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July 2, 2011

Untethered from the cable box

I never imagined it would be so easy to be cable-free.

After months of wondering whether paying for channels we rarely watched was a worthwhile expense, we took the leap in April and canceled cable.

First, a disclaimer: My family is, by no means, TV-free. We watch programs online, using services such as Hulu or the networks' websites. On occasion, we even sit in front of our television screen and watch cable programs or movies downloaded through the Wii system via a Netflix subscription that costs 1/6 of what we were paying for cable.

This is not a diatribe against screens or entertainment. I enjoy a good TV drama as much as the next person, but I honestly don't miss channel-surfing or even using the DVR, a convenience I once thought I couldn't live without. In fact, cutting the cable has been easier and more beneficial than I ever expected. Here's why:

"¢ I'm saving money.

We had a package deal with Time Warner Cable, so for us the savings amounts to $60 a month. People who don't have cable bundled with phone and Internet or who pay for premium channels, multiple DVRs and other frills stand to save a lot more. Even so, $60 a month is not nothing. The money we've stopped spending on cable could pay for a whole year of dance classes, weekly pizza orders or two trips for the whole family to a big amusement park.

"¢ I'm saving energy _ and more money.

Did you know that some home entertainment systems use more energy than refrigerators or central air conditioning systems? So says a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council reported in The New York Times last week. According to the study, one high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year _ about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator.

"¢ I have more time.

Now, I know many people have time to spare, and I am not here to judge anyone who chooses to fill his or her leisure time with sitcoms, soap operas or sporting events. But, for me, free time is a precious commodity. As a freelance writer-editor and mother of two, I'm constantly juggling deadlines and family responsibilities. I don't have much time to watch TV, but the presence of my favorite shows in the DVR made it tempting to sacrifice something else _ most often, sleep. I love to read but rarely could find the time to even start a book. Since going cable-free, I've read two novels.

"¢ Who needs commercials?

Even though my 7-year-old daughter, Allie, still gets her Nickelodeon and Disney fix through Netflix, she's not asking for Aqua Beads or a Barbie Dream House anymore. Funniest thing, she doesn't ask for snacks as often, either.

"¢ Special events are more ... special.

Growing up in the '70s, when there were no remote controls and the channel dial only went up to 12, watching "The Wizard of Oz" on TV every year was a family event. So I was thrilled to see one of my all-time favorite movies as a selection in the free summer movie series offered by SUNY Oneonta. Tuesday's screening was supposed to be outside, on the lawn behind Hunt Union, but thunderstorms moved it inside to the Red Dragon Theatre. Though it wasn't quite the event we'd anticipated, seeing the movie on the big screen was very cool.

Maybe I'm more sentimental than the Tin Man, but I still get teary when Dorothy says goodbye to her new friends before clicking her heels together. I still marvel at the sets, costumes and special effects, all truly spectacular for their time. I still fall in love with the Scarecrow, laugh at the Lion and appreciate the Great Oz's penchant for alliteration.

This morning, as Allie was paging through her pop-up Wizard of Oz book and pointing out inconsistencies in the movie (who knew the slippers were actually supposed to be silver?) I realized I've never actually read the original book by L. Frank Baum. I looked it up online and was shocked to learn there are 40 books in the Oz series. How did I not know this?

Move over, Harry Potter. There's a new fantasy series on my daughter's bedtime reading list. And now we have more time to enjoy it.

Lisa Miller is a freelance writer and editor who lives in Oneonta. She can be reached at

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