12/13/2011

ONG Energy Efficiency Program

I wanted to give you guys a heads-up about ONG's Energy Efficiency Program.  If you are thinking of switching out or converting to any natural gas-powered appliance or climate control system, they are currently offering rebates. They are also offering rebates so you can get a check-up for your home heating units, so you can be safe, cozy and warm during the winter season.

If you don't have ONG, or don't have natural gas, check with your utility to see what options are available. Many utilities around the state offer rebates, financing, and other services to help you affordably increase your home's energy efficiency.

12/07/2011

Durban Climate Discussions (30-second version)

As you may or may not be aware, this week begins the international climate discussions in Durban, South Africa. So here is the uber-short “Cliff’s Notes” version:

The original climate change discussions were in Kyoto in 1997, wherein the Kyoto Protocol was signed. Under the Kyoto Protocol, countries committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The US was not a signatory. The Kyoto Protocol agreement and its emissions reductions goals expire in 2012. Further conferences have been held in recent years to reach agreement on what should be done next. The last two were in Copenhagen and Cancun.  It has been argued that these are both without major developments, although progress was made at both. Under the Copenhagen Accord, countries set forth a series of non-legally-binding agreements.  The Cancun Agreements created emissions goals and action priorities (such as reducing deforestation and funding climate adaptation projects). Discussions in Durban are likewise expected to yield no major progress in policy, but will hopefully lay the groundwork for major agreements in upcoming conferences.

The major topics of the discussions in Durban are:

1.     The Future of the Kyoto Protocol – will it be extended? Amended? Are there enough willing players to continue this effort?
2.     Next Emissions Reductions Agreement – regardless of what happens with the Kyoto Protocol, an emissions reductions agreement must be met which includes all of the major players. This conference aims tol take preliminary steps towards developing such a policy.
3.     Details! -  Details remain to be hammered out regarding some of the Cancun Agreements. Primary among these are “MRV” (Monitoring, reporting, verification) of reductions and management of the specifics for climate adaptation funds.

That’s it in a nutshell, one of the smallest nutshells I could find. If you want to follow the talks, you can find info on them here http://conx.state.gov and here http://www.cop17-cmp7durban.com/ and here http://unfccc.int/meetings/durban_nov_2011/meeting/6245.php

12/02/2011

Ethical Christmases and “That Weird Relative”



I waffle back and forth on my Christmas tactics from year to year. Not just for environmental reasons, but also for financial reasons, ‘what do people really want’ reasons, anti-corporatism, Okie patriotism, the list goes on.  And then, on top of that, I’m an American: I love buying my friends funny t-shirts and other kitchy gadgets and doo-dads as much as the next person.  Year to year my gift-giving themes are based on my mood and personal ethical goals as much as on my financial stability. I think I’ve started to settle into a routine, though. One year I will shop ethically – looking for all-local and all-eco friendly gifts with a sprinkling of handmade items, and then the next year I will shop like a normal person. I feel this will keep me from turning into “that weird relative” who always buys you what they think you should want instead of what you would actually like to have. Because as much as *I* am excited about re-usable sandwich bags or clever ornaments from local artists - does not mean someone else will be. And sometimes I like something so much I convince myself that everyone else likes it, too.

I also have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. Sometimes I will be very bah-humbug, convinced that people should actually be saying “Merry Fun Yet Useless Stuff!” rather than Merry Christmas, and “Do what you want,” sometimes means “If you don’t follow tradition I will cry”. I have found that as much as people say it is not about gifts, most of them have no qualms about remembering the Year You Did Not Give Me a Present. In fact, I have found that if my gift is not good enough, they will forget I gave them a gift at all – I should have just saved my money!  That was me last year. I hated buying crap for people who already had too much crap just so they would still know I cared about them, and I hated spending half my month at other people’s houses while the gobs of social interaction jangled my nerves, my dogs were neglected and my house chores piled up to the ceiling, just because getting together at another time of year was not acceptable because it was not Christmas time.

But this year, I’m right back to looking forward to laying around at my relatives’ and friends’ houses for long hours while we all laugh and eat cookies; I’m back to buying everyone every little thing I think they want just because I’m excited to see them smile when they open their gifts. I’m back to admiring my Christmas tree even while I ponder how energy inefficient Christmas lights are, and how I need to buy LED tree lights when they go on clearance in January. Back to planning cooking sprees to make candies and gingerbread cookies. This year is Christmas is Christmas again.

So here are my various efforts at making Christmas giving ethical, and their outcomes. If you find this to be TMI, I’m going to cut to the chase and tell you that in my experience, creative Christmas gift-giving works and is appreciated, but only if I change it up every year. :

      1.      I Made It
When I was in high school I tried making people gifts. I was crafty; I could make all sorts of things. I made bookmarks, jewelry, ornaments, clay figurines, painted rocks (really), mixed cassettes (remember those?), and decorated writing pens for people. After a few years I learned that, even if you make someone the best, coolest necklace you’ve ever made, it won’t be useful to them unless they would have wanted that same necklace if it were in the store. Just because it’s nice craftsmanship, and you made it, does not mean they will want to use it.  Most of these gifts wound up on a shelf, because “it’s so pretty! You made it!” but remained unused. I also learned that I’m not such a good judge at guessing people’s style preferences.

      2.      Food
In college I learned to bake. EVERYONE got plates cookies of various flavors for Christmas! And really, they loved it. The first year. The second year they thought it was nice. And then after that, I kind of felt as though I was giving them cookies as a cop-out because I didn’t want to go buy presents. So then people got presents AND cookies. And then everyone started going on diets. And I finally quit making cookies because they would eat the cookies in front of me while complaining about how it is so hard to keep your weight down and eat healthy during the holidays and how they are too heavy or pre-diabetic or watching their cholesterol. (Awkward!)  I haven’t made cookies the past 2-3 years, but I will again this year. My uncle specifically requested them.

Also… the year I boxed a whole pineapple for Dirty Santa? Well, I still think it was a good idea, but my family will NOT let me live it down! Apparently I am the only one who is excited about getting fruit for Christmas.

3.      Recycled Gift Wrap
One year I refused to buy gift wrap, or to use traditional gift wrap. I used paper bags, printer paper, newspaper, and cloth bundles with ribbon or twine holding them together. Some people thought it was tacky. Mostly they seemed to think it was lazy or cheap. Some people really didn’t care – wouldn’t have minded if I’d left the wrapping off altogether. If I decorated the wrapping by drawing pictures on it and writing messages, they carefully unwrapped the gift and kept the wrapping awkwardly on a shelf, not sure what to do with this strange new form of artwork I’d given them.  And here I have to add that my family has always been amused by my wrapping style, because I have never liked scotch tape. I use little bits of packing tape instead. So the packing tape with paper bags was seen as extra odd.

4.      Let’s Spend Time Together
One year, when people seemed extra focused on trying to get rid of their Extra Stuff, I made coupons. Mostly, I offered to take them out to lunch or dinner, a picnic, the lake, a yoga class together, or some such. I thought they would rather spend time with me than get more junk they already have (and I would certainly rather spend time with them!), so I made up little vouchers and put them in cards. The first time around people seemed to like it, and they also seemed to like having a freebie fun date waiting for them whenever they wanted to use it. It was financially convenient because Christmas giving was spread out through the year. But if I kept giving the same person vouchers for dinner / lunch dates, they quit cashing them in. Even if I reminded them that I owed them dinner, they became too busy for the entire year. And so I quit giving these out, too.

5.      Go Have Fun / Gift Certificates
We all know this one… and it is a good option. But it just seems unpersonal to me. It’s just more fun to give something specific, that let’s the person know you really considered them and hand-picked a special gift. There are exceptions, though. For example, I have a newly married relative, and I like to give him and his wife free dates as gifts. Movie tickets for two, or enough money for two to eat at a nice restaurant or see a play, etc.  They seem to really enjoy it, and I enjoy giving it to them. I feel like I’m helping them strengthen their relationship and giving them something that’s truly fun and meaningful. These types of gifts are probably also good for new parents, stressed caretakers, workaholics, college students, or anyone who seems they may need some fun time to relax but might not have the funds or gumption to do it on their own.

6.      Sneaky Eco-Presents
Last year I vowed to buy 100% ethical gifts. Every gift was locally made, or had an environmental slant to it. Because I was still determined to buy people gifts that they would appreciate, I had to be extra careful with my shopping. It took a lot of time to comb through art shows and craft fairs and boutiques, but I had a lot of fun doing it. I had a hard time remembering that I was not shopping for myself. When someone proved too hard to shop for locally, I turned to Etsy and buying artisan things online. Some of these gifts were huge wins; one of my biggest hits was the Yes and Yes calendar I got for a coworker. So was the sweater mouse I bought.  On the other hand, some of them fell flat. No matter how much I loved the gift and was sure that the person I gave it to would love it, some of them were a bit too quirky to go over well.  I was excited to give one person a glass ornament which had a patch of moss and a miniature gnome habitat inside, complete with instructions on how to attract gnomes… but I don’t think the ornament ever made it onto her tree. Some of the people who got re-usable cloth sandwich bags filled with chocolates were likewise un-thrilled.

After all this, I learned that for the most part, people go straight to box stores because they like the gifts that come from the box stores. And like it or not, if I want them to be the happiest, that’s what I have to do. But at the same time, I feel that something is lost if I do that – that if I shop the same old way, I’m not going to find them something that is truly unique and perfect just for them, replacing that thing (whatever it may be) with loads of nifty yet soulless plastic kitch. I also feel that if I shop at those stores each year, people won’t learn that they like Christmas any other way, and on my own part, I feel that I’m cheapening the holiday by going the mass-market route. Because honestly… can’t they go buy those things from Target without me? I want to give them that cool thing they didn’t even know they wanted, and I want that cool thing to be in harmony with my personal ethics.

So for now, I’m compromising. One year I shop my way. The next year I shop their way. That way, I eliminate the possibility that I’ll buy them two unwanted Christmas gifts in a row and they won’t start dreading my presents, but I still have the possibility once in a while of striking gold on that really awesome, one-of-a-kind, meaningful gift.

I also learned that no matter how creative I get or how old my uncle gets as the years march by… he really does just want me to bake him a plate of cookies!


11/17/2011

Eco-Icons: Aldo Leopold and A Sand County Almanac



“A tree tries to argue, bare limbs waving, but there is no detaining the wind.”
-Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac

My definition of great books has changed a little as I grow older. There are the delicious books that you gobble down with gusto like a piece of chocolate, and if they were the tastiest books ever you may go back and read them again and again. Or you may just remember them fondly as a once in a life time event, like the time you visited that expensive out of town restaurant. Then there are the books you savor ever so slowly, like a thick mug of hot chocolate (can you tell I love chocolate?).  So that was me. I used to judge books entirely on the yummy factor.

Now my tastes have changed. I consider multi-functional books to be pure genius, whether they are really good references or works of philosophy and fiction that just work for me, in whatever it is that they do.  Sometimes the genius of the literature is only apparent once I realize that I keep referring back to it again and again, to use in different ways. Few books hold this honor for me. A Sand County Almanac is one of those.

I originally read this book back in high school for the sole reason that it was written by Aldo Leopold, who is one of my “heroes,” so far as I have them. Aldo Leopold was an iconic forester, land manager, and professor. In my humble opinion, his life was interesting and accomplished. He was revolutionary in his day for founding the “land ethic,” which means to respect and honor the land and all of the organisms that dwell therein for the sole reason that they are alive. Instead of managing property based off of what could be harvested from the land, he managed based on land ethic, with goals to bolster a healthy and robust, well-rounded ecosystem. And he is also famous for writing this book, A Sand County Almanac, which is similar in notion to Thoreau’s Walden. Aldo has a country weekend get-away where he connects to and works with the land, and he writes his thoughts and observations about it in the book, arranged by month.

The first time I read it straight through. I found it mildly interesting but not earth-shatteringly good or thought provoking, but there was still something unidentifiable about it that made me appreciate the book right off and I considered it valuable, in un-enthralled respect. I used the book a second time in a research paper for school. The third time I read it, I skimmed through it, admiring the sketches and reading my favorite bits in detail. Now, well more than ten years after I first picked it up, I have turned to it again. I am going through A Sand County Almanac month by month. (In November, I read the passage for November. In December, I read the passage for December.) I do this because it makes me feel calm, appreciative, and meditational – almost spiritual - and I enjoy re-discovering gems like the quote I included here.

So I guess if I go back to my food analogy, this would be an “acquired” taste – the thing I am indifferent to at first, but the more I consume it, the more I realize the possibilities  and the complexities of the flavors, until it becomes a favorite. In that sense, A Sand County Almanac is my coffee and tea, or my favorite stout beer. And when life feels hectic, it gives me peace. It feels like coming home.

11/16/2011

Governor's Energy Conference Summary and State Energy Plan

Last week I was able to attend the Governor’s Energy Conference at the Cox Center. I found this to be an informative event on various levels; aside from being a good source of information, I was also able to hear the Governor, the Secretary of Energy, and CEOs from Devon, Chesapeake, OG&E, PSO, and GE speak – among other notables. Seeing as these are some of the people shaping the policy and economy of the state, seeing their personalities interplay on stage was interesting to me. I imagined I was glimpsing futures to come as I listened to them banter and present their sides.

In addition to these, Governor Fallin and the Energy Office revealed two policy projects. The first was the commencement of an agreement between Oklahoma and Colorado to procure more CNG-fueled vehicles for state fleets. Other states are also expected to join this initiative, which is designed to trigger a top-down effect to speed up the infiltration of CNG vehicles into the market as well as the expansion of fueling infrastructure. The word around the water fountain is that, because states have the ability to order vehicles to spec directly from manufacturers, they are in a unique position to influence the production of alternative fueled vehicles.  So there’s that.

The second policy reveal was the online publication of the State Energy Plan, which covers the major arms of the energy industry in the state and aims to describe Oklahoma’s current situation and lay goals for the future direction of energy development. If you live in Oklahoma and have ears and eyes, you can probably take a guess that the plan would contain a major push towards the development and use of natural gas in every way possible… and you would be correct on that assumption. There is also a smaller push to enhance Oklahoma’s renewable energy portfolio, particularly in the wind sector, and to continue to pursue more effective use of energy efficiency.

The plan touts Oklahoma’s potential to become the country’s energy capital for a second time in upcoming decades, and the conference described how natural gas reserves have significantly increased in recent years due to advancement in cost-effective technology (from what I gleam said technology consists mostly of hydraulic fracturing techniques and equipment). The conference also featured debates over the definitions and benefits of renewable energy (I know! Really!) and whether or not wind and natural gas complement or detract from one another.

The energy plan is a very manageable length for a read; not overly long or academic yet still hefty enough to be educational and substantive. If you are interested in Oklahoma’s energy future (or even energy now) you may want to consider giving it a flip through. You can find it here. 

11/12/2011

Veteran's Day - My Adventure in Converting Casettes to mp3s


I spent Veteran’s Day doing something veteran-related for my family that could also be loosely considered an activity in the “Use Less Stuff” category... or it would be, if I use my newfound knowledge to preserve my old music collection rather than replacing it with a new set of audio CDs. So here's my tale.

I have never been a member of any of the armed forces, but I have a large extended family with relatives in every branch of the military. Most notable to me is my paternal grandfather, who was a WWII marine. I was fortunate enough to have been close to my grandpa and granny, and one summer my Dad set me the task of recording their many stories. This was a memorable experience for me, but the point is that for the past 10-15 years I’ve had a stack of preciously guarded cassettes filled with their voices and memories. The stories span an approximate set of years from 1925 -1995, and contain all of my grandpa’s favorite war stories (among these included meeting and marrying my grandma, having his first baby, how bananas helped him enlist, and a humorous tale involving coconuts).  My grandparents are both gone now, and I don’t listen to the cassettes for fear of ruining them. Somedays I miss their turn of phrase and thick southern drawl and I think to pull the casettes out, then stop myself short. Better to miss their voice than lose the tapes!

Yesterday I finally sat down and figured out how to convert these cassettes to digital formats so I can better preserve them, enjoy them, and share them. I’m not tech savvy. This was a time consuming adventure for me.

This is how I did it.  I’m going to cut out all the steps where I was bumbling around aimlessly, futilely downloading random things, and rearrange the steps until they make sense!

1)     First, I bought this doo-hicky:  Behringer UFO202 


2)      Then I had to buy a cord that allowed me to connect said doo-hicky to my boombox, with a headphone plug on one end and red/white audio jacks on the other.
3)     Download Audacity.
4)     Download LAME for Windows.
5)     Connect cord from step 2 from the boombox headphone jack to the input plugs on doo-hicky.
6)     Connect a pair of earbuds to doo-hicky’s headphone jack.
7)     Connect doo-hicky to computer via USB.
8)     Open audacity and select under the Project tab “New Stereo Project”
9)     Press play on boombox
10) Press record on Audacity
11)  After the allotted length of time, press stop on boombox
12) Press stop on Audacity
13) To save it, do one or both of these:
14)  Click file, click Export as .WAV, select location.
15) Click File, click Export as .mp3, select location. (If this is the first time you are saving as an mp3, you have to show Audacity where LAME is saved. It should be under “C/Program Files/Lame for Audacity/lame_enc.dll  Select the file and tell it to open.)

Happy Veteran’s Day! Whether or not you believe in war or patriotism, it is always good to remember your loved ones and your history.

10/09/2011

CSA Day on the Farm

I mentioned a little while back what a great time we've been having with our CSA, Berry Creek Farm. We've had a huge bag of fruit and veggies and delicious eggs every week since March. We've tasted new things and learned new recipes (the last couple weeks we've been digging on cucumber soup and baked eggplant ziti). We had enough to share with our family, and our freezer is stocked.  Last weekend was the annual picnic at the farm. We invited my parents, who, hearing of our CSA exploits, were considering joining for next year. It was fun to eat outside in the pretty weather, and have a tour of the farm where our food was coming from.

   This is the Berry Creek pest control squad.

This is where my boxes of delicious grapes came from.

These guys made me beautiful eggs all year.

This fellow is ready to make me yummy food next year...


Two tummies that enjoyed Berry Creek food this year, after lunch at the farm...

List of what we got from the CSA this year:

Spinach
Lettuce 
Alfalfa sprouts
potatoes
sweet potatoes
okra
watermelon
honeydew melon
cantaloupe
grapes
beets
radishes
eggplant
turnips
persimmon
Armenian cucumbers
lemon cucumbers
onions
eggs
peaches
cabbage
cauliflauer
broccoli
sweet peppers

The amazing thing to remember is... with drought, record heat, and a late freeze, this was a hard year for farmers!  Just think how great it will be on a good year.

9/30/2011

How Do You Do It

I purposely stay ambiguous about the exact nature of my employment here, other than the fact that I work in the environmental arena. I'm going to continue to skirt around the subject, out of respect for my employers and the occasionally sensitive issues we deal with. Despite that, I will try to be understandable here. 

Last week I had the good fortune to attend a work-related conference. I really love conferences on environmental stuffs... aside from being interesting and informative, they are sometimes inspiring, and they almost always bring together people from all levels of work: private industry, corporations, nonprofits of various flavors, students and academia, as well as different levels and branches of government. I feel this is ever so important. It is sometimes far too easy to overlook the human face of other groups in the environmental field, to forget that for the most part we all have the same end goals. I try to keep in touch with this notion and to remind others when they need it... but even I slip now and then. Events like this remind us that we're really one big community.

During social time I was speaking with someone that is on a different "side" of the field. She asked me, "How do you work in this field and do what you do? It seems like it would be so frustrating and depressing." I hadn't ever thought of my job this way... but when I sit down and think about it, any job in the environmental field could be viewed like this. I'm not that singularly special.

I feel the answer is easy. You concentrate on the small victories, and the small positives, because these things do matter. You hold onto the things that really inspire you. And remember that if you keep learning, and keep working, maybe someday you will be in the right position at the right time, with the knowledge and skill to make a significant change.  That is my answer. When I gave it, she blinked at me, and said, but of course; that's the only correct answer!

But it is also very important to remember that change is slow. Change is hard. Especially large scale change, or change against the powers that be (and much of the eco movement is very large scale - face it folks, you can't create cultural change in a week). People fight it. Some of them with more money or power than you or I may ever have. And most environmentalists feel so strongly about things that we all want everything to happen NOW. Some of us may even feel like the world will end if NOW becomes later, even though all anyone can do is their best. Still...

Know your expertise. Know your ability and sphere of influence.  Do what you can with what you have, and feel proud of that. And you can always learn to do better.

9/26/2011

Building a Garden, take 2



This is the second garden I built this year. You might argue that this one was more work than the raised bed garden. I dug up a plot of yard, pulling out all the bermuda grass, using a shovel and hand tiller. I unearthed several LARGE pieces of concrete in the process. This took quite a while... I'm not good with major digging to begin with, and adding concrete to the challenge was not helpful. But in the end, I had a bunch of turned up clay/top soil, and that was what I needed. The border pieces are really just debris that had been sitting around in the yard. I really can't tell you why we had a long metal pipe. I don't know where it came from. Some of it is made of bits of concrete I dug up. A fence post that had broken off and fallen over, a cinder block. I think Not Fancy might be the official title of this border style. Maybe even Trailer Park Chic? But it works fine.

Inside are canna lilies that people at work were giving away after spring dividing, and a squash plant that was a gift from my mom. I stuck that in with the cannas on a whim, and I'm pretty surprised it liked the poor soil over there. Lucky for me! I had to fit this bed with a drip hose and mulch during the drought. My cannas are stunted (these are supposedly the six-foot tall variety) and haven't bloomed much, but they are growing happily now, so I'm pleased! I'm sure they will do much better next year.

One morning I walked out and saw a giant sphinx moth drinking out of these flowers. Little fellow let me get right up close and take a good look while he buzzed around... so nice of him!

9/25/2011

Building a Garden

TA DA!

This is my new raised-bed flower garden, now seeded and sprouting for fall gardening. I built it myself this past April. I had been planning to build this since we moved in, the winter of 2008. I have had the size and shape laid out for a year. I’ve had the bricks for two years. I finally got the push to do it after my mother-in-law started stacking bricks while she was house-sitting. I couldn’t believe it might be that easy, so I took several thoughtful trips around the neighborhood scrutinizing the yards of others. At last I realized that the only reason I hadn’t built it yet was because I was making it harder than it actually is. I thought I had to dig down into the dirt, build up a base, mortar those suckers in there, and pull up all the grass inside. I couldn’t decide if I should hire a mason or learn to do bricklaying on my own.

But I didn’t have to mortar. I didn’t even have to pull out the grass. All I had to do was stack the bricks up, like so. Because I was concerned that I would lose soil between the cracks, I lined the interior of the bed with landscape fabric and anchored the fabric under one of the brick layers. I grudgingly purchased soil from the hardware store, putting in a layer of manure on the bottom and good garden soil on top. It’s about 7” deep, and there is enough depth that I can add more soil/mulch/compost without running out of space.
I really like my bricks! I salvaged them from an old brick sidewalk in my friend’s yard when the sidewalks were being replaced with concrete. They’re 100 years old; literally.

I thought growing a garden would be an easy success for me – I’ve spent time as a horticulture technician, and I helped my mother and granny with their gardens as a young’un. I quickly learned that while I had plenty of experience maintaining a healthy garden, I had no experience at beginning one from scratch. I thought I was choosing my plants wisely for my garden’s sunny micro-climate. I did a combo of seeds, root stock/bulbs, and baby plants; mostly these were purchased from OSU-OKC or garden clubs, but a few came from Lowes. 
Success? Well…
·               Some sprouted. Some didn’t.

·              Some that germinated, produced. Some didn’t.

·              Some of the bought-plants grew larger. Some didn’t.

·        I’m not sure WHY any of the above things happened. But...

·               I got a decent spinach harvest.

·              My mesclun and onion harvest were teensy tinsy.

  One of the squash lived to start producing at long last this month. 

·             Strawberries, cucumber, tomato: nil.

·              I’ve gotten a pretty good sustaining harvest from most of my herbs. I get a ridiculous amount of comfort from having drying herbs hanging in the kitchen.

Lessons?
·              I successfully (and accidentally) grew a LOT of mushrooms. Turns out that this was because I was watering at night, instead of during the morning.

·        Apparently, I should have started my spinach when it was still chill outside to prevent early flowering and climaxing. (Despite this, I still got a modest harvest of spinach, which tells me that spinach must be Really Easy to grow.) I think I should have planted my onions earlier, too.  I may get a Farmer’s Almanac for next year.

·              You should harvest mesclun when it is tiny and young. You should let dill flower before harvesting. Don’t let basil or spinach flower.

·              You can give chives a buzz cut, and the next week they will be almost the same height again.

My garden has not been nearly as productive or lush as I’d hoped (notice how far apart some of the plants are? I wanted to give them plenty of room to get BIG!). However, since it is my first year at starting my own, since the weather has been rough, since I have learned so much, and enjoyed it so much, since I still have enjoyed (and am enjoying) some harvest from the garden, I’m happy. Having nothing but a wide expanse of crunchy Bermuda grass in my backyard is a thing of the past – and thank goodness for that!


Here is a recipe for my favorite use of summer garden produce:
Medium-sized sprig of lemon balm or a few large sprigs of lemon thyme
Small sprig of lavender
3 basil leaves
Pitcher of water
After a couple of days in the fridge, this is so delicious! Not strong enough to be tea, light enough to be refreshing, just a bit sweet and flowery. Of course the bottom of the pitcher is the best part… 

On cue for the fall garden:
Still going good from the summer, we have squash, carrots, basil, parsley, lemon thyme, regular thyme, lemon balm, and oregano. 
Currently sprouting: Spinach, lettuce, and peas.
Seeded, not yet sprouted: Chard, kale, garlic.


9/24/2011

Moving Planet Report

Moving Planet went off well this morning! It was an absolute beautiful day for a walk. Jenny had been itching to go, but I left her at home so I could walk with my husband (who has no bicycle to ride). I'm sure she understands!

I was finally able to see the awesome art display inside the Womb Gallery (I had gone by several times but it was never open!). We enjoyed some donated fruit, lunch from Quizno's and Coop Ale Works (Thank you, JD Merryweather and crew) while listening to a band. Saw some nice displays and acquired some more seed for the fall garden...


9/15/2011

Slow Food Picnic

This looks like a fun event: Slow Food OKC's Annual Picnic on October 2nd

I have an idea to host a calendar on here somewhere that I can upload sustainability events to, similar to Outlook and Google calendars, where you can have a peak at it. Any thoughts as to how a non-techy could best and most easily do this? Think it might be useful?

9/14/2011

Alien Mind Girl...

is about to watch the Climate Reality Project!
But not all of it. Because I cannot humanly watch anything for 24 hours... but it's a neat idea, no? A different show about climate change as it affects different time zones, one for every hour? With all the new things we have learned? How exciting!

And although I thought An Inconvenient Truth had it's pros and cons (and likewise that Man Bear Pig is hilarious), I'm eager to see Gore's progress as an informed environmental activist since then. Climate science in and of itself has grown, and so have I; of course I expect nothing less of Gore.

9/13/2011

All things must change, as the seasons go by...


The lovely 100-year drought we are experiencing is slated to continue through November, thanks to the return of La Nina. For more information, read the article here. The person who brought this article to my attention received a stern email that only happy weather news was allowed. Happy weather news such as, this week is supposed to be rain! Hallelujah!

At least our earth-cracking heat is more or less over, with fall on the way. In fact, as far as I'm concerned, fall is here. I'm ready to break out the boots, chili, and pumpkin pie. I'm ready for my tree to look like this again:



I've always had a hard time coming to terms with when seasons began and ended. The reason is this... if you go by the solstice/equinox dates, it does not coincide with the weather, because it is always at the height of freezing/frying by the respective solstice. And on top of that, if June 21st is supposed to be the first day of summer, why is it called Midsummer's Eve? So I thought perhaps it was different from one country to the next. Not really so, as it just reverses as you cross the equator. Add to this that there is usually that significant day that often coincides with no particular date when you wake up and just feel the seasons have changed over night... and you have a very confused Alien Mind Girl who wants to celebrate the changing of seasons on three different schedules! This is why I was relieved to learn that there are two different types of ways to count the seasons.

The way that we are used to observing seasonal changes is by the astronomical calendar, and if you look up the definition of seasons in a text book you also normally get this same explanation. This is when winter starts on the winter solstice and ends at vernal equinox, spring is vernal equinox to summer solstice, summer is solstice through autumnal equinox, autumn is equinox to winter solstice. 

But there is also climatological seasons, based on meteorological changes, which are more intuitive weather-wise to us Okies: Winter is Dec, Jan, Feb. Spring is March-May. Summer, June-August, and fall is Sept-Nov. 

The climatological calendar explains a bit better why the summer solstice, the official first day of summer, might have come to be called Midsummer. I'm still a bit on the fence here since it isn't *exactly* the median date of June 1 - Aug 31st. Maybe this is where one of you dear readers will have more knowledge than I do...

Since I can't find a satisfactory consensus on season definitions and dates, I have decided to go rogue, and to call the season changes when I feel and see them. When I hit that day where I walk outside and it feels changed, I will call it such. According to the calendar of Alien Mind Girl, the first day of fall occurred at a date I don't recall, approximately two weeks ago. On this day I stepped outside to a crisp breeze for the second day in a row, just ahead of a gray drizzle, and noticed the trees had begun to change. To me, this is fall. Call it what you will. I celebrated that day with breakfast on the porch and a whole pot of honey chamomile tea au lait. I took my dogs for a long walk and noticed pine cones and spike balls on the sidewalks. And now I wait for my yellow tree and pumpkin pie, and rest assured that next year the growing season will not be so harsh.

9/11/2011

Flat and Barren... We are NOT!!

Last week I read an article posted online by The Weather Channel on the “Ten Most Depressing States,” which basically compared the psychological statistics across the country. Oklahoma was on the list, and the part on Oklahoma started off something like, “Perhaps it’s the flat, barren landscape or the severe weather, but…” 

This really ticked me off. For one, I only skimmed the article, but I don’t recall them saying anything disparaging about the other states. And for another… they are full of crap. Have they even been to Oklahoma? This ain’t exactly the moon. We do not have a flat, barren landscape. Although some of Oklahoma is flat, true that. The popular notion that Oklahoma is basically too insignificant to contain beauty has always mystified me, and in fact, this post has been a long time coming, so prepare for a rant. 

Even growing up here, I never felt that way, especially once I started traveling around the state in my teens. The more of Oklahoma I visited, the more inspiring it became to me, and the more I wanted to see. It is here in Oklahoma that I have visited peat bogs, cypress swamps, plains, mountains, hills, tall grass prairies and mesas. I have scaled mountains made of gravel, stomped through bouldered creeks, and waded through waist-deep mud. I’ve caught fish, salamander, lizards, snakes, tarantulas, and tree frogs, and carefully side-stepped wild buffalo, scorpion, and rattle snakes. I have spent many hours in deep lush woods. I have been caving, canoeing, snorkeling, deer-counting, bat-watching; I have collected fossils and found gar skeletons, and sat atop waterfalls. Oklahoma is diverse and beautiful. The only conclusion I can draw is that perhaps people who don’t know this… either haven’t truly looked, or find few things in life beautiful.

Sure, if you live in the middle of Oklahoma City, you don’t have an ocean within an hour’s journey or a snow-capped mountain hovering on the horizon… what you have is a lot of flat cement. You have to look just the smallest bit to see the Awesomeness that is natural Oklahoma.


  • Environment:
    • Oklahoma has 12 ecoregions. The only states that have more than we do are California and Texas, and this is because they span more grades of latitude than we do. Mile for mile, we have more ecological diversity than any other state in the country.  Ecoregions include everything from forests and plains to mountains and mesas, including everything from the dry, flat panhandle to the humid subtropics of hilly SE Oklahoma
    • Thanks to a multitude of lakes and rivers, Oklahoma has more shoreline than the Pacific coast, Atlantic coast, and Gulf coast combined.
    • Oklahoma contains smaller, unique regions that are not designated as their own ecoregions, such as Little Sahara (rolling sand dunes), the salt plains, mineral springs, and Ferndale Bog (peat bogland)
  • Wildlife:
    • Oklahoma has 760 species of wildlife, including 17 threatened and endangered species.
    • Based on numbers of reported sightings, Oklahoma has the largest population of mountain lions in the country.
    • Oklahoma also has bears, alligators, and bald eagles… and I am frequently shocked to find lifelong Okies who are not aware of this.
    • I also frequently find Okies who don’t know we have bats. Listen up, people: Oklahoma has lots of bats! Pay close attention at night! You will notice that not all of the fast dark flying things are birds! Even in the city, lots of bats! And speaking of things that are not birds…
    • The state bird is NOT the mosquito… Does EVERY state have this joke? Because I have been to at least four states where people thought this was clever, claiming they had the biggest mosquitoes in the country.
  • I am not a geologist, but I once had a geologist buddy who told me that Oklahoma is particularly geologically diverse, and is visited by geologists from all over the world who come to study here. I can’t verify that. I can verify this: 
    • If you know where and how to look, you can find petrified wood, and fossils from the sea  creatures that used to live here. Like the ammonite I found, here...
    • Oklahoma contains what is rumored to be one of North America’s oldest mountain ranges, the Arbuckles, which are 1.5 billion years old. People sometimes say the Wichitas are the oldest… unless I am wrong, they are 500 million years old.
    • Oklahoma has other unique geologic features, including rock glaciers and pimple mounds.
    • The Alabaster Caverns are the largest gypsum caves in the world which are open to the public, and contain black alabaster, which occurs only in three places on Earth.
    • And of course… fossil fuels. But you all knew that.
  • Oklahoma is home to the Spiro Mounds, considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites east of the Rockies. It was the capital of the known world, the Western-most outpost of Mississippian culture from 900-1450 AD.  


And, just for the record, I cannot pick a favorite Oklahoma locale, but Blue River holds a special place in my heart, and I have always found Beaver’s Bend to be particularly stunning.

9/08/2011

Energy Loan Update

If you are routed here from NewsOK.com... welcome, welcome! And if you are not, you can read my interview and the story on the Energy Efficiency Loan here.

I wrote about receiving our loan last July (here), with a run-through of the process and all the work we had done, and a nice little comment about throwing a happy dance party when I got my electric bill. Now that the summer is nearly over, I've had a chance to put together some data on the energy use in our home. 

Here you can see our actual billed energy use compared to the average monthly temperatures.

In this graph, I tried to normalize the data for temperature so that the trends show ONLY electric use, independent on what the temperature would have been. It's basically the same, except the electric use in hot months is adjusted to be slightly less, and colder months shows as slightly more, of course adjusted based upon actual temperatures. I was just curious to see if any differences would stand out if I looked at it this way, so I could consider my energy use without wondering if changes in data came from the weather.

The major points here are:
  • Our home loan! The installation of our new HVAC system and attic insulation is obvious on the chart; this work was done in May and immediately caused a 20-35% decrease for the next few months.
  • In June I finished most of the weatherization, which I learned how to do as a by-product of getting the loan. This appears to have knocked off another few percentage points.
  • In August, we began some very minor remodeling in the kitchen - painting and pulling up trim - which exposed a few holes in the wall. We have not covered them yet. I assume that this month shows more energy use due to these seemingly small leaks having a more significant affect than I expected.
  • June-September of 2010 is much higher than 2009 largely in part due to a bathroom remodel/repair that required us to tear out and rebuild walls and floors.
  • In November 2009, I installed a new Energy Star dishwasher. I don't have enough back data to be sure, but this seems to have made no noticeable impact.

9/05/2011

Moving Planet Oklahoma

So a quick rewind to last year... I had the great good fortune to attend this conference, one of the best (and most tiring) that I've been to. At this conference, another stroke of fantastic coolness, I was able to hear inspiring presentations by representatives from some unique activist organizations, 350.org and Carrotmob, and have been following them since. This year, 350.org has declared Sept. 24 to be Moving Planet Day! A day to bring fun and peaceful awareness to moving away from fossil fuels. 

350.org is an interesting NPO in that, rather than doing all the work themselves, they reach out to people all over the world, offering education on issues and acting as facilitators to help guide others on organizing their own grassroots campaigns. Acting in this way, they've been able to pull off some creative large-scale efforts and global demonstrations...  like this one, where people in different countries created huge works of art that were photographed from space! But I digress. That's just a little background on the parent organization for this event, and why these events are both locally sponsored and part of a global initiative.

Oklahoma currently has two registered Moving Planet Day events, one in Oklahoma City and one in Norman. The OKC event looks pretty fun, and I'm looking forward to seeing more details on it. For this one, they ask that you sign up if you are participating in the walk/run/bike/skate part of the event and sign in at 9:30. At 10:30, everyone gathered will travel from the coolness that is Womb Art Gallery (approximately NW 9th and Broadway) to City Hall (2 miles distance). After this, there is a festival in Automobile Alley featuring free beer, not-free food, bicycle workshops, and music. The Norman event starts at ten (no sign-up necessary) and moves from the OU Energy Center to the Severe Storms Laboratory.

I think it sounds like a fun way to show your support for clean transportation and whatever other eco-agenda you have, as well as a good way to enjoy a Saturday morning outdoors!  Watch the promo video for Moving Planet below. And if you are outside of Oklahoma, you can find your nearest Moving Planet event here, and if there are none near you and you feel inspired, you can start your own event here.