Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A small rant

Dear employer:

We're facing a pretty significant budget crunch, and you have approached us to do as much economizing as we can.

I personally think that one priority should to be to stop blasting the heat when it's near 80 degrees outside, and blasting the AC on cool days like today so that it's 60 degrees in our offices and many folks are running their little space heaters.

I know that issues with industrial size systems go beyond just tapping the thermostat up or down like we do at home, but I'm still not understanding how it could be so difficult to fix this problem.

Your devoted but frustrated employee

::sigh:: I'm getting to the point where I have very little tolerance for wastefulness of this sort.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Next year in my garden

One of these years I'll figure out how to get things into my garden that are meant to be planted before mid-May. I teach at a community college, and the first week in May is always the last week of classes. Before the last week of May is too often chaos.

This semester especially - OY!! Take a winter-break college-wide conversion from Office 2003 to Office 2007 (which suuuuuuuucks but that's a rant for a different venue) and two classes that had to be pretty much fully redesigned, and the result is a semester where I'm barely staying one little step ahead of my students in terms of what I need to learn about the software and book and what I need to create for my students to do.

Add to that my decision to take three, count them THREE classes for a total of nine credits. Fortunately, this will put me in the highest pay column that I'm going to reach in my job here (Masters degree plus 45 credits), so now I can sit back and relax and only take classes that I WANT to take, like architectural drawing, literature, or towards a degree in energy management. (What, me relax?!?)

I'm hoping that after this semester I'll be better at this whole planning my garden and getting my plans into action early thing. I'll hopefully never have another semester as crazy and stressed as this one has been. I'll have a better idea of how to balance the produce from my own garden with my CSA membership. I'll have learned a bit about what I really can freeze or store or overwinter, and what was a flop. I'll be even further down the path towards living La Vida Locavore (damn, why didn't I think of that as a blog name?!?) with a higher motivation to plant my garden. I'll have more interaction through my online and local friends with folks who seriously garden, and through them gain more awareness of when to start thinking about planting stuff. I'll maybe even have some raised beds built -- you know, the ones I've been planning to build for years.

OK, ok, anyone who knows me knows that I'm a helluva lot better at planning than at carrying out those plans. But I'm getting better, honestly I am.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Peas and Thank You's

My sugar snaps have started coming up. I started them late, and it looks like I should have gone ahead and watered them earlier today despite the prediction of "afternoon showers likely," but they'll probably be ok.

There is one main reason why I planted so many:

This is my beautiful elder granddaughter. What is probably obvious is the middle-schooler attitude in all its glory. What's not obvious is that she has what I call a white foods diet: Things like plain pasta, cup-a-soups, chicken strips, and vanilla ice cream dominate the extremely short list of the foods she's willing to eat. Even the few fresh foods that she loves must be whitened: strawberries must be coated in sugar and strips of raw green pepper (never red, and not cooked) must be doused in salt.

Somehow, though she was already of the mindset that new and different foods were likely to poison her, several years ago I managed to convince her to try a sugar-snap pea directly off the vine (no salt!) and a love affair was born that I intend to nurture as much as I can. I don't think that a single sugar-snap pea grown in my garden has ever made it into the house, especially when she is staying with us.

Earlier today I pointed out the number of sugar snap pea plants that were coming up, and she got a big grin on her face, jumped up and down, and squealed, "ohhhhhh thank you, Abuela!!" It's a really good feeling to know that something from my garden can get a response that I thought at this age was reserved for things like, "here are front row tickets to see the Jonas Brother's Band" or "here's your new high-end cell phone with unlimited text messaging."

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Decisions and changes I don't have to make

I've spent the better part of today putzing online, reading locavore and "green" related blogs instead of working, courtesy of a sharp blasting sinus headache. I should go home, but I didn't.

I realize from my reading that there are a number of different issues that others seriously grapple with that I won't have to face in this journey I'm taking towards being a more conscious consumer. In no particular order, they include:
  • Car vs. public transportation: While I'd like to have this issue to face, where I live public transportation is a total joke. One of these days when I'm feeling ranty (probably in the height of tourist season), I'll probably do an entire post on the astonishing amount of money that's being spent on widening roads and creating traffic bypasses (through family homes, farms, and businesses) in order to accommodate thousands of tourists' cars, and yet there's no viable way for most of those tourists to get here via bus, or get around the area once they're here if they're not staying right in the main beach areas. And the needs of local low-income families who have absolutely no way to get from where they live to where they work without having one car per working person are totally ignored in the state and county budgets. In the interest of full disclosure, I should be seriously ashamed of myself for not walking or riding my bike to work more often since I live so close.
  • Cloth vs. disposable diapers: Having never had the opportunity to have children of my own, and not being the one who gets to choose how to diaper my granddaughter, I don't have to make this decision.
  • Reusable pads and cups vs. disposable pads and tampons: The joys of menopause, what can I say (yeah, TMI to many, but I'm just truly glad that I don't have to battle my environmental conscience every month!).
  • Distant vs. local sources for tofu and tempeh: I'll eat tofu and tempeh, but as a unrepentant omnivore, they're certainly never my first choice for protein.
  • Leaky old-house original windows vs. double-pane higher R-factor windows: That decision was made for me by the previous owner. I would have never for a moment considered ripping out our old house's original windows, but I would have not at all enjoyed the work that I'd likely be facing to make them more energy efficient.

On how companies count on our being stupid consumers

This move I'm trying to make towards eating locally and being more environmentally conscious is all part of something I've worked towards for many years, which is to be a very conscious consumer. I frequently describe myself as someone who has to do extensive research on anything that costs more than $25, and I pride myself on not being someone who is at all swayed by the latest fads and consumer foolishness. For the most part, I buy what we need, and a lot of what we just simply want is made to wait, and whatever we do buy has to be a good value at a fair price.

One of the areas of consumerism that always makes me the most batty is clothing and "fashion," especially when it comes to trying to sell clothes to real women that are modeled only on women who are unusually tall and slender. Do NOT get me started on how some companies that market primarily to women size 18 and up use models that are size 10 at best, and defend it as "women don't like how the clothes look if we use plus-size models."

All too often I feel smacked in the face by things like this which presume that we're stupid consumers. Some smacks make me angry or frustrated, but today's smack actually just made me laugh at a mistake that exposes the tricks that clothing companies use. I don't know much about Lands' End overall -- I don't know if their clothes are made in China, or where they source their materials or anything else, but I do know that consistently over the years, the things I've gotten from them have been attractive, simple/classy, good quality, long lasting, and a decent price. Top that with consistently good customer service and you have a company that has gotten a lot of repeat business from me. A good ten years ago I ordered a couple of sleeveless cotton beach cover-up dresses that have been wonderful summer shifts. They're still in great condition despite being worn very frequently, no fading, no wear, no problems with the seams. Their new style appealed to me and I was looking at it online and considering ordering one so that folks wouldn't just see me in those same two shifts all the time.

Then I noticed this. See, here's a front view of the dress I like:

Here's the back view:

Now here's the back view on the model:

Do you see what they did? Instead of allowing us to see what the dress actually looks like, they sewed darts into the model's dress to make it seem as if it has a more shapely fit than it actually has.

In the whole scheme of marketing sleight-of-hand, this is certainly a very minor thing. Dramatically worse things are being done to attract kids to cigarettes, convince women that they can't possibly allow themselves to be happy unless they're unnaturally skinny, and fool consumers into thinking that heavily processed foods are "healthy" and "nutritious." But even though it was done by a company that I support and like and will continue to buy from, it still amuses me to catch someone in the act of trying to pull one over on us, in even this very small way, like catching a kid with his hand in the cookie jar.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Building a greenhouse out of salvaged windows

I'm going to be getting a bunch of windows that I hope to use to build a small greenhouse in my back yard. There is a perfect spot on the back of our garage, facing SE, where I could add a shed roofed-style greenhouse, like this:

I found a good article on building your own greenhouse on the Mother Earth News website, but I'm still going to need some serious construction advice. If there wasn't so much going on, I'd try to convince my parents to come visit and help me build it, but that's definitely not going to happen this summer. Hell, realistically this isn't going to happen this summer, considering that I'm also determined to get the garage painted (already started scraping) and the bathroom remodeled. But I can at least start the plans, and maybe it's something I can build in a weekend or two this fall.

Edited to add links (will keep adding, for later reference):
Gardenweb thread on building a greenhouse out of salvaged windows, with pics.
Another MEN article on planning/building greenhouses
A gallery of home-built greenhouses, on a website for greenhouse gardening

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Old houses as "green" investments

I've been posting back and forth with Chile about life in old houses, and it got me to thinking about how old houses could be considered a "green" investment.

First, most were designed to deal with having limited heat and virtually no cooling. So many things were done with passive heating and cooling in mind, from the layout of the rooms, the ceiling heights (high to draw off heat in hot climates, low to conserve it in cooler ones), sleeping porches, double-hung windows that could be raised from the bottom or lowered from the top, even things like using heavy drapes to insulate (something a mini-blind never could consider doing). We have a big maple tree planted at the south corner of the house that shades the house when it's the hottest but lets the sun shine through in the winter. And for most people, if you were too cold in the winter you bundled up, and if you were too hot in the summer you went outside - no cranking the thermostat up or down.

Now, granted, many folks with old houses are now dealing with drafty old windows, no insulation in the walls, inefficient old boilers, etc., but the investment and challenge are worth it -- far more than the "challenge" of heating and cooling a McMansion and it's vaulted-ceilinged "great room", huge windows that create their own localized intense greenhouse effect in the summer, room layouts that are done without any thought to things like the location of the sun and the ability to open certain windows for a nice cross-breeze, and all of the other wasted spaces that permeate so many of those homes. Rooms are far bigger than folks really need -- some walk-in closets and bathrooms in a McMansion are bigger than some of the bedrooms in an old house. But even the storage spaces in old houses reflect the changing values and perspectives -- most had very little space for clothes and shoes since folks generally had dramatically less of those things than they do now, and yet most had ample spaces for all of the things that it took to cook and serve large family meals on a regular basis.

Old houses are probably the biggest thing out there that you can reuse, restore, recycle. Old houses were generally made with materials that, properly cared for, will likely last for another century or more, as opposed to the new houses that use materials that are far less likely to stand up to many decades of wear. Now, granted, many of those old materials represent the result of wide-scale deforestation, but it benefits no one to tear that down and put a new house up in its place, or leave the old house to rot and buy a new one that was build out in the fields of the latest small family farm that went bankrupt.

Somewhere in the yard of many old houses is a spot where the soil was tended for decades, growing gardens to supply much of the family's food. Somewhere in the yard of many old houses is a spot where a small chicken coop, there to provide eggs and sometimes meat, used to stand. A house in the neighborhood where I used to live in Philadelphia even had an original small goat shed. Somewhere in the yard of many old houses is a place where the laundry was hung to dry. In most old houses, those spots are unidentifiable, but many folks are going back to the old ways of growing/raising a lot of their own foods and letting the sun do the work of a dryer.

But for me, the most important thing is that every old house has a hundred hidden stories. Most of those stories are now permanently hidden, but even if the details are lost to us, the history and energy that they leave behind helps make our old houses that much more special.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Converting the skeptical

Up until very recently, partner's buy-in to this whole local eating thing has been more along the lines of, "Well, if you fix something I don't like, please don't get pissy if I have a PBJ instead." But full buy-in now seems to be an attainable goal.

There's been a noticeable increase in appreciation for Home Cooked Meals being shown my way, as the number of meals that aren't based in part on convenience foods (or convenience cooking techniques) has substantially increased, so it's good to see a positive correlation factor going on there.

I'm learning that my Partner -- the person who lived on spam, packaged sweetrolls, coffee and cigarettes until we met almost 7 years ago -- actually likes things such as fresh veggies, stir fries, and brown rice (not that brown rice is local, but you get my general drift), and that certain veggies that get a "eww but I don't LIKE those" response (turnips) can be served anyway with positive results.

And we watched something on TV today that backed up what I'd been saying about the price to the environment on long-distance foods, and of course if it's on TV then it is more "true" than if I simply prattle on about it. ::rolling eyes::

Friday, April 11, 2008

A Chemical Conundrum

I'm feeling quite accomplished overall, having just seriously organized my garden shed, inspired by Chile Chew's Cut the Crap Challenge (and I just looked and today's specific challenge is to tackle the garage or shed!! Go me, ahead of the game, WOOT! Oh, wait... there's my disaster of a garage still yet to tackle... ACK!).

I managed to get rid of about two big bags of thing that were trash - didn't have anything recyclable or freecyclable in there. I considered holding onto a few things (a bunch of broken pottery/clay pots, for example -- "I'll use them in the bottom of planters!") but realistically I wasn't likely to use it and they weren't things I could imagine being able to freecycle, so they're out.

But I still need to decide what I'm going to do with the chemical pesticides and fertilizers that I had from years ago for the yard and garden. I'm not going to use them, but I'm just not sure it's something I want to freecycle, since giving them away for someone else to use feels enabling to me. But at the same time, at least if I give them to someone else, it's someone who I presume would have bought them anyway, so giving them away would perhaps cause just one less bottle/bag of chemicals to be purchased.

I'm also not sure if they are even any good any more, and equally unsure about how to dispose of hazardous materials here.

I've given myself a one week deadline to decide (and research, if necessary) how I want to handle this.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

The financial side of this de-cluttering thing

It's interesting to me to read some of the comments and suggestions that folks make about living green, reducing clutter, stuff like that. I read so much that presumes (I suppose correctly for most people) that the default state of behaving is to have this focus on Buying Things.

Now before I even talk about how we don't Buy Things, let me be upfront about what we do buy: We buy stuff for fixing up the house, even stuff that we end up not using to fix up the house for months or more. We buy tools (well, ok, I buy tools, tool slut that I am) for which we don't have a significant or immediate need. And I have been known to treat myself to an occasional kitchen doo-dad (ranging from spoons to a kitchenaid stand mixer) or cookbook (always used). And we have a small Woot addiction but that's under control. No, really. Ok, so we are expecting the screaming Woot monkeys to arrive any day, but we can stop any time. Seriously.

But beyond that? We just don't spend money on things if we can use what we have or get it free. It's easier for me to describe what we DON'T buy:
  • Clothes beyond absolute necessities. I finally forced Partner into buying a couple of pair of jeans recently, plus got us each about a dozen deeply discounted and much needed underpants at the Jockey outlet. We each generally buy two pairs of work shoes each year, but our on-our-feet jobs and my bad feet make those necessities. The concept of recreational clothes shopping is completely foreign to both of us, though if word got out about me I could seriously lose my Femme license. It's the law.
  • New fancy electronics. To give you some perspective, all of our TVs require adapters to hook up a DVD. I did buy a low-end stereo/surround sound/whatever they call them now thingy last year when our amplifier, CD player and DVD player all crapped out on us at around the same time.
  • Movies, music, not even books other than the occasional cookbook I mentioned already.
  • Furniture - pretty much everything we have is old, second-hand, or from freecycle.
  • Anything for the kids that's not absolutely necessary - again, with BabyGrand especially, freecycle has been our friend.
We're just both so much in the habit these days of not spending money for Things unless we really need to, that it's almost foreign to me to read these lists of what not to buy in order to economize and keep Unnecessary Things to a minimum.

But with that being the case, how the hell do we HAVE so many things?!?
  1. Freecycle. Hey, gotta grab that toddler play kitchen and the big box of size 4T clothes while we can, even though she was only 20 months/16 months at the time we got those things. .
  2. Stuff we've had forever. And can't (yet) give away.
  3. Stuff with too much sentimental value or guilt associated with them. The four boxes in the attic of my mother's really boring china, for example.
  4. Stuff we're sure we'll be able to use again, like those three boxes of computer crap that I need to sort through in the attic.
  5. Stuff we're sure we'll be able to sell. If we just get around to taking pictures, and getting it listed. Which we're going to do, next week, honest.
  6. Antique tzochkes. I can't resist, especially kitchen junk antiques that folks give me.
  7. Stuff we have lots of because of we can't find something so we have to buy another one.
Believe it or not this does directly tie into being a Slowcavore (not that anyone is going to bother reading this far to know this!). See, I'm one of these people who was kept away from local and natural/organic foods because of my perception that they were much more expensive. It's only been through the things that I've done to educate myself that I finally understand the real costs of eating Hell-Mart's cheapest as the mainstay of our food. I looked at our discretionary income and looked at how little we were spending for food, and knew that we had to make this a priority. We're baby boomers who aren't getting any younger, and our health problems are creeping up on us. Partner just recently quit smoking after 40 years; I'm significantly overweight and have genetically-based very high cholesterol (high even at age 19 as a very physically active and thin college student who ate mostly co-op foods). We need to start taking what we use to fuel out bodies and minds a lot more seriously than we have in the past. We need to set an example for our grandchildren, or at least for BabyGrand who hasn't yet been indoctrinated into her sister and mother's worship at the Holy Drive Through Window. We need to take our food's production process seriously in hopes that there will be food and a livable environment around for our granddaughters and their own kids and grands.

We're still moving slow, but as I learn more, as the CSA season kicks into high gear, as I force myself to diversify in my garden and reconnect with peeling root veggies and dissecting my own chickens instead of reaching for bags of frozen kernels and frozen "tenders" for convenience, I believe that things will accelerate.

Paper decluttering

As I'm trying to catch up with the past assignments from the cut-the-crap decluttering challenge, I see that there are at least some thing's we've already done to help with the paper decluttering challenge.

A little background first: Partner and I both have a tendency to be packrats, but we've gotten dramatically better over the past few years. Now, "better" doesn't mean "we've got this thing down" but it does mean that we're a little less prone to hold onto things -- hey, if I can get rid of BOOKS, then I can get rid of ANYthing.

I have ADD which definitely contributes to my tendency to be overwhelmed with clutter, but I've learned to compensate and my practical tendencies do help in that area: I have developed a firm belief in the significant benefits of "a place for everything," I just don't have the "and everything in its place" part down yet. And Partner... gah. Partner is what I refer to as an "out of sight, out of mind Virgo," which means that anything left out is fair game to be stashed in the nearest closet, drawer or cabinet, no matter how obvious its actual home might be.

But we're getting a lot better. Up until recently, a regular source of conflict between us was mail and other papers on the dining room table. I won't go into the relationship negotiations (and occasional strong-arm tactics) that led to our solution, but we did finally work out a system that works well for us.

The two key parts of this system are that there is a place for everything, AND it's very easy to put everything in its place. Here's our system:
  • Partner brings in the mail, tosses out the junk, opens envelopes, tosses newly identified junk mail and junk inserts to non-junk mail.
  • Partner then sorts mail into three baskets: Reading material (the bi-weekly newspaper I get plus the few paper magazines that still arrive), bills and financial-related materials (including paystubs, and retirement and medical insurance statements), and Other, which includes stuff we need to fill out, reminders of things we really do wish to be reminded of, etc.
  • As I'm finally ready to read stuff, I take it out of the reading material basket, and it ultimately ends up in the newly created Place to Stack Old Newspapers and Magazines for Recycling. Well, some of it makes a long detour through the bathroom but that's another story.
  • After I pay bills and look through financial stuff, it gets placed in one of two baskets (Paid bills/Statements or Tax Stuff).
  • We also now have baskets for Product Literature, where we put the instruction booklets and warranty information for stuff we keep (with receipt attached to the warranty papers), and a basket for Other Receipts.
  • All of these baskets get sorted through and shredded or filed, as appropriate, every year at tax time.
We had tried so many other types of systems for our everyday paperwork, including file drawers, file boxes, large envelopes, etc., but we finally realized that what works best for us is something big enough for us to just literally drop in whatever goes there. Yes it takes just a wee bit more time to find things when we need them, but it's a heck of a lot easier than when we just left things out and about because we didn't have a place to file them, or simply didn't want to go through the hassle of filing something.

One last thing I did that is working towards keeping things green and decluttered: I put a big canvas bag next to my desk for me to dump all papers that don't need to be shredded. As both a student and a teacher, I go through far more paper than I'd like, though I now print everything possible on the back of misprinted paper from our school's copy center. I ended up just tossing far more than I wanted, just because it was easier than bringing it into the other room to the recycle pile. I know it seems more than obvious, but it took me a very long time to realize that I can actually accomplish what I want if I just put my resources in the right places.

Decluttering the fridge

This evening I did my first minor task in the "cut the crap" challenge: I at least partially de-cluttered the fridge by poking through to find what was most at risk of being tossed onto the compost pile uneaten, and came up with the following:
  • baby pak choy from the CSA from 2-3 weeks ago
  • leftover (pastured regional) chicken from this past weekend
  • two rather wilted scallions
  • several small inside pieces from a clove of garlic
  • a clump of ginger that was a little fuzzy but nothing that a thick peeling wouldn't fix
  • 3/4 of an onion, a little worse for wear from a week or two's storage in the produce bin
  • an unopened bottle of Annie's Organic teriyaki sauce, expiration date one month from today
Result? Stir fry of course!! The only not-at-risk foods I added were a couple of carrots and the rice.

Note to self: Check out info you have on rice sources from NC/GA.

Edited to add: This was done in response to the cut-the-crap challenge from this past Sunday to clean out the fridge clutter. While there are some already-too-far-gone things still in there that still have to be disposed of, in just one meal I managed to use up everything I could find that didn't have at least a week left before it had to be eaten.

Cut the Crap - Declutter!

I've decided to participate in a blog challenge to declutter (note the Big Blue Button on my right sidebar!), and I'm going to blog about it from two perspectives: On my house blog, where I outlined some of the specifics of what I plan to do and will chronicle the specifics of what I accomplish, and here where I'll muse about the "green" aspects of what I'm accomplishing by doing this.

There is no doubt that Partner and I have far more Things than we possibly need. We're two people living in a 2400sq ft house if you count the 3rd floor and attic space (though two of the three main bedrooms are permanently allocated to our Granddaughters), PLUS we have a bunch of attic space, a big garage, and a decent-sized garden shed, all of which we can barely move through because of all the crap that's in there.

So how will getting rid of a bunch of Things and organizing what we're keeping help from a green/locavore perspective?
  • Help me to walk the walk. If I'm talking about living more simply, then I need to let go of Things for which I will not likely have any practical use, especially if those Things can be used by others.
  • Help me to find what I have. I can't tell you how many times projects have been stopped or stalled because we can't find something we know is around here somewhere. And how many times we've bought things that we know we have but we can't find it so we have to buy another one.
  • Help me to do more. If my garden tools are easily accessible, then I'm more likely to grab a hoe or spade or whatever I need and spend the fifteen minutes that my little plot requires every day or two once things get going. As it is now, I put it off until weeding becomes an all-day project, and my opportunity for transplanting or pruning is lost.
As I said on my houseblog, where I outlined the specific tasks I intend to take on, I'm going to try to start this weekend on my garden shed. It will be interesting to see what I manage to find in there.

Edited to add: Inspired by Tiny Old House's compost bin made out of pallets, I realize that I need to add "build compost bin" to my list. I don't have pallets but I have enough old wood and wire fencing around to finally get me a compost bin started.

Monday, April 7, 2008

A brain bursting with "ah ha!" moments

"Ah ha" moments were first explained to me as a fresh-faced college student budding-feminist in the early '70's: Those moments where you look at something you've seen a thousand times and suddenly you see it in a different way.

Right now my life is a little too crowded with ah-ha moments as I look at the ingredients I use and immediately begin analyzing every one of them about how I might source them locally or replacing them with stuff sourced locally or stock up and save through the off-season, but does that freeze? or dry?

Of course just one of these insights can add a dozen things to my to-do list. Just the simple act of making some chicken quesadillas for dinner was cause for some crazy running commentary:
Mmmmm this natural pastured chicken that we roasted last night (with a beer can and a lemon stuffed up its butt) was delicious. Too bad I had to use that cheapass beer that someone left here; I'm sure Dogfish doesn't source they're ingredients but they at least produce it locally. I need to pick up another case soon. Someone just told me that you can plant miniature lemon trees here that actually grow fruit, as long as you take the plants inside in the winter; I wonder if Kyle would let me stash them in the back of one of the school's greenhouses? It would be so great to have real local lemons. I hope I can find a local source soon for flour; I know it's not that hard to make tortillas and I'm sure fresh would taste so much better. I'm glad I got my cilantro planted, but I'm wondering if it will grow inside in the winter, as much as we love it. Maybe we need to start planning and saving for a sunroom/indoor greenhouse. This cheese is tasteless. I can't wait until I can finally connect with folks making local cheeses, and even learn to make some of my own. Of course that means connecting with folks who sell raw cow and goat milk as "pet food" ::nudge nudge wink wink knowwhaddah mean knowwhaddah mean::. I need a figure the best way to store onions over winter: root cellar? freezing? Oh and when do I plant scallions?? I want a pot of those this year.
Now you know why I blog. It's because my brain never freakin' stops.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

On being a Practical Greengeek

It should be obvious that while I don't shun labels, I do often make them up to best describe myself in ways that I like best, to hell what anyone else might say: Low Femme. Curvy girl. Slowcavore. And a new one that I decided on last night while reading about the Energy Management program that my school plans to launch, which will focus on alternative energy sources such as solar and wind, Practical Greengeek.

So what does that mean. Well, the Green part is obviously about doing what I can to conserve energy. The Geek part is what inspired me to major in engineering, what makes math fun for me, and what gets me excited about technology. Thus, the Greengeek part is reflective of my excitement about different high and low-tech ways of conserving energy and lowering my personal and this country's and our world's dependence on fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources. As I wrote in another forum, if I were to have some renewable power source on my home, such as solar or wind, and if it were enough so that I could sometimes actually sell the excess energy back to the power company, I'd be ready to run off and have hot monkey sex the first time I saw that meter running backwards.

Then comes the Practical part. A friend of mine who is way into astrology tells me that it's the Taurus in me: Things have to make sense, in the big picture, not just in the moment. It's the Practical part that is one of my strongest incentives for eating locally: It just makes sense. It's the Practical part that got me into an almost-heated exchange with someone online about using handkerchiefs instead of paper tissues, after I said that the "green" benefits of handkerchiefs were far outweighed by the more pressing issue of spreading nasty bugs if the reason you were using a handkerchief was because you had some contagious disease that was making you snot and sneeze. It's the practical part that has me gradually replacing my incandescent bulbs with CF, while researching disposal options because of the mercury in them and not losing my awareness of how much damage that little tiny bit of mercury could actually cause. It's the practical part that keeps me from feeling gung-ho about vehicles that run on corn-based ethanol, since as things stand right now there is practically as much petroleum that goes into growing and processing the corn used to make that ethanol as that car would use, and dramatically expanding corn production to support widespread use of ethanol would have other significant consequences to our environment (taking out woods, for example) and to our industrial farming system (as if it could get much worse, but I believe that it could).

So I'm "green" but I'm not going to rush out and do a bunch of things that on the surface make me seem all greener-than-thou if I don't see the big-picture payback -- Or, if it's simply not a realistically practical thing for me to do. For example, there's no question that cloth diapering is far more ecologically responsible than using disposables, but anyone who thinks that I'm going to try to cloth diaper my baby granddaughter when she's over here is nuts; it's just not practical to do that when we don't have her full time. And yeah, a Prius would be more ecologically practical, but that's no reason to trade in a paid-off van that still has many years of useful life.

Where did this all come from? Well, obviously the whole topic is fairly consistently on my mind these days, but I also did some research last night into the Energy Management program that the school where I teach plans to begin offering, and I'm finding myself way excited about it. I'm seriously considering signing up to pursue that degree once it's offered. In addition to all kinds of other things related to energy conservation methods, energy audits, etc., they'll learn all aspects of designing and installing solar and wind-turbine based small energy plants for on homes and businesses. I want, I want, I WANT to learn about that. I will even get over my fear of being on a roof in order to do that. And I would seriously love to do something like that on my own home -- we have two unshaded south-west facing roofs (one on the back of the house, one on the garage) which would be good locations for solar panels without compromising the look of our beautiful old home.

And who knows, maybe it could lead to a second career for me: Spend a few years designing and installing these systems on homes in the area on a limited/part-time basis while keeping my current job, transfer to that department to teach as soon as the program grows to the point that they need a second instructor, and then retire with my state pension and keeping doing this as work that I love.

(Of course, I'm not forgetting the fact that I was totally certain that I'd love doing programming which ended up boring me to tears, and certain that I'd love having my own business which ended up sucking the soul out of me and leaving me with little balance in my life. But I won't know until I try it!)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Digging in the dirt

I never get things planted when I should, but at least this year I didn't totally miss my window of opportunity to get some sugar snap peas into the ground. I'm typing this with serious dirt under my nails (Gloves?!? I don't need no stinkin' gloves!) from turning my main garden area over, which resulted in my finding another four plants/bulbs/corms that I needed to transplant.

I found some 4' high wire fencing in my garden shed (no clue where it came from) so I built two circles to match the one I already have, and planted the peas around those. Once they start coming up I may have to put a stick in the middle and run some string down to give them even more room to climb but this will let them get started.

I even managed to get some cilantro planted in a planter. I checked my collection of herb planters, and my mint is starting to come up, and both my thyme and rosemary made it through the winter. Oh and my chives are doing wonderfully - is it even possible to kill mint or chives?

Since I was planning the spinach to to put in the freezer anyway, I'm going to put that in as a fall crop, along with broccoli and brussels sprouts. I'm also going to put in a little bit of regular kale and a whole bunch of some red russian kale to just leave in the ground and harvest through the winter.

Add all that to a lovely conversation with Farmer Tim this morning, and some more delicious foods from his garden, and I'm just a happy little locavore today.

Of course in the interest of full disclosure I have to admit that I had pizza for lunch, but does it count that it's a locally owned and operated pizza shop?!?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Kind of makes you think

Like many slightly whacked folks, I sometimes mentally entertain myself by having conversations or interviews with myself. Unlike most slightly whacked folks, I actually admit to it.

This morning it was about food, and I was asking some pretty tough questions, leading up to The Big One: So, with all this emphasis on healthy eating, and especially knowing how healthy and slender you were in your teens and 20's, how did you get so fat?

Of course my initial answer was the easy and fairly obvious one: Too much of the wrong types of food, and too little exercise.

Prodded (by myself) to expand on that answer, I explained further: Back in college, I ate very healthy foods, mostly from the local food co-op which I joined soon after moving out of the dorms (though I will admit that it was at first mostly motivated by the fact that I could work there 6 hours a week as a cashier and then get 40% off, plus lots of free stuff that were past when they could be sold for one reason or another). And I got a lot of exercise, though mostly by necessity, going to University of Cincinnati on its many hills, living off campus, walking everywhere.

After graduation, I continued shopping mostly at the co-op, and I began my exercise craze: I ran 3-4 times a week (well, plodded is more like it, but it still counts), and became workout partner to a friend who was an amateur body builder, so lots of serious weight lifting. Baby, I was strong, I was fit, and I was HOT.

Then came graduate school, no co-op I could get to or afford, poverty, depression, two different chronic physical conditions that made most exercise painful, and four jobs. My life and my health went quickly downhill.

Up until that point in this conversation with myself, my answers were rote, things I'd said and thought about many times. But it just happened that at that moment I was putting away the makings of my breakfast -- the fresh eggs from pastured hens, the scallions and cilantro I'd chopped to add to it -- and I suddenly realized what else happened at that time: That transition into graduate school and less exercise was also my big transition away from Real Food. My kitchen stopped being filled with lots of fresh veggies, whole grains, natural-raised meats, and raw-milk cheeses, and started being filled with ramen noodles and hot dogs; the closest I was getting to "healthy eating" in those days was white rice with black beans and jarred salsa, but that a result of poverty, not from any attempt at healthy eating. In those days, I lived for those times when I had a couple of bucks I could waste on a greasy cheesesteak from the local pizza place ran by an Asian family, with Mom at the counter asking "sah-peppah?" with a cheery grin as she slathered my sandwich with salt and pepper without waiting for my answer.

It's of course very true that high quantities of food and minimal amounts of exercise were key factors in my weight gain. But I'm wondering: How much can be attributed to moving away from Real Foods and into too many processed foods, all of my foods from industrialized sources, and too few fresh vegetables and naturally-raised animal-based products?

I wonder how my physical and mental health will be once fresh, whole foods from all natural, local sources are once again the majority of my diet. I wonder how life will feel when I'm cooking most meals at home using these types of ingredients instead of going out to eat just as often as I cook. I wonder what my energy level will be, whether my menopausal mood swings will be any less intense, if I'll find it any easier to focus, if I'll find myself naturally wanting to move my body more, to bike, walk, stretch, dance.

I wonder. I'll check back in a year or so on this one.