Monday, March 31, 2008

#197 - To the Victor Go The Spoils

Planting a Victory Garden

Back during the major World Wars, citizens were strongly encouraged to plant "Victory Gardens" - small vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted on private lands. These gardens not only reduced demand on the public food supply system, but also gave individuals a sense of empowerment. The gardens were were so popular that in 1944, over 20 million Americans were sowing their own seeds and reaping 40% of all the produce for the nation. Not a trivial amount!

I learned all about Victory Gardens through the Riot for Austerity, of which I am a member. One of the group's founding members, Sharon Astyk, has a great blog where she provides oodles and oodles of information on sustainable living, victory gardens, food storage, you name it. If it involves self-sufficiency, Sharon is on it!

Anyhow, although I am now a full-fledged (or at least fully-paid) member of my local CSA, Sharon's writings convinced me that it is still important to grow at least some of my own food. If, for no other reason, than to teach my kids how it's done.

Now, understand that I'm not a newbie at gardening. But I am a newbie to gardening on a patio or in flower beds. You see, all the while growing up we had our own gardens. They ranged in size from 1/4 acre to a couple of acres - depending on how many hours my Dad was putting in at the mill that particular planting season.

We girls were generally enlisted to help with the really fun stuff - like picking rocks out of the soil or hoeing up rows for planting. It was fun when we were little, but as we grew older that enthusiasm waned a bit. As teenagers, we would start out all gung-ho, then wimp out after an hour or so and go hide somewhere - usually with friends.

Whether it was good soil, the constant oversight and care from my Dad, or just divine intervention, most everything would grow and we would always end up with a great bounty of our own 100% organic 100-foot-mile-diet food. It was delicious plus five. Nothing beats standing in the warm, dark soil eating snowpeas right off the plant. And no grocery store tomato smells the same as one picked right off the vine in your own backyard. Of course, there's also nothing quite like a late September rotten-tomato fight with your sisters, but that's another story.

So a couple of weeks ago, I went and bought my (overpriced) organic seeds and peat pots and the kids and I planted beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, radishes, chives, oregano, sage, zucchini, and some other goodies. They have since blossomed into seedlings and will soon be replanted in various containers and raised flower beds. How very suburban!

The kids have THOROUGHLY enjoyed this process. They run into our bedroom each morning to check their plants' progress. Ethan can actually identify several of the plants ("look at the radishes mommy! They is SOOOOOOO big!") and even though he insists he is never going to eat any of the produce, this is still the closest he's ever been to touching an actual carrot.


Savings:

I hope to supplement my CSA bounty this summer with whatever I don't accidentally kill off. This will reduce the pollution associated with transporting produce from miles away. This will also ensure that the food produced is 100% organic, with no pesticides or poly-fertilizers.


Difficulty Level:

I am having so much f'ing fun with this I can't even tell you! The only thing that would make it better is if my Dad could come down for a visit to oversee my work! :-) HINT HINT Well, that and not having to pay for dirt. Who ever heard of that?!?!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Earth Hour

Oh yeah, almost forgot! Don't forget, tonight's Earth Hour. Be sure to shut off your lights from 8:00 - 9:00 pm, local time. Here's an article on CNN regarding the global progress so far.

Is There Anybody Out There?

Me and my super-handsome nephew, Adam

So, did everybody have a nice spring break? I sure did! We took the kiddos and headed up north for Easter with family. Everybody had a blast seeing cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents. We ate too much and I got to take Bryanna shopping for her prom dress. A good time was had by all :-)

I'm not officially back online here (in fact, tomorrow is my last day of the Techno-Free Challenge) but two items came to my attention today that I wanted to share with you.

First and foremost, is Crunchy Chicken's brainchild of a charity, Good 4 Girls. Good 4 Girls is a non-profit organization that was created by a fellow eco-blogger just this year and it is helping to supply girls in Africa with eco-friendly period protection, thus allowing these young women to continue with their education, rather than having to stay home from school when they are menstruating.

Crunchy recently asked fellow bloggers to help her spread the word about her charity. In a recent post she wrote "the demand for services from Goods 4 Girls is far outweighing the supply. This should come as really no surprise to anyone who has been following along on the journey to helping girls in Africa gain access to menstrual products. In the last few days I've been contacted by several other aid organizations asking to partner with Goods 4 Girls because of the great need of the girls they support in areas of Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan, Tanzania and others. Since the demand is far outstripping the supply, I really hate to turn people away."

"There are a number of different ways for people to donate, either by making the pads themselves, buying them from other manufacturers or donating money for those who want to help and just want to click a button to do it."

So please check out the Good 4 Girls website and donate if you can. And be sure to tell everyone about it too!

The second item I wanted to mention was the creation of 350.0rg, another non-profit organization that is planning an international campaign to unite the world around the number 350, and we need your help. We need to make sure that the solutions the world proposes to climate change are to scale with the level of crisis that this number represents. Everyone on earth, from the smallest village to the cushiest corner office, needs to know what 350 means. The movement to spread that number needs to be beautiful, creative, and unstoppable.

The organization is headed by environmental activist Bill McKibben, who has authored a number of books on global warming, including The End of Nature, Wandering Home, and Deep Economy. He's been in numerous documentaries, speaks around the country and is featured in the Spring 2008 edition of yes! magazine. He's a very level-headed activist who believes it is not too late to save the world and that individuals have the power to make the changes necessary to do so. I heartily endorse any organization this man puts his weight behind.

They don't have much online yet, but I urge you to sign up for their mailing list and, again, if you are in a position to do so, please make a contribution.

Thanks, enjoy the rest of your weekend and I'll see you on Monday!

Friday, March 21, 2008

SPRING BREAK!!! WOOOO HOOOO!!!!!

The kids are on spring break, my stepdaughter is in town, and I'm feeling like a little vakay-time is in order. And so I'll be signing off for a few days to enjoy some techno-free time with my family. I should be back online in a week or so.

Enjoy the silence ;-)

- Erin AKA Burbanmom

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Speaking of Strip Tease....


My brother-in-law sent me this nice photo of an Easter "Peep Show" :-)

#196 - Strip Tease

Installing Weather Stripping Around Doors and Windows

Yeah, I should have done this one last fall when all the SMART people were doing it. But, in my defense, it was cold out then and I might have caught a chill. So I decided to wait until we got a nice, warm 75 degree day. The kind of day when you don't mind opening the doors and windows to do some strippin'. And boy did I! I stripped the hell out of the house.


Weather stripping is beyond easy to use. If you can successfully wield scotch tape, you can strip. The stuff is pretty cheap, although it does come wrapped in plastic and, truth be told, I believe it's all made of plastic. Is foam plastic? I don't know. I know it's easy and quick. It took me all of a an hour to go through the entire house. You should totally do it now, while you're thinking of it. Unless it's cold out. Or you're tired. Or you're in the middle of a Scramble game. But do try to get to it soon. Definitely before it gets too hot to work outside.


Savings:

Most online sources say that you can lose up to 10% of your heat or A/C through cracks and leaks around doors and windows. I didn't find a lot of cracks, but the ones I did find were pretty large and I could feel air rushing around them. I'm gonna take a total WAG here and say 3% savings on my heating and A/C. I guess we'll see the next time I run the riot numbers.


Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Holy carp and walleye, this couldn't have been easier. In fact, it was kinda fun. Especially if you play stripper music while doing it. Although the neighbors complain when you pole dance at the mailbox. Well, some of them do.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

And another thing...

That's totally unrelated to my other posts...


My lovely friend, "Orgie" who blogs at Organic Needle just started selling organic produce bags on Etsy! You all probably know all about etsy -- an eBay-store-style site that sells only handmade, one-of-a-kind items -- but I just learned about it last month.

Anyhow, this is one of those total shameless promotion plugs, but check out her bags! They're super cool looking and will keep your beans together without the need of any plastic bags!

No, she didn't put me up to this and no, she's not sending me a portion of the profits or anything, she's just a nice person and we seamstresses tend to stick together. Don't mess with us, we have very sharp scissors.

Anyhow, if you get a chance and are so inclined, check them out.

Five Years In Iraq

Today is the five year anniversary of the US Invasion in Iraq. Whether you support this war or not, please take a moment out of your day to give thanks to the brave men and women who have sacrificed for our country.


And then bring them the fuck home.


#195 - Caf-feined or Foe?

Doing a Total 180 on Yesterday's Post

Wow. Am I the worst environmentalist or what? I've apparently taken "lazy" to a new extreme and have decided that brain power is just too much work. I got called on my post yesterday for it's high "DUH" factor. And I wasn't undone by some really obscure study done on the affects of embryonic sperm whales in Scandinavia. I got hit with Wikipedia. The "How The Whole Fruckin' World Works for Dummies"

You may recall (if you're not on vicadin) that my post yesterday was all about how I was going to switch to decaffeinated beverages in an attempt to remove caffeine from our streams and rivers. Luckily for me, my friend Leslie quickly pointed out that decaffeinated beverages don't magically grow that way, they are processed that way. And in during that process, where does the caffeine go? Well it's not the land of faeries and nimps as you might have guessed. No sir, it gets washed away into streams and rivers.

I'm chalking this monumental brain fart up to "low caffeine levels" and, in an effort to be less stupid, I will continue to drink my high-test coffee. I will just drink less of it. I hereby limit my intake of all caffeinated or previously-caffeinated-but-since-decaffeinated-by-means-of-polluting-streams-and-rivers-with-said-caffeine beverages to a MAXIMUM of four cups per day. I'm hoping to average just two cups per day, but I know some mornings are tougher than others, so I'm gonna set my max high enough to accommodate those days.

Now this really is starting to feel like a masochistic change. First I give up the soda in an effort to reduce waste and now I'll be drinking less iced tea in an effort to reduce the caffeine. Jangling Jehoshaphat, what the hell is left?! Water?! No way I'll be drinking that shit. Have you heard what's in it?!?!?! ;-)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

#194 - Decaffalon

Reducing My Caffeine Intake (and Output)

So have you all had a chance to read last week's article in the Washington Post about the various pharmaceuticals, disinfectants and caffeine found in tap water? I finally did and it was enlightening. or disturbing. I get those confused sometimes.

Also? Yesterday? I learned from Fake Plastic Fish that March is National Caffeine Awareness Month. Now I feel much more aware. A couple more cups of coffee and it will really sink in.

Anyhow, after reading the article and Beth's post, I decided to do my part to help reduce the concentration of chemical candies in our drinking supply. I'm going to start by reducing my caffeine intake to the bare minimum so that my caffeine output is thereby reduced.

So from here on out, I'll be drinking only half-caff morning java (give me a break - I've got two kids, I need a little morning jolt). Any coffee shop purchases will be decaf and my iced tea will also be of the decaffeinated persuasion. If I eat out, I'll opt for non-caffeinated bevvies like milk, lemonade, Sprite or cider. I wish I could tell you I'm also giving up chocolate but, well, that would be a big, fat lie. I love my chocolate and I don't care if it makes me piss cyanide, you'll never take it away from until you pry it from my cold, dead hands. And even then I will come back and haunt you. Because I'm vengeful like that.


Savings:

I'll be reducing my caffeine intake by roughly 50%. I don't know how that will affect my output, but once I get the urinalysis report back, I'll let you know. (that's a joke, btw - I don't actually do urinalysis reports for my blog. I use home blood tests, they're more reliable.)


Difficulty Level: 2 out of zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Monday, March 17, 2008

#193 - The Reel Deal

Mowing the Lawn with a Reel Mower


I know some of you are still in "snow shovel" mode, but down here in sunny Virginia, we're gearing up for Spring and things are starting to blossom! The daffodils are up, the trees are budding and the grass is starting to grow. Quickly.

So before hubby could even fill up the tank on the gas-powered pushmower, I trucked myself on down to Home Depot and picked up a good old fashioned reel mower. (I tried to find one on freecycle or craigslist first, but had no luck.)

Anyhow, we used to have one of those people-powered puppies at my grandmother's camp and I remember it did a fine job of keeping her 12' x 40' patch o' green looking neat. The question is -- would it work on our slightly larger and much more inclined yard? The second question, of course, would be -- is hubby going to poo-poo the idea as another wacky green scheme that is destined to fail?

Turns out the answers are 'yes' and 'no'. To both questions.

Yes, the mower did work on our lawn. It was no more difficult to push than the gas mower, in fact, I thought it was much easier to maneuver. It sure as hell was easier to start! It makes no noise and I'm able to use it in the front yard while the kids pick up pinecones, play on the steps or dig for worms.
The downside is that sometimes it's just as likely to bend the grass over as it is to cut it and a small twig or piece of mulch caught in the blades brings the machine to an abrupt stop. Personally, I thought it did a good enough job to satisfy the neighbors, but would definitely not pass muster as a par 3 golf course. The good news is, our yard isn't listed on the tour, so I think the reel mower will do just fine.

Hubby grumbled a bit at first, saying that he didn't think it would do the job. I think he thought I wasn't being reelistic. Then he tried it and was actually impressed at the ease of use. He didn't heartily endorse it, but didn't say it was crap either. He thought it would be great to use for a once-a-week cut, but feels certain the yard will still need a "thorough mowing" every now and again.

I'm betting that once the heat of summer hits full force, he'll be happy to have my slap-dash REEL mowing (performed by me in the cool mornings), rather than his 'wait-until-he-gets-home-after-work-when-it's-a-hundred-degrees-out' REAL mowing. We'll see. In the meantime, let's see what this little change means for the environment.

According to the EPA, more fuel is spilt each year filling up garden equipment (e.g. lawnmowers, string trimmers, chipper/shredders, etc.) than was lost in the entire Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. - Yikes. Also, mowing an average 1/4 acre lawn produces more air pollution than driving a new (i.e. 1995) pickup truck round-trip to NY from Washington D.C. - Double Yikes.

So from here on out, I'm going to be sticking with the reel deal, my friends.



Savings:

I couldn't find good estimate online for how much gas we use when we mow the lawn. So I asked hubby and he estimates it takes about a half gallon of gas per mow. We try to maintain a quasi-presentable lawn, so we mow it every week. Here in Richmond, we start mowing around mid-March and stop in October. At a half gallon per mow, that's roughly 16 gallons of gas we will (hopefully) be skipping this year. And, at $3.15 a gallon, that amounts to over $50 in dollar savings. One more season and the reel mower will have paid for itself!


Difficutly Level: 1 out of 5

Personally, I prefer the reel mower to the gas machine. Let's face it, the gas mower is a mother-thumpin' bitch to start, it's noisy as hell, hard to push and you simply cannot use it when the kids are outside, for fear that they'll get hurt. The reel mower, on the other hand, is light, simple to operate, quiet as a mouse, and can be used around the kids. Although it should NEVER be used on the kids. It gives a very sloppy hairut.

Just kidding. In all seriousness, though, the kids shouldn't be allowed to touch it -- after all, those are big friggin' blades and they're sharp!

We'll see if I'm still still in love with the reel deal come June, when the lawn is thicker! Be sure to ask me then.... but in the meantime, remember: Reel men don't use gas mowers.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Story Time XVII

Soaped

This story can be included or left out. I leave that decision to the three of you. I’m writing it down because it happened and I can confirm that getting ones mouth washed out with Fels Naptha yellow laundry soap is not a pleasant experience. Shannon can also verify the tendency of older siblings to instigate and urge the younger, more innocent, and na├»ve person to commit acts that go beyond the “normal” patterns of genteel behavior.

This incident occurred after we had been at the farm for about a year. I was still very easily manipulated at the age of 4½ - 5 years old. It was summertime and we - mom and all six children, Jack, Dick, Dugal, Me, Sally and Alex - were in the summer kitchen where mom was doing laundry. I assume Jack and Dick were there to carry water from the well, to the stove and thence to the laundry tubs. The rest of us were there because that was where everybody else was.

There was also one other person there. For lack of a better name and to protect anyone from being embarrassed I will call him “Mr. Dofuss.” All of us kids were playing on the floor with clothespins and other odds and ends and not paying much attention to what was going on around us. With the exception of Jack and Dick who because of their advanced years had a suspicion of what was happening.

In retrospect, I now understand what prompted their action. Jack and Dick started taking turns whispering in my ear.

“Hey Rod, Tell him to go away.”

“Call him a fatso.”

"Tell him to stay away from mom!”

“Tell him he stinks.”

All of this prompting drew my attention to what was happening by the laundry tub. It seemed to me that mom and Mr. Dofuss were playing tag, back and forth around the tub. Dofuss doing a lot of reaching and grabbing but mom being quicker with very good reflexes succeeded in evading his grasp. This was beginning to really annoy Jack and Dick so they increased the urgings for me to intervene.

Jack finally whispered to me, “You’re yellow, you don’t dare call him a lard ass and tell him he should go away”.

Well this was the ultimate challenge. There was no alternative. Rising to my feet I walked the two or three steps to place myself in front of Dofuss, looked him in the eye and loudly spoke my lines.

“Hey, lard ass, why don’t you go home!”

Such a flurry of activity ensued. Dick was hollering, ”He did it, he did it” Jack was laughing, Dugal was shocked into silence and Sally giggled.

Mom grabbed the laundry soap and not too gently inserted it into my mouth.

“Maybe this will clean up your filthy mouth.” (I could tell she was trying VERY hard not to smile).

In the meantime Mr. Dofuss was trying to get his belt off while mumbling on about taking the young brat out behind the woodshed for a lesson in manners. This activity caused mom to smile at me, turn and pick up the heavy wooden laundry paddle. Facing Mr. Dofuss, in a voice that was like cast iron she simply stated, ”I agree with my son, Go away, and don’t ever come back, LARD ASS!”

He left. We cheered. He never came back.

Friday, March 14, 2008

#192 - Head Over To The Bar

Switching From Bottled Shampoo to Bar Soap

Organic Needle did a post the other day about some cool green products she's tried and one of those products was a Burt's Bees Shampoo Bar. I've seen shampoo bars before but have never talked to anyone who has actually used one. But according to 'Orgie', as I've taken it upon myself to call her, "It's a Keeper".

I'm not usually one that is easily swayed (lie), but that's a pretty good review, so I had to try it for myself. Of course, being the impatient one that I am, I didn't bother to actually go out and buy a properly sanctioned shampoo bar. Instead, I just grabbed my Dr. Bronner's All-One Hemp Peppermint Castille Soap and used it this morning. Hey, it says "All-One" right in the name, which, to me, means "use it for any damn purpose you can think of". And you know what? I did. I rubbed that rectangular little bar all over my noodle and it worked like a frickin' charm.

It foamed up really nice (which my Burt's Bees Bottled Shampoo didn't do very well) and of course had that yum-o-licious peppermint smell. Unlike the aforementioned BBBS, it also did a good job of making me feel like it had stripped my hair clean. You know, in a scrub-down, antiseptic, Silkwood-decontamination-scene sort of way. Which I like, because it lets me go a day between washings without feeling all slimy and gross. But it didn't dry my hair all out either. My hair still feels pretty soft, but not greasy. All in all, I agree with Orgie, the concept of a shampoo bar is definitely "a keeper".


Savings:

I go through a bottle of BBBS every three months or so. That means a savings of four plastic bottles per year. If all the other 30-something American beauties joined me, together we could save about 360 MILLION plastic bottles each year.

And, with this (hopefully) final change to my shower routine, I am down to two bars of soap - both of which come wrapped in recycled/recyclable paper and/or cardboard. WOOHOO! I finally have plastic out of my shower! Except for my razor, but with Shavin' Season rapidly approaching, we'll be visiting that issue soon I'm sure.

Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

It's a little awkward at first, wielding a rectangular bar across your head, but I'm sure I'll adjust.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

#191 - Cream of the Crop

Putting REAL Creamer in My Coffee

Remember last month when I was all jazzed up about trying to cut some High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) out of my diet? If you don't remember, don't feel too bad, I forgot too. That's me in a nutshell. All pissed off about something one day, distracted by a shiny object the next. You really have no idea how amazed I am that I still even write in this blog!

Seriously.

Well, I've got HFCS change #2 for you today. It is to replace my usual CoffeeMate Hazelnut Yum-O-Riffic Chemical Concoction with good, old fashioned cream and sugar. Not only does this entirely nix any morning HFCS, but it also means one less #2 plastic bottle per week. Instead I will be using cream purchased in a returnable glass bottle (same dairy that produces our regular milk). And the sugar? Comes in a big ol' paper sack.

I made the switch over two weeks ago and I must say, I don't miss the flavors. much. I thought that the calories in the cream would be a tad high, but because it is so.... well, "creamy", I find that I use much less of it than I thought I would.


Savings:

HFCS plus one plastic bottle each week. Two birds with one stone. Good stuff.


Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

As long as the COFFEE part is still there, everything will be ok. Mess with the java though? Now that would be a recipe for disaster!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

#190 - IT BURNS! IT BURNS!

Using Hot Pasta Water to Kill Weeds

Imagine, if you will, a quiet suburban street. An eco-dork housewife is busily preparing a homecooked meal of spaghetti with red sauce. As she drains the pasta, she laments the fact that she is pouring perfectly good hot water down the sink.

In another dimension, in a house just like the first, another 'green' woman is wondering what sort of eco-friendly solution she could find that would eliminate those pesky driveway weeds that keep popping up between the cracks.

Coincidence? Perhaps. Or perhaps there's more to this story.

Perhaps both these ladies have access to a fifth dimension called - the interwebbies. Where they both discover that...

BOILING WATER KILLS WEEDS!

So when you see me out in my driveway pouring my dinner on dandelions, you'll know what I'm doing. Now if you wouldn't mind explaining it to the neighbors so they don't think they're in a bad episode of the Twilight Zone, I'd appreciate it.


Savings:

Give or take 1 gallon of hot water per week.


Difficulty Level: 3 out of 5

Most of my changes can't really be seen by others, so this does take me a little out of my comfort zone. But since they're going to be seeing me growing a veggie garden in the flower beds and herbs in the window boxes this summer, they might as well start getting used to my Serling-esque ways.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

#189 - Be A Trendsetter

Shut Off the Lights in Public Bathrooms

Picture this: You're at Starbucks. You've just purchased a non-fat, no whip Mocha Latte and a couple of, what appear to be, two week-old chocolate glazed donuts for the kiddos when the little one turns to you and says "I go boopey."

Great. Hands full of coffee and "fresh" food, protected only by a thin paper bag, you head for the germtopia that is the public bathroom. You open the door to the single-serve potty room and find the lights and fan have been left on, just waiting for the next person to "boopey". You do your thing, wash up and head back out.

But what happens when you open that door and the lights are off? Sure, you flick 'em on, but then you shut them back off when you leave, right? I know I do. It's the old "Leave it as you found it" mentality. Why does this happen? How the hell should I know? I'm not a psychiatrist. I just know it's true. We tend to do whatever the last guy did because, hey, he's done it so it must be right. Let's face it, we are a species of followers.

So from now on, I'm going to be the trendsetter who shuts the lights off. Hopefully, the next person after me will do the same and the lights will be left off in that bathroom for a least a couple more boopeys. Who knows.

I wouldn't recommend this in those multi-stall bathrooms though. That might piss someone off. Or result in someone being pissed on. Either way, it wouldn't be good.


Savings:

Incalculable. Unless I want to hang out in Starbucks all day watching people go in and out of the crapper. If I had more free time, maybe I would. They've got wi-fi you know.


Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

So many of the changes I make are just about being more aware. More conscious of your actions. Living in 'The Now'. All that zen stuff. This is one of those changes.

Monday, March 10, 2008

#188 - Dropping A Brick In The Toilet

Sounds Like A Euphemism For Taking A Crap

But it's not. It's actually a way of further reducing the amount of water you use every time you flush the toilet. Only, in my case, I didn't use a brick. I used three empty glass honey jars I had sitting around - one for each toilet tank in the house. I filled each one with two cups of water and placed it in the tank, away from all the moving flushy-type stuff.

Tada! Instant water savings every time I flush! Which is much less often than it used to be (yeah, have I mentioned that this is a slippery slope change? Once you get used to seeing pee in the toilets, you tend to stop flushing unless the toilet paper is actually coming up over the rim ;-).

Also, have I mentioned how much I am LOVING Technology-Free Day? The only downside is it doesn't leave me much time to work on my Monday post, so they end up being kind of short. Like this one.


Savings:
Two cups of water per flush and I'd say we're now averaging eight flushes per day. So 8 x 2 = 16 cups per day, or one gallon. In one week, that's seven gallons of water. In a year, 365 gallons saved! That shaves another percentage point off my riot numbers! Woo Hoo!


Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

This literally could not be easier. Fill jars with water. Set jar in tank. Forget about it forever. The only caveat I'd give is to make sure the labels are off the jars. You don't want them to come off and float around in the tank -- they might interfere with the flushing mechanism.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Are You Sick Of Planned Obsolescence in Your Electronics?

Even more disgusted with the fact that you can't repair these crappy products, that you have to dispose of them and buy new? Well, you're not alone. Not by a long shot! And thanks to the efforts of the Electronics Takeback Coalition, you've got a chance to let your complaints be heard.

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition is a national coalition of non-profit organizations promoting responsible recycling and green design in the electronics industry. Beth Terry, the infamous Fake Plastic Fish blogger, contacted ETBC last week about issues she was having with her piece of crap HP Monitor that can't be repaired. Turns out, ETBC loved to hear her story and wants to hear from any of you who have similar Dead Gadget stories. Here's the email she received from Barbara Kyle of ETBC:

We have focused on the recycling end of the e-waste problem. But we want to do more on promoting reuse, and green design concepts that allow us to hang on to our electronic products longer, and to upgrade them to keep up with advances in technology. So far, the industry has focused on energy as the primary criteria for “green design.” While we don’t disagree that energy use by the product is important, the energy used to create new products is even more significant, and could be reduced if our products simply lasted longer.

We want dead gadget stories!

We would love to receive stories just like the one you documented on your blog, showing clearly how products simply can’t be fixed or upgraded, because of clear choices made by the product designers. Please send your stories to Stories@deadgadgets.com and include the following information:

  • Make and model
  • Year they bought it. Is it under warranty?
  • Why it’s dead. (Doesn’t turn on, won’t reboot, can’t upgrade it to run certain software, etc)
  • Steps taken to try to fix it, or cost to fix it. (Here’s where your story was incredibly compelling. You didn’t just say your monitor died – you found someone who tried to fix it, identified the part needed, made the call, and then was rebuffed. So asking your readers to fill in this part would be great. Making the call to get an estimate on what it would cost to fix it (vs replace it) is good. But actually getting the company to say they WON'T sell you a replacement part gets to the heart of the issue. So that’s an extra step, but if you could ask them to document this, it will help us tell this story. Feel free to include whom they spoke with at the companies, so there can be no question of misunderstanding.)
  • Picture of the dead gadget. (Be sure we can see the manufacturer name or logo!) For our dead gadget gallery (soon to come). This request includes broken TELEVISIONS, not just computer-type devices.

According to Beth, Barbara also added that if there are any serious reuse and upgrade geeks out here, she'd love to talk to them in more detail about how they could do a more thorough “study” of this issue, trends they see with different companies, etc.

So if you've suffered similar frustrations, please take a minute to send your story to Stories@deadgadgets.com and help persuade companies to take responsibility for the products they release into the world.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Story Hour XVI

Story Hour is a collection of short, autobiographical stories written by my father about growing up on a farm in rural Upstate New York.

The School


SAGE DISTRICT NO. 6. The neat, white, one room school sat on the crest of the hill between Sawmill Road and Upton Road. In addition to the classroom there was a boy’s cloak room with a toilet and a girl’s cloak room and toilet.

There was no running water, but a washstand with a basin and a pail of water provided the means to wash your hands. The toilets were the conventional farm type except they had a cement pit for cleaning out the waste material instead of moving the building. The clean out job was hired out to a local farmer or student willing to earn a dollar or two.

Strategically located was a wood burning heater. If the teacher was female, arrangements were made during cold weather to have one of the older boys come to school a little early to start the fire and get the school warmed up. Some years we had a man for a teacher and he would perform this task. The well and pump were located by the front steps on a concrete pad. I had a rather traumatic experience with that concrete pad at a later date.

Off to one side of the yard was the recess area consisting of a swing set with four swings and a trapeze bar. The yard was large and maintained for the usual games of tag, foot races and other physical activities.

Multiple windows provided adequate light as there was no electricity and I don’t recall seeing any lamps there during the seven years I attended the school. I do not remember there ever being an evening social event.

The desks were neatly arranged in rows, with the black cast iron frames and seats secured to the floor with screws. The tops of the desks did not lift up but had a shelf beneath for storage of books and papers. The top surfaces were invariably ink-stained and marked up with more than a few initials carved into the wood.

The teacher’s desk was of modest size and was, of course the focus of all attention. There was also a work table for projects and a world globe on an iron stand for geography lessons. A rack of pull-down maps gave an enlarged view of various countries and continents.

The library consisted of a few well-worn primers, some classic chapter books, a large dictionary and various arithmetic books. Other books that were needed could be obtained from Sandy Creek central school by the teacher. Ball point pens did not exist so each desk was furnished with an ink well. We were considered modern so we didn’t use turkey quills, but steel nibs on the scratchy pens. Penmanship was very important and many hours were spent doing the “Palmer Method” practice. Somehow I fell through the cracks on that deal.

The official school day started with a “Good morning students,” from the teacher. The reply was a resounding,”Good morning Mr. or Mrs. Blank,” in unison.

“We will start as usual with the younger classes and their reading lessons.”

Each student would stand and read from the assigned pages or report on an event. Sometimes the teacher would ask for a definition of a word or a personal reaction to a bit of dialogue. The rest of the pupils were expected to behave in a much disciplined manner and concentrate on their own lessons.

Of course there were whispers and giggles as the enthusiasms of young people exceeded the rules. A sharp rap on the desk with a long wooden pointer and a stern look at the offender usually restored order allowing the classes to continue.

As the school day progressed, the teacher would, after the allocated time with an age group or class, move on up to the next higher grade. The lessons got a little more involved; arithmetic reared its ugly head and demanded recitation of multiplication tables.

Quite a bit of the learning process at that time was having a good memory. Practice and recitation was the best route to good grades. Having been exposed to the one room system and then going to a centralized system where you stayed with your own class and changed classrooms several times a day. I have ambivalent feelings as which system is best.

I have to confess I do not recall if we carried our lunch or went home to lunch. I suspect that when there was good sledding we went home and made sure not to overshoot the driveway or we would be late getting back. If we carried our lunch it would have been bread and jam.

At one time the U.S. Department of Agriculture instituted a “Hot Lunch Program.” Mr. Butterworth brought in a couple of sauce pans from his kitchen and us kids each brought in a spoon and a cup or mug. At lunch time the can opener was put into operation and three cans of red kidney beans (surplus foods) and a can of evaporated milk (also surplus) with an additional can of water were mixed together and heated on the stove. This then, was the government’s idea of what a hot lunch should consist of. Mom generously contributed a loaf of bread occasionally. For some reason the delivery of the food was rather sporadic for a while, then stopped completely.

By late afternoon the teaching day reached its pinnacle - seventh and eighth grade. That was as high as one could go. From this point on it was up and out to high school. Something mysterious called “Algebra” and another creature called “Geometry” entered the vocabulary.

My own children have seen many changes in teaching methods with the “New Math”, Number lines and a general deterioration of standards. Unfortunately, many of our students are emerging from school as functional illiterates. Many cannot figure out what their pay checks should be. Simple basic arithmetic is beyond their comprehension.

As I told all of my kids, "The most important thing you can learn is to read and understand what you are reading. If you can do this then you can LEARN ANYTHING.”

Friday, March 7, 2008

#187 - Oh Say Can You See...

By The Dawnzerlee© Light?

Ok, there are several ways you can change your indoor lighting habits in order to save energy. The two you hear about most often are the suggestions to switch to CFLs or remember to turn out the lights when you leave the room. What very few folks talk about is not bothering to turn them on in the first place.

Spring is in the air here in America and the days are getting longer. So I'm trying to be more conscious about flickin' the lights on during the day. Do I need all three lights on in the living room? I mean, I'm only hanging laundry, how bright does it need to be? Do I need any lights on at all?

Generally speaking, when I walk into a room I turn on the lights without even thinking. It could be as bright as Doogie Howser and I still flip the switch. My personal favorite is when I catch myself turning on the lights in the kids' bath during the day. I certainly don't need that light on, since there is a huge skylight in there that floods the room with tons natural sunlight every day from 8 am - 5 pm.

So instead of automatically reaching for the "on" switch every time I enter a room, I'm going to first assess whether or not I actually need the lights on. Because sometimes, being really bright is really quite dim.


Savings:

Assuming each light I flick on is a CFL that runs at 18 watts, and assuming I'm avoiding a measly 5 hours of lighting per day, that equates to 2.8 kWh per month or 33.6 kWh per year. Not a ton, but if I convince just 10 of you to make this change and those ten each convince ten friends to do it and then those folks convince another ten, together we will save over 33,000 kWh each year and have the base for a very lucrative ponzi scheme.


Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

This is yet another one of those wasteful habits that is so ingrained in our daily lives that it takes a bit of focus to change it. But, after concentrating on it for a couple of weeks, it will become second-nature and I will win the title of the "Dimmest Bright Idea".

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Inchworm, Inchworm

Measure Me A Miracle


So you all know that I joined the Riot for Austerity back in September of last year. For those of you who don't know about the R4A, It is a group of ecologically-minded folks who are attempting to reduce their emissions to 90% of what the Average American uses. It is, to say the least, a daunting task, but it has helped me to stay focused on my sustainability goals, as both the Yahoo Group and the R4A Website have oodles of encouraging folks and helpful information.

Anyswaze, one of the members of the group, Christine, has decided to write a book on the subject. She asked for volunteers who would be willing to speak with her about the challenge and I raised my hand without even thinking. Wish I had. Because, of course, Christine wanted to know my actual numbers. Had I reached the 90% mark? Was I even close? Crap, I thought, I'm gonna be the Biggest Loser of the R4A group. Once again proving that, if nothing else, I can be used as a bad example.

Well, it turns out my numbers aren't as bad as I thought. The R4A breaks your emissions down into seven separate categories: Gasoline, Electricity, Heating/Cooking Gas, Garbage, Water, Consumer Goods and Food. Here's how I did:

Gasoline: 37% of what the Average American uses. Ugh. This is exactly the same percentage I was at one year ago. However, last year Ethan was going to preschool three days a week, at a school one mile down the road. This year he goes four days a week to a preschool 10 miles away. So obviously I have managed to cut out some frivolous driving somewhere. This number should definitely improve when the kids go on summer break!

Electricity: 4% of what the Average American uses. Now before you think I'm typing by candlelight, you should know I get a 4:1 allowance on electricity because I get all my sparks from wind power (And You Can Too!). All I can say is that I couldn't be friggin happier about this number! Last year at this time I was at 23%. I just need to be careful during the summer not to go all crazy with the A/C.

Heating / Cooking Gas: 101% of what the Average American uses. :-( Very sad. Our heating system is so inefficient it makes me want to puke. Our thermostat is set at 65 day and 55 night, yet I still used 84 Ccf of gas last month. Grrrr. Still better than last February, though, when I was at 212%! Yikes!

Garbage: 8% of what the Average American produces. Rocktastic! How'd I get here? I choose my products (and their packaging) very, very carefully, I reduce, reuse, freecycle and recycle whatever I can, and I compost. Also? I just don't buy new shit much. My family of four produces one tall kitchen bag worth of trash each week. Last year? I was at 48%.

Water: 28% of what the Average American uses. That freakin' pre-rinse is killing me! ;-) That, and the fact that hubby loves nothing more than a long, hot shower every. single. morning. I'm working hard on this, but need to find more ways to save. I'm too close to give up now! Last year at this time I was at 31%, but peaked at 84% when I was using the irrigation system in the summer. You can bet your sweet ass that won't happen again!

Consumer Goods: 77% of what the Average American spends. This category is downright embarrassing. I looked at the amount of money we spent on pure crap last year and it was amazing. I didn't give myself the allotted allowance for buying used items (too hard for me to track) but still. That number is just way too high. Our numbers bounced up and down a lot last year, but our average for the past twelve months was actually 151% of the Average American. Maybe I need to re-read Affluenza.

Foods: This category is really difficult for me to track, so I'm just gonna say that I'm doing what I can to buy locally and start adding more "bulk bin food" to our diet. It's a slow process, especially this time of year, but joining the CSA, seeking out locally raised meats, and starting my own garden this year will definitely help.


Well there it is, folks. All my numbers laid out for the whole world to see. Not the greatest, but WAY better than where I was a year ago. Every change I make gets me a percentage point or two closer to my goal. I guess I need to keep making those changes, eh?

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

#186 - Where There's A Will, There's A Clothesline

Getting Creative With Line Drying


Just last month I posted about how I finally got a drying rack and was using it to dry about 15-20% of my clothes sans electricity. Wendy and Green Bean both left me comments about how "once you go rack, you never go back" and said that I would become "racked with guilt" anytime I turned on the dryer. Pfffff.

Well, turns out them bitches was right. I load my rack up to the point where it nearly topples over, then I begin to toss items across the back of kitchen chairs, over the top of doors and shower curtain rods - I even utilize the various door knobs when possible. All this leaves my house looking like some shabbily-dressed strippers just left, and it tends to make my OCD personality twitch. Besides, I've caught the kids wiping their paint-y hands all over things recently and don't want to have the "but those were my best work slacks" conversation with hubby.

Of course, you loyal readers will know that I live in a subdivision whose HOA rules prohibit me from hanging a clothesline anywhere outside of the 4x4 fenced area that houses our garbage cans and compost bin. Not the best spot to hang clothes -- especially when you realize that area sits directly under several sappy pine trees. I initially had planned to go commando and install some sort of 007-esque retractable line this spring, but I have to wait for the foliage to grow in a bit more or it will be visible from the road. And in the meantime, Wendy and GreenBean's prediction is coming true. I am obsessing over what I dry in the machine.

So here's the stylin' new clothesline at Casa Del Burban:


Tres chic, no? Well, as my Dad always says, Form Follows Function and that puppy is definitely functional. I took a length of rope and two of those screw-into-the-wall-hooks. Some pounding and spinning, a couple of those "the rabbit comes out of the hole, around the tree and back down the hole" knots and voila! Instant clothesline. It's totally retractable too. Kind of. I just unhook one end, loop the line up (with clothespins still attached, of course) and hang it on the other hook. Although the clothes don't have that "sunshine smell", they also don't smell like a garage. Plus I'm not violating any HOA rules,and most importantly, I'm not using my dryer!

The only downside is, when I told hubby about my plan, he was quite concerned that whatever spiders may be in the garage would wind up in the clothes. I poo-pooed that idea and told him we were WAY more likely to get spiders from hanging the clothes outside. He insisted that he did not want his clothes hung up in the garage and, being the dutiful wife that I am, I relented and assured him I would definitely not put his clothes out there to dry.

Now how long do you suppose it will take him to realize that means he'll be doing his own laundry?


Savings:

I still use the dryer for socks, underwear and bras. After all, nobody likes crunchy toes, butts or boobs (but if you do that's ok, we don't judge here). As such, I have gone from an average of six full dryer loads per week to one really small load. Since I use the moisture sensor, that one load only takes about 35 minutes to dry.

So, get your calculators out folks. Our 3,000 watt dryer went from running 45 minutes, six days per week (13.5 kWh / week) down to 35 minutes, one day per week (1.75 kWh /week). That's a weekly savings of 11.75 kWh per week, 611 kWh per year. At a windblown electrical rate of approximately $0.10 kWh, that's a dollar savings of $61.10 a year.


Difficulty Level: 1 out of 5

Getting the idea was easy, since Paula Hewitt left a comment on my drying rack post about how she hangs her wash in the garage. Constructing the indoor line was also a relatively simple task. Even the actual hanging process is nice because it allows me to escape to the quiet sanctuary of the garage for a few moments in the day, where I can no longer hear "DAH-EE KNOCK OVER MY LEGO TOWER MOMMY!!!!!" and the oft-repeated rebuttal of "BRUH-BRUH KICK ME!!!!!" I'm thinking about getting a washboard and a bucket to put out there, if only to buy me some solitude. Maybe then I could get in a full 30 minutes of meditation. ;-)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

THe STreSS TeSt

Wow. Just looking at that title stressed me out. It's been a rough couple of weeks here at the Burban house. Kiddos have been sick, hubby has been working a lot and Burbanmom is seriously considering a change to Bourbon Mom.


I feel on-edge and I'm bitchy as hell. I'm stress-eating everything within reach have more than once considered buying a bulk-sized package of Easter Peeps as a mid-morning pick-me-up.

I need to de-stress. For me, for my health, for my sanity... For my kids, my hubby and the general population in a mobile 3-foot radius around me. And so I am joining Chile's Stress Less Challenge.

My gut reaction when I read the challenge was "30 MINUTES?!?! WHERE THE %$!@# AM I GONNA FIND 30 *&%$#$@! MINUTES?!?!?" But after the crazy week I've had, I've decided to drop the ambiguous cursewords and find the fucking time. Because I need to.

So here goes, Chile, I'm diving in head first and I'm not even gonna wimp out and ask for the three ten-minute breaks. I will be waking up a half hour early each day and walking the trails or otherwise exercising. I find that exercise not only relaxes me, but it clears my mind and leaves me with more energy throughout the day (I have no idea how that works). Most importantly, it de-stresses me and makes me a more patient mom. And my kids deserve that.

Thanks, Chile! Now if I can just figure out how to get the &#$~!#%$@ doo-dad to post in my sidebar, I can start &#$~!%$@ relaxing!

Monday, March 3, 2008

#185 - Don't Be Retarded

Avoiding the Flame-Retardant Pajamas


My apologies for the totally un-PC title, but it really does describe the change. The picture? Well, once I had a theme, I figured I'd keep it going. Besides, in the context of things, it's still funnier than showing the effects of toxic flame retardants on our environment or what melted plastic does to human skin.

According to an article from the Healthy Children Project, "Across the world, scientists are studying Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (PBDEs), the family of chemicals that act as flame retardants. The results of their studies are of great concern. They are finding extremely high levels of these neurotoxic, and potentially carcinogenic, chemicals in the bodies of humans and wildlife—levels far higher than those found even ten years ago."

"Animal studies have linked PBDEs to neurodevelopmental and behavioral deficits, thyroid hormone disruption, and possibly cancer. PBDEs are used more heavily in the U.S. and Canada than anywhere else in the world."

"PBDEs may impair the brain function and motor skills of children. All PBDEs disrupt thyroid hormone balance because the chemical structure of PBDEs closely resembles thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormone function is critical to proper brain development both in the womb and after birth. Newborn mice exposed to PBDEs experienced damage to their nervous systems, resulting in learning and motor deficits that worsened as the animals grew older. "

PBDEs are found in a number of household products, including flame-retardant children's pajamas. In fact, until the mid-nineties, all children's sleepwear was required by the US Federal Government to be flame-retardant. This requirement, originally enacted in the 70's, was designed to protect kids, since most pj's are made from polyester. Get the connection? Polyester is plastic. Plastic melts when it gets heated and could melt to the skin of a child. Not a pretty thought. (Now see why I chose the owl picture?)

But in the early nineties, the feds realized the hazards of PBDEs and amended the laws to allow the sale of non-PBDE treated pjs. So nowadays you have a choice. You can select baggy-style, poly-blend, flame-retardant pajamas, or bound-to-shrink-a-lot, skin-tight, hooker-lookin' pj's. Opt for the skin-tight ones.

And even though I strongly advocate buying used clothing or accepting hand-me-downs, this is definitely an exception to that rule. If you can't get pre-owned, non-flame-retardant jammies, then by all means, go hit Target and get the kids some stylin' new body-hugging sleepwear. Just be sure to return those #6 hangers they're sold on.

Now, you're thinking, "well that's wonderful that you're saving your kids from inhaling toxic chemicals, but what does that have to do with saving the environment?" To which I say "Get off my ass already, I'm getting to that.".

Scientists have now found PBDEs in Arctic polar bears. What the hell those bears were doing wearing baggy, flame-retardant pajamas, I'll never know. I mean, for Peter, Paul and Mary's sake, how often do polar bears die in house fires?!?!?!?! COME ON!

Well, apparently, they aren't. It's just that this nasty shit stays around for a long time and once it off-gases into the atmosphere, it floats around all over the globe. And the bad news is, it's not just in our jammies, it's in our furniture, computers, carpets, mattresses, draperies, etc. Basically, any household plastic or foam item that you wouldn't want bursting into flames during a fire.

There is a ton of information out there, if you want to take steps to reduce your exposure to PBDEs. I for one, am going to start with the very small step of avoiding them in my kids' pjs. Baby steps. Baby, footed-pajama steps.

Technology-Free Day Update

First off, my big thanks to Melinda for starting the "Technology Free Day" challenge! If you haven't signed up for it yet, I highly recommend you try it! I had a FANTABULOUS Tech-Free Day yesterday.

I was a little twitchy in the morning, being thrown out of my regular routine of morning coffee with internet surfing, but once I got over the initial anxiety and let go, I had a really enjoyable day! I relaxed and spent time with the kids instead. While I didn't accomplish much, here are some things we did:

Ethan and I watered a plant and talked about how it grew, how it converts sunlight into energy and how it needs to drink water. He decided he would like to be in charge of watering plants and I told him that was a great idea. Then we found a lady bug and followed it around for about 20 minutes, yes, 20 minutes. Ethan showed her the plant, the floor, the window and several dust bunnies. She seemed truly captivated. Later in the day we went to the park where they were having a "make your own kite and fly it day" so we... well, you can probably guess.

Daphne and I played a rousing game of "I love you more" and "cooked" in her play kitchen for half an hour straight. I gave her a bath in the middle of the day just because we could. She wasn't feeling well (still.... we went to the doc today and it turns out she has an ear infection) so I alternated between coddling her and hiding from her raging tantrums. Don't judge me.

I did let the kids watch their afternoon "rest time" move, while I read Omnivore's Dilemma. I made it all the way through the first section and it turns out I was right. We do eat a lot of corn. In fact, way more than I thought. But more on that later. Anyhow, they (the kids, not the corn) also got to watch their evening Tom and Jerry just before bed. Once they were asleep, I cheated and put in a Netflix DVD Rental -- a documentary about global warming.

But, since TV isn't really a big draw for me anymore, I don't feel it diminished my accomplishment. The internet is the "time hog" in my life and it was very nice to spend a day away from it. The only way I can describe it is that it felt like being on vacation. Odd, since I always thought I surfed for relaxation, but I felt more relaxed yesterday than I have in a long time. Hmmmmm.

#184 - The Carpool Lane

Carpooling to Save Gas

Well I am just rollin' with the gasoline saving changes, aren't I? Today I've got a great one -- carpooling! A totally obvious solution to slowing our gas consumption that I've managed to avoid for over six months. But with crude oil prices running over $100 a barrel, I'd say this is a great time to start!

I know, I know, I work from home so where, exactly, would I carpool to? Why, to preschool and the local fish store, of course! My friend, (yes, I have one) Jennifer, and I have decided to start carpooling. For her, it's a way to save some cash, for me a way to save the environment. Both excellent reasons to give it a try!

So, on Mondays - Thursdays, I'll be dropping her son, Conner, off at his preschool, and once a week, we'll head up to the fancy side of town to hit the fish market, crunchy granola store, and coffee shop together to buy us some local seafood. Oh wait, that means we're saving money, saving the environment and having fun running our collective errands -- three great reasons to carpool!

Carpooling is a great way to save resources and money. And if you live in a decent-sized metropolitan area, there's the added bonus of getting to use the HOV lanes. So why not ask around and see if any of your friends or neighbors are up for it? You might be surprised to find that they would like to do it, but feel funny asking. Remember, it never hurts to ask and the worst they can say is "no". Well, I guess the worst they could say is "No you freaky-ass eco-dork, get the hell off my chemically-treated lawn and step away from gas-guzzling Hummer before I call the cops!.... AGAIN" But if they say that, you should really think about whether or not you want to be their friend. And whether it was wise to violate that restraining order.

If you don't have any friends or neighbors to ask, you could always check out a rideshare program like Ridecheck, eRideShare, or google your metro area or state name plus the words "ride share car pool" to find a rideshare program local to your area.


Savings

I'll be saving Jennifer a ten-mile (round trip) drive four mornings per week. Our weekly errand-running savings is a 35 mile (round trip) drive. Together, that's a savings of 75 miles per week. We both drive minivans that average about 20 mpg city driving which gives us a total gasoline savings of 3.75 gallons.

And, at $3.00 a gallon, that equates to a combined dollar savings of $11.25 per week. Sweet.


Difficulty Level: 2 out of 5

The only pain in the ass here will be moving car seats. Other than that, I already drive past Conner's preschool every day so that's no problem. And getting together to run errands is a lot of fun -- much better than going it alone! All in all, this is going to be a fun change to make!

Saturday, March 1, 2008

A Different Kind Of Story

OK, don't forget that Sunday is my first Technology Free Day! So I'm gonna post a little story for you tonight to give you something to read with your morning java. This is a short little fable written by my Dad. Here's his introduction:

Long before the advent of the great Iroquois Confederacy, even before the founding of the major tribes of the Mohawk, Oneida and Onondaga there did exist the beginnings of what we now call civilization. In the remote wilderness bordering Lake Ontario there lived several small clans of Native People. Each of these groups, as separate entities, had their own customs and beliefs as to their origins. Stories of the Earth’s creation and the establishment of the various forms of flora and fauna were told to each succeeding generation to provide a living history, as well as for the entertainment value. This, then, is a compilation of legends, lore and possibly some lies, that might have been told by the members of one of those clans. I do not claim originality of these tales as I may have read or heard of something in the distant past that has been nearly forgotten until now. I do hope, however, that these stories will provide some entertainment value, especially for the younger members of the audience.


Naoki-Ha


It was summer time. Naoki-Ha, the first tree sparrow was very happy. His days were spent flitting about, checking on all the new and wondrous things in this warm, sunny meadow. The wigwams of the Great Spirit’s people were arranged so that the fire stones which kept the cooking fires under control were in the center.

Wild flowers grew in profusion and pretty, colorful butterflies lazily drifted amongst them. A small stream meandered by and on its banks grew cat tails and other reeds. These were the home of the red-winged black bird or sentinel.
Food was not a problem. Seeds and insects were in abundance, and Naoki-Ha frequently visited the area around the cooking fires. Here he found bits and pieces of food dropped by the humans. Sometimes he would find a very small handful of cracked grain, left for him by Shanewa, a young Indian girl, who took great delight in watching as he flitted about.
Shanewa and her sisters Hudewa and Erinewa were the youngest females in the clan and as such were everyone’s favorites, including Naoki-Ha’s.
So progressed the summer. Seemingly a continuous succession of warm sunny days with an occasional rain shower to freshen and nourish the Earth. The flowers bloomed, the birds sang. Small, furry creatures, such as rabbits and squirrels cavorted in the grass.
Naoki-Ha’s joy with his existence was unlimited. Though he was small and inconspicuous, with brown back and wings, and a soft gray breast, he was not the least bit envious of the more colorful birds, such as the robin, blue jay and the sentinel, with his scarlet wing patches.

Quick darting movements and a soft twittering with chirps had given him his name, Naoki-Ha, meaning “twitter-chirp”. It seemed his purpose for being was to constantly be busy and to bring a smile to all who saw him. His nights were spent sheltered and secure in the branches of a thick, fat pine tree.

And so it was that one morning when he emerged from his shelter, he noticed that his World had changed. Frost glistened on the foliage and flower blooms. The leaves on many of the trees were turning color and the grasses were turning from vibrant green to a dull, withered brown.

Quickly he flew to the “People Place”. The three young girls were huddled by the cooking fire, wrapped in robes of animal skins. While they would normally be giggling and chattering, this day they were somber and talking about MANTA NE-WA-DO (Creator, Spirit Mother/Father) who lived deep in the forest.

This confused Naoki-Ha. The changes in the weather and the behavior of the girls led him to believe that something was happening. He did not fully comprehend, but was not happy about the changes that were occurring.

He flew to the creek bank. The sentinel was gone. The cat tails and reeds standing mutely offered no explanation. Tiny silken parachutes floated away from a cat tail that had ripened and was fulfilling its destiny.

To the meadow...even though the morning sun had melted the frost, there were no butterflies to be seen. Except for the scolding of a blue jay in the distance, it was very quiet. There were no robins hopping about looking for worms, and even the yellow flash of the wild canary was not to be seen.

“Manta Newado! I must go o the deep forest and speak with the Creator. He will be able to make things right again. He will make it warm and bring back my friends and the flowers and the butterflies. I must do this, or surely everything will die!” So thought the little bird.

With feelings of apprehension, he flew into the constant twilight of the deep forest. The trees grew so tall, and so mightily, they all but blocked the sun. Towering pines, spreading oaks, and the regal maples grew in profusion. Other trees, such as beech, hickory, chestnut, and hemlock were interspersed to provide a natural balance.

On he flew, through the entire day and as night approached, it grew colder and darker.

On he flew, determination making his little wings keep moving. On and on through the night, guided by a sixth sense, through trees, branches and falling leaves... through the cold, still air...through the silence of the forest.

As dawn was breaking, he at last came to a small clearing in the forest. A wigwam stood at the far edge and in front of it was a fire ring of stones. A faint wisp of smoke rose from the last glowing ember. Frost covered the brown grass and the carpet of leaves.

“The fire! The fire is going out! That is why it is so cold and everything is dying!” thought Naoki-Ha. “The fire of the Great Creator must burn brightly to keep the world warm! I must keep the fire going until Manta Newado gets up to put more fuel on it!”

And so, in spite of his fear of fire, he started flitting about, gathering bits of dry moss and twigs to place on the glowing ember. Each time he flew up to the coal with a bit of grass, or a twig, the air from his moving wings stirred up little puffs of ashes and soot. Poor little bird, soon he was covered with dust and a smudge of soot was on his breast.

The fire smoldered, but the fuel did not ignite. “More twigs! I must get more twigs and dry grass!” And away he flew, again and again, he carried his burden to the smoky fire. Still it did not flame. He remembered seeing Shanewa’s mother restart a fire by fanning the embers with a piece of birch-bark. “That I cannot do, but my wings make the air move. Maybe that will help
start the fire.”

Cautiously he hopped through the ashes until he was as close to the pile of twigs, moss, grass, and the glowing ember as he dared to be. Raising his wings, he gently moved them up and down. The coal glows a little brighter, and the smoke grew a bit thicker. He stroked his wings faster and faster until he was almost flying, and suddenly with a soft “poof!” the flames appeared.

As he jumped back to keep from being burned, he heard a soft chuckle. He turned his head and saw Manta Newado, the Creator, standing behind him.

“Silly little Twitter-Chirp,” said the Creator. “I think we need to talk. Come, sit.”

So the small bird rested his weary wings and body as he perched on the Creator’s knee. Manta Newado explained why the seasons change and how life progressed through its various stages. Naoki-Ha listened intently and was greatly relieved to learn that his world was not dying, only resting to be reborn in the spring.

Finally, Manta Newado looked at Naoki-Ha and said, “I wondered when I created you if I gave you too much heart and not enough brain. Now I know that I did right. Go back to your meadow by the forest and stream. When the sun returns from its southern journey, it will be warm again. The flowers and butterflies will reappear and you will find your mate... and from this day forward, you and your hatchlings and all your family’s hatchlings will forever wear soot and ashes on their breasts as a badge of honor, that one so small would try so hard to help his fellow creatures.”

And so it was.

Interesting Op-Ed in the NY Times

Today's New York Times ran an op-ed piece by Jack Hedin, a small, midwestern farmer, entitled My Forbidden Fruits and Vegetables. It talks about how the farm bill that is currently being negotiated on Capitol Hill will have a horribly detrimental effect on small, local vegetable farmers. These are the folks who run the CSAs, bring their produce to the Farmer's Market and often sell their organice fruits and veggies to the local grocery stores.

I urge you to give it a read and then, drop a note to your congressman and senators to let them know how you feel about the farm bill.

Get the lead out. That is all.

If, like me, you're lazy and wish someone would write a letter for you to just copy and paste, feel free to take the words right out of my mouth, er... post:

I was deeply disturbed by the op-ed piece in today's New York Times entitled "My Forbidden Fruits (and Vegetables)". My concern is centered around the farm bill, which is currently under negotiation.

According to the article:

"The commodity farm program effectively forbids farmers who usually grow corn or the other four federally subsidized commodity crops (soybeans, rice, wheat and cotton) from trying fruit and vegetables. Because my watermelons and tomatoes had been planted on “corn base” acres, the Farm Service said, my landlords were out of compliance with the commodity program.
I’ve discovered that typically, a farmer who grows the forbidden fruits and vegetables on corn acreage not only has to give up his subsidy for the year on that acreage, he is also penalized the market value of the illicit crop, and runs the risk that those acres will be permanently ineligible for any subsidies in the future. (The penalties apply only to fruits and vegetables — if the farmer decides to grow another commodity crop, or even nothing at all, there’s no problem.)


In my case, that meant I paid my landlords $8,771 — for one season alone! And this was in a year when the high price of grain meant that only one of the government’s three crop-support programs was in effect; the total bill might be much worse in the future.

In addition, the bureaucratic entanglements that these two farmers faced at the Farm Service office were substantial. The federal farm program is making it next to impossible for farmers to rent land to me to grow fresh organic vegetables."

Personally, as a citizen, voter, blogger and general all-around loud-mouth, I would like to see you do your part to ensure that I have access to locally grown organic vegetables produced on small, family-owned farms. I would appreciate a response indicating your stance on this matter.

Regards,

[Your Name Here]

Story Hour XV

Story Hour is a collection of short, auto-biographical stories written by my father, about his boyhood memories of life on a farm in Upstate New York.

Threshing Day Continued

We were all up early the next morning, when I suddenly realized that DG had not come home as scheduled. This was not terribly unusual as he frequently was asked to fill in a vacancy on a shift. Always willing to pick up the extra pay, he would accept the additional assignment. The problem was that without a telephone or other means of communication there was no way to let us know what was going on. We could only wait and see when he would show up. One thing was for sure, he would be very tired.

Morning chores had to be done, the milk had to be taken to Pulaski, chickens had to be killed (increased to four) along with innumerable little side jobs that would crop up. So we went right at it. By the time the cows were let out to pasture Jack and Dick were well on their way with the milk run and the rest of us headed for the house for a quick bite of breakfast. The timing worked out well as the older boys returned in the Studebaker at the same time Jim, the owner/operator, of the threshing machine arrived.

The tractor was, I believe a John Deere with a big side-mounted belt drive pulley. I don’t remember if the tractor was on rubber but the threshing monster was on steel wheels and quite noisy on the black top roads. A short meeting between mom, Jack, Dick and Jim determined where the rig was to be set up, where the straw would be blown to and where the sacks of oats would be placed.

This accomplished, Jim and Jack started positioning the thresher and the tractor so the power belt would be in good alignment so as to prevent run-offs. Dick went to the chicken coop to select four chickens, taking Dugal with him for a helper. Hopefully they would select chickens that were slowing down on the egg production instead of good layers. I went into the barn and brought out the good feed bags that would be filled with the oats and placed them on the bag rack by the grain discharge pipe. Once filled, Jim would quickly tie them off and set them aside.

Each teamster with a load of oats would drive up to the thresher, stopping his wagon in a position so that he could fork the bundles of oats into the feed hopper. This needed to be done in an even distribution to prevent clogging the machine. The feed had to be interrupted to allow Jim to tie off and replace the bags as they filled. The whole job at the machine side was hot, terribly dusty and so noisy it hurt your ears (no OSHA then).

The straw was blown into a pile where it would remain until the first opportunity to transport it to the barn loft. By now the neighbors with their teams and wagons were arriving and getting organized. Dick and Dugal returned from the chicken mission and I reported to mom in the kitchen to help her and Sally with the garden produce, water hauling and any other chores that I could help with. Dick was designated to stay with Jim and tend the machine and Jack would take his place driving Tom and Jerry while Dugal helped as a loader. A couple of farmers had brought hired men with them so we ended up with sufficient manpower to accomplish the job.

Jim decided we were ready to go so he sent the teams to the oat field to start hauling grain. ”Kinda space the loads out a bit, so they don’t jam up,” he said with a grin. “We wantta make ‘er last until after lunch. I hear we’re having chicken ‘n biscuits.”

As the caravan of rigs headed out through the meadow he started tinkering and adjusting various knobs, levers and controls on the tractor. Finally he grasped the flywheel, and with a grunt gave it a mighty twist. He did get a faint pop and a puff of exhaust smoke. Again he repeated the effort with the same results. He adjusted the choke setting and tweaked the throttle and tried again. This time he got two or three half hearted pops and an ALMOST start.

”Once more” he grunted and sure enough with the traditional hit-and-miss firing rhythm of a John Deere it was running. “We’ll let ‘er warm up a bit then smooth ‘er out”, he said to Dick as he increased the throttle setting a little more. Soon the engine seemed to be settling down to a fairly even throbbing beat with no load on it.

“Time to twist ‘er tail”, said Jim as he reached for the big lever that would engage the drive pulley. “Watch that belt don’t run off and hit you. If she let’s go, just get out of the way. We can put ‘er back on quick enough. Just don’t get hurt.” With that said, he started easing the lever forward.

The strain on the engine was immediately noticeable and as the belt started to tremble and creep, the monster seemed to be coming to life. Clanks, groans, slaps jingles and bangs, whirrs and clunks and DUST.

“Smooth as silk”, Jim shouted and grinned. “Guess we’re ready to make oats.”

Just as he said that, the first wagon appeared around the corner of the barn and pulled up to the unloading spot. “Feed ‘em in easy at first, ‘til we get in the swing of it.” Shouted Jim with a nod to the driver.

As the first few bundles passed under the feed flails the noise and dust increased as expected.
“Keep ‘em coming, we are doing OK.”

The first straws started coming out of the straw pipe and the oat bag showed that it was getting the oats. With a nod from Jim the driver increased the speed of his unloading. The machine made more noise and dust but took the strain in stride.

”BAG”, shouted Jim and the driver stopped feeding while the filled bag was tied off and replaced with an empty one.

“OK” and they were running again.
Dick grabbed the full bag of oats and carried it up to the barn floor out of the weather and continued walking around the set up looking for potential problems (mostly the belt wandering on the pulleys). A big iron crowbar had been driven into the ground where the belt crossed itself to reverse direction of the drive. This also lent a stabilizing effect as a belt guide.

Needless to say things were going better than was anticipated. The teams were arriving at decent intervals so there was no time lost waiting for oats. I had been sent out with a couple of jugs of cool switzel for the thirsty, dusty men to refresh themselves. It was hot, dirty repetitious work so I will not bore you with the details.

We eventually made it to lunch time and shut the machine down. The drivers had timed their trips so that we ended up with one load ready for the start up. Each driver looked after his team with water and an oat bag before heading for the well to wash up and cool down. They expected the kitchen to be hot and they were not disappointed.

That old kitchen stove had just been pouring out the BTUs all morning. The table with all the extra chairs and planks on saw horses enabled us to seat the whole crew at once. There wasn’t much extra room but with good natured elbowing and lots of laughing they all fit in.

Mom, Sally and I were the wait staff busily carrying dishes, shuffling pots and pans, bring water or whatever was needed or wanted. Big bowls of chicken and gravy were placed within easy reach and piles of biscuits strategically located, Platters of golden sweet corn, plates of sliced tomatoes, pickles and relishes along with the ever present chili sauce. Two large bowls of mashed potatoes were there for those who wanted them and piles of home made bread and preserves were not lacking. Setting on the pantry broad shelf cooling off were several fruit pies made from yellow transparent apples, blueberries and rhubarb.

No one got up from the table feeling hungry, that was for sure. In fact, that was probably the best meal some of them had eaten in several days. Most of them would like to have taken a little nap but that was not on the agenda.

After a few minutes more of joking and conversation Jim stood up and announced, “Back at it, boys” and out they went.

Mom, Sally and I collapsed in the nearest chairs and ruefully surveyed the disaster area that faced us. I never realized we owned this many dishes, pots, pans, tubs and flatware, all in need of washing, rinsing and drying before being put away until Silo-Filling Day in October.

There were no options, so with a sigh mom said, “We might as well get at it and get it over with. Rod you get the slop pail out and start scraping dishes for the pigs. Mind you don’t dump any forks, knives or spoons.”

The dish pan and rinse pan both sat right on the stove with a very low fire a couple of cookie sheets were placed on the cooler side of the stove to stack the dishes until they could be wiped and put away. A small table held the scraped dishes until they went into the dish pan. Mom handled the washing, rinsing and placing on the cookie sheets. Sally was the dryer and stacked the dishes on the wiped down table. I took the buckets of slops out to the pigs and they enjoyed their threshing day dinner. Boy, how they did crunch through those chicken bones and corn cobs.

In the meantime the oat operation was going full blast, things running smoothly when DG’s model “A” pulled into the driveway. He sat there for a minute or two just taking in the sight of the thresher and all the activity. You could tell he was exhausted just from his appearance.

He opened the car door and got out, slowly walking towards the house a deep yawn attesting to his condition. Mom opened the door and said,”Welcome stranger, come, sit, there is a bit left if you are hungry.”

“I might just do that. Then I have to see what I can do to help out there.”

Mom smiled and said, “I think you will be surprised. I talked with Jim at lunch and he assured me things would be all done by three or three thirty. Oats are yielding fair to middling. We should have enough for the horses, chickens and ourselves, if need be. You might want to stop out and say hello to Jim and then I would suggest you get a couple hours of sleep. I’m sure he will agree with me.”

She placed a plate of food in front of him and urged him to “Dig in.” He did.

Finishing his lunch, he arose from the table and made his way out the door. As he approached the machine he noticed Jim motion for Dick to come over where he was to take over for him. Dick had been observing and filling in on occasion so he was capable of handling the job. Together Jim and DG walked a few steps away so they could talk without shouting.

”Man, you look like death warmed over”, said Jim with a smile. “I think you better get a little shut-eye before you go down in a heap.”

“I’d really like to help out here if I could, gotta get these oats in,” DG said.

“Don’t you worry none. With this crew and those boys of yours we will have them all taken care of real soon. That Jack is handy with those wild horses of yours. They were pretty skittish first time up to the machine but he held them real close until Dick went up, held their bridles and calmed them down while Jack off loaded the oats. After that they were ok. You go on in now, we will settle up in a couple of days, OK?”

DG nodded and said ”OK, I guess you’re the boss on this crew, see you later.”

Back in the house we were just finishing up the dishes, pots and pans and sweeping the floor. The kitchen looked fairly presentable considering what it had looked like an hour ago. DG headed through his bedroom door and asked to be awakened for supper. Sally and I eagerly stepped out the door into the relative coolness of the fresh air.

“Busy day, huh?"

"Yeah, I’m beat.”

We walked slowly out towards the machinery and clouds of dust.

“Ugh” said Sally, "that hot kitchen was almost better than this.”

We stood as much up wind as we could to avoid most of the dust. The pile of straw looked like gold in the sun with a little green from the ragweed mixed in. The timing was good - the last three wagon loads were coming up through the meadow and as each was emptied the drivers waved and started down the road for their home farms. They knew that Jim would keep them informed of the next threshing event on the schedule.

As soon as Jack finished unloading the wagon he drove it around to where it was usually parked. He unhitched Tom and Jerry and drove them to their stalls. Cool fresh water was the first order of business along with a few oats as a reward. Off came the harnesses which were properly hung on pegs.

Grabbing an old feed bag, he briskly rubbed both horses down and climbed to the hay loft to dump some fresh hay into the mangers. Proper care of the horses was one of the most important jobs a man could do on the farm at that time.

Jim had shut the machine off and was breaking down the rig for transport. Dick was rolling up the belt and Dugal was securing blow pipes and beater bars. The boys were hurrying a little because in the back of their heads they were figuring on a quick trip to the swimming hole on Deer Creek before chores. Poor Sally was not to be invited as this was a boys' swimming hole (skinny dipping only).

Restarting the tractor, Jim jockeyed it around until it was in position to hook up the thresher. Dick coupled the units together and reached out to shake hands with Jim.

“Thanks for the training session”, he said with a grin.

Jim grinned right back at him and said, “If you ever want a job, come see me.”

With a wave to the rest of us he let out the clutch and the noisy, dusty monster started on the road to home. We headed for the Studebaker and the swimming hole. We knew Sally would tell mom where we were headed (grudgingly, of course).

This was basically what oat threshing day consisted of. More often than not, it was a day filled with frustration, broken equipment, sprains and bruises, run away teams, broken belts and the threat of rain.

After the quick swim, chores were done a bite of supper was eaten. A little relaxation and a general review of the day’s events brought the day to an early close. Several times in the past few days I had heard the word “School” mentioned. September was almost upon us. Time to think about wearing shoes again, also shirts.

My usual attire in the summer was a pair of raggedy shorts. I did truly hate the thought of corduroy knickers that whistled when you walked. Maybe I had outgrown them and they would get passed down to Alex. I could only hope!