. My grocery store in Malibu has not allowed plastic bags for years. I have a trunk full of reusable cloth grocery bags. I go to an eco dry cleaners, car wash, coffee house. I use all organic beauty products and toiletries. All the cleaning products and trash bags in the house are biodegradable and “Green”. Even the cats food is organic. I’m mindful of my carbon footprint. Of course, none of this is new to me, after all, my dad is Mr. Sun Solar himself.

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John using his electric truck during SW Portland Solarize Project

I can’t say enough good things about my dad. He truly is someone who practices what he preaches, long before it was popular. This year he made a business trip to Shanghai for the Solar Expo. My brother and I received an email calculating his footprint from the flight and everything he planned to do the next year to counter those emissions. When he comes to visit me in Los Angeles, he drives his Prius, instead of flying, and posts ads on Craigslist to get rideshare companions, solely to lower the carbon footprint of the drive.  He also makes sure I am line drying my clothes instead of using the dryer. When it’s his turn to do dishes, he runs the water briefly then shuts it off while he soaps up each dish, and only turns the water on again at the very end to rinse them all off quickly. He walks or rides his bike whenever possible, weather permitting.  I find it fascinating, and couldn’t be more proud of my Solar Dad! But that wasn’t always the case.

I know we all grew up constantly hearing “Turn the light off!” every time you went from one room to the next. But my father took it to new levels. He put a timer on my bathroom light so that I only had 10mins before the lights would go out automatically. This was to remind me to take shorter showers and spend less time in the bathroom primping. Which was a real pain during those teen years. It always ran out right in the middle of my shower, so there I would be, soap in the eyes and lathered up,  fumbling across the pitch dark bathroom to switch the light back on. He rarely ran the heater in the house and made sure we understood all the energy that required. Lights were regularly OFF and if they were on it had to be for a good reason. We had water conserving toilet flushers 25 years ago. We had solar panels since 1980. We had trash, and compost. He also taught my brother and I how to cook in a solar oven that he built. I remember it took me a day to bake a potato in that thing. And who can forget, the time my mother wanted her big TV at the new solar home which caused a huge debate. My dad of course did not want to bring it because it sucked more energy than anything else in the house and was completely counter intuitive to his masterpiece of a design.  But she insisted and had the unpleasant surprise of discovering my dad’s solution was to hook the TV up to an exercise bike which literally had to be pedaled to power the TV. You can imagine my mothers delight when The Oregonian showed up to take pictures of the home and that was the photo that ran with the story, my mom on the exercise bike pedaling away in front of the TV.  I’ll be honest, growing up with this was at times, a pain in the ass. Solar was never something my dad did to be cool. It’s just something he discovered half way through life and has believed in every day since.


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 John with granddaughter Bella

Now that I am an adult I really appreciate all he taught me. Because the lesson more than anything is really one in cause and effect, a message which seems to be lost in modern times.  I mean, bake a potato in a potato oven and you will understand exactly how much energy it takes to cook that potato. My dad understood natures way, and wanted to be sure we appreciated it, and never took anything for granted.  His parenting approach could be coined as "No Short-Cuts Boot Camp". I remember once pleading for him to bail me out of a sticky situation. His response was, "I could, but you will feel a lot better about yourself if you figure it on your own." And he was right. It's about teaching responsibility and character.

 

 
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