Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Man vs. Machine

I believe that bicycles are the transportation of the future, or will at least a big role in it. I would like to offer more insight on our blog about the ins and outs of bicycles, but to do that, I'm going to turn to my friend and avid bicyclist, Kenny Cotten. -Jason

Why I ride

I ride a bicycle for many reasons. I ride for fun. I ride for fitness. I ride to save money. But one reason stands out above all. I ride for advocacy. You see, I advocate cycling as it is my legal right to share the road. It is also a means of reducing our carbon footprint. It is a means to reducing a litany of health problems. It is a means to reduce stress and burn anxious energy built up throughout my day. It is so many things to me. I want to share my story with you, why riding a bike safely is so important to me.

Invisible me

You see, about four years ago, I was involved in a hit and run accident on my way home from work. It was a cool March afternoon and all was right in my world. Until, POW! I was lying on my back in the middle of an intersection. I remember hitting the ground hard and thinking that this was very bad. I knew my left knee was dislocated and my elbows were bleeding badly, but what I didn’t know yet was how I ended up in this dismal situation. I was hit from behind by a person in a mini-van. The individual was talking on the cell phone and I presume never saw me.

Now before you get all upset about poor little ol’ me, I want to share my part in the fault of this accident. You see, I had just begun commuting to work on my bike. I knew very little about the law as it relates to operating a bicycle on public streets. I had been riding with my earbuds in and my music volume loud. I was also riding on the sidewalk and entered the intersection at about 15 mph. I was basically invisible to the motorist. So I share the blame in the accident.

I came away from the accident utterly dismayed that I almost died and was shocked at how little humanity is left in this world. Not a single person at the intersection bothered to render aid or check to see if I was okay. Beckley and Ninth Street is a killing zone I discovered. The motorist watched me stumble from the wreck and then screeched toward the highway! WOW!

A Proposal

I would like to begin a series of posts on how a person might manage to avoid this situation and actually share the road with cars while enjoying a childhood pastime. So I leave you with this, riding a bike is no more dangerous than it was when we were kids, it just seems that we are merely mortals after all. -Kenny

Kenneth Cotten has been a European Import Auto Tech for the past 17 years. He's taught Automotive Technology at W.H. Adamson High School (Dallas, TX) for the past eight of those years. He drums for two locally performing bands, and works part-time for a custom bicycle manufacturing company as the sales and marketing specialist. Kenny has been married for over 14 years and has two young daughters (6 and 9). Four years ago, Kenny quit driving a car as he discovered it is not a necessity for him here in Oak Cliff... so long as he has a bike.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Homemade...Onion & Cheese Casserole

About five years ago my mom gave each of her three kids a family recipe book she compiled for Christmas (a great gift idea, by the way - especially for those of you whose chicks have recently flown the coop). Filled with all of our family favorites growing up in Virginia, these classics have now become favorites for my children. And yes you read that title right - Onion Casserole has become an oft-requested dish by my kids! You know it must be good! I swear to you my almost-10 year old just called out "Can you make this for me for my birthday?!?!" And she's serious!

I'm going to give you my slightly modified version because that's what I made. With the addition of Swiss Cheese, it almost tastes like French Onion Soup. I like to call it "French Onion Soup on Imodium." You could even throw in a couple of dashes of white wine if you really wanted to up the French Onion Soup flavor. It's so simple and tastes absolutely fantastic. Enjoy!

Onion & Cheese Casserole

1 Tbsp. butter
8 slices buttered toast (we use whole wheat), each slice cut into 4 strips
1 large white onion, 1 medium Vidalia onion, and about 3-4 small red onions - all thinly sliced
2 small-medium handfuls Cheddar cheese
4 slices Swiss cheese
1/4 cup Feta cheese
1 egg
1 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 tsp. celery seed

Butter a 7.5" x 11.5" x 2" baking dish. Line baking dish with toast. Cover with a layer of onions (all 3 varieties mixed together), 1 handful of Cheddar, and 2 slices of Swiss, torn into pieces. Repeat with another layer of toast, onions, and 2 cheeses. Sprinkle top with the Feta.

Beat egg slightly and add balance of ingredients. Pour over contents of dish. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Serve at once. Serves 6-8.

A few notes:
  • The original recipe calls for a flat, 2 quart baking dish, but I didn't have that.
  • It also calls for only 4-5 slices of toast, but we like it with more.
  • The original specifies using 9-10 sliced medium-sized onions (and boiling them after slicing until just tender, then draining), but that many won't remotely fit in my dish. Plus it is so much faster and tastes just as good to use raw onions.
  • And hey - cheese is just as delectable no matter what kind you use. So experiment! Some Monterrey Jack or even a bit of Blue Cheese would taste great, too.
  • While I am not one to use absolutes when it comes to cooking, one thing I would highly recommend including is the celery seed. I oddly enough don't use it in anything else, but can't imagine this dish without it. -Carrie

Monday, August 23, 2010

Reduction Ahead...

For all who have faithfully followed our blog, Thank You! We greatly appreciate and enjoy your input and comments. Carrie and I start back to school this week and we've been forced to make some decisions about the blog. Due to the time it takes to write a post, we believe it is better to give you two to three meaningful posts per week instead of six short "filler" posts. If it turns out school isn't as tough as we think it's going to be (please keep your fingers crossed!), we'll try to post more often. Also, if you find an interesting piece that you think would be worth posting here, please let us know. Additionally, we'd be interested in having a guest post or two if you have something up our sustainability alley. -Jason

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Blogs That Inspire Me

My introduction to the blogosphere occurred about two years ago as I googled ways to purchase groceries inexpensively. I had heard of blogs but didn't know a thing about them. Little did I realize then that in two short years I'd have a blog of my own! I'd like to showcase a few blogs that I've come to rely on over the years to provide inspiration and laughter, insight and tips. Here they are, in no particular order:
  • Little Homestead in the City: A blog showcasing the Dervaes Family of California. They are amazing and a huge inspiration to those interested in Urban Farming/Homesteading. On about 4000 square feet of land (just 1/10th of an acre) they strive to produce up to 6000 pounds of produce a year. They also raise chickens and ducks for eggs, rabbits for manure, goats for milk and manure, and bees for honey and pollination. A must for anyone wanting to learn about a more self sufficient, "simple" way of life (though they keep plenty busy, to be sure!).
  • Get Rich Slowly: Devoted to sensible personal finance, J.D. Roth has been blogging on the subject for over 4 years. A vast amount of great information on subjects like Getting out of Debt, Life After Debt, Saving for Travel, and Living Inexpensively - just the tip of the iceberg!
  • Zen Habits: Every time I read Leo Babauta's blog I seriously get up from whatever I am doing and go on a cleaning/purging spree! Three articles a week focus on: simplicity, health & fitness, motivation and inspiration, frugality, family life, happiness, goals, getting great things done, and living in the moment. His most recent post is a great one entitled The Wastefulness of Decluttering.
  • Frugal Babe: A thirty-something married mother of 1, she writes some compelling posts about simple living, sustainable living, and a low-car lifestyle. While I wish she had more pictures (I LOVE pictures!), I really enjoy her writing. Some recent posts include Cutting Expenses to Focus on What you Really Want and The Cost of a Car.
  • The Inadvertent Farmer: Kim lives on a 10 acre farm in Washington State. She has a bevy of animals (and kids!), and documents life on a farm through her amazing photography (here and here - just a sampling) and quick wit.
  • 5 Acres & a Dream: Leigh and her husband live on 5 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Southern Appalachia. With cats, 8 chickens, two goats, and the recent addition of a llama, she has her hands full! Leigh writes about living on her homestead, animal keeping, gardening, and food preservation. Very down to earth with loads of good information.
That about sums up the blogs I try to keep a loose eye on. A few others that I've recently come across and enjoy include CoMo Homestead and Rowdy Kittens (about simple living - no cats as the name implies!). Are there any like-minded blogs that you'd recommend to our readers? Thanks! -Carrie

Friday, August 20, 2010

Go! Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello

It's times such as this that I WISH I lived back in Virginia. Not to mention the fact that much of my family still lives there and I miss them dearly! Perusing through the new issue of Mother Earth News I came upon an advertisement for the 4th annual Heritage Harvest Festival at Jefferson's Monticello (near Charlottesville, VA). Scheduled for September 10th-11th, it includes a dizzying array of both free and "premium" (i.e. extra cost) talks and workshops on every topic imaginable in the heirloom gardening, sustainable living, food preservation, water conservation, etc., etc. realm. Access the list of workshops here.

Just a few of the talks I have my eyes on are as follows:
  • Mushroom Cultivation
  • Mainstreaming Heirloom Vegetables
  • Low Energy Food Preservation Techniques
  • Home Grown Hops
  • Backyard Fruit Propagation
  • The Zero Garbage Challenge
  • Good Milk Makes Good Cheese
And again, these are just to name a few! Some presenters include:
You can be sure I will be making it there within the next few years. If you are able to go PLEASE let me know how it is! -Carrie

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Tale of Two Pears

My Confession
I have a confession to make… There was one not so long ago which I lusted after. Actually, there were many from the same family, and I would have been happy to have any one of them. They were all sweet and had the perfect shape of a pear. Carrie wanted one too! I could almost taste her in my mouth…

If you haven’t guessed yet, she was a pear.

My Find
A couple of months ago, I happened upon a tree in my neighborhood by a sidewalk which was loaded with pears. Our previous winter was a cold one and this fruit tree, which depends upon the winter’s chilling hours to produce it’s treasure, was LOADED with what we later learned is a seckel pear.

Shortly after the discovery, I obtained permission from the owner of the tree to harvest the fruit. He was glad to let me have them as he found them to be more of a nuisance. I researched, I learned, I salivated and I waited for harvest time. I was excited about my find and all of the things I would do with my seckel pears. Pear wine (as seen below from Weinhof Winery of our Hill Country Heaven post), pear jelly, pear syrup, juice, and just plain whole pears.

My Apprehension
I had only one apprehension. It was next to a public sidewalk. Any number of people without manners enough to ask could steal "my" fruit. So I waited on bated breath for the time of harvest, early August.

Sometime around the end of July my path took me by my tree when I noticed the lower half had been picked! The thief! I knew it! My worst fears had come true! Why am I using so many exclamation marks?!!! The top half of the tree still had its fruit and I would just have to make do with a half harvest.

It wasn’t too long before I learned that my worst fears weren’t realized. I saw the owner a week before harvest and stopped him to tell him that I would come by in a week to get the remaining fruit. He then apologized to me. For what you ask? He removed the lower half of the fruit and placed them in the trash bin because he was tired of dealing with an errant pear falling and spoiling on the ground, enticing flies. I was heartbroken. Seriously, are we so rich in this country that it’s not enough to put our table scraps in the trash, but we have to take fruit straight off the tree and put it in the trash!

I later learned of a tale told by Carrie’s grandfather, Gamps, of seckel pears. Back in 1938, Gamps’ father lived in Attleboro, Massachusetts where he, like so many people back then, had several varieties of edible fruit he grew, including seckels. As the tale goes, he loved those seckels and would eat them straight from the tree. As luck would have it, a hurricane came through that year towards the end of seckel season and Mr. Keeler knew his crop would be wiped out. Not to let the weather get the best of him, he stood out by his seckel and enjoyed his pears in the wind and rain!

What a contrast compared to the tree owner in my tale. One man loved the fruit of his land and realized its value, while the other felt it more of a burden.

I went back to my tree a week later as planned. The remaining pears, I found, had been picked to some degree by the birds which led to their spoil. I managed to harvest a whole seven pears out of over 150. All I can say is live, learn, and repeat. Of course, next time I will coordinate with the tree’s owner and perhaps net the tree in preparation for harvest. I still weep on the inside at the thought of my dashed dreams of the pear dalliances I had planned. -Jason

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Extreme Measures in Micro Environments

You may have heard of a New Yorker named Colin Beaven. Beaven set out on a mission to, over the course of a year, live a life of zero carbon impact. His experiment was documented in a book and movie of the same title: No Impact Man.

It was fascinating watching this little family take steps toward a greener lifestyle. Little by little, their creature comforts were removed until they were living without electricity. What an extreme measure and without a doubt you could label him an extremist. Here’s the thing though; Napoleon was an extremist with little tolerance. Jim Jones, David Koresh, Marilyn Manson, Bin Laden, and Hitler were all extremists who made and changed history. What would America look like today if Lincoln hadn’t taken that extreme position on slavery without waiver? What would it look like if he had negotiated his morals? The same could be said of Martin Luther King.

I’m not saying we should all be extremists, but perhaps by being someone willing to go out on a limb every once in a while we can all change our little world around us. -Jason

Monday, August 16, 2010

How to Make Dinner on Solar Energy

I want to tip my hats to a couple of scientists in Florida who are doing a good job of demonstrating how to live off of green power. HERE is one of their many videos found on youtube.com. This one shows how to make a pasta dinner by using just the sun and one very powerful fresnel lens.

If you're not familiar with the fresnel lens, THIS video is worth a gander. Enjoy. -Jason

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Where to?

Last I checked, Dallas had over 2 million citizens. According to the city’s website, we have over 27,000 residents within a one mile radius of our house, yet, I feel so alone in our quest. There are some out there, no doubt, who share our values, but by and far we are missing a sense of common drive with out neighbors.

I checked out the other day and my milk was placed in a bag and given to me before I could ask them not to. That may be a force of habit, a directive by the supermarket, or just the fact that nobody asks them not to do that. Point is, they obviously don’t subscribe to Carrie’s philosophy on do’s and don’ts of using bags. I look out the window and see six lanes of traffic. Hampton Rd. must carry tens of thousands of people over the course of the day moving to and fro in their cars. Seldom do I see a bicycle.

I’m obviously longing for a time when neighbors knew each other and took care of each other. Building a house was a community affair and “going into town” consisted of a day trip each way. Where are the people we are supposed to lean on during the hard times and celebrate with in the good? Where is my community?

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ancient Appliances and a Boatload of Canning Jars!

Jason recently scored some awesome finds at a local estate sale. He paid a mere $15 for everything pictured above, PLUS a whopping SEVENTY FIVE canning jars! The jars came to only $3 of the total cost. What a steal! It pays to occasionally peruse estate sales. We have more luck finding needed items there then at garage sales. But then again we're usually looking for un-hip, old-timey items anyway. The very nature of an estate sale tends to lend itself to this pursuit.

This is a close up of a vintage Wear-Ever Strainer. I kid you not - the handle is the most amazing ergonomically designed thing I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. It was the first thing I mentioned when Jason brought it in.

Another vintage Wear-Ever piece - this one a chopper, or "Multi-use Salad Shooter." We already tested it out and it works like a charm.

Our new, organized Canning Cupboard! These shelves are two boxes deep.
We probably now have about 150 jars of various sizes.
I've put a moratorium on buying the jars - now we need to fill them!

Have you found any cool kitchen related items at a garage or estate sale? Please share them, we'd love to hear about your finds! -Carrie

Thursday, August 12, 2010

North Texas Windmills

I love a bit of irony. The photo above was shot on our way to Ancient Ovens (read more here), to contrast the old oil rig next to the newer windmill. Back in the day, Texas was into oil in a BIG way. Texas tea, Texaco, and The Houston Oilers (The old Houston team) are all synonymous with Texas. You may even remember Mr. J.R. Ewing, the big oil man from the TV show Dallas.

We still produce a bit of oil, for now, but a new energy producer has moved into town. Shown here are the windmills of Muenster, TX. Located a stones throw north of Dallas, there are now some 75+ windmills sending power back into the grid and down to Dallas.

Each windmill is 256 feet wide and produces enough energy to power 250 homes. The windmills do make a light humming sound, which is a turnoff to some residents, but that wouldn't deter me from allowing them to put one in my backyard. I like seeing them and call it progress in motion.

Here are some more pictures of these gentle giants for your viewing enjoyment. -Jason

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Petrified Wood Station, Decatur, TX

During our recent trip to St. Jo, TX, we took a detour off the highway and ended up going through downtown Decatur. It is about 1 hour northwest of Dallas. We were excited to come upon a great complex of buildings completely covered in petrified wood. I'd never seen anything like it.

Apparently the property started out as a camp site on the outskirts of town. In 1927 the owner added a gas station, and two years later he added a diner for travelers. In the early 1930s 5 cabins were built. Then, in 1935, locally quarried petrified wood was used to side the exterior of all the buildings. This, understandably, helped to make the complex a tourist attraction in it's own right. However, the construction of the interstate that bypassed the town spelled the eventual closing of the diner in 1964, the cabins ten years later, and the gas station by 1989. But a granddaughter of the original owner restored the property in the early 1990s. The diner (known as the "Whistle Stop Cafe") again serves up food and the gas station is used as an office.

If you happen to be in the area, get off the highway and take a peek at the Petrified Wood Station. It will be well worth your 15 minutes. -Carrie

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Some Like it Hot!

My grandfather liked it hot. He had a sinister side to him and loved to tell Grandma it wasn’t. As the story goes, she would taste his salsa under false pretense and then make haste for the water. Let’s just say his halo wasn’t always on square. All of my aunts and uncles took part in the ritual of making and canning salsa. Today, two or three still practice the art.

My mother stopped making salsa when she moved out after high school. I knew of the salsa recipe and knew that some still made it. After an afternoon with grandma one day, I came home with recipe in hand and dove into the world of food preservation. Long story short, my recipe has evolved a bit and is based on my grandfather’s recipe, though I’ve taken out most of the kick and replaced it with a hint of sweetness. My theory is, anyone can make it hot, it takes a bit of skill to make all of the flavors meld together in a symphony.

My symphony consists of these ingredients…

1½ lbs. tomato (peeled and cored then diced)
1½ lbs. tomato (diced)
1 Med. Yellow Onion (diced)
2 Tsp. cumin
½ Tsp allspice
1 Tbsp apple vinegar
4 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp salt
1 crown of cilantro
1 habanera peppers
2 serrano peppers
2 jalapeno peppers
2 shakes celery seed
1/8 to 3/8 cup spoon brown sugar to taste.

My older kids are growing up today making salsa with their pop. We all have assignments in the kitchen when we do make it, and it flows like clockwork. Here’s what we do…

Kristen starts by boiling water and blanching ½ the tomatoes and removing their peels. She uses a hand food processor to mince the tomatoes. Will mans the cutting board and chops the other half. This produces a chunky salsa. For a smoother salsa, peel all tomatoes. I start chopping on the onions, cilantro, and mincing garlic. Will starts to tackle the spices while Kristen pulls everything together back on the stove and begins to stir. This whole process takes about 45 minutes. I advise putting the sugar and peppers in last. This will allow you to make it to your taste. Whew…

Finished Salsa Simmering

To Can or Not to Can

I’d like to go into canning here, but can’t because the subject is worthy of a small book. Be it safe to say there’s plenty of information around on this subject and too much to explain in this article to make it safe if you don’t know what you’re doing.

My grandfather passed when I was in grade school. I have few memories of the man. When we make this salsa, I always take a minute and think of him and know that he’d be glad to see me teaching the kids this wonderful art of food preservation. -Jason

Monday, August 9, 2010

Stop Doing That!

I have to hand it to the human race. We are the only species which can create a problem, then create a "solution" to the problem. Except the solution becomes a problem within itself and we must have another "solution" manufactured.

Why not just stop doing what caused the problem in the first place?

50 Years ago: A man goes to the doctor and says, "Doc, my arm hurts every time I bend it like this!" The doctor looks at the man and says, "Then stop doing that!"

Today: A man goes to the doctor and says, "Doc, my arm hurts every time I bend it like this!" The doctor looks at the man and says, "I have just the prescription!"

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Using Pot... A Bad Habit to Have

I have no clue how any of my readers may use this or relate it to their lives, but I feel I must say something publicly about this atrocity of my own doing.

The wheels of industry just don't stop for the color green... Above is a picture of the waste generated from a small landscape install I did just the other day. I say again, this is from a SMALL job. I have no idea how to curb this. My first thought is to call the nursery and try to get them to take back the containers, but this particular nursery grows some plants and imports others, so some pots may not be usable to them. Also, I don't do installs every day. In fact, I average about one per month. How do I get them back to them without burning more petroleum or having them sit in my yard, waiting for the next ride? For now, they will see the end of their lives in my recycling bin. RIP Pots. -Jason

Friday, August 6, 2010

Warning: Water Saving Information Contained Within

There are few areas I am more passionate about in the landscape than water conservation through proper irrigation techniques. I know, how much nerdier can you get? It's true though. I get my panties especially bunched up when I see sprinklers watering in the middle of the day, or water being applied daily. Often, these errors are not intentional. They are the result of not understanding how to program a controller.

I have to admit that the information I'm about to give you is really, really technical but really, really important. Little mistakes add up quickly. I'll try to make direct points and keep it simple. Ok, here we go.
Programming Starts on the Kitchen Table

A well programmed box starts on the kitchen table. Decide what your landscape needs before you are in front of a box trying to decide. I've included an sample form to guide you through my method. The first thing you should do is list your zones and what they irrigate. If your zone covers more than one type of plant material, list either the predominate material or play to the more water needy material.

Your next step should be to assign run times to the zones. Please see my blog article Water Misers and Naughty Nuns for more information on this.

Modern controllers are sophisticated enough to water different material in different ways. They do this by using "Programs" to group like material together. Most controllers will have three to four programs. You should assign each program to a plant material. In this case, Program A is dedicated to watering annuals, Program B to watering beds and so on. Because Zone 5 waters the annuals, it will be the only zone relevant to Program A. Assign run times for the rest of the chart using this method.

Start time is the single most confusing part of the programing process. START TIME APPLIES TO THE PROGRAM, NOT THE ZONE. In this case, I have the annuals set to water at 9:00 a.m.

The rest of the card is simple enough, I want my annuals to water every because they are wimpy. So to recap: Program A will run every zone under it 7 days a week at 9:00 am.

Continue to fill out the rest of the form in the same manner for Programs B, C, and D.

Programming the Controller

I will speak now to Weathermatic, RainBird, and Hunter Controllers. I teach my clients the "one click to the right" method to keep things simple. This method starts by rotating the dial one click to the right which is usually the time setting. Once the time is set, rotate one click to the right.

MAKE SURE THE PROGRAM IS SET TO "A". Proceed in entering the information for Program A, and progress by moving the dial one click to the right each time until you've completed the cycle.

MAKE SURE THE PROGRAM IS SET TO "B". Repeat the processes above until all of the information on your form is programed into the controller.

WARNING: Most control boxes will have a position called "Run Time." Rotating to this position will produce a prompt on the screen which may say something like "run time 1", which is sometimes confused as "Run time for Zone 1." In this confusion, people believe they are assigning run times for each zone when in reality they are assigning multiple run times for the program. In the case of Program B, this mistake will cost you 60 additional minutes of watering.

When to use Multiple Run Times

Multiple run times comes in useful when you plant something like sod which has a shallow root system at first and dries out quickly. In this case, switch your zone over to an empty program and this will give you the flexibility to custom water that zone. In this case, Zone 1 was switched from Program C to Program D where it will water three times a day for four minutes each time.

An empty form is included here for your convenience. -Jason

Thursday, August 5, 2010

How to Stop the Flow...or at Least Diminish the Byproducts

Warning: Guys, if you're not into bathroom talk (but seriously, what guy isn't?) then you may not want to read any further!

A woman's monthly menstrual cycle is a gift from God - allowing us to have children - while also being a "curse" a female must deal with for 40 or so years! This post will focus on the products to deal with said cycle: specifically tampons. Oh, to be free from these bondages of plastic, synthetic fibers, and waste! Growing up I really didn't think twice about how my choices in menstrual paraphernalia would or even could effect the local landfill. But now when those 5 or 6 days roll around every month, I find it to be in the forefront of my mind.

I know not all ladies, especially those just beginning this journey towards a greener lifestyle, will welcome the opportunity to use a reusable pad or tampon. Sadly, some women are just too grossed out by this. Since I still have no experience with reusable pads or tampons (though I plan to in the very near future), I want to speak to those women who feel they absolutely can't give up single use tampons. I believe in the importance of baby steps, though, and by actually thinking about the kinds of tampons you use, you can make a big impact in the amount of waste you produce and send to the dump.

Pictured below are two commonly used brands of tampons. Both packages contain 18 tampons, but it is immediately clear which puts a far greater strain on our environment.

For simplicity, let's say you use 18 tampons per cycle (some use less, some more, but 18 per box is probably the most common size sold). Eighteen o.b. super tampons, wrappers, and box weigh a mere 2 ounces compared to the 18 Kotex super tampons, applicators, wrappers, and box that weigh in at 6 ounces. Multiply this difference (4 ounces) by an average of 12 cycles per year, and you have an extra 48 ounces (3 pounds) of waste going to the landfill with the Kotex than you would otherwise have if you forgo the applicator and went with a brand such as o.b.. Due to the reduced packaging (mainly because of the lack of applicator), you can fit six boxes of o.b. inside of just one box of Kotex. Are you catching my drift? The beauty is we were made with the most wonderful reusable applicator - and it's attached to our bodies so you can't lose it - our finger! Yes, the first time or two it may seem a bit weird, but it's completely natural and washes off in about two seconds. And you don't have to throw your finger in the trash!

Seeing as I still have a few boxes of o.b.s left over from my coupon queen days (read more about that in this post), I want to use these up before I look into purchasing (or making - explained in this post from Frugal Babe) a more sustainable reusable cloth pad or DivaCup reusable "tampon." So, ladies - have you already stopped purchasing single use menstrual products? If so, what works best for you? Thanks in advance for your input! In a few months when I delve deep into the world of reusable pads and tampons, I'll do another post on my findings. -Carrie

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Green Ingenuity: Houston Sustainabillity Design Competition

As part of our Green Ingenuity Series, I want to share with all of our readers a project by a planning and design company out of Houston. This project was born out of a competition for sustainable design. You will hear the speakers in the background while viewing their project.

Allow me to give you some background which will make for a better viewing experience. When a developer develops a piece of land, he or she is required to design that piece of land so that no additional water runoff is created. This presents a challenge when you start putting up a lot of roofs and roads because water sheds off these items quickly. This water shed, when multiplied by the homes and streets in a city creates flash flooding and erosion problems downstream. To help mitigate this problem, you often times see a huge depression at the corner of a new development. This depression is made to capture the said runoff and release it slowly back into the environment. Developers hate this because it is lost land. One solution which I will blog about in near future is a rain garden which captures and holds water, releasing it back into the environment very slowly.

The video is about 6 minutes in length. Please enjoy.

Houston Sustainabillity Design Competition. Residential Winner.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Save Money by Going Back in Time: Whole House Fans

My grandma & grandpa's house was built in 1953 and like all homes built then, central heat and air was not available. Matter of fact, high-tech for 1953 was Saran Wrap and radial tires, which both made their debut onto the market that year. Also in 1953, the first 3D movie was shown and color television aired for the first time. Air conditioners saw their first milestone when one million window units made their way into homes around the world. These window units were big ticket items then. My grandpa, being a truck driver with a family of 9 to feed, wouldn’t have put much money into this newfangled technology. They knew how to get around heat waves without cool air.

Fast forward 30 years. I remember as a teenager one day sitting in Grandma’s living room on a spring morning and enjoying a cool breeze passing through the house. There was a hum and slight squeak of a motor turning in the background which was abnormal too. I didn’t put two and two together for another twenty minutes and when I investigated found the source of the breeze, it was a HUGE fan mounted between the attic and living space. I had noticed before the louvers which remained closed when the fan was not on. This time, with the fan on, I got my first glimpse of the fan itself. I marveled for a moment at the strength of this thing.

Antique whole house fan like Grandma used to have.

To Buy or Not to Buy?

The whole house fan worked by sucking air through open windows, into the living space and pumping it into the attic. This brought outside temperatures inside and cooled the attic off as well. Earlier this year, I randomly recalled this wonder and decide to investigate this ancient appliance to see if it would fit into our lifestyle change. Step 1, find a serviceable unit somewhere close by which we could turn on and evaluate. Step 1 was short lived. After putting the word out, I found that nobody uses these things anymore. Bummer.

Long story short, here’s what I did learn through the internet.

1. The larger the fan, the more noise they generate.

2. The more blades they have, the less noise they generate.

3. Vibrations travel through the fan and into the frame of the house producing noise.

I ended up purchasing a mid-sized fan for my 1100 sq/ft home. I’ll spare you the installation details, but I will mention that I hung the fan from the rafters to avoid the vibration transfer to the frame! This is the first I’ve heard of this and I haven’t seen anything negative as of yet. You can see the one I purchased HERE.

Fan with louvers closed.

Fan with louvers open.

Suspension system from rafters.

Here’s what we’ve learned from our fan.

1. Hot air outside = hot air inside. (We knew this already, but worth saying again.)

2. Air circulating in a hot house is more comfortable than stagnant air in a hot house.

3. Occasionally, you can get cold and need a sheet to sleep with on a July night in Dallas.

4. My fan is a good bit smaller than Grandma’s was. We get a pretty good breeze with a 24” (4500 cubic/feet per minute) fan, but can only open two or three windows. Strategically, this is ok in most instances because for us, opening a window in the kitchen brings air through the kitchen, dining room, and part of the living room before it moves through the fan. Opening every window in the house creates a very light breeze which does nothing to comfort you. I will go with a much bigger fan next time.

5. The breeze is best by the open window.

6. The two speed option works great. High for daytime use, and low (quieter) for sleeping.

7. Seriously, if you pass gas in the kitchen, don’t expect it to stay in the kitchen. It’ll hit every olfactory nerve between you and the fan.

Side note: It’s currently 101.5° F outside with 25% humidity. I have the WH Fan on, a desk fan on me and ceiling fan on in the living room for Carrie. We are both comfortable. A lot of this has to do with acclimation to the heat and the humidity as we never put the thermostat below 85 and often see temps as high as 89° or 90°.

I do recommend using a Whole House Fan to mitigate the heat. Currently, we use it about 12 hours a day in a Dallas summer. In case you’re wondering, Grandma had her fan removed about 5 years ago in favor of a pull down attic stairway. As far as I knew, it still worked after fifty years. What I wouldn’t give to go back in time and get that from her. That’s the kind of heirloom that’s worth passing down. -Jason

Addendum: Illustrations show the difference between Attic Fans and Whole House Fans, as we know them here in Dallas, TX.