Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Green laundry detergent?

I was looking around the internet today, making sure I'd finally read everything available when I came across a site discussing homemade laundry detergent. Good thing too, because it looks like not only is it better for the environment, it is great for the pocket book too.

You know how I feel about benefits to the pocket book and how it relates to going green.

Anyway, Felicia over at Blulow has spent the last year using a homemade detergent and taken the time to write about her experience. Instead of recapping it all here, I wanted to give you a heads up and send you her way so she can explain it.

Suffice it to say, I will be giving this a try when we run out of our current supply of detergent.

So check out her results and if you give it a try, let me know what you think. I'll post my thoughts when I have had a chance to give it a try too.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Another Pair of Broken Glasses: Update

Although it's been a while, I wanted to post an update on the broken glasses replacement.

We ordered my daughters glasses from Zenni Optical and received them about 8 days later. The glasses were (are) good quality and so far we have absolutely no complaints. We had them checked to see if the prescription was accurate and they were right on.

Great work for the money, that's for sure. We paid about $28 total for the glasses- lens, frames and shipping.

Take a chance if you feel like it, just be sure to do it before absolutely needed just in case you experience any issues.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Cooking With The Sun

Well if you can't tell, a couple of days has passed since my last post soo... Here is an update on my quest to go a little greener.

I recently began cooking with the sun using a solar funnel I made out of cardboard and foil. Last month we were visited by my father in law and his wife and they brought their solar cooker for me to try. We had talked about it during his visit the previous year and since then (well a bit before) I had been thinking of trying it out myself.

So since I am the King of Getting Things Done, I got right on it. A year and a half or so later.

Anyway, I have also decided to start blogging about it as well. Yeah I know, I have done so well with these others....

My goal is to put together my experiences, notes and recipes as well as pictures as I go along. It is so easy, I want to show people that even little things like this can help. I mean, how cool is it to cook without fire or electricity? I am a month behind already, but just for an idea of what I have tried so far, here is a small list.

Chili, bread, stew, soup, cake and chicken.

To see more, check out my new Cooking With The Sun blog.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Getting rid of the trash

We finally made the decision to end our garbage service the other day. I think the neighbors thought we were odd (odder then normal anyway) when the garbage company hauled them away.

We have been so used to recycling over the years that the only can we fill up out of the 4 containers they give us was, I'm sure you guessed it, the recycling container. The actual trash container was taking us a couple of months to fill and we would usually put it out every month whether it was full or not. This is while paying for weekly service.

Now weekly service isn't super expensive or anything, I mean we only pay $20 a month, but we were able to switch to an on call service for only $8 each time we have them pick it up. Figure every other month at most and we pay $48 a year saving $192 a year. Sure we have to drop off our recycling now, but that is just around the corner from where we shop so no biggie.

It'll be interesting to see if any neighbors follow suit because they were asking my wife about us doing it yesterday and seemed interested in the idea, as well as a bit shocked we have so little trash with a family of 4.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Putting the buggy before the horse

Isn't it about time you take your horse out for a spin? This time, why don't you let him drive? Here is the next gizmo for all you gadget fiends out there.

Abdolhadi Mirhejazi, an inventor living in Dubai has built an interesting contraption that allows a horse to ride in the cart it powers. A cross between a buggy and an over sized treadmill, the Naturmobile is Mr. Mirhejazi's modern solution for all weather transportation using the age old horse and wagon.

The horse actually climbs inside the wagon and walks on a treadmill that powers the whole thing using a complicated gear system. Not only does it provide enough power to run the wagon, but enough to charge a battery that can give the horse a 20 minute break every now and again. Best of all, the horse is out of the weather keeping cool (or warm) right along with the passengers he labors so hard to transport with no real benefit to himself.

Is it practical? Probably best to ask the horse, but I will say this... I want one!!

For more info and a bunch of pictures, check out the article.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Healthier walking

I ran across another interesting article today. Now this may not interest plenty of you, but since I believe part of going green involves becoming healthier, I thought this was relevant to the theme. The article discusses walking healthier. Not walking for health reasons, but actually walking healthier.

Generally speaking, the idea is that when we walk around day in and day out, we are actually hurting our feet. Our feet were designed through evolution to carry us around efficiently, and over the last few thousand years we began mucking around by wrapping our feet in shoes.

The problem isn't so much the shoes as it is the design of the shoes. In other words, we are wearing shoes that are not particularly designed around physically sound walking principles and over our lifetimes we are causing damage to our feet as well as our joints.

Check out this article and see the alternative shoe idea they are promoting. It looks pretty cool to me, and if I can find a suitable affordable alternative I will give it a try.

I like to walk bare footed indoors, but my sissy feet don't do well outdoors so a basic covering will help tremendously. I'll keep you updated if I find a good alternative. Hmm... maybe I can find moccasins I wouldn't mind wearing...

Photography by James Eberlein

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Living without a carbon footprint

We recently returned from our trip to Costa Rica and Panama and I have been busy writing about it in my new blog. I wont spend much time on it here but I did want to mention one of the villages we visited briefly.

Today many environmentally conscious people are focusing on lowering their carbon footprint and reducing their impact on the environment around them. No matter what they do, they have nothing on the Embera people living in the Darien Jungle.

These people have been living their quiet peaceful lives without a thought for all the accoutrement's and anxieties of our "modern" existence. And believe it or not, there wasn't a Playstation or Xbox in any of their homes. This meant of course that walking amongst their community, unlike most of our own, children were actually outside playing. Hard to believe, I know, but we have the photos to prove it.

In fact, the only nod to modern machinery I saw was the gas powered engine for the boats they used when taking goods to sell in the city 4 hours away.

I realize some would say they are a backwards people, but I wonder how many of them would choose to trade with us if they knew the true extent each of us is tied financially if not physically to the things we own. Would they give up their quiet peaceful lives so they could have all the items we take for granted as the necessities of life if they understood that in return, half of every waking moment would be spent working for someone else so they could afford it?

At times it seems that we are the ones who have it backwards and now we are stuck trying to repair the damage all of our modern luxuries have caused. Maybe if each of us could spend a week or even a month with people such as this, making the "sacrifices" that are needed to reduce our impact on the world wouldn't be such the big deal most of us make it out to be.

If you are interested in seeing some of what we saw on our travels, feel free to visit my new blog.

What is your walk score?

Just ran across this interesting site that can help give another perspective on the value of location when looking for a place to live.

This handy tool allows you to enter your current or potential future address and get an idea of the walkability of the area. It takes into consideration the distance of locations such as schools, restaurants, parks etc. from you and scores it on a scale of 0 to 100 to give you an idea how walker friendly the area is.

So if getting away from the daily commute or simply cutting back on those short trips to the store is a key consideration in your next move then check out Walk Score.

By the way, my area only scored a 25 but fortunately for us most of our driving is a relatively short commute for my wife. Check it out and let me know how your area stacks up in the walk friendly arena.

Photography by hortongrou

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Before I go,,,,

We head out tomorrow on a eco friendly style cruise of the Panama Canal (if you can call a cruise "eco friendly" with a straight face that is ) which I will blog about when we return mid month but before I go I wanted to leave you with some good reading.

A fellow blogger at Savannah Daydreamin' is doing much the same as I try to do here and that is to show how average people can make a real difference in the world around them through little changes in our lifestyle without going nuts and heading for the caves in the process.

Check him out, I know I will when we return later this month.

Finally, some sensible alternatives to corn for fuel

Lately I have been becoming uneasy over the push to add Ethanol made from corn into our nations fuel supply. On the surface it sounds great, reduce our need for foreign oil by using a natural and renewable resource and one day we can kiss these foreign oil companies goodbye once and for all and bring our troops back home.

The trouble is, while corn is renewable, it is also edible and a key ingredient in almost every food item we purchase today either directly or indirectly. Have you noticed how food prices continue to rise lately? Well imagine what they will be like when the very same corn we grow for food (ok, it may be a different quality, but the land use is the same) for human consumption or to feed the animals we raise to eat as well as our pets (yep, take a look at the ingredients, it is usually one of the first in the list) is also a key ingredient used to run our cars. Not only will it mean higher food and fuel prices, but as our need for fuel increases along with our population, it will mean clearing more land for crops.

If you, like me, hate to see us destroy land for oil or coal then it should be just as bad to see it clear cut for the production of Ethanol.

Ok, enough of that. On to some of the new alternatives that are showing some real promise.

One item I ran across today uses bacteria to break down waste products that would otherwise go to the landfill. The University of Maryland research has found that the bacterium S. degradans has an enzyme that breaks the waste down into sugar that can then be turned into fuel.

Researchers say the process, known as the Zymetis process can produce as much as 75 billion gallons of gasoline a year once fully operational. The great thing is no food crops need to be used and waste products that are destined for the landfill can instead be diverted for use to fuel transportation which is a major backbone of our economy. A win win.

The next item is something I have been reading about off and on the past year or so, but there is a new twist that looks like this can come mainstream relatively soon now. Algae, the funky stuff we have all seen growing on ponds has been studied for many years because of the fact that up to 50% of its mass is made up of oil.

The main sticking point to making this a success has been the ability to grow large quantities of it. While algae itself grows very fast, it requires vast amounts of surface space to produce it in large quantities. Enter Glen Kertz, president and CEO of Valcent Products. His patented system named Vertigro, takes algae farming to a new level, literally.

Instead of growing algae on the surface of ponds, he filters it through clear, hanging plastic bags that create as much surface as he needs. They claim they can produce 100,000 gallons of oil per year per acre compared to the 30 gallons you can get from an acre of corn.

So, can anyone out there tell me why our gov't is throwing so much support behind corn Ethanol? The pessimist in me says coal and oil is behind it because eventually people will begin complaining about high food and fuel prices and call for and end to corn Ethanol. But I could be wrong.

The good thing is, there are some very smart people out there dedicated to solving some serious problems and advances such as these can only be held back so long.

Photography by Yvonne Stepanow

Friday, March 28, 2008

Another pair of broken glasses

It seems like glasses always get broken at the wrong time. Not that there is ever a good time to break them of course, but it seems to happen at a time when you can least afford to replace them.

As you may have read, we had to replace our computer last week which was an expense we could have done without. However, since I work from home and we use Skype as our phone, replacing it was something of a priority.

Now after the money was spent, it was time for my daughter to break her glasses, which unless we want her crashing into things all day, we need to replace. Not a big deal generally, but after buying a new computer last week, the funds were just not available. Thankfully we still have an old pair laying around with a similar prescription to get us by.

Well today I ran across a site that seemed too good to be true. They are offering prescription glasses starting at $8 a pair. Really. Now typically I would have just passed this site by as being some sort of rip off, but circumstances being what they are I decided to look into it a bit more. Boy am I glad I did.

They have a huge selection of glasses available and by the large amount of positive reviews available on the web, I feel pretty comfortable giving them a chance. We will order a pair next week and if all goes well I will have a review available shortly after we return from our trip.

Until then, check them out at Zenni Optical and see what you think.

Hopefully this will be yet another option available for those of us going green.

Photography by kat callard

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Making the old straw fort into a home

For a short period of time as a kid we used to visit and stay on a farm. Now it wasn't a big farm or anything, but they did have horses, cows, sheep, goats, chickens and even a monkey. Don't ask me how the monkey fit into the whole set up because all it really did was stay locked in a cage/shed in the yard and scare the crap out of us if we ever got too close.

One of our chores of course was to clean out the stalls and put out fresh hay for the animals. This meant there were always plenty of bales up in the loft which we felt was our duty to rearrange on a regular basis just in case we could find a more efficient method of stacking them. Generally we would tend to find the best, if not necessarily most efficient method resulted in a stack with a hollow center, complete with hidden access tunnel.

During afternoons of hiding out in the stack we would of course fantasize about living in such places. Little did we know that many people around the world actually do. Of course the straw bale homes of reality bear little resemblance to our dreams as kids, and in fact, other then some superficial differences look pretty much like a normal home.

There are however some very big differences in the efficiencies of the straw bale home that would attract even the most skeptical. One of the most informative sites I have seen on this subject so far is Strawbale.com and I encourage you to browse their site for a more comprehensive explanation of the benefits these homes bring to the home owner.

Some of the basics that have drawn my attention are listed below

  • High insulation value- The Department of Energy gives straw bale an efficiency of R-50, much higher then the standard stick built home. The actual value will depend on bale sizes and positioning, but even cutting that in half is pretty impressive. Straw bale homes can save hundreds of dollars a year in energy needs
  • Highly fire resistant- I know that seems backwards, but the fact the bales are highly compressed in the home, along with the thick coatings of stucco and or plaster mean there is very little air to feed the flames if and when they finally do reach the straw.
  • Sound proof- The same thickness of walls that provide high insulation value also provide great sound proofing benefits.
  • Environmentally friendly- Very few, if any trees are needed for these homes and because straw is a byproduct that is often burned it reduces pollutants and is readily available all over the world.
  • DIY- Straw bale homes are much easier for the DIY'r because many of the steps of building can be done by the average person. Those with more skill can do the whole thing themselves if they choose to.
If you are interested in learning more, check out Strawbale.com and browse the many resources found there. You can also watch many of their videos on You Tube to see if this is something you would be interested in doing yourself.

Finally, if this is something you would like to pursue or even recommend to a family member you can purchase these step by step instructional DVD's.

While not everyone can afford to build their own home, myself included, I find options such as this very interesting and believe that the more people aware of alternatives such as this, the more likely it is these homes are to become mainstream. That is something that can benefit everyone.

Photography by Craig Jewell

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Phone bill getting you down? Cut the cord once and for all.

As I mentioned before, part of going green to me is cutting back on expenses and consumption. This means we can spend less time working just to afford living.

One of the largest expenses we have cut out is our phone bill. We got rid of our cell phones and our land line about two years ago and replaced them with Skype. Now we have our basic cable bill which includes high speed Internet and pay about $3.00 a month for Skype. This has saved us roughly $100 a month.

So for just over the cost of basic cable we have TV, Internet and telephone. Not a bad deal.

A couple of things to consider though. First Skype does not support 911 calls. If this bothers you you may want to consider other options. Or you can get a $10.00 prepaid cell phone for emergency use and call it good. Second, Skype needs Internet access and electricity to work. If you lose either you are out of luck.

For most people it also requires a computer, however you can get around this by using a Skype enabled WiFi phone if you are set up for wireless access at home.

Last week when our computer crashed we saw just how important getting the WiFi phone is. At any rate, the financial savings and overall quality of service have far outweighed the inconvenience of the last week.

This is yet another way to cut back without adversely affecting your quality of life. In fact once you are no longer working to pay that phone bill month after month you may say your quality of life has improved.

Photograpy by Fillipas T

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Whiling away a week without a computer

So last week our computer died which pretty much led to the end of life as I know it. I know that sounds a bit dramatic, but the first couple of days without the Internet almost had me convinced I was the last man on earth.

Besides the panicked scrambling around trying to figure out was wrong and hoping it was all just a bad dream I would wake up from, I had to find other things to do. After the initial shock this wasn't so bad. I put together the basic plan for another blog I will be writing about my lazy square foot garden. I also took some before and after pictures with our our new camera and will continue journaling my amateur experiences both good and bad.

Now this will not be an opportunity for others to learn great gardening secrets, but you can learn from my mistakes or just laugh at my bumbling idiocy.

As I mentioned in a previous post my goals are to provide some fresh food for our family with as little work as possible. This also allows my children to see that food does not come from the supermarket. In addition, I hope to help lower our energy bill this summer by providing additional shade for the windows on the sunny side of our house as well as the deck which reflects heat into our living room.

If you would like to watch or just point and laugh, come check out my lazy square foot garden.

Along with some minor work on the garden I have been learning how to use vista which is the operating system that came with this new computer. Now for the cool part, this whole post was dictated into the voice recognition software. This has been a bit of a challenge and fortunately for my head I keep my hair cut short. Otherwise the baldness I am experiencing would probably be patchy and accompanied by much pain.

Photos taken with Canon Powershot A570is

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Ever wished you could light that fart?

Here's a nifty solution that makes it possible to reduce waste while providing both fuel for your home and fertilizer for your home garden.

Sintex Industries has come up with a new biogas digester that turns human waste, cow poo and kitchen garbage into fuel that can be used for cooking or generating electricity. They designed this nifty digester to address India's concerns regarding both sanitation and growing energy needs.

The digester uses bacteria to break down waste which in turn emits gases, mostly methane. These gases are then piped into a storage canister.

They claim a family of 4 can provide enough energy to cook all of their meals as well as fertilize their garden, and at $425 pays for itself in 2 years in India.

With fuel prices headed no where but up, an investment such as this makes sense here at home as well.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Drive for Free?

We recently paid our car off and right after I ran across this 6 minute presentation that could have saved us a TON of cash had we seen it and taken heed.

Since I believe going green is more about lifestyle changes that can affect your families overall well being in addition to our environment I thought I would post this here for you to take advantage of as well.

No, I am not recommending you sell your car and buy a bike or walk everywhere (unless you're really in to that). Instead, this video is for anyone who is about to commit to those monthly car payments that will trap you for many years to come.

You will learn how to get a car that you own in full by paying yourself instead of the bank in a very short time. If you are really serious, it will show you how to own a newer car every 5 years or so without ever paying another dime after the initial investment. I know this is how we will buy any future cars as any other way is a silly waste of money and time away from my family.

Now that you know how to save a couple of buckets of money on your next car purchase, make sure not to blow it all on gas and get something as fuel efficient as your needs and pocket book will allow.

Photography by Thiago Felipe Festa

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The pen is mightier then the...pocket book?

I have said this before and I will say it again. I am relatively new to this whole environmentally friendly thing and other then recycling, haven't done much until recently.

The last couple of years though, I have participated in some online email campaigns touting the evils of various legislation and asking my senators and congressman to vote against policy that is sure to destroy our planet and every single living thing on it. Really.

At the same time I have worked for companies that paid me to contact average Jane's and Joe's and discuss current pending legislation that will surely doom them to poverty through a variety of cost increases if they don't ACT NOW! If they are properly convinced, I would then proceed to write a letter on their behalf asking their representative to take appropriate action to prevent said evil. The letter would then be mailed directly to that very same Jane or Joe in a pre addressed and stamped envelope ready for them to sign, seal and send to the appropriate official. It cost them nothing more then a pleasant chat over the phone with me and the time it took them to review and mail the letter once received. Again, really.

For doing this I was paid quite well.

You may be asking if this is a conflict of interest and my answer is no.

The reason for that is I believe in our free market system and its ability to react to consumer demand assuming our government doesn't discourage it from doing so through endless and senseless legislation and one sided (or severely lopsided) support taken from tax payers pockets (otherwise known as subsidies). Much of what we did supported specific points that addressed getting gov't out of the pockets of business.

Why am I telling you this?

Assuming an even playing field, I believe consumer demand will move business into a more sustainable and environmentally friendly direction. It has been said many times before, but it is worth saying again that if we want something, we can vote with our pocket book. I believe this has never been truer or more important then it is at this time in our history.

But more then that, and the reason I told you what I did above is the saying the pen is mightier then the sword. Companies affected by the various legislation are well aware of this fact and they act accordingly by investing big money paying people to put pen to paper. Believe me, this is very effective or they wouldn't do it.

This same tool can be used in our favor too. You can do like I have done and send in those pre written form emails you see online or get in your in box and they may even help a little. But I am convinced it will only help a little. Or you can write an honest to goodness physical letter and make a real impact.

Now that you have decided to write this world changing letter, who are you going to send it to? Well that depends on the issue and where you live, but generally speaking it would go to your local representative. However I think you can do one better and send it directly to those that matter.

Now you are probably asking who could matter more then our elected leaders and I can understand that but remember I said I believe in our free market system and think we ought to keep Big G out of the way.

Instead of writing your representatives, try writing to the same companies you buy your products and services from. In fact, send a copy to your local news station while you are at it.

But here is the important part. You need to seek out the companies that are already doing the things you like and thank them for it. That's right, send them a simple "thank you" letter detailing what you like about the things they have done and make sure they realize the best way to ensure your future patronage is to continue making improvements in their business practices.

Can you imagine the difference it would make if we started acknowledging and encouraging the positive actions of these companies?

It is easy to forget there are real people in charge of these companies that can be influenced by praise for a job well done. And hey, if the letter you send them isn't enough, the local news running a story on consumer reaction to the positive actions they have taken is sure to get someones attention.

Just another way an average Joe (or Jane) can make a difference.

Photography by Nadya Smolskaya

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Piano sized dreams on a keyboard sized budget?

How about no budget?

Do you need something but just can't seem to scrape together enough money to buy it at the local outlet? Well why don't you just ask for it? Millions of people around the world are doing just that, and people in their communities are more then happy to give it to them. No strings attached.

I mentioned earlier that part of going green is reducing waste as well as limiting the buying of stuff. One of the best ways to do that is to join the local Freecycle group and become one of over 4 million people around the world who are giving items they no longer need to those who do.

On a typical day you can find local people asking for or giving almost anything you can imagine. Do you need a working power cord for that lamp in the corner? Maybe your kids have outgrown some of their clothes and you are tired of them taking up space in the closet. Perhaps you bought a couple boxes of the new frozen pizza rolls only to find you'd rather eat treats out of the litter box like fido does.

Whether you need something or need to get rid of something, chances are you can find a match on Freecycle.

To give it a try, simply sign up for a free Yahoo! account and look for a group near you. Once you have found and joined a group you will need to decide if you want to read posts at the website or if you prefer to read them via email. If you choose email, just be aware a busy group will keep your in box full. In that case, simply select to receive email from the group in digest form and you will typically get them in batches of 25.

Now simply sit back and wait. If you see something you like, act fast because things go quick. As you can imagine free is a pretty popular price with most people. Just remember to give as well as take and be honest about the condition of the items you give. Most anything goes and finding a taker is generally pretty easy.

No group near you? Start your own and help reduce waste in your community.

Have fun, good luck and be proud you are helping to reduce the strain on our planets resources.

Things you can find on Freecycle include:
  • Food
  • Clothes
  • Electronics
  • Kitchenware
  • Garden tools
  • Craft supplies
  • Cars (seriously)
  • Boats (again, seriously)
  • Pretty much anything else too (hey if people will give cars and boats, why doubt me?)
Photography by Julia Freeman-Woolpert

Monday, March 10, 2008

Water. The miracle cure?

I mentioned in my post on "going green" that we have replaced most beverages in our diet with water and have made an impact by reducing waste and saving a lot of cash. But are we actually saving our lives or at least dramatically improving our health (yet more savings financially) in the process?

This interview with the late Dr. Batmanghelidj may just change your perception of the value of water. In it he discusses how many of our "illnesses" are actually just results of varying levels of dehydration and why some groups would rather encourage us to overlook the health benefits of simply drinking more water.

If you like the article and are the kind of person who wants to hear it from the horses mouth so to speak, visit WaterCure.com and read more about the late doctors research.

I can tell you first hand the difference drinking more water has had on me. Growing up, from the age of about 13 or 14 I was getting headaches pretty much every day. After several visits to the doctors and a couple prescriptions of "reading glasses" I pretty much resigned myself to living with headaches as a way of life. This meant years of a variety of over the counter pain medications to help limit but not eliminate the pain.

It wasn't until I was 26 and in Culinary School that I read about the effects of caffeine and dehydration that I finally found true relief. At that point I cut out probably 50% of my soda and coffee intake and replaced it with plain old water. After a few days of caffeine withdrawals, my almost daily headaches became a thing of the past.

What I find interesting all these years later is the doctors approach to resolving the problem. There was no focus on finding dietary causes of my headaches and instead attempts to treat the symptoms via medications and prescription glasses. Had we focussed on finding the cause, rather then treating the symptoms, I could have saved myself years of headaches and a whole lot of money.

Please, by all means seek the advice of a medical professional if you need to. Just make sure you are doing what you can to eliminate any causes to your health issues rather then simply treating the symptoms.

Photography by Mike Munchel

Friday, March 7, 2008

Cow Power

What does aand a have in common?

They may both be powering your home in the very near future. That is if you live in Riverdale California and are served by PG&E's local power company.

David Albers, president of BioEnergy Solutions has spearheaded the Vintage Dairy Biogas Project in California's agricultural heartland. They will soon be adding enough cow power to the grid to provide energy for up to 1,200 homes a day.

The project takes the manure from the Riverdale farms 5,000 cows and produces methane gas that is processed and then fed into PG&E's pipeline.

Next time you are pan searing your steak and onions and drinking your favorite micro brew, take a moment and thank the animal that made it all possible. Not only did he provide the steaks, he brought the gas to cook it too.

Photography by diego medrano and dave gostisha

The Global Warming Fad

The consensus is in... Global Warming is a fad.

After tabulating the results of a rather exhaustive *poll, it is clear this whole global warming thing is just a cash cow for those who stand to make a buck. The whole "is it really happening?" or "is it caused by man?" crap is a bunch of pointless propaganda coming from both sides of the argument ( not debate because neither side really hears or cares what the other has to say).

Don't get me wrong, I am sure there are a great number of good honest people on both sides that truly believe their side is right and the other side for whatever reason has just not seen the light. But they mostly seem to be missing the point. As a result we have millions of people on both sides of the issue throwing a great deal of time and effort, not to mention money trying to prove they are right and the rest are just misinformed.

Behind these well meaning people we also have a large number of groups on both sides funneling in money and support doing their best to ensure their financial interests are protected. Many of these groups are not convinced either way, but instead see a real risk to future profits if the general population swings to the side of the opposition.

The crazy thing is, all this endless back and forth harms every one of us by sidetracking us from what really matters.

Wouldn't it make more sense to move past the endless arguing about the reality of something we probably won't prove satisfactorily for either side in our lifetimes and focus on things that we can control here and now?

How many of us would agree we need to stop raping the planet of it's resources before we either run out or poison ourselves with indiscriminate dumping or pointless waste? How many of us would agree we need to move towards renewable sources of energy so we can once and for all end our dependence on other nations and their whims to keep the backbone of our economy intact and strong? And how many of us would like to see the money spent on all the above kept in our country, providing jobs and opportunity to our people first, and helping others only after we have strengthened and secured our own future?

Imagine what could happen if average people everywhere said enough is enough and just started with themselves at home. If we all stopped worrying about who is right or wrong and began working on going green ourselves. Sooner, rather then later those in charge of supplying us with our goods and services will have to take notice or risk losing business to those who will.

Stop worrying about this global warming fad and enriching those who would profit off of the fear mongering and misinformation coming from both sides. It won't be too long before this fad, like all others is just a bad memory. Instead, focus on making personal choices at home that are more responsible both to your family and our planet. After all, we are each responsible for the impact our personal decisions have on the world around us and everything we do will affect the condition of the world we leave our children.

*Poll was conducted from a random sampling of me, and holds just as much value as any other poll using leading questions and selective interpretation of resulting data.

Photography by
sanja gjenero

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Growing your own

This past summer I started my first garden and it was pretty big success in my opinion. We didn't get huge returns as far as food is concerned, but I did learn without a doubt that an average guy can pretty successfully grow some of his own food without much fuss.

Because we are renters I went with the square foot gardening method or SFG. We had permission to plant, but the fact is our back deck takes up about 1/3 of our yard space and the garden would take away from our kids play area which is a key reason we chose this place over others.

So what I did was build 4 of Mel's boxes and put them up on legs on our deck. At some point this year I will put up some pic's, but briefly what I did was place them half on and half off of the deck so we still have almost full use of the deck and the yard.

They are raised enough that the top of the soil is roughly 2 feet above the deck to help limit some of the bending associated with gardening and the kids can enjoy standing to pick things.

At any rate, the work was minimal and we were able to enjoy fresh lettuce, sugar snap peas radishes/greens and garlic greens through a good part of the summer. I also planted tomatoes, cucumbers, corn and broccoli with less success, but still had the same enjoyment watching them grow.

This year I will try a few things differently and see how it goes, but key among the differences is to plant peas and beans directly in front of our back windows to help keep out the hot sun and lower the need to use the air conditioner. As it is, the garden boxes themselves helped a lot last year by preventing so much of the suns heat from reflecting off of the deck into our home.

So for us, the garden provided fresh food, entertainment, shade and lower energy bills. Not a bad trade off and really very little work involved. Not only that, but our kids saw first hand that vegetables do not come from a can. Now to convince my wife to let me raise some rabbits.

Photography by Linda DuBose

Sunday, March 2, 2008

So what exactly is "Going Green"?

It seems to me there is no clear definition as to what constitutes going green so I think it's time to define what it means to me. I should also point out that as with many things, my personal definition will probably change over time as I learn more and as my families circumstances change. For now however, I think the following about covers it.

For me, going green is more of a lifestyle or life habit change. It covers pretty much anything that improves our quality of life. This covers everything from using or doing things that result in less waste to send to the landfill to deciding not to buy things or paying for services that will result in needing to spend more time working to pay for those things.

It isn't a decision to strictly follow any particular path or guidance but instead to simply try and make better choices that will have less of a negative impact on us and the world around us.

One example is drinking water instead of soda and getting our water from the tap instead of buying it in bottles from the store. This has had a pretty positive impact on our health because we no longer drink acids, sugars, artificial sweeteners/flavors/colors and chemicals as our main source of hydration. We save on our health, money and an endless amount of cans/bottles that would need recycled by giving up something that was really nothing more then a 2 day craving and withdrawal process once given up. We lost nothing but gained a lot.

Another basic example is giving up handys, or cell phones. In my opinion, most people really don't need them. I'm sure many may disagree, but in our personal lives, we see no reason for anyone with our number to be able to reach us 24/7. Heck, these phones haven't even been around all that long and we act as if we can't live life without them. Besides I bet if you think about it, you typically screen/ignore a large portion of the calls that come in on them to begin with so why pay some company month in and month out for that privilege?

How many hours do you have to work each month for that privilege? 1-2-5- more? It may not seem like much, but if you sit down and think about all the little things that don't seem like much, you may find a significant portion of your time is spent working to pay for all the little things. Would you rather be home with friends and family, or at work so you can afford to ignore their call?

For me, going green is as simple as that. Just working towards a lifestyle that allows us to be together instead of at work so we can pay for the things that keep us apart. The funny thing is, contrary to popular opinion and all 800 million commercials on t.v., living a bit simpler is healthier, easier, more enjoyable and much less stressful since we do not have to worry as much about how we will pay for all the extras.

It has taken a long time to realize this and like many I missed my children's younger years working to pay for the extras. But slowly and as time goes by we are learning to make choices that really do improve our lives, instead of ones that distract us and lead to an endless spiral of living to work so we can pay yet more bills.

Believe me, we have the debt to prove we are learning the hard way, but in the end it is a lesson well worth learning.

Photography by Dora Pete

Friday, February 29, 2008

What I've done so far

So far in our efforts to reduce our impact, we have done some basics. Remember we are renters so our list of changes may not reflect what you can do in your situation. For example we....

-Replaced our light bulbs with energy efficient CFL's. I know these are generally more expensive then incandescents initially, however over time they can save you a lot of cash. In fact, using the calculator at the Energy Star website I find we will conservatively save more then $800 over the life of the bulbs. That is using their best case life expectation for the incandescents (1,000 hours) and their worse case for the CFL's (6,000 hours). You can also lower your up front cost by watching for sales and checking out those stores that sell buyout items from other stores like we did.

-Improved our recycling habits. We have actually been doing this for years, however by changing some of our purchasing habits as well as continuing to teach our kids what goes where we have gotten much better. In fact our family of four can often go a month without needing to take our trash container to the curb. The only downside is our recycling container fills faster then the twice a month pick up.

-Began gardening this past summer. You can read about my lazy square foot garden, but for starters we had some fresh veggies on our back porch and some shade helping to prevent heat radiating into our living room which in turn lowered the need for our air conditioner. This year I hope to do better and will plant things to grow directly in front of those windows.

-Started using Freecycle which helps to keep items you no longer need in use by someone who does. This means preventing, or at least postponing when it goes to the landfill. It also means a new item does not need to be made to replace it.

-Stopped buying stuff. Not completely of course, but now we really think about whether we really need the item. Does it really fill a need or are we getting it because everyone else has one? In addition we have scaled back on services we use. I will talk more about that later too, but basically we decide if the cost justifies the time we must work to pay for it. I think going green is not just about direct environmental impact, but also in how the decisions you make will affect the time you have to spend working to pay for the things you buy.

-Are using energy efficient front loading washer and dryers. Not only do they use less electricity and water, but we run it with cold water saving energy and money that way as well. In addition, we wash the laundry using the detergent made for the machine in half the recommended amount. To increase the cleaning power, we use between 1/4 and 1/2 cup baking soda bought in bulk. This gets the clothes nice and clean without making them smell perfumey as well. If the clothes smell strong, we add a half cup vinegar to the wash. The vinegar also prevents static if you have a problem with it and we no longer need softener. This saves money, the clothes smell better and they last longer as well (fabric softener breaks down the fabric fibers, that's why they feel softer).

-Run our dishwasher on time saver mode and air dry. Our machine seems to work just fine with a basic wash, and we are not in such a hurry that we need to spend more money and energy on running the dry cycle. Some people think you can save water by doing it by hand, but I read a report a bit back that shows modern machines use less then the average person because we tend to let the water run between dishes. In other words, we are generally less efficient then the machine now days.

-Have placed gallon jugs in the water tanks of our toilets saving one gallon of water for every flush. Not only does this save water, it lowers our sewage bill since that is based on our water consumption. Why pay for that extra gallon twice when it isn't needed in the first place? If we were home owners we would invest in low flow toilets as funds allow.

Photography by Bill Davenport

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Just legalize it

Should renting or leasing solar panels qualify the company providing them as a utility company? That is what the Nevada Public Utilities Commission is set to decide in the very near future.

If the PUCN has its way, residents choosing to go solar may have no choice but to pony up 10's of thousands of dollars to do so. And this in a time when several companies are stepping up to make providing yourself with clean renewable energy affordable for almost any homeowner.

The PUCN claims providing panels in this way would be a duplication of service and if allowed, the various services would need to be further regulated and broken into specific territories. All because a few forward thinking companies see a market in providing affordable solar.

I wonder if companies renting gas powered emergency generators had to go through these sorts of hoops in order to rent you their systems.

More likely someone is afraid their monopoly is at risk of facing a bit of competition. Can you imagine what the future of energy will look like once the average person is finally able to choose what is best for themselves?

It's about time our free market system started acting like one.

Photography by Agata Urbaniak

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Kicking our oil addiction

How do we finally wean ourselves off of non renewable sources of energy? There are more opinions and heated arguments on this then many other topics but the Solar Grand Plan is one of the most comprehensive plans I have seen so far.

The basic jist is to build a variety of power generation sources using primarily solar energy due to its abundance and other sources such as wind and hydro as well as underground compressed air storage to supply stored energy at night.

They focus on solar farms as the key source of energy for the article, but realize that distributed sources(solar, wind, hydro etc.) generated at the point of use are necessary as well. In addition to providing a well thought out plan and article, the authors continue to discuss and answer any questions as they arise in the comment section that follows.

I highly recommend this article even if only to peak your interest in what is possible with todays technology. In my honest opinion, the only reason we are not further along in our use of renewable energy is because the average person is not truly aware of our current capabilities.
Photography by Dan MacDonald

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Who'd of thought typing could save the planet?

So I have finally learned how to type.

What does this have to do with going green you ask? Well, the way I figure it, I can save time and energy by being more efficient when I write conserving both calories (translating into less travel needed for groceries) and electricity needed to run this computer. Or it would if I could type more than 6 and half words a minute.

To be honest, I put it in here because of the method I am using to type. When I Googled for free programs to learn how to type (see, I am conserving money) I ran across something called the Dvorak keyboard. It caught my attention with its claims of being easier to learn and much less work then the Qwerty method (see, yet more ways for a lazy guy like me to conserve). As if that wasn't enough it claims to dramatically reduce RSI due to having been designed around the needs of the typist rather then the old style typewriter that Qwerty was designed for.

I won't take up much more time discussing Dvorak because as you will find in your own searches, a lot has already been said. I did want to leave you with some links I have found useful though.

You can learn how to change your keyboard to Dvorak for free here.

If you would like to have something to help visually until you get the keyboard down you can print a copy here.

For a bare bones basic course you can look here and for a more advanced course with timing and games you can go here.

After about a week now I will tell you I am very happy with my decision. In the past I have made a few failed attempts to learn how to type and this is the only time it has stuck. The layout makes sense and most words can be typed using just two rows of keys which is important for someone like me.

Now to build up to a respectable speed so I can write a post like this in less then three ours.

Photography by Erik Dungan