Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Resolve to Do This BEFORE the New Year

Here's one important way you can make a contribution to the safety of our nation's food supply and the health of our people (if you happen to live in the U.S.)

The U.S. Government is asking for comments on how corporate control of our food supply affects you. It's easy to speak against what's going on, it's harder to take action but this is one action that's simple and quick. Let them know how you feel about local farms, regulation of small farmers, letting corporations get away with unsafe, unsanitary, and inhumane practices. This is being undertaken by the Department of Justice anti-trust folks, not the usual USDA people who have been turning a blind eye for decades, so it might just be worthwhile to chip in your two cents.

You can email comments to: agriculturalworkshops@usdoj.gov BY DECEMBER 31st!!!!


Find out more details on Slow Food USA's blog post There are links to sample letters and summaries of the issues at stake.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Fostering Community: A Progressive Dinner

For a couple of years now, we've been celebrating the Solstice (both summer and winter) by having a progressive dinner with several families from our neighborhood. If you've never done one, a progressive dinner is so much fun! You start at one house for appetizers, proceed to the next house for salad, the next house for soup, and so on. This year we ended up at our house for desserts. Each family hosts everyone for about 45 minutes to an hour, and the walk between the houses is just as much fun as the dinner part.

This year, at about the salad course, we also started singing. We started out with rounds and went to carols and solstice songs (with several glasses of wine by that time, it took all of our collective brains to remember the right order for everything in the 12 Days of Christmas), and ended up at our house with me accompanying on the piano and singing more carols. This is a great way to reconnect with neighbors that you may not see as often as you'd like throughout the daily busyness of our lives. We stop and chat while walking the dogs, or our kids are running in and out of each others' houses, but we don't always get the time to really catch up. This gives us a chance to really talk and listen to what's going on in each others' lives.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Shopping Local for the Holidays

A letter in our weekly newspaper made a very good point this week. One of our town's big topics is downtown revitalization, with fingers being pointed at Walmart and all of the big box stores as culprits in stealing away vigor from our downtown stores. We have many open spaces and empty pits where stores once stood. This failed attempt at covering up with a mural obscures the pit where the downtown Woolworth's once stood. The letter writer just pointed out that if everyone who wanted a more vital downtown just took their Christmas shopping there instead of to the box stores, downtown stores would be more than vital.

So today, Mackenzie and I went on a little holiday shopping trip downtown and he bought his sister a really cool present for Christmas (can't reveal it here, I know she reads these posts on Facebook - hi Asa! No, I'm not telling!). We don't do a ton of Christmas shopping, but this year I'm vowing that what we do (other than my perennial Heifer Project gifts for family) will not be done online. No UPS trucks pulling up in the driveway, we're going downtown!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Lying Fallow

This is the time of year where things start to slide - the last few apples I socked away in the cold maybe start going bad before I get around to making them into applesauce, and I forgot to go out and pick the peppers before the first frost so I didn't get the last few good ones in. Now that it's so dang crazy cold, everything even in the winter garden is listless. My time is eaten up with the craziness that seems to hit all at once at this time of the year. I guess it's time to lie fallow and regenerate for spring. Starting next Monday (when the karate tests, Nutcracker performances and robotics competition is all over and done with) that's exactly what I'm going to do.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Buy Nothing Day!

The sooner we, as a culture, realize that we can't spend our way out of our current problems the better. We live in a closed-loop system. In such a non-infinite system, we cannot continue consuming ever-increasing amounts of resources. It simply cannot happen. We must, like Americans with over-burdened credit cards simply learn to live within our global means. Toward that end, Buy Nothing Day is a small drop in the bucket. But its real value lies in realizing that we don't really need to buy much on other days either. Of course, we need food, we need clothes, we need toothpaste and toilet paper (well, my neighbor who has invented a hand-held bidet would say we don't even need that!), and we occasionally need fun splurgy things too. But do we need so much stuff, the avalanche of stuff that the average consumer buys in these holiday weeks? Does Aunt Martha really need yet another pair of Dearfoams slippers? Does Uncle Joe need another mug with a fishing joke printed on it?

One of the best things we did when our kids were very little was to tell them that Santa brought each child one present. And we give them each a Christmas book that they open on Christmas Eve and we read together (and then read many of the previous years' books as well). That's it. No expectations of piles and piles of stuff, just a simple family-filled holiday. Thus, I don't need to be standing in lines today for that mountain of gifts. One click to Heifer Project will take care of the rest of the presents for family.

Happy Buy Nothing Day.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Autumn Memories

Rainy days in the kitchen with the smell of applesauce all around just can't be beat. All too often it feels like I don't have the time to do everything I want to, so I'm glad when I can at least do a bit here and there, like make up a batch of applesauce or a homemade pumpkin pie. Here's a view out of my autumn kitchen window. The white crockery canister behind my sink was from my grandfather's restaurant. He died when I was six, and I only have one very strong memory of him: Once when we were visiting, I woke up scared in the middle of the night. Instead of sending me right back to bed. he sat on the stairs with me and read me my favorite book, The Little Gingerbread Man. I still think of that whenever I get a tea bag out of the canister. If you only had one memory to give to someone in your life, wouldn't it be awesome to make it as loving as that one?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Nice Website for Local Foods and Prep

I was looking online for a recipe for fresh pumpkin pie (since all the Betty Crockerish cookbooks carry is recipes with canned pumpkin) and stumbled across this nifty little site: http://www.pickyourown.org/

From the website description:
This website provides local listings of pick your own (also called U-pick or PYO) farms in the United States, Canada, Britain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and other countries. There are crop calendars for each local area to tell you what is available to pick throughout the year, local weather forecasts and really easy illustrated directions to show you how to make jam, jelly, salsa, pickles, spaghetti sauce, applesauce, apple butter and 150 other recipes with step-by-step directions to can, freeze, dry or preserve the harvest.

So far, our family can vouch for their pumpkin pie recipe. This is a great time to get deals on pie pumpkins at local farms, with the Halloween rush over and the Thanksgiving rush not quite yet starting. I'm really enjoying the roasted pumpkin seeds too. There's nothing commercially available that even comes close to my home-roasted seeds, which is a bummer because they usually go fast around here!

Sunday, November 08, 2009

One More Reason Not to Shop At Wal-Mart

If it's not enough that Wal-Mart is a union-busting, employee-screwing detriment to communities and the environment,, or that its Chinese imports have displaced hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs, and if it's not enough that you might run into folks like these shopping there, here's one more reason not to shop at Wal-Mart: open discrimination against gays.

As a side note, I have only been in a Wal-Mart once in the last decade. Coincidentally, this was the only time I was ever harassed for breastfeeding in public. Asa was then an infant, in a sling where she was nursing very discreetly. A greasy-haired bulk-buyer of CPC (that's Cheap Plastic Crap if you know my family's lingo) and a shopping-cart full of junk food said very loudly to my face "That's disgusting!". I would've laughed if I hadn't been so stunned. Haven't been back since.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Summer Garden Lessons Learned

I took advantage of yesterday's warm weather and lack of rain to bring in the rest of the produce from the summer garden. I couldn't believe we got over two pounds of green beans this week, in the last week of October. And tons of tomatoes, too, including all of the green ones to store up in the cool basement. I'm going to do like I did last year and wrap them individually in newspaper. That gave us tomatoes through December and part of January last year, ripened a few at a time.

This week's haul alone was 22.5 pounds of produce. I think I've been averaging at least that for most of the summer. I meant to diligently weigh all of the veggies we brought in from the garden this year and get a good idea of how much we were growing, but of course most of the time we just go out and pluck some lettuce or a cucumber or the kids go grab some snap peas and it never gets weighed.

Lessons learned from this year's summer garden:

The yellow Taxi heirloom tomatoes were not a very good producer. They were supposed to be large, but ended up much smaller than the red ones, they split easily in the moister fall air, and produced about half as many as my romas and bigger red tomatoes.

I planted two types of green beans, Blue Lakes and Kentucky Wonders. One of them produced nice thin green beans that the kids like to eat, and the other had pods that quickly got fat and woody and not very edible. But I didn't write down which variety I planted where! So now I don't know which ones to order for next year. Anyone knowledgeable about green beans can help me out on this one?

Planting the peppers much earlier (March instead of May) produced a much bigger crop, even though it took them a long time to get going.

You can only eat so many cherry-size tomatoes. Next year I'll only plant one or two instead of three or four bushes!

Now it's on to the fall garden, I've got loads of kale and chard still going strong. Yum!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

How Everything Transportation Ties Together

I've found myself frustrated this year with the kids' activity schedule and locations. It seems like everything has conspired to keep us from being able to bike to anything. Many of the locations we have to go to are either on the far fringes of town (7 - 10 miles from our house) and/or on the opposite side of town from the next activity that we need to get to.

I can't help thinking how in the future fuel prices may affect businesses that choose to locate on the outskirts of town, forcing them to reconsider closer-in locations. I'm sure it's economically more feasible right now for them to rent or buy on the fringes, but as more of their customers simply can't make the drive, perhaps that will change. One bright note is that our karate dojo, where we spend an awful lot of time these days, will be getting a direct bus route. They're building a big bus stop for the "EMX" (express) bus right in front of the dojo. That's good news because since they relocated last year they moved from a 3.5 mile easy bicycling trip for us to get to the dojo to an 11 mile difficult and much more hazardous ride.

As the kids get older, the old location would've been something they could've biked to themselves, largely on bike-friendly streets and bike paths. The new location involves riding through some of the most bike-unfriendly streets in our area. Sadly, though they put in a beautiful new bike bridge crossing the interstate (making the bike commute easier and safer), they chose to end the path in the back of a big shopping mall, along streets with tons of people zipping in and out of parking lots. So although we could get most of the way there on bikes, the last mile would be something I wouldn't want the kids to be navigating on bikes (the last time I rode down that road on my own bike, I was almost struck twice). So the bus will be a good alternative once the line is completed.

I do worry though because so much of our bus funding is tied to gas taxes. While that sounds like a terrific way to fund public transport, the reality is that when gas prices go up and people can afford to drive less (and some people can't afford to drive at all), the funding for public transportation takes a dramatic nosedive. The last time gas hit $4 a gallon here, they started cutting bus routes! Clearly, we need a different approach to funding public transport so that as we begin our transition from a 1-car-per-person approach to a conservation-minded approach, people have options.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Get Lit!

One of these photos is a cyclist (me) with an adequate light for night riding. The other photo is approximately what the cyclist looked like that I almost ran into on my bike last night. Sheesh people, I'm all for cycling but buy a light for heck's sake! I mean, these days you can buy a $1 LED keychain light that's brighter than my first cycling lights and duct-tape it to your handlebars!

When I started out commuting by bike (in college), I had an old-fashioned dynamo generator light on my sweet red single-speed Schwinn 40 pound fat-tired cruiser (can you tell I wish I'd never sold that bike??). The light caused a heck of a lot of friction while engaged, and put out a fairly feeble amount of light, but that was more or less what was available in those good ol' days.

Next, I moved on up while bike commuting to Microsoft. Since part of my 22 mile RT commute was on an unlighted powerline trail, I needed an optimum bike and lighting system. I upgraded my ride to a Specialized Rockhopper and my light to one of the new Niteriders, which came with this heavy duty battery that fit in your water bottle cage. It was cumbersome and I had to haul it in from the garage to plug it in every night, but it put out some good wattage and stood up to Seattle's rainy climate for years.

Now of course with the miracle that LEDS bring to our lives (let's all take a moment and truly appreciate the genius that is an LED folks), my bike light takes two rechargeable double-A batteries that last FOREVER. I can't remember the last time I had to recharge them, come to think of it. It fits in the palm of my hand, weighs a few ounces, and puts out a great beam (see photo above). The blinky on the back, also armed with LEDS and rechargeable batteries can probably be seen by sattelites orbiting the earth.

All of this to say, if you're out there and you're riding without a light, you're endangering yourself and everyone around you, and there really is NO EXCUSE. No cumbersome dynamo, no expensive gadget-laden professional lighting system, all you need is an el-cheapo LED and BINGO you're visible!

Myself, being the bike geek that I am, I really want some of THESE. They have internal micro-generators so they don't need any batteries and recharge themselves fully after 30 seconds of pedaling.
Made by DOSUN, I'm eagerly awaiting seeing them in stores.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cool Product: Bamboo Clothespins

One thing my son inherited from me is a distaste for the feel of unfinished wood. I don't know how to explain it, other than that feeling unfinished wood gives me that fingernails-on-chalkboard feeling. I remember as a kid that one thing I hated about cooking was touching the wooden spoons or the cutting boards. Fortunately, they know make plastic stirring spoons and cutting boards. However, when it comes to clothespins, plastic is vastly inferior as we discovered.

I've been looking for a clothespin that isn't rough wood but the plastic ones just don't seem to grip well, plus after one season of being out in the sun they are cracking and falling apart. Bamboo clothespins to the rescue! Whitney Designs makes a nice bamboo clothespin that's exactly the same size and gripping strength as our regular wood clothespins. Better yet, they're environmentally friendly and smooth to the touch.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

No Time For Talking, Just Doing

There's probably a nationwide trend right now among the farming/urban gardening blogs - a trend of silence. Maybe other folks can keep up with the harvest and blog about it too, but I always find this time of year a little bit overwhelming. It makes you realize why harvest festivals like Halloween were such a big celebration over the centuries. When you're done getting in the fall veggies and all of the fruit is preserved and the apples and potatoes packed away in the root cellar, well I imagine that would be when you'd be ready to have a really big party and just relax! I've got at least 5 more days of good weather, and I'm going to try to make the best out of this fall harvest season while I can.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Talking to Strangers

For awhile now our family has been signed up as hosts on the Warmshowers website, a place where touring cyclists can connect with families willing to host them. Some day, we hope to take off a-touring on the tandems again and maybe we'll get to experience the other side of the deal, staying with a local person or family somewhere on the road. But for now, we get to live vicariously by hosting touring cyclists and hearing a little bit about their journeys and plans. Since our town sits squarely on two major cycle touring routes (Canada to Mexico and coast to coast), we've gotten a fair number of emails from the warmshowers website. But because our town is also extremely cyclist-friendly, many of the cyclists end up having more than one host family to choose from here (isn't that cool? I love our town!).

In any case, last month we got to host two different coast-to-coast cyclists. One is an Englishman living in the Netherlands who according to his blog has now made it to Nebraska in the 35 days since he arrived here from the coast. And the other is Ryan, pictured above with his cool touring setup who is heading back to his home state of North Carolina. Along the way he is raising awareness and money for the Wounded Warrior Project. For people who love cycling as much as we do, it was both inspiring and a little jealousy-inducing to get to hear about all of his plans for his cross-country journey. More than anything, it has definitely nudged us toward making plans for more cycle touring next year with the kids. I've been following Ryan's blog as he makes his way across the country.
More than anything, I'm always grateful for an opportunity to connect with truly amazing people doing incredible things. If you watch the news, or even become inundated with the inevitable flashing ads and links as you try to connect to your email you might begin to think that the entire earth is populated with people like Jon and Kate feuding about whatever they feud about, or killers who stalk young women at Universities, or greedy executives trying to shoot down any possibility of health care coverage for everyone. It's always good to be reminded of the essential fact that there are many many good and wonderful people on this earth, all around us, even if we don't know them. And a simple website like Warmshowers that can connect one of these people seeking shelter for the night with another person who has shelter to offer shows us that our basic humanity is indeed where it should be and that we can continue to reach out to others and not shrink back into our own little shells.

When our first guest was going to arrive, the kids were a little nervous. Why were we inviting a stranger to stay in our home? But as they have gotten to know these adventurers, it's also been a great way to show them that "stranger danger" isn't always the best approach to life. Sometimes it IS good to talk to strangers, or even invite them in.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Thank Heavens For My Freezer

This time of the year is NUTS. In centuries past, I'm sure folks just had the harvest to worry about (and it meant a lot more to them as well without the supermarkets a few blocks away). The original school year was designed so that kids were not going back to classes until after harvest time, but it seems that most school districts around the country keep creeping the back-to-school date ever earlier. It seems like that shouldn't matter to us homeschoolers (hey, I could be cracking the whip over my enslaved children and no one would even know! but shhhhhh... don't tell anyone) but it does because every other thing in the universe is tied to the school schedule - dance classes, robotics challenge, etc. all starts when the schools do. Sigh. What's a harvesting urban farmer to do?

Thank heavens for that big freezer we bought a few years ago. So far I've taken stuff and just thrown it into gallon bags in the freezer to be dealt with later. Wayne already dried an entire batch of our freestone plums in the food dryer, and I think I can pack away the apples in our cool basement until I'm ready to start making applesauce in earnest.

The other day I noticed an entire hazelnut orchard lying fallow with nuts falling everywhere, so now I'm wondering if I can squeeze some hazelnut gleaning time in this week. The photo above is all stuff I picked in one afternoon from the garden. NUTS I tell you! Nuts is what I'll be in another couple of weeks.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Your Tax Dollars At Work

From the Connecticut State Legislature. I'd like to think I'd see something different in my own state's House while they're voting on a budget bill (for Pete's sake!) but given what comes out in the budgets, maybe not.....

fail owned pwned pictures
see more Fail Blog

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Nature's Cruel Joke

Out the bedroom window at night, the crickets sing the melancholy song of summer's ending. We spent our last lazy afternoon at the pool today, and will leave for possibly the last camping trip tomorrow. Just as the warm weather lingers and you want to be out grasping every last bit of summer's glory, your garden goes nuts and there's picking and preserving to be done.

A week or so ago, we were going plum crazy, with our yellow plum tree laden with little golden beauties. They aren't freestones so they don't dry well, just good for eating and jam. Fortunately my mom was visiting and helped me can some plum jam for the winter. Now the purple plum tree is bending down and I need to get picking those because we can dry those in the food dehydrator for wintertime snacking.

The Tomato Forest has been busy, I've picked 50 lbs of tomatoes so far and there's no stopping it. Fortunately, we have freezer space so I'm just throwing them all into gallon freezer bags and I will deal with them later when it's drizzly and yukky outside and I can stand to be in the kitchen all day. These variegated heirloom beauties were too gorgeous to make into a sauce though, so they became part of this 20-mile breakfast.

Everything on the plate comes from less than 20 miles away. Chard and tomatoes from garden, eggs from chickens, goat's milk from our local connection, feta cheese from the farmer's market, and sausage from a locally and humanely raised pig. Beautiful, sustainable, and YUM. P.S. I've eaten so much chard I think my eyes are turning green!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Partying Onions Unmasked

Hey, so remember those funny little flowering "onions" that looked like they were wearing party hats, that I posted about before? I accidentally dug one up the other day and found at the bottome of all of that stem and flower was really a big ol' bulb of extremely tasty garlic! So the "onions" have been unmasked as the marauding garlic that they really are. Which is cool because I love garlic and we have these things all over the place. I just cooked some up with some of the last of our pork chops and a ton of peppers sauteed with some wine and olive oil... yummmmm....

On the docket for this week: making pesto with some fresh basil from a friend.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Keeping Our Local Businesses Around

I've been meaning to pass on this link to the 3/50 Project for awhile. It's a very simple concept - just remembering to patronize our local businesses, keep them around, and keep our money helping out our local economies. What businesses in your area could you not live without?

For me, it's our little corner grocery store/cafe, our great local bike stores, and the local bookstore down the road that stocks stuff you don't see on the endcaps in Borders. A couple of years ago we lost our awesome local video store. We could walk down there in the evening and the folks that worked there knew every movie ever made. You could ask them "Hey, you remember that movie, the one that had Edward Norton and that other guy ...you know, the one who played Capote...and Norton talks to himself in a mirror?" and they'd pull out 25th Hour and that would be the movie you were thinking of. Well, it's gone because I guess too many folks went to Hollywood video so now that's all we've got left around here.

So if you don't want your favorite coffee shop or bookstore or whatever going the way of my video store, make sure you go there, even to buy a bagel or a paperback every now and then.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Have Bike, Will Travel (With Pig)

Asa was over at a friend's house yesterday and was going to stay for a sleepover. She called to ask if I could bring over a sleeping bag and her toothbrush and pajamas. Sure, no problem. Slip the clothes and toothbrush into my bike bag and bungee-cord the sleeping bag on top.

I was ready to head up the driveway when the request came to add the pig. Arnold the Snoring Pig to be exact. Unzip the pannier, stuff the pig in one (fortunately not snoring), and away I was going when...

Another call, they needed cookie sheets for making pizzas, could I bring some over? Sure. Unzip the other pannier and slide the cookie sheets in. Ring, ring...could I bring two pillows and a birthday present in a bag? A towel because they're having a squirt gun fight too. And maybe some dry clothes...I'm starting to wonder if I should just give up and take the car. After all, I have two errands to run on the way over and I'm starting to look like I'm taking a world tour instead of a cross-town trip.

But I didn't have to, it all fit and barely. A few bungee cords go a long way, as well as those convenient zip-out panniers. When I got everything unloaded and kissed the wet daughter and wrapped her in the towel, I turned and headed for home with a much lighter bike.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Oh Give Me A Home, Where the Bicyclists Roam...

We just got back from our Washington trip yesterday (more on that later), but one thing I did while we were visiting my sis and BIL in Bellevue was to take a little bike ride down memory lane. At least it would've been down memory lane if anything there looked even vaguely like I remembered it.

Of course, I didn't expect Redmond to look like my first memories of the place. In 1988 when I arrived at the Microsoft campus on my first day of work (OMG, could that really have been 21 years ago this month?????), there were four buildings. Yep, four. Surrounded by a whole lot of trees (that's number four with the red arrow on the map above, now buried in the middle of the campus). Across the street was this place with a shingle hanging outside that said "Little Bit O' Heaven", you could go there and fish in a creek that they stocked with trout. No kidding! Bill Gates had a party for all of the new hires that month at his house, in his living room. It was a small place, back then. Fast forward to now, as I'm bicycling through the campus I see signs for Building 127. Holy Cow.

But the good news is that City of Redmond has been adding some bike commuting options lately (or should I say finally). Part of my ride was along the new commuter bike path that parallels Hwy 520, connecting Redmond to the Microsoft campus. When I used to commute by bike, I had to take a circuitous route through town, risking my life daily on streets with no bike lanes, hostile drivers, and big tire-eating grates, so it was no wonder that even on Bike to Work Day, I never saw another bike commuter on my journey. Now though with the addition of the bike path, bike commuters were fairly numerous on my evening ride, which is great news for this traffic-overloaded area in general, and I think in general illustrates the principle of "build it and they will come" when it comes to creating safe commuting options for cyclists.

On the minus side of the equation, the city is still extremely lacking in actual bike lanes on any surface streets, so once you leave the relative safety of the bike path, you're stuck fighting for sidewalk space with the pedestrians, or lane space with the aggressive rush-hour drivers. So clearly what's needed for real encouragement of the average bike commuter is not only to build paths but to connect them with work/shopping/home via bike lanes on major through streets. It's good to see Redmond taking a first step toward bike connectivity, but when the freeway is topped by large signs promising four new freeway lanes to the tune of $86.1 million dollars, it would be nice if even a fraction of that went toward greater bike connectivity. After all, building more freeway lanes won't reduce traffic, but building bike paths does.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tomato Forest

We haven't planted tomatoes in the garden this year. No, we've planted a veritable tomato forest. We had the idea that since we use a lot of tomato sauce throughout the year, it would be a good idea to just plant bunches of tomatoes and then can a whole ton of sauce, pasta sauce, salsa, etc.

It sounded like a good idea at the time.

Now, looking at the tomato forest, I have to admit I'm a bit daunted by the entire prospect. I've talked with a couple of friends about having "Food Preservation Fridays". As soon as harvesting time starts, maybe we'll have all of the kids over to play in the back yard with the sprinkler and trampoline and us moms can go down to the basement kitchen where its cool and just take turns canning like crazy. It sounds like a lot more fun than trying to do it all myself, while running the three-ring circus of kids, pets, and household stuff. That's the idea anyway, I'll let you know how it works out once the forest starts bearing fruit.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

AAA To Extend Roadside Assistance to Cyclists in Oregon

Our local newspaper carried this story a few days back, about how AAA will now be extending its Roadside Assistance services to members on bikes. I think this is really exciting news and I'm going to optimistically take it as more evidence of that bicycle tipping point thing I was mentioning recently. As AAA members, our family is ecstatic to know that if we're out on our bikes somewhere on a back road and we get a mechanical problem that we can't fix, we can call up AAA and get a ride home. This is especially invaluable when we've got the kids on the tandems, a situation that's much more difficult than just being a lone stranded cyclist (especially when the kiddos get tired, or hungry, or you really don't feel like flagging down just anyone to give you a lift back with the kids along.)

To be honest though, I was really disappointed to read the responses from local cyclists that they printed along within the article. I'm going to hope that these comments were taken out of context or something, but I think sometimes people get so focused on narrow goals (stop everyone from driving cars, protect the environment) that they can lose sight of the fact that we (as in the human race) rarely do anything in one giant leap. Even that famous leap for mankind on the moon was preceded by unmanned flights, flights that orbited earth, and many many other smaller steps. So yeah, if a cyclist gets stranded it doesn't make much environmental sense to send a big diesel towtruck out to rescue them. But what if the very presence of that diesel towtruck means that 500 more people feel comfortable enough to get out on their bicycles, knowing that if they DO break down by the side of the road they will have assistance? And what if those 500 people are part of a tipping process that then snowballs into their friends and their co-workers and their relatives feeling like the roads are safe enough now to cycle on? Then the presence of that towtruck and its gallon or two of gas might just start to seem kind of trivial.

I said as much in a letter to the editor that was published. I had to hack it down to 250 words to meet the guidelines for print, but here it is in its entirety:

As an avid cyclist and AAA member, I was extremely happy to hear that AAA will now be extending its services to cyclists. I was disappointed though to read the lukewarm response from area cyclists quoted in the article. If we truly want cycling to move out of the arena of the specialist hardcore commuters and road racers, then regular people need to feel comfortable getting out on their bikes. Having to know how to fix their own broken spokes or a frayed brake cable while stranded at the side of the road could be an obstacle to many new would-be cyclists. After all, car drivers don’t need to know how to mend a fan belt with duct tape from their fanny pack, they simply call a tow truck and get their car to a garage. Extending the same kind of service to cyclists could bring many new riders to Oregon’s roads.

I can especially see the availability of AAA as a boon to cycle touring, a form of eco-friendly travel that Oregon businesses and Chambers of Commerce are working to promote in our area. Perhaps some cyclists have never biked past the point that a simple phone call home was enough to get a ride back, but I can tell you that when something goes wrong with your bike a hundred or a thousand miles from home and you’ve got a couple of tired and hungry kids on the backs of your touring tandems and all your gear in a trailer behind you, the AAA truck (big diesel or not) would be a very welcome sight.

Between our road bikes, triathlon bikes, commuting bikes, kids’ bikes and tandems, our family puts on more than a few two-wheeled miles on Oregon’s roads. We’ll be grateful to have AAA’s assistance should we ever need it. Anything that promotes cycling is AAA-OK in my book. So hats off to AAA for jumping in to support Oregon’s cyclists.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Tipping Points

I just finished reading The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. Ironically, the book has been out since 2002 and I've had a couple of people recommend it to me over the years, but in the last few weeks several people have said I should read it. I guess I hit a tipping point of friend recommendations and so I went and checked it out from the library.

The book itself is excellent reading, and covers a wide variety of subjects from fashion trends to crimewaves to cigarette addiction. For anyone interested in taking sustainable actions and helping them to become trends in the general populace, I think The Tipping Point has a lot to say as well. As you know, I've posted updates occasionally here on the number of cyclists that I see on my evening commute. Well, I seem to have reached some sort of tipping point there because the other night there were simply too many to count. Just as one was zooming by in one direction, another was passing or going by in another. I had to think "did I already count the lady in the red hat?" and when it gets to that point really, what's the point of counting? I lost it somewhere after 65, which I think means the number of cyclists in my commute has gone from "a few" to "a lot" to "too numerous to count individuals". In other words, it's a trend that has tipped.

It seems as if the initial spike in gas prices (you all remember when gas was over $4 a gallon, right?) set the trend in motion, and it was given a boost by the economic crisis. Once there is a critical mass of cyclists on the road, then people who might otherwise feel it's "too dangerous" to cycle begin to feel that it's a safe and reasonable thing to do. Or perhaps they see another parent toting their kids, or another businessman in a suit, or another person who is older than they are riding a bicycle and they realize that they can do it too. Whatever the numerous causes, at least in my town it has tipped and there are cyclists zipping here, there, and everywhere. I think the urban gardens are approaching that tipping point here as well. Last summer I had a few to choose from to take photos of for this blog, and now they're simply everywhere - in front of expensive homes and apartment blocks and duplexes, at least in my end of town. Now when the truly suburban lawns start getting torn up in subdivisions with CC&Rs, then I'll say for sure that urban gardening has truly tipped.

In the meanwhile, if you're already tired of your fluffy summer reads, let me be one of perhaps the many friends who will recommend that you read The Tipping Point.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Chard That Ate New York and the Onions in Party Hats

It's that time of year, when the garden just explodes with produce. Our rainbow chard plants are approaching four feet tall! As you can see here, just eight gigantic leaves supplied our family's veggie needs for dinner and weighed almost two pounds. I remember when we moved here our neighbors grew these amazing plants like this and I wondered how they did it. The first few years my chards and spinaches were just puny little things, but little by little as I mulched more and composted more and learned about cover crops and all of that stuff, our yields have gotten better and better and now it is I that has The Chard That Ate New York (cue corny B-movie music...)

To celebrate our bounteous harvest, our flowering onions have all decided to put on party hats for the occasion. It just cracked me up to see them all wearing their cute little hats. I have to admit that as proficient as I have become at growing chard, I'm still pretty clueless about the onions. They keep cropping up, and I keep not knowing what to do with them and when to harvest them. One of these days I'll figure that out too. The great thing about gardening is that you can really just keep muddling along and as you gain experience things just fall into place a little at a time. For now, the onions have gone to seed and are just sitting there looking festive. By next year, they may be gracing our hamburgers.

One more thing to celebrate this week is Food Independence Day, where we can show our patriotism by eating locally sourced meats, fruits, grains, and veggies. I know that our 4th of July steaks grew up eating the grass of our own valley, and that the lettuce on our burgers comes from 10 yards away. What better way to remain independent than to support our local farmers, ranchers, butchers, dairy farmers, and markets, eating American food!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Front Yard Gardens Explode All Over Town

Our town is just bursting with gardens, many of them new conversions of yards and previously unused strips of bare land. It's inspiring to see the many ways people have found to grow their veggies in their landscaping. I'm seeing gardens in front of rentals, duplexes, and apartment buildings too. Here's just a few photos to inspire!

These curbside veggie boxes are already bursting with salad makings:

Growing your own food is both patriotic AND stylish in this flag-bearing garden with nice block walls:

These duplex-dwellers aren't missing out on the opportunity to grow some veggies on their lawn:

An eclectic garden full of onions, borage, and greens, mulched with straw paths:

And this beauty, nicely landscaped with flowers, paths, and a raised veggie bed in the middle of what was probably once a boring old lawn:

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Couldn't Have Said It Better

It's very seldom that I wholeheartedly agree with Michael Moore. Sensationalist journalism of any kind sort of makes me grit my teeth, and I've only gotten a few pages into a couple of his books before turning them face down. He has some potent stuff to say, but the hype it's wrapped up in generally makes it unpalatable to me.

That being said, I agree 100% with everything he says in this article about shutting down GM. Doesn't it just make you see red that Japan and Europe have terrific high speed rail (and have for decades) and we have.... NOTHING. This fall, we got on a Eurostar bullet train in Florence and arrived in Rome less than 2 hours later, traveling in comfort and style, completely on time and for a very reasonable price. The fact that we can't do that here in "technologically advanced" America simply boggles the mind. Boggles it completely.

I'm forwarding this to my congressman, my president, my mayor, my neighbor, what the heck. We need to demand that OUR money is invested in ways that will bring US a better future with real transportation options for everyone.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Words of Wisdom

We are continually faced with a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.
- John W. Gardner

I thought of this quote as I biked to work last night. My bike count reached a new all-time high of 64. Basically, in any direction that I looked, I saw cyclists. Some of them parents toting kids on tag-a-longs or trailers, some of them workers returning home with messenger bags and ties, some college students, some kids on BMX bikes, but everywhere bicycles going this way and that.

To my left and right, new front and side-lawn gardens were popping up right and left. I'll try and add some photos soon of all the new creative food-growing landscaping I'm seeing. Clotheslines (or "solar clothes dryers" as right-to-dry activists are now creatively calling them) are flapping in the breeze, and neighbors sit on newly constructed front porches or stand by their garden fence talking. All of these people in ways small and large are taking the insoluble problems we now face and turning them into challenges to be met. Sure, it's a challenge to hang out your clothes when you could just throw them into the dryer in 1/8 of the time (though I would argue that the smell of line-dried laundry more than makes up for that one!) or to get out your helmet and rain jacket and bike off to work. The great thing is that almost everything that benefits the planet really benefits us even more. We get more exercise, more fresh air, we eat better, we know more of our neighbors when we engage in sustainable living. We're not saving the earth, we're saving ourselves.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Blast From the Solar Past

Just thought I'd share this little gem. It's a poster I made in 1978 when I was twelve, apparently for a contest sponsored by our local utility company. This was in the wake of Jimmy Carter's speech of 1977 in which he announced his intent to begin a wave of solar energy, including a goal to "use solar energy in more than two and one-half million houses." Ah, we were so enthusiastically naive back then, believing that this was the road we'd be traveling down - a path toward a future of renewable energy. Carter laid it all out in that speech, which is well worth reading in its entirety. Conservation, reductions in consumption, strategic oil reserves, reduction in dependence on foreign oil. But less than a few years later it was all derailed with the disastrous consequences we're seeing today.

We have a new chance to take a walk down this path toward sustainability. Will our leaders hold the course this time? I hope our own children's posters and dreams have a better chance of coming true.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Ride of Silence Reminder

Just a reminder that the annual Ride of Silence is this Wednesday all across the U.S. and in many other countries as well. You can find rides in your area at: http://www.rideofsilence.org/

DATE: May 20, 2009
TIME: 7:00 pm
WHERE: Hundreds of locations world wide
Join cyclists worldwide in a silent slow-paced ride (max. 12 mph/20 kph) in honor of those who have been injured or killed while cycling on public roadways.

Monday, May 18, 2009

All Time High Bike Count

When I biked in to work tonight I passed 60 cyclists in 2.5 miles, or a bit over 2 per block. That's a new record for my unofficial commuter bike count at 5:15 on Monday evenings. The warm weather is partially responsible, but I noticed that even on rainer darker evenings this spring there were more commuter cyclists than in previous years. With so many cyclists on the road, it actually makes it safer for all of us, since cars have to be aware of the bikes and vice versa. It's so cool to wait at a traffic light with 2, 3, 4, or more other cyclists.

In other news, I've been meaning to post updates on gardening, cycling, and our new sunroom, our new chickens, etc. forever but life is so crazy right now! Between the new dog, the new chickens, building the sunroom, the cat that became partially paralyzed last week, the other cat that had some kind of bad reaction (to poison oak maybe?) it's just been nuts around here. I'm posting way late at night, but most nights I'm just too darned tired.

In any case, this news was too good to pass up on passing on. Envision a future with more and more bikes!

Monday, May 04, 2009

Wow, A Politician Says The Magic Words

Check this out, Oregon Governor Kulongoski says the magic words - we must reduce consumption. These are words guaranteed to make any politician unpopular in these tough economic times, especially in a state where the unemployment rate is 2nd worse in the entire nation.

Kudos to Governor Ted for speaking out. Even if I don't always agree with all of his politics, these are things that need to be said. Every parent knows that we can't always say the things that make our kids happy. Sometimes we have to be the bearers of bad news: no, you can't buy that, you don't have any allowance money left. No, I'm not going to give you more money just because you already spent yours. Well guess what, us earthlings have used up our earth allowance of consumables, and we shouldn't be borrowing more from our future and our children's futures. Those in positions of power and responsibility need to be like the good but tough parents, saying the hard things and helping people wake up and take responsibility for living within our energy means.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Swine Flu: As If We Needed One More Reason To Buy Local & Organic

As if there weren't enough reasons to buy local, humanely-raised, sustainably-farmed, locally-butchered organic meats, now there's the swine flu. Evolved from a strain that emerged in 1998 on factory farms in the U.S. and forged in the pathetic conditions of over-crowded, immune-stressed hogs shipped across the country from farm to slaughterhouse, we now have a highly-transmissable and dangerous flu jumping to humans.

For more reading on this subject, Wired Science has an article about the evolution of the latest swine flu from its 1998 origins, and the Humane Society's Factory Farming Campaign has more information as well.

What can we do to prevent future outbreaks? Either don't eat meat, or refuse to eat factory-farmed meat. Seek out local sources for meat, milk, and eggs. Look your food and food-producers in the eye and see the conditions in which they live. What's good for them is good for us. Remember that being green isn't just about saving the Earth, it's about saving us humans on it too.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Toasting Earth Day in an Earth Day Mug?

Searching for "Earth Day Merchandise" brought up thousands of commercial hits on Google: t-shirts, hats, mugs, etc. Some of this is arguably for the better - if you replace your throwaway cup with a mug you bring to your favorite coffee shop each and every time, you will undoubtably be helping the planet. Americans throw away a staggering 25,000,000,000 Styrofoam cups every ear. Even 500 years from now, a foam coffee cup used this morning will be sitting in a landfill somewhere. And Earth Day cloth bags, if used regularly, will keep tons of plastic or paper bags out of our resource use and waste stream. But a lot of the Earth Day merchandise is simply more stuff we don't need (and don't need to manufacture, ship, advertise, etc.), and it promotes the idea that for any occasion we should be buying stuff. The folks at the Huffington Post have a great article about Earth Day Marketing to kids. Check it out!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Our Garden Featured on Local TV News

After the People magazine article came out, our local news station came and did a piece about it. I think they did a really nice job. It's great to see lawns-to-gardens getting so much coverage! Although I don't consider myself any kind of gardening expert in any way, it's nice to think that our experience might somehow inspire others to also give it a try.

I especially love the first line: "A Eugene family is featured in this week's People Magazine, not for red carpet fashion or celebrity scandal, but for their vegetable garden." Here's the link to the story.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dealing With Chicken Butts

Hah, I got a kick out of John K's post about Chick Butts over on The Outdoor Journey. I simply love his blog because there's so few people out there who combine my love of triathlon with a nerd's eye to the nitty-gritty science of sports, along with urban gardening and urban sustainability.

I was sure I had a post about chick butts somewhere here on my own blog, and I found it, from May of 2006. Fortunately, we've somehow been doing something right with the last couple of batches of chicks because none of them have pasted up like the first batch. We don't get our chicks from mail order, and maybe that helps with the whole issue. I also make sure to really change out their water so that they all drink a lot, and we feed them chick starter instead of the layer pellets that the mature hens are eating. Whatever it is, it seems to be working since I haven't wiped a chick bottom in a couple of years.

Our newest couple of chicks are getting along towards full-grown and we're about to move their outdoor pen into the bigger chicken enclosure to start getting them used to the full-grown hens and vice versa.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Gardening Article Not Online (Yet?)

For those who have asked, I haven't been able to find the gardening article online at People magazine's website. Maybe it's just not up yet, but the site is different from the magazine by a fair bit.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Urban Gardening in People Magazine

Yes, it's officially hit the big mainstream, People magazine has an article on urban gardens, showcasing folks who have turned their lawns into veggie gardens and of course including Michelle Obama's new garden on the Whitehouse lawn. It's very exciting to see this trend not just in the latest issue of Permaculture Magazine but somewhere that it has the potential to be seen by (and influence) millions more mainstream Americans that might not otherwise be thinking about urban gardening.

And of course, I might just be mentioning this because our raised beds and my two cute kiddos are in the article! On newstands everywhere, today... the Blue Skies Urban Farm (no kidding, April Fool's Day is long past). Even one of our chickens, in People magazine, rubbing feathers with the celebs.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Earth Hour: Candle in the Wind???

I remember my first experience with Earth Day, in the early 1980s, only a decade after its inception. Although Ronald Reagan was president, and James Watt, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, was busy selling off public lands to private corporations and decreasing funding for environmental programs, there was still an atmosphere of hopefulness about those earlier Earth Days. Many people knew the problems that were emerging from energy use and overconsumption of resources, but we still had plenty of time to raise awareness and turn things around. Earth Day was a symbol of that hope and change.

Fast-forward to 2009 and the time for symbols is long past. The iceberg is in sight and we're desperately trying to slew the Titanic into a 180 degree turn, but it ain't happening and there aren't enough lifeboats. Gentleman, don your tuxedoes and be prepared to play chamber music...

So shoot me, my family didn't celebrate Earth Hour. We didn't turn out light switches off, only to burn candles or oil lamps for our light instead. I know it's supposed to be symbolic and all that, but even the symbolism is flawed. After all, that candle still consumes resources. It was made somewhere, shipped in a truck, people undoubtably drove to stores to buy them especially for Earth hour. Call me jaded and cynical, but I just can't buy into it anymore.

Instead, I did something thoroughly constructive - watched Daniel Craig in the latest 007 flick. After biking home from work. After eating a mostly locally grown meal. After bringing my laundry in from the line. I think the time has come to reach beyond the symbolism, beyond the notion that simply doing something for an hour makes a difference. It's time to turn most of those lights off every night. Does every office building and soccer field really need those lights burning? It's time to look for every possible way to save energy so that our big power plants can really start powering down (they weren't even affected by Earth Hour)

It's time to make every hour Earth Hour. Either that, or rosin up your bow.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Worm Heaven

The weather has been extremely dicey for the last few weeks, making it difficult to get the gardening started. The last two days cleared up enough for me to get out there and start clearing away the leaf mulch. The good news is that mulching deeply with the leaves turned our garden plot into an earthworm factory! Those leaves were full of worms, and what looked to my untrained eye like a ton of earthworm eggs. They look like red wrigglers, the same time of worms used in vermiculture (otherwise known as worm composting).

I have been letting the baby chickens come into the garden plot with me, since it gets them outside and they're still too small to go in with the big chickens yet. They're having a good time learning to scratch, and eating small weeds and bugs. Thankfully they aren't big enough to eat my nice composting worms yet, so I'm fine with them roaming around the garden with me.

A couple of years ago, we removed a pile of gravel from near our current garden plot only to find the biggest earthworms I'd ever seen under there. They were easily a foot long, and though they don't come anywhere near approaching the size of the possibly-extinct Oregon Giant Earthworm, they were huge enough to impress the heck out of the kids and adults alike. I am always happy to have a thriving earthworm population in and near my garden, and though it drives me husband nuts when he goes running with me I have been known to save them from the pavement in rainstorms or when they get dried out and dehydrated in the summer. On a recent jog together, he had to give me a cutoff point of worm saving, since a recent rain had brought up so many of them that my rescue efforts were slowing us to...well... a worm's pace.

Still, it's hard to ignore the value of these lowly creatures. Charles Darwin once measured the quantity of worm castings produced in a year in a field near his home, and found an astonishing eighteen tons per acre. Now don't ask me exactly how he did that (the measuring part), but it's a testament to the productive helpfulness of worms for us gardeners. Darwin studied worms for almost 40 years and helped bring them to light as garden allies instead of the pests they had been assumed to be.

And if you don't think worms can get really cool, check out Australia's Giant Blue Earthworm. Up to six feet long, with luminescent mucin, and very very bright blue, worms just don't get much cooler than this.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Peeping Around the Corner to Spring

We're all loving the return of daylight savings time here, more hours in the evening to be outside. The weather has been stormy/rainy/windy/hail/sleet/cold though so I have to admit I've gotten absolutely nothing done in the garden. Somehow I'm just not motivated to go out in all of that!

Our little peepers are growing like weeds, and our older lady hens are starting to ramp up egg production again. It's easy to see why both pagan and religious holidays tend to center around the spring equinox with everything budding, blooming, growing, and being born.

Around Casa Blue Skies, Wayne has become King DIY. He has added to his homemade bread-baking repertoir with brewing beer and this week he started some kombucha. I've been making yogurt, and just got the supplies to make hummous (a family staple) out of the dried local transitional organic garbanzo beans I bought last fall. Making that at home would save us money and save the environment from all those little plastic containers.

The economic woes still feel like the sword of Damocles (which has given us a couple of good pokes but hasn't fallen yet), but so far we're just trying to ignore that and focus on the things we can be doing, moving forward.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Jeepers, Where'd You Get Those Peepers??

So my hubby likes to think he's really the harcore parent, the tough guy, the got-it-all-under-control dude. But every now and then something happens that shows the real softie that's lurking underneath that tough exterior. Such as going to the feed and seed store with Asa the other day to get some chicken food. Of course, it's Cute Little Fluffy Peeping Chick season at the Feed-n-Seed in March, so Asa loves to go in and look at the little fluffballs. But this time there was only one lonely chick left in the place. One terribly lonely chick. Peeping its little heart out in its sad sad state. So of course, being the animal lover that she is, she couldn't just leave it there. And hubby, being the softie that he really truly is, couldn't let that happen either. So home came the chick and out came the heat lamp, the watering dish, and the small cage. Meet Gloria Peeper, the not-so-lonely chick.
But the problem with getting one little chick is that it was still terribly lonely. It stopped its plaintive peeping only when Asa was sitting right next to the cage talking to it. She lobbied to sleep in the garage next to the cage, but we finally hit on the idea of putting the cage out in the chicken coop where Gloria could hear and see the big chickens. This seemed to comfort her immensely and she finally calmed down. Still, it's not a good idea to try to introduce one new chicken into an established flock, not to mention the fact that big brother Mackenzie was now lobbying for a spring chick of his own so on Wednesday we went off to the Feed-n-Seed again (knowing that Wednesday is when they get the shipment of new chicks in).

So meet Shadow, Mackenzie new baby. She's much smaller than Gloria since she was born a week later, but they seem to have hit it off and are snuggling up together under the heat lamp. All is well at the Blue Skies Ranch, and although we didn't mean to add any new chicks to the flock this year, everyone is enjoying having the spring chicks around. Shadow is mellow and quiet, likely to go to sleep in your hands. She'll be an all-black chicken. We believe that Gloria is a Delaware, so she should turn out white with some barred markings, but we won't know for sure until she gets bigger since it was a mixed bunch in there and she was the only one left.

Monday, March 02, 2009

REALLY Know Your Farmer

For the last couple of years, we've been getting goat's milk from a local couple who live in the farmland around town and keep a few goats. With our kids both allergic to cow's milk, and a belief that raw milk is much healthier than the pasteurized, homogenized stuff in grocery stores, we've been really grateful to have a weekly supply of fresh and tasty real milk straight from the goat!

Two weeks ago Asa asked if she could start learning how to milk the goats, so Wayne has taken her out to their farm on the last couple of Saturday mornings and she's been doing some milking. This Saturday they got one whole goat milked between the two of them. Wayne had a head start being as he worked on a cow dairy in his teenage years, but Asa has the advantage of being a quick learner and absolutely adoring every animal she meets.

I think it's awesome that they took the time to show her how to do this - talk about knowing where your food comes from! And also that in case they ever need to leave town, they've got one more backup milker they can call on to cover the goats. And Asa has a head start on the skills she'll need when she eventually lives on the farm/menagerie of her dreams that she's planning.

To me, it's one more reason to build those vital connections between the food on your table and the places it comes from - whether its your own garden, a CSA box from a local farm, going out to pick berries locally and chatting with the owners, or milking a goat. Making those connections brings our world a little closer, let's us understand the food web that we are a part of and how our actions relate to the availability of fresh and wholesome food. Also, it's nice to make new friends and bridge the gap between the towns we may live in and the countryside around us.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Right To Dry

Project Laundry List needs your help to bring the "Right To Dry" to Virginia. A bill has been introduced into the legislature: SB 1065 Wind energy drying devices; no community association shall prohibit an owner from installing, etc.. You can help promote the success of this bill at Changents.com by registering and becoming a backer of this bill.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

New Life Arrives in a Packet

When you're a kid, you anticipate Christmas by looking through toy catalogs and making your lists. I remember vividly sitting on the couch with my little sister dreaming of the Fisher-Price Castle set pictured on a catalog page. It had knights and princesses, king, queen, horses, carriage, a page with a smart green feather in his cap, and a dragon. A moat, a drawbridge, a dungeon. To our amazement, it arrived from Santa on Christmas morning, and we played with it for years (fighting over who got to play with that pink dragon every single time). Now my kids play with the set (and my son has surrendered the cool dragon permanently to my daughter for reasons of its pinkness).

For gardeners, the only thing that comes close to this childhood joy is The Seed Catalog, with its full-color pictures and promises of wonderful things in small bright packages. So with great joy I greeted the arrival of my seeds today. This year I bought them as a fundraiser for a friend's local charter school. What a great fundraiser - I got to buy something I need to support something that benefit's a neighbor's family. And the seeds were from Territorial Seed Company, a local favorite.

Being smarter than in years past, I first did an inventory of seeds left over from last year and only bought what I didn't already have. I am most excited about the new things I've never planted before. I want to set aside some space for an asparagus patch, and for rhubarb. I'm getting some cool UFO-like squashes in assorted colors, and rainbow chard instead of just plain chard. And of course we'll have all the old favorites - beans and peas, lettuces and sugar pie pumpkins. This year's garden project is to expand the front garden and add some cold-frames for more year-round gardening. Just like Christmas morning, I can't wait!

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Join the Laundry Revolution

Line-drying your laundry has hit the LA Times, with this article today about "right-to-dry activists and blogging eco-moms... forming an alliance" to make line-drying acceptable and legal everywhere. You can join the fray yourself at Laundrylist.org

I love that there is a catch-phrase for both "right-to-dry activists" and "eco-blogging moms". That means there's enough of us out there to generate some change in this world. And really change, at least in the realm of laundry, is fairly easy to come by. We could cut energy consumption in our country by 6% or more, simply with a string and a few wooden clothespins, or a drying rack or two. It's astonishing in its simplicity.

So go on, be subversive today: Hang your laundry!!!

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Bike Commuters Hangin' On in the Cold

My tally for last night was 28 commuters on my ride in to work at 5:15. That's about one per block, not bad for a week when temperatures are plunging into the low 20's (I know that's not cold for a lot of the country, but it is here!) and ice is hanging around on the shaded parts of the roads. I don't mind riding in the evening because most of the ice has melted from the roadways, but I didn't bike in when I had to work in the early morning the other day, it was way too frosty.