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Friday, October 14, 2016

A Nice Little Thing about an Airport

OK, when you think "sustainability," airports are not usually the next thing to pop into your head. In many ways, they are (very necessarily) temples to overconsumption of resources in the modern economy. Just look at all those heavy metal tubes with wings sitting out there, burning jet fuel like it rains from the sky. And then look around the interior, filled with food and drink in disposable paper and plastic (which you pretty much have to buy because getting anything reasonable through TSA is a nightmare). Finally, look at all the travelers! Business travelers headed to meetings they probably could have had over the phone, to say nothing of all those tourists who wouldn't have been expecting to vacation hundreds or thousands of miles away from home just a couple of generations ago.

I'm not a frequent traveler. One vacation a year is usually it. But recently, I actually went somewhere for my business, and I saw something that, to me, really worked.

In the Atlanta airport, I encountered a sign that told me that the concourses were spaced a five-mintue walk apart; in other words, if one had the time, one could travel between the very first concourse and the very last in about 30 minutes of walking time, instead of taking the much faster passenger monorail. Since I had arrived at the airport ridiculously early, as usual, I set off to take a 10-minute walk to my concourse.

Along the way, the airport had allowed artists to place art installations; the one you see above used light and carefully-shaped cut-outs to mimic the dappled light of a forest. A soundtrack accompanied it. Was it great art? Well, I'm not sure, but I would argue it was great art for the space. In a facility dedicated to rushing around and expending resources, I was invited by environmental cues to get a little exercise and to lower my blood pressure a little bit by enjoying the dim, dappled light and the nature sounds. It was only a few minutes, but it was certainly a better option than increasing my stress with a relatively-sedentary monorail ride.

Maybe other airports are doing this as well: encouraging people to walk by posting information about time and distance. Maybe more experienced travelers already know which airports they are willing to walk and which they will not. But, for me, this little break was a nice surprise.  So, well done, Hartsfield-Jackson!
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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Sauteed Fall Vegetables

One of the saddest things about the fall garden is the quality of the produce just isn't up to summer standards. The tomatoes, especially, that were so wonderful raw in the summer have now become "cooking tomatoes," a little less flavorful and tender than their July counterparts.

So, Mr. FC&G and I have been positively ODing on sauteed veggies the past couple of weeks. By taking everything we have available and throwing it in a sautee pan, it makes a wonderful topping for rice.

Right now, we have peppers, tomatoes, green beans, and kale. The kale, especially, is a wonderful addition, since it gets sweeter with some cool nighttime temps.

The best thing? The only thing I pay for in this recipe is the olive oil, which makes it super cheap. For each veggie listed below, I used a handful of each; you can adjust to your own harvest

Sauteed Fall Veggies
2 T organic olive oil
Green peppers, sliced and split into small slivers
Green beans, snapped
Red tomatoes, cut into small pieces
Yellow tomatoes, cut into small pieces
Kale, cut into ribbons
1 T dried oregano

Heat olive oil and add veggies in the order above, giving each a chance to cook a bit and wilt.  This allows your most "solid" veggies time to cook and lets your kale just wilt and sweeten at the end. Cook a total of 10-15 minutes, depending basically on how firm you want your tomatoes. (They seem to be the decision-maker here; everything else can handle more or less cooking time.)

If you wish, add a handful of organic cashews at the end for a bit of protein. Serve over rice; we like organic sprouted rice.

The Analysis

Fast: 10-15 minutes of cooking time, and you are chopping your veggies while you cook.

Cheap:  Everything but the olive oil comes from the garden.  The addition of organic cashews and sprouted rice adds some protein and makes it a vegetarian meal.

Good:  Who knew I even like green beans? I've been avoiding them my entire life, and it turns out that it is just the cooking method - I don't want them boiled, I want them sauteed and crispy.  Yum!

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Friday, September 30, 2016

How Much Does a Garden Grow: September 2016

Wow, I really feel like I ought to just copy/paste last month's garden tally column and just move right along. But that wouldn't be fair.

OK, so for the September report. September was really very much another August for me. My August, as you will remember, was horrid thanks to the diminished garden size from the shade of the totally-unnecessary oak tree. (I supposedly have an oak tree removal quote coming soon, but we'll see.)

September was more of the same, except I stubbornly held in there where my friends had given up.  Rat finks. Here they were on Labor Day, posting Facebook updates about how they were taking out the garden because they were tired, for heaven's sake.  They'd gotten enough tomatoes and enough beans, and they were calling it quits.

Folks, my beans didn't do anything exciting until mid-September, and my tomatoes are still producing in that completely-lackluster fashion they do this time of year. I'm getting all "cooking tomatoes," with not as much flavor as I would get when the darlings are exposed to warmth and sun and are ready to eat raw, but I will take them.

I'm also pleased that the "winter garden" seems to have kicked in.  We spent last weekend putting up the pop-up greenhouse and hauling the peppers and a lone tomato in there, then building a cold frame around some cucumbers.  Those, plus some potatoes and kale, all seem to be doing well.

So we actually realized a decent cumulative profit for the first time this month. Like everything I seem to do this year, it is taking more work than I would have hoped to make a dent, but every little bit helps.  I'm looking at you, green beans.

Cumulative Totals

Total Ounces Harvested: 1209.5
Total Pounds Harvested: 75.59375
Total Value of Harvest: $289.58

Total Expenditures: (-$232.88)

Total Profit: $56.70
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Friday, September 23, 2016

The Power of Yelling at Your Plants

Remember your elementary school science experiments? Because it tends not to be a good idea to let 8 year olds plan experiments involving caustic chemicals or live electrical wires, at least one class would always downshift into a project about the effects of talking to plants. The control group plants would be watered but otherwise ignored, while the experimental group would be talked to on a daily basis.

If the teacher were really on her game, there would be a second experimental group. For this group, the plants would not be talked to but yelled at and subject to verbal abuse. If you were lucky, you'd see results that demonstrated that kind words make living things thrive and abuse and indifference make them suffer.

Of course, there was always that killjoy that had to point out that the group that whispered sweet nothings to their plants were probably leaning in closer and marginally increasing the amount of carbon dioxide the plants were exposed to from juvenile exhalations. And, let's not forget that Mrs. Vandersnoot's south-facing classroom, which was roughly 117 degrees for the entire month of September, got an uneven pattern of light exposure across her windows, meaning the "ignored" group was actually in the shade part of the day or something.

Anyway, I seem to have replicated this experiment in a totally non-scientific way this year. Last year, my good friend told me that she had had success keeping her pepper plants in the garage and hauling them back out for a second season the coming summer. I think some of her peppers are currently on their third year. Anyway, I had to try it.

I saved three huge ceramic planters full of pepper plants in the sunroom. One died, but two were alive come spring, albeit looking a little rough. I hauled the remaining two out into the sun in the spring and hoped they'd produce.

At first, it looked like they would do so, but with not a great yeild; I'd get a couple of peppers once in a while all summer, which was basically fine for our consumption needs.

Then, about a month ago, I pointed at one of the second-year peppers and said out loud, "This thing never has looked healthy, and I'm yanking it at the end of the season."

Lo and behold, the darn thing proceeded to shoot up 6 inches over the course of a week, leaf out in places it was barren before, and set the most impressive set of peppers I have seen in a long time. I now have no choice but to make sure that this plant, along with two other containers full, is put into the greenhouse for protection during the fall, then haul it back into the sunroom or garage or wherever Mr. FC&G's back can stand to carry it.  At this rate, I could be harvesting peppers in November if I get all of these blossoms pollinated before I take them inside.

Maybe I should experiment by being nice to the peppers and bringing them into the house foyer. I haven't exactly broached this subject with Mr. FC&G. Wonder how good peppers are at healing lower back strain?
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Wednesday, September 14, 2016

How Much Does a Garden Grow: August 2016

Right now, the garden is like a metaphor for my entire financial life.  With the exception of my primary business (thank heavens), every single one of my side businesses have taken simply forever to get into the black this year. The garden has been no exception. Where I should be ending August with over $300 in savings/profit, I'm actually ending the month just $13 to the good. That's pretty discouraging.

Part of it is the need for a complete garden overhaul. Mr. FC&G and I have been having a debate over the usefulness of an oak tree in the back yard.  When we moved in 15 years ago, this tree was small enough to allow two big areas of ground that received 14 or more hours of sunlight during high season. I was able to put a raised bed in one of the areas and a big garden in the other.

Today, the oak shades both areas so much that I have half the garden size that I once did, and the raised bed (and my clothes line) gets no sun at all. Mr. FC&G had the tree trimmers thin the tree out last year, but it is still casting a lot of shade. This is great if your dream is to have a shade-dappled back yard, but if you want as much sun for yourself and your garden as possible, it is a nightmare.

I want that tree gone.  We have two humongous pine trees, a mature sweet gum, at least one mature maple, and another mature oak elsewhere on the property. This tree isn't pretty, it isn't useful, and I want it gone. It may look like a lovely tree to some, but it looks like firewood on the hoof to me. Stay tuned.

The upshot is that the garden was not terribly productive. Oh, the tomatoes did OK; since I grew most of them from saved seed, they were profitable, and even the ones I purchased were largely profitable. Cucumbers and zucchini were my saving grace, even though my Straight Eight cukes failed this year, making for a very small pickle batch. The beans have grown and flourished and not given a single bean until last week (the middle of September), when the shade finally shifted so that they got more than 8 hours of sunshine during the day.

All in all the garden kept us fed, but it did little more. I'm still hopeful for my "winter garden" (with tomatoes in a container, pictured above) and the sunroom crops to boost us a little more into the black. But in a year in which we really could have used a robust way to slash the food bill, it just didn't happen.


Cumulative Totals

Total Ounces Harvested: 1058.5
Total Pounds Harvested: 66.15625

Total Value of Harvest: $246.49

Total Expenditures: ($232.88)

Total Profit: $13.61
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Wednesday, September 7, 2016

My Sustainable Car, Part II

I recently got a question on the blog about whether or not I still had my sustainable automobile. Looking back, I see that I wrote a post about all the things I do to preserve my car back when she had just turned 15.

Well, this October will be her 19th "birthday," since I took delivery of her on October 31, 1997. And yes, I do still have her, and she is still my sustainable baby.

Since I last wrote, I have retired her to being mostly a pleasure vehicle, so I literally am that cliched person who drives the good car primarily to the farmer's market. (Although, with the narrow parking lot and the aggressive shoppers, I'm not entirely sure I shouldn't be driving a bigger car; those people are fierce!) But Mr. FC&G and I have a nice system where he drives our everyday car unless the weather is bad or unless I need to drive a long distance, when I would be more comfortable with a more workmanlike automobile. I drive my car locally for errands and the like.

One thing I've added to my maintenance roster is fuel stabilizer. Both Papa FC&G and my cousin goaded me a bit this year, and I have to admit I was neglectful last year. Since I only run through a tank or two of gas a year and let the car sit in the garage during the worst of the winter, I needed to do something to maintain her internal health.

Fuel stabilizer, I'm told by Papa FC&G, keeps the gas from breaking down during storage and prevents varnish from forming on the fuel lines or injectors.  The brand I bought, Sta-bil, can be used in almost any engine, so we plan on using some in the lawn mowers once we are done with them for the season. Papa FC&G even recommends running a dose of stabilizer through the other cars that get more use, because he says it helps keep the engine in good shape.  For something like $14 for a 32 ounce bottle (which should do all of the cars and mowers with some leftover), it seems like good preventive maintenance.

A conversation with another cousin got me to thinking. So far, I've been lucky enough to buy all my cars outright; we try to never take a car loan (although that could happen). Because we don't like car loan debt, we have to try to keep our automobiles running smoothly as long as possible.  No, we're not driving the fanciest cars on the block; we don't have all the bells and whistles we would like to have. But we don't have the debt, and with a little preventive maintenance, we have reliable transportation. I'll count that as a win.

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Wednesday, August 24, 2016

"Sunlight and Vitamin D: Necessary for Public Health" An Academic Review

And now for something completely different, I'm going to nerd out and share an academic article with you. Don't worry, though, I'll make it painless; you really do need to know about this.

(Note for readers: if you want to reference the study I'm writing about, there are quotes in italics throughout and a link in the next paragraph.  If you just want my summary and opinion, that's in plain text.)

Writing in the recent Journal of the American College of Nutrition, a group of authors have published "Sunlight and Vitamin D: Necessary for PublicHealth."  Head on over if you'd like to geek out on the whole thing, but I'm going to give you the most important points.

Basically, the authors examine the fact that many recommendations from the American Cancer Society, the World Health Organization, and the like, focus on encouraging sun avoidance and sunscreen use during the very hours of the day that our bodies are most primed to make use of the sun:

"Though these recommendations, all focused on reduction of skin cancer, are accompanied by brief acknowledgement of the importance of vitamin D for health, they persist in urging avoidance of the sun at the precise times when vitamin D can be synthesized in the skin—the hours between 10 am and 3 pm—and suggest that all necessary vitamin D can be obtained through food and dietary supplements."

And yet, there are compelling reasons to get your Vitamin D from the sun. Take a look at this introductory paragraph:

"These recommendations are understandable from the viewpoint of preventing the 3.5 million new cases of and 2000 deaths from nonmelanoma skin cancer in the United States each year, but they neglect the fact that we have a long cultural history of appreciation of the sun and use of UV radiation for healing purposes. Moreover, they neglect that we have evolved with physiological adaptations to help protect the skin from the sun when we are mindful of our exposure and do not burn. They neglect the fact that increased sun exposure, based on latitude, has been associated with protection from several different types of cancer, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases. They also neglect the fact that exposure to the sun induces beneficial physiological changes beyond the production of vitamin D. Though adherence to the current sun-protective recommendations would likely result in the reduction of nonmelanoma skin cancer, that reduction would likely be overshadowed by the potential reduction in deaths from other cancers and from cardiovascular disease, which could be achieved by doubling average blood concentrations of 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25(OH)D) to 40 ng/mL through a combination of sun exposure and supplements."

Let's break that down a bit.  Basically, we're saying that, in our zeal to protect ourselves from approximately 2000 nonmelanoma skin cancer deaths a year, we are turning our backs (no pun intended) on our cultural and biological adaptations that allow us to appreciate the sun and use it for healing. Additionally, we are increasing our risk of other types of cancer, type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and other conditions.

For example, look at these benefits:

"When the skin is stimulated with UVA radiation, nitric oxide is released, stimulating vasodilation and lowering of blood pressure. During active exposure to UVA, diastolic blood pressure in one study fell by roughly 5 mmHg and remained lower for 30 minutes after exposure. A reduction of diastolic blood pressure by 5 mmHg decreases risk for stroke by 34% and coronary heart disease by 21%."

"Additionally, human skin produces beta-endorphin in response to UVB exposure; these opioid peptides have the result of increasing a feeling of well-being, boosting the immune system, relieving pain, promoting relaxation, wound healing, and cellular differentiation. Light signals received through the eye regulate production of melatonin and serotonin for circadian rhythm control and also play a role in seasonal affective disorder."

Short form: sunlight contains both UVA and UVB radiation.  The UVA radiation can lower blood pressure enough to decrease risk for stroke and coronary heart disease. UVB radiation can improve mood, help with certain depressive conditions, improve the immune system, relieve pain, and help with healing.

Are we sure we want to keep avoiding the sun?

Look, no one is going to tell you to go try to get a sunburn. And if vitamin D supplements make sense to you, go for it.  But the sun has been getting a bad rap lately.

And, there are reasons for seeking the sun:

"The full solar spectrum is essential to optimal health and well-being. Humans are physiologically adapted to produce vitamin D in response to sun exposure, specifically UVB radiation; other regions of the spectrum seem to confer benefit as well. Though some vitamin D comes from our diet (and more recently from supplements), we should not ignore the natural capacity that we possess to produce our own. We are of the opinion that moderate sun exposure (less than the time required to burn) to the arms, shoulders, trunk, and legs should be sought rather than avoided."

I agree with the authors.  Bottom line, the full spectrum of sunlight seems to confer many health benefits, and our bodies are designed to make vitamin D from this exposure. So go outside wearing a tank top and shorts. Mow the lawn, hang the laundry, take a bike ride. Do so between the hours of 10 am and 3 pm for maximum formation of vitamin D.  As long as you don't allow yourself to burn, you will very likely be helping your health far more than you might possibly harm it.

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