Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Love This!

My good friend Ands, who lives back in the UK sent me a link to this really great site called WRAP! It is an organization that "helps individuals, businesses and local authorities to reduce waste and recycle more, making better use of resources and helping to tackle climate change." Their web site offers a wealth of information on sustainability issues such as recycling, composting, and green building among others. Although it is UK based, much of it is relevant for wherever one lives.

I especially like their "Love Food Hate Waste" campaign. Did you know that a third of the food bought in the UK ends up being thrown away? I didn't but I am sure it is similar here in the US. There are lots of handy tips for reducing the amount of food wasted by cooking less, keeping it fresher for longer, and my absolute favorite, recipes from top chefs for using up leftovers. There is this super page where you can click on a specific food item that you may have left, and several recipes will appear in which it can be used. I am very excited about this because I am always looking for good ways to use up leftovers.

Anyway, check it out if you get a chance. You might learn something new.

Summer Weekend






Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Chickens?!

chicken
I have been getting more and more interested in raising urban chickens. The lovely people at The Phoenix Permaculture Guild have a great deal of expertise with this, as does Greg Peterson of The Urban Farm. There are frequent classes hosted by The Permaculture Guild held at the Phoenix downtown farmers market on Saturday mornings as well, and these have often included raising urban chickens. I unfortunately have not had a chance to attend one yet, but hope to soon.

Chickens are great at preparing the earth for cultivation because they scratch, and peck, and poop, and this makes for great veggie beds. They also consume kitchen scraps that may otherwise get wasted, and of course produce eggs.

It seems that one can keep chickens here in Phoenix as long as they are within a coup or other enclosed area, and are not roosters which have a tendency to be noisy. I have to say it makes me smile a little to think of feathered lovelies in our back yard in our oh so suburban neighbourhood.


I am not sure how it would work for us with the dogs because apparently stressed birds don't lay. I am quite sure my lovely Lilly would stress them out even if they were enclosed because she even tries to chase birds that are flying by overhead! It may be that this is yet another plan that needs to wait until we move to somewhere with a bigger space, but I will continue to read and learn.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Crazy Weather

I just HAVE to mention again the lovely weather we are having, rain and coolness galore! However, it has to be said that this kind of weather is extremely unusual this time of year here in Arizona.

After finding this today, I am thinking that maybe I shouldn't be quite as happy considering what may well be the cause of all the weather craziness!

The Green Book


I started reading The Green Book by Elizabeth Rogers and Thomas M.Kostigen a little while ago, and now that I have finished it I wanted to do a small review.

I really like this book! It is a presented as a cheerful, and handy little resource that can be read cover to cover, or can be used as a quick and easy reference as green choices emerge in our daily lives.

The chapters are clearly laid out and cover the many areas of life such as communication/technology, building, sports, travel, shopping etc. I have frequently dipped into various sections as I have needed to throughout the day.

Each section is very detailed, and offers extensive options for going green, many of which surprised me, and most options are backed up with fascinating facts. Did you know that enough paper clips are produced every year to hand every person in the world at least three? No? Well neither did I, but it is right there on page 48. It really made me think about EVERYTHING that I do each day I can tell you! We are currently planning our summer vacation and the travel section has proved useful in the planning process.

I also really like the extensive reference list in the back that covers each chapter so that further research can easily be done by the individual.

The only thing I wasn't especially excited about was the cameo appearances by celebrities at the beginning of each chapter describing their "green living" habits. Although I am sure being able to name such celebrities as Jennifer Aniston, Robert Redford, and Owen Wilson has helped to sell more copies, I am not convinced that it adds much to the overall message of the book. This is probably just a personal beef of mine though, I am sure others will delight in reading these sections for entertainment value if nothing else.

Overall I highly recommend this book! It is good value, packed with loads of vital information, written in a style that is easy to read and understand without being patronizing, and is very handy to carry around for quick reference. I plan on using this book for a long time to come.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Perfect


Today has been perfect! It reached 78 degrees, although it is quite a bit cooler now, and has been lovely and cloudy all day. Just the way I like it! I never thought I would say that having moved from England where we obviously get more than our fair share of grey skies, and cool temps. I do like a little variety in my weather, and that is surely what we got this week. As predicted it went from a high of 110 degrees on Monday, to a high of 78 today. (It actually feels quite cold at the mo). We were over at Amy's house earlier and got a fair amount of rain there, but alas we are still waiting here for a single drop. The skies look very grey though so I am still optimistic for later this evening, or tomorrow. I know, I am crazy!

We have been getting a good sized handful of cherry tomatoes each day which is great. Enough for a salad or two, and it looks like there are more coming. There are more peppers growing as well, and zucchini, although it has been a struggle to stop everything from frying in the heat we WERE having.


The potted grape vine on the patio is also producing lots of bunches of grapes as you can see. I don't know what kind they are, and know little about grape vines and what to do with them. I wonder whether they will be sweet, and whether the birds will try to get them?


We have had loads of birds on the feeder, and also a little hummingbird that visits the fountain each afternoon, takes a bath, has a drink, and then sits on the fence just looking around. Sometimes he sits there with his friend. It is at times like this that I wish I had a really good camera so that I could take pictures similar to the ones on this beautiful blog, but anyway. You can just about see the hummingbird if you look really closely I think!?



Finally I just had to take a picture of one of my beloved Chilean Mesquite trees in all it's lush green-ness and glory. I often stand underneath it with the branches coming down, and all around, and I feel as if it is like the Willow tree in Pocahontas, just wise, and magical somehow.


OK, off to put a sweater on I'm chilly. Definitely making the most of this!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Phew, What A Scorcher!


It was 110 here yesterday! Yes, I know we live in the desert, and hot is to be expected, but this hot this suddenly? Those weather forecasters are predicting close to the same today, so we are shuttering up the house in preparation this morning.

We finally had to succumb to air conditioning over the weekend when the temperature inside hit 88. I have been putting it off for as long as possible because finally admitting that it is hot enough for AC seems like some kind of defeat for me. Now we look forward to the long summer of hibernation for us desert dwellers.

Every spring I vow to not be beaten by the heat and continue with outside living, and every year by the end of May I have to admit that I am beaten. From then on I barely make it outside later than 7 am, other than to run errands. I have to admit that I will never get used to this kind of heat. I don't know if it has something to do with being British, but every summer I find myself longing to live somewhere more temperate like Oregon, or Washington State. One day right?

My poor veggies are looking so hot and sad. I bought some shade netting yesterday and plan to get that up before the worst of the heat hits today. Silly me for putting a veggie patch on the western side of an east facing garden! Ah well, we live and learn!

Here's hoping all you fellow desert dwellers keep nice and cool today. Definitely a day for staying indoors if at all possible. There is great news though because the mercury will be seriously dropping by Thursday when it is predicted to be 85 again! Yay, can't wait for that. That will be perfect weather for our garage sale this weekend.

Oh and Amy, I am SO jealous that you are leaving just in the nick of time. We may be coming to visit you guys somewhat sooner than expected!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Another Urban Farm

I loved this story that was featured on Nightline last week. It is about the Dervae family who have an urban farm in Pasadena. As a family of four they live simply, sustainably, and very well on about $30,000 a year. Check out their web site and see what great things they are doing. While you are at it, check out our very own urban farm right here in Phoenix. It seems that there are urban farms springing up all over the place. Great stuff!

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Happy Birthday Mum!


Today is my Mum’s birthday. I am not going to tell you exactly how old she is but I can tell you that she was a child during the 2nd World war, and it may be partly this that helped shape her into the person that she is today.

My Mum is an original environmentalist in the true meaning of the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle.” For as long as I can remember Mum has lived by these principles in her everyday life. Mum always washed and saved little baggies, was very thrifty with money, cut off the bottoms of lotion bottles so that she could get every last drop out, baked us yummy treats and home cooked meals, turned off lights, turned down the heat, unplugged appliances, composted, line dried all the washing, and of course encouraged us all to do the same. As a bratty teenager I wasn’t having any of that! It drove me CRAZY when Mum did many of these things, and I seem to remember being quite vocal about it!! (Sorry Mum!)

So, when Mum came to stay recently we both had a good laugh when she saw my plastic bag drying thingy that I use to save and dry our zip locks. She also had a good laugh when she saw me getting excited about line drying washing, and religiously turning off lights. It was at this point I realized something, something I admit I had hoped for most of my life would never happen, I was becoming like my Mum! And you know something; it isn’t so bad after all!! I am getting to be rather frugal, while my Mum has become a little less frugal, and somehow we meet in the middle quite happily now without any issues.

I also realized that much of what I have become, and many of the qualities that I have are attributable to Mum and the things that she has taught me, however hard I have tried to resist for all these years.

So Mum, thank you for being you, especially the green person that you are! I think you are the best! If more of us lived by the principles you live by, the world would be a much better place.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY MUM!
I LOVE YOU!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Better Late Than Never

polar bear

The polar bear has finally made it's way on to the endangered species list. It has been a long time coming in view of the ever increasing evidence that global warming is threatening it's very being, and was by all accounts a hard fought battle.

Greenhouse gas emissions and global warming are of course the reason for the sea ice melting at such an alarming rate. So placing polar bears on the endangered species list will not be nearly enough in the long term unless huge strides are made very soon to legislate reduction of greenhouse gas emissions here in the US, and worldwide.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Wilted

We had a fun weekend, and a really special mothers day! I was surprised with breakfast in bed which was lovely, and I also got a wonderful gift of new clippers, and flower shears, (should I ever have any blooms that need shearing!) I have needed new clippers for ages and they work great.


We had a fairly quiet family day messing around in the back yard. I dug out more of another bed which is the area to the right in the picture. My other veggies which were very haphazardly planted are doing fine, though I am quckly realizing just how much I have to learn. The thing is though, I love to read about all of this stuff so that makes it really easy for me to want to learn.


You can see how huge the globemallow plant is now with no care, or water. Amazing! I am happy to see that some little Brittlebush plants are growing as well, again with no care. Yeah for native plants, how easy they are!

My compost box is busy doing what it does best. I am adding stuff each day as it melts away to become lovely fertile compost soon to be added to the beds.

Last night I went out to check on the garden. I love to be out there as dusk is falling. (One evening last summer I met a snake slithering across the grass, but that is another story). Anyway, when I checked on my veggie plants my poor cucumber plant was looking very wilted. In fact I would go so far as to say it looked almost beyond help.


I quickly watered it. It was hot yesterday, hotter than I realized, and I hadn't given the poor thing enough water. By this morning it had recovered completely as you can see!


Amazing the resilience of these plants in this hot desert climate. I am so glad it is OK because it already has some tiny cucumbers on it and I love cucumbers.

All in all it was a very nice weekend, a family weekend, and a perfect Mother's day! So why today am I feeling strangely low, and overwhelmed? It may have something to do with the many major disasters that seem to have befallen the world of late. The cyclone in Myanmar, the huge earthquake in China, and the tornadoes in the midwest. The numbers killed and hurt are beyond comprehension for me, I can't compute them in my mind somehow. I know that these things happen but still I can't seem to lift myself out of the low place that I am in today.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Climate Counts

Check out Climate Counts, an organization that tracks the steps big business is taking to recognize and deal with climate change. It rates each company out of a hundred according to several criteria. The results may surprise you as they did me!

I was surprised to see that Amazon got a measly 5, as did E Bay. I shop from each of these companies regularly, reasoning that online shopping reduces greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to driving to and from stores. I also like to try to buy everything second hand if I can, especially books which are a major weakness of mine. This has really made me think twice. I will be going to Bookmans, and Changing Hands even more regularly now, (although both are not so close to me), and supporting my local Goodwill all the more.

McDonald's scored OK-ish with a 27, second only to Starbucks in the food services section! The other fast food places such as Burger King, and the company owning Red Lobster, and Olive Garden did not fare so well with 0 points! Many of the electronics companies such as IBM, and Canon do well also with scores of 77, and 74 respectively, while the top scorer in foods was Stoneyfield Farms with a 78. Nike came in tops overall with a score of 82!

You can download and print off a handy dandy shopping guide for quick reference each time the urge to shop 'til you drop strikes.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Birds and Dogs

Yesterday we found a little fledgling at the foot of our Texas Ebony tree. It seemed unhurt, and I think had fallen out of a nest, though I haven't seen any in the tree from this year at least.


I wasn't sure quite what to do with it, it clearly needed to be fed but the thought of trying to hand rear a bird did not seem to be a sensible one as I know nothing about birds.

My friend C suggested I call our vet and ask them if they knew of any rescue organizations. They gave me the number of a place called "Bird Rescue At Home." I called and spoke to a lady who gave me directions to her house, and told me to bring the little bird over. (I had it in a cardboard box by this time).

The lady's house was amazing! She had literally hundreds of birds that had been saved. She, along with her husband are hand rearing them all from the tiniest, featherless, veiny looking babies, to the largest, one of which was a Peahen. (I thought it was a turkey at first until I asked!)

She identified our little fledgling as a Verdin. She agreed that it had probably fallen out of a nest. She tried to feed it some kind of bug but it wouldn't open it's beak, so then she was going to try to feed it some more liquid food. We left around that time so that she could get on with trying to save the little bird. She said that she thought it would be OK. I was glad we had taken it there to that lovely place. All day E was saying "Mommy, where the bird?"

Tex got his summer haircut and seems much happier as he runs around outside. he looks like a puppy to us again now.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Finished Project

I finally finished painting our patio table and benches and I am really pleased with how it turned out!

I wasn't sure half way through if I had done the right thing, but now each time I look at it I love it even more. It makes me feel really good that I changed something so I that liked it more, rather then simply discarding it and letting it get dumped into a landfill. (I don't see how it could have ended up anywhere else as it would have had to be carried out of here in pieces).

The basic premise of environmentalism is "Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle". It would have been terribly hypocritical for me to have simply dumped it with all that I am trying to do with our lives to reduce our impact. I am really getting into this now and see opportunities all around our home to make it into the place we would like, without being crazy consumers. (Not that we ever have been crazy consumers, but you know what I mean).

Anyway, here it is before the paint job


And after


Nice yes? Of course the paint I used was not water based, or low VOC which is the environmental choice, but I need to take things one step at a time I guess.

My next project is mosaic-ing, (not sure that is really a word), a couple of bar stools we have that are bland, and blah. I have never done mosaic before but I'm game for anything now!

It is I suppose fitting to end this post with a picture of my bumper sticker that I have had for quite a while, but have only recently started trying to truly honor in ALL areas of our lives.


(R was delighted when he saw I'd slapped this on the back of our vehicle!!)

Windchimes

Monday, May 5, 2008

Harvest


This is our first pepper that we "harvested" and ate on Saturday.

I know that it might not look too impressive to any of you seasoned desert vegetable growers, especially as it is the only one we have for now, but I am proud! It tasted delicious as well.

Here's hoping for many more.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Green Living Is Beautiful Living!!!

That was the main message I got from today's Green Living Conference . I feel privileged on so many levels to have been able to attend, and it was very inspiring to be around so many other people who clearly felt the same way. I don't really know where to start, I feel as though I have so much to say about all that I saw and learned.

The conference was hosted by Greg Peterson, of The Urban Farm who is one of the main movers and shakers of sustainable living here in the valley. Apart from The Urban farm, he and his business partner Amy Godfrey also run Your Guide To Green a resource for sustainable living products and information. Greg is an energetic speaker, and this was evident today, as it was for all of the other guests that I saw.

Toby Hemenway, author of Gaia's Garden spoke about permaculture and how these principles can be applied for those of us that live in the suburbs. The basic principles he discussed were as follows-
Plant densely such as within square foot gardening, otherwise known as "Stacking and Packing." This provides the benefits of conserving water, providing shade, and using fertile land economically.
Use living resources such as hens and pigs to naturally prepare the soil for crops, while providing vital nutrients at the same time.
Harvest Rainwater to conserve precious water resources, while not wasting potable water.
Create guilds of plants, a mainstay of permaculture, which increase biodiversity. (I thought he was speaking about guilds of people at first!)
Observe nature which has all of this stuff figured out already if we would only watch and take notice.
The results of course are truly green and sustainable living.

(I actually bought Gaia's Garden which was rather extravagant of me, but I couldn't resist it, especially as Toby Hemenway signed it for me as well!)

Brad Lancaster spoke eloquently and hilariously about his work in Tucson and beyond with rainwater harvesting, and the use of greywater systems. I learned so much from him and realised almost immediately that much of what I am doing in our yard is contrary to so many of the principles he teaches. He made it clear though that it is OK to make mistakes with all of this stuff, and that ultimately this is how we learn. His enthusiasm and passion for his work was so obvious and infectious, as was his message that all of this can create and maintain beautiful and connected communities. His book Rainwater Harvesting For Drylands and Beyond has been on my never ending wish list for ages. Now he has written volume two as well!

Mick Dalrymple of AKA Green which is a green building supplier and resource here in the valley also spoke. Once again I was so inspired by the obvious passion that he has for making changes in building and design so that we are living in harmony with nature, not destroying it. These changes are often so simple and logical, but often don't make the corporations much money, and therein lies the problem. He argues that it can all be achieved, we can live in a sustainable world, and people can also earn a good living, but that things need to be changed at the very core of business. Although this is a huge concept, Mick made me believe that even this can be done, we just need to start clamoring for change at the legislative level, and start voting with our pocket books.

There was also a speaker from General Motors called Jack Smith talking about alternative fuel vehicles, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised at the strides made in this area. I am typically sceptical of vehicle manufacturers when it comes to sustainability, but it seems that things are changing, and they are finally taking notice. Based on what Jack talked about, I expect many new alternative fuel vehicles to be unveiled over the next few years.

I also learned that there will be an Earthship built at Superstitian Farm starting in the fall. Of course that has to be fabulous news!

Do I sound excited? I should because really I am! There are many people like me who care deeply about the damage we are doing to this planet, and many of them are people who can truly make a difference. Yes it's great that I am reusing bags, and trying to save water, and grow food, but really in the grand scheme of things it is a drop in the bucket. I do know this! It doesn't much matter that I am trying, we ALL need to be trying, as individuals, and as communities, and many of the people that I met today are able to spread that message loud and clear, in real ways, for real people.

Finally, another thing I took away was something that I have known for ages. I want so much to work within the "green" world in some way, shape, or form. It truly is my passion in life. I am still not sure quite how to make this happen, or where to make it happen. I feel so far away from this with the work that I currently do, and the lifestyle that I lead, and yet I know I am making a start. By attending conferences such as this one today, and by reading lots, and by meeting other like minded people, who knows where it all may lead.

It's OK, I have fallen off my soap box now!!

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Sonora Desert Museum

Here are some pictures from our trip to the Sonora Desert Museum this past Sunday. (It's all pictures today). It was definitely worth the trip, very interesting and educational too!

Here is my family of Paleontologists


Some views of the stunning Sonoran Desert




Some "big kitty cats" sleeping as E called them


Back view of a Havalina


And finally, a very well camouflaged Bighorn Sheep


It was a very windy, and hazy day but you get the general idea. We stopped off at Colossal cave as well. Also worth a visit, but not if you have a very wiggly, and by that time grumpy two year old, who did not want to be in a confined space. Screaming really does echo through caves!!

May Day In Our Garden