Sunday, June 30, 2013

A Day to Relax

I'm running behind schedule today.  

It happens.  Normally, it happens because I need to relax for some reason or another, and today is no exception.  I've been extraordinarily busy.  Like, oh-my-gosh-I-need-a-nap busy.

It's actually a pretty good feeling.  Crazy, I know.  Who wants to be exhausted, right?

Me, evidently.  

It feels good.  I enjoy working hard enough to feel it in my muscles for more than a few minutes.  It's a sort of stress relief. Every time I ache like that, it feels as though I've just accomplished a major victory.

I have no idea what kind of victory, of course, but a victory nonetheless.

It also means, however, that I need to take a moment to rest - something I'm not particularly good at.  So I'll be resting today... but I refuse to leave you with nothing just so that I can take a break. 

If I'm going to take a break, I need to give you something relaxing, as well, right?

And so I'd like to leave you with a view of Cannon Lake.  There's fishing on one side of the beach that I visited, and swimming on the other.  There are some large rocks and a tuft of trees that separate the two areas.


This is the beach where swimming is allowed.  Water is a natural calming device.  You can dip into it, gaze at it, taste it, and even smell it.  Simply gazing at water is enough to relax me. 

How about you?

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Problem With Wild Strawberries

My daughter and I decided to head up to my grandmother's house on the North Shore of Lake Superior for a while, and I wasn't able to bring her strawberry garden with me.  It's doing quite well right now, having survived the winter (Hooray for container overwintering success!), and we were both pretty excited about it.

Unfortunately, small hatchback cars don't exactly have a great deal of space for packing large planters, on top of everything else, so I had to leave them behind.

I was sad for a little while, but only for a little while.

You see, I had completely forgotten about one really awesome, completely cool aspect to being at my grandmother's house.

She lives "off in the woods".  We're talking about a totally rural environment where you wake up, look out the window, and get to view a herd of deer a few meters away that are happily munching on various plants.  You may spot a wolf.  A bear could even amble past the house.

Totally rural.

Totally awesome.

So what did I forget, you ask?

I forgot that tons upon tons of wild strawberries grow in her yard every year.


See?  I told you it was awesome.

The thing with wild strawberries, though, is that I think they were placed on this earth to tease those of us that love strawberries.  I say this because you never get a huge batch of them.  The majority of the fruit is eaten by birds or bugs... or it's stepped on.  It grows very low to the ground, you see.

They're also very tiny.  

As in, one third the size of the smallest strawberries you buy at the store... if you're lucky.  Itty bitty.  But wild strawberries are also the sweetest strawberries you'll ever get your hands on. 

You can't eat just one.  Once one pops into your mouth, you suddenly find yourself crawling on the ground, scouring the earth with your eyes.

You tell yourself that you'll only do a quick scan of the area.  If you don't find any berries, you'll get up and do something else.

But that doesn't happen.

Instead, you get closer to the ground.  Your nose nearly touches the dirt.  Ants run for their lives as you begin breathing on the trails they've left behind for their colony-mates.

Colonies.

Of ants.

They're going to get your strawberries, those horrible creatures!  They must be eradicated!!!

You panic as you realize that bug spray is not an option.  Spraying those thieves would mean getting chemicals

All.

Over.

The strawberries.

That just can't happen.  So you squish every ant that comes anywhere near your precious strawberry patch.

There are a lot of ants.

It then occurs to you that you've spent so much time protecting your tiny patch of strawberry plants that have no berries on them, that the afternoon has gone by, and it's time to go inside.

And all you had was one strawberry.

::commence wailing in agony::

You see what I mean?  Wild strawberries were created merely to tease those of us that love strawberries.

Or, at least, those of us that are overly fond of them.

I think I'll be spending a lot of time scanning the yard for strawberries...

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Don't Drink the Water! Well, Not Much of It, Anyway...

You may remember me going a bit gaga over some old water in Canada.



Specifically, I'm talking about two billion year old water trapped within some rock in Timmins, Ontario.

Well, most people would just let that go.  I mean, that was last month's news.

But I'm not most people.

Nope.  I'm the type of person that can't let something interesting go.  Not at all.  That includes water older than the dinosaurs.  Thankfully, I was rewarded.  I went to check up on it, and I found an interview with a University of Toronto Earth Sciences professor via the LA Times.

Deborah Netburn, you rock!

Netburn, obviously, was the person that conducted the interview with the aforementioned professor named Barbara Sherwood Lollar.

I was in geogeek heaven.

Netburn was very thorough, asking about the water's age, point of discovery, and potential for holding ancient life, as well as asking about how this may guide research dealing with the possibility of water trapped within rock beneath the surface of Mars.

Sweet!!!

One point that was particularly fascinating to me, but probably only because I have a tendency to lick rocks when identifying them (Hey!  That's the easiest way to differentiate siltstone and mudstone, darn it!), was the look, texture, and taste of the water.

Yep.  Lollar totally tasted the water.

I think I'm in love...

I'd explain it to you myself, but I think this can be handled best in the words of Netburn and Lollar themselves:
What is very, very old water like?
What jumps out at you first is the saltiness. Because of the reactions between the water and the rock, it is extremely salty. It is more viscous than tap water. It has the consistency of a very light maple syrup. It doesn't have color when it comes out, but as soon as it comes into contact with oxygen it turns an orangy color because the minerals in it begin to form — especially the iron. (source)
See?

How cool is that??? 

Alright... it's not something you want to drink.  At all.  Lollar goes on to explain that it's even more salty than sea water, and all I can say to that is a very simple

Eew.

I may pass on licking the rocks that held that water.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

So There Were These Chickens...

It all started when I drove by a couple of chickens.  

Downtown.

In a public park.

For the past few days I've been looking into what sort of fascinating places are located within the North Shore area of Minnesota, specifically the area in which my mother lives.

I think I've gone to heaven.

No, really.  It's an amazing area!  The city of Duluth, for example, actually has a Sustainability Team.  That's some pretty exciting stuff.  Taken straight from the city's website,
"Sustainability is a governing principle in implementation of the City of Duluth Comprehensive Plan. In 2011, the Duluth City Council endorsed the first City Operations Energy Action Plan for years 2011 -- 2015. The plan sets targets to reduce energy use in buildings, operations, and transportation." (source)
But Duluth doesn't stop at that.  This community doesn't just work on energy use and pat itself on the back.  No, Duluth goes even further than that. How far?

Well, let's get back to those chickens I mentioned.

Yep.  I really did drive by a couple of chickens.

Duluth actually has a Community Garden Program.  It's active, it's well structured, and it's truly catered to the public.

Everyone.

The rich, the poor, and everyone in between has access.  It offers quite a bit, too.

For one thing, the Duluth Community Garden Program offers classes.  Those classes have a recommended donation that they'd appreciate the student pay, but even the recommended donation is a low surprisingly low $10. 

Need to know how to raise chickens?  Want to know how to finally get those vegetables to grow in your window sill?  There just may be a class that'll help.  I was rather impressed.

But that's not it.

They currently have several active community programs.
  • Plant-A-Lot Community Gardens - 14 different garden locations that have 20 X 20 plots available.  Modest fees apply. (The one I drove past was Hillside.)
  • Taste of Summer Food Preservation - The community Garden Program has a cannery where you can take food preservation classes and check out or rent preservation supplies.  Wowsers!
  • Kids Garden Program - That's right!  Gardening activities for the kiddos.  Yay!
  • One Vegetable One Community - This program seeks to rally the community around one specific vegetable per year.  This year is squash.  Last ear was beets.  Pretty crazy, right?  Pretty awesome, too, I think!
  • Produce for the People - This is my favorite one.  Gardeners tend to end up with too much of one crop or another.  Sometimes it's tomatoes, other times it's zucchini, other times it's something entirely different.  This program provides those of us with extra to donate that surplus.  Gardening is great, but sharing the results of that gardening is priceless!
And, of course... the community gardens have chickens.  Or, at least... one of them does.  Have I mentioned I'm in love with the whole chickens-in-the-middle-of-downtown thing?  Yeah.  I'm totally sold.

Seriously, though, who wouldn't be? 

This is a spectacular community program that gives so much to so many.  Not every community has such a large program like this available.  None of the places I've lived in have had this.

The North Shore area is truly unique.  The Duluth Community Garden Program is just one of the many amazing eco-friendly opportunities out there.  I intend to find more.

And I'll be sure to tell you all about it!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

A Partially True Meme and Its Food Forest Awesomeness

Sometimes those facebook memes actually do something good for you.

Yeah, I know... I sound like a crazy lady.

But every once in a long while, that statement is actually true.  See, a friend had posted a meme on her wall which featured the branch of an apple tree.  The text atop that branch talked about Seattle, WA and its attempt to create a "food forest" in one of its parks.  This park, the meme said, would be the first of its kind in the nation.

As with most memes, it was partially true.

Seattle is indeed creating a fruit forest for its residents.  Total Awesomeness!

It's called the Beacon Food Forest, named after Beacon Avenue, its future location.

Beacon Forest schematic via http://beaconfoodforest.weebly.com/uploads/4/0/4/6/404639/673893_orig.jpg

Not only will the Beacon Food Forest have a fully functional fruit forest available to the public for free, but it is being designed using permacultural practices.  This means that the trees, shrubs, and ground plants in the environment will be totally self-sustainable.  Perennials will be planted, ensuring that everything actually comes back year after year.

Score!

It won't be totally permacultural in design, however.  They want to make everyone as happy as possible, and sometimes that means making your food forest a bit more... farmish?  That is, they'll have some spots that are more traditional in nature.

According to a 2012 article by Robert Mellinger, writer for crosscut.com,
“As much as we are promoting permaculture," Herlihy noted, "we have to allow other gardeners to freely express their ideas in their ways.”
To make everyone happy, the space will include more familiar urban farming features alongside the food forest: community garden plots, collectively managed plots, orchards, and edible arboretums, as well as a new concept Friends of the Food Forest are calling a “Tree-Patch”—much like a standard garden plot, but with a tree.  (source)
When finally complete, Beacon Food Forest is going to be the epitome of awesomeness!

But...

You recall that I said the meme was partially correct, right?

Well, the incorrect part of the meme centers on one important point: the part about it being the first of its kind.

Yeah... it's totally not.  

Asheville, NC, for example, has an edible park... and has had it for around 15 years!  It still provides the community with edible surroundings, free for the community.  If Asheville has had one for that long, you can be sure that there are even more elsewhere.

That doesn't take away from the awesomeness of the Seattle-based project, however.  I mean, it's huge!!!  Seven acres is nothing to scoff at!

If I'm ever in Seattle, I know one of the Places To See that will be on my list. By that time it may even be complete!


Friday, June 21, 2013

Is Cheap Solar Energy Currently Possible?

We all love the idea of solar power.  

But is it possible to get cheap solar energy?  According to the city of Palo Alto, California, the answer appears to be...

YES.

No, really.  While reading an article on greentechmedia.com written by Eric Wesoff, I discovered that they have things worked out so that they'll be able to supply about 80 Megawatts at just 6.9 cents per kilowatt hour over a thirty year term.

That's good.  Like, holy crap good.

Well, ok.  They won't be supplying all of their residents' energy via solar power.  It'll only be around 48% when everything comes online in 4 years.

Tee hee!  I just said only.  That's actually pretty amazing for, well, anywhere in this country.

What's even more cool than that?  The fact that the state requires that cities have at least 33% of their energy coming from renewable sources by 2020.  Palo Alto will be way ahead of schedule, and way above the guidelines.

Sweet!

Go, Palo Alto!!! 

::insert stadium level cheering here::

The municipal utility has signed contracts with 3 different companies to bring in those 80 kWh of solar energy, which, according to the Vote Solar Initiative, is "about 18% of the city's load, well over the 65,000 residential customers in the city."

If Palo Alto can do it, we can, too.  All of us.

Sure, it's easier for a community like Palo Alto, which is very favorable toward green initiatives, than it is for many other communities, but they're just the starting point.  They're shown that it's possible to make solar energy cheap.

Let's work toward reaching their goal... then surpassing it. 
The total output of these 3 solar plants are enough to serve about 18% of the city’s load, well over the 65,000 residential customers in the city. - See more at: http://votesolar.org/2013/06/palo-alto-municipal-utility-going-big-on-solar/#sthash.kX5REOa2.EFWi4UDl.dpuf

The total output of these 3 solar plants are enough to serve about 18% of the city’s load, well over the 65,000 residential customers in the city. - See more at: http://votesolar.org/2013/06/palo-alto-municipal-utility-going-big-on-solar/#sthash.kX5REOa2.EFWi4UDl.dp
The total output of these 3 solar plants are enough to serve about 18% of the city’s load, well over the 65,000 residential customers in the city. - See more at: http://votesolar.org/2013/06/palo-alto-municipal-utility-going-big-on-solar/#sthash.kX5REOa2.EFWi4UDl.dp

Thursday, June 20, 2013

One Scary Article, and Why it Matters to the Environment

It started out pretty scary.

The article I was reading, Financial Totalitarianism: The Economic, Political, Social and Cultural Rule of Speculative Capital, not only had a daunting title, but also had a fear-inspiring aspect.  Finances cause blood pressures to raise, and totalitarianism... well... who doesn't freak out when they read that word describing out county's current climate?

Naturally, I continued reading.

It begins, as it should, with the author's definition of "financial totalitarianism", which can best be explained in his own words.  Max Haiven explains that totalitarianism in the United States, as he sees it, is an
"...ad-hoc totalitarianism where financial power and modes of thinking increasingly stain the social fabric. And like the totalitarianisms of old, the "financialization" of life is ultimately directed by and benefits a tiny minority, at the expense of everyone else."
Financialism is segmented into two different aspects.  On one hand,
"Financialization means the increased power of banks, hedge funds, private equity firms and other financial actors, and the increasing wealth and power of the top percentile of Americans."
On the other hand, however,
"But financialization also refers to the way financial goals, ideas and practices start to shape and influence economic actors outside and beyond the financial sector."
The article goes into painstaking detail, and I admit that I became addicted to reading it, mainly because it pointed out a few things that I've personally observed.  I also liked that Haiven pointed out that we feed the problem, as well.  We like to ignore that part.

If the problem is to be fixed, it needs to be fixed from the ground (that's us) up (that's the big corporate entities).

I know what you're thinking.

"So what in the heck does this have to do 
with the environment, Rebecca???" 

Valid question.

The idea for writing about it here came from the author's solution.  
"So the answer to financialization, on an economic and political level, must be the rejection of capitalism in favor of some other economic system."
He mentions commons, which he defines as "sets of shared resources that are not commodified." as one aspect of that, referring to things like community gardens (which I adore). This can be seen as a social and cultural break-away.

Ha!  Gardening!  See?  I told you this was related...

Then there's the second part of the solution, which builds on that:
"Second, the political and economic transformation away from financialization requires we build and network these commons into a mass movement that can reclaim the productive capacity of our society and government."
Here, he's talking about cooperatives.  

You guys all know how much I adore coops!  Food, shelter, and other necessities can all be done cooperatively.  With 20 miles of my home there is a basic community coop, where people can find necessities like tools and car parts.  There's a Just Foods coop, which deals in... well... foods.  There's even a cooperative housing project!

Everyone that I've met which works within a coop is responsible... proud... happy.  

His solution is doable.  

Not only that, but it's environmentally responsible.  Community cooperatives don't wrack up as much mileage, because as many of the supplies as are possible are found locally.  People that work at coops shop at coops, as well, meaning that their personal mileage is decreased.  This means less pollution.

Max Haiven is one smart cookie. 

Read the article.  I've only talked to you about the aspects that relate to the environment... which is a pretty tiny amount.  The article is scary, but it's brilliant. 

It also inspires hope, however, which is always a good thing.


 




Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Deep Thunder: Even the Name is Cool!

Heads up!

This piece is heavily biased.  Why, you ask?  Because I learned about it through an Op-ed in Live Science.  An op-ed about the Deep Thunder software, written by Lloyd Treinish, chief scientist of IBM's Deep Thunder program.

See?  I told you it was heavily biased.

But it's so cool!!!

Deep Thunder is weather prediction software of the most awesome variety.  Basically, research to create Deep Thunder began due to the fact that our standard weather prediction software is rather... uh... crappy. 

There's a reason people always make fun of meteorologists, and it's not because they're really that dopey... it's because the prediction software they use... isn't good at predicting.  Not really, anyway.

So, in steps Deep Thunder.

(Sorry... I just really like the name.  Can't. Stop. Using. It. Deep Thunder! Weeee!)

What's the story behind it, you ask?  What exactly makes me think it's awesome (besides the spy movie type name)?  The Deep Thunder web page states:
"The project, which was originally set up in the IBM Research department known as Mathematical Sciences (now called Business Analytics and Mathematical Sciences), pivoted from a hardware focus to services and software. "We learned that the business driver was the most important factor," says Treinish. "And we started to focus on niche business problems that were weather sensitive and look for the market gaps we could fill."
For example, with the right combination of precision weather prediction and business analytics insights, airlines and airports could better manage the logistical nightmare of weather-generated delays. Flights could be re-routed or consolidated more efficiently.
Equipped with highly specific information on wind, temperature and other factors, fire fighters could battle wildfires more effectively." (source)
You're thinking, "Big deal", right?  Yeah, I understand that.  

But here's the thing.  This software can use data mining to tell emergency crews which areas were hit hardest during a storm.  It can tell them how many hospital beds are available in the surrounding hospitals.

And then there's farming. 

Remember me talking about how much water is wasted in the food production/consumption process in my June 16th post?  Well, as the op-ed I mentioned in the beginning of this article states:
"With high accuracy, Deep Thunder can deliver hyper-localized weather conditions up to three days in advance, with calculations as fine as a single mile and as granular as every 10 minutes.
In practical terms, a farmer armed with precise weather forecasting information may choose to hold off on fertilizing an area of a farm expecting heavy rains; or, he may irrigate only that portion of the farm that will not receive rainfall. With 70 percent of the world's freshwater supply already going to agriculture, every drop counts." (source)
Now you begin to see why I'm so excited!  Imagine farmers having that kind of control over their crop management.  It's not just huge in terms of water waste (or lack thereof), it's cool because that would be less expense for the farmers themselves!

Sweet!

Like I said in the beginning, though, this is very heavily biased.  I got the information from a biased source and  I don't personally know anything about weather prediction software... except that it's not generally accurate.

And this just may be.

And Deep Thunder is a really cool name.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Food Waste is Water Waste

And now it's time for me to state the obvious:

Agriculture consumes a lot of water.

Duh, right?  We all know this.  What's the point, then, in saying it? 

The point of it is that while we all realize this on an intellectual level, we have a habit of not thinking about it.

So what's so bad about that?

Well, nothing, on the surface.  Nothing in general, for that matter.  Problems arise not from the water that goes into growing our fruits and vegetables, but from our own actions once we buy them.

I'm talking food waste.

Wasting food is easy to do.  We may prepare too much, so it ends up getting thrown into the trash. Maybe we buy too much.  It goes bad and begins to grow fuzzy mold, causing us to stare at it with disgust... and maybe a little fear. 



Nobody is actively trying to do anything wrong.  It just happens.

Unfortunately, it happens a lot, and it's something we need to actively try to prevent.  Indeed, as stated in a story from NPR,
"According to the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank, inside the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted every year worldwide is 45 trillion gallons of water. This represents a staggering 24 percent of all water used for agriculture." (source)
But that's not all.  See, those fruits and vegetables that I mentioned?  They're not the ones that consume the most water during their production.  Meat is actually the biggest water user.
"Meat production requires between 8 and 10 times more water than grain production, according to the WWAP [World Water Assessment Program]. Fortunately, we're better about eating the meat we produce. It represents only 4 percent of the total food wasted by weight, and 7 percent of the calories wasted, according to WRI."
Yikes!  Good thing it's low on the list of wasted foods, right?

I never thought to consider the amount of water that was wasted when uneaten food was thrown into the landfill, focusing on landfill waste accumulation and greenhouse gasses, instead.

Yet it's perfectly obvious that this is another major concern.

According to the article, the loss occurs on both ends of the food chain.
 
"In the developing world, farmers struggle with food loss long before it gets to the consumer. But greater access to simple equipment, like silos for airtight food storage and crates for delicate fruits and vegetables, would help a lot, WRI says.
In rich countries, by contrast, most food waste happens further along the food distribution chain — in homes and restaurants, for example. We need to do a better job of redistributing food we can't eat, and serving and ordering smaller portions, according to the report."

On our side of the food chain, the answer is simple.  Pay attention to what we purchase, and don't buy more than is necessary.  Buying too much is the leading cause of food waste. 

And really... Do we actually want to waste all of that extra money on food?

Friday, June 14, 2013

United States Emissions Outsourced to China's Poor

Does it really mean anything when we talk about how much companies in our country have done to reduce emissions?

On the surface, this sounds wonderful.  We pat ourselves on the backs, and we talk about reduced emissions with pride.

But!

How are carbon emissions actually being reduced?  Are companies really being more environmentally conscious?  My argument is that no, they're not.  Not at all.

Don't get me wrong.  Some companies are reducing their emissions, I'm sure.

The majority, though...?

We outsource jobs to other countries.  Everyone knows this.  People scream about it quite a bit.  But did you ever take a moment to consider that we may be outsourcing our pollution?

Yep.  The more restrictions that are places on companies in the name of decreasing carbon emissions, the more export of those emissions takes place.

Sketch of a semi truck with a cloud painted on the side.  Words within the cloud say Cloud Transport Services.
No, not like that...
If laws forbid high emissions, what do you do?  Well, most of us cut back on them.  But what if you're a large corporation?

I'm not going to point fingers at individual companies.  There's no point to it.  Instead, I'm going to ask you to think about the number of goods you own that are made in China.  If something is made in China, all emissions are in China, rather than the United States, right?

So if an American company outsources jobs to factories in China...

That company has extremely low emissions in this country, right?  Right.

So what happens in China?  That pollution has to go somewhere, after all.  Andy Soos of the Environmental News Network says it well:
"Nobody likes carbon dioxide pollution. So if you are rich enough you send it elsewhere. Just as wealthy nations like the United States are outsourcing their carbon dioxide emissions to China, rich coastal provinces in that country are outsourcing emissions to poorer provinces in the interior, according to UC Irvine climate change researcher Steve Davis and colleagues." (source)
In the end, everyone loses.

While the wealthy may not end up with the same respiratory problems, they will end up with the same climate damage.

As will we.

Corporations may be able to skirt the laws, but they can't escape the climate.  The economic benefits fall short when looked at in long view.  United States emissions can't simply be moved to another, less advantaged country.

They need to be reduced as a whole. 


***Soos linked to a study abstract in the article cited above, if you're interested.  The full study can be found at this link: Outsourcing CO2 Within China






Thursday, June 13, 2013

Supreme Court Agreement On Gene Patents?! Wow!

It's Unanimous. 

The Association for Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. Supreme Court case has been decided.  Nobody can have a patent on naturally occurring genes.

Synthetically derived DNA, on the other hand, is free game.  The case had to do with the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes, which are associated with breast cancer.  The question involved was whether or not a company could hold a patent of a gene within the human body, in order to effectively have control over research involving the gene.

This morning, the Supreme Court unanimously agreed that a company had no such right.

I didn't know total agreement was 
even possible with this group!

This doesn't mean all DNA is safe from patent, of course.  As Justice Thomas pointed out in the majority opinion (or should I just say, "The Opinion"?),
Held: A naturally occurring DNA segment is a product of nature and
not patent eligible merely because it has been isolated, but cDNA is patent eligible because it is not naturally occurring. 
So cDNA, or complementary DNA, is still fair game.  It's synthetic DNA, since it's created via an mRNA template.

It's a start, right?

For now, the Supreme Court has decided that nobody can patent my boobs.  

Well, the material within them, anyway... and that makes me pretty darned relieved.  Is this ruling perfect?  No, of course not.  It's a start, though.

My question now, though, is:

What does this ruling mean in terms of agriculture?  Is a gene still considered synthetic if it is located within a naturally grown third generation corn seed?  Or is it still protected by patent?

Hmmm...

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Moving Can Be Horribly Wasteful

In case you didn't know, moving to a new place is wasteful.

Moving to a new place that's around 1400 square feet smaller than the one you were previously in, therefore, is astronomically wasteful.

Like, scary wasteful.

Like, scary, oh-my-gosh-how-did-I-ever-manage-to-acquire-all-of-this-stuff wasteful.

Let's just say that I was rather glad that we didn't use two of the rooms in the last house we rented, because... wow.  We ended up taking a good third of our house to the landfill.

Gray mass of unplowed trash at the landfill surrounded by brown, plowed mass.
Eeeeewwwwww....


You have to understand: I'm the type of person that recycles way more than I place in the trash can.  I reuse a great deal, as well.  The idea of throwing a huge amount of items into a landfill, therefore, was enough to send my stress levels into overdrive.

It had to be done, though.

It wasn't the stuff.  I'm not a person that becomes horribly attached to stuff.  Well... except maybe books.

We all have weaknesses, after all.

It was the large amount of items that wouldn't be reused.  Things that wouldn't be donated.  Basically, we ran out of time.  I had no time left to fill donation boxes.

So, one third of our household items found their way into the landfill.  How much is one third of the house, exactly?

Almost a full ton.

Ouch.

Hearing that caused my chest to constrict.  I had to concentrate hard on not hyperventilating.  It wasn't that we hoard things.  We didn't have loads of items crammed into closets.

We just had that much space in the house, and as humans, we apparently chose to find ways to fill it.

Naturally, I turned philosophical.  

I began asking myself why we felt the need to acquire so much.  What could I do to discourage future accumulations of... well... crap we don't need?  How much do I need?  Is less truly more?

How do I keep from ever running into this horrifying, wasteful situation again?

For my family, moving was a lesson in just how wasteful people can be. 


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Morristown Farmers Market: Small Quantity, But Spectacular Quality

Yesterday was my first farmers market of the year.  

It was also my first farmers market in a new town.

Morristown has a small farmers market.  Even for the very beginning of the season, which is a time that naturally has fewer vendor tables, this was pretty tiny.  There were only 4 tables in total.

Three tables on one side of a park's path.  One table on the opposite side.

But quantity and quality are very rarely related.

The vendors' goods were quite exceptional.  It's early in the season, so I found that almost everything dealt with baked goods and baking.

Well, except for one table that had some green onions and asparagus.  Unfortunately, I'm growing green onions and my family isn't prone to enjoying asparagus.

Drat.

I elected to buy from each table, since there were only four of them.  This is not a luxury I'll be able to enjoy in the future, when more vendors arrive.

So what did I get?

Clockwise from top left: Large bag of wheat flour, yellow popcorn kernels, rhubarb bread, 5 parchment paper wrapped candies, bag of 5 m&m cookies

  • freshly ground whole wheat flour
  • quart-sized bag of popcorn
  • small loaf of rhubarb bread
  • 5 toffee chews
  • 1/2 dozen m&m cookies (my daughter's choice, of course, which is why you'll notice only 5 in the bag!)
I really think I made out like a bandit!

The goods at the Morristown farmers market are a bit less expensive than at my former farmers market. The flour, for example, which was milled in town, and is far less processed than average, was only $3.00. 

It was a gigantic, very heavy bag.  I'd say it's probably about the same amount as a standard sized bag that you would find on a store shelf.  I could be wrong, of course, but that's how heavy it felt in my hands.

As you can imagine, this farmers market find was very exciting.  

It's now snuggled safely within my freezer, as advised by the wonderful woman that I bought it from, and I'm very excited to finally use it!  I'll be sure to tell you all about it when I do.

The Morristown farmers market, which runs from 9am to 12pm on Saturdays (in the park across from the old mill as you enter town), is something you must visit if you're in the area!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Settling Into A New Home

Well, I'm in my new home. 

I'm now in a small, rural town of under 1000 people, and I live on half of the upstairs portion of a four-plex.  I have to admit that I was a little leery of this, since I have two dogs (a small one that barks and a huge one that has heavy footsteps when excited.), but I'm actually pretty happy so far.

Why?

1. I have a great view out my office window.

landscape of thick trees and grass.





2.  The place is almost 2/3 smaller than the other house. 

This is great because it's easier for me to manage.  Too big is... well... too big.  You know?

Yeah, I know.  That explains so very little.  It's a truth, though.  Things escape you in a big house, and too much room means too much opportunity for things to go wrong.

And the dogs agree.  Even though this four-plex is on a main thoroughfare of this tiny town, their stress levels have decreased.  They know where I am at all times, which makes them feel secure. 

3.  We live three minutes (walking) away from a gigantic park.  

With a river. 

And a dam.

And two playground areas.

And water birds!!!

Heron on the edge of a quiet river.
That's a heron, in case you didn't know... I sure didn't!

I mean, how cool is that?!

I even watched a fish jump up, out of the river at one point.  I squealed and got wildly excited, which naturally amused a local that was standing near me. 

I explained that I'm originally from the desert, where these things don't happen, and he nodded in understanding, then let me know that you see that happen quite a bit around here.

Wow!!!

So I think I'll be experiencing quite a few new things here, and I'm looking forward to it.  I have a feeling that the next few weeks are going to be pretty interesting for me!

Who knew that moving a distance of only 8 miles could make such a big difference?

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Moving Progress

It appears that the whole "moving" thing is taking longer than I thought it would.

Well, ok... moving is actually progressing rather nicely.  Finding all of the components to put my computer back together, on the other hand...

Well, that's taking a bit of time.

The good news is that I actually prefer the smaller home that I'm living in now.  I also enjoy seeing  the Cannon River every morning when I bring my dogs outside.  Who wouldn't, right?

I think this will be a nice place, and I'll tell you more about it tomorrow, when I'm comfortably at my normal computer...

Hopefully, anyway.

Now where did that cable go to...?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A New Place is a New Brand of Interesting

Short post, today:

I mentioned before that we were moving into a new place.  It's smaller, and doesn't have much of a yard to speak of, so things will get interesting for me.  Also, this new place is pretty much right on top of the Cannon River.  And it's in a rural area.

This is going to be a whole new brand of interesting.

What new things will I discover?  What new facts will I learn?

And what new brands of failure will I have to deal with???

That's actually the exciting part for me.  We learn more from failure than from success, after all.

I don't however, want any of that failure to end up occurring with the Green Boots, however, so I've done a couple of posts ahead of time... just in case. 

This is one of them.

Wish me luck! 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Black Walnut v Blueberry and Rhubarb, Round 2

It's time for another walk through BlackWalnutVille.



At least, that's what I've decided to call that zone I live in which makes in-ground planting rather difficult.  Basically, black walnut is toxic to quite a few yummy fruits and vegetables due to a chemical throughout the entire tree called juglone. 

Two of the plants effected by black walnut toxicity are blueberry and rhubarb.  

I discovered the rhubarb problem last growing season after I discovered rhubarb beginning to grow in the wild area of the backyard... which quickly died after a couple of weeks.





Later, I planted blueberries, one on either side of the treacherous trail.  Those died, as well.  Of course, that was entirely my fault.  I had forgotten that blueberries were sensitive to the juglone in black walnut.

Oops.

It appears, however, that the loss of those plants may not have been entirely due to the black walnut's toxicity.  I mean, yes... it was a factor.  I don't believe that it was the entire cause, anymore, though.


Why is that, you ask?

Because the rhubarb has re-sprouted this season, and it's growing at a nice pace.  It's twice as large as it was last year when it died its horrible death.


Not only that, but one of the blueberry bushes is attempting to grow back.





Of course, the other blueberry bush is still looking pretty shabby, but one out of two isn't so bad, right?


As I look at these plants, I think that it's pretty safe to say that planting any of them in this yard was a very bad idea, but location is perhaps the most important factor.

You see, distance from the black walnut tree is a major factor in toxicity, specifically with large black walnuts, which are what we have growing here.  The reason why I mention distance in this case is that the rhubarb is closest to the base of the black walnut, and is also the healthiest of the three.

Why would that one be healthiest?

Because there isn't nearly as much juglone in the soil at the base of the tree as there is at the outer edges.  This is because you don't have the same invasion of roots.  The roots ate the base are mature: they don't have the same need to secrete the phytotoxin.

Naturally, the black walnut sensitive plant that's showing the most damage is the blueberry plant that's farthest away from the tree's base... and it looks really, really bad.





Big difference there, right?

The thing is, though, that none of the plants are actually thriving.  The rhubarb's stems, which are the important parts, are pretty thin.  And the blueberry?

Ugh.  It just looks... weak. 

It's growing, but I don't expect much from it.  Perhaps a couple of berries, but I don't expect a large harvest out of the plant.

I mentioned though, that while black walnut was a factor, I don't think it was entirely the cause of last year's problems.

I think the other half of the problem was the climate.  Last year was hot and dry - for Minnesota, that is.  This time last year, the temperatures were in the 80s and 90s.

This year I'm ecstatic if the temperatures are in the 60s... 

And it's extraordinarily wet.  I don't think we've had a totally rain-free day all week.

So it was a combination of factors, rather than only the fault of the black walnut.  I wonder if they'll survive until harvest this season, or if they'll succumb to black walnut toxicity again.

Hmmm...