Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Pasture Rose

Not sure who is going to get these rose hips first, my mom or the birds. I originally planted this native rose for the birds but soon after, my mother discovered the health benefits of consuming rose hips herself and now pesters me each year to harvest them for her. Last year I sent her my entire supply but luckily this year I have a bumper crop and figure that there are at least 700 hips on my 7 plants...more than enough to feed the birds and my mom. These rose plants go by the name Rosa Carolina- also known as Pasture Rose and are listed by the Wild Ones as one of the best winter berry producing native plants for birds.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dreaming of Outdoor Line Drying in the Winter...

It dawned sunny, dry, and windy today and I didn't let the high of 32 degrees prevent me from hanging two loads of laundry outside to dry. I figured I needed to experiment and see if the whole idea of sublimation was true. Sublimation is the process where clothing hung on a clothesline in below freezing weather will go from wet to dry by releasing frozen water vapor. Would my clothing dry after four hours outdoors on what would typically be a great day for drying if it wasn't for the fact that it was the end of December and below freezing? According to the process of sublimation, it should.

Now that the experiment is over, I can say that the extremely light weight clothing, the stuff that practically feels dry when you remove it from the washing maching, did dry. So did the men's cotton business shirts. The rest of it was wet and frozen stiff. It was actually kind of cool. I could remove the clothespins from the clothing and the clothing didn't fall off of the line because it was frozen in place. Hating to remove the board stiff clothing and rehang it indoors, I decided to leave it out overnight and hope that it would dry in the early part of the day tomorrow. We are supposed to reach 41 degrees and it will all dry in the morning. Because of the promising weather, dare I try and get a few more loads hung out after that?

You may wonder why I put myself through hanging my laundry outside and dealing with the possibility of it freezing and such. Why not just hang it inside you may think. Well, I really don't enjoy hanging my clothes up inside the house. It feels so much more like work. I guess that it just suits me better to be outside, feeling the sun and wind and watching my dog explore the yard. Plus you can't beat how clothes smell when they come in off of the line. It is especially good in the cold weather when the clothing hung outdoors brings the fresh smell of winter indoors.

All of the posts that discuss my experiences with outdoor line drying can be found by clicking here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A good reason to buy a snowblower...

I have resisted owning a snowblower my entire life and preferred the quiet solitude along with beneficial exercise that comes from hand shoveling my driveway. Through winters in Colorado high country and now Illinois, I have had this philosophy and it has served me well. But this December here in Chicago, where we have already received 22" of snow, I am not finding snow shoveling to be as much fun. I have spent many hours over the last few days digging digging digging myself out and it is still snowing as I type this.

It has not gone unnoticed by me that my snowblower owning neighbors are able to spend more time sitting by their fire or singing carols around their piano, than communing with their snow shovel on the driveway. They are decked in their Christmas sweaters and gathered around their table as I bundle up for yet another go at shoveling. The snowblowing folks spend a fraction of their time outside, zipping up and down for a few passes and then pop back inside. They spend so little time outdoors, they could almost complete the job while brewing a single cup of coffee if need be.

This may be the year that I need to invest in a snowblower. I can think of a million reasons why it would be a good idea to own one. But something nags at me. The resources used to build it and then the energy used to power it. Also, my trusty shovel never breaks down or needs to be repaired. It is quiet and doesn't send wafts of gasoline smell all over the neighborhood. Just like you don't need a clothes dryer to dry your clothes, you don't need a snowblower to clear your driveway. No matter how great the want feels, you really don't need something if you can do the job without it. It all works out. Expending my own personal energy to hang clothes or shovel the drive gives me a greater level of fitness than simply letting machines do all the work.

I need to remind myself that it really does feel good to spend time outdoors in the cold. Pushing the snow across the drive, lifting and tossing it into a growing pile. Finishing the job gives me a great sense of accomplishment, and a warm cup of coffee afterwards makes a great reward. I will hold off on the purchase until I am old and 80. Maybe then, I will purchase one. On second thought, maybe by then, with global warming, it won't be necessary. Funny to think how if I were to purchase a snowblower today with its belching of carbon dioxide, that I would simply be helping the process of global warming along, and essentially helping to cause the obsolescence of the snowblower...and ourselves too I suppose..

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Winter Wonderland

With it just a few days past the winter solstice, it didn't take long for the cold temperatures and snow to really kick in. We had brutal cold over the weekend with a high of -3 on Sunday. Today it is snowing with about 3-5" expected. Above is a view from my front door with snowflakes filling the air.
The snow is even making it hard to count the birds at my feeders. I participate in Project Feeder Watch through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology by monitoring and reporting the number and kinds of birds that visit my backyard.
I have got to get out and put more seed in my feeders so that it doesn't run out. Even though birds are adapted to surviving winter weather without human intervention, I fear that I have conditioned them to rely on my seed. Speaking of winter survival for birds, I have picked up a book called "Winter World, the Ingenuity of Animal Survival" by Bernd Heinrich. This book has gotten good reviews from Amazon and I am looking forward to starting it just after I finish shoveling the driveway this afternoon.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Snow Day

When schools are closed like they were today due to snow, the neighborhood kids are out in force, making forts, throwing snowballs, and sledding.
I love watching all of the different ways that kids interact with snow. Laying in it making snow angels, digging it, sliding on it, marching in it, tasting it, packing it, totally interacting, immersing themselves in this wonderful gift from the sky.

On days like this, there are few children left inside, and I am hopeful that these snow experiences will help to foster a connection to the joys of nature for our children.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

One good reason to have a clothes dryer...

I wondered when not having a dryer was going to get me and it came this past Saturday. My son and his friends had been playing outside in the snow and had come inside to warm up. As I started to make them some hot chocolate, they began to strip off their wet snowpants and coats and gloves. Without thinking I started to say, "throw those things in the dryer...". Suddenly I remembered that while I could warm them up with hot chocolate, no longer having a working dryer meant I would not be able to dry and warm up their snow gear. Unlike years past when it felt good to send them back outside with both their gear and bodies warmed, this year I would have to send them back out into the snow with everything soaking wet and cold. YUCK! It was enough to make me want a dryer for Christmas.

Well, my son and his friends have been in and out of the house many times refueling on hot chocolate since last weekend and so far they don't seem to mind that I can't warm up their clothing with a dryer when they stop in. If I can just get myself to feel O.K. with it, then I can get past this desire to buy a dryer. Unfortunately, it is the little things like this, the desire for perceived comfort that generates the want, which results in the purchase. Wish me luck in staying strong.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Goodbye dryer for good!

As winter approached, I wondered if it was really going to be possible to manage without a dryer. From what I have read from other folks experiences, winter line drying has meant stringing lines in the basement or drying things outdoors in the cold and finishing them off indoors while draped over furniture. Because my washing machine is located on the first floor, walking my wet clothing down into the basement to dry on lines seemed like a lot of extra work and I knew once I got it down there, I would never be inclined to retrieve it.

My outdoor line that I used when the weather was warmer, was just steps from the laundry room which made the drying job simple and possible. I think the key as I move my drying operation indoors for the winter is to continue to keep things simple and enjoyable. Then
I will never be tempted to fall back on the dryer.

Last week, I figured out a way to hang two loads in my 8x8 laundry room but sometimes it is necessary for me to do the weekly washing of three loads in one day. Well this afternoon, I hung my entire weeks wash up by stringing an additional line across the room and more efficiently hanging the shorter items from a wire shelf that runs above the washer and dryer. Now I feel like I have mastered the art of winter drying and don't think that I will ever have a need for a dryer again.

Goodbye dryer...for good!!!
All of my experiences with line drying outdoors can be found by clicking here.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hanging it up

Looks like I am moving my laundry drying operation indoors for the winter. While it was sunny and 41 yesterday, my clothes hanging outside on the line never did get completely dry and I ended up re-hanging them inside to finish them off. I think that the sun lays too far down in the sky at this time of year and my clothesline doesn't get the sun it needs for as long as it needs given the colder temperatures. Even just a few weeks back, I was able to dry at 41 degrees and sunny, but the sun was just that much higher in the sky. Once we get past the winter solstice and the days get longer, I will bring my wash back outdoors.

Moving my drying indoors does present some challenges given that I wash at least 3 loads a week. I have figured out a way to hang a total 2 loads of laundry at a time in my laundry room and because the room has a south facing window, things dry fairly fast in there. Larger bedsheets present some problems but I can string them across the room using a combination of hooks and clothespins. It will simply require some creative planning.

Creative planning is really all that has been required to make living without a dryer possible. When my dryer broke at the beginning of the summer, I didn't have a clue about how to go about all of this, but things fell into place fairly easily. Because I didn't have a working dryer to fall back on when things got tough, I just made it work.

Here are a few bits of information I have discovered along the way to make living without a dryer easier:

- reduce the sheer amount of laundry that goes into your wash in the first place. Don't wash clothing until it needs to be washed. Many items can be worn several days before laundering. This is especially important for kids to understand when they seem to think it is easier to wear something once and then throw it into the hamper. I take things out of the dirty wash pile and give them back to my son to put in his closet if they don't pass the "dirty enough" test.

-Don't wash bedsheets or towels as often. Believe me, you can go much longer than what grandma told you when it comes to washing these items, with no adverse affects.

-clothes don't need to be finished off in the dryer to get the wrinkles out after hanging on the line. Granted, clothes do come off the line more wrinkled than out of the dryer, but these wrinkles will fall out soon after you put the clothing on. I believe that your body heat acts like a natural iron, allowing the wrinkes to naturally subside.

I find it interesting that exactly when the outdoor air becomes too cold to dry clothing outdoors, it is exactly when we need more humidity indoors anyway. Bringing the outdoor drying operation indoors at this time of year will add much needed humidity to dry heated indoor air. When the cycles of my life work out and connect like this, I feel like I am operating more in tune with the natural world.

All of my experiments with outdoor line drying can be found by clicking here.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Line Drying in the Winter

Am I committed or crazy?

According to weather.com, the temperature in Chicago was 29 degrees this morning when I was hanging my clothes out on the line, with a feel-like temp of 19. I wondered then what the feel-like temperature was for my hands as they repeatedly dipped into my laundry basket full of wet clothing and pinned it to the line. Based on how frozen my hands were as I came back insidethe house, they must have been around 10 degrees at least! I can see where a pair of warm gloves would come in handy.

It was five months ago to the day that my dryer gave out and I have been exclusively line drying all of my clothes since then. This really hasn't been an accomplishment given the sun kissed days of summer, with its balmy breezes, perfect for line drying. No, the real accomplishment as I see it will come this winter as I tackle outdoor winter line drying.

There is a great website devoted to the cause of clotheslines called Project Laundry List
http://www.laundrylist.org/ where they discuss drying clothes outdoors in the winter amongst many other clothesline topics. Here is their response to the question, "Can clothes be hung out to dry in the winter?"

In northern climates, people often ask, "What do you do in the winter time?" Ironically, historic districts are one of the prevalent places that restrict or even ban clotheslines. We ask, "What do you think people did 100 years ago?" Because of sublimation, it is possible to hang out on many below-freezing days. As long as it's sunny, your sheets and other laundry will dry quickly. You just need tough fingers! We suggest purchasing a wooden drying rack or getting another apparatus for indoors.

So, I wondered, did people 100 years ago hang their clothes outside all winter long, or did they hang them in a basement or a sheltered semi-warm place? Also, what is sublimation?

The Library of Congress website http://www.loc.gov/rr/program/journey/household-transcript.html offers up information of what winter line drying was like in the mid-nineteenth century. Here is an excerpt from the page "The History of Household Technology":

One homemaker wrote in her diary on a cold December day, "Left our clothes out but, they cannot dry. They are frozen too hard." The clothes had to be brought indoors and draped on furniture or racks to dry.

After doing a bit of searching, I also discovered the following from the "How Stuff Works" website:

Sublimation can occur when wet clothes are hung out on the line on a winter day when the temperature is below freezing. The water on the clothes freezes and then evaporates into vapor without melting.

I guess in a perfect world, clothes would go from wet to dry on a winter day due to sublimation, but the Library of Congress explanation above probably is closer to the truth. The clothes freeze and fail to dry and end up draped onto racks in the house.

It sounds like winter drying depends on a combination of temperature, humidity, wind, and sunshine just like the factors that impact summer drying. Determining good days for drying in the summer meant keeping a close eye on the weather and I can see this skill will be ever more important in the winter. As fall gives way to winter, I'd like to be able to hang my clothing out as long as possible into November or December before resorting to the use of indoor drying racks.

But I certainly don't want to end up the way my son predicts I will, with a load of wash hung out on the line the day that a foot of snow falls, snowshoes needing to be employed to retrieve my clothing. My neighbors really would think I was crazy then.

By the way, I just checked on the laundry that I hung out almost four hours ago. The sunny day and high temperature of 41 degrees is certainly helping to move things along. The clothing closest to the sun is dry and I removed those items so that the second line will receive full sun. Keeping my fingers crossed that everything is dry by nightfall.

Have any of you tried to dry clothes in the winter and if so, how did it go? I would like to hear from you.

All of my experiences with outdoor line drying can be found by clicking here.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Fall on the Fox River

I spent yesterday out at Red Oaks nature preserve located along the Fox River with my unschooling group. After they had all left and things were quiet, I went back along the path we had traveled and took these pictures. The weather was perfect and the leaves were at their peak, thus making it difficult to leave.
Everything slows right down when I am surrounded by nature. My to do list seems less pressing and I am at peace. Nature settles my soul.
This beautiful weather is forecast for the next week and I am going to take advantage of it and get outside into another nature preserve. It won't be long before the cold and snow of winter blows in, bringing a different version of beauty with it.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Last Child in the Woods

Working their way through a large stand of tall reeds near the edge of a small pond, my son and his friend are drawn in by the lure of the "green green forest". Urged further and further into the unknown, wondering what lay ahead, they make their way toward a group of large trees swaying in the distance. They have never pushed this far into the forest before and the fear of what they may encounter makes them become more and more hesitant with each step. Suddenly, a large roar leaps out at them and the ground begins to shake. They turn around and are about to run when they realize it is only a freight train lumbering nearby on the Union Pacific tracks bound for Chicago.
But the scare is enough to make them turn back and take refuge in their tree fort, leaving the forest and pond to explore another day. Their fort, assembled in a large oak tree, just down the embankment from the railroad tracks, has been built and abandoned by different neighborhood kids over the years. It is somewhat of a community tree fort, owned by nobody, but loved by all. This scrap of the natural world in which the tree fort resides, bounded by railroad tracks, a pond and a parcel of undeveloped land, is a haven for not only wildlife but for nature deprived kids growing up in the suburbs of Chicago.

Most suburban kids being raised on poison perfect lawns don’t experience the wildness of nature, the beauty of it. Their yards don’t offer up many opportunities to explore and figure out how the natural world works, to fall in love with the rough bark of a tree, the rushing of a stream, or being tucked deep into the woods. How can these children learn to appreciate nature, fall in love with it, and consequently want to protect it, if they can not spend time in it?

That was my concern for my own son when I first read “Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder” by Richard Louv. Louv speaks of how important it is for our children to have wild places to explore at their own pace, a place where they can spend time digging in the dirt or building a tree fort which will in turn help them to build a lifetime of love for the out-of-doors. He talks about how children today spend most of their time in front of televisions or computers and are missing out on the lessons that can come from being in nature. That nature can soothe and nurture- exactly what the stressed-out, over-scheduled kids of today need.

After reading Louv’s book, I became concerned that my son did not have a wild playground in which to explore. My small prairie garden was wild compared to the suburban lawns that surround my yard, but would not present enough “wildness” to satisfy a 12 year old boy. It wan’t much later that my son asked if he could visit the "green green forest" adjacent to the railroad tracks. This scrap of land, about two blocks from my home, has been left wild as a buffer between the railroad tracks and our neighborhood. Fear of the trains and tracks have kept me from letting my son play in this place. But, older now and more responsible, I feel he is ready to explore amongst the reeds and water and trees of this natural area. Though the area is small, to a kid, it appears huge and full of wonderment and I am glad that he wants to spend time there. He and his friends are making their mark on the tree fort and hopefully each successive generation of kids in this neighborhood will find their way to this place. To glean from it what the magic of nature will bring.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Just too Hard...

Something changed with me when my brother died. Not sure what it was, just a feeling that what mattered to me yesterday no longer does, and that what didn't matter seems to now. As a result, I don't have much to say about environmental concerns right now. But, because I care so deeply for the environment, I know I will be back to this blog soon.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Brother at the Cottage

Sunday Morning Coffee

As I sat on my patio drinking coffee this morning, watching birds and bees feast on nectar and seeds from my garden, I was reminded of the continuity of life. Sitting amongst plants, wrapped in the cloak of nature, I felt a small bit of the sadness over my brother's recent death lift, and was reminded of the true healing powers of the natural world.

Monday, August 4, 2008

When will I adopt cloth shopping bags?

While I have been very good at making many changes to my life that support the environment, one change that has been difficult in coming for me has been the use of cloth bags for shopping. For some reason, I just can not make the bags part of my routine. I either leave the bags at home or leave them in the car when I go into the store. It can be embarrassing when I see many other folks successfully using their cloth bags at the checkout counter while the clerk asks me if I want paper or plastic. I want to scream that I want neither but without my bags in hand, I can't. There have been times when I have gathered up my purchases in my hands to avoid the use of plastic bags, balancing bananas, bread and butter while the cashier looks on, wondering why I want to put myself through this act. It feels like my care for the environment is an act too when I can't even remember to do this one simple earth-care step. Last Friday was an exception. I remembered my bags, but forgot to take them into the store. I cursed as I stepped up to the checkout line, but this time, I made myself run back out to the car to get them. leaving my son to ring the groceries at one of those self serve cashier stations. I arrived back in the store, just before my 12 year old attempted to ring up the beer as a worried cashier looked on. This habit of using cloth bags will come hard for me but it makes me realize that different habits are harder for different people. It all just takes time as I move toward embracing new habits that may not feel comfortable at first, but eventually will become part of who I am.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Are Some Sustainable Peaches Poisonous?

Yesterday morning, I picked up these peaches from a farmer at my local Farmer's Market. The farmer was wearing a shirt and hat that said "Sustainable Farm" just under the name of his orchard which made me, and I am sure many of the other folks lined up to buy his produce, think his sweet cherries, raspberries, and peaches were raised organically. When I asked the farmer if his peaches were organic, he told me that they were not, and that he used Integrated Pest Management (IPM) methods on them, which tended to result in the use of less chemicals than conventionally grown peaches. He explained that all chemical use fell on a spectrum, from organic chemicals falling in the -5 range to conventional chemicals falling just below the 100 range. He said that his IPM methods placed his peaches in the 30 range, meaning that his peaches had far less chemical residue than conventionally produced peaches. I asked him if I bought his peaches and peeled them before I ate them if it I would remove all of the chemicals and he told me that I would- that the chemical could not get beyond the peel.

Having always understood sustainable to mean organic, I then questioned this farmer about the sustainable farm label on his shirt when he clearly wasn't an organic farmer. He explained that he could call himself sustainable because he used sustainable practices to care for his land, which I felt was really a misnomer given that you can't possibly be caring for the land when you are polluting it with toxic chemicals. I am not sure if was my hunger for fresh local peaches or the farmer's convincing argument that I would not be harmed by the peaches if I peeled them, but I soon found myself carting home some fresh peaches to enjoy.

Problem is, something didn't set right with me, and later that night, I began to do some research. I had two nagging questions:

1) How could the farmer call himself sustainable if he used chemicals?

2) Are peaches that have been doused with lower doses of chemicals using IPM methods really rendered harmless by peeling their skin before eating?

I soon had the answer to my first question when research on the Internet told me that sustainable really was more of a philosophy than a set of rules. Farms had to be certified to be organic, but they did not have to be certified to be called sustainable. I found the following helpful information on a website called Sustainable Table: http://www.sustainabletable.org/intro/whatis/

"Sustainable agriculture is a way of raising food that is healthy for consumers and animals, does not harm the environment, is humane for workers, respects animals, provides a fair wage to the farmer, and supports and enhances rural communities.
Characteristics of this type of agriculture include:

Conservation and preservation. What is taken out of the environment is put back in, so land and resources such as water, soil and air can be replenished and are available to future generations. The waste from sustainable farming stays within the farm’s ecosystem and cannot cause buildup or pollution. In addition, sustainable agriculture seeks to minimize transportation costs and fossil fuel use, and is as locally-based as possible.
Biodiversity. Farms raise different types of plants and animals, which are rotated around the fields to enrich the soil and help prevent disease and pest outbreaks. Chemical pesticides are used minimally and only when necessary; many sustainable farms do not use any form of chemicals.
Animal welfare. Animals are treated humanely and with respect, and are well cared for. They are permitted to carry out their natural behaviors, such as grazing, rooting or pecking, and are fed a natural diet appropriate for their species.
Economically viable. Farmers are paid a fair wage and are not dependent on subsidies from the government. Sustainable farmers help strengthen rural communities.
Socially just. Workers are treated fairly and paid competitive wages and benefits. They work in a safe environment and are offered proper living conditions and food.

In 1990, the US government defined sustainable agriculture in Public Law 101-624, Title XVI, Subtitle A, Section 1683, as “an integrated system of plant and animal production practices having a site-specific application that will, over the long term, satisfy human food and fiber needs; enhance environmental quality and the natural resource base upon which the agricultural economy depends; make the most efficient use of nonrenewable resources and on-farm resources and integrate, where appropriate, natural biological cycles and controls; sustain the economic viability of farm operations; and enhance the quality of life for farmers and society as a whole.”

The confusion with sustainable agriculture is that the definition is more a philosophy or way of life than a strict set of rules, and farmers can interpret the meaning differently. In addition, there is no legal obligation to follow any of the criteria for sustainability, so food can be labeled sustainable when in actuality it isn’t. Many terms that describe this type of food, such as natural or cage free, do not have a legal or clear definition (though the USDA is currently working on this). For example, cage-free chickens might not be raised in cages, but they could be raised in overcrowded conditions in indoor barns, which is still inhumane.
That said, we must stress that the vast majority of sustainable farms are run by family farmers who are hardworking, honest and sincere people. They work all hours of the day and night to bring you the freshest, tastiest, best quality food available."

Because, sustainable agriculture is more a way of life than a law or regulation you can't assume that produce being sold by a sustainable farmer is organic.

Researching a bit further, I found the answer to my second question. I discovered on the Environmental Working Group website that peaches are one of the worst fruits you can eat given their pesticide load. There are some excepts from an article http://www.ewg.org/node/22569 on their website, discussing the hazards of eating conventionally grown peaches:

"In order for a regular peach to make it to a supermarket in good-looking condition, it's been sprayed, usually more than once with (possibly with a total of nine different) pesticides. In fact, the Environmental Working Group (www.ewg.org), a primarily foundation-funded, Washington D.C.-based non-profit organization made up of scientists, engineers, policy experts, lawyers and computer programmers had peaches topping its "Dirty Dozen," a list of the most pesticide contaminated fruits or vegetables.
How did peaches, or any other fruit or vegetable get on that list? According to EWG the list was: "... based on the results of nearly 43,000 tests for pesticides on produce collected by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration between 2000 and 2005."
Thanks to peach's soft skin, pesticides easily migrate into the fruit. Washing peaches and other soft-skinned produce minimally alters the pesticide under the skin. Organic fruit and vegetables, by law, must be grown without synthetic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers or sewage sludge, and cannot be genetically engineered or irradiated.
So what rounds out EWG's Dirty Dozen? In descending order: apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes (imported), spinach, lettuce and finally, potatoes."

So, there you have it. If your choice is to eat organic, and you have always believed that sustainable meant organic, you should do some research before you eat any sustainably grown produce, because sustainable does not necessarily mean grown without chemicals. Through this experience, I have learned that it is important to ask lots of questions and to do lots of research. Things are not always as they appear to be.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Chemical Fog

I find it ironic that I can hear the whine of the mosquito spray trucks, belching a thick cloud of chemicals on every surface in my town, just as I start this post. While my city's mission statement tells me that they will look out for my health, safety and welfare, I am made to feel otherwise when they send out the following newsflash notifying me of their intent to spray the chemical Anvil for mosquito control this evening:
PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT Notice of Scheduled Adult Mosquito Insecticide Spraying
Please be advised that the City, utilizing the services of Clarke Environmental Mosquito Management Inc., will be implementing a citywide application of insecticide during the period from dusk to dawn tonight, Wednesday, July 30, 2008.
The City and Clarke Utilize a Synthetic Pyrethroid named ANVIL for purposes of controlling the adult mosquito population. ANVIL is safe to humans if applied in strict conformance with the product labeling. Those individuals with asthma and other respiratory conditions are advised to stay indoors with windows closed during and at least 1 hour following the misting application.
ANVIL is applied by Ultra Low Volume (ULV) misting equipment that accurately controls the size of the droplets (50 microns) and the application rates (0.21 to 0.62 of an ounce of ANVIL per acre).
The only conditions that will cause a re-scheduling of the ULV application are the presence of precipitation, high winds or temperatures at the time of application below 55 degrees F. Should a re-scheduling of the ULV application be required, please check the City Web Page for current status.
The only way that residents of our town are told about this mosquito spraying is if they sign up for notification via email. Many many are unaware of this program and are kept in the dark. When I first moved to town, I did not know about the spraying program, and would wake up to the sound of the spray trucks, chemical smell drifting into my windows. I would rush around closing all of the windows, fearing for my son who has asthma. Sometimes this spraying is done on beautiful Friday nights when many citizens of my town are out walking their dog or enjoying an evening on their patio.
I talked to the mayor about the spraying program and he told me that most people don't question it. Instead, he hears from them a day or so after the spraying, complaining that they still have mosquitoes at their house. I am shocked at what people will expose themselves to in order to live in a sanitized environment. Don't they get it that we are all connected, if we kill the mosquitoes, we are also killing ourselves?
Beyond Pesticides, http://www.beyondpesticides.org/index.html , a national coalition against the misuse of pesticides, provides the following information on their website in regard to the spraying of Anvil for mosquito control. This piece talks about the dangers of Anvil exposure and also the ineffectiveness of the chemical in controlling mosquitoes.
Beyond Today http://www.beyondtoday.org/anvil.htm , an Organization for Chicagoans who want to do more about the environment and social justice placed the following information on their website about the spraying of Anvil for mosquito control:

“Anvil is a pesticide sprayed on Chicago neighborhoods as an attempt to reduce West Nile Mosquitoes.
Beyond Today has opposed the spray due to research showing the spray is ineffective and dangerous.
Here are some of the concerns that Beyond Today community members and organizers have expressed:
-Inadequate notice of the spray has lead to overexposure. Residents are literally sprayed in the face as they cross streets walking babies, bicycling, or eat in sidewalk cafes.
-Research shows the spray is ineffective. Even studies completed by the pesticide companies themselves claim less than a 75% kill rate. Mosquitoes emerge from standing water the next day.
-The standing water removal program is not apparent. 311 calls to remove standing water are ignored.
-The spray contains a carcinogen and other chemicals which are endocrine disruptors and have not yet been adequately studied. This category of insecticide, the synthetic pyrethroids, has been making headlines as new studies reveal alarming correlations with many illnesses. We should not spray this on our children until long term studies show the spray is safe.
-The spray is toxic to bees, fish, and all aquatic life.
-The spray is toxic to dragonflies, which are the mosquito's natural predator. When the mosquito's predators are killed, there is an explosion in the mosquito population and the demand for more spraying.
-The pesticide lobby has paid lobbyists to run op-ed pieces in Chicago papers claiming that environmentalists care more about bugs than people. The only company making money from the spray is Clarke Chemical, therefore, they likely fund this effort.”
I feel pretty helpless about all this, especially when I hear from my mayor that nobody questions the spraying. Sometimes all of the damage we are doing to our environment just feels so overwhelming...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Free Water

I hooked a rain barrel up to the side of my house last year and it really was quite easy to do. Using a hack saw, I cut off the bottom section of my downspout, placed my terra cotta colored rain barrel on cinder blocks, hooked up a hose to a spigot on the bottom of the barrel and voila, free water to use for watering my garden!I soon found that I felt a connection with the rain that emptied into the barrel after each storm and hated to waste a single drop. I had done the collecting of this water and I began to cherish it and see the value in it. Unlike the outdoor tap water which seemed overly plentiful as it gushed out of the tap, the water coming out of the barrel flowed slower, taking it's time and feeling more prized. Becoming attached to this rainwater made me aware of the disconnect I felt towards my city water and I began to see that I should do a better job of appreciating and conserving that water as well.
A year after I installed my rain barrel, a local committee that I belong to began to sell rain barrels at festivals in our community so that others could take advantage of collecting the water that fell on their yards. Pictured above is my son Jimmy and his girlfriend Megan stenciling a demonstration rain barrel in one of our booths this summer.
Our committee has also encouraged local business owners in our downtown to purchase and decorate rain barrels which they then place in front of their business in order to create more awareness about them. As a result of our efforts, people in our town will be holding onto the rain that falls on their property, rather than letting it rush downstream, which will help to recharge our local aquifers and also to reduce the demand on outdoor watering. Drop by drop, I am constantly amazed at all of the simple little things that one can do to bring about real change.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Summer fun!

Yesterday my son Ryan, who is homeschooled, told me that his friend down the street, who attends the local middle school, is bored with summer. This friend told Ryan that school gives him something to do and now that he doesn’t have school, he is bored.

It was not long ago that I heard Ryan express that same sentiment. Before I took Ryan out of school two years ago, he would also find himself bored as the long unscheduled days of summer wore on. After being held in the rigid environment of school all year, being told how to spend each minute, it was hard to for Ryan to transition to the carefree days of summer because he did not know how to fill up the huge blocks of time he was suddenly faced with. The many hours spent in school, learning what the school curriculum deemed important, gave Ryan precious little time to learn about who he was or determine what type of activities he would enjoy exploring if given the chance.

It takes lots and lots of down time to slow down enough to hear your inner voice pulling you toward your interests. It took my son well over a year after being taken out of school to gather his thoughts and begin to express how he would like to spend his time. Initially he waited for me to guide him in his choices, just as his teacher had, but after many months he began to find his way. As he discovered that he was in charge of how he would like to spend his day, he began to feel empowered and after that things just kind of snowballed.

In the last nine months, my son has taken up four new activities, all of his own choosing, which he is happily pursuing this summer. At first it was archery and after gaining confidence in that choice and understanding that he was free to pursue anything he desired, in quick succession over a month’s time, he added fishing, skateboarding and then guitar.

As this summer winds down and we head into fall, Ryan's day will not change much as he continues to pursue these activities and others. His interests will guide his learning then as it does now and this freedom will help to keep him from feeling the boredom he once did.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Garlic Harvest

I have never grown garlic before and my first attempt turned out wonderfully! I think that I will become a garlic farmer and grow only garlic from now on, especially after the failures I have been experiencing in the lettuce department this year. Last year my swiss chard, black seeded simpson lettuce, and beets were fantastic. This year they failed, even after two tries. I hope to replant them later this summer in another spot. At least my mesculan mix and mustard are doing well and lucky for me that I like spicy lettuce!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Wind Power

Our house is powered entirely by alternative energy. We don’t have a windmill in our backyard nor solar panels on our roof but we use clean energy just the same because of our affiliation with a company called Community Energy http://www.newwindenergy.com/ . We purchase wind power Renewable Energy Credits (REC’s) from Community Energy and they ensure that clean wind energy is generated and delivered to the power grid on our behalf, ultimately making the mix of electricity in the power grid cleaner. By buying wind energy from Community Energy we increase the amount of pollution-free wind generated electricity, and decrease the need for energy generation from other non-renewable polluting sources.

The wind power REC’s we purchase from Community Energy cost $2.50 per block of 100 kWh in addition to what we pay our electric company. We began by purchasing four blocks of wind energy per month in early 2006 when our average monthly kilowatt-hours (kWh) used was approximately 850, so that we would be powered 50% by the wind. Late last year, we switched all of the lights in our house to CFL’s which reduced our monthly kWhs by 100. We anticipate our recent switch away from the electric clothes dryer to clothesline will save an additional 50 kWh per month which will bring us down to a monthly average of 700 kWh. In order to be 100% wind power, we now buy 7 blocks of wind energy REC’s per month for a total cost of $17.50. By reducing our electric bill by a total of 150 KWh per month through conservation measures, we have shaved $15 off of our electric bill which practically pays for the 7 blocks of wind energy REC’s. By making these simple changes we are encouraging wind farms to be built which will ensure cleaner air for the future.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Natural Doggie Treats

Woof! Welcome to my garden. This is where my mom grows my most favorite food of all...tomatoes! I first discovered fresh vine grown tomatoes about two years ago when I wrapped my mouth around what I thought was a red ball. My mom told me to keep my paws off the goods but I didn't listen.
Now that it is summer again, I keep watch over the tomato patch each day, sniffing around the vines and waiting. I know it won't be long before it is filled with those warm wonderful red orbs. My mom is so sweet, growing these treats especially for me.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Rural Transformations

I just finished reading Gina Olszowski’s book “Now Coming To A Town Near You” http://www.atownnearyou.com/ which gives voice to the changes that urban sprawl brings to small rural towns here in the Midwest. Her book is filled with the images of subdivisions filled with row upon row of identical house boxes containing a single tree in the parkway, flat lawn stretching out to a stark white curb, newly paved streets beyond.

I am immediately struck by the sterile qualities of these subdivisions and find myself comparing them to older more established neighborhoods full of charm and character. Today's developers seem to lack imagination, or maybe they, like many others in our culture, are too profit driven to care about aesthetics. These newly built home boxes, called that by me because they contain few windows and tend to look more like a box than a home, seem to rise up out of the ground, unconnected to their surroundings, an ugly bump on the landscape.

I can’t help but think of what has been taken away in the creation of these subdivisions. The farm fields with their red barns and white farmhouses, or the woodlots with their many animal inhabitants. Prairies filled with grasses and forbs blowing in the wind, butterflies and birds circling overhead.

I am also struck by how this development comes to be in the first place. Unfortunately, when new businesses first come to a rural town, they are welcomed. Living for so long without big box stores and their huge supply of goods, rural town residents are excited about the possibility of not having to drive many miles to the grocery or hardware store. What they may not think about until it is too late, is how these stores are going to change the feel of their town. In the blink of an eye, development steamrolls into town and rips out its character.

Gina’s book is a wake up call to small towns that have not been bulldozed over yet and a call to reclaim those towns that have already been transformed by urban sprawl. Intact rural towns need to be aware of what may be coming and to take steps to advert the changes now. For those towns that have been harmed by sprawl, Gina asks that you think about how you personally contribute to the sprawl lifestyle. When you buy from a corporate owned hardware store rather than a mom and pop operation, you contribute to the economy that supports sprawl.

As Gina says in her book, “As we pave over nature, our pavement becomes more of a reality to us than what lies beneath it”. Her words encourage me to continue on my path of knowing and protecting the natural word while teaching my children about it. I certainly don’t want my children to see pavement as their reality. But as I think about the pavement filled shopping centers and roadways with multiple lanes near my home, maybe they already do.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Cloth Birthday Bags

Here is what greeted me on my birthday the other day. Animal print cloth bags filled with garden gloves, books and clothing accompanied by homemade cards produced by my husband and sons.
We have been using cloth gift bags for Christmas for about 15 years...using the same set of bags over and over again...laying them out on Christmas Eve for Santa to fill, but it was only in the last few years that we extended that tradition to include birthdays. Each of us picked out a favorite fabric which I then made into a total of four bags. The bags are then used throughout the year for each of our birthdays.
The homemade card tradition came about as a result of me wanting something personal from my family. For many years when they would ask me what I wanted for my birthday, I would tell them that the only thing I wanted was a poem that they had written. While they balked at the effort required for that, they didn't resist my suggestion to make up a card. I treasure each of the cards they have made, a true reflection of each of their personalities.
For me, trying to live a more sustainable life means forming connections, whether it is with with the local farmer that grows my food, or my child when they give of themselves through a homemade card. It also means bringing more meaning to the way I do things. Using cloth birthday bags over and over again year to year, makes the whole process take on a different feel. I am connected to the cloth bags with their beautiful bird or dog prints and the history and story behind them, much more than store bought wrapping paper that will be ripped off in a minute and thrown away.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Twenty-three years

When you first get married, you never really think about how long 23 years is. You are just caught up in the love and the now and how it feels right. But on this side of it, many years into a marriage, you have this incredible journey to look back on.
My husband and I met in Washington D.C. and started our lives together in Oregon, writing our vows on the coast and building our relationship on the snowy glades of Mt. Hood. Our first child was born in Massachusetts, just two hours from my husband's parent's home. They were with us the day that my son came into the world, the first and only grandchild that my father-in-law ever knew. We purchased our first home in Kentucky where I planted my first flower garden and began to collect antiques for our home. After that, a move to Illinois, gave us the opportunity to live near my family while experiencing the birth of our second son. A move back out west into the mountains of Colorado, where we spent many hours hiking in the front range, allowed us a chance to experience nature first hand. It wasn't long before we were then off to Georgia with the beautiful bird calls in the morning and the close proximity to the ocean. We now find ourselves once again in Illinois, a kind of coming home for me. I am a midwesterner at heart, having been born in Michigan and raised on cornfields, red barns, summer storms and small towns.
Over the years, this 23 year journey of ours feels full and rich because it has been filled with family and friends and spending time in the natural world. Those are the things that have been important to us and all that we have ever needed. So today, on our anniversary, we will celebrate it in much the way that we celebrate every day, a shared cup of coffee, maybe a walk in the prairie near our home, and time spent with our two boys.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Goodbye Lawn

I am slowly winning the battle of the lawn. Not the battle most wage, where week after week, in an effort to have the perfect lawn, chemicals are applied, blades are cut, and grass is watered. No, my battle involves killing the grass in an attempt to make way for native flowers and shrubs so that I can provide a welcoming environment for the wildlife that calls my place home.

Each year, as more and more prairie or natural areas are lost to development here in Illinois, wildlife is being edged out and valuable habitat destroyed. Sara Stein in her book “Noah’s Garden” was the first person to make me aware of how I could work against this tide by creating wildlife habitats in my own backyard. Places where animals and insects and birds could forage for food or raise their young.
Sara’s dream was that every yard in each neighborhood would leave a bit of their yard natural so that wildlife would have ribbons of interconnected wild spaces in which to live. With that thinking in mind, over the last 3 years, I have gotten rid of 1,300 square feet of lawn and replaced it with plants that provide food or homes for wildlife. Through the National Wildlife Federation’s backyard wildlife habitat program, which provides all the information needed to create places welcoming to animals, my yard was certified as a backyard wildlife habitat.

The NWF program shows how simple it is to provide for wildlife. All you need to do is provide elements from each of the following areas:
Food Sources. For example: Native plants, seeds, fruits, nuts, berries, nectar.
Water Sources. For example: Birdbath, pond, water garden, stream
Places for Cover. For example: Thicket, rockpile, birdhouse.
Places to Raise Young. For example: Dense shrubs, vegetation, nesting box, pond.
Sustainable Gardening. For example: Mulch, compost, rain garden, chemical-free fertilizer.
More information on this program can be found at: http://www.nwf.org/backyard/
There are also many wonderful books written on this subject. Some of the books that I found particularly helpful were:

Noah’s Garden by Sara Stein
Planting Noah’s Garden by Sara Stein
The Wildlife Garden by Charlotte Seidenberg
National Wildlife Federation Attracting Birds, Butterflies & Backyard Wildlife by David Mizejewsk
Creating Habitat and Homes for Illinois Wildlife by IL. Dept. of Natural Resources and University of Illinois
Landscaping for Wildlife by MN. Department of Natural Resources

When I look out into my back yard, it stands in stark contrast to those yards that surround mine. I find it sad that we value close cropped non life-giving lawn over areas brimming with plants which give so much to wildlife. Obviously Sara’s dream will take a long time to come to fruition.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

80 miles, 4 forms of transportation

In an attempt to reduce my dependence on cars, I decided to implement a plan of car free days at the beginning of this summer. But after finding that car free days simply shifted when I drove but did not reduce how much I drove, I decided to commit to being car free for all trips within three miles of my home. This meant that I would use my bike for all trips to the grocery store, library, coffee shops, and hardware store.

My plan worked for about a week. After many frustrating bike trips back and forth between home and store for forgotten items, I hung it up. I was obviously addicted to the car culture which allowed me to not have to think before backing out of the driveway. So what if I was only buying enough groceries for one day or forgot something for tomorrow’s dinner, I could easily run out later. But this way of thinking did not work when I switched to the bike. I needed to change my approach to all errands and get organized but instead, I got off the bike.

That was until yesterday. My son and I had plans to meet friends in downtown Chicago to see the play “Wicked” and while I knew that we would be taking the train from our town to the city, I figured that I would take the car from our house to the train station. That all changed when the day dawned perfect for bike riding. We quickly shifted gears and rode our bikes the three miles to the train.
It felt so good to be pedaling down the road, and once at our destination, it was especially good to see so many bikes locked up at the bike racks at the coffee shop in town and at the train station just down the street. Obviously, during my time away from my bike, when I had continued to spew CO2 emissions into the air with my car, others had gotten the message and had switched to greener transportation.

The Chicago area is fortunate to have so many great forms of public transportation and bike paths. It really makes it easy to get out of the car and form a different kind of relationship with the area you are traveling through. Our train trip downtown, about an hour in length, gave my son and me some time to talk and connect in a way that would not have been possible had we been in the car. Once downtown, the availability of a water taxi on the Chicago River, gave us time to make a quick trip over to the Lego store on Michigan Avenue, before walking back to the theatre to see the play. We figure that we used four forms of car free travel yesterday- bike, train, water taxi, and walking. Other options that were available to us that we did not use were bus, trolley, and the elevated train. Maybe another day we will do a complete public transportation feast and use them all.

I must say that after yesterday, my interest in getting back to the bike in some capacity is renewed. I just need to come up with a workable plan that does not take on too much too soon. Just like my change to eating organic took place over several years, I think this bike thing will take time too. Slower changes will allow my attitude to adjust in step with what I am trying to take on. Now I just need to figure out a good starting place.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

River Cleanup

A few weeks ago, our town's Natural Resources Committee, of which I am a member, had our 3rd annual River Cleanup. As always, I was most impressed with the youth that participated. Members of our high school football team and a girl scout troop worked many hours hauling debris out of the river and trash from along its banks. It is a credit to their coach and troop leaders that these kids were encouraged to give something back to their community. By working together, we hauled pop cans, plastic bottles, old tires, wood, etc...from the site which went a long ways toward improving the health of the river that runs through our town.

Friday, June 13, 2008

If you don't like the results, consider your actions

Every Thursday morning since October of last year, my son has been taking archery lessons from a wonderful man named Bill. On the first day of class, Bill told all of the kids about how to hunt for mushrooms in the wild and how to
prepare them. Subsequent classes brought more stories about Bill's life, all of which were colorful and entertaining.
Using sound effects and a smile, he told the kids about getting shot just above the eye with an arrow when he was young. Another time he explained what it was like to sleep in bunk beds at his aunt's house right next to the railroad tracks. He would be tucked into bed on one side of the room but by morning, the rumbling of the trains all night would have made the beds bump bump all the way to the other side. My favorite story was about this friend of his that picked up a dead deer alongside the road and put it in his van. It appears that the deer, rather than being dead, was just stunned and it came awake while the guy was driving down the road and began to thrash about trying to kill the driver or get out of the van, whichever came first. Of course Bill's animation and gestures while telling the story, made it especially entertaining.
Bill is also an avid outdoors man and is brimming with hunting stories, how to keep ticks off of you when in the woods, explanations about how to catch fish and clean them, and what types of natural insect repellents are available. The kids in the archery class are mesmerized when Bill tells his stories. They are not the typical stories that kids hear in today's world where many conversations center around shopping and what is on TV. They are stories of a life that my son would know little of if it were not for Bill.
Bill's favorite motto is, "if you don't like the results, consider your actions" and he uses it constantly. He says this motto applies to archery as well as everything in life. In archery, he says if you don't like where your arrow hit the target, consider how you held the bow before you shot. In regard to life, he gives the example, "If you don't like how a person responds to you, consider what you said to them."
Bill has been voicing many varieties of this motto since October and today I finally understood its relevance in terms of environmental stewardship. If I don't like the world I see around me, filled with lack of respect for the environment, I need to consider my own actions and do what I can to enact change. A great motto from a truly amazing and wonderful man.