Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving

I absolutely love Thanksgiving, and although I am an immigrant to this country, I feel as though I have adopted it now as one of my most favorite holidays. For me Thanksgiving signifies a lot of what is special about this country, spending time with friends and family, enjoying good food and drink, and reflecting on what we are thankful for. Great stuff.

This year was better than ever with the lovely rainy weather we had, very seasonal indeed. (I never imagined ten years ago as I struggled through another dark and dismal English November that one day I would be uttering those words!) I haven't even got my rainwater collection barrel set up properly yet, but I did put it outside anyway, and collected a little rainwater. Not enough to water very much, but a start.


Kendra did a Thanksgiving show at school on Wednesday which was very sweet and brought tears to many a parents eye.


After we got home I prepped all the food for our feast, and made the pumpkin pie, another adopted tradition I love.


On Thanksgiving day I worked for a few hours, and then we ate in the evening and had a relaxing dinner with lovely friends.


On Friday we completely avoided Black Friday as usual, and simply lounged around watching movies and eating leftovers. It was very nice. For the past day or so though I have been feeling decidedly inadequate as I have read about many of the wonderful and crafty ideas other bloggers have for making Christmas gifts. This would be great for my compacting rules, and attempted green lifestyle, but apart from making some simple earings for a secret Santa gift exchange I will be part of, I simply don't seem to have the time or the energy at the moment.

I have been reading a nice little book called "Green Christmas" by Jennifer Basye Sander, and Peter Sander. It is a quick and easy read and has many ideas for greening up the season including reducing overall consumption, shopping locally, and refocusing the holiday towards community and family. One fact that really stood out in my mind is this:

"Every year between Thanksgiving and New Year's day, Americans generate 25 million extra tons of garbage, (about 25 percent more than during the rest of the year).

Now that in itself is a sobering thought for me, and one that makes me want to start wrapping all our gifts in newspaper. Well perhaps not newspaper, but something a lot less wasteful than wrapping paper. I was glad to read that a live Christmas tree is still more sustainable than an imitation one, as long as it is grown in the USA, and mulched afterwards. I am rather partial to a real tree I have to admit so I am glad we can still get one with a fairly clear conscience. All in all this is a great little book and one that would make a great, and green gift I think.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Birthday Dad!


Today is my Dad's birthday. We aren't able to get together as much as we would like because he lives in Greece, and we live here, but we chat often, and will hopefully get together next spring.

My Dad is the person in our family who nurtured my love for the outdoors, nature, trees, plants, gardening, and hiking, and we spent many hours of my childhood doing these things together.

Dad was last here four years ago during which time we went on a day hike up to Payson. It was a cold but bright day, perfect for a hike, and we had such a great time.


Dad, I hope that you have a wonderful birthday. I love you and I miss you, and I can't wait to see you very soon!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Signs of the times

PLATTEVILLE, Colo. - A farm couple got a huge surprise when they opened their fields to anyone who wanted to pick up free vegetables left over after the harvest.

23/11/2008 4:06:00 PM

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Forty thousand people showed up.

Joe and Chris Miller's fields were picked so clean Saturday that a second day of gleaning - the ancient practice of picking up leftover food in farm fields - was cancelled Sunday.

"Overwhelmed is putting it mildly," Chris Miller said. "People obviously need food."

She said she expected 5,000 to 10,000 people would show up Saturday to collect free potatoes, carrots and leeks.

Instead, an estimated 11,000 vehicles snaked around cornfields and backed up more than three kilometres.

About 12 hectares of the 243-hectare farm 60 kilometres north of Denver became a parking lot.

Some people parked their cars along two nearby highways to take to the field with sacks, wagons and barrels.

"Everybody is so depressed about the economy," said Sandra Justice of Greeley, who works at a technology company. "This was a pure party. Everybody having a a great time getting something for free."

Justice and her mother and son picked 10 bags of vegetables.

Miller said they opened the farm to the free public harvest for the first time this year after hearing reports of food being stolen from churches. It was meant as a thank you for customers.

Farm operations manager Dave Patterson said that in previous years the Millers allowed schoolchildren and some church groups to come to the farm during the fall to harvest their own food.

An estimated 272,000 kilograms of produce was harvested Saturday.

Weld County sheriff's deputies helped direct traffic and the Colorado State Patrol issued citations for cars illegally parked on the side of the road.

Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com

Monday, November 24, 2008

Urban Hike

Here are some pictures from the hike we did yesterday along one of the urban trails that we are fortunate enough to have here in Phoenix.

We have many desert trails within a few miles of where we live, and this hike that we did up Piestewa Peak is one of them. We only hiked about 1/2 a mile up, but we all had a great time, the girls did well, and we got lots of comments from people impressed by how much they seemed to be enjoying it.






This is a classic Sonoran Desert view. I kept thinking about all the pictures I will be able to take on hikes like this with my new camera when it arrives.


And this is a classic "brown cloud" view of the Phoenix skyline. Gorgeous don't you think ?!


As I was putting Kendra to bed last night after an action packed, yet comfortingly frugal weekend she said to me, "oh Mommy, I just love our family weekends don't you?"

Friday, November 21, 2008

A productive day, and a mystery.................

This weekend neither Robert or I are working for the entire weekend. This will be the first weekend in many months that this has happened, and I am determined that we will spend some quality family time together, out and about enjoying the lovely weather we are having.

So much of our weekends seem to be devoted to chores, so I decided to try to get everything done today.

I did two huge loads of washing,


I cleaned the kitchen and bathrooms with my trusty green cleaning baking soda that I use for everything these days,


And I supervised the girls while they supposedly cleaned up their bedrooms!


I also made a salad for dinner to go with the shepherds pie I made yesterday. I added home grown peppers, and cucumbers from the garden.



And I baked some bread.


I also got caught up with all my school work and put a bottle of wine in the refrigerator to chill for later. Roll on the weekend, except that we seem to have a bit of a mystery on our hands.

A month or so ago I was noticing strange, shallow holes in my garden each morning. They seemed to be there more often after I had dug out the new beds. I could have sworn that the holes looked like large paw prints of some kind, although I am known for my vivid imagination! Here is one of them....


I decided at the time that they were probably made by birds taking dust baths and after I stopped finding them I forgot about them. That is until today when I went out and found this....


In the space where I had recently harvested some of the rapini, there were uprooted plants. They looked as though they had been dug up by something.

You may remember our fuzzy dog Tex who is a voracious digger, although you would never know that from these cute pictures.



Tex has dug up many plants in my yard over the years, but he can't get into my veggie garden because there is a locked fence in his way for that very purpose. Now I am mystified. I truly don't know what is going on.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The politics of being green

Environmentalists have been fighting an uphill battle for many years to get the people in power, the people who can really make a difference, to listen to their concerns about global warming and the damage that we are doing to our planet. I know that these are complex issues, I know that there are no easy solutions, but I also know that we have to do something, right now.

Scientists have been speaking of tipping points for a year or so now, points at which there will be no return from the damage that greenhouse gases are doing to our planet. We really don't have time to waste.

Today when I read this statement from President Elect Barack Obama, to the Bi-Partisan Governors Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles, for the first time in ages I actually felt really hopeful that someone soon to be in power really does get this stuff, and is actually planning to do something about it.

"I promise you this: When I am president, any governor who's willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that's willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that's willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America."

That statement right there makes me feel happy, and hopeful, and excited for the future! Does that mean I am political, or does it really just mean that I am someone who cares about the future of our earth?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Compacting faux pas in the biggest way imagineable


I have been longing for a digital SLR camera for as long as I can remember. I love to take pictures and I know that I could learn to take good ones with a really excellent camera.

I have been looking at the camera I want for a long time, it is the Nikon D80, and I often go down to our local Ritz Camera store to look at it and to dream. It is a very expensive camera, and I would never take a purchase like this lightly, but from all the research I have done I think it will give me many years of good picture taking.

I have been saving money for a while now, and have quite a lot put away from birthdays etc. So, imagine my surprise as I perused the Ritz camera website last night only to see my dream camera with the lens I want reduced by $130, with free shipping and tax. It didn't take me long to make the purchase and I will soon be the proud owner of a this


I know this is a total breach of my compacting pledge in the biggest way possible. It is however also a once in a lifetime purchase that will I feel sure bring years of picture taking pleasure. I am still slightly in shock that I finally bought it so quickly after months of consideration, and it will take a few days for me to get used to the idea.

Now I just need to learn how to use it which may take me a while because I have only ever used to simplest of cameras. I am very excited!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Baking Day

Friday baking day was rather neglected over the summer. It doesn't seem like so much fun heating up an oven inside when it feels like an oven outside! An option would be to use a solar oven, but that is yet another long term dream I think.

Anyway, yesterday we restarted the Friday baking tradition with some good old fashioned family favorites, cup cakes.










We used up the leftover frosting and sprinkles from the halloween cookies. Yum!

And here is a gratuitous picture of todays crop of cucumbers, zucchini, and the first of the rapini.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Great and wonderful press release from the Sierra Club

November 13, 2008

Contact:
Virginia Cramer, 804-225-9113 x 102

Ruling: Coal Plants Must Limit C02

In a move that signals the start of the our clean energy future, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Environmental Appeals Board (EAB) ruled today EPA had no valid reason for refusing to limit from new coal-fired power plants the carbon dioxide emissions that cause global warming. The decision means that all new and proposed coal plants nationwide must go back and address their carbon dioxide emissions.

“Today’s decision opens the way for meaningful action to fight global warming and is a major step in bringing about a clean energy economy,” said Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club Senior Attorney who argued the case. “This is one more sign that we must begin repowering, refueling and rebuilding America.”

“The EAB rejected every Bush Administration excuse for failing to regulate the largest source of greenhouse gases in the United States. This decision gives the Obama Administration a clean slate to begin building our clean energy economy for the 21st century,” continued Spalding

The decision follows a 2007 Supreme Court ruling recognizing carbon dioxide, the principle source of global warming, is a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act.

“Coal plants emit 30% of our nation’s global warming pollution. Building new coal plants without controlling their carbon emissions could wipe out all of the other efforts being undertaken by cities, states and communities across the country," said Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign. “Everyone has a role to play and it’s time that the coal industry did its part and started living up to its clean coal rhetoric.”

The Sierra Club went before the Environmental Appeals Board in May of 2008 to request that the air permit for Deseret Power Electric Cooperative’s proposed waste coal-fired power plant be overturned because it failed to require any controls on carbon dioxide pollution. Deseret Power’s 110 MW Bonanza plant would have emitted 3.37 million tons of carbon dioxide each year.

“Instead of pouring good money after bad trying to fix old coal technology, investors should be looking to wind, solar and energy efficiency technologies that are going to power the economy, create jobs, and help the climate recover,” said Nilles.

To get background information and see how the case unfolded visit www.sierraclub.org/coal/plantlist.asp

A copy of the decision can be found here: http://yosemite.epa.gov/oa/EAB_Web_Docket.nsf/PSD%20Permit%20Appeals%20(CAA)/C8C5985967D8096E85257500006811A7/$File/Remand...39.pdf

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

America Recycles Day

I have just learned that Saturday, November 15th is "America Recycles Day". I am truly ashamed to say that I not heard of this day before now. It is run by the National Recycling Coalition and there are events all around the country to celebrate. This organization has a great web site with tons of information, and links to places like the Arizona Recycling Coalition! There is even a pledge that can be taken to increase ones commitment to recycling. Just something else for me to get excited about! :)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Done

I have now finished digging out the entire area of my veggie patch, and it is all planted too. I have learned a few things from this process, not least of which is that raised beds are probably the answer here in the low deserts of the southwest. It really has been hard, and back breaking work, but I now feel a great sense of achievement that it is done. It has been my plan for several years and it is great to see it finally come to fruition.



A few days ago in the new space I planted snow peas, leeks, spinach, more cabbage, carrots, (I am hoping to have more luck with this lot), nasturtiums, kale, dill, and cilantro. It will be a bit of a tight fit if they all grow but I will worry about that when the time comes.

I also discovered that my brassica's were being munched on. It seems that I have a few more caterpillar visitors, though not the enormous Sphinx Moth kind. I am afraid to say I wasn't as nearly benevolent towards these ones and picked off most that I could see. I also discovered a severe infestation of aphids which I took care of with a mixture of water, a little cooking oil, and dishwashing liquid, (the non petroleum derived type), all mixed together and sprayed on the offending pests. I got the recipe from the great book Extreme Gardening, which along with the equally helpful low desert planting and harvesting guide from The Urban Farm, has been my garden bible this year. It seems to have worked and there doesn't seem to be any long term damage. I will keep a closer eye on everything from now on.

We are still getting lots of zucchini's and cucumbers. Despite eating pounds of the things we have too many to use so I have been sharing them with friends. This has given me a ridiculous sense of pride I am afraid. I had very low expectations of this years crops so I am quietly pleased.



Lots of the other veggies still need to grow and mature so I will see if my beginners luck holds out. I need to think about frost cloth before the nights get really chilly and I am caught out. I have a lot of old sheets and I think they will probably do just fine, and be in line with my compacting life. I have been reading about microclimates, and I suspect my little east facing garden will stay warmer than other areas of the yard would. It is also enclosed by walls that get lots of sun during the day and I am sure they will retain heat at night. I will have to experiment and see.

Our lovely Sphinx Moth caterpillars have gone. They weren't there one morning last week when we went to check on them, and I suspect that they have buried themselves to await spring, and their metamorphosis. We do miss them.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Sustainable Giving


Many charities now offer great gift options for the holidays and for other special occasions.

Last year we did this for our nieces and nephews and it went down really well with them and with their parents. It is such an easy way to shop for something meaningful, and it cuts right down on gas, and all that non recyclable wrapping paper.

Favorite charities of mine that offer gift options include Heifer International, Oxfam, and the WWF.

Gift donations are used in many ways to benefit people living in impoverished communities around the world, and for various conservation efforts. Health care, education, farming, empowerment of women and children, and protection of endangered species are just a few of the options.

For the small children last year we did animal adoption from the WWF. This option includes a plush toy of the sponsored animal, (no you don't actually get the real thing), information about it, and a certificate. All gift options from the charities I have listed include a gift message describing what has been purchased, and how it will help.

How about buying trees, or seeds from Oxfam so that a community can have shade, prevent soil erosion, and grow their own food?

Why don't you adopt a Polar Bear , or a Blue Footed Booby from the WWF? By doing this you will be helping conservation efforts for these endangered species.

By giving just $20 at Heifer International you can provide a flock of chicks for a community from Cameroon to the Caribbean, a gift that will feed and nourish many people for years to come. If you are feeling even more generous you can buy a sheep, truly a gift that goes on giving year after year for a family.

Go on, take a look at the various web sites and see what appeals to you this holiday season. There are options to fit all budgets and tastes. What could be more seasonal than knowing that you have given a special gift to your loved ones, and to those in need. For me that truly is what the holidays are all about.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Congratulations!

BARACK OBAMA

It makes me very proud and happy to live in the United States of America where history has been made this evening.

Many congratulations to our new President Elect, Barack Obama!

Monday, November 3, 2008

Green Updates- Waste

Trash bin Pictures, Images and Photos

Waste really cuts to the core of sustainable living for me because we live in such a well, disposable society!

I am much more aware these days of how much stuff we waste as a family. Generally we have one to two bags of garbage a week, although I don’t really know if this is a little or a lot because I don’t know how much trash other people throw out. I suspect ours will be significantly reduced once Emily is completely out of diapers. Yes, yes, we do use disposables! I have dabbled with cloth diapers in the past but eventually decided after doing a lot of research that disposables were the better option for us here in the desert where water is such a precious resource. I am sure the cloth versus disposable diaper debate will rage on but it will be without me for now I am afraid.

Anyway here is what we have been doing to reduce our waste:

Recycling according to what our city accepts. There still seems to be plenty that can’t be recycled and I am sure there is somewhere I could take that, but as usual I haven’t got around to looking yet. Kendra frequently knows what can be recycled now and that pleases me.

Checking things I have to buy in plastic to see if the container can be recycled, and not buying things in plastic containers that don’t need to be. For example I used to buy shower gel, and now we use good old fashioned soap.

Trying to reduce food packaging and buying loose goods when I can which hasn’t been as often as I would like.

Subscribing to Catalog Choice to reduce the amount of catalogs I get in the mail. Despite declining many catalogs I still seem to get a steady stream of new ones that I have no wish to receive. I have now taken to calling the company each time I get a new catalog and asking to be taken off their mailing list. Hopefully the two systems combined will eventually truly reduce the amount of catalogs we still get in the mail.

Using cloth bags of course! (I always keep a supply in the car).

Reusing plastic produce bags. I either use them for storing farmer’s market veggies in the fridge, or as poop pickup bags for our back yard. I also wash and reuse zip lock bags until they are beyond saving.

Using reusable plastic containers for Kendra’s lunch instead of little baggies.

Never buying bottled water. We have a water filter on our faucet and use stainless steel bottles for carting it around when we are out and about.

Not buying or using Kleenex, although I have to admit I do still use paper towels on occasion.

Composting.

Trying not to buy over packaged items. Amazon has just started a campaign to reduce the amount of wasteful packaging that comes with items and I will be watching it closely. Compacting helps with this of course.

That’s it. I am always open to new ideas if anyone has any!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It is great to have friends!

We have spent a wonderful warm afternoon out in the backyard with our new green, squiggly friends. "Friends" I hear you asking? "thought you had one new friend?" Well, actually no, it seems that my gorgeous caterpillar is not alone in his quest to devour my Orange Bell bush, he has two friends who are intent on doing the same! Can you spot them? They are extremely well camouflaged which is good because I have been worrying about the birds getting them all day.


They are nocturnal, we know this because we went out last night with a flashlight to check on them and they were seriously munching away, and today have been completely still.

I have been searching online today trying to identify them without any specific success. I thought they were a Sphinx Moth of some kind but there are so many that I was getting confused. And then my dear, hardcore, outdoorsy friend, you know, the one I hiked Mt Humphreys with just sent me this...................



Amazing no? These are is totally what our caterpillars are. They seem to prefer Orange Bells over my Desert Willow which is just great because my Desert Willow Tree is not big and lush like the Orange Bells. Seriously check out the video, it is fascinating.

Well as I said, it is great to have friends don't you think?