2011 SOLV Beach and Riverside Cleanup

Levi Drawing
Levi Drawing

We spent the day, not at the beach, but at home. Yes, at home. Why, you might ask? Because the power steering fluid left the Pontiac. So, we picked up my coworker, set up the phones, ate some junk food, and got the coffees. During the coffee break, my husband realized the car had a more serious problem than originally thought. We realized, once we returned to deliver the coffee that there was no power steering fluid in the car.

So, a tow was called and Levi and I took the train/bus home.

Levi as the humpback
We took the train/bus back since the car broke down. After I realized Levi removed his coat from his backpack, we improvised with Daddy's raincoat. Under the raincoat is the backpack.

An adventure it was, even if not the one we anticipated.

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I am an Urban Homesteader

Heated & whisked
Making HOMEmade chocolate syrup in my (urban) home(stead). Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I know what to do.

I know where the resources are.

I’ve written, somewhat extensively on the subject.

Today: I am an Urban Homesteader.

In 2008, I self-published my first of two books with Dr. Deborah Tolman. With her knowledge and know-how, my writing, editing, graphic design, and web skills – and with support from several other friends and colleagues, we self-published the Tolman Guide to Going Green. We published one for Portland, Oregon, where we both lived in 2008 and one for Asheville, North Carolina, where Deb has sustainable connections.

We took a systems approach to sustainability. How do you encompass natural processes at home? How do you make going green accessible in a way that the apartment dweller with the smallest income can still be green?

Also, in 2008, it was discussed by Kelly & Eric at Root Simple.

Shannon Hayes takes a feminist approach in Radical Homemaking.

It’s cliched and made fun of in Portlandia.

Cities, towns, neighborhoods all over the world are participating in Urban Homesteading.

What does this cheesy cliche even mean?

It means, take your home and make it green by thinking in full cycles, like homesteaders used to do.

Would you throw away that tin can if it would make a great Christmas Tree Ornament? No? Well, you just saved something from the landfill. Go green! You are an urban homesteader!

Would you mow over that grass or would you bag it and take it to the curb? What, your time is limited, and you don’t want to spend the extra money for the bag attachment (or you don’t have a bag attachment because you’re using a Reel Mower)? Well – congratulations! You have just participated in grass-cycling! You are an urban homesteader!

You (attempt) to grow your own greens all around your small urban plot or your apartment? You are really keeping it local! Go green! Congratulations you are an urban homesteader!

What, you make your own laundry soap because it costs less than a penny per load and your family must be frugal with those limited dollars coming in? Congratulations! You are an urban homesteader!

I suppose our cultural ideas of Intellectual Property say it’s okay to trademark words. But, I think it’s a terrible idea. Trademarking ideas in this day and age of collective consciousness is simply another way to make a game out of doing good. Sure, a part of me agrees that rules can force us into creativity and better answers to our world’s problems, but sometimes it’s just gone too far. Trying to trademark a name for something that was already published as a book? Can this even be done? Wouldn’t the copyright law on the book trump the trademarking of the concept? And, how close are we to Big Brother when we try to enforce this collective consciousness? Seriously? In this economy? Don’t we have better things to do?

So, today, sponsored by Take Back Urban Homesteading and Crunchy Chicken, is a day of Action. It’s a day to Take Back Urban Homesteading. Write about what makes you an Urban Homesteader in the hopes we’ll jam the blogosphere with our collective consciousness.

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Allergies, Asthma & Your Immune System

Farm Shot
My brother, his daughter, and The Farm. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

It was the year 2000. I was chatting with my favorite professor (or soon to be) after the MSU class. We did this occasionally. Since, I love idea swapping and learning all that I can, and my friend enjoyed sharing all the various things he knows, it was a good combination. We’d go to Crunchy’s. He’d have 2 or 3 beers. I’d struggle with one and a half. We’d talk all sorts of ponderings and meanderings in modern philosophy. Utah Phillips, Politics, the length of a cold, extra education from the class I took. The recurring themes: religion, environment, and how it all meshes with politics.

These conversations had a large influence on what I believe or choose to believe of religion and how I justify my understanding of it and especially the words within. These conversations also helped shape or give ideas and momentum to my environmental passions.

One of these conversations centered, albeit briefly, on the difference between allergy and asthma in city kids compared to kids who live in the country. Six or seven years later, I wrote about it for one of my final Sustainable Urban Development classes. The idea that we are building up our immune system by subjecting ourselves to “untidy” animals was and is fascinating to me.

My mother grew up with nine other siblings. They lived on a 160 acre farm (80 acres on one side of the highway, 80 on another) with their parents, my grandparents. My grandfather worked at the Munising Paper Mill (until he retired), planted and sold potatoes “on the side”, and my grandmother tended the garden (although she hated it) all the while my grandfather was at work. Their garden preserved the family through winter with most essentials. My grandmother made 16 loaves of bread weekly. They milked their own cows and pasteurized the milk on the counter. They’d make their own butter, slaughter their own meat, preserve their own food. They farmed. One year, they shelled so many beans not only was the kitchen sink full but so was the claw-foot bathtub. There was always an assortment of cows, dogs, cats, and pigs. Less common in my growing up years were horses, poultry, and rabbits. All said, this is The Farm. The Farm is what I consider home.

When I was in fifth grade, I started to itch and loose my breath around cats. I had been 3 years away from my constant Home. Although we didn’t live with my grandparents, we were there nearly every weekend until we moved downstate when I was in 2nd grade. Someone told me along the way that body chemistry can change (dramatically) every 7 years. So, the question, always on my brain, was how can my limited farm experience lend itself to moderate to severe cat allergies. Now, this past summer (of 2010), I was tested for allergies. The doctor did a scratch test of over 40 common allergens to the Pacific Northwest and the Midwest. I scored a significant reaction on more than half. I have year-round allergies.

So, again, the question begs: what’s the connection? How much of an affect to our sanitized cities have on our reaction to the environment? Am I just an allergic person, written into my DNA? I always thought I came from stout, healthy people – but now I’m not so sure. I have two considerable immune issues that require constant handling. I think that’s fairly significant, even if I’m not overtly bothered on a daily basis.

I think I need a couple of more beers at Crunchy’s washed down with one of their burgers and my friend to ponder this one out.

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ICF v. Cob

Dogon cob houses in Mali.
Image via Wikipedia

This will be a sort of series describing the differences between ICF construction and Cob(b) construction. When I started my new job, I quipped the basic difference between my husband and me is that he’s ICF and I’m Cob housing. My husband likes to insist that when we build our dream house it should be ICF, especially if it lines up next to some State Game Area somewhere. I have many sustainable desires, and I want our dream house to be formed from the (local) ground in a thoughtful, heat tolerant (slow to cool and slow to heat) manner.

One of the gal’s I now work with, a gal on our Sustainability Team, is building an ICF house as her dream house.

Maybe it’s not as bad as I thought.

November 23, 2001, Tulsa , OK (Disaster Ally i...
November 23, 2001, Tulsa , OK (Disaster Ally in the Eastland Mall) -- A safe room wall section is shown here. The insulated concrete form is cut away to show reinforcing steel. The cavity is filled with concrete. Photo by Kent Baxter/ FEMA News Photo. Image via Wikipedia

So, I’m going to explore it in this series. The goal is to examine differences in a post at some regularity, weekly or monthly, the difference between ICF and Cob(b) to come up with at least guidelines I’m comfortable with or arguments why ICF won’t work. That is, I’m either going to convince myself it’s sustainable or have a list of cons why we shouldn’t pursue this form of building when we get to the time build our dream house.

You’ll be able to find these posts in the menu under “ICF v. Cob” and through the many sustainability tags.

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I’m in a Food Club

December Frontier
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

A what? I haven’t really blogged about it. It’s central to my life. It’s been important to me for several years. And, still I haven’t written about it. My family knows. My friends know. My new friends all know that I am in a food club.

So, what is a food club? A buying club, in its simplest form, is a group of people who buy wholesale, together. A food buying club is composed of people who buy food wholesale, together. A group, acting like a business (some formal, some informal) guaranteeing a supplier of a minimum order in order to get discounts. The labor is distributed, then, through the club. That is, the club’s members sort the orders, organize distribution, and collect and arrange payments.

A few years ago, I found myself in a completely different reality than I thought I would be: I was a wife and mother and could no longer afford to shop exclusively at farmers markets. I was priced out. The single lifestyle was suddenly replaced with diapers (cloth and disposable), onsies, insurance, and another person’s very different tastes. I was, like many moms I now know, just getting used to single life when I was surprised with change. I was getting my organic, local ideas figured out when I entered the world many already struggle with: how to balance those single dreams with family realities. In my case, it was “single, organic, local, sustainable” dreams with family ideals and budgets.

Portland Oregon from the east. By User:Fcb981
Image via Wikipedia

I am not unique in this query. The path I chose to find a solution might be a little different, but here in Portland, Oregon it is gaining traction (so much so, it’s now mocked, laughably, and boy I cannot wait to see it, in Fred Armisen & Carrie Brownstein‘s Portlandia).

Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Oregon.
Image via Wikipedia

Portland is known for its food snobbery. It’s known for modifying everything when it comes to food. “I would like my triple espresso, non-fat, organic, fair-trade, dark-roasted, single-origin mocha please, served in ceramic or my own reusable mug.” Local, organic, vegan, fair trade, Certified, sourced, vetted, heirloom, non-GMO are all words of norm in this food world.

It’s mystifying and interesting and eyebrow raising, all at the same time.

I want access to whole foods. Probably, not too far off, but certainly not too far into, a Nourishing Traditions menu plan. I tend to think of things a little simply (in my mind). We’ve been eating a certain way for 10,000 years: bread, meat, fruit, vegetables, animal milk in cheese and yogurt (and more). We’ve grown seeds, cultivated seeds, saved seeds, and processed them fairly local until about 300 or so years ago when our lives changed quite dramatically with the Industrial Revolution. I am not a fan of vegan fair because from what I’ve seen it ventures too far into processed-food land, which is ultimately what I think I (we) should be moving away from (and into a more wholesome whole food way of living).

Chicken Leftovers
Chicken leftovers. Sure, I should have picked a prettier picture instead of the what yielded 7 cups of shredded chicken, but this was a meaty bird. 7lbs, 7 cups of leftovers = lots of leftover chicken fried rice = YUM. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

But, what does that mean? My husband and I try, every year to tend a garden. Every year we learn something, fail at something, and succeed at something. We are no where near being able to sustain ourselves from our own toils and labor in the land. So, we need to outsource. I would rather not outsource overseas. My sustainable studies have taught me in order to have a secure food shed I need to source my food locally. Anyone ever consider a 100-mile diet? Some folks in Vancouver, B.C. did – and they found it’s HARD. Compromises have already been made, banana anyone? But, how can we make these compromises friendlier to those who produce food and to those who consume it?

By knowing your farmer. By knowing your distributor. By ceasing to rely solely on the supermarket and taking your (my) dollars direct to the producer. I was interested in more organic spices, personal care, and grain. Bob’s Red Mill is in Milwaukie, Oregon, the next suburb over, in the same Metro region, within the same Urban Growth Boundary. I called and found out they work with un-incorporated groups. The catch? We had to meet the minimum: 500lbs. I can’t store that much grain. One 50 lb bag of flour will last 6-8 months, so I couldn’t do basically 3 years worth in my house! But, if I found some people who would buy with me…

And the seed is planted. In 2008, I knew I wanted to build a food buying club.

The urban growth boundary edge at Bull Mountai...
Image via Wikipedia
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So Much Anger (Around Transit)

Bye Bye Stansted
I'm including this image of Standsted because it highlighted one of my most frustrating travel experiences when I went abroad in 2006. Grr travel! So fun, so needed, so hated! Image by rpeschetz via Flickr

I like to read. I’ve got my Google Reader operating at a rate that I use and monitor. I like reading blogs. I wish my Momma friends would blog more! I like reading blogs about the things that interest me. (Yes, Mr. McMahon, that sentence was a lot like, “Skiing is fun. Skiing is good exercise.”) So, what interests me? Food. Public transit. Policy. And, certain conversations regarding green things.

I like to glance at a Portland-TriMet Bus Drivers blog every now and then and Portland Transport to get an idea or keep my finger on the pulse of what Portland Transport people are talking about. Then, when I read those blogs, I often end up looking at what latest, greatest thing the O has to say about transit. They even have a (LA Transplant) blogger dedicated to reporting on Portland Transit, most namely Tri-Met. All these comments! All these thoughts. They are so full of hate.

I’ve been commuting, now, for 4 weeks. For 4 weeks, every day, save one because of a bout with the Stomach Flu (See Lasley Puke-fest 2010). We usually drive the Gas Guzzler because, oddly, that has become My Car! My job, my lovely, wonderful, green job is 20+ miles away from my home. This means we are filling up the Gas Guzzler every four days. Every day, I drive in traffic. Every day I drive in congestion. There is no part of our commute that is safe from congestion. Sure, there are routes we can take to try and minimize the congestion we encounter, but no route is safe from it. Everyday in congestion I get angry.

Disney had a little cartoon from the 50s that detailed how the mild mannered citizen turned into a raving lunatic once he got in his car. Driving too fast, protected by the steel and glass cage. Blood pressure boiling with a terrible attitude, all that disappeared once the car was parked and he got out of it. I think it’s an accurate portrayal of how we behave. Once in the car, we are suddenly free to be assholes.

That’s one reason why I enjoyed commuting so much. It wasn’t 15-40 minutes of rush, rush, rush, it was 5-10. And that 5-10 minutes was spent walking to my bus stop. So, instead of rushing in a sedentary manner, I was exercising.

It’s hard to argue for commuting on public transit with a small person for an hour and a half. I think we could manage it once a week, but the 1p quit time would turn into a 5p or 6p get home time. It would work best when my husband works at the garage in between our homes.

So, I was calmer in commuting, but I guess that was really when the buses or trains weren’t packed. When they were packed to the gills, I couldn’t relax. I couldn’t take abreath or comfortably read my book. I had to stand, monitor my giant bag ensuring it didn’t whack anyone in the face. Always on high alert that you move back enough. No one talks, they just glare.

So, if this is the commuting experience of the O Blogger, then I guess I understand why he’s so belligerent about bus drivers and the transit system. No matter what way you slice it, we are all rushing outside of our comfort zones. An extrovert friend commented to me that extroverts are rare. Meyers Brigs people claim its 50/50, but I know I know a hell of a lot of introverts. People who need their refresh time. If we don’t get our refresh time, we can get cranky. So, if we’re all cranky commuters, I guess that means we’re all angry commuters. Not a lot of love there.

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Garage References

Concrete Thinker Website. 2008. www.ConcreteThinker.com

As you drive your nicely cleaned auto up the driveway, think about that hard surface and how it aggravates runoff problems. Or, think about how water cannot percolate naturally into the ground and eventually replenish our soil and groundwater reservoirs. ConcreteThinker.com is a LEED-certified company that introduces homeowners to pervious concrete pavers and something we, the editors, like to think about as ‘daylighting the soil’.
The pavers are ideal for:

  • Residential roads, alleys, driveways
  • Sidewalks and pathways
  • Patios
  • Tennis courts
  • Swimming Pool Decks

Typical flow rate for these pavers is 3-8 gallons per square foot. The company boasts, “pervious concrete can be instrumental in recharging groundwater and reducing storm water runoff.” While you’re thinking about these pavers, Google “pavers” and look at the images – there are some pretty cool options. Also, the Lucky Lab picture in this section use permeable pavers.

Permeable Surfaces and Filter Drains. 2006. Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA). www.ciria.org/suds/permeable_surfaces_and_filter_drains.htm

This quick read offers a how-to guide in creating permeable surfaces. Systematic instructions in an easy-to-grasp format make this a valuable resource.

Eco Car Wash Homepage. www.ecocarwash.com

Eco Car Wash in Portland offers an eco-friendly alternative to washing a vehicle at home in the driveway where it can spill over or burden the capacity of our sewer system. The owners say they use recycled water and biodegradable soap products.  They indicate that while they care strongly about environmental stewardship, they also provide top quality service. The website lists five area locations and discount coupons.

Homemade Weed Killer

Homewade weed killer with dish soap, vinegar, and sea salt.
Homemade weed killer with dish soap, vinegar, and sea salt.

What? You say!  A weed killer?

Sometimes, regrettably, it is necessary to be more vigilant with pestilent plants.  Use a 6 quart or larger pot for making the following:

  • 1 gallon of white-distilled vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon dye-free liquid soap
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

Mix together and bring all ingredients to a boil.  Ladle into a spray container and spray on weed while mixture is still hot.  Cover with newspaper and then cover with 90% weed free top soil.  The area should be ready for something new, like a garden, within 6 months.