Thursday, January 31, 2013

Conflicting Values: Environmental Safety or Human Safety?

Sometimes you have a situation in which two values conflict.

Depending on the values, it can bring a simple frown, a lump in your throat, a twist in your gut, or even a strange wave of heat that suddenly courses through your body like you've just been pushed into a sauna, then yanked right back out.

This morning I was happy.  Elated, even.

I was getting a new washer!  Soon, I'd have have clothes that were actually clean!  As you may have figured out by the preceding statement, I'm not exactly the best hand-washer on the planet.  Just ask my hopelessly stained cloth napkins.

It's my own fault that it took this long.

I took way too much time fretting over whether or not to tell the landlord that the machine was broken.  I didn't want to be the annoying tenant that calls over every little problem.

I finally decided to call, and a new washer was scheduled to be installed at 10 am.

On the way back from walking my daughter to school, however, I realized that the old, broken bench that had been left by the basement door was in the way.  No problem, I'd just move it.

Except that it was frozen in place... and the layer of ice around it was almost an inch thick.

Hence the dilemma.

Not only did I have a bench frozen onto the ground, and therefore in the way of the new appliance's entrance, but there was a slippery safety hazard.

I could:

1.  Reschedule.  This was probably the least nausea inducing method.  Unfortunately, it would require waiting at least another week, due to the fact that temperatures are going to dip into the negatives again after only brief rises.  This means that the bench may actually stay stuck in place.

Not to mention... the laundry was piling up pretty high.

In my defense... it's winter, and we dress in layers.  I can only hand wash so much!  Rescheduling really wasn't an option.

2.  Go to town on that ice patch with a blow dryer.  Yes... I actually grabbed an extension cord and tried that.  I don't recommend it.  After 5 minutes, I still hadn't freed one leg of that bench.  It was a lot of fun, but there was no way I'd have that bench free in time.  A blow dryer would have worked for laying down some sand to provide grip for the people that came to install the washer, but it was a no-go for bench removal.  That left me with

3.  Use salt.  I hate salt, but I had no choice.  It had to be used.  Salt causes water to have a lower freezing point, which means that the solar salt I used would cut through the ice in a fraction of the time a blow dyer would, breaking it apart so that I could free the bench.  I placed a large amount around each leg base, and sprinkled a bit around the rest of the doorway.

After the same five minutes that got me nowhere with a blow dryer, the salt had broken up the ice enough that I was able to free the legs that were frozen onto the concrete.

Why do I hate salt so much?  Well, aside from the fact that it destroys the capability of soil to provide healthy nutrients for plant growth, it's not safe for wildlife or humans.  How do I know that?  Even the very basic salt that hasn't been treated to work in extreme temperatures carries this warning on the bag:

"Do not take internally, and avoid contact with eyes, skin, or clothing."

Good reason to stay away from the stuff.  I like my eyes the way they are, thank you very much!

I despise the idea of using salt, but the idea of causing harm to the men that would bring my washer was even worse.  In a question of possible harm from salt or very probable harm due to slipping and falling, I'll take the first choice.  Even if that choice does make me queasy.  If only I had more time...

But it had to be done.  

And just in time, too.  Ten minutes later, the dryer arrived.

When it got here, I could have hugged my landlord.  Not only was I getting a washer, but I was getting a used washer that was in spectacular condition!  That baby hummed softly during the test we went through, and it was built to last.

You may wonder why I'm happy about a used washer.

Most people, after all, want something new and sparkly.  The thing is, though, that new and sparkly doesn't necessarily mean better.  The fact of the matter is that the newer models of washer break at a faster rate, and just don't hold up to much abuse.  My worry over ending up with something new, rather than a nice, sturdy, used model was one of the reasons I took so long to get anything done.

Furthermore, a used washer means one less product being churned out of a production line to end up in a landfill.  It's eco-friendly.  This washer is getting a second life in a new home, rather than finding itself in a dump.

This makes me happy.  

The landlord wins by spending less money on a replacement, and I win by getting a sturdy washer that actually washes my clothes, and that will last for quite a while... not to mention a sense of being a part of an environmentally responsible action.

Another awesome example of reuse!

Perhaps karma decided to throw me a bone just this once.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Chaotic Recovery From Television Addiction

For roughly two weeks now, I've fallen prey to the addiction known as television.

Well, not exactly television.  Rather, Netflix.  I've been watching episode after episode of shows like Doctor Who, Sherlock, and Luther, throwing myself headfirst into gripping series that don't seem to let go.

The good news is that I recognized this sooner, rather than later.

Of course, I recognized this because writing was taking longer than usual.  When you're addicted to television, you have a habit of cutting down on reading.  Reading is a necessity for writers.

Without it, writing becomes very...

Piece of un-rolled parchment that reads: "I ran. It was to the store. It felt good. I was real happy."


There was only one thing to do:  I had to stop watching.

That meant that I had to find other things to occupy my time.  I had most of my books on my Nook, which also had a Netflix app, so that couldn't be used.  I grabbed a few good print books, and placed them within easy reach.

I looked around for something else to do.  The books were great, but I couldn't just sit around reading all day... no matter how enjoyable that would be.

As luck would have it, the climate had warmed enough to make snow start to melt.


It started raining.  Then the rain turned into ice showers, then the ground froze.  Some people would be upset about this.  Not me, though.

My driveway, which is very nicely slanted, became one long sheet of black ice.  Even the potholes were smoothed out.

Perfect for sliding!!!

I put on my boots and threw myself forward, carefully balancing... and managed to slide down the entire drive!

Stick figure in green boots sliding down a steep driveway, yelling, "Go, go Gadget Ice Boots! Wahoo!!!"

It was quite fun, and totally took my mind off of television for about twenty-five minutes.

Why only twenty-five minutes?

Well, at that point, the weather warmed up a few degrees, again... and the driveway lost its spectacular ability to glimmer like a nice, smooth sheet of glass.  That would have been ok, but there was one slight problem.  The ice had lost this glimmering sheen because it began to turn into slush.

Slush isn't particularly good material to slide on... especially at high speeds.  Indeed, you run,
     then slide a couple of inches,
          and then...

Stick figure in green boots, fallen flat on her face, arms and legs twisted.  Thought bubble reads, "Oof."


One quick stop and a crash.  It's not pretty.

Of course, the lack of ice meant that I was no longer worried about bringing my daughter outside with me.  Since she's four, my daughter isn't exactly the most dexterous person on the planet.  I feared broken bones and difficulties in picking her up off the ice if she fell... kind of like I did... but with the slush, I was confident everything would be fine.

So I took her outside and we spent time chasing each other while trying to tag one another with lightweight balls of various sizes.

Once we were properly dirty, we went back inside and put puzzles together.

But that got kind of boring.

So we threw beach balls at each other until I missed my daughter and knocked a glass off of the table instead, which caused my husband to pronounce the game over.

Mom and daughter holding hands. Mom holds a beach ball, thinking, "Oops." Daughter looks at her and says, "Mommy, I think we're in trouble..."

By the time bedtime arrived, the house looked overwhelmingly chaotic, a few knickknacks were broken, and my daughter and I were both thoroughly exhausted.

As I viewed the chaos, I realized that I had managed to have more fun during a day away from the television than I had in the last two weeks combined.

Television, shmelevision.

Who needs other people's made up lives, when we can create chaos have fun on our own?

Now to figure out a way to make cleaning up that mess into a game.  Hmmm...

Monday, January 28, 2013

GE Foods: Let's Eat Stuff That's Designed to Kill! Not.

I can be a rather contrary person.

Generally, when I see something that says "Share/re-blog this" I happily shove whatever the statement discussed happens to be into the big filing cabinet in my brain and leave it there, rolling my eyes and going on with my day.  I don't like feeling pressured into doing something, and the result oftentimes resembles that of a small child:

"You're not the boss of me!"

Sometimes, though rare, I'll actually listen.  The person has touched on an argument that I feel passionately about, and the person is on my People To Be Listened To list.  There are a few constants on that list, but for the most part, people are only there briefly.

It's a kind of short list...

Naturally, the people that have a cemented spot on the list are all dead.  It's not very likely that they'll do something contrary to the words I've grown to love.

It's not that I don't trust people - some would argue that I trust too often.

Rather, I tend to research every little piece of information that's handed to me.  Just because something sounds true, doesn't mean it is.  It doesn't mean the person that gave me the information is lying, either.  They tend to believe the information they're given.

So when I read the words of someone I trust, I look even more closely into what they're saying, searching for flaws in their arguments.  It's an exercise in self protection.

This, of course, meant that after reading a post on Gardening Jones' blog, I put my research hat on.

Gardening Jones is one of the blogs that I read that I have a large amount of admiration and respect for.  Jones honestly seems to have the answer to every gardening question I have.  Of course, that's probably due to being a master gardener for years.  If I need an answer, it's there.

A couple of days ago, Gardening Jones had a post entitled, Saving Our Children.  It discusses genetically engineered crops and the damage they inflict on human beings.  Like me, Jones focuses not on the genetic modification itself, but rather on the chemicals that are used to grow these crops:

What we are feeding our children is heavily loaded with pesticides and other chemicals. We no longer serve food, we serve things that are like food. Genetically engineered crops that are heavily doused in pesticides have been shown to cause cancers and organ disorders in laboratory rats.
There hasn't been any outside research done that can prove whether the process of genetically engineering a plant causes any true health dangers.  This is largely due to the fact that the companies' research is gagged.  Nobody is allowed to so much as look at the research they've done.  A company does its own research, then we are supposed to blindly accept their findings, believing that they've been honest.

That doesn't sit well with me.  

Having a degree in a science allows me to know just how easy it is to manipulate data into showing what you want to see, rather than what's really there.

Fortunately, scientists that don't work for biotech companies can do research on pesticides and herbicides. This is what Jones was referring to.  Jones mentions rats, but that's not all that's been found.  In one post, I linked to a study done in Quebec that spoke about effects of pesticides and herbicides used in GE crops on pregnant women and their fetuses.

The studies are growing, and effects of herbicides and pesticides on our bodies aren't exactly confidence inspiring. 

Jones drafted a very good letter aimed at elected officials on this subject, and asked that it be copied and sent by readers that agree with it.  Jones also asked that the post be re-blogged.

Normally, I roll my eyes and ignore that sort of thing.  Not this time, though.

See, I research GMOs like crazy, being someone that has a fear of pesticides and herbicides.  Admitting this, of course, is admitting a certain bias.  I have a thing about not wanting to put anything into my body that's designed to kill something.  It just seems like a rather bad decision, for some reason...

Indeed, there was only one thing that I saw as misinformation within the post... until I realized that it really wasn't.

There was a question underneath a photo.  That question read, "Do I see HFCS from GE corn and pasta from GE wheat?"

I paused here.  GE wheat is not commercially available in the United States.

Genetic improvement has been slower for wheat because of the grain's genetic complexity and lower potential monetary returns to commercial seed companies, which discourage investment in research. In the corn sector, where hybrids are used, farmers generally buy seed from dealers every year. However, many wheat farmers, particularly in the Plains States, use saved seed instead of buying from dealers every year. In addition, U.S. food processors are wary of consumer reaction to products containing genetically modified (GM) wheat, so no GM wheat is commercially grown in the United States. (USDA)

Noodles made with GE wheat just couldn't be true.

...or could it?

I'm thinking about crop drift.  Often, organic farmers lose revenue due to crop drift.  Organically planted crops occasionally get contaminated with pollen from GM plants, causing entire harvests to be ruined.  You can't sell organic if your plant has been corrupted through crop drift.  You can't sell at all, for that matter.  The crops are essentially "owned" by the Big Ag company that corrupted your field.

All because the wrong bug came your way.  Or maybe the wind blew in the wrong direction.  Either way, an entire season has been wasted.

It's conceivable, therefore, that GE wheat could be in those noodles.  Crop drift is a very real threat in the world of agriculture.  If there is GM wheat within those boxes of mac and cheese, it would be an incredibly small amount, due to an accident of nature.  It would happen only because wheat was planted too close to an experimental facility.

But it is possible.  

Not probable, of course, but possible.  And that's the problem.

There are no true safeguards.

So go check out Saving Our Children by Gardening Jones.  It's much shorter than what I've written here, so you don't have to worry about eye strain.  Jones doesn't typically talk about hot topic issues or about politics, so you know every word is heartfelt.

P.S.  Even though it's improbable that GE wheat is found in those mac and cheese noodles in GJ's photo, it is still a genetically engineered product - Lots of GE corn went into making the powder, and there may even be cellulose covering the noodles - cellulose coating generally has a mix of corn and cardboard in it.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Mushrooms and Sun: Reviving Skin and Muscles

Yesterday I spent a much longer amount of time than necessary staring at myself in the bathroom mirror.


I poked and prodded at my skin, made faces, and stared long enough that I'm surprised my eyes didn't begin to water.  I was that intent on it.

Stick figure poking at her face, mouth shaped in an o as she stares into a mirror.

Well, from prior posts it's pretty obvious that I'm not particularly vain about my appearance.  I rarely put on any makeup at all.  It was a personal sacrifice to do any body hair removal for my little sister's wedding.  Appearance is the last thing I worry about.

So, what caused this sudden need to stare into a mirror?

Well, that morning, I woke up to discover that my skin looked great.  It looked vibrant, healthy, and, well... the way it's supposed to look.  And my energy levels were pretty much through the roof, which allowed me to notice the skin changes in the first place.

Which meant that before yesterday morning, I looked and felt like crap.

...and I never even realized it!


So I poked and prodded.  Something was different.  That much was obvious.  But what?

After careful reflection, I realized that my skin had looked horrible for a few weeks.  Skin is a very good indicator of health.  Therefore, I had been relatively unhealthy for almost a month.

This wasn't a particularly happy-making moment.

At first, I thought that perhaps I was just taking an extraordinarily long time to recover from the flu... but that answer didn't feel right.

Later on, I mentioned this strange skin transformation to a friend, and she mentioned Vitamin D.  I shrugged it off.  I've never had a problem with vitamin D.  I'm an outdoorsy type of person, after all!  I garden.  My grocery shopping is usually car-free.  There was absolutely no way I could have a vitamin D deficiency.

Except that I did.

I should have realized that someone used to living in the desert, with desert quality sunlight, would need more sun exposure after moving to the not-quite-so-sunny Upper Midwest.  That fact, however, never once occurred to me.  Because of this, I ended up in an unenviable position.

I hadn't been getting enough sun exposure.  

The truth is, it has been a while since I've walked to the grocery store - it's friggin cold outside!  I couldn't do any gardening either, because, well... it's friggin cold outside! No to mention that nasty flu that I caught, which, coincidentally, is a symptom.  You're more susceptible to the flu if you have a vitamin D deficiency.  I could go on with a full list of reasons, but there is only so much you can write in a single blog post.  Let it suffice to say that my sun exposure was minimal.

Sure, there are food sources of vitamin D, but I wasn't exactly getting them.  

Various fish can supply some vitamin D, but fish are expensive - a good reason to get a fishing license and learn how to catch them myself, right?

Vitamin D fortified milk is another great source, but I get my milk from Cedar Summit Farm, and they don't fortify their milk.  Why would they, after all?  I'm not about to change that practice.  I don't go for that whole homogenization of milk idea.  Breaking up the milk fats to make it pretty in a container just seems rather silly.

Now, there are no actual skin symptoms associated with vitamin D deficiency.  

The reason why my skin was an indicator was that sunlight wasn't touching it nearly as often, so the overall 'look' of it had changed.  I was pale, and had a rather withdrawn look to me.

Once I realized this, I realized two things that I had done differently the day before that had a direct effect on my health:

  1. I went outside with my daughter for around 45 minutes.  The sun was actually out, and the temperature had raised to twenty!
  2. I ate a ton of mushrooms.
Number one is pretty obvious.  Sun is the best method of attaining vitamin D.

But mushrooms???

Smiling mushroom shouting, "I'm a hero!!!"

Well, I had eaten some mushrooms the night before that turned out to be high in vitamin D.  Not just a little high, but amazingly high.  Three ounces of these mushrooms give you 100% of the necessary daily requirement of vitamin D - and I was on a mushroom binge, so I ate more than 3 ounces.

Now, mushrooms aren't really naturally high in vitamin D.  

It turns out though, that they're spectacular sponges.  If a mushroom sits in the sun for a while, it soaks up the vitamin D that's found within those glorious rays.  It can then be transferred to our bodies through consumption.

Mushroom wearing sunglasses as the sun beams down, saying, "Oh, yeah... Gimme those rays."

My skin health appeared different due to the sun exposure.  Muscle weakness is a symptom of vitamin D deficiency.  Weakened muscles made me less energetic.  Therefore, my transformation occurred because of both the sun and the mushrooms.

Are you getting enough vitamin D?  

If you're not sure, spend more time outside and eat some mushrooms.  Your body will be thankful.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Vegetables Make You Happy! Those Optimistic Carotenoids

I spend a pretty decent amount of time on Facebook.  

Aside from being able to see what's happening with friends and family across the country, it also provides me with the ability to see what articles they're reading online.  Often, those articles can lead me on the path to self-discovery... and even a blog post.

That happened yesterday.

While perusing my wall, I discovered an article from the Daily Mail written by Anna Hodgekiss.  The title, Another Good Reason to Eat Your Greens: It Makes You More Optimistic About the Future, caught my eye.  This article was an eye opener for me.

We all know that I'm optimistic... sometimes to a fault.  

I'm the sort of person that, if a plane crashed into my backyard, I'd notice that it missed a tiny patch of carrots and rejoice - ignoring the fact that the rest of the yard was decimated.  This isn't much of an exaggeration.  My optimism can be quite puzzling to those of my friends that are more cynical and even pessimistic.

I've always wondered why.  What makes me such an optimist?

Well, according to this article, the answer might be my diet.

How odd!

According to Anna Hodgekiss's piece, in a study done by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health found that people with higher levels of optimism appear to also have higher levels of carotenoids in their bloodstream - up to 13% higher.

Carotenoids are plant pigments that can turn into vitamin A within the human body.  As we all know, vitamin A is an antioxidant.  Antioxidants reduce the levels of free radicals (unpaired molecules that seek to attach to other molecules within the body, with negative effects in many cases).  Carotenoids, therefore, are great for the body.

But this is old news.  We already know this.

But here's the thing.  Antioxidants are believed to effect stress levels.  Specifically, they decrease them.  Therefore, eating ample portions of fruits and vegetables is even more important than most of us realize. They don't just effect basic, physical health.  They may benefit emotional health, as well.


Every morning I get out my machine and juice the heck out of fruits and vegetables. The fruits and vegetables used vary slightly, but the basic recipe is:

  • 2 medium carrots
  • 2-3 ribs of celery (depending on my mood)
  • 1 apple
  • 1 orange
  • 1 lemon
In the spring I add mint into the mix.  We all know my mint addiction!  I also throw in additional yumminess.  Sometimes it's a few strawberries, sometimes blueberries.  This morning it was around half a cup of pomegranate.

Add to this the fact that I munch on carrots and other vegetables throughout the day, and my servings of produce quickly rise.  Indeed, Hodgekiss discusses the recommended servings of vegetables in various countries, and I appear to be doing quite well!

The Department of Health has spent at least £4million on its ‘five a day’ advertising campaign since it was launched in 2003.
In contrast, the French are told to eat ten portions a day, the Canadians between five and ten, and the Japanese 13 portions of vegetables and four pieces of fruit.  (daily mail)

Now, it needs to be remembered that this study does not say that there is proof that optimism is caused by fruit and vegetable consumption.  It does show that there is a correlation that can't be ignored, however.

We already know that doing what's best for the environment means doing our best to eat organic produce while reducing the amount of meat consumed, buying local whenever possible.  This article also shows that it's good for our bodies.

And that makes sense.

The farther I travel along the trails toward environmental responsibility, the better my body feels.  This study rings true to me.  Granted, my evidence is anecdotal, but it looks like science just may back that up.

Now go eat your vegetables!!!

Friday, January 25, 2013

How To Live In Exciting Times

"May you live in exciting times."

It's the curse nobody ever wants to hear uttered, only second to one other:

"May your child grow to be just like you."

Well, fortunately, my child isn't just like me, thank goodness, but for the past few days, I've been living in very exciting times.  Clearly, I've upset the balance of karma.

You probably remember my car's battery going out, causing me to need an immediate replacement.  It was frustrating, but not frustrating enough to fit the "exciting times" label.  My car is now much louder, but it works far more efficiently.  All is well.

But then I discovered a waterfall in my bathroom.  

Cascade of water flowing onto female figure's head.  She yells, "Wha...?  Eeek!!!"

As I had not actually installed a waterfall in the ceiling at any point, I was able to deduce that perhaps I needed a plumber to fix a leak.

The plumber came by the next day, but mere minutes before he was scheduled to arrive,

Insulin pump, smoke colored.  It has a smile with jagged teeth, yellow eyes, horns, and a tail.  Screen Reads: GAME OVER. Bwahahahahaha!!!

My insulin pump had a button failure, which basically means it died.  

(For those of you who don't know, I've been a type 1 diabetic since before I was old enough to go to school, hence the need for an insulin pump.  This is why you'll occasionally see things like my post about various non-sugar sweeteners.)

I had to reschedule the plumber for much later in the afternoon.  He came and went, and that problem was fixed.  My new insulin pump was scheduled to arrive the following day, so stress levels decreased on that front as well.  Times were exciting, but still not exciting enough to be curse worthy.


Laundry had been piling up for a while, because there was something wrong with the washer.  

I've had to hand wash several things, just so that we could actually have clothing to wear.  Needless to say, I was raised with machines doing this work for me, so hand washing took forever.  Quite a few heaps of clothing were decorating my home.

My daughter, naturally, loved this.  She made quite a few fortresses using pants, shirts, and underclothes with chairs placed underneath for support.

The good news?  The appliance guy was coming to save the day!

Happy face with hearts and rainbows

His service call took less than 5 minutes.

"Wow!  How exciting!  He's already fixed it!"  I thought with immense joy.


"Well, all I had to do was turn it on to spin cycle.  The bearings are busted."

"So... can it be fixed?"

"Sure... if you want to spend over six hundred dollars."

Stick figure looking up at the sky, hands on face, screaming, "Nooooooo!!!!"

I was a little saddened by this.  I figure I'll have a new washer relatively soon, but I'll be hand washing until then.  This could actually be kind of cool...

I could be the only person I know that owns and uses a washboard! Then, when the washer is replaced, I could turn it into an instrument.

Like Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas!!!!

Yeah, ok... maybe not.  The idea sure paints an interesting picture, though, right?

How does a person actually manage to come out on top when they're living in exciting times?  Well, what I've learned in the past few days is that:

  • Humor makes everything less painful.  Seriously.  The washer is busted, but I'm not reduced to tears, because all I have to do is imagine myself playing in a jug band.  Extra fun points are given for imagining fur all over my skin.  Oh, wait... I'm already a sasquatch, so I guess that's not too hard to do!
  • Remember that eventually, this too shall end.  Yeah, yeah... we've all heard this, and by now it seems pretty meaningless, but!  My car battery was replaced, a new insulin pump is arriving at any moment, and the plumber was finally able to come by and fix that leak.  Panic doesn't fix things any faster, so there's really no point to it.
  • Focus on problem solving.  Wallowing in self pity can be cathartic for a little while, but eventually you've eaten all the chocolate in the house, watched all the television you can handle, and stared at yourself in the mirror too many times, trying to produce the most screen-worthy tears and lip pouts possible.  At that point, it's time to move on.  Figure out how to fix the problems, step by step, and can in anyone that can help.  You don't have to go it alone.  Just be sure to save some chocolate for anyone that comes by to aid you.  Everyone needs chocolate.

Basically, when things seem to get bad, and you're living in the exciting times of that age old curse, you need to try your best to roll with it.  You don't stand in the center of a flame engulfed house and cry with self pity. You use logic (or even instinct), grab your loved ones, and get the heck out.

Do the same in other cases, as well.

Stick figure running with a small stick figure tucked under one arm, yelling, "The refrigerator doesn't work! Run!!!" while the small figure thinks, "Huh?"

Well, not exactly the same... but you get the point.  Don't let the situation win.  

Thursday, January 24, 2013

36 Degrees: Desert v. Upper Midwest

It amazes me just how different it is between the desert southwest and the temperate, deciduous Midwest.

Ok, obviously it's very different. I mean, duh... but the way a single person can respond to the exact same temperatures in these two biomes is fascinating!

"Cold" and "hot" are relative terms.  They truly are.  For instance, 36 degrees feels outstandingly cold in the desert, yet in the upper Midwest it's 'a bit chilly.'

In the desert southwest, 36 degrees is frigid.  

Your fingers start to hurt if you're not wearing good gloves while outside.  You shiver ceaselessly, your cheekbones turn red and hurt, and you're hesitant to spend time outdoors with anyone unless you really, really like them.

A lot.

On the flip side, 36 degrees feels nice in the upper Midwest.  

You can totally go outside to take out the trash, or get something out of the car, and not wear a coat.  Sure, you still need long sleeves, but it's actually not bad.

It has nothing to do with acclimation to the cold.  I could hardly have been considered "acclimated" last year after arriving in December.  That's just crazy talk!

I'm not sure what the reason for this actually is, but the exact same temperatures in these two biomes feels so amazingly different that it causes me to pause in wonder.

Is it the pressure?  The humidity?  The elevation?  All of the above?  None of the above?

I haven't the slightest clue.  All I know is that there truly is a real difference in the physical reaction a body has to temperature in these two staggeringly different environments.

Perhaps you know the answer.  

If so, please save me from this mind-bending and mystifying conundrum!  I have absolutely no doubt that if I went back to the desert southwest during a period in which the temperature dropped to 36, I'd be freezing my butt off... even though I just walked out into -8 degrees in a simple coat and gloves - no hat.

What in the world is the reason for this???

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Perhaps Forced Changes Can Be Good


Yesterday, I woke up to a layer of frost on the inside of my screen door.  But you know what?  It wasn't too cold in the house, which means I get to pat myself on the back for doing a decent job of sealing air leaks.  

Heat escapes through the back door due to a problem with the foundation itself.  I've been able to cut off some of that loss, but the only way to seal that area well is to put the house up on jacks to level the foundation.


The warm air flows out, and the cold air flows in.  So says the great Voice of Thermal Equilibrium.  But it's just one spot, which makes me very happy.

See?  I told you I was happy!

The high wind that brought this frigid air redecorated my yard, as well.

  • The glider bench that was knocked over by wind during a particularly nasty windstorm last year... was knocked over again while in what I thought was a more protected location.  I'm beginning to understand why it was in such bad condition when we first moved in!  
  • My neighbor's trashcan flew into my backyard.
  • Branches galore ended up on the ground.  Surprisingly, none of them were particularly large.
  • Valkyries rode into my yard, direct from Valhalla.
Well, ok.  Maybe there weren't any Valkyries.

It was all nice, simple, boring stuff.

I'm not particularly a fan of boredom, but it can be rather uplifting when you expect to be miserable after wind blows negative temperatures your way.

Indeed, the only real problem I encountered was having my lower eyelashes frozen while I took one of the dogs out.  If that's as bad as it gets, I can totally live with it.

I was trapped inside the house by my fear of going out while there's a sub-arctic wind chill outside, but I decided to enjoy it.  I'm outside pretty much all the time.  Perhaps it's time to change the routine for just a short while: work on some puzzles with my daughter, read a good book, etc.

Sudden changes, even when you don't actually want them to occur, may be good for the soul.  

Perhaps... just maybe... that's when those changes can do the most good.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King, Jr., a Humanist

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and we should all take the opportunity to reflect on our lives.

One thing I've noticed is that civil rights leaders, when they truly act with all of humanity in their hearts, act in harmony with the environment.

  • Non-violence
  • Compassion
  • A visceral need to make things better
  • A dream of harmony

A true humanist takes lives by all of these tenets.  A person that truly believes in equality will fight to try to level the playing field for everyone as a whole.

Martin Luther King, Jr. did all of this.  

He wasn't trying to make a name for himself.  It happened simply because he fought for what he believed in, and he did it with words, rather than weapons.

You could argue that words are weapons, but in his case, I'd disagree.  His words were more like mirrors.  He made people see themselves, whether they wanted to or not.

To the best of my knowledge, MLK Jr. never specifically spoke about the environment, but he didn't have to.  He didn't need to say that being environmentally responsible was important, because if we are acting in a manner in which every human is as important as ourselves, it would become natural for us to live in harmony with nature.

Depleting resources and creating pollution, after all, hurts everyone.  

It especially hurts the people that work up close and personal with those resources, damaging their bodies, as well as their hearts.  These people tend to be the poor, the neglected, those that are discriminated against.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wasn't just a civil rights leader.  He was a humanist.

He believed in everyone, and we should all try to do the same.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Sub-Arctic Negative Temperature: Just a Little Nippy?!

Yesterday I checked to make sure I had everything I needed, so that I wouldn't have to leave the house during the cold front.

Most people from this area don't seem to worry.  

They're used to this.  Negative temperatures?  No big deal... It's a little nippy outside.  Little Miss Desert Transplant, on the other hand, couldn't stop thinking of the possibilities.

stick figure with lines pointing to different sections of the face and labelled: "Eyes frozen open" "Nasal icicles" "Purple lips" "Hair frozen in areas missed by the blow dryer" Iced over tear ducts" Redness in areas that aren't covered by clothing"

I was a little panicked, to say the least. It was predicted to drop down to -3 that evening.  Not a big deal... I've been through temperatures that low.


I went to a class on epublishing that day, where I learned quite a bit, and where I met a small group of wonderful people, including author Jean Tennant.  When I left that class at around 3:15, the temperature was roughly 39 degrees.

Ok.  So we have a decent 39 degree day.  A day in which I was able to walk the main street downtown without a scarf.

And it's supposed to hit -3 by the evening???


Sure enough, three hours later, it dropped to 27 degrees.
                    An hour after that?  12 degrees.

And, of course, a wind advisory was in effect.  30 mph winds with up to 50 mph gusts.

Did I mention I have dogs?  And that they need to go outside?

Oh, dear...

And did I mention we have old trees?

The kind that have gigantic branches just waiting to fall on silly desert transplants as they walk underneath them?

My dearest friend, the great Murphy, naturally showed up for a visit in the form of a short power outage while I was making dinner on our electric stove.

No big deal.

Except that my daughter began running around the pitch black house, screaming in fear at the top of her lungs, which caused the dogs to run around the house, barking at the top of their lungs, which caused my husband to yell for quiet at the top of his lungs.

In my wisdom, I remained at the un-powered stove and stayed quiet, hiding behind my spatula... you know... just in case one of my family members had genetic night vision, or something.

I then began to imagine what real Minnesotans were doing at around that same time.  You know... the kind of Minnesotans that have lived here for 15+ years.

A man and woman sitting at a table by a window, smiling.  A tree trunk is seen in the air outside.  Woman: "Is that our maple tree flying by?" Man: "Ya, you betcha!  We can cut that up and build a new table, don'cha know?"

I was so very clearly not a real Minnesotan.


At around 10:30 pm, the temperature dropped, and the wind chill lowered all the way to -20.  Since I had already taken care of supplies, and since I knew we were covered, I lost my sense of panic.  Just like any other absolutely ridiculous rational person, I threw on my heavy winter gear and like went outside to see what -20 wind chill felt like.

I ran out with my head held high, cheering myself on, and singing with the joy of victory!

Woman drawn wearing pajamas, thick boots, thick coat, a scarf, a hat, and hood pulled up.  Smiling with arms raised high.

Ok, ok... it's honesty time...

I huddled beside the back door, which was sheltered from the wind, and scoped out locations that I may feasibly be able to take the dogs out to, so that I don't end up with golden retriever sized messes on my floor, before jumping back inside the house.

But I was out there... for a few seconds...

That counts, right?

I was actually pretty proud of myself.  I did quite well for a desert rat, if I do say so myself!  This climate is unforgiving at times, and rather exciting.  Beyond that, living in Minnesota is a great learning experience.  And who knows?  Maybe someday in the future - very far future - I'll notice a sub-arctic wind chill temperature and think,

"It's a little nippy out there."

Yeah... I don't believe it, either!

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Adventures With Food, A Car, and Frigid Temperatures

The Minnesota winter is about to hit me full force.

On Sunday, the high temperature will be five degrees with a low of -16, according to  The real feel?  -7 high/-32 low.


Last year, I was lucky.  It was a great time to move, because Minnesota was having a mild winter.  Of course, being from the desert, I did not consider temperatures between 0 and 30 every day to be mild.

I now understand, however.

I've known about this for the past two days, and so I've been trying to plan accordingly.  Ensuring you have your food staples is important.  Sure, you can go out into frigid, below freezing  temperatures to gather these things, but why would anyone actually want to do that?

Of course, I ran into issues.  

Finding the time to gather necessities so that you don't have to go out into weather that makes your face hurt the moment you step out the door can be difficult.  I found the time, though, so everything should have gone well.

Of course, what should happen and what does happen are generally two entirely different things.

Stick figure saying, "Well... hello, Murphy."

After chasing my daughter around the house, getting her into her car seat, and then turning the key in the ignition, my car laughed.  Well actually, it kind of sputtered.  Weakly.

I don't use my car often, preferring to walk whenever I can.  Other times, I bundle my trips together so that my car uses less energy.  This ensures that I only get gas once per month, even though my gas tank is pretty small.  It's a great plan.

Until Winter comes around.

I opened the hood, and looked at my battery.  The positive terminal was corroded.  Not just a little corroded, either, but overwhelmingly, oh-my-gosh-where-did-the-terminal-go corroded.

Under the hood of a car, looking down at a battery.  The positive terminal is so corroded that you can't see it... as well as a good portion of the battery itself.

Not knowing anything at all about cars, mainly because I don't often care to use them, I ran for a toothbrush to clean the corrosion and checked that the connections were tight enough.

"This will fix everything!" I thought.

Well, those of you that know anything about cars know how well that turned out.  Turning the key caused a mere sputter, yet again.  I elected to wait until my husband came home, then send him off to check out the battery.

My battery was dead.  

Not just dead, but really, hopelessly and completely dead.  Not only that, but it was an old battery at the very end of its lifespan.

These two problems combined meant that using a battery charger would be a very bad idea.  I'd be having to go out and use that charger every day during the winter, especially in below freezing temperatures, and I'd end up using more energy trying to revive it than I would if I just bought a new one.

So I gave in and bought a new one.

Ok.  That's not entirely truthful.  

My husband ran off to buy a new one, knowing I'd spend ages researching ways to make my battery attain near immortality so that I wouldn't have to worry about the amount of lead that would be sitting somewhere, contaminating the earth in some way.

Blond haired stick figure wearing a steampunk ocular device and holding up jumper cables, smiling widely, shouting "It's Alive!  ALIVE!!!"

It was probably a wise decision.

The first time I got into my car after the new battery was installed, I jumped so high I nearly put a hole in the roof of my car.

That thing was loud!!!

It turns out that my battery was draining so slowly over time that I never even noticed that it wasn't working as it should until the weather turned so cold this year.

Fortunately, this became a learning experience, both about my car and about the weather in Minnesota.

1)  Ensure your battery is in good condition.  Cold weather reduces its efficiency.

2)  Run your car for a bit every day during the winter if your battery is getting old.  It'll help keep it from going dead.  More than once a day if the temperature is significantly below freezing.

3)  Always make sure you have a few days worth of food in your cabinets and fridge.  This ensures that if weather problems and car problems occur at the same time, you won't go through panic.

Now to figure out a few inside projects that I can do to keep myself ( and you) entertained.  

Friday, January 18, 2013

Mission: Companion Planting in Containers

Now that I have my super awesome, extra amazing, mindbogglingly spectacular companion planting chart I've been spending time staring at pictures of vegetables while trying to make decisions regarding next year's plantings.

Planning where to plant your edible garden each year can be exciting if you rent your home.

Priority needs to be given to container gardening, because in the end, that may be all you have left.  In-ground planting should be reserved for plants that you can easily leave behind.  Planning which crops go in the ground, and which plants go in containers is the first necessary action.

I consulted the companion planting chart from the beginning, deciding which plants I most wanted, whether they could be in-ground or container plants, what they were compatible with, and which plants act antagonistic toward them.

I did this by hand.

See, some people prefer typing, but my brain changes course so quickly that I never know what I'll end up with.  A list can quickly turn into a spider diagram, and if I'm typing, the stress of having to change everything causes the analytic part of my brain to shut down and fantasy takes over.

Figure waving arms in the air, saying, "I'm going to plant buttercups that produce fairies, mushrooms for their houses, and a small patch of moss so they have a nice gathering place!  It'll be perfect!"

It's not pretty.

So I took my notes by hand.

handwritten list in columns in a spiral notebook.  Columns are: What will be planted, ground or container, companion, and antagonistic.  Various crops are listed within each slot

That's not very pretty either, but at least it all makes sense!!!

I need to go over this list and see how well fennel and horseradish grow in this climate.  I haven't seen them at the farmers market, and I've never planted either of them, so I'll need to research them - find out if they're a good fit.

After taking notes, the next step is to see where there's actual room for the containers.  

Things like sun exposure and vulnerability to wind need to be taken into account, as well as which areas are already reserved for potted plants that are waiting inside the house for warm temperatures to return.

I like to draw out a picture of the area, in order to get an idea of which containers can go where, which areas are already reserved, and what may be blocking light in various locations.

Pot green pot locations laid out among brown porch furniture.  Yellow question marks on areas that are undecided, and labels over areas that are already taken.  A brown house looking thing stands at top center, blocking much light.
That house-looking thing is my daughter's playhouse.
Oh, and the picture is
not to scale.  
We have a huge porch.  I'm lucky in that regard.

Unfortunately, it's also highly shaded.  That poses a bit of a problem.  Last season's tomatoes had to be moved due to lack of light.  Fortunately, once they were relocated, they nearly burst with fruit.

The question marks are in areas that I can plant something new.  Some of the locations have specific containers, due to my own aesthetic tastes, and I can be versatile with others.  I have a purse that I transformed into a planting container that will remain on the corner bench.  It just makes sense that a purse would be placed on a seat, after all!

Containers that I've labeled need to stay in their given locations.  They work well where they're at, and moving them could cause problems.

The next step?  

Now I need to figure out combinations of plants for different spots.  Tomatoes shouldn't be near potatoes, but both of those plants would do well near marigolds, which would also bring bees aplenty!

I also need to look at specifics regarding the different species of plants within the same genus.

I can plant crookneck squash in a container, but not any of the winter squashes I've seen.  Various types of beans manage to be beneficial to some plants, yet antagonistic to others.

Container gardening makes this a little easier to work with.  If a mistake is made and a plant needs to be farther away from another than originally thought, well... you just move it!

The only problem that I can see is going to be moisture during the summer.

For the most part, container plants need more water than their in-ground counterparts.  Mulch, mulch, and more mulch is going to be necessary, in order to hold in that moisture.  The good news?  As it breaks down, it'll help feed the soil.

Have you looked at the companion planting guide I talked about yesterday?  What ideas have you come up with for your own garden?

My planning will take me a bit of time, based off of seed availability, as well as rearranging containers within my mind.  The porch is only one small segment, after all.  I also have a front porch, a clothes line for hanging containers, cinder block planters, and a couple of tree stumps.

The sky is the limit!

Literally. If there's enough space to set a pot down, there's enough space to garden.  A clothesline, a tree, a roof, even, as a fellow reader once mentioned she's doing at her home.  I totally envy that!  I can't even get onto my roof!

Someone needs to invent hover-planters.  Now that would be awesome.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Eureka! A Valuable Companion Planting Discovery

Eureka!  I've done it!

A stick figure hovering over a table, waving a magic wand over a beaker and some seeds, exclaiming, "YES!"
Ok... it's nothing as glorious as that.  What I discovered, however, does bring a huge smile to my face.  I discovered information.  Good information.

I had to go all the way to Australia by way of Bali to do it!

Yeah.  I'm being dramatic again.  I didn't physically go anywhere near Bali... or Australia.  I simply did a web search that eventually brought me to a valuable guide created by the IDEP foundation in Bali... but, you know... it just sounds so much more awesome if I make dramatic claims of great adventures.  Right?


Well, then.  I'm sure you want to hear about what I found, especially since it's something you can use, as well.

Amazing knowledge right at our fingertips.
Amazing, downloadable knowledge.
Amazing, downloadable, and useful knowledge.


So, what was it, you ask?

Nothing mind-bendingly spectacular for most people, to be honest.  Rather, it's a simple chart.

I mentioned earlier that I was starting to think about planning next season's garden.  I'll have to do quite a bit in containers, since there's no guarantee that I'll still be in this house after May.  You know, that whole renting thing.

I decided to look into companion planting. 

I wanted to know which plants could be planted together for maximum effect.  If I could place plants in the vicinity that would act as barriers against pests that would otherwise attack their companions in other containers, I'd be able to not only give those plants added protection, but save time on pest control, as well.

Squishing beetles tends to take a lot of time...

I went searching for a good guide on companion planting.  Most of what I found was very basic: only a few plants with only a few of their companions.  Very, very useless.  Well, not entirely useless.  That is, I'm sure some people would be perfectly happy with that smidgen of information.

I'm not one of them, and if you're reading this, you aren't either.

We want the good stuff.  We want information that lists multiple plants and multiple companions for them.  We desire the knowledge of what works and what doesn't.  We need a guide.

I found that at the Permaculture Research Institute of Australia.  The PRI of Australia was created to educate people about sustainable practices be viewing everything from a whole world approach.  Naturally, they had a wealth of information dealing with sustainable gardening.

Companion planting, naturally, fits that description.

They link to a .pdf file on their site that was designed by IDEP in Bali.  It's a guide that lists several plants.  Each plant is paired with another, using grid form, and the pairs show whether plants effect each other positively (happy face), negatively (an x), or not at all (blank space).

Total grid boxes?  A few thousand.

It also has a listing of plants that repel different types of insect pests along the right hand side.


I've already begun soaking in all of the information.  It's been downloaded to my computer and my netbook, as well as side loaded into my Nook.  I can take this chart with me everywhere, and I imagine that after seeing this companion planting guide, you'll want to do the same.

So click the link below, and check it out.  You'll see what I'm talking about:

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

De-Icing That Treacherous Trail, the Quick and Easy Way

It worked!!!!

Yesterday I went out to take care of the treacherous trail leading up to the fenced in area of the backyard.  The ice was an inch thick in some places, and non-existent in others.  If I had brushed the slush away from the path while I had the chance, everything would have been easy.

But when have I ever done anything the easy way?

That ice had to be dealt with before I ended up breaking a hip or a knee on that trail.  Time for a simple DIY project, I believe!

Ice blankets the entire trail, with the exception of a brick that was left in the center... out of laziness.

Yesterday, I talked about two methods that I knew of for ice removal: salt and sand.  Salt was out, because it would harm the soil I'd be gardening in when spring arrives.  That left sand.

The application was simple.

Total time taken to add sand to the hill's trail was about 5 minutes, and I didn't use much sand or boiling water, at all.

Step 1:  
Grab a couple of large cups.  Make sure one is thermal.

Two thermal mugs: Red 16 ounce mug with handle on left and green 18 ounce mug on right.

Both of mine are thermal, but that's just because that was what I found.  Make sure the thermal mug has a lid.  In my case, that was the 18 ounce, green one.

Step 2:  
Fill a large cup with sand.

I filled the red, 16 ounce mug with sand.  You really don't need much if it's a small area.  The treacherous part of my trail only ran about ten feet, if that, and it's pretty narrow.

Step 3:  
Fill a kettle with water and let it boil.  Pour it into your mug and cover it with the lid.

Step 4:  
Bundle up and head outside to give that icy trail some traction!

The reason I wanted you to use a lid is twofold:

A.  It keeps the water hot, of course.
B.  Pouring through a spout gives you more control over how much water you use.  That's important.  There's no need to waste water, after all!

You only need to use enough to melt a tiny bit of ice.  A mere trickle.  Have the sand standing by, so that you can sprinkle it on top immediately, then go to all of the problem areas.

Step 5: 
As you allow the boiled water to trickle out of the mug, sprinkle small amounts of sand over the area immediately after the water hits the ice.  This will ensure sand gets frozen into that top layer, providing traction.

Do this along the entire trail, ensuring that you cover all of the most treacherous areas.

Pay close attention to "bumps" in the ice, and cover them well.  They seem to have a magical property that pulls feet onto them.  Well, that's what happens to my feet, at least...

I didn't cover the entire trail, only centering on the spots that I knew I'd step on.  All I used was the amount of sand that I placed in the red mug.

I went over the long patch that was almost entirely iced over, then walked around the area to ensure it was covered well enough.

Sand sprinkled in 4 nicely spaced areas of the large path segment.  Three sections near the edge, and one section above those.

I also covered the unavoidable large step toward the top that was covered with and inch thick layer of ice in the center.

Sand almost entirely covering a step in the trail.

After spending some time testing the traction, I was satisfied - and I even had water remaining!

So I went inside to use the remaining water in the green mug, as well as water in the kettle, to make a nice cup of organic Earl Grey to warm myself.

A tea bag floating within the filled green thermal mug, with a kettle sitting off to the side.

De-icing a treacherous trail without using salt is quick and easy.  Sand does no harm, and can be cleared and used in next season's garden.

Mission complete!

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Icy Trail: Salt or Sand?

The ice on the trail I use to go up to the fenced-in portion of the yard has gotten pretty dangerous.

What I should have done when it was raining is gone out onto the trail and brushed away the slush that covered the steps.  Naturally, however, I didn't.

That would've been way too smart!

Instead, I allowed it to sit, and when the cold front blew through, it froze the slush solid.

Yesterday's slipping and sliding was nothing like what I'm going through today.  The temperatures have stayed low, and as I write this, it's currently 3 degrees... and snowing.


Putting things off is very rarely a good idea.  In this case, the resultant ice caused me to nearly fall over a few times while walking down the path cut into the hill.

The area below that path is frozen even worse, due to the heavy foot traffic, but I can avoid that danger zone.  It's a wide area.  It's easy to step around it.  The steps leading up, however, are unavoidable.  Something needs to be done.

A thick layer of ice covers a walking path with only a few unswept leaves from fall and one leftover brick disrupting the perfect layer.
Good thing I never removed that brick, right?

Last year, before I knew any better, I used salt.  This worked quite well, because salt lowers the melting point, ensuring that ice has a harder time forming.

One slight problem.

It's bad for the soil.  Salt inhibits growth.  For someone who gardens in the area alongside the path, that makes for difficulties.  I still wonder if last winter's salting of the path helped cause the zucchini I planted to die off.  Probably not, since it appeared to have succumbed to root rot, but I can't shake the feeling.

Sand is my choice this winter, and fortunately, I still have some left over from my daughter's sandbox.

1 old, white bag of play sand with green and red accents.  Water stain off to the lower right side.
Works well to soak up unexpected water, too, as you can see.

Sand helps provide grip... something my boots really need on that path!  My only concern is that simply placing sand on the ice isn't enough, given the temperature.  How will it help provide traction if it isn't actually gripping the ice, instead forming a layer on top?

I think this is a valid concern.  When the snow plows come by, they release sand onto the streets, but the plows also break up the ice, helping the sand to sink in.  If all I do is sprinkle sand, well...

That doesn't sound like a good idea.

Fortunately, I have a plan.  I'm going to heat some water, then use it to melt the top portion of the ice.  Then, and only then, will I sprinkle the sand on top.  The sand will mix with the water, then ice over, providing ice with increased traction.

I'd much rather use a blow drier to heat the ice that's already there, but since mine has only a cord, well, that won't work particularly well.  My extension cord isn't long enough, so boiling water it is!

I think it'll work.

Of course, if it doesn't... well... at least you'll have a humorous failure post tomorrow, right?

What other eco-friendly ideas can you come up with?  You know... just in case this one doesn't work out.  Ha ha!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Crazy Weather! The Joys of Slush and Ice

As mentioned yesterday, the last two days were warm enough to melt snow.

And a lot melted!  

What was once totally whitewashed, was now showing the ground beneath.  The majority of snow became slush, with only a few patches of white remaining on the ground.  It rained, creating large areas of slush.  Even my attempt at creating an igloo, which ended up becoming a small walled seating area instead...

The first couple of feet of an igloo that was never completed, surrounded by snow.

...took on the haggard appearance of ancient ruins, then almost entirely disappeared.

Only a small line of snow remains of what were once walls.  The ground around it is brown with only a hint of snowdust.

I have to admit, I was very happy that it lasted as long as it did!  Next year I'll have to use what I learned to try to make another.  I expect that to be a lot of fun!!!

The melting snow really gave me an added boost, yesterday.  My need to see something other than snow was becoming pretty overwhelming.  I was lucky to receive a tiny moss terrarium from one of my best friends ever for Christmas, but I really needed more.  Desert girls aren't meant to spend weeks in snow covered areas, I believe!

Even without that need, though, it was pretty exciting for me. 

I mean, the snow turning into slush part was pretty cool!  I considered trying to create some sort of slush-man from the mess, or maybe even an entire family of tiny slush-men, but elected not to do so in the end... there was too much rain, and I'd walk back into the house soaked to the bone.  I probably should've made those slush-men while I had the chance, though, because after the rain subsided, a cold front blew in.

A very, very cold front.

And it brought a light dusting of snow.  Not a lot, but just enough to cover the ice that the cold front turned all of that glorious slush into.  I took the dogs out after breakfast, and we all did a great job of slipping and sliding over the snow dusted ice trails that had been created in areas that receive the largest amount of foot traffic.

A slight dusting of snow covers ice that would be almost invisible beneath it, if not for the lines of sliding footprints that make it visible.
Those are some of our slidey-prints.
Perhaps I should invest in ice skates for days like these!
Indeed, the days in the upper thirties and lower forties have ended for now, and as I write this my desktop gadget is telling my that the temperature is fourteen.


The sky itself is still a bit confused about this change.  Each time I look out the window while writing this, the weather is different.  Sometimes it's snowing, sometimes it's sunny, and sometimes there's just a nice cloud cover.

Times like this remind me of my old home in the desert southwest.

Not the snow part, of course, but the rapid change in weather.  I could easily sit and relax on the porch while watching these changes take place with complete and total fascination!

Well, if it wasn't so cold, that is!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Snow, Sidewalks, and Urban Heat Islands. Oh, My!

Yesterday the temperatures raised significantly.

For the first time in a long while, it raised to as high as 39 degrees.  That's snow melting temperature!  Granted, I've seen snow melt even when the temperature is as low as 28, if the sun is out and there isn't much of a breeze, but 39 is pretty much a guarantee that you'll lose some snow.

As early as 11:00 I was able to see some pretty huge effects.  

I've always found melting snow to be pretty fascinating.  It doesn't, after all, melt very evenly.  Melting shows preference for pavement and areas in which the snow never entirely saturated an area, due to cover.

Like this drainage grate.

A large cavity of air created by a drainage grate caused snow to melt from below the surface, rather than from the top of a large pile of snow.

The temperature change due to air from within the drainage vent was so extreme that the snow this air touched melted at a faster rate than the sun touched snow above it.  You can even see that ice had formed on the underside of this pile of snow.


Obviously, you can't see the actual grate in the photo above.  That's because the grate is actually a bit further back.  A large air pocket formed, then was released at a weak point in the snow.  This was originally a large pile of snow created when the snow plow came by.  It's been reduced, literally, to a shell.


One of the things I find fascinating, and even a bit alarming, is that during cold temperatures we can see just what an effect our society has on the environment.  Proof of humanity's ability to effect climate change is right in front of us, if only we allow ourselves to see what's there.

No, I'm not claiming that yesterday's melting snow had anything to do with climate change.  That would be silly, because there's no way I could logically come to that conclusion.  It's a single event in a single city in a single state, within a single country.

Not a whole lot to base a workable theory on!

However, we can see some evidence of society effecting the overall heat of towns and cities.  This is largely due to the pavement and buildings themselves.  You'll notice that snow always melts on pavement and along the sides of homes long before it melts on the dirt or grasses.

This is predominantly due to the heat generation of the man-made structures and surfaces.  

They don't breathe.  Formed as solid masses with no "breathing holes", these architectural creations take in, as well as generate, large amounts of heat.  This is very obvious in the upper Midwest  due to the melting of snow, but it's also obvious in the desert... perhaps even more so.

A person can choose to walk barefoot on the sand, but that same person's feet will burn if he or she makes the choice to step onto the pavement that's just a step away from the sand.  There's a very real difference between the two surfaces.  Many times, I had even chose to walk barefoot on sharp gravel, rather than dare to touch sidewalks and driveways.

Yeah... I love to walk barefoot.  

I was the go-to person for information on the amount and type of stickers and thorns in a given area when I lived in the desert southwest!  And I hated sidewalks for this reason.

Indeed, a larger amount of heat is generated within cities than rural areas due to the massive concentration of pavement and building structures, as well as the energy that is consumed within these environments.

This is called the urban heat island effect.  NASA has a great article with video that explains it in detail.

So what can we do about it?  

Are we all supposed to go move off to rural areas in order to minimize this damage?  While that would be nice, it would also be ridiculous.  There are small things we can do to reduce the effect of urban heat islands, though, and they don't require a tremendous amount of effort.  Here are a couple.

  • Planting trees to shade your home will offset large amounts of this damage, as well as help with heating costs during the summer.
  • Using gravel or stones - even bricks - for your driveway surface can have a significant impact.  This allows the ground to breathe, and reduces the urban heat island effect in that small area.
Last year I used flat rocks to fill an area in the driveway that had become difficult to drive over.  Indeed, my husband's tires had begun to get stuck in the mud in that location.  Digging into the driveway and setting flat rocks into the area enabled us to have a more stable surface to drive over.  That surface was supposed to be temporary, yet it's still holding up.

several large flat stones placed into a gap in the drive

Even today, with the snow continuing to melt, you can see a bit of slush on top of some of the rocks.  It's the only spot on the driveway where this can be seen, too!  Sure, you have to shovel snow in areas like this a bit differently than you would if the drive was filled with pavement, but it's not difficult.

We all need to do our part to keep this world beautiful for future generations. It doesn't have to be hard.  Even small efforts can reap huge benefits.  We just need to look around us and see what efforts can make the biggest difference.  The work of a single individual can produce great rewards for society as a whole.

What other ideas can you come up with to reduce the effect of urban heat islands?  

The more ideas we have, the more we can do, after all!