October 31, 2008


New posts have been sadly lacking here lately, haven't they? I wanted to let you know that I'll be continuing to travel to Vancouver, BC for work for at least the next month, and I just don't think I'll be able to find the time to post much. So thanks for visiting, and feel free to check back in late November.


October 8, 2008

I love my local brewery!

My friend Stef pointed out this week that my favorite St Louis brewery (no, not THAT one) has crafted four distinctive beers in honor of the election season. Check out the labels for Schlafly's Baracktoberfest Beer, McCain's Maverick APA, Palin Ale and Hefebiden - they're hilarious. My favorite label is the Palin Ale - love that quote from the infamous Couric interview.

The question Stef posed in
her Slashfood post today was quite intriguing - do people buy the beer that tastes better, or do they support their favored candidate? You make the call...

Anyone thirsty?

September 24, 2008

Laundry on the Brain

In case you're not familiar with Going Green, it's 'Burban Mom's blog about taking baby steps toward a more sustainable lifestyle. It's also one of my daily read blogs. Well, over the past few weeks, 'Burban Mom has been giving us suggestions for how to reduce our water use. For instance, today's outlined how to repair a leaky faucet. I'd highly recommend checking it out if you have a minute or ten.

Anyway, in the spirit of Going Green, I've been thinking about our household water consumption lately. You see, our old washer has been on the fritz off and on for years, and the dryer just decided to conk out. After eight years of service, the set has now officially been retired. Last month we received our brand new Samsung laundry set, and I’ve been having fun figuring out how to use the appliances to their best advantage. Since I apparently have laundry on the brain, I thought I’d share a few statistics and tips for how to green your laundry. After all, a few changes to the way you do laundry can help you save money, be healthier, and save our natural resources at the same time. What could be better?

According to
Project Laundry List, about 35 billion loads of laundry are washed each year in the U.S. The average household washes about 50 pounds of laundry in 7.4 weekly loads, cleaning some 6,000 items annually. About half of all loads are done in warm water, 35% in cold, and 15% in hot. Some 90% of those loads are dried in a gas or electric dryer. That much laundry can have huge consequences for our environment. Here are a few suggestions for how to lessen the load on our planet.

  • Don’t wash every item just because you’ve worn or used it once. Towels can go at least one week between washes, and some people have been known to wait much longer. For men who wear undershirts, your outer shirt, sweater or vest is probably not dirty after just one wearing. Khakis and other casual pants can also generally be worn more than once – if they’re a little wrinkly, you can spray with a little water and pop them into the dryer for a few minuets and they’ll freshen right up. Socks, underwear, undershirts are always washed after one wearing in our house. As far as I'm concerned, everything else is subject to a visual test (does it have spots, is it ridiculously wrinkly), and occasionally a smell test. Items that pass both of these tests generally go back in the appropriate closet or drawer to be worn again.
  • Whenever possible, wash in cold water. We wash our towels, linens, socks, underwear and dog blankets in hot with a cold rinse. Everything else gets washed in cold. According to Seventh Generation, washing in cold can save 85% of the money and energy consumed by a hot water load. Not bad.
  • Only wash when you have a full load ready. Some newer machines use a weight sensor to determine how much water to use, but the amount of energy expended does not drop proportionally. Washing only full loads will allow you to maximize the efficiency of the water, energy and detergent you’re using to get things clean.
  • Use laundry detergents made from natural, biodegradable ingredients. Natural laundry products use eco-system-safe ingredients such as vegetable oils to clean your clothes. Conventional detergents often contain polluting compounds like alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEs), which can seriously harm the planet. Among other things, these nasty chemicals have recently been linked to the devastation of lobster populations off the eastern seaboard. We use Seventh Generation products, but there are several other good brands on the market these days if you look around a bit. Whole Foods or your local co-op store may carry multiple options so you can shop around for the product that fits you best. As I noted in this post, you can use vinegar instead of chemical-filled fabric softeners.
  • Never use chlorine bleach. Chlorine bleach can combine with organic matter in your wash water to form toxic by-products. Hydrogen-based bleaches work just as well, are gentler on your clothes (extending their life means less resources spent on new clothes), and are much better for the environment.
  • Air dry as much of your laundry as you can. Clothes dryers use quite a bit of energy to dry your clothes, and most cost over $75 a year to operate. Air drying uses zero energy and is completely free! If your neighborhood association won’t let you set up a line outside, or if you’re worried about pollen or critters, a rack or retractable lines in your basement or available space somewhere else in the house can be a great solution. I tend to air dry everything except towels, socks and underwear. All other items are either hung on hangers or set out on a rack in our basement. I do tend to run super-wrinkly pants and shirts in the dryer on its “air dry” setting for about 10 minutes when it seems necessary.

Hopefully this will help you maximize the efficiency of your existing washer and/or dryer. If you are looking to replace your current washer and/or dryer, there are a few things to consider.

  • Consider a front-loading washer. Front loaders are gentler on clothes, use up to 36% less water, and suck down 60% less energy than top loaders. They will have a longer wash cycle that you’re used to, but drying times are greatly reduced due to a higher speed spin cycle. They’re more expensive, but they will recoup some of that cash outlay by reducing your all the rest of your laundry costs. You can also check with your local power and water companies for rebates on water-saving washers. We didn’t have these bonuses available in our area, but I know my parents received a significant rebate when they bought their front-loader.
  • Look for the Energy Star label. If you run the numbers and don’t think the initial expense of a front-loader is ultimately affordable for you and your family, then Energy Star is the place to be. This Department of Energy designation is given to machines that use less energy and/or water than the industry average, meaning that appliances with this label will likely save you on detergent and your power and water bills throughout the life of the products.

Okay, that’s it for now. How about you? Do you have a tip to share about your laundry habits? I’d love to hear them, as I’m always trying to improve…

September 23, 2008

The EPA Makes Another BAD choice!

This afternoon I found a highly disturbing article through another blog I read on occasion, and had a minute to jump to the link and take a look. I can't say I'm shocked that the EPA has made yet another decision that disregards the health of the American people and protecting harmful practices, but this one has to be one of the worst I've heard yet.

If you don't have time to read the whole article
here, this is an excerpt:

The Environmental Protection Agency has decided there's no need to rid drinking water of a toxic rocket fuel ingredient that has fouled public water supplies around the country. EPA reached the conclusion in a draft regulatory document not yet made public but reviewed Monday by The Associated Press. The ingredient, perchlorate, has been found in at least 395 sites in 35 states at levels high enough to interfere with thyroid function and pose developmental health risks, particularly for babies and fetuses, according to some scientists.

The EPA document says that mandating a clean-up level for perchlorate would not result in a "meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public-water systems."

Lenny Siegel, director of the Center for Public Environmental Oversight in Mountain View, Calif., added: "This is an unconscionable decision not based upon science or law but on concern that a more stringent standard could cost the government significantly."

The Defense Department used perchlorate for decades in testing missiles and rockets, and most perchlorate contamination is the result of defense and aerospace activities, congressional investigators said last year.

The Pentagon could face liability if EPA set a national drinking water standard that forced water agencies around the country to undertake costly clean-up efforts. Defense officials have spent years questioning EPA's conclusions about the risks posed by perchlorate.

Yet again, an agency under the Bush administration has made the "easy" choice and let the American people down in the process. I don't know about you, but I'm counting the days until a new administration (in which those in charge actually care about the people!) comes into power...

September 12, 2008

Get Thee Outside!

Tomorrow, Rob and I are headed out for a week in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, where we've rented a cabin. We're looking forward to lots of hiking, reading, playing a bit of scrabble, and generally just hanging out outside. I'll be out of blog-touch until we get back, so have a great week!

September 11, 2008

Defining Affluence

The topic for this month’s APLS blog carnival is…

Affluence. What do you think of the term? Does it apply to you? Do you dislike the word? Feel uncomfortable with it? Are there certain responsibilities that come with accepting that term?

As I mentioned in my entry entry into the first APLS carnival, I’m still warming up to using the term affluence to describe myself. If you read that entry, you already know that I’m a huge word person, and I like to look at others’ definitions before I form my own. The definition I found here is three-fold:

  1. A plentiful supply of material goods; wealth.
  2. A great quantity; an abundance.
  3. A flowing to or toward a point, afflux.

The first two definitions are perhaps the more common understanding of what this term means, and the ones many APLS (including myself) react fairly negatively to, at least at first. I think my reluctance to define myself as affluent (definitions 1 and 2) comes partly from the way my sister and I were raised. When we were growing up, our family didn’t have everything we wanted, but our parents did manage to find (whether new, used, or borrowed) everything we actually needed. We went without many of the newest, coolest toys and widgets, but we didn’t truly want for much, if anything I can remember. At the same time, I wouldn’t say we were particularly well off or that we had a “plentiful supply of material goods.” We could afford to go on vacation every year, but we always traveled inexpensively, driving our A/C-free Volkswagen Rabbit from Seattle to Chihuahua, Mexico or borrowing a family friend’s tiny RV so we could drive from Seattle to Washington, DC. We attended public schools, watched free network TV rather than cable, often rented movies instead of heading to the theater, bought used cars and drove them until they were absolutely non-functional, rode the bus, shopped at Sears and Value Village, and ate mostly home-cooked meals rather than take-out or restaurant food. Were we poor? No. But neither did we consider ourselves materially wealthy.

Today, my husband and I both have stable jobs, a mortgage we can handle, and manageable bills. As a result, we can afford most of what we want, in addition to what we need. In a global sense, and even in a national sense, we know that this makes us truly lucky and relatively affluent. The choice we’re currently shifting toward is to deliberately choose to pare back what we have to more closely match what we need, not what we want. Ultimately, we hope that this downscaling will allow us give more back to our community, reduce our (future) children’s student loans, and save more for a rainy day. We're working toward a more sustainable community, family, planet, and overall future.

Continuing through the definitions of affluence, I was particularly intrigued by the third one, along with the synonyms listed on the same page. These include ease, comfort, prosperity and exuberance. Interesting. If you define affluence as a flow toward a point, where in this case that point or goal is sustainability, then it makes perfect sense. We’re flowing toward a common goal. If you define Affluence as exuberance, I’d say that most of us APLS would be considered affluent. Many of us make a point to talk and blog about living sustainably, building community, becoming activists, and projecting exuberance about our point of view and our passion for the cause. Ultimately, we’re all trying to work toward a sense of ease and comfort in the idea that we’ve done as much as we can to save our planet (or at least as much as we reasonably can). I know I’m also working to achieve prosperity, which the same source defines as good fortune, strength and well-being.

So, do I feel comfortable calling myself affluent? Not entirely. But I do agree that, in many sense of the word, it does seem to fit.

Thanks for reading. If you haven’t visited this month’s gracious host, Green Bean Dreams, for links to the other carnival entries, please do so here.

September 4, 2008

Woo-hoo! And thank you!

According to Sitememeter, this morning I officially received the 1,000th visit to my blog. Wow! As far as I'm concerned, that's not bad for just over four months. Some highlights of how people seem to reach my pages:

  • My sister's site seems to be the number one referring site. Thanks, sis!
  • Chile Chews, Green Bean Dreams, and the APLS blog are also great referral sites.
  • About 30% of folks clicking through on google searches of "webster groves" have actually stayed to read a page or two. I wouldn't have expected that, for some reason.
  • My favorite google search so far is: "does senator biden have dentures?" I guess that came from keywords in my vinegar post (it's apparently great for cleaning dentures) and my post about governor Palin's environmental record (Biden has a great record of voting for the environment).
Some highlights on who is visiting:
  • Nearly 650 visits originated from the USA. So far, 44 states have been represented.
  • Other countries represented are Australia and Canada. I've had hits from elsewhere, but it seems that most non-English-speaking folks don't seem to stay to read any posts. Go figure, since it's written in English.
  • Apple / Mac machines seem to be outnumbered, but the ratio is just 2 to 1.
  • It appears there are roughly 100 people who have visited this site more than 9 times; 60+ have visited more than 20 times. Thanks to all of you for your loyalty!

And a list of the most popular posts so far:

So thank you. I'm honored that you come to visit, and that many of you seem to stop and stay a while. Please let me know if there's a topic I've touched on that you'd like to hear more about, or if you'd like me to cover a related topic. Hopefully I'll "see" you around here again soon...

August 29, 2008

Sarah Palin's Abysmal Record

I don't usually write about politics. I tend not to even talk much about politics. But did you hear the news? John McCain has selected Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate. I can't help but contrast her environmental record with hard work Joe Biden has put in over the years. Joe Biden has received a lifetime score of 83% from the League of Conservation Voters. In 2007 alone, Biden voted to strengthen CAFÉ standards and to repeal unjust subsidies to oil companies. In 1986, he introduced the first bill designed to limit global warming pollution. In his own words,

"I personally believe that the single most important step we can take to resume a leadership role in international climate-change efforts would be to make real progress toward a domestic emissions-reduction regime. For too long we have abdicated the responsibility to reduce our own emissions, the largest single source of the problem we face today. We have the world's largest economy, with the highest per-capita emissions. Rather than leading by example, we have retreated from international negotiations."
-- Jan. 30, 2007, in a statement given before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
It's hard for me to fathom that there are folks out there who honestly believe that McCain and Palin could possibly be the right choice to lead our country right now, when we are facing problems such as peak oil, global warming and a sliding economy.

If you don't already know who Sarah Palin is, here's the scoop I just received in an email from the Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.

August 29, 2008

Shocking Choice by John McCain

WASHINGTON-- Senator John McCain just announced his choice for running mate: Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska. To follow is a statement by Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife Action Fund.

“Senator McCain’s choice for a running mate is beyond belief. By choosing Sarah Palin, McCain has clearly made a decision to continue the Bush legacy of destructive environmental policies."

“Sarah Palin, whose husband works for BP (formerly British Petroleum), has repeatedly put special interests first when it comes to the environment. In her scant two years as governor, she has lobbied aggressively to open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, pushed for more drilling off of Alaska’s coasts, and put special interests above science. Ms. Palin has made it clear through her actions that she is unwilling to do even as much as the Bush administration to address the impacts of global warming. Her most recent effort has been to sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove the polar bear from the endangered species list, putting Big Oil before sound science. As unbelievable as this may sound, this actually puts her to the right of the Bush administration. [my emphasis]

“This is Senator McCain’s first significant choice in building his executive team and it’s a bad one. It has to raise serious doubts in the minds of voters about John McCain’s commitment to conservation, to addressing the impacts of global warming and to ensuring our country ends its dependency on oil.”

And here's what the League of Conservation Voters has to say about Ms. Palin.


Choice of Palin Promises Failed Energy Policies of the Past

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The League of Conservation Voters (LCV), which works to turn environmental values into national priorities, today expressed its deep disappointment with John McCain's choice of Sarah Palin as his running mate.

“Unfortunately, with her support for drilling in the Arctic Refuge and off our coasts, Governor Palin will simply continue the failed policies of the Bush-Cheney Administration and their Big Oil friends – policies that could make us even more dependent on foreign oil," LCV President Gene Karpinski said.

Governor Palin characterizes McCain’s flip-flop on drilling offshore as a positive step in his transformation from maverick to Big Oil's best friend. She has implored McCain to change his position against drilling in the Arctic – something she will have plenty of opportunities to pursue as his running mate.

In addition to supporting backward-looking energy policies, Governor Palin has also opposed a crucial clean water initiative, sued the federal government for listing polar bears as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and opposed other important wildlife protection measures.

This ticket now stands in even starker contrast to the visionary energy plan laid out by Senator Obama last night, which will create millions of new jobs, improve our
national security, and reduce global warming pollution.

“Now more than ever, America is in need of real vision and leadership to bring us a new clean energy future, and the McCain-Palin ticket offers nothing of the sort.”

If there ever was a time to volunteer for a campaign, persuade friends and family to vote, and offer to drive neighbors to the polls, this is it. Please talk to everyone you know, help educate them on the issues, and get out the vote!

I checked it out - Obama gets an 86% lifetime score by the LCV, McCain 24% and Palin is not rated.

August 27, 2008

How to Eat Less Meat

I just stumbled upon a great article in the New York Times, called “Putting Meat Back in Its Place” by Mark Bittman (aka The Minimalist). I have to applaud Bittman for setting out the two main ground rules in his first few paragraphs: 1) It doesn’t matter why you’ve decided to eat less meat – the goal of this article is to help you actually do it; and 2) This isn’t an article about becoming a vegetarian – he is truly focused on combating the typical American style of eating that focuses the dinner plate on a large lump of meat at its center. As someone who’s been slowly trying to fight the focus on meat in her diet in order to become a more responsible omnivore, I had to read on.

Bittman goes on to point out that it’s impossible to cut back to a reasonable amount of meat in your diet without some consequences for the people around you. Boy, I can tell you that’s definitely true. When I started trying to eat less meat, I tried to find a way to do it that would have the smallest possible effect on those around me – lunch – and I had no problem there. But as I've slowly started to reduce my meat intake at dinner, it's begun to effect my friends and my husband, and that has definitely slowed me down in my efforts. Which means that I'm definitely interested in hearing suggestions for how to make this change stick.

Bittman's suggestions for easing the path to eating less meat are:

  1. Forget the protein thing. Here, Bittman points out that many plants (spinach and lentils are good examples) actually contain more protein than meat. He also notes that “You also don’t have to eat the national average of a half-pound of meat a day to get enough protein. On average, Americans eat about twice as much as the 56 grams of daily protein recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (a guideline that some nutritionists think is too high). For anyone eating a well-balanced diet, protein is probably not an issue.”

  2. Buy less meat. This one is about portion size, which is widely recognized as a huge problem in the typical American diet, as well as the number of ounces of meat a serving should really contain. According to the USDA, four ounces per person should be sufficient for any one meal. Now think about that – when was the last time you saw a portion of meat (steak, chicken breast, pork or lamb chop) that was less than 6-8 ounces? How much ground beef did you buy last time you decided to make burgers? I know we tend to buy a full pound…for two of us…so I know that’s a huge deal for us. His suggestion here is to begin incorporate smaller amounts of meat into more balanced meals. Salt pork and bacon can be used to season beans and other dishes. Stir-fries, salads, bean, rice and noodle dishes can be made with small chunks of meat. The goal here is to ensure that “…meat is seen as a treasure, not as something to be gobbled up as if it were air.”

  3. Get it out of the center of the plate. By building your meal around vegetables, grains, salads, potatoes, and other items typically relegated to being “side dishes,” you can begin to diversify your plate and reduce the emphasis on meat. If you think about it, there are quite a few quite common American dishes that do this successfully. Think soups, pot pies, spaghetti or lasagna, and just about any casserole – meat doesn’t have to be at the center of all of these, and they allow you to make your own decisions as to how you balance the ingredients. In this section, Bittman notes that just changing the way we talk about meat in the meal can make a difference. Think about the shift in focus between “We’re grilling steaks with a few vegetables,” and “We’re grilling veggies and bread, and maybe throw on a few cubes of steak.” Suddenly, the meat starts to seem more like that treasure he mentioned earlier.

  4. Buy more vegetables, and learn new ways to cook them. This is a must. If you don’t know how to successfully combine veggies with grains (and sometimes small pieces of meat), you’ll struggle with reducing your meat consumption.

  5. Make non-meat items as convenient as meat. Wash and prep veggies when you get them, or consider cooking or par-cooking them before freezing those that take such treatment. Frozen green beans, corn, tomatoes, spinach, and many other vegetables are excellent pulled out of the freezer for inclusion in any recipe.

  6. Make some rules for yourself. For me, this means I try to steer clear of meat at lunch and work to have at least one fully vegetarian day per week. For you it may mean that you’ll choose to eat salads at least three times a week, have meatless Fridays, swear off bacon at breakfast, or any other combination of things.

  7. Look at restaurant menus differently. You may not eat out enough for this to be a big deal, but for now, I do. Try not to go to restaurants that focus on a lump of meat. Most Asian and Italian restaurants are good for this, but there are many other choices that fit this bill. If you do find yourself in a meat-focused restaurant (ah, the steakhouse), keep in mind that you don’t have to order from the entrée section – sometimes the appetizers, salads and soups fit the bill better, so feel free to go ahead and order that way. Also remember that many chefs are perfectly amenable to eliminating or reducing the meat component in a dish. Some restaurants that do this will also reduce your bill accordingly.

  8. Above all, remember that you can make the choice to forget the rules for a meal here and there. Don’t be too hard on yourself – the goal is to reduce meat, not cut it out of your diet, so you don’t have to feel guilty about every meal.

I love all this advice, and I’m looking forward to implementing some of it in real life. For those omnivores out there, have you decided to eat less meat? If so, what strategies or rules have you used? Is it working?

PS: If you want to know more about Mark Bittman you can check out his cookbook,
How to Cook Everything: Simple Recipes for Great Food.

August 19, 2008

Greening My Insides

Lately I've been thinking a lot about my next baby step toward sustainability, so when my sister issued another challenge over at One Green Generation, I decided that switching over to greener household and personal hygiene products would be just the ticket.

The first product she writes about is everyday white vinegar. If you didn't already know, this stuff can be used for just about anything. I found a ton of uses on Melinda's first post for the challenge, supplementing with even more uses found on Bobbi's post here and The Vinegar Institute's website here. The ones I think I'll start using for this challenge are:

  • No-wax floors: To wash no-wax floors, add ½ cup of white distilled vinegar to a half-gallon of warm water.

  • Clean the refrigerator: Wash with a solution of equal parts water and white distilled vinegar.

  • Cleaner Dishes and Glasses: Pour 1 ½ cup to 2 cups white distilled vinegar in the bottom of dishwasher, along with regular dishwasher soap. Wash full cycle.

  • Bathtub film (a.k.a. soap scum): Bathtub film can be removed by wiping with white distilled vinegar and then with soda. Rinse clean with water.

  • Toilet bowl cleaner: Stubborn stains can be removed from the toilet by spraying them with white distilled vinegar and brushing vigorously. The bowl may be deodorized by adding 3 cups of white distilled vinegar. Allow it to remain for a half hour, then flush.

  • Kill weeds: Spray white distilled vinegar full strength on tops of weeds. Reapply on any new growth until plants have starved.

  • Clothes washing magic: Clothes will rinse better if 1 cup of white distilled vinegar is added to the last rinse water. The acid in vinegar is too mild to harm fabrics, but strong enough to dissolve the alkalies in soaps and detergents.

  • Deodorant stains: Deodorant and antiperspirant stains may be removed from clothing by lightly rubbing with white distilled vinegar and laundering as usual. I'll be trying alternatives to antiperspirants as a part of this challenge, but I'm waiting until my current container is empty...

  • Shower curtains: Add 1 cup of white distilled vinegar to the rinse water when you launder your shower curtain. Do not spin dry or wash out. Just hang immediately to dry.

  • Soothe a bee or jellyfish sting: Douse with vinegar. It will soothe irritation and relieve itching. I don't anticipate a run-in with a jellyfish in the Midwest, and I hope I won't have this kind of encounter with a bee, but I'll try this method if I do...

  • Stop Itching: Apply a paste made from vinegar and cornstarch. Keep on until itch disappears. This may help after a particularly bad run-in with the backyard mosquitos.

  • Soften and Condition Hair: Use a 1 to 4 ratio of vinegar to water, applying after shampooing. Consider adding essential oil or use warm water and steep a tea bag to impart a bit of fragrance.

  • Denture Cleaner: Soak them overnight in pure vinegar, and rinse in the morning. No, I don't have dentures yet! But I do have a night guard to help me from clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth. Should work the same way, I'd guess...

I have it on good authority from several bloggers I trust that, although the vinegar smell will be apparent for the first few minutes after cleaning, the scent will dissipate with just a little bit of time.

I know there are loads of other ways to use vinegar, but this should be a good start. I'll keep you posted on how well it seems to work...

Note: I've updated this post to give Bobbi at The Greene Onion a shout out for her great post, "All hail, the power of vinegar," which lists even more uses for this magic elixir.

August 14, 2008

Sometimes life brings you small surprises

Last night was not a typical night for me. I'm in the habit of walking straight to the back yard to check on the tomatoes as soon as I arrive home after work. Last night, I had taken about three steps along the path toward our back yard when I saw something that stopped me in my tracks. Right there, in the middle of the concrete walk, was a tiny baby squirrel so young that her eyes hadn't yet opened for the first time. Poor baby. I immediately starting thinking about what I could do to help the little one.

Looking up, it became clear that she had fallen from a nest located about ten feet above our roof. Well, there went option number one, which was to put her back in her home. After a bit of thinking, I decided that moving her off the path and toward the base of her home tree might make it easier for the squirrel-mom to find her, so I retrieved my trusty garden gloves from the garage and gently lifted her up. She grabbed onto my finger with all four feet - awwwww - and didn't really want to let go when we got to the tree. I left her there and went on to my evening routine for the next couple of hours.

When it was starting to get dark, I went back out to see how she was doing. Wow! There she was, clinging to the side of the tree almost three feet above the ground! I decided to let her try to get home on her own.

Another hour passed before I went back out. By this time, it was nearly 10 pm. I scanned the area with my headlamp and discovered that she had fallen from the tree and was just lying there, breathing hard. Hmm. I was skeptical that I could find anyone who would be interested in helping a squirrel, especially at this hour. I wasn't sure what to do, so I left her there and went straight to the computer. After searching "animal rescue squirrel st. louis missouri" I came up with a number for the wonderful folks at the Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic. After listening to my story they agreed that, for whatever reason, the mother would probably not come back in time to save her baby. They asked me to find a shoe box, line it with paper towels, and gently place the squirrel inside.

While I was getting her settled in, they checked to make sure they could admit the baby. They called back a few short minutes later to let me know that a volunteer would be coming to my house in about ten minutes. To say I was surprised by how fast they were willing to work would be an understatement. Fifteen minutes later, the squirrel had been inspected (she was covered in fly eggs, cold, hungry and somewhat dehydrated), moved into a warm and fuzzy pouch that had obviously been used for just this purpose many times, paperwork had been filled out, and the volunteer was on her way home to care for the squirrel. Apparently, her prognosis is good now that she's been brought to the right people. Thank you, Wildlife Rehabilitation Clinic!

Here she is, just before Stefanie the volunteer came to pick her up. She was so tired from the ordeal that she didn't even flinch when the flash went off.

You may be able to see some white stuff that looks like sawdust on her fur. Those are fly eggs (ick!) - apparently the flies didn't expect her to make it through the night. I'm very glad that she got to spend the night in a place where people can take good care of her.

Good luck, little one.

Note: For those in the St. Louis area, this organization accepts just about all wild animals except deer, birds and reptiles. If you find a lost or injured rabbit, squirrel, raccoon or any other little critter, please just give them a call.

August 12, 2008

My very first blog carnival!

Some of you may have heard about a new group that's taking the world by storm. Some of you won't have, so I thought I'd tell you a bit about the APLS movement. As you can see in the image, APLS stands for Affluent Persons Living Sustainably. Before you react to that name, please hear me out. Just about every active member of this group has their own definition for APLS. I happen to like Green Bean's definition (the short version), which is "someone who cares about the state of the planet and folks living on it, who lives beneath their means, gives to charity and enjoys a lighter lifestyle." I have to say I'm still a bit uncomfortable with the word affluence, but the overall meaning works well for me, so I'm learning to live with the whole term.

So, all that being said, the APLS group is putting together a blog carnival. This concept is new to me, but it essentially invites all APLS members to post on the same topic to clarify our positions, look at various aspects of the same idea, and/or generally get the word out an issue at hand. The topics are set out by an APLS volunteer. Thanks to Melissa at Better Living, our very first topic is.....drumroll please...

What does sustainability mean to you?

Boy, what a question. When I started pondering how to respond to this question, I decided to look up the definition of "sustainable." Yep, I'm a word person, and I like to hunt down other people's definitions before I come up with my own. The
first set of definitions that came up included:

  1. To keep in existence; maintain.
  2. To supply with necessities or nourishment; provide for.
  3. To support from below; keep from falling or sinking; prop.
  4. To support the spirits, vitality, or resolution of; encourage.
  5. To bear up under; withstand: can't sustain the blistering heat.
  6. To experience or suffer: sustained a fatal injury.
  7. To affirm the validity of: The judge has sustained the prosecutor's objection.
  8. To prove or corroborate; confirm.
  9. To keep up (a joke or assumed role, for example) competently.
Hmm. I'm intrigued by the peculiar combination of definitions, especially since I can see how each of describes the whole purpose of the APLS group. We are all trying to (1) maintain in many ways - maintaining our environment, maintaining our relationships, and maintaining our sanity in a complex and constantly changing world. We are working toward (2) supplying necessities and nourishment for ourselves, our families, and our planet. The whole purpose of the APLS group is to (3, 4) support each other's spirits and resolutions as we work toward living better lives. Many APLS members have discussed how helpless they feel and how much they (5, 6) suffer as they watch others work in direct opposition to their own beliefs about the amount of responsibility we should each take for the full impact of our lives. I have to say that finding a group like APLS has helped to (7, 8) affirm the validity of and corroborate my own feelings about the way. Clearly, we all hope to (9) keep up our efforts and encourage others to make small steps toward living a beautiful life while inflicting less damage impact on our planet.

I think that all of us APLS believe we have a lot of room for improvement on the sustainability front. I'd be the first to admit that I'm not all the way there yet. But if I wake up every morning and start making most of my daily decisions based on whether my actions will compromise the ability of future generations to live happy and healthy lives, then I feel like I'm definitely headed down the right path.

So you'll be seeing more posts about APLS over the coming months and years. I'd encourage you to jump over to the APLS blog to peruse the various members and visit blogs written by other folks in the "bushel basket." Hopefully you'll enjoy this community as much as I do...

July 29, 2008

Growing Challenge Update #5

Living in a new city, posting on her brand new blog, my lovely sister has (finally) started up her Growing Challenge again. Hooray! Of course that means that I need to update everyone on how our garden grows...

This year, I ordered a majority of my seeds from
Baker Creek Seeds. They came so highly recommended from many of you that for some reason (duh!) I never looked to see where they're located. Last week the lightbulb came on and I realized that they're here in Missouri, just an hour or two away by car. I wonder if that's why the freebie seeds they tucked into my order have worked out so well in our little garden. This lemon cucumber - apparently named for the shape and color, NOT for the flavor - has taken over the strings and poles originally slated for use by the pole beans we planted earlier in the year. The beans never made it, but it's apparently a great location for the cucumber. It's just starting to flower now, so we may have tiny little fruits by the time we get back from vacation next week!

I hate to admit this, but I don't actually know the variety names of all of our tomato plants. The three varieties I planted from seed all died, so we bought three organic ones from the farmer's market. Those just didn't seem to grow at all for quite some time, so we bought two more from the Home Depot (I know, I know, but I really wanted tomatoes this year and everyone else had stopped selling plants!). Well, now all five are doing relatively well, though the Home Depot hybrids are doing better than the farmers' market varieties. I just picked our first tomato of the season this morning, and we have at least a few dozen little green tomatoes on several of the plants now. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that we'll have more to pick when we get back.

Our tomatillo is essentially an ornamental this year, since apparently they can't self-pollinate and need a "special friend" nearby to fertilize the flowers to produce fruit. Ah, the lessons we learn. The green pepper plants are pretty and all, but haven't flowered and don't seem to be growing at all. For now, they'll just sit tucked behind the cucumbers until it's time to pull out all the plants at the end of the summer.

Squash would be next. We had a little incident with our power company this week, as they came out to trim limbs in the easement along our back property line and dropped a few limbs directly on the raised planting bed. What had been the healthiest plant (table queen, an acorn squash) is now not doing so well, but the others (zucchini, yellow squash) have more than made up for it.

In a last ditch effort to have home-grown green beans this year, I planted a new round of bush beans last weekend. Hopefully they'll be up and growing by the time we get back. If not, we'll keep eating the beans that our CCSA provides.

I think that's it for now. I'll keep you posted on any new developments after we get back next week. Photos will also follow...


From the National Weather Service:




For now, we're trying to keep the thermostat around 78 during the day and 74 in the evenings. Any warmer, and the humidity kicks in with a vengeance. Boy, am I glad we're leaving for Seattle tomorrow!

July 23, 2008

We are now experiencing technical difficulties

As we all know, sometimes when it rains it pours. Right when I was gearing up to start posting regularly again, our home internet and phone connections decided to crash and burn. It's now been intermittent or down essentially since I posted last. Unfortunately we have Charter as a provider, and they're AWFUL about customer service, so it could be a bit before we have the issue resolved. I'm writing this note from work, but I can't really compose a full post during the work day, so I'm now at the whim of the cable company. Scary thought, isn't it? At any rate, I'll definitely post (one way or another) before we go on vacation next Wednesday, so please check back soon.

Thanks for your patience!

July 16, 2008

No, I haven't fallen off the face of the planet!

I haven't posted in just over two weeks, and it feels like it's been even longer. Hopefully you haven't missed me too much. Like many bloggers I know, I've been struggling to find that delicate balance between work, home life, and blogging, and for the past couple of weeks I've allowed work and home to win that battle. We're making a lot of changes for the better at home, and I've pushed my office to take a huge step toward sustainability starting next year, so I've had plenty to do around here without blogging.

It doesn't help that I've made blogging somewhat difficult for myself. In my roughly three months of blogging, I've signed up to participate in no less than seven challenges, including my sister's
growing challenge , green bean dreams' bookworm challenge (parts 1 and 2), chile chews' quit now challenge (parts 1 and 2), 'burban mom's weekly challenges on going green , and farm to philly's one local summer challenge. Five of these are active right now, and I have to admit that at this point I just can't keep up with reading others' blogs, keeping up the garden, working on the various challenges, and writing about them. I just don't have enough hours in the day to get all that done.

So my apologies to the inspirational organizers of these great challenges, but I'm officially dropping out of one local summer and the bookworm events for now. Rest assured that I'm still eating about 50% local food, with a goal of bumping that up to 85% before long. I'm also reading books from green bean's list - I've finished Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and Omnivore's Dilemma, and am reading Living Like Ed right now. But for now, I won't be posting weekly updates about local meals or writing up book reports. I hope you understand...

I promise updates on my various projects and the remaining challenges soon.

July 1, 2008

One Local Summer Update

I've been awful about keeping up with One Local Summer so far. Last week we ate two meals that pretty much qualify, so here they are.


2 eggs plus 3 whites - Pilgrim Acres, Foristell MO (CSA share)
1/2 each Zucchini / Summer Squash - Lee Farms (CSA share)
1/4 cup fresh goat cheese - from our CSA share
2 small spring onions - Rob's mom's garden, Cape Girardeau MO
1 tomato, diced - Tower Grove Farmers Market, St. Louis MO
1 small handful fresh basil, chopped - from our CSA share
2 cloves garlic, finely minced (organic, but not local)
1 T unsalted butter (organic, but not local)
salt and pepper to taste (not organic or local)

In a smallish, oven-safe skillet, saute the squash and onions over medium heat for 4-5 minutes, until just starting to soften.

Add garlic and tomatoes, continuing to stir occasionally until most of the tomato juice has evaporated. This took me another 4-5 minutes.

While the other ingredients are cooking, whisk eggs with goat cheese, adding salt and pepper to taste. This is a good time to turn your oven on, set to Broil.

Pour egg mixture into skillet with the veggies. Do not stir. When the eggs look like they're drying slightly around the edges, use a spatula or wooden spoon to ease the edges up and tip the pan slightly to allow the runny bits to get underneath. Don't do this too much, or you'll end up with a big lump in the middle, which definitely isn't pretty.

When it looks like the eggs are mostly cooked, move the skillet to the oven. Broil, checking frequently for doneness, until the frittata looks set on top and starts to turn a light brown.

Carefully remove from oven, cut and serve with a sprig of basil.


1 lb ground bison - CSA share (ours was frozen)
1 medium onion (organic, not local)
3 cloves garlic (organic, not local)
14 oz can diced tomatoes (organic, not local)
1/2 each Zucchini / Summer Squash - Lee Farms (CSA share)
small handfull fresh basil, diced - CSA share
salt and pepper to taste
pinch of dried thyme, oregano and parsley

finely grated fresh parmesan cheese if desired


In a large skillet or sauce pan, sautee onion and garlic in 2 T olive oil until softened. Add ground bison, breaking up as it thaws and cooks. When the meat is nearly done (no more pink bits), add the tomatoes and spices. Cover and allow to simmer for 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Serve over freshly cooked local Mangia Italia pasta, with a side of sliced CSA cucumbers and farmers market tomatoes, and fresh CSA lettuce salad.

June 27, 2008

Our Fair Share - CSA Week #7

You may be asking why I didn't post the contents of last week's share. Well you see, last week Rob and I completely forgot to pick up our share on Wednesday night. We weren't doing anything special, and we weren't particularly busy, but we spaced. Sara and Jamie, the sisters (as in the related kind, not the religious kind) who run the CSA, were great about it and I arranged to come down to the main building to pick up our share the next day. They were fun, laid back, flexible with trading items we didn't need for something we truly wanted, and shared a couple of sources for zucchini recipes. After meeting Sara and Jamie, I'm even happier with our CCSA choice. Does that explain why I didn't post the contents? Nope. I guess I'll have to leave you hanging.

So what did we get in this week's share?

Brick City Gardens - Lettuce (3 small heads)
Daniel Gooding Farm - Sour Cherries
Herbs En Route - Chives
Kimker Hill Farm - Whole Grain Pizza Dough Mix, 1 lb
Lee Farms - Cucumbers, Yellow Squash & Zucchini
Ozark Forest Mushrooms- Mushroom Mix (mostly oyster with a couple of shitakes)
Pilgrims Acres- One Dozen Eggs
Ropp Jersey Cheese- Tomato Basil Garlic Cheddar
Seven Thunder Bison- Ground Bison, 1 lb
??? - Red Beets with Greens Attached

We also swapped a pound of Kimker Hill Oat Flour for what would have been the fifth "bear" of honey in our pantry. I use honey in baking recipes, batches of home made granola and on PB&H sandwiches, but we can't seem to tear through it quickly enough to keep up with the incoming supply.

I could probably also have swapped out the beets, since Rob doesn't like them, but I'm taking it as a challenge to find something that he does like beets in. Suggestions are welcome.

I was unsure about the sour cherries, since there aren't quite enough to make a full crumble or pie. So tonight I plan to make a sour cherry syrup, which apparently makes a tasty beverage when combined with lemonade and sparkling water.

June 18, 2008

Chile Chews' Quit Now Challenge - Update

At the beginning of the month, I joined Chile Chews Quit Now Challenge. You can find my introduction to this challenge here. I realized yesterday (when Chile popped over to my blog to ask me how the challenge was going) that I hadn't posted an update on this challenge, so here we go.

How successful have I been with sticking to the challenge?
I’ve been relatively good about eating vegetarian lunches (or as Chile says, quitting “animals in my lunch”). I have to admit that I’ve amended the rules a bit to allow for food provided by clients at lunch meetings, as I can’t always inform them of my eating habits in advance and I don’t want to offend the clients.

What have I learned from the challenge so far?
First, I miss being able to order anything I want. It’s a little bit difficult to eat vegetarian meals in downtown St. Louis restaurants, especially when there’s a tomato scare. I don’t often walk more than 2-3 blocks to buy my lunch, and the restaurants within that radius have a limited number of vegetarian options (usually 1 or 2) on their menus. A few restaurants I’ve tried have no vegetarian options at all. Other places have removed the vegetarian options from their menus because they cannot serve tomatoes until the FDA deems them safe from salmonella. So I’ve learned that, if I don’t see anything on the menu that sounds good, it never hurts to ask if the chef can make up a vegetarian option or omit the meat from one of their standard meals.

Second, I’ve learned that vegetarian meals can be incredibly tasty and satisfying. So far this month, I’ve eaten a grilled vegetable panini, a strawberry orange salad, cheese quesadillas with corn and salad, a grilled cheese sandwich with creamy tomato soup, a tomato-basil-mozzarella sandwich on Italian bread (before the tomato issue was publicized), penne with chicken, mushrooms and summer squash (by special request, I got this without the chicken), a vegetarian taco salad, and rotini with broccoli. Nearly all of these meals were quite tasty, and I generally didn’t miss the meat at all.

Third, vegetarian meals are cheaper than those with meat. This helps with the rising prices people are seeing all over the world.

And last, I’ve learned that I feel slightly more energetic and generally a bit healthier when I eat more green stuff and less meat. Last week I “accidentally” at vegetarian meals for two and a half days before I realized it, so clearly I can cut out a significant amount of meat from my diet. So far, this has manifested in covering more of my dinner plate in greens and less in roast beast.

How will this challenge impact me when June is over?
I did a little research about how much protein I really need in my diet, and discovered there isn’t a clear and concise answer to that question. Estimates range from the World Health Organization’s guideline of 4.5% of daily caloric intake to the National Research Council’s guideline of 8% of daily calories. I’d guess that I have historically eaten about twice that amount, so I feel comfortable with targeting a diet that cuts meat out of all breakfasts (with exceptions for special occasions), most lunches and a dinner here and there. We're also buying nearly 100% local, naturally pastured raised meat, which I'll talk about in an upcoming post.

So my thanks go to Chile for challenging me to eliminate some of the excess from my life. I know this is a small step, but eventually all the small things do add up.

June 15, 2008

One Local Summer

+ free range, all natural eggs from our CSA share
+ plain bagel from our CSA share
+ methuzela cheese from our CSA share
+ Mississippi mud coffee from our CSA share (locally roasted)
+ chives bought last week at the farmers' market
+ hothouse tomato (salmonella free!) bought yesterday at the farmers' market

Bagel draped with melted methuzela cheese and topped with a halved 2-egg chive omelette, served with a side of tomato slices and washed down with fresh-brewed iced coffee liberally dosed with hormone- and antibiotic- free 2% milk.

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - Lillies

June 12, 2008

Our Fair Share - CSA Week #5

Sorry I missed last week - our CSA has several different pick-up locations and times, and last week's shares somehow got jumbled in the distribution process. I'm not sure where everything came from, but I do know that we received cheese, blue corn tortillas, greens, an herb bundle, black beans, and a bunch of other good stuff.

This week's share includes:

Random thoughts about this week's share:
Seems like a good early-summer balance between green stuff and other. Apparently lots of other members traded their trout in for other meat, so we didn't have to opportunity to purchase extra meat this week. The pecans will be great in my next batch of homemade granola, then I'll freeze the rest for later. Who knows, maybe I'll use some of the flour and a zucchini or two to make bread...The cheese spread is tasty (had some on an everything bagel for breakfast this morning), but I'm slightly disappointed that it has MSG listed as an ingredient. Rob and I are both intrigued by the garlic scapes and can't wait to figure out what they're best in.

June 8, 2008

One Local Summer Update

This year, I signed up for the One Local Summer Challenge. This means that I've committed to eating one meal made from entirely local products each week. For this exercise, I will define local as originating from less than 150 miles of my house. I'm allowing exceptions for oils, spices, and items like flour that are milled locally but the grain itself may have originated from slightly farther away.

What did I eat this week?
The plan for yesterday was to head to a U-pick strawberry farm with a couple of friends so that I could make something yummy with local berries. We'd meet at 8 am, then carpool for 30 minutes to the farm to pick. That seemed reasonable, since this particular field is open 7:30 to 11:30 am, or until they are picked out of ripe berries. Unfortunately for us, their parking lots were nearly full when the gates opened at 7:30 am. When I called at 8:00 to make sure they were open, I was told that they were closing their gates at 8:30. Although we could have rushed to make it into the gates before they closed, it didn't seem make sense to drive all the way out there to hunt for the last ripe berries in the field.

Now what to do? We decided to head to the Tower Grove Farmer's Market to see if we could find fresh berries there. After a half hour stay at the market, I had nabbed a nice bag full of sunflower sprouts (an incredibly tasty addition to salads), a beautiful bunch of chives (Rob was planning on making cheese and chive scones later that day), a dozen local eggs, and three quarts of bright red, sweet smelling, organically raised strawberries. Though the berry vendor is not certified organic, a sign on their stand noted that they do use organic farming practices. I've found this is fairly common in smaller farms, because the certification process can be painful and expensive.

Anyway, enough rambling and let's get to the food. When I got home from the market I found a yummy sounding recipe for Summer Strawberry Bread in a cookbook I picked up earlier this year. We've made a couple of things from their recipes so far, and they've both been excellent. So, I pulled together my local ingredients and went for it. Here's how I made it.

Summer Strawberry Bread, Adapted for Local Ingredients
1/2 cup chopped local almonds
1-2/3 cups locally milled 10-grain flour
3/4 cup turbinado sugar (not local, but organic)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (not local)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (not local)
1/2 teaspoon salt (not local)
3 large, local, free-range eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil (not local)
1/3 cup local, organic milk
1 cup small, local strawberries, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8" loaf pan. Spread whole, raw almonds onto a rimmed cookie sheet and toast for 8-10 minutes in the oven. Cool for 5-10 minutes and chop finely.

Combine flour, sugar, almonds, cinnamon, baking soda and salt in a large bowl.

Whisk eggs in a small bowl until frothy; whisk in oil, then milk. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the egg mixture. Blend until just moistened. Fold in the berries.

Spoon into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes. Run a sharp knife all the way around the pan, gently running between the pan and the bread to loosen any stuck spots. Turn the bread out onto wire rack and let cool.
How did it turn out?
I really liked this bread, and I think it would work with a lot of other fruits. If you eat bananas, you can trade the almonds for walnuts and the berries for bananas. If you have fresh blueberries, you could probably swap those directly for the strawberries. I suspect that rhubarb would also be a welcome addition.

What would I do differently?
I would add another 1/2 teaspoon of salt and maybe 1 tablespoon of honey if your berries are not quite sweet. If you use anything but 10-grain flour, you should reduce your liquids to 2 eggs and skip the milk.

How did I eat it?
I brewed a pot of local Kuva coffee in the french press while the bread was baking and poured myself a big mug with turbinado sugar and a little warmed milk. Then I sliced a couple of pieces of bread and slathered them with a little bit of fresh goat cheese.


My goal is to make my local meals more and more complex, but this was a simple and delicious way to start my local summer. Oh, and next time I'll try to have pictures.

Note: You can also keep an eye out for a post from one of my strawberry picking / farmers' market going friends, who is planning on posting her recipe for Strawberry Cupcakes. I tried one, and it was quite tasty...

June 6, 2008

Step #2 - Reduce your emissions

Change #1

Until recently, Rob drove a Chevy Tahoe. Although we really did like the comfort and spaciousness of the big bohemoth, we did not like it's gas mileage (15-17 mpg). We also found that we only rarely had much more than just the two of us to haul around. So about four months ago we made the decision that it was time to get rid of the big behemoth and trade it for a greener vehicle.

We looked and we looked, and finally settled on the Toyota Camry hybrid or the Prius. We test-drove both, rented a Prius for a weekend, and talked it over for what seemed like weeks. It seems that we just couldn't decide between the two until one day...Ding!...On went the lightbulb and it came to us that if we couldn't decide between the two, maybe we should just pick the one that is better for the planet. Voila - decision made. Since the new Prius arrived in our driveway, Rob has literally tripled his gas mileage. Now he's working on getting much higher gas mileage as the engine wears in.

We've found that we now take the Prius on all our errands except the dirty ones - my Matrix has a fairly large, plastic-lined trunk area, which makes it perfect for hauling plants and bags of mulch.

Change #2

But we didn't stop there. I've given up my parking pass and started taking public transportation to work. I started this last summer, when I thought I'd try out the brand new extension of our regional light rail system. The first line ran between the airport and downtown, which was great, but it didn't seem to serve most of the people who commute by car to work. The new line, however, ends about four miles our house.

My driving commute included 20 minutes of drive time, plus five minutes to walk from the parking garage to the office. Between the drive to the train station and the 45 minute train ride downtown, my commute is roughly one hour. The added 35 minutes each way are tough on the days when I just want to go home, throw on some old clothes and work in the yard. On the other hand, the ride time does seem to help me decompress on the way home, so I tend to arrive home a tad happier and a little less stressed out. I think it's a good trade-off.

Last year I switched back to driving when the shorter days came. I have a hard time convincing myself that the extra hour of train time was worth it when it means I have zero time at home in the daylight. Does that seem like a cop-out? Hard to tell...but at least I'm reducing my mileage during 6 months out of the year.

Change #3

Even when I commute to work every day, I drive a maximum of about 8,500 miles a year. I can go anywhere from 4-6 months without needing an oil change, and by then the little sticker that the oil change folks placed on my windshield is long since illegible. This means that I have a hard time remembering to get my oil changed or my tires rotated on a regular basis. Although I probably should have known this, I had no idea that forgetting to take my car in would seriously affect my mileage.

About six weeks ago I was cleaning out my glove box, pulled out an old receipt and realized that it had been over 5,000 miles since my last oil change. I took the car in and had them change the oil and oil filter, and rotate and balance my tires. Ever since, my gas mileage has increased from 30 mpg to 36 mpg, a 20% increase.

I'll be checking my tire pressure and keeping track of scheduled oil changes and tire rotations from now on.

The Results (so far)

Between these two changes, we should be able to cut our household gasoline use and vehicle-related emissions by more than 50%. Not too shabby, but I know we can do better. We're currently pondering an electric lawnmower, so that may be our next move toward household gas independence.

Does anyone out there have any other suggestions for our next step in our personal gas use and emissions reduction?

June 2, 2008

Growing Challenge Update #4

In the month of May, the greater St Louis area received more than four times our usual rainfall. In fact, we're already more than halfway to our normal annual rainfall, but we typically have rain fairly well distributed throughout the year, eventually reaching our rainiest month in November.

This has proven to be very bad for some of my new plants.

The Odessa Summer Squash babies I started indoors are trying valiantly to reproduce before dying.

If you look really closely here (or click on the image to enlarge it), you can see that my Royalty Purple Pod beans dropped all their leaves...AFTER they started growing tiny little purple beans. Bummer.

Another side effect of the rainfall is that ants have moved into the lovely, well-drained soil of the planter bed to escape the waterlogged clay that makes up the rest of my yard. When I cleaned out a handful of dead leaves, I unplugged the rain-stopper the ants had fashioned and discovered this hole. It's about the diameter of my index finger. I found about 12 holes this size throughout the planter.

Should I be worried? Because I am.

Yesterday, I planted two new Odessa squash near each of the dying seedlings. I also planted two new Royalty Purple pod beans near each of their denuded friends. Hopefully they'll quickly sprout and overtake the poor waterlogged seedlings...

On the upside, our tomatillo plant and its companion nasturtium sprouts seem to be doing well. Guess it's not all bad news...

Did I mention that thunderstorms are in our forecast for every day this week? I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the rainfall will be minimal and that the winds don't do any major damage.

UPDATE (6/6/08): I decided to cover the garden with a frost cloth and plant new seeds next to the dying squash and beans. Half of the new seeds are already up! I'll keep you posted...

May 30, 2008

Step #1 - Make your own bread

I'm starting to think about this adventure in becoming more sustainable as a journey down a really long road. I've been walking much slower than I would like so far, but I know that if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other, I'll get there. Corny analogy? Maybe, but it's working for me right now, and I'm sticking to it. That makes this the first post in a very long series to come that will chronicle each small step (including the occasional backward one) down the road.

On Wednesday night, I started my very first batch of homemade bread. I chose the no-knead variety, mostly because I'd heard it was easy and thought that would make me more likely to continue baking bread. I found the recipe in the New York Times, of all places. I made it exactly as instructed the first time, and plan variations in future iterations.

Recipe: No-Knead Bread
Adapted from Jim Lahey, Sullivan Street Bakery
Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting (I used half white, half wheat)
¼ teaspoon instant yeast (I used Fleischmann's Rapid Rise Yeast)
1¼ teaspoons salt
Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed. (I skipped this for now)

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees. (I started my bread at 11:30 pm, in the hopes that it would be ready when I got home the next day. This seems to have been a fairly successful strategy.)

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes. (I didn't get to this step until 20 hours after I started the dough. In retrospect, this may have resulted in too many air bubbles, which could be why the texture was a bit odd.)

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger. (Here's where I started thinking the recipe had gone horribly wrong. My dough was much too gooey to form into a ball, and no amount of flour on my hands or the dough was going to prevent sticking. But I perservered. After the two hours, my dough had not
doubled. It did not even grow by 50%. It also continued to spring back at this point, but I refused to give in and chuck this batch.)

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. (I used our Le Creuset baking dish, which seems to have worked very well. This loaf needed just 15 minutes with the lid off to look and smell delicious.)

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.

Here's a picture of the resulting loaf.

As you can see, the bread didn't rise nearly as much as anticipated. The texture is also a bit spongy, perhaps because I let it rise for too long in the first stage. But the flavor is good, and it has a great crust on it, so I'm thinking this was a fairly good first effort.

If anyone out there has more information on what I might want to do differently next time, including maybe changing the kind of yeast I used???, please let me know. For my next loaf, Rob has requested a full-on kneaded bread, so please also pass along any great recipes of that variety.

Hmm. Now I'm looking forward to spreading a bit of locally produced goat cheese on a couple of slices of yummy fresh bread....