Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Honeymoon is Over
I love my solar powered deck lights, I really do. They're pretty to look at, but that's about it. We put the step lights on the steps to help us see at night - and they do, but only if it's been sunny that day.
We've found that even one cloudy day will cause our deck lights to burn dimmer and for a shorter time than if it's been sunny.
I was thinking about a solar powered generator. Now, I don't think so much.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunny Monday
Always welcome news on a Monday, but here in the Ozarks where we're still hoping we can dry out, each day it doesn't rain is a true blessing.
The Corps of Engineers opened the flood gates again last week on Tablerock Lake, which flowed downstream into Bull Shoals. We saw the flood gates fully open on Saturday and it was truly a remarkable sight. We opened the newspaper yesterday morning to the photos of the damages those flood gates are causing. People are still losing homes and businesses and its wake.
On a lighter note (pun intended), another lamp burned itself out and we replaced the bulb with another one of those funny squiggly bulbs. We're not wasting what we have, replacing as they burn out and I think 3 of our lamps are now more enviornmentally friendly.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Green Victories
I love both spring and fall. The change of the seasons are both inspiring and beautiful. In the fall, you wake up one day to a glorious rainbow of colors that reminds me of a spectacular sunset like the one we witnessed last night.
In the spring, you wake up one day to a definite change in the landscape. light green buds on the trees and foilage, with a sprinkling of white dots from the Dogwoods.
This morning, I realized the scenery had changed so dramatcially just from this weekend. We can no longer see beyond the treeline into the forest, nor can we easily see the swollen lake from the deck.
My radishes and leaf lettuce are already sprouting and I'm thinking in another day, I'll be able to see the spinach working it's way to the top of the soil.
This is what we do it all for, to preserve the natural beauty of the earth.
I hope you all had an inspiring Earth Day. I hope you found a reason to want to do more.
Here's an essay/obit written about Earth Day and why it's no longer ok just to celebrate the earth one day of the year:

Monday, April 21, 2008

Physical Health Vs. Environmental Health
My second job was at the credit desk in a J.C. Penney store. The appliance department was right next door, so I got to hear from the salespeople all the stories of in home repair calls.
There was one old lady who would call about once a month, insisting that the "microbes" in her microwave were coming out to attack her. The store always sent a repairman, knowing her microbe story was just a ploy to get a repairman there so she would have someone with which to visit. She would always have something lovely baked for him, so he would have an excuse to stay longer.
It was quite a sad story, really.
I had my first experience with a microwave at the neighbor kids house on a summer day when we were getting ready to go to the swimming pool. We popped 2 hotdogs in the new-fangled contraption and blew them up by letting them go too long.
It was these two early experiences that got me to thinking about microwave cooking recently.
Like 90% of American households, I've had a microwave all my married life and used them not to cook, but to heat frozen foods, leftovers and microwave popcorn.
But living in the woods truly gets you closer to nature and the desire to be healthier.
What do they really know about the safety of microwaves anyway?
When I started reading up on them, I don't think it's much. Microwaving food actually changes the molecular structure in food - especially, research shows, in milk and vegetables - and they think it dramatically depletes the vitamin sources.
So what's the point of having a veggie with dinner when its been "nuked?" So, after our move, I stopped using the microwave, even for warming and popcorn.
I bought a toaster oven and started warming some things up in the "big" oven.
Not only do I feel better about putting that food in our bodies, it actually tastes a lot better.
My husband even suggested we get rid of the microwave, "If you're not going to use it, we could use the counter space."
True. Space is at a premium in 480 square feet.
However, I haven't made that move yet.
I know it takes more energy to heat our food in the oven - less so if I can use the toaster oven. Every energy saving website I've read says to use your microwave to save electricity.
However, I think in this instance, I'm saving more by NOT using it.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Solar Deck Lighting
We bought some this past weekend at Home Depot and I'm in love! It is dark, dark out here in the country. We're usually home in the evenings, but on those rare nights when we get out, our only option to be able to see outside when we get home is leaving the huge flood lights burning. Not only is that bad for the environment, but also for our electric bill. My husband also doesn't like the idea of anyone who happens to pass our house to be able to see it fully illuminated from the road.
Landscaping lights were my idea, just as they were back in the spring in 1990 when we were dressing up the suburban yard of our first house. These early electric lights had to have cords, which had to be maticulously hidden in border tubing or under the ground. We worked an entire weekend installing them.
Those lights, illumniating the walk and pointing toward the house added an ambiance to our landscaping, but they didn't last but a couple of years. For reasons unknown, they didn't come on at dusk one night and that was the end of that. I don't know squat about electrical and my husband wasn't concerned enough to give up another weekend to figure it out.
My new solar lights require one rechargeable solar battery each. I installed those and put the lamps outside for a full day. My husband screwed them all onto the deck in about an hour.
Voila! They look great and I know how to replace them if they don't work. If they perform as advertised, we should only have to replace the batteries once a year. The bulbs should last several.
My environmentally-friendly-friend in Pennsylvania who has the hybrid car calls it the best thing since sliced bread. My other friend in Seattle says they had some that didn't work too well.
Ok, so we're talking about Seattle, where they're lucky to have 4-5 hours of sunlight a week, not near enough for the required daily charging.
But she could have bought them before technology improved only recently.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Banning Bottled Water
America, it seems, has a love for everything bad for the environment - even when something is supposed to be good for us.
This includes the water we drink.
I admit a love for bottled water and the roots go back to an 8th grade field trip. That's right, I'm blaming school on this one.
We were taken to the municipal water plant to tour the treatment facilities. Believe me, this is nothing for a young, impressionable young mind to witness. Dead fish floating in water that would be coming out of my tap - not to mention the description of how our raw sewage is treated before being dumped back into the very same waters where our drinking waters are collected.
I imagined a huge circle of water becoming waste, only to become our water again.
I wouldn't drink water as a kid and drank way too much pop and now my kidneys are revolting for that.
When bottled water came along, I began drinking it, only because I didn't associate it with that filthy treatment process.
Of course, now I know bottled water probably comes from the same place as tap.
When we moved to the Ozarks, we had to use bottled water as the tank we had refilled was nastier looking than the treatment facilities I remember as a kid.
Of course, polluting the environment with more plastic is not a good thing and it bothers me everytime I crush a gallon jug - even if I am preparing it for the recycle bin.
Hopefully, our well water will soon test alright for drinking and we can forego the expense and the waste of using plastic bottles.
In the meantime, an article on how some restaurants in St. Louis and other cities are banning bottled water in their establishments due to the effect on the environment:

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Living Small
When we moved to our home here in the Ozarks, it was never our intention to live in this 480-square ft. cabin permanently.
Our first plan was to build an entirely new house and use this cabin for my office, as well as for family and friends to use.
After we decided we would rather have a little extra money each month, rather than putting it all into a mortgage payment, we thought we would build an addition.
However, our house can only be added onto in one direction and that also includes building a full basement, a more costly endeavor. As well, this will include taking out several more trees that I've become fond of. They're outside our current bedroom window. Their massive trunks, stable for maybe 100 years, were of great comfort to me during the days I didn't feel like getting out of bed when I was grieving for my mother.
Months have almost ran us into a full year here, and we've once again started discussing the possibility of building an additional cabin for my office and proceeding with our plans for another metal garage building. That leaves us living in the 480-square foot cabin.
How much room do people really need anyway? According to a man featured in American Profile, who lives in a 140-sqaure foot space, we can only occupy 12 square foot at a time. "The rest is just elbow room," he says.
I spent most of my childhood years in a house that wasn't 1,000 square feet - and most of the time, there were my parents, my adult brother and me all occupying this space and it didn't seem particularly small at the time. All of my adult life, after my mother sold the larger home we eventually moved into, has been spent in less than 1,100 square feet. Sure, my homes have been cluttered at times, but is the answer to the clutter really buying bigger and bigger?
Not according to people who believe in the "Living Small" movement - yes, there really are people not buying into the McMansion theory of living. There's even a club, The Small House Society.
People, for various reasons, are choosing to live in smaller digs. It could be they don't want a mortgage, or it could be for the fact that they don't want high utility bills - if any at all - or it could be a concern for the environment.
As my husband and I speed toward 50 with our IRAs taking a hit in the current economy and the desire to spend more time playing and less time working on a house, or working to pay for one, we are seriously considering this.
Of course, we would have to retrofit this cabin with some additional cabinet and built-ins, as this place was never intended to live in full-time and is, as of right now, a bit cluttered and cramped from doing so. However, I learned many space saving ideas from my mom who did just this in her first home. As well, once the new metal building is constructed, we'll have an additional 1,200 feet of storage space.
If we can do this, it will give us the extra money needed to buy that dreaded $4 a gallon fuel.
For more on living small, The Small House Society website:
The American Profile story:

Monday, April 07, 2008

When is Earth Day, Exactly?
When I typed "When is Earth Day 2008?" into google this morning, I expected to come up with one universal date. Instead, I got dates starting on March 20 and ending at the end of April. The real answer is that there will be events celebrating Earth Day throughout the month. The biggie will be held in Washington D.C. on April 20, while the actual Earth Day is April 22.
Doesn't matter when it is, we should be doing everything we can to help the earth everyday. Here's some suggestions, courtesy of Organic Style (
  • Do your homework. Read the EPA's "official" history of Earth Day.
  • Read a livelier history, which puts the first Earth Day into the early 1970s context—when the Beatles made their last album, fiber optics were first developed, and "Americans were slurping leaded gas through massive V8 sedans."
  • Plant a tree—it's a two-fer, you're also celebrating Arbor Day. Check out these tree planting kits available for home gardens as well as schools and other groups.
  • Eat locally. Celebrate with a meal prepared with foods from within 100 miles—a good way to conserve resources used for transportation and to support organic growers in your area. At our home base in the San Francisco Bay Area, the farmers' markets are overflowing with early spring treats and regional specialties: artichokes, asparagus, Meyer lemons, green garlic, all sorts of greens—drink a holiday toast with an organic chardonnay or cabernet. Do you have your own tasty local menu to tell us about?
  • Figure out your environmental footprint—no math skills required. Just take this easy quiz. You may find out how many planets it takes to support a person like you.
    Treat your car to a day in the garage. Take a hike. Ride a bike. Ride the bus. Try out zipcar.
  • Join the crowd—at a big public event. View this city guide for Earth Day happenings around the world, in Washington, DC, and close to home.
  • Teach your children. Here's one of many good sources of activities to get kids involved with the environment and understanding the meaning of Earth Day.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Where's the Beef?
Several months ago, when our supply of free-range, organic meat that we brought with us from Kansas City had run out, I walked into our local, family-owned grocery and asked if they had any organic meat.
The old man behind the meat counter looked at me like I was from Mars.
"No. The meat we have is processed in the regular way," he said.
The 'regular way,' means their meat comes from a factory farm, probably fed an unhealthy diet of whatever and shot up with antibiotics.
Given I didn't have a choice, I bought a pound of hamburger processed the 'regular way' and it made us sick. Our bodies had become so used to the grass fed organic meat I had bought for the past 5 or so years, I guess we couldn't take the chemicals in the meat we bought here.
I found more vegetarian, as well as fish and chicken (we can get free range chicken here) dishes.
My good, longtime friend in PA, Barb, told me this week that her family had decided to go all vegetarian. She had long since quit eating beef and pork, but she was eating poultry and fish. I guess finally convinced her husband and son to quit it all. They already drive a hybrid car and she told me she wanted to do more for the environment.
When I dream of going completely vegetarian, it's mostly a moral issue for me. It didn't take the horrible video from the processing plant in California for me to think of the animal life expended for our eating pleasure.
But I read up a little this morning on the impact of factory farming on the environment. I read one study found that farm animals create most of the carbon dioxide in the environment. Other stories I read lamented on the fact that farming animals takes up more land than plant farming.
There's no doubt factory farming is not only terrible for the animals, but for the environment. But what about buying locally farmed, grass fed and grain fed free range? Better, according to the reports I read this morning.
Since I still haven't found where we can buy this here in the Ozarks, we took two big coolers with us to Kansas City on our trip a couple of weeks ago and stocked up.
I cut beef and pork from my diet several years ago. My resolve last 9 months, but when I had a husband and even my mother, complaining about the lack of meat in my new dishes, my resolve started to waiver. I fell off the wagon over a pork tenderloin.
Now, there's many reasons for us to try to cut back on beef and pork - I usually only serve it at home 2 meals a week. The rest of the week, I use fish and chicken, or prepare completely vegetarian meals. Our favorites are my Chinese stir fry and baked potato skins with a generous topping of cheese and guacamole.
Organic vegetables are just as hard to find here as organic meat, so I dread to think of the environmental impact of the vegetables we're eating, but I've found in the course of going "green," you have to pick your battles.