This Year's Garden

It's been over 10 years since I've had the time, space and inclination to have a real garden, so it's been a lot of fun to plant one this year.

The main focus was having an outdoor project my daughter could have some ownership of, and so I gave myself permission to go the easy route where I could: raised beds instead of tilling, a seed starter kit and grow light instead of crafting a setup out of individual parts, rain and the occasional hose instead of a rain barrel, and just a few different crops to manage: tomatoes, broccoli, cilantro, basil, and lettuce.

Here's what it looked like when we'd just moved the seedlings outside:

I also accepted early on that we'd be paying a small tax to the local bunnies, squirrels and birds as a part of encroaching on their yard space, forgoing any fences or chemicals to keep them away. We did have fun making some tin foil "scarecrows" that wave in the wind, and they seem to be working pretty well.

Fresh pesto is one of my favorite foods, so having basil to pick is a joy. Our daughter loves garden tomatoes and has previously mostly relied on the farmers market and the kindness of neighbors; it will be fun to see her harvest snacks and take pride knowing she was the one to plant them in the first place.

Cutting the Grass

Leaning InOne of my recurring summer jobs, in addition to filling and unfilling the tubes of the Internets, is to adjust the height of the small vertically-oriented plant life that densely covers the land surrounding my house.

Many people refer to this act as "cutting the grass."

Over the last few years I've tried quite a wide variety of approaches to and implements for "cutting the grass," and I'd like to share them with you now, because imparting unsolicited and only moderately useful information to a halfway-interested audience is what blogging is all about, no?

  1. Not mowing the grass at all.
    Continue reading "Cutting the Grass"

The Contractor Experience

(Some of my blog posts are constructive, this one is pure rant.)

There's a new amusement park ride opening up in town!  It'll take you on a thrilling journey through ups and downs of successful projects, communication failures, happy long-term partnerships, and total failures in competence.  It's called THE CONTRACTOR EXPERIENCE and you can hop on it today by opening up the phone book and calling pretty much any contractor you want to try to get some work done on your home or business!

Okay, I know that it might be a little pretentious or worse for me to sit on my high blogging horse and tell the folks who are willing to do some pretty hard, dirty work how to do their jobs when I'm not able or willing to do them myself.  But at the same time, I can't help but see it from the perspective of how poorly some of these folks are running their small local businesses, and how their customer service values take a total back seat to their own preferred ways of doing things.  Some war stories:

Continue reading "The Contractor Experience"

Fireplaces, kitchen supplies and Indian food, oh my

What a pretty ceramic thing that is!This weekend I had the opportunity to sample three local/regional shopping destinations that were all new to me:

1) The Fireplace Shop at 1000 North F Street in Richmond is an amazing little brick complex that showcases all that can be done with wood and other heat sources. From traditional fireplaces to wood burning stoves to corn pellet stoves to crazy other conflagrant configurations, it was quite a wonderland of temperature control. With the added bits of atmosphere like lazy cats sprawled across warm surfaces, fireplace and chimney sweep nostalgia everywhere, and the hustle-bustle of workers in workshops catering to the demands of the cold season, it was a nice place just to be and observe. The store also adjoins a ceramic tile store (which sells the locally made Terra Green Ceramics line) and a brick/stone store, so you can knock out quite a bit of home improvement planning in one place. I can't imagine there's one of these in every community these days, and I'm certainly grateful to have one here. Continue reading "Fireplaces, kitchen supplies and Indian food, oh my"

Inventory of Sustainability Efforts in My Life

IMG_1196.JPGDuring the Third U.S. Conference on Peak Oil and Community Solutions that I attended last month, I found myself surrounded by an amazing group of hundreds of people who were trying to make changes in the world to move us (the human species) toward sustainability. While I do not limit my thinking on sustainability to the slogan "be the change you want to see in the world" (article on that is forthcoming), I thought it might be useful to take an inventory of the things I'm doing in my own life to reduce my impact on the world and my resource usage in our culture. I also thought it would be important to start to list the areas where I still need to make progress.

I don't publish this information as any sort of prescription for anyone else; there are millions of ways to make changes in our lives to do less harm, and not all of them look anything like the below (and some of them contradict the below), so I fully respect that this is what works for me as I experiment, and it may not work for anyone else. There is no one right way to be more sustainable. However, if you find this list useful, or have suggestions or feedback on it, I hope you'll contact me to let me know.

Things I do in my life to reduce my unsustainable resource usage:

  • I've created, participate in and financially support multiple community-oriented programs that promote and educate others around messages related to sustainability.
  • AUT 0248I have a rain barrel in my yard to collect rainwater for use in gardening and yard work. It reduces the amount of filtered and treated city water I use by just a little bit, but rainwater is also better for my plants.
  • I mow my yard less than neighborly convention might dictate. I'm working on using a scythe to replace my gas-powered mower (and increase my physical exercise!).
  • I replaced the old drafty windows in my house with newer and more sealed ones. This helps reduce the energy needed to keep me comfortable inside. Unfortunately, the replacement windows are made up significantly of petroleum-based products.
  • I had a super high-efficiency furnace installed in my house.
  • I don't use air conditioning at my house more than 3 or 4 days per year, and use ceiling fans, window shading, and other methods instead. (I do, however, work in an air-conditioned office, so I can't claim to be braving the heat every day.)
  • I live in a small town that is easy to get around, has the potential for great community-building, and has a heritage that involves peace and justice, sustainable agriculture and entrepreneurial solutions to difficult problems.
  • I've replaced all of the conventional incandescent light bulbs in my house with compact fluorescent bulbs. These are supposed to last much longer and use much less energy.
  • I wash my dishes by hand.
  • I purchased a high-efficiency front-loading washing machine
  • Hung out to dry I also purchased a high-efficiency drier, but there really isn't such a thing, so I try to use a clothesline to dry my laundry in the sun when I can.
  • I have been working on putting my appliances that use phantom power on power strips that I can turn off when I'm not using them.
  • I participate in my city's recycling program
  • I compost all organic waste from my cooking and store it in the big compost bin next to my garden.
  • I try to buy goods and services from local businesses when possible. This reduces the amount of resources required to bring those items to me, and supports a strong local economy that can be more resilient to fluctuations in energy prices. I especially try not to buy goods and services from businesses that I feel are actively harming local/regional/national natural resources, engaging in slave labor, or participating in the cultural trends toward sacrificing our planet and its lifeforms in the name of increased consumerism.
  • I support my local food cooperative by volunteering and serving on their board of directors, and by ordering household staples in bulk from them.
  • I try to avoid eating food that will poison my body and potentially increase the resources needed to keep me healthy (now or in the future)
  • I avoid buying new products and clothing when I can find them in like-new condition by shopping at Goodwill or the Salvation Army.
  • I have installed or am installing low-flow shower heads in my showers.
  • I avoid using household chemical products that pollute and cause medical problems
  • I ride my bicycle when I have time. Having time to ride a bike is a relative/subjective/complex thing, so I'm working on ways to make more time for riding instead of driving.
  • I walk places when I have time. Having time to walk is a relative/subjective/complex thing, so I'm working on ways to make more time for walking.
  • When I do drive, I drive a car that gets reasonably high gas mileage (i.e. not an SUV) and I try to minimize my trips.
  • IMG 0046 I have a garden where I sometimes grow my own food instead of buying it from retailers who have produced it with a variety of chemicals, packaged it with a variety of non-reusable materials, and shipped it from all around the world using a variety of petroleum resources.
  • I work on sharing tools and equipment with my neighbors when we can.
  • At the company I co-own, I direct our management and "human resources" practices to encourage community and sustainability in our business activities.

Things I do in my life that aren't so sustainable, or areas where I could improve (a beginning list...I'm sure this could be quite long if one looked at all the details):

  • I live in and contribute to a culture that is inherently unsustainable
  • My day job is centered around the use of computers and related electronics equipment , which are some of the most wasteful and energy-intensive products to produce in the world. Their production, usage and disposal is one of the top contributors to environmental pollution, workforce exploitation, and global consumerism in the world.
  • I still buy lots of goods and services from non-local businesses, and/or businesses that actively participate in harm against the land or against other people.
  • I have too much stuff in my house. Too much stuff means more time and energy spent managing and repairing that stuff, and less time having fun. I need to have more fun and less stuff.
  • I don't bike or walk nearly as much as I could if I made more changes to support that lifestyle.
  • 016_10.JPGI don't grow nearly as much food as I could if I made more changes to support that lifestyle.
  • I still eat foods that poison my body.
  • A significant portion of my income helps to fund violence and oppression committed against people around the world.
  • I don't put enough energy into being a more active participant in my community - getting to know my neighbors, developing relationships that allow me to give support and get support, etc.
  • ...

The adventure of doing all of the above is certainly not reflected in these simple bullet listings. In some cases, they were simple changes that required little or no money or time. Others were significant financial investments or major lifestyle changes. And many are ongoing, where I'm still feeling out the effects of my decisions and still finding ways to do better.

Switching to Parallax for home broadband

This is an unabashed plug for Parallax and their high speed wireless Internet access service. I complain enough on this blog about poor customer service experiences, so it's important to me that I document the rare but special times when I have a really positive experience. I'd been using Insight's cable broadband service, which costs $45/month and included somewhere around 3 MBps download and 400Kbps upload (your mileage may vary widely - learn about different connection technologies). It also malfunctioned every time my cat sneezed. Parallax's service is $40/month and includes 1 MBps download and 1 MBps upload (really nice for sending large files out or hosting something). Important: you don't need a wireless card to use this service - your home network can still be wired all the way. And they're local, which has a number of benefits. And they're reliable. And their customer service tends to be excellent. I know these things well since my business depends on them for mission critical network operations every day. So I didn't really know why I'd even waited as long as I had to get setup with their wireless service. (I did call Insight and ask them to make me a better offer...they couldn't.) The Parallax sales rep and installers treated me like a real human being, they worked fast and effectively, and the connection has worked great from day one. Thanks, Parallax, for being a quality local provider of a valued service!

Is Michael there? Are you sure?

My day started at 4 in the morning today. I was having a dream about someone knocking on the door to wherever I was, and then I realized that the knocking was in fact real, and that someone was pounding on the front door of my house and ringing the door bell over and over again. I think the last time that happened to me was at about 4 AM also, when I was in Scotland and a fellow student was so inebriated that he demanded that I leave "his" room, and then fell over in the hallway. So for that or some other reason, I was immediately thinking it was someone out of their mind with meth-amphetamine or something similar that's recently been played up as an unthinkable evil invading our communities. Gosh, I get dramatic at that hour.
Continue reading "Is Michael there? Are you sure?"

Instant Indoor Garden


I've just concluded my adventure of getting a seed-starting area set up at my house. It's something I've been meaning to do for a while, but I think the combination of missing the crops at Elkhorn Ranch as spring approaches, paying an arm and a leg for a few withered basil leaves at the grocery the other day, and seeing Hopi's setup inspired me into action. A few hours at my local home improvement superstore, a few hours putting up the table and equipment, and a bit of cursing later, I'm ready to get my garden going. (I have issues with instant gratification - I could have bought the equipment tonight, gone to bed at a reasonable hour, and installed it tomorrow, but no...) Now there's just that whole "not murdering the plants" part to worry about.