Keystone XL - What's the Big?

You may have heard of this protest that started yesterday at the White House. Basically: Pipeline being built from Alberta to Texas. Protesters are protesting! Getting arrested! It's crazy, like the sixties/seventies, except for... except the media seems to be portraying the protesters are liberalist idiots. 

Ok. Actually, I wasn't alive during the early days of the environmental movement, so I don't know what it was like. I can only *assume* that the media covered the issues in an informative manner, since the movement actually Got Stuff Done. I do know that the news stories I've seen only say that they are protesting a pipeline, and then they interview a protester who says that America is addicted to oil and we shouldn't import anymore oil! Which makes it sound like the point of the protest is stop all petroleum imports.

Well, that's not the story. And the story actually affects Oklahoma, so listen up. I did some background reading. The pipeline has its pros and cons, like anything does. To delve into all of them... well, that would take more patience than either of us has right now. But you can guess the benefits... jobs, national security, the typicals. And you can even guess some of the usual cons, such as, oil exploitation is detrimental to habitats, extracting what is called tar sands oil is energy intensive and there are better, cleaner options. But this is not the typical scenario, for a number of reasons. So I have pared it down to what I think are the important points: 

 1) It passes through central Oklahoma on its way to Texas 
 2) It passes through the Ogallala aquifer, which stretches through several 
states including Oklahoma's panhandle. This is one of the largest supplies of 
water in the country; millions of people use it for drinking water and crop 
 3) Studies (some done by the company building the pipeline, some by univeristies) 
predict that the pipeline will have 11-50 significant 
spills within the first few years of operation. They EXPECT these spills. Note that it 
takes only a very small amount of oil to contaminate a very large amount of water. 
 4) The EPA has *not* approved this project. The company building the pipeline 
submitted its Environmental Impact Statement twice, and BOTH times EPA found it 
lacking. The first time EPA rated the EIS as inadequate. The second time  
(read EPA comments here) EPA said that the company had 
insufficient information on the environmental affects of the project, 
insufficient emergency plans for leaks, and that the pipeline was not 
technologically equipped for the detection of smaller leaks. This means that it 
could be leaking for years before detection, possibly into the invaluable Ogallala. 
This is not simply a knee-jerk or "Not in my backyard" reaction; this appears to 
genuinely be a bad idea that the company seems ill-prepared to handle 
responsibly; a project which, if flubbed (or even if one of their predicted leaks occurs in
 a bad location), could put the public health and water supply of people in many 
states at risk, as well as jeapordizing crop irrigation for America's breadbasket region. 
Cleaning up groundwater contamination is one of the hardest types of 
environmental clean-ups; it literally takes years, and is sometimes impossible. 
There are benefits to this pipeline, but there are also alternatives to it, and 
the benefits are not worth the risk. If you agree and are feeling froggy, you 
could head over and sign the petition or use the White House website to shoot
 an email to Obama. This is actually one of the rare issues that he can handle 
on his own, as he is the only person who can approve the permit to build the pipeline. 
But. He is in a sticky spot, and I don't envy him. 
This is not a simple issue, so if you'd like to be fully informed you should Google 
it and do your own background research. If you want a start, here is a story from National Geographic with an interesting perspective that actually suggests the pipeline would not make any strides towards national security, and here is an overview from CBS that discusses a little more of the benefits.  


Just Like Falling Off a Bicycle

You know that old saying, “Just like riding a bicycle?” Well, I never learned to ride a bicycle. So I would change this to “Just like falling off a bicycle.” Sure, when I was a kid I did have a bicycle. It was purple, with a banana seat and streamers hanging out of the handles. Another cool feature it had was training wheels. I’m not sure if he was just too busy or if he didn’t want his little girl falling off a bike, but my Dad never took the training wheels off. So I never really learned.

When I was in my 20s I started to want to ride a bike. It’s eco-friendly. It’s cheaper than a car. It looks really fun. It’s good exercise. Over the years I tried to ride bikes a few times. There were always reasons why I didn’t do it. For part of that time I was embarrassed that I was 20-something and couldn’t ride a bike, so I didn’t want people to see me riding it. Part of the time, I had no storage space to keep a bike. Most of the time I was just unmotivated. When I was motivated to try, I always had an excuse for why I was not riding well (And I’ll give you a hint: it was always the bicycle’s fault, in some way). I had free bicycles. I gave them away. I had a folding bicycle. I sold it. They all spent long dust-collecting days in my garage, on my porch, or under the stairs.

Early this summer I bought an old one-speed tricycle at a garage sale. No one has to learn to ride a tricycle! It’s pure instinct, it is! It looked cool, it had a big handy basket. I thought it would be a sweet ride to work. I got it all fixed up. And after a few pedals around the neighborhood I quickly realized that riding a big, heavy, single speed tricycle up hills is very hard!! And don’t even THINK about asking me how to get it over curbs and other obstacles. I honestly could not imagine making it all the way to work on that thing. So I sold it, too.

Then I bit the bullet, went to Melonbike, and bought a fancy bicycle. I decided that if I truly wanted to learn to ride, I needed a really nice bicycle. One that inspired me to go riding when I look at it. One that was pretty, that I was proud to own. One that was brand new, with nothing wrong with it, with several speeds. One that was easy to ride and would leave me no room for excuses when I screw up. One that was fitted and adjusted to me personally by a professional at the bicycle shop. And that was when Jenny came into my life.

Beautiful Jenny; she makes me think of breezy spring days, picnics, and 1950s movies where girls wear feminine yellow dresses (I don’t know why). And because she is an expensive, brand new bicycle, because I consulted with a professional before I bought her, she is blameless. If I can’t steer straight, my fault. If I have trouble going up hill, my fault. Because Jenny is perfect.

Except for the place where Jenny’s paint was scraped off, and the pretty white vinyl on the seat corner is tatty.

Those are Jenny’s battle scars from the time I tried to learn how to signal. I thought that holding my left hand out to the side meant, “I am turning left now.” Really what it meant was, “I am falling to the left now.”  Poor Jenny.

I’m still no expert, but Jenny has forgiven me for the tumble and we get along pretty well now. I know that I can ride her the five miles to work if I am brave enough (I did it one pretty Sunday morning before the heat climbed too high, and celebrated by buying a blueberry muffin). Unfortunately, because I get off during the heat of the day, I now have to wait until the high temperature is reasonable before I start my bicycle commute. I work in a cold office building and it’s already August so my opportunities for acclimating to 100 degree heat are slim, but fortunately autumn weather should be just around the bend. Then Jenny will get some serious use.

Maybe by then, the Project 180 bicycle lanes will be complete. Maybe Jenny and I will stop at Coffy’s CafĂ© on the way to or from work, if we’re feeling froggy. I imagine losing a few pounds of effortless weight, enjoying the breeze and the weather, seeing my city at a slower pace, saving money on gasoline, and reducing personal emissions… all in one fell swoop. At least, that’s the way I imagine it…

So, this is my confession. I’m 29 years old, and it took me this long to learn how to ride a bike.

I’m still not able to signal without falling over, but I’ll try not to cut you off in traffic if you try not to hit me with your car. Deal?


Bloggy Mc"Blaaah"gerson

This blog is a weird thing. I’m not sure what to do with it. I have ideas of what I want it to be, were I not me. Were I a me with more time, or more skill, or more motivation. But I’m just a Regular Me (the best kind of me), and so it is what it is… I’m not sure what that is, though.

I know what I don’t want it to be. I don’t want it to be one of those pretentious blogs that tell you what to do every day. They mean well, but then every day, they tell you what to do. I want to be informative, not bossy. I want it to be all, “Here is how I did it; maybe this will help you and you can use it to find your own way,” rather than “You should be like me; cuz I’m the best.” Also, blogs need personality. That’s what makes them blogs, instead of newspapers or how-to books. I want it to be more like me, and less like a Black and Decker homeowner’s book (Not that I have anything against my Black & Decker book).

I’m not sure I’m conveying any of that.

But I think that might be ok, because I’m not sure anyone is listening to me.

I have a difficult time being personal and engaging when I feel like I’m talking in an empty room.

I did once have a decent blog. I kept it for years. I even made some online friends that way. I found it easy to be thoughtful and personal on this one, because I originally set it up to keep track of my friends. So, when I posted there, I felt as though I was talking straight to them… rather than shouting into the dark.  That feeling has not translated to this blog somehow; not in the least.

I don’t want it to be a blog about my life – “Hey, saw a great movie, have you seen it yet? I just ate the best sandwich!” -- and I don’t want it to be a text book. Somehow, I’m aiming for being personal without being personal. And folks (if any folks are reading) - it ain’t working.  And I’m not sure what to do about that.

Although, PS - I'm slightly ashamed to say that the spreadsheet I posted a few days ago is very me. I love spreadsheets!  So my one little bit of personality there... probably came across as a lack of personality. Such is sometimes the sad case with nerddom.


Attic Fans vs. Whole House Fans

Triple digit temperatures are coming back. I hope you enjoyed the reprieve as much as I did!

I did not grow up in homes with attic and whole house fans, so I have only recently learned what that thing in the ceiling was, how it works, and how to use it.

Our house has a whole house fan. I was told this is an attic fan. It is not. The difference is that attic fans are in the attic and they only serve to move hot air from inside the attic to outside of the attic. This is helpful because the attic can reach temperatures of 150 degrees or more, heat your ceiling, and heat your house, so cooling the attic will also cool the house. On the other hand, whole house fans are in the ceiling, connecting the living space to the attic. They serve to draw outside air into the house, air from the house into the attic, and air from the attic to the outdoors. If used correctly, this should cool down both your attic and your living space.

So use common sense here. It won’t be cost effective to use the whole house fan all of the time, since it is using the outdoor air to cool the house. The rule of thumb is that the whole house fan is useful when temperatures outdoors are below 85 degrees and it’s not very humid. Even in Oklahoma there are normally several weeks a year during the spring and fall when I can use only the attic fan for comfort, never turning on the HVAC at all. Then there are weeks like this one. It’s hot during the day, but the temperature should start to reach 85 around 8 or 9 pm, and will probably stay below 85 until noon. This means that in the mornings and late evenings I can switch off my air conditioner and use the whole house fan. (If I was brave I could even leave the whole house fan running while I was sleeping… but I don’t want to leave my windows open at night!) 

In order to use a whole house fan:
1.      Make sure it isn’t humid
2.      Make sure the temperature outside is below 85 degrees
3.      Turn off the air conditioner
4.      Open screened windows
5.      Turn on attic fan

Use an attic fan when:
1.      It is hot outside!

As a side note… you can sometimes break the 85 degree rule based on your needs. For example… last summer, our air conditioner broke during the height of hotness. I turned on the whole house fan and sat smack dab underneath it to cool off. It was still hot, but the breeze it created in combination with cooling the attic kept me cooler. I am glad there are no pictures of me sweaty and half-naked in the hallway, but it was certainly better than the alternative (no a/c and no fan)!

In order to make my whole house fan more energy efficient, I covered it to help prevent air conditioning from leaking into the attic and heat from leaking into the house when it was turned off. I bought a cover for our fan from Battic Door, but I could probably easily have made one with some foam and double-stick Velcro. 

Also – this is Oklahoma! So I must take allergies into consideration. If ragweed is blooming and it makes me wheeze, I can’t use the attic fan.  As an asthmatic with allergies, I have to keep an eye on both allergy and ozone levels to determine if it is safe for me to cool the house using outdoor air.


Cost Effectiveness of Riding the Bus to Work

With all this crazy heat, I’m sure you’ve heard it: “Ozone concentrations are high. Please consider riding the bus!”   Well, periodically, I do consider riding the bus. First I look to see if there is a route I can actually take to work. Then I’ll calculate the cost difference between riding the bus and driving my car. Then I choose not to ride the bus, forget about it, and repeat this process again in a few weeks.

Well, enough is enough. I made a spreadsheet to compare the cost effectiveness of riding the bus vs. driving my car. Even better, I made two versions: one that takes into consideration only the price of gas, and one that accounts for secondary costs like wear and tear. And even better? I made it pretty, and added instructions, so that I can share it with anyone who wants it.

Of course, what I can’t include in a spreadsheet is how you value clean air. You’ll have to take that into consideration on your own. 

Here's the spreadsheet! 



Eco Tip

You can use your left-over coffee or tea to water plants, or add the grounds directly to the soil. This adds nutrients to the soil and makes it more acidic... so it will not work for all plants. I have a potted spider plant at work that consumes primarily coffee, just like everyone else! It's quite beautiful and lush.


Older is Better

So you may have heard the news. In response to a large internet petition and popular demand, Nickelodeon has begun their own version of Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim” and begun playing their 90’s programming late at night. Catering to the kids of that era, now adults, shows like “Double Dare,” “Salute Your Shorts,” and “Doug” will now be playing re-runs until 4am.

A day after I heard that tidbit on the radio, a song from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack came on over the airwaves as I was driving home from work. For a lovely three minutes I distinctly remember the summer before I entered first grade, swimming with my then-friend Kelli in the pool while our mommies sunbathed. I could still taste the pb&j and the sour apple Jolly Ranchers mixed with chlorine. I remembered Kelli and I sneaking in the house, making a puddle on the carpet in our wet swimsuits, while we watched tidbits of Dirty Dancing, snickering to ourselves and feeling so naughty and scandalous and grown-up (because it’s dirty!!). I remembered Kelli’s little brother who followed me around trying to get his first kiss. I remembered the awesome model ship that was sitting on the sideboard in the living room. I remember my mom’s plastic, color-changing sunglasses with reflective shades (back when plastic was cool)… and I remembered what it felt like to be friends with whoever happened to be in the room with me. Not because we shared interests or similarities but just because we shared space, and were happy to exist next to each other. It took only three minutes to remember the true meaning of summer.

I don’t know if this is true for every generation, but the 20- and 30-somethings I know have made a huge industry off of nostalgia: Atari and old school Nintendo themes, GI Joe, Transformers, The Goonies, The list goes on and on, with changes to the list based on the targeted age group.

I am forever fascinated by the new stuff that is made out of old pop culture. While some of that stuff is really cool – I admit, some of it makes me drool a little – some of it is shoddy work. A lot of it takes the old things we remember and tries to “update” them by making them cooler and fresher, to appeal to today’s trends. The irony in this is… we are generally attracted to these things because of the vintage aesthetic in them… most of the time I find the “updated” versions merely annoying! I feel much of the time they took good quality old stuff, and turned it into brand new crap. But even when they take good old stuff and make good new stuff out of it, I ask myself… what is wrong with the old stuff?

Come on, they are re-making it because we already like it! I mean, SURE we could go to Hot Topic and get a brand new Journey or Metallica t-shirt, but we could also go to Goodwill and find an old one, with the original graphics, already broken in so that it is nice and soft, with the cool 70s baseball sleeves.  And YEAH we could go buy the “AWESOME 80s!!” or “PARTY 90s!” mixed albums from Best Buy… but we could also pull our dusty cassette collection out from under the bed, buy a $35 audio converter, and change all of our Cars and Michael Jackson albums to mp3s. (It’s cheaper than buying the albums all over again, anyway!)

 One of my favorite second-hand outfits...
better than a picture of our old SNES!

Vintage and kitsch is stylish this season anyway… So why not go green? Don’t buy the new crap – get the old stuff. That’s the stuff you miss and love! And the treasure hunting to find it is fun. Use Craigslist. Go thrifting. Try consignment stores and estate sales. Would you believe there is an antique store near my house that sells the original Transformer and Teddy Ruxpin toys? (That makes me feel old and sad, but also excited, because I see my childhood re-emerging in the rubble… like in Mad Max.)

Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s broken, stained or ruined – it may have been sitting pristinely on a shelf for twenty years. It doesn’t mean it’s expensive, or a collectors’ item.  But it does mean that an underpaid Chinese worker didn’t make it last month before it flew 10,000 miles to you on a freight airplane. I have my share of nifty Chinese-made items, don’t get me wrong… but no matter how you spin it, even if it was fairly and organically made in a Texas farm, it is better for the environment to buy used, which requires no extra resources at all (unless, of course, you have a used item shipped many miles to your house… I have met someone who thought they were being environmentally friendly because they were shipping vintage product from Europe instead of buying new. That might be spiffy, but I don’t think the benefits balance very well anymore!).

So, what are your favorite recycled things stores? Whether or not I buy anything, visiting thrift and antique shops is one of my favorite pastimes, so I’ll get you started…  I love Bohemian Spirit, Architectural Antiques (formerly Dead People’s Stuff), and Apple Orchard Antique Mall!


Farmer's Market Recipe

We have been using Berry Creek Farm CSA this year, so every week we get a bag of fruits and veggies from our selected farm. We don't get to pick what's in it, it's just what they've got... so I've gotten better at improvising recipes and using produce this summer. Last week I struck upon a recipe that I thought was pure awesome, so I am sharing it with you. Sorry. No pictures. Mea culpa. But this is one of the few vegetarian meals I've ever made that my husband has been happy with, so that's a major score in my book. (He's a meat and potatoes kinda guy)

Tangy-sweet Midsummer Stir-fry with Rice
 2 small onions or 1 medium onion
1 tomato
1 squash
1 cucumber
Red wine vinegar
Balsamic vinegar
Fresh garden herbs: basil, thyme, oregano, parsley
Sesame Seeds
Rice of choice

Chop up two small, sweet onions and start to cook them in a skillet with a small amount of oil, stirring occassionally. While onions are cooking, you can chop the tomato, squash, and cucumber. I used an average sized squash and tomato, but only a small portion of a huge Armenian cucumber, so I'm not sure what that equates to. I'd play with it. After onions are cooked to taste, add squash and cucumber with a few shakes of red wine vinegar; stir. (This will make up most of the sauce so no need to skimp) When these veggies are softened, throw in the tomato, herbs, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. For chopped herbs, whatever is fresh from your garden or I suppose even dried would do. I used a small handful of fresh herbs - basil, parsley, oregano, and thyme. Stir, and leave in a few minutes. At this point you can taste and see if you like it, and adjust it if you don't. I thought it was fantastic.

Spoon the veggies over rice (or pasta). They should be in a nice light sauce by now. I sprinkled sesame seeds and basil flowers on top (my basil will not quit flowering in this heat, so I decided to use them - you are supposed to pinch off the flowers anyway in order to help the leaves retain their flavor), but this is optional. The seeds added protein and a nice crunch and the flowers made the dish beautiful! Something about having tiny pink flowers all over the top of my dinner is just delightful.

The next day I ate the left-over veggies cold and by themselves, like a salad.

I threw this together after re-reading Tom Bergey's cookbook, Recipes from the Golden Trowel Herb Farm. I've had and loved this book for several years, but never made any of the recipes... seems the ingredients required are never in my pantry when I'm thinking about it. Even then, the book is a good resource and inspiration for learning how to cook with fresh ingredients. Tom Bergey uses his ingredients in delicious and creative ways... if it weren't for him I'd never have been brave enough to try stir-fry cucumbers! I went to a cooking show of his once and had stir fry *cantaloupe,* my friends. Now that is bravery! Delicious bravery.


It's hot! - My excuse for everything

Ok, so I have a confession to make.

I’ve had posts written up for you, but part of the reason I haven’t posted them is because I have not taken the time to do the pictures. And I don’t know about you but one of my favorite parts about blogs is the pictures… Those things help me get a sense of personality and style from the author and make the article extra fun. Not that I claim to be particularly stylish… just that I claim a belief that pictures = better posts.

One of the pictures I need to take involves my garden. *pause for dramatic affect* Well. You’ve been outside, right? Or rather, tried not to? Because here’s the deal, friends… it’s hot. Not just hot. HHHHHOTTTT!!!!!!! There’s word that July was officially the hottest month ever recorded in Oklahoma. My cubicle neighbor at work has to rattle off the temperature like once an hour, so even in the chilled a/c, I’m on the ball. I kind of want a blanket here at my desk, but I’ve been told it’s currently 111 at one of the city Mesonet sites. But I digress.

I don’t want to go outside to take pictures. For one, it’s hot enough to be uncomfortable immediately. For another, no matter how much I do or do not water or mulch, everything in the yard is dying, and that won’t make for a pretty picture. Even giant shrubs… crepe myrtles, snowball trees, and huge honey suckle bushes and the  like… are dying. (I finally gave in and irrigated these with drip hoses last weekend, afraid I might lose them forever.) Plants I have that are supposed to prefer “full sun” are turning brown and brittle. My irises look like scarecrow stuffing. So yeah. I don’t want to show you a picture of my garden. Or a picture of ANYTHING that is outside ANYWHERE!!!  That would just be sad and depressing. (In the same kind of way that it is depressing to have 2 months of 100 degree temperature with nowhere easy access to a swimming lake! Although even those have been benefitting from toxic blue-green algae blooms this summer, so that may not help…)

I may give in and do it anyway. Or give you another boring post like this one, with no pictures.