Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter or Eostre? I'll Eat Chocolate Bunnies While You Decide.

Happy Easter!!!



Time for another holiday fun fact... just because I really, really love fun facts.

"You know... the origins of Easter are pagan."

::cue gasps, evil laughter, and lightning bolts::

You've all heard that comment, meant to snuff all joy out of this day, as though you'll suddenly stop eating all those chocolate bunnies... just because that one person disapproves.

It's a horrible waste of their time, and to be honest, the answer to that comment is rather open-ended, anyway:

"Maybe.  Or maybe not."

::cue a single rain cloud above the head of the person that brought up the topic::

We honestly don't know.

An obsure deity, Eostre is said to be an old Saxon goddess of the dawn, and of Spring.  She's associated with renewal, and of course, with fertility.  A goddess who is believed by many to have hares as attendants. 

The oldest reference to Eostre, the goddess that many people claim Easter celebrates, is a single entry of a treatise called De temporum ratione, written by an an Anglo-Saxon monk that lived between the years 673 and 735:

Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated "Paschal month", and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.  Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day... (De ratione temporum, 15: source)
Not a whole lot to go by, right?

We can hardly consider a Christian monk to be a primary source when referring to ancient non-Christian deities and rituals, after all.  Given that he's speaking about something that was considered history in his day, I think this isn't something we can really rely on.

My conclusion?  

With evidence as flimsy as this, there is no proof that Eostre was a goddess.  There is also no proof that she wasn't.  Believe what you want.

Believe what brings you happiness, peace, and joy.

That's what Easter is about, after all... regardless of your religion.

And go eat a chocolate bunny, too.  


They're yummy.
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Friday, March 29, 2013

Straw Bale Gardens? No Container Necessary? Sweet!

Totally natural container gardening... complete with a natural container?
For large plants?
And it works?

Is that even possible?

Evidently, yes.  It is, and I'm looking forward to trying it as soon as I get my hands on a straw bale or two.  That's right.  Instead of paying $20 for some cheapo thin plastic thing, I'm going to pay $5-6 for something with sturdy edges, and that acts as a growth medium.

Dirt?  Heck, I'll make my own dirt!  Well, potting soil, anyway.

So here's the thing.  While reading about an entirely different subject on the New York Times site, My eyes caught a headline in my peripheral vision:  Grasping at Straw

Huh?

Well, it turns out that a guy named Joel Karsten, who has sold stuff like blinky pins and funny looking rubber ducks on e-bay since the 1990s, wrote a book called Straw Bale Gardens.

Wait!  Don't run away!

My excitement isn't nearly as crazy as you think... this time.  See, Karsten has a B.S. degree in horticulture from the University of Minnesota.  His first business was in the field of landscaping.  The novelty item business wasn't created until later.

So, see?  He's totally ok.

Anyway, I read through the New York Times article, and decided that the idea of creating a straw bale garden was actually a pretty good one.  According to the article,
"It was Mr. Karsten’s clever notion to condition the bale with a little fertilizer and water, creating a kind of instant compost pile. “The crust of the bale decomposes slowly,” he said. This is the vessel. The inside, which decays faster, “is our potting mix.” Stick a soaker hose on top, then plug some tomato seedlings into a hole gouged out of the straw. Time to wash the taint of barnyard off your hands: you’ve got a vegetable garden."
I know... that's a bit simplified.  But it made good sense.  I've composted before, and I'm still doing it.  I know how this works, and the idea is sound.

Indeed, the article pointed out that The Garden Professors, a WSU extension blog, throw their weight behind the idea!
"Dr. Chalker-Scott, 55, often debunks quack gardening advice on a blog called “The Garden Professors,” co-hosted by her extension service at Washington State University. A few weeks ago, for instance, she disputed the virtues of spraying molasses on your plants. (Seedlings also don’t like fro-yo or peanut butter and jelly.) “It seems like we’re always looking for the newest and shiniest way of producing vegetables,” she said.
 Yet she liked straw-bale gardening as a low-cost technique that uses natural waste materials and mimics natural processes. “This is one of those practices,” Dr. Chalker-Scott said, “that disappeared for no good reason.”"
Basically, in order to do straw bale gardening, there are a few key things that need to be ensured:

  • You need a straw bale - not hay.
  • The straw bale needs to be soaked with water.
  • A high nitrogen liquid of some type needs to be poured on top.
  • You need to wait... and wait... and wait for it to be ready.

Let's look at  why these components are necessary:

Straw v. Hay

Hay bales have seeds inside.  Straw bales don't.  Well, they shouldn't, anyway.  A bale full of seeds would probably end up being a pretty frustrating medium, right?

Lotsa water

You want to keep the bale somewhat damp.  We're composting, remember?  This hay bale soaking phase ensures that it'll be nice and ready for the next part:

Nitrogen Party!

A high nitrogen liquid, poured on top of the straw helps composting occur at a fast pace.  Remember when I talked about the composting using old garbage pails that was discussed on the blog In Heels and Backwards?  Well, the writer, Amanda, caught any liquid that drained out, because it could be used to make a liquid fertilizer - just dilute with water and you're good to go.

But!  In this case, when creating your planting medium... don't add the water.  sprinkle it on top and let it do its magic.  Keep it moist.

Wait, then wait some more.

Yep.  There's a lot of waiting involved.  Wait a few days, then... here comes the cool part.  Or... the gross part, depending upon your sensibilities.  You know it's ready when you stick your hand inside and the heat is less than your body temperature.

You've gotta touch that stuff to know if it's done, or if it's still just a bunch of degrading nastiness created by compost waste.  If it's hot, it's not ready.

Neato!!!

Those are the basics, extraordinarily simplified.  Another site which has explained the process a bit more in depth is Grow and Make.  

Or you could always buy the book by Joel Karsten.  

That's what I plan on doing, anyway.  He is the guy that brought the process back from the dead, after all!




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Thursday, March 28, 2013

Bees, Neonicotinoids, and My Short Circuited Brain

While talking to a friend the other night, she brought up an NPR story that she thought I'd be interested in.

"I figured I should point this out to you, but I'm sure you probably already know about it."

Is the sky blue?  I thought.

She was referring to a story from all things considered, entitled "Are Agriculture's Most Popular Insecticides Killing Our Bees?"  The story talked about clothianidin and thiamethoxam, two systemic pesticides referred to as neonicotinoids.

Neonicotinoids are pesticides that coat seeds to be planted.  As the seed sprouts, it takes the pesticide in through its roots, turning itself into a living bug killer.  That is, the entire plant has pesticides running through it, killing the pests that decide to munch on it.




So what's the problem?  I mean, aside from that whole annoying bit about ingesting a plant that was designed to kill...

Well, more and more research is coming out that talks about the dangers of neonicotinoids. Specifically, it identifies the dangers to bees, our top pollinators.  Sure, there are other pollinators.  But bees are the most tireless pollinators out there.  A loss of bees would be tragic.

And that loss is currently happening on a large scale, due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), as I've mentioned previously.  There's a growing hill of evidence that identifies neonicotinoids as a major cause.

Take, for example, the research done by Christian H. Krupke, et al.  

In an attempt to learn about the causes of honeybee colony collapse, he concentrated on pesticide use, and found clothianidin chemical residue on not only the maize it was supposed to be discovered on, but other plants, as well.  Dandelions, a favorite for honeybees, were specifically mentioned.

Not only that, but there was residue in dead bees that surrounded the hives, unplanted fields, and even inside the hives, themselves.

Holy crap!

Now, as someone who finds funding information to be important, I looked into the North American Pollinator Protection Campaign (NAPPC), top research contributor.  I wanted to see just which way they swing, in terms of corporate influence.

The result was mind-boggling.  I mean, totally and completely, overwhelmingly surprising.  My eyes just about bugged out of my face.

And that's an understatement.

For the most part, it's as green as I expected, partnering with entities like Burt's Bees and the World Wildlife Fund.  But!

And here's the weird part...

It is also partnered with Syngenta Crop Protection.  Let me say that again... SYNGENTA.

The company that claims organics are bad for the planet.

The biotech giant.

Syngenta Crop Protection: The pesticide manufacturer

Oh, dear lord...  I was so confused.

Maybe the study wasn't slanted toward the green side of the fence as I thought.  Not only that, but their insecticide ACTARA is a neonicotinoid!  Seriously... it contains thiamethoxam.

Wow.

I think my little logic bubble just burst into about a bazillion pieces.  Why in the world would an organization that gets money from a Biotech giant which produces neonicotinoids fund a study that actually speaks out against neonicotinoids?!

I feel my brain short circuiting...


"I figured I should point this out to you, but I'm sure you probably already know about it."

Is the sky blue?  I thought.


Evidently, no.

The sky is not blue.  It simply looks blue due to the scattered light passing through the air... as evidenced by how pale the sky looks at the horizon.

Note to self: An arrogant, know-it-all attitude is not wise.

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Tuesday, March 26, 2013

A Legend of Maple Syrup's Origin

On Sunday I got to go to River Bend Nature Center to learn about the History of maple syrup making, as well as being able to see just how it's done.  It was awesome.

There was one slight problem, however...

My daughter didn't find it nearly as awesome as I did.  She ran in circles around me, chanting, "I don't wanna do this!" over, and over, and over again.  I couldn't pay attention to the men that explained the syrup making process because of this, and I know other people were getting about as annoyed with this situation as I was.  She's normally quite well behaved, so this was a rather unique situation.

Fortunately, Zach came to my rescue.

Stick figure in glasses and a baseball cap, wearing a red cape.


Who is Zach?  Why, he's the superhero that told the legend of the origin of maple syrup.  His super status arises from his amazing storytelling ability.

Seriously.  

The moment he began speaking, my daughter stopped complaining - mid sentence.  Her jaw dropped, and she stared up at him, eyes wide.

Wide eyed little girl with hearts above her head

See?  Super powers.  And the story was truly fascinating:  Zach told us about the Anishinabe legend of maple syrup.


Manabohzo and the Maple Syrup

In the beginning, when maple trees were first created by the Great Spirit, they had thick and sweet syrup running all throughout them.  Syrupy goodness all around.  No need to work for it.

There was a problem, though.  

Since syrup was so easy to attain, everyone began ignoring their work.  Rather than hunting and gathering, they'd lay beneath the trees, enjoying the syrup as it leaked from the trees, right into their mouths.

Well, Manabohzo, the great trickster and teacher of humanity, went off to visit his friends the Anishinabe.  Unfortunately, he couldn't find them anywhere.  Nobody was working the fields, hunting, or crafting necessities.  They weren't where they should be.

Finally, he found them laying beneath the trees.  He knew this couldn't go on.  They'd grow fat and lazy, and that just wouldn't do!

So he got a huge birch bark basket, and dunked it into Lake Superior.

He opened the tops of all the trees, and poured the water inside.  He thinned the syrup until it was hardly sweet at all.  If the people wanted the sweet syrup the Great Spirit had gifted to them, they'd have to work for it for ever after.

They'd have to place holes in the trees, and use hollowed out twigs to tap them.

smooth, hollowed out twigs.  About 3 inches long.


The sap would have to be collected in birch baskets over a long period of time.

Smooth basket made of birch bark.  Possible leak points: bottom corners, where the bark was folded in.

Rocks would then have to be heated and dropped into the baskets to heat the sap, causing it to thicken and sweeten into syrup.

5 large round stones

This would have to be done repeatedly, and would take a great deal of time and work.

Furthermore, the sap would only flow during a time that there was no work to be done:  No planting or harvesting, or hunting:  A short time of the year at the end of winter and the beginning of spring.

This would teach the people to have appreciation for the gift that the Great Spirit gave to them.

***

In truth, it was difficult to carry and keep syrup, so for the most part, the sap was boiled down until it became granular -

Sugar!

Yum.

Today we use a more modernized approach involving metal taps and bags or buckets that won't leak,

A modern metal tap that connects to a thick blue plastic bag is connected to a maple trunk.

As well as stoves to boil the liquid on.

Old, wood burning stove heating sap outdoors.  Huge cloud of smoke.

And yet, it still takes a great deal of time and effort.  Manabohzo did a great job of ensuring syrup wasn't taken for granted by those that produce it!
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Monday, March 25, 2013

An Army of Sprouts Invades the Window Sills

You all know that I've been starting seeds for the past few weeks, but I haven't really said a whole lot about it.

Today, that changes.

I'm not going to waste your time going over each and every little seed I've planted.  That, after all, would get quite boring.  Especially since I'm starting to run out of window sills to place the sprouts onto...

Window with pots on the ledge, hanging from the curtain rod, and stuck to the glass with tape.  Statement bubbles: "And WHY exactly is there duct tape on the windows?!" "I was running out of sunlight, and had to get creative..."

See, I've been planting seeds like crazy.  At present, I have jiffy pellets holding

  • Anaheim Chiles
  • Tomatoes
  • Tomatillos
  • Jalapenos
  • Kale
  • Bok Choy
  • Buttercrunch Lettuce
  • Peas
  • Marigolds
...and I'm about to plant some yellow onions.

Unfortunately, in a climate like we have in South Central Minnesota, you really need grow lights.  

See, my tomatillo sprouts are stretching out, trying to reach the sun from their window ledge, thereby making themselves very leggy.  Placing a grow light a few inches above the sprouts would produce better growth conditions.

The funny thing, though?  I planted one pea seed.

Just one.

And it grew.  Not just a slight growth, but the little guy really took off.

Long white root poking through a jiffy pellet.  An inch long sprout poking through the top.

The day the sprout was discovered, I had to move it from its doughnut greenhouse, because the sprout was magnificently tall.  I had forgotten about how big those sprouts are!

I moved it into a larger pot, and placed it on the window sill, where it continued to grow at a fast rate.  I have to admit, though, that it was quite lonely.  I mean, how would you feel if you had no company... from the moment of your birth!  All it had was a window to stare out from.

Single pea sprout, stretching toward a window.  Nothing but snow on the ground outside.
Look at the poor little guy... so sad.  So lonely...

So I threw a couple more seeds into the soil.  I'll have to re-pot it eventually, anyway, right?  The question, though, is just what sort of trellis I should create for it... as well as the other two sprouts when they poke through the soil.  They'll need something to grab onto, after all!

Next on the list?  Cucumbers.  Lots and lots of them.

Yum...
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Sunday, March 24, 2013

What Has Occupy Done For the Environment?

I woke up this morning with one thought on my mind:

What is the Occupy movement doing, right now, in terms of the environment?

I know, I know... not exactly your standard first-thought-of-the-morning.  In my defense, however, thought number 2 was a bit more normal:

Where's my coffee?!
drawing of steaming coffee in a tan colored mug
Ahhh... there it is...

After answering thought number 2 with a nice mug full of fair trade, dark roast coffee, I went to discover the answer to thought number 1.  I mean, what exactly has the Occupy movement been doing in regard to the environment?

It turns out, a lot.

According to Treehugger.com, roughly one year ago the Occupy movement held an Occupy Earth Day in order to call attention to the fact that the government only listens to the needs of the largest corporate entities, ignoring the cries from everyone else to reduce pollution and create alternative energy sources.

The Occupy movement's call to action began with a call to
"Disrupt the business of pollution : A day of global direct action to disrupt and expose the dirty business as usual and its political supporters. We will occupy corrupt polluters, politicians and front groups like Duke Energy, ExxonMobil, BP, Shell, the American Petroleum Institute, through a diversity of creative actions on a local level." (source)
on March 23rd, no doubt to coincide with Earth Hour, then called for a continuing campaign from March 24th, in which a rally would take place, until April 22nd, Earth Day.

And that was just a year ago.  Occupy is still going strong.

Occupy has been involved in the struggle to stop fracking.  A rally was held in Denver, Colorado in May 2012, and others were held in January and February 2013 in Albany, New York.

Indeed, fracking has gotten quite a bit of attention from Occupy. Occupy the Pipeline is the direct descendant of the New York movements, and became a way to call for an end to the Spectra pipeline construction.  It grew into a fight against all pipeline construction that directly threatens the environment.

And it's proving itself quite effective in Pennsylvania... 

(Full Article from the Times Herald-Record)
The Pike County Chamber of Commerce's "Third Thursday" breakfast seminar scheduled for March 21 was canceled after the chamber was told that protesters would target the event.
The seminar topic was "Gas Lines in Pike County: Understanding the Needs, Pressure and Strategy of Locating Gas Lines." The guest speaker was to be Allen Fore, director of public affairs for Kinder Morgan Corp., which owns the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.
The chamber has been receiving notifications that individuals and groups of people will be targeting the seminar to "heckle" the speaker, have a "huge picket line" and to "show him (the speaker) that he is not welcome," according to a press release from the chamber.
"For the safety and protection of our guests, the speaker and the staff, we feel it is in the best interest of all involved to reschedule this seminar," the chamber statement said.
The Pike County Chamber of Commerce presents seminars for area business people on a variety of subjects. Recent seminars have covered subjects such as Obamacare, public relations training, and how to market a business on a limited budget.
"It is not the Chamber's intention to be used as an 'occupy' site for the benefit of any particular partisan belief," the release said. "The Chamber strongly believes that everyone has the right to demonstrate. However, we are afraid of having our private breakfast program disrupted; even more, putting people in jeopardy."
"We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused for the speaker Allen Fore, Kinder Morgan and any of the attendees who wanted to be educated to better understand about the gas lines," said Michael J. Sullivan, the chamber's executive director. "The chamber regrets that it must take this action."
For more information, or questions about future "Third Thursday" seminars, call Sullivan at 570-296-8700 or visit pikechamber.com. (source)
It appears that neither the county government nor the reporter were particularly supportive of the Occupy movement, which is too bad.  Being able to get an idea of what each side of an issue believes is central to complete understanding.

That happened just a few days ago, and it happened because people were willing to band together and peacefully protest something that directly opposes their health and well-being.

While the powers that be may have been worried about any inconvenience to the Director of Public Affairs of a multimillion dollar corporation, these protesters were hard at work, protecting their community.

And that's awesome.

This is only the beginning.  There's so much more.  What has Occupy done for the environment in your area?  Look into it.  They've probably done more than you think.
  
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Friday, March 22, 2013

How Will You Celebrate Earth Hour?

Earth Hour.

Can you believe I'm waiting until the day before to mention it?  Talk about procrastination, right?

Earth Hour is celebrated on March 23rd.  The idea is to get people within each country to turn off all of their lights for one hour on that night.  That hour begins at 8:30 within your local time zone.



Turn out your lights at 8:30 tomorrow!

That's one hour in which you won't be using fossil fuels to produce artificial light within your home.  Oil and gas aren't renewable resources, after all.  Reducing how much they're used is essential.

Some would argue that Earth Hour is rather silly, since you end up lighting candles to compensate for the light bulbs that aren't in use at that time, thereby producing quite a bit of carbon dioxide, and they do have a point.



But!  Earth Hour is celebrated in order to give a firm reminder of what's really important: The earth itself.  When you divorce yourself from technology, even for a short period, you notice more of the world around you.

While it's true that you may be producing a decent chunk of carbon dioxide by lighting that candle, you're also creating a lasting impression on yourself... as well as anyone else around you.  You're saying that you care more about the earth than about technology.  You're saying that you want to take it back.  Give to it in the same way that it has given to us.

Think about it.  

A power outage makes you feel different.  It's almost as if your eyes and ears open wider than before, as you take in your surroundings.  Some people feel fear, while others feel excitement.  Nothing has really changed.  The lights have simply gone out for a bit.

But it feels like something major has happened.  For that brief moment, your entire world seems to have changed.

Now do that on purpose.

At 8:30 tomorrow night, turn off your lights.  All of them.  Turn off your computer while you're at it - I will!

Celebrate the earth and all it has given us.  It's only an hour - birthday parties last longer than that.

I'll be doing it.  I think I'll even throw on my snow pants, lay out in the yard, and just watch the stars.

Cross your fingers that it's a clear night!

And here's this year's official Earth Hour video for you.  Enjoy!



Personally, I think the video is a bit too 'showy', and that a bit too much light is used.  But then again, it gets people out there and excited about making changes, right?

That's what's really important.


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Thursday, March 21, 2013

Frozen Lake Superior: Deceptively Tranquil

Nothing spectacular, today.

That is, I'll say nothing spectacular.  What I'll show you, on the other hand, is pretty awesome.

Lake Superior: Frozen.

Yep... today is an inspiration day.  Lake Superior, of course, is a great treasure trove of inspiration.  If you spend any decent amount of time on or near its waters, you develop a healthy respect for its mysteries.  A deceptively calm surface, after all, may be hiding a large amount of turbulence below.

When the winds are low, the frozen lake actually appears quite tranquil.  There's only the slightest amount of sound as ice cracks and breaks during the movement of the waves beneath.

And that brings us to my first ever YouTube video.

::cue cheering and celebratory sounds::

It's a bit shaky, but adding stability would have blurred some of the ice quality, and I wasn't willing to sacrifice that.

What you're about to see is Lake Superior, entirely iced over.  

If you watch closely, you'll see white lines moving toward the camera at a slow pace.  Those are the crests of waves beneath the ice's surface.



We call the tiny island you see at the far side of the video Sea Gull Island.  The sea gulls flock over and perch there all year long.  It gets quite noisy, as you can imagine!

And did you notice the blue tinge of the ice?

Coolness!!!

The shore of Lake Superior is one of my favorite places to be, regardless of the time of year.  What's yours?
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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Heavy Snowfall and the Strong Snow Fort

I'm sure many of you remember my ill-fated attempt to build an igloo in my backyard.


The walls were too thin for the overall building size, and it took way more time to complete than I actually had.  It therefore became...

A walled patio.

...Minus the patio.

When I went up North to visit my parents, however, I was greeted with a sight that left me green with envy:


My dad had built a snow fort.  A good one.  With thick walls.

The evening that we drove up that way, there was a heavy snowfall.


Like, really heavy.  As in, that-photo-up-above-is-only-the-beginning heavy.  There were a few times I almost demanded that we stop driving for the night due to lack of visibility - one of those times, less than 45 minutes away from our destination.

But we made it.

The next morning, I walked out and looked at the snow fort my dad built.  He had added some ply wood to the entrance roof, because he didn't have time to finish before more snow fell, and it was a very short, crawl-in structure...


But it lasted through inches upon inches of snowfall, and unlike my own structure, it had a roof.  No snow patio in this yard!

The walls (pre-snowfall) looked to be about 1 1/2 feet thick.  They were solid, and sitting inside of this structure would be considerably warmer than standing outside, especially since the inside area was so small.

I have a way to go before I have the skill and knowledge to create something so effective.

The good news, though?  I'm trying.  As long as you refuse to give up, you'll succeed in the end.  We'll see what next year brings, yes?
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Monday, March 18, 2013

St. Urho's Day: A Bit of Minnesota Fun

Guess what I did?!

I spent Saturday enjoying the perfect "me, too" holiday that celebrates the actions of a made-up saint.  Life totally doesn't get any better than this.

Sweet!!!

What am I talking about?

St. Urho's Day, of course!

St. Urho's day celebrates a saint by the name of Urho (which means 'brave'), of course... He once chased all of the grasshoppers out of Finland, thereby saving the year's grape crops.



The result?



Plenty of wine to celebrate this event, of course!

The regional holiday, celebrated in a few Finnish communities within the Unites States and Canada, was created in the 1950s.  There are two different people credited with its creation (Evidently, a little too much wine was imbibed during its inception, therefore creating widespread confusion, right?), but both individuals resided somewhere in Minnesota, so we'll just leave it at that.

Celebratory colors are green and purple.  The more green and purple you wear, the better!  There are parades, food, games, and, of course, wine!

So, where did I celebrate this fun holiday?

Why, in Finland, of course!

Finland, Minnesota, that is.

And those Finlanders sure know how to have a great parade!

"Ye Old Chapel of Hooterdom" float: purple building with a green door, plumes of smoke rising from it.

Old wagon float with wooden wheels, guys in period furs, one with a helmet

Dragon head with open mouth atop a black truck




But, out of curiosity... what's with all the dragon floats?

"If you can't take the heat, don't tickle the dragon" on a green sign that hangs beside a gray dragon.





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Sunday, March 17, 2013

St. Patrick's Day: Who Were the Leprechauns, Originally?

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

My favorite part of St. Patrick's Day has always been the leprechauns.  Sure, we can talk about old St. Patrick himself... but let's be honest.  We care about the fun stuff... not some guy reputed to have driven snakes away from an island that never had them in the first place, right?

So let's talk about the good stuff.

Legend has it that at one time, the leprechauns were the tallest of the mound dwellers.  That's right... they were huge.  

Red Robed giant saying, "We will keep these safe for all time."  Tiny stick figures below shouting "Hooray!!!"


They were also entrusted with the ancient treasures of the Tuatha de Danann.  Leprechauns brought the Stone of Destiny, the Great Spear of Lugh, the Sword of Nuadhu, and the cauldron of the Daghdha to Ireland.

Then Christianity arrived at the Emerald Isles.  The importance of the leprechauns decreased, along with their stature.

Tiny leprechaun riding on the back of a sheep, holding a golden pot.


They became known as tiny creatures that rode sheep, goats, or even dogs, while wearing a red hat and jacket.  The solitary being would make shoes and grant wishes.

Then, to add insult to injury, his clothing was turned green, and he got stuck guarding a rusty pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Dejected leprechaun sitting on a rock, wearing green with a green hat, staring at a rusty pot at the end of the rainbow, saying, "Dude... seriously?"

Those poor leprechauns have been through a lot of abuse, so take pity on them.

Raise your mugs to the Mound Dwellers' former glory, and have a great St. Patrick's Day!

While you're at it... check out the National Leprechaun Museum, and learn all about the history of the leprechauns.  They really are fascinating!

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Teacher's Easter Egg Tree: Easy, Eco-Friendly Decor

I just wanted to let everyone know that my daughter has an

AWESOME TEACHER.

Ok, yeah... I've mentioned that before.  She's done something really cool this time, though.  She's created a spectacular Easter decoration that also happens to be environmentally friendly.

What is it?


It'a an Easter Egg Tree, of course!


  • One old branch, 
  • 1 1/2 cups of dry rice, 
  • a handful of Easter grass, 
  • one ribbon, 
  • craft eggs hung with thin ribbon, 
  • and a glass mug.


Perfectly easy.
 
I mean, there's really no need to give you any instructions.  As long as you can see the end product and know what supplies were used, you can figure it out without a need for tutorials.  See? I told you she was awesome!

Even better, this truly was a grab-what-you-have sort of masterpiece.  

The items she used were scavenged from within her home, rather than bought.  Everything was surplus from prior projects.  Even the glass mug base was something that would otherwise sit in storage or end up thrown out.

Yet, she was able to creatively use it to lend support to a magnificently eye-catching Easter Egg Tree, using the handle to tie a festive bow.


For those of us that live in an area where snow is still on the ground when Easter decorating begins, a fallen tree branch can really help bring together a small, colorful arrangement that warms the heart.

Living in Minnesota, I'm learning more about uses for tree branches every day.  

You probably remember my fall decor, created by placing a few sticks into a painted bottle, then dressing it up a bit.

Well, I now think I'll have to create an Easter Egg Tree for my home.  I mean, how can I resist something that brings joy simply by existing?

That's right... I can't.  

And neither can you - admit it!  Head off to the area where you store your leftover crafting supplies, and see what you can come up with.  The many different designs possible are numerous!

Maybe you won't create an Easter Egg Tree.  Maybe it'll be an Easter Bunny Tree.  Or maybe an Easter Sunrise Tree?

Whatever it ends up being, it'll be straight from the heart, and that makes all the difference.
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Thursday, March 14, 2013

Happy Pi Day!

Happy Pi Day, everyone!!!

You're probably wondering why in the heck I'm celebrating the ratio of the circumference of a circle to the diameter on an environmental blog.

Well, because great awesomeness and joy that ensues when you eat a pie on Pi Day, of course!

Cheesecake with the Pi symbol made with chocolate syrup on top.
Sure, it's cheesecake... but that's kind of a pie, right?


But even if we ignore that very obvious fact, circles are important when it comes to environmental responsibility.

No, they really are.

Ok, I get that it sounds like I'm just coming up with an excuse... mainly because I am (I love Pi Day!), but circles really are valuable in terms of energy efficiency.

A while back, I mentioned dome structures.  Eco-domes, like the ones in the concept photo (below) by Miguel of biocasasostenibles, are energy efficient in many ways.

http://biocasasostenibles.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/modelo-2.jpg
His design is vaguely reminiscent of Tatooine's structures, no?
Awesomeness!


Most obviously, eco-domes tend to be small, and with extraordinarily thick walls.  But the circular structure is really what makes them so much more awesome than your standard green building.

See, the round design causes air to bounce off the walls in a predictable manner, circulating it throughout the building.  Using your heater, therefore, circulates warm air throughout, keeping it constant.  Obviously, the same goes for cool air.  Let energy is used to keep a comfortable temperature.

Efficiency.  All because of that beautiful pi.

But don't take my word for it.  I discovered a geodesic dome company that can show you in a much much eloquent manner... complete with the math to go along with it.

Good Karma Domes creates homes with this concept firmly in place.  They even have a page that specifically talks about the science behind their geodesic homes (in layman's terms), as well as some of the math involved.

And, yes.  They use Pi.

The homes are pretty inexpensive, as well.  Having fun, doing my own thing, plugging numbers into their estimator, I created a home with all the frills for around $40,000.  That's complete with me standing around and watching them do all the major work.  Nice!

Check them out!  Or, go to Miguel's biocasasosentibles, where you can get an in depth look at what he did, as well as design downloads so that you can really get into it.

Seriously.  His site rocks.  
(That was a pun... Commence laughing... he's a geologist.)

Just be sure to have a translation tool handy if you don't speak Spanish, since that's the language it's written in.

Now go have a great Pi Day!!!  I know I will.
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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Mini Greenhouse from Deli Trash! Woooooo!!!!

I've been very diligent about watering my Anaheim chile seeds.  

Even so, I was having problems keeping them properly moist.  I'm not sure why, but I've always had this problem with seeds.  What should thrive ends up looking like a dessicated husk, instead.

It's quite tragic.

Fortunately, I've discovered the answer to seed starting for those of us that end up causing the premature deaths of countless pepper seeds... or whatever your most common victim is.

It's called:

Deli Trash.

No.  Seriously.  It really is.

Ok, well... more specifically, it's the plastic packaging for deli and bakery goods.  You know - the transparent, hard packaging that carries salads, sandwiches, cookies, etc.  The good stuff.

When I noticed that my Anaheim peppers were in a pretty sorry state due to a lack of moisture, I knew I had to do something fast.  Watering the jiffy pellets every day wasn't enough.  I needed to retain the moisture.

I had hopped that the egg carton surrounding the pellets would add some sort of water retention, since not as much air was circulating around them, but...


I appeared to be mistaken.

Fortunately, cookies and donuts came to my rescue, as well they should.

No, I didn't eat them to relieve myself of stress through mastication of sucrose enriched grain products... although that is a rather spectacular Plan B, I think.

I used the clear plastic packaging that the donuts and cookies came in, and turned them into a couple of mini greenhouses.

...after eating the sucrose enriched goodness, of course.  I mean, come on.  I am human, after all!

Mini greenhouses are actually pretty easy.  All you need is plastic deli packaging with a clear, raised top.    Take that package and pierce holes on the top and sides, in order to allow air to circulate.  Place your seed pellets (or tiny trays) inside, and close the top.

Voila!  Instant greenhouse.

See, the mini greenhouse does two things for your seeds:

  1. Reduces evaporation of water.  Hooray!  No more dried out husks!
  2. Creates a warm environment.  This helps jump start seed germination.  Indeed, some seeds, like my Anaheim chiles, actually need warm temperatures to germinate.


For my pepper problem, I used a nice rectangular plastic container that once housed chocolate chip cookies.  I removed the stickers, poked a bunch of holes, and placed my Anaheim peppers inside, as well as some multicolored bell peppers.

Rectangular clear plastic container holding 8 pellets within portions egg carton.  Seed packages on bottom: Organic purple, yellow, white, red, and orange bell peppers, and heirloom Anaheim chile peppers.


The additional moisture and heat is only needed for germination, so I'm not particularly worried about adequate space for seedling growth.  Once I have sprouts I can remove the pellets from the mini greenhouse without fear.

And since I had doughnut packaging that needed to be used...

Doughnut container pierced with holes, and holding 10 pellets.  Seed packages from top, going clockwise: organic peas, organic tomatoes, heirloom tomatillos, and local jalapenos.

I took the opportunity to plant three pellets each of tomato, tomatillo, and jalapeno, as well as a single pellet in which I dropped a pea.  Why just one pea?

Well... I only had one pellet remaining.

Don't worry... I'll plant another later.

But look at just how much I've been able to get done, all because of two pieces of what would normally be considered deli trash!  Mini greenhouses are easy to create, and...

They give you a great excuse to eat doughnuts.

Score!!!

Now go eat some doughnuts.  Not because you want a really good excuse to do so, but because you actually need the deli container in order to make a mini greenhouse.  Your seeds are counting on you to make this sacrifice.

Repeat of the first drawing on this post
You don't really want to let them down, do you?










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Monday, March 11, 2013

Weather in Minnesota v. The Desert: Equally Crazy

I'm beginning to think that South Central Minnesota and the Desert Southwest are more similar than I ever realized.

No, I'm not crazy.

Well, ok.  Maybe I am.  But bear with me for a second.

See, my old home in the desert Southwest had this ability to suddenly and inexplicably change weather rather quickly and drastically.  One minute I'd be blowing sand out of my nose, due to a sandstorm that was so intense that I was completely exfoliated and had hair that would make Cousin It jealous, and the next...

stick figure with tangled hair, weighed down by rain falling on it.  Figure holds her hand out, watching it


Totally soaked with rain.

Then, not more than five minutes later (because, you know... rain in the desert doesn't last long at all...), the temperatures are back into the 90s, the sun is beaming down, and everything is back to peacefully sweltering norms.

Well, it appears that South Central Minnesota is just as crazy.... just in a different way.

See, on Saturday temperatures raised, yet again, to the point where everything started melting. This time it was extra awesome, because there was so much snow that the melting was pretty extreme.  There was localized flooding, a few roadways in the area were closed, and the trail I had created so that my dogs could get to the fenced in section of the yard without being covered by some awfully squishy snow.

Long, shoveled out trail is formed of brownish slush with perfectly white snow on both sides.

Not only that, but my raised garden had a nice little pool forming where melted snow dripped from the shed roof.

Small pool of water within the raised garden - drop of water on lower edge breaks the smoothness.

It was pretty amazing.

Or at least, it was pretty amazing to a desert rat like me!

The next morning, though, I looked out the window to find it snowing.  A lot.  As in, I-almost-can't-see-the-neighbor's-house snowing.  The last time we got snow so soon after a rather warm period, I was amazed.  This time, however, I looked out at the snow and shrugged.

"Here we go again..."

And then it stopped.

...about 15 minutes later.

The result of that snow?

Snow covered trail

The trail was covered, yet again, though this time the overall height of the snow was lower due to the prior melting.

small pool of water within the raised garden, some snow showing along the edges.


And the pool within the raised garden was, well... still a pool.  Basically, even though it was still snowing, the temperature was high enough that nothing was re-freezing... yet.

This was a good thing.

I looked out at the driveway

Snowy slush covered driveway


and thought, "Eh.  That's not so bad.  I'll just leave it."

But then I realized that the last time I ignored slushy snow in the driveway due to being such a thin layer,  the thin layer froze, causing ice.  More snow and melting occurred, culminating in a huge, nasty, and thick slab of ice that covered every inch of paved surface on the property.

Thick layer of ice in the sidewalk that was chiseled away.

That sucked.

A lot.

So I went out and shoveled the negligible amount of slushy snow from the driveway before it had a chance to turn into another homemade ice rink.

Hooray! 
I learned!!!

I also learned that the weather here in South Central Minnesota may be vastly different from my former desert home, but both areas share one similarity:

They have equally crazy weather changes.

Who knew, right?!





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Sunday, March 10, 2013

The Dreaded Checklist

It's time for me to do something I absolutely despise.

It's time to create that dreaded checklist.

See, I can't stand the things.  While I'm perfectly ok with the idea of creating a shopping list, that's about the 'listiest' that I get.  Checklists have this great ability to remind me of just how much I still need to get done.  They feel like a tangible list of my inadequacies.

I know, I know...

I'm being overly dramatic.  A list doesn't really change how much needs to be done, after all.  My problem simply relates to the fact that I can see it all spelled out, t's crossed and i's dotted.

But sometimes it needs to be done.  


Crying woman whining, "Oh, why me? Why...?"
See?  I told you I was being dramatic!

Previously I mentioned my home energy report.  I talked about how much I couldn't change, which is actually quite a bit, but I also mentioned that I have a particularly nasty habit of using too much electricity.  My natural gas usage is actually great, when we consider what I have to work with, but electricity?

It's time to get serious.

And so the dreaded checklist begins....

Unrolled parchment standing tall, holding out its arms menacingly while laughing with it's jagged-toothed mouth.


I picked up a pen and paper...

and sat.

For a while.

A really, really long while.

I got up again, and took a break.  I mean, sure... I hadn't gotten anything done.  But!  I did sit there for quite a while, so that counts for something, right?

No?

Well... drat.

I sat down again, staring at the dreaded checklist.  It stared back up at me.  Laughing.  Mocking me.

We had a major stare down.

Stick figure holding up a paper.  Paper and figure are staring angrily at each other.


It was tough, but I won.

::cue overly loud shouts of joy::

In the end, I finally managed to add actual words to that piece of paper, and begin the dreaded list.

Here's what I have so far:

1.  Begin with the computer.  

I shut it down every night, but even though it's shut down, it still uses power.  In honesty, this was always a strange idea to me.  Why on earth would it still be using power?  But it really does.  I found this out when I accidentally left my phone charging via USB cable one night.  I woke up to a fully charged phone staring up at me with bright screen lights... and the little lightning bolt symbol that shows it's still actively sucking energy.

Oops.

I need to move the power strip into an easy to reach location so that I can switch that off, as well.  This will instantly ensure that the computer and my two monitors aren't drawing energy.

2.  Unplug all device chargers when not in use.

This is another big one for me.  See, I use handheld devices more than anything else.

There's the 3DS, which gives me hours of game-playing joy.  Then there's my Nook.  I use it for reading, watching Netflix, taking notes... the list goes on. There's also my laptop, which I use for all of my non-blog writing, as well as the courses I've begun via MIT's OpenCourseWare project. And of course... my smartphone.

There are other items, as well, like my rechargeable drill, but devices like that aren't used all that frequently.

This all adds up.  Being vigilant in regard to unplugging the chargers will lower my energy use significantly.

Unfortunately, this is where I pause in my list creation, drawing a blank.  That dreaded checklist is harder to create than you'd think!

See, I've already done much of what's advised:

  • Turn off lights when you leave a room.
  • Unplug all of that other stuff when not in use: coffee makers, juicers, hair dryers, etc.
  • switch over to energy efficient bulbs.
  • Run only full dishwasher loads.
  • Turn off the oven about 5 minutes before removing the food inside... same with the range.
  •  Use lids so that temperatures don't have to be set as high.
  • Open curtains to use natural lighting.
Now I need to work on doing more.

I know what you're thinking. Two items can hardly be called a list... 

But it's a start.  I'll need to discover more ways to reduce electricity use in my home, in order to reduce my carbon footprint, but I'm on the right track.

What's most important when it comes to reducing your energy use isn't what you've already done.  

Rather, it's the emphasis you place on finding solutions to continue reduction, and applying that knowledge.  Every little bit counts, and every success is exciting.

We all have to start somewhere, and when you've got an energy sucking mess like I have, the only way to go is forward!  Are you having a problem with energy reduction?  Well, grab a pen and paper, and start that dreaded checklist with me.

Let's work toward something great!









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Friday, March 8, 2013

It's International Women's Day!

Today is International Women's Day.

It's observed across the world, and in some countries is a national holiday.  Basically, it celebrates women that have made great achievements throughout history.

A bit of history:

The Socialist Women's Party within the United States (Yep, you read that correctly) declared National Women's Day a holiday in 1909.  The original celebration date was February 28th.  It was celebrated by women until 1913.

Now let's rewind back to 1910:

The Socialist International, which met in Copenhagen, decided that this whole Women's Day idea was rather a good one, and so they declared it to be an International holiday, though no specific date was set.  It was created to assist women across the world in their fight for suffrage.  All women attending the conference approved of this.

In 1911, Germany, Denmark, Austria and Switzerland declared March 19th to be marked as International women's day within their countries.

Then, on March 25th, a massive fire broke out in a New York City building where shirtwaists were made, taking out the 3 upper floors of the ten story building, and killing 141 people inside.  Some leaped through windows, dying as they fell to their deaths, as others burned to death, or died from smoke inhalation.

Here's the really horrible part, though...

It wasn't your typical fire tragedy.  This fire, known as the Triangle Fire (The Triangle Waist Company owned it), did not damage the walls or floors of the building - the building itself was fireproof. Indeed, the deaths of these people, at least 125 of which were young women between the ages of 16 and 23, were caused by fire spreading through the furniture and clothing scraps littering the area.

The media proclaimed the building a firetrap (only one fire escape in the building, and it was an internal escape, rather than external), and investigations into how this disaster were begun.  Poor working conditions were once again brought into focus, and alluded to during future Women's Day Observances, both national and international.

Between 1913 and 1914, March 8 became the decided upon day to celebrate International Women's Day throughout Europe (Well, except Russia.  They decided to be different and make their observance day the last Sunday of February.)

Then, in 1917, women within Russia when on strike for Bread(stability) and Peace on the last Sunday of February, which really ticked off the politicians.  Four days later, though, their efforts were shown not to be in vain - the czar got kicked off of his throne, and women were given the right to vote.

Sweet!!! 
Take that, Nicholas II!


And that's the history of it.  What once was created to give women voting rights and better working conditions has grown into a day in which we celebrate all women that have made breakthroughs that help women achieve equal footing with men.

As an environmentally oriented site, then, who do I think should be celebrated?

A lot of people, actually.  But I want you to learn about them on your own.  They're that awesome.


Founder of the Green Belt movement, and winner of the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize.  Through the Green Belt movement, over 45 million trees have been planted across Kenya, which has, in turn, created better nutrition and more jobs for women within the country.  Labelled a crazy woman, she went head to head with government backed expansion projects and won.  She never shied from a conflict, even though people told her to be a good woman and do what she's told.


Remember Chico Mendez, environmentalist and trade union leader that was assassinated because of his efforts to save the rainforests?  She was his colleague, and later became the Minister of Environment for Brazil.  She also created the Sustainability Party.


Stay at Home Mom turned Superhero.

Female superhero stick figure.  Red cape and brown hair.


Ok, I'm exaggerating, but as you can imagine, I find her personally inspiring.  One day, she discovered that her son's elementary school was built on top of a toxic waste dump. The superhero part comes into play when she was able to get the federal government relocate 833 families that were in direct danger due to the 20,000 tons of chemical waste, by creating a community organization to fight this travesty with no prior activist experience.

Holy Crap!!!


So go do some web surfing, and learn about these magnificent women.  I've given a brief summary of awesomeness, as well as starting links, but it's up to you to go in depth.


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Thursday, March 7, 2013

Does a Snow Day Last Forever?

Most people are excited when they have a snow day.  

Parents don't have to shuffle their kids off to school, which relieves them of one responsibility, and kids get to sleep in.  After they wake up, they get to play in the snow.

All! 
     Day! 
           Long!!!

I mean, seriously.  It's a win-win situation.  Everyone loves a snow day!!!

Except for my daughter and I.

Don't get me wrong... we both love snow.  We adore it.  Playing in gigantic, soft hills of white fluff is truly exhilarating.

The problem, however, is that my daughter loves school, too... And she only goes 2 days a week.  A snow day on any one of those days means having to wait even longer to see her friends and teacher.

A snow day is not a happy-making event.

She awoke bright and happy, ready to greet the day.

"Mommy, school time!"  She beamed.

Oh, dear...

""Sweetie..." I began. "There's something we need to talk about."

Now, maybe it's just me, but this is awfully reminiscent of a Your-Dog-Just-Died speech.  That's how difficult it was to tell her a snow day had cancelled school.  I explained what a snow day is and why it happens.

Unfortunately, I left out one important part that just never occurred to me was worth mentioning:

"Will it be closed forever?"  She asked, her wide eyes brimming with tears.

I assured her it would, indeed, reopen when the roads were safe again, and her chest heaved with a great sigh of relief.  She took the nice warm throw from the couch, and bundled herself up.

Once she was settled, I went out to survey just how much shoveling needed to be done.

Thick snow throughout the area surrounding a blue car, mostly hiding the car from view.

The snow was thick enough that it began to get in the way of simple things like, say, opening my door.

Long, mostly unshoveled driveway.  A slight area at the very bottom of the image shows a very thick cutting of snow.

Indeed, it was about six inches thick on the driveway alone.

So...

I helped my husband shovel his way out of the driveway, then did what any other reasonable woman would do on a snow day.

Woman and child happily cuddled together on a green couch, underneath a light blue blanket.  Woman: "What are we watching?" child: "Blue's Clues." woman: "Awesome."

Sometimes, teaching yourself about life in a new and strange environment means just stepping back and allowing yourself to relax and enjoy the moment.  Sure, I need to shovel the sidewalk, and sure, I need to get my work done.

But I also need to enjoy a Minnesota snow day in a way that only a transplant from the desert can.









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