Act Local

Some may have seen it as inevitable, but I am still pretty stoked about it. This past Monday I was sworn in as one of 5 members of our village’s Green Committee. We advise the village board on, well, All Things Green. We recommend standards for landscaping, ways to improve water quality, and most importantly given our explosive growth (500% in the next 10 years)-mitigating the environmental impact of our Village.

In addition to working closely with NGO’s like the Rock River Coalition (the Rock is 2 miles from our village center), we are also setting standards for the developers that seek to cash in on our prime realestate. Over the next year we will be looking to enact a variety of statues to put us into company of such progressive municipalities as Madison, WI and Chicago. For starters we are considering mandating that all new developments have engineered or natural Rain Gardens in place under every downspout to limit runoff, encouraging the use of native plantings in detention basins, and including packages with the land rights to protect greenspace in eco sensitive areas near the new developments.

If you come across any ideas that you think could help my budding village of 1200 souls stay green please let me know!

Be the Change: Going Carbon Nuetral

I have several Favorite Quotes-of late I have been focusing on 2 that I will paraphrase here:

“He who would be a man, must needs be a non-conformist”
Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Be the change you want to see in the world”
-Mahatma Gandhi

I use both to guide my life, most evidenced by my gardening and car choices. Now, we are applying Gandhi’s a step further and trying to go Carbon Nuetral. Even though I drive a hybrid and am a budding “hyper-miler” (those that strive to push the mileage limit-sometimes over their own good sense) we still drive ALOT as a family-upwards of 30,000 miles annually with family time zones away. Also, we aren’t off grid yet so even all the compact flourescents and high effeceincy appliances (my washer uses under $8/yr in electricity) will never make us zero emmisions. I do want to say we are doing better-about 30-50% lower carbon than the ‘average American family’. Mia is really driving us to reduce our ecological footprint-she is thinking Global on this-I am thinking Local (this is why we get along so well!): while I am out planting trees, she is researching the purchase of energy credits for our family. Energy Credits are a contentious issue-but we prefer to side step the debate and side with organizations Fighting the Good Fight-basically grass roots funding for Green Energy.

After a feverish weekend of research, Mia settled on 2 choices. We are now offsetting the emmisions of our driving with NativeEnergies Cool Driver program with a monthly subscription. There are several energy credit options out there, but Native Energy appears to be the best package and is backed by many companies we hold in high esteem and whose judgement we trust (Ben & Jerry’s, Stoneyfield Farms, and Cliff Bar). Also we are signed up with Whole Food’s Renewable Choice Energy to offset our household energy. All told it comes to under $5/wk and we rounded up so we are probably ‘offsetting’ some of our neighbor’s too. Our utility does offer green energy choices, but it would kick us off the budget plan which we love. This also gets our money to 100% green organizations-no nukes, natural gas, or coal.

Be the Change!!

Stories that define us

So-its Earth Day-that is becoming more of a Big Deal to us than it used to be years ago. In the effort to make it a real holiday we are beginning to form some traditions. This is now our second annual Earth Day Dinner-hosting this year one other couple for a homemade meal of locally produced food from the recently (for the season) opened farmers market in Madison. Mia made a wonderful ‘country pie’ of vegetables and a pan of roasted root vegetables (not much in season in April this far north!) that was fantastic. Our friends have children very similar in ages (4 and under) and we enjoyed watching and playing matchmaker between our son and their daughter.

As dinner wound down we were discussing preparing kids to handle the trials of adolescence and that inevitably led to us sharing the foibles of our youth-the stories that have built us into who we are today. We all have some whoppers-those stories that for a variety of reasons we choose to tell to define particular elements of who we are. Like the time I went to the Grand Canyon with my college buddies on spring break to throw a toilet into it (we chickened out at the $50k fines and instead threw it off MT Elgin in Flagstaff-no worries I made everyone pick up the pieces and ‘back out what we packed in’) or the time I walked 41 miles to work round trip for no good reason. I guess I like those stories because they remind me of the fact that I am, and always have been, a little crazy and that I am proud of that.

Back when I was in Retail Management I would sit my graduating seniors down every summer before they went off to college and give them one of my soap box speeches. They were instructed on the typical stuff-don’t drink more than you study; don’t date anyone seriously the first semester, but I would always finish with the admonishment to Make Stories. This was the time in their life when they would experience an unprecedented, and often unrepeatable, level of freedom- this was their chance to begin to write their own tale-the legend that begins when they leave the village and make their way in the world. The stories that they may be telling for years to come.

These days I throw a lot less toilets off things, but I am still writing stories (less figuratively right now I guess!)-about worm bins, sod piles, hybrid journeys and dinners with friends so close they are becoming family. The Stories that define me.

Happy Earth Day everyone!

Progress! Worm Bin and the ‘Back 40’

Just a quick catch up-even though I have strayed from the gardening theme I have by no means neglected them.

The worm bin is done! With the ability to hold over a cu yard of worm habitat I am looking forward to some serious compost by summers end. 2#’s of worms arrived from a slightly distressed UPS driver last week and in they went along with 10 gallons of coffee grounds and about a gallon of our household waste. The block was cheap, but I spent some coin on the lid to match our deck and fence-cedar. With the goal being an unobtrusive box to fit in with our middle class subdivision I felt it was warranted. It seems to have worked: my in laws were here all weekend and we spent all Saturday outside and my mother in law never even noticed the bin. Just the thing to keep under the radar of the neighbors! A few comments on the pic-the rocks in the foreground were all dug out of the whole (I love our ‘dirt’!) and the rubbermaid in the background is our old bin-this one is a teensy bit bigger! Within a month I will have the ground around it prepared for a native woodland planting to mask it even further.

The Back 40. Now I know I don’t really have 40 acres, let alone enough to need to differentiate between my pastures, but in my delusions I refer to our back 20′ this way. Most of our backyard gently slopes down to a swale that drains the hill our subdivision is on, but the last 20′ slopes up to the D.O.T fence providing a nice, albeit small, buffer to the freeway. I have had plans for this section sense we moved in-with the goals of 1)blocking the freeway from sight 2) reducing maintenance (no mowing!) 3) Be easy on the eyes as it commands the view from the house. Last summer I planted over 400 sunflowers to meet those goals. It failed miserably due to the utter lack of attention I spent on site prep-plus I would need to replant it yearly. So this year-much like the worm bin- I am Going Big. 25 Green Giant Thuja’s from the Botany Shop are on the way the first week in May. I will be planting them on a zig-zag across the full back lot line and within 3 years I should have a nice wind/sight break. While evergreens are better than Big Rigs to look at-I can do better, and I would still have to mow. Time to refer to my permaculture texts. I will be guilding this stretch (about 1500 sq ft) to be self sufficient with a mix of n-fixing shrubs (Goumi) and herbs (native Lupine and Clover) with some nutrient accumulators (Yarrow) and a whole mess of insect attractors (butterfly weed, indigo, coneflower, etc) and some biomass plants (Big BlueStem and Switchgrass). Everything but the shrubs will be as a cover crop seed mix I will be mixing up in 2 weeks. Here is a pic of what I am going for in the ‘feel’ of the cover crop-though it will take severl years to get that good.

But I still need to get the site prepped-the sod is to thick right now. The initial thought was to sheet mulch it, but finding 10 cu yards of manure proved difficult so I am opting to sweat it out-stripping the sod, and then turning the soil to loosen it up. This is a Big Job-1500 sq feet by hand is not to be taken lightly (300′ killed me last year, but I have better tools and technigue now), but I have 2 weeks so unless my muscles shut down, or we get some crazy rain I should make it. Here is a shot of today’s progress-about 100 sq feet de- sodded and 70 or so turned. Once the sod is up the soil is in great shape-great tilth and lots of worms and bugs. Excellent! Also notice the starting of the swale that I am linking the bottom end of the planting with-this is to hold as much moisture as possible as in 1500 sq feet I will have over 35 trees counting the sycamores and maples I put in last year. The progress went well, but I have a long way to go… The perspective is off in the pic-but from the broken ground on the right to the fence in background is 100′. Ouch. One unexpected problem is what to do with the sod. As it is littered with quack grass I will not be reusing it. Last year I composted the sod as I went-but now I just deep sixed 2 of my bins to make room for the worms and just this 100 sq ft was a cu yard of sod. My worms have better things to eat so for now I am just piling it in a corner of the yard (Mia is not thrilled). It will compost there and I will aggresively compost in the remaining pile while using some for bedding for the verm. At this rate (about 10 cu yards by projects end!!!) I will have plenty of compost for next year!

I guess old habits die hard. I have posted before about my ‘tinkerer’ tendencies. The fact that I take perfectly fine things and modify them in ways that may or may not actually improve the item. I have applied this to every car I have ever owned from my 77 Chevy Blazer to my 2003 Evo 8. No one who knows me really thought that I wouldn’t modify my Insight. But where to start? Though people have done it before- I have zero interest in adding a turbo-the Insight is not about fast. I had planned on attacking friction with a passion-swapping every fluid down to the axle grease with super slippery synthetics-race car tricks applied to increase mpg not mph. I had even started dreaming about dropping in the IMA (integrated motor assist) drivetrain from the ’06 Civic into the Insight when it dies as it is about 2-3x more powerful and should be able to push my tiny Insight into the 80mpg range no sweat. I fully understand-actually I have very little idea!- that this would be difficult in the extreme.

Then I read an article about California Cars and their fantastic prototype that drastically increases the battery storage of the Prius-giving it the ability to run on pure electric for dozens of miles. And also the ability for it to be plugged in at night to charge. Basically the beauty of the EV1 with unlimited range thanks to keeping the gas motor. They are seeing 130+ miles per ‘gallon’. Granted this isn’t factoring in the KWH’s that they put in from the grid, but any coal plant produces electricity far cleaner than any car-even a near zero emission Prius. I applaud there efforts-especially as when I get to our Someday house we will have ‘green’ power from solar and wind. But the Insight’s efficiencies are from its light weight and aerodynamics allowing it to run a very small gas motor (1000cc, 3 cylinder) and the system nevers runs on pure electric-and can’t so the Cal Cars option is Prius only. Plus at $10-15k it is way out of my price range.

Then I stumbled onto numerous references to M-IMA on some of the hybrid sights. Some rsch led me to 99mpg and a brilliant little device that solves a problem with the Insight and allows you to get 100+mpg consistently. No I am not kidding! The current IMA will only kick in the electric motor when the gas motor is struggling-like when you are climbing a hill or accelerating. The kicker is that you can be cruising along getting say 100mpg on the ral time mileage meter, and hit a slight incline. On the stock car you apply more gas like a normal car and you gain speed-but your mileage drops to a (GASP!) 45mpg until you back off the throttle. Often the electric motor never kicks in at all. The mIMA allows you to manually engage the electric motor and using it to push you up that hill instead-keeping you at 100+ mpg the hole time. Brilliant!!

The mIMA is a total custom job with less than 50 in use right now, but the price is right (about $675) and it doesn’t mess with any major system so it should be very reliable. To say I am stoked is putting it mildly. The founder of 99mpg will be in Madison in July-will he be installing a mIMA in the Pod? Is getting 850 miles on 9 gallons worth it to me? Only time will tell!

Wicked Good Pancakes

One of the more endeering weekend rituals that we have developed here in the Beo/Mia household is that the kids and I usually make pancakes on Sunday Mornings. Several years ago these were from a box, then last year they were from scratch from the Betty Crocker Cookbook, but now I have enough confidence that I just whip them up to my fancy. Betty uses too much oil, and God only knows what Bisquick uses so I made my own ‘recipe’. It is heavy on the whole grains, but still light and can be made Fat Free. Either way is super easy to be 100% organic.

In a medium sized bowl add:

1 Egg
3/4 Cup Milk
1/4 strawberry yogurt

Whisk vigorously then add:

1/2 cup Stone Ground Whole Wheat Flour
1/2 cup Unbleached White Flour
1 Tbsp Wheat Germ
1/8 cup Ground Flax Seed
1 Tsp Baking Powder
1 Tbsp Honey

Mix well with a spoon of some sort and ladle them onto a well greased ( 2 tsp Olive Oil) hot griddle (should sputter when water is dripped on it).

This makes about 8 1/4 cup pancakes. For the kids I use lowfat yogurt and milk to give them some healthy fats for healthy brains, for Mia and I – I use skim milk, fat free yogurt, and 2 egg whites if I am feeling particularly low cal. To truly hit Fat Free, you will need to pull the flax meal and substitute more w. wheat flour, but those Omega 3’s are worth it for me. Product Plug with Pride: we use Organic Valley, well everything, because after touring their facility and meeting much of their staff they have proved themselves to be the Real Deal. They Care-not just about making shockingly good dairy products-but about helping farmers, families and the Earth live better more sustainable lives and plug thousands of dollars into our local economy annually thru grants and fair prices to our local organic farmers. The extra $1 per dozen eggs is a charitable contribution in our book. Stoneyfield Farms makes the best yogurt hands down organic low fat, and 100% natural light yogurt-no chem-class sweeteners- if you were to chemically analyze them, are kids are about 20% Stoneyfield’s farm yogurt.

I prefer thick pancakes, and these will rise to about 3/8-1/2″-add more milk if you want them thinner. These are a sweet pancake that don’t need much syrup or jelly. To include the kids my 4 year old has now graduated to stirring while my 2 year old adds the dry goods that I have measured. Messy? Heck Yeah! But good, good fun!


90 mpg!!!!!

I finally did it-I broke the 90 mpg barrier this week on the commute home! Taking a different route home, with a tail wind and favorable traffic allowing me to draft at 60mpg on the state highway I earned myself High Honors with a 90.1 over 15 miles. With a few stops thru town including an errand I still ecked out a 82.6 over 27 miles. This in a 4 star safety rated car with another 40,000 left on the warranty!

The Future is Insight!

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