Category Archives: Energy

My Evil Pellet Stove

1384553309325

Dear Reader:

I live in Maine, and in Maine the winters are cold. Correction, the late autumns, winters, and the biggest part of springs are cold. In order to survive, humans who live in Maine need a source of warmth in order to thrive. So it has been, I believe, ever since the first people took up residence in our fair state.

Over the past five years, I have explored various issues pertaining to sustainability, localism, and culture. I was inspired, first of all, by the notion of “Peak Oil” which is really “Peak Energy” or–to be more colloquial–“When the Juice Runs Out.” I read about the End of Suburbia and the Geography of Nowhere and about how we need to Powerdown.

Throughout the book reading and eco-film watching, I heard much about weaning off oil and using, instead, renewable energy. Things like wood, geothermal, and solar were touted as better options. I was cool with that.

I grew up with a wood stove. I am fond of that dry, heatier-somehow kind of warmth that is thrown out by a wood stove compared to a forced hot-air furnace. Plus, you know, it is traditional, and I like traditional.

It took a few years to make the switch, but eventually hubby and I decided on a pellet stove. We bought one last fall, used it all winter, and were pleased. We rarely filled the oil tank (for the hot water heater; replacing that is a future consideration), and I was warmer than I’d been in many years since I had taken to reducing the thermostat down to 60 degrees–way too cold for me to be comfortable, even with a sweater and knit hat. I was thrilled that the pellets were made out of a local resource–wood from Maine or neighboring Canada–and would burn more efficiently and cleanly than a traditional wood stove. Yay! We were doing our part for the environment!

Or so I thought.

Today I learned of an article expressing shock and dismay that some major corporations are–gasp!–producing pellets, shipping them overseas, and making a profit! I went in search of the article and think this might be it. OUTRAGEOUS: U.S. Forests Logged, Pelletized, Shipped Overseas in the Name of Renewable Energy. (from EcoWatch.com)

It does seem rather appalling.

Sigh.

I get it. Trees are beautiful. They are a wonderful resource, and we should manage them with care. Burning them throws carbon into the air. But wasn’t the whole idea of switching to “renewables” dependent on, um, actually USING the renewables? And what other choices do we have? Solar? What about those solar panels? What are they made of? What kind of energy is used to manufacture and transport them? What about batteries and storage of energy for when you need it? And if we all switch, will we then be told by the likes of EcoWatch that we are evil for supporting a corporation that is profiting from the production and sale of the technology?

I’m not saying “going solar” is wrong or in any way a poor choice. I would love, love, love to see our communities transition to using solar, but please don’t act as if 1)sustainability advocates are blameless in this burgeoning market for wood pellets and 2)there is no environmental cost to ramping up solar energy solutions.

Human beings use resources and make an impact on the environment. Period. Perhaps the only way we can TRULY reduce our impact is to stop making more humans to warm, feed, clothe, inoculate, and hydrate.

In other words, don’t throw out your pellet stoves. Instead, buy some birth control. Or just say NO to sex. (WARNING: CRUDENESS ALERT! 31 Ways to Say No To Sex)

Whatever works best for you.

ps: Just watching the national news and learned that China is lifting their “one child only” rule. And so it goes and goes and goes…

Journaling on a Misty Morning

The Lake on a Misty Morning

Journal Entry July 30, 2012

I have dressed early–6 a.m., in sweatpants and hoodie–to stave off the morning chill. Yesterday was rainy, all day drizzle interspersed with sudden heavy downpours. When I wake this morning and see skies clearing, I know I have to get down to the lake to watch the white tendrils of mist rise from the glossy, rippled surface of the water. I bring a blue chair and a mug of coffee, a camera, and my journal.

The tiny community beach–one of over a dozen–is a short walk from my doorstep. For the first eight years we lived here, the beach was nothing more than a weedy opening in the scrub brush lining the lake. A pine needle- and leaf-covered path slopes down to the water’s edge from the gravel road.

We leave our canoe here, red and tipped upside down, most of the summer and fall. A neighbor borrows it, using his own paddles. He and his family–brothers? sisters? parents? There’s a whole tribe of them–moved into the house behind us two years ago, and they began to clear the opening on their own. Last summer, the community grounds-crew finished the job, cutting more brush, hauling in sand, positioning large boulders across the path to discourage illegal boat launches.

Cove


The water here is shallow, only just past my ankles many canoe-lengths out and suddenly deep toward the middle where the current runs. The lake was once a stream, dammed-up for electrical generation about a hundred years ago. It is all coves and curves and fingers reaching in to the land–swampy in places, steep sand cliffs in places. When cross-country skiing in the winter, you have to be careful for weak spotswhere the warm run-off thins the ice from below. I’ve seen guys on snowmobiles rev up and skim over circles of open water.

It is quiet on this Monday morning, the weekend whine of jet skis and power boats as distant as the line of Massachusetts plates heading south out of Kittery on I-95. As I trudge down the path, a heron splashes down, stands. I stop. We watch each other warily. I try not to breath, but he is distrustful and flaps away.

I take a few photographs of the pearlescent mist still hovering over the predawn lake. The water is all shadows here, lake rimmed with tall, close-set pines. Just now the sunlight slices a thin crescent along the eastern-facing shore.

These moments I feel fortunate to have found this place despite my misgivings about its viability in a low-carbon world.

Before the out-of-state developers and the homeowner’s association and the lots plotted on a grid of winding roads ending in numerous culs-de-sac; before the griping and bickering between towns and association; before the housing boom in the 1990’s and milfoil and aging water pipes and the eventual housing bust in the 2000’s, there were only a few scattered camps along this lake. Before those, there were farmhouses and hay fields and pasture for dairy cattle–fieldstone walls running through pine forest a testament to the area’s agricultural past.

Blue Boat

In the early 1970’s, in spite of controversy in the two towns out of which our community was carved, the developers developed. The out of state weekenders came first to the lakefront lots. They built summer camps and weekend homes. Later, in the 90’s when real estate prices soared, building contractors scooped up lots of lots. They built and sold spec houses for cheap to the young, middle-class families priced out of the Portland suburbs.

The towns gaped as the school population bloomed. Education costs skyrocketed. This wasn’t the “taxes without the costs” deal they’d been promised. Weekenders’ kids get educated out of state, but these new families bought “off-lake” and stayed year-round and their children entered kindergarten right along with the kids in the villages.

“It was supposed to be a gated community,” one angry school-teacher said to me six or seven years ago. “And there’s never once been a gate!”

Wince. One has to wonder if they wanted the gate to keep us “in” rather than to keep themselves “out.”

So here we are, living in the exurbs, an hour and many gas-powered miles from the jobs in Portland and Biddeford and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Association rules drafted in the 1970’s prevent many of us from cutting trees to create garden space, prevent us from raising a few chickens for fresh eggs. Mortgage defaults are up. Some roofs of abandoned homes have already caved in. There are no corners stores in our not-zoned-for-business community. We drive to get anywhere (or sometimes we bike, hard.)

This is not sustainable. It will not work in a low-carbon world where energy costs suck up ever-larger percentages of our disposable income. Am I crazy to worry?

There are mornings like this one when I walk, coffee in hand, down a pine-needle path to spend an hour or two writing beside the lake, and I think maybe I am worrying about nothing. Maybe I should simply I enjoy the scenery, the mist, the heron and let the future take care of itself.

Trees/Mist

And, if the world moves on, perhaps we can change fast enough to keep pace. Trees can be cut, livestock can be brought in, and we can muddle through, creating a kind of exurban agricultural village on our acre and half-acre lots.

Or else, like that heron, we’ll stop a moment, assess the danger, and flap away, leaving the lake as it was before…quiet, serene, barely inhabited but for those scattered camps, and the only thing that will remain of us will be the caved-in husks of our spec houses mouldering beneath these towering pines.

Line Dry Summer

ClothespinsDear Reader:

Clotheslines and Downton Abbey

I had every intention of switching my summer clothes-drying experience from indoor electric to outdoor clothesline early on in the season, but like many projects, this one was pushed back until today. I had wanted to buy one of those cute little round umbrella type clotheslines that you mount into the ground and under-plant with fragrant herbal ground-covers like thyme, oregano, and camomile so that your clothes-hanging experience becomes something akin to tip-toeing through the tulips or maybe pretending you are a buxom housemaid in the employ of Downton Abbey.

This morning, however, I was talking with Neighbor Debbie whilst sweating on the elliptical machine in our community gym, and we began talking about the humid weather, the rolling-in of late-afternoon thunderstorms, and the necessity of her getting her laundry off the line in time. I stammered around a bit about how I meant to get a clothesline but just hadn’t made the time.

“I just strung a line between the trees,” she said in her practical and very lovely and precise British-sounding South African accent. “It works wonderfully.”

“You don’t get any pine pitch on your laundry?” I asked in my far-from-the-mother-tongue Maine accent (although, if you think about it, we Mainers with our dropped “r’s” are closer to British English than, say, mid-westerners).

Laundry in Basket

“No,” Neighbor Debbie said. “Not yet.”

Okay, so there was no excuse for procrastinating on this project anymore. I went down to Plummer’s Hardware (now an Ace Hardware store; more on that in another post) for a length of clothesline–$7.99 plus tax. I scoped out my property. Yup, there was a pine tree on one side of the wood line and an oak on the other. We’d cleared out the brush just underneath and in front, and the afternoon sun was beating down there as if to spotlight the perfect location for my line. In ten minutes, I was good to go.

Outside the Clothes Dryer

Why Line Dry?

Maybe it isn’t necessary to explain why I am choosing to dry my laundry au naturel, but for those who are interested I will list my reasons:

1)It is better for the environment. Electricity powers the clothes dryer appliance in my cellar. Electricity is often generated from coal-fired power plants. Coal mining can have detrimental environmental effects. Coal burning can have detrimental environmental effects. While I don’t think we can get away from burning coal completely, reducing the amount of electricity we use can only be a positive step toward a saner environmental situation.

2)It is better for my bottom line. Sunshine and fresh air are free. Electricity is expensive. Any way I can save on my electric bill every month is money I can spend locally at the farm stand, etc.

3)Line-dried clothes smell divine.

4)It is one more way I can use my property which makes me feel just a little more self-sufficient. Let’s say the power goes out. I can still dry my clothes. (I also have a small, wooden, folding clothes rack on which to dry small items. It may behoove me to get a few more . . . and start using that woodstove down cellar in the winter. Wood heat is very dry. I might even be able to string a clothesline down there.)

5)No one ever burned down their house drying their clothes outdoors on a line. House fires are started in improperly maintained dryers all the time. From Vent Check International: But according to the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) clothes dryers accounted for the largest share of appliance and tool fires between 1994 and 1998. There were 14,300 clothes dryer fires in U.S. homes in 1998, resulting in 19 deaths, 312 injuries and $67.7 million in direct property damage. http://www.vcisafety.org/dryer_vent_fires.cfm

I suppose if the pine trees caught fire and spread to the laundry, and the laundry happened to be dry, and a piece of burning bath towel landed on my roof . . . well, maybe it could burn my house down. But if those pine trees are alight, I figure there’s little chance of saving the house anyway.

Electricity Maine

Electricity Maine

Speaking of saving $$$ on electricity AND going local, there is an option out there for us Mainers that accomplishes both goals. I heard about Electricity Maine last winter from my friend, Becky, but like my clothesline project, I never got around to actually checking into this Auburn-based company until today.

Here’s the scoop. Currently, Bangor Hydro and CMP customers have a choice when it comes to energy supply companies. The default is an out-of-state company. The new kid on the block is Electricity Maine. This Maine-owned company is located in Auburn and purchases electricity from the New England Power Pool which is where all the New England power generating companies market their energy. Then Electricity Maine sets a competitive rate (currently .0707 per kWh) for the supply portion of your electricity bill. (The transmission costs are still controlled by CMP and Bangor Hydro–they take care of the lines and boxes and reading meters, etc.)

It is easy to make the switch. It took me about 2 minutes, one minute of which was spent logging onto my CMP account to find my account number.

If you are a Maine resident and are interested in saving a little money on your electric bill and supporting a Maine-owned company versus an out-of-state company, log onto http://www.electricityme.com/. There is a really, really good FAQ page on there, which is where I got the information for this blog.

Fluff and Fold

So, about four hours after pegging the laundry to the line, I went back out with my basket and brought my fresh sheets, etc. into the house. Without the camomile and thyme, it wasn’t quite the Downton Abbey experience.

But it was nice . . . Outside the (Electric Clothes Dryer)Box.

The Mill Has Some Gloss

North Mill in Biddeford, Maine

Dear Reader:

I love old mill towns. I don’t know why this is. Perhaps because I didn’t grow up in a mill town, I am fascinated by the novelty of an industrial-ish landscape. These manufacturing communities are cities, not towns, I suppose, but they are not cities of high-rise apartment buildings, corporate offices for national food chains and banks, and big shopping malls. These Maine city-towns have Main Streets, corner stores, local tobacco shops, and hundred-year-old bakeries; triple-decker apartment buildings that used to house the mill workers, big Catholic cathedrals with a satisfying Gothic flair, and a turn-of-the-century architectural style that for one reason or another sets my creative juices flowing; people who sometimes speak with the slight accent, still, of the St. George River Valley. I love it!

Across the river in Saco

When I lived in Westbrook, my daily walk took me past one of these slumbering manufacturing behmoths that had been built along the tumbling river that once powered the building’s machinery. Incidentally, I would also walk past the still-operating paper mill at the other end of Main Street. I would look up at the even rows of windows, the geometric simplicity of those windows and the pattern of red-orange brick, and imagine an earlier time when people walked from the neighboring streets to punch in to work for the day. They’d be carrying their tin lunch boxes. They’d be tired already, perhaps, at the end of a long week, or else young and cheerful and hopeful.

I’m sure I’m romanticizing the whole thing. That’s my nature.

Since moving even further south, I’ve spent time driving into Sanford, often routing past the empty, old textile buildings there and dreaming of how they could be repurposed. I even wrote two romance novels set in towns like these. Apparently, I’m a little obsessed.

From www.goodreads.com

Maybe it has something to do with Richard Russo. His EMPIRE FALLS is brilliant, of course. It is the story of a town and its citizens trying to come to grips with a new economy where manufacturing takes place in China or India or Mexico, and the people left behind at home buy the finished products and struggle to figure out what to do now. I loved EMPIRE FALLS. I recognized it. There is a kind of sad romanticism to these crumbling, quiet buildings. Like Dickens’ Miss Havisham, they’ve seen better days.

Enter Biddeford. I’ve been to this small city many times in the past few years, taking the Teen to the orthodontist and myself to the allergist over near Southern Maine Med, but I’d only visited downtown twice–once to eat at a great little Indian restaurant, The Jewel of India, and another time to have coffee with a friend at the old mill building. So, on a sunny day last week, I decided to check out the refurbished North Dam Mill again–this time with my camera and a notebook in hand.

Smokestack Tower

The first mill established here in the 17th century was an iron manufacturing business. Eventually, large buildings were erected on both the Biddeford and Saco sides of the Saco River and workers flooded into the cities, creating a booming textile manufacturing center. Read about the history and see some great archival photos at the Maine Memory Network site.

Eventually the mills closed. A few years ago, developer Doug Sanford bought the property and re-purposed the wonderful buildings into retail, office, and living space. Click HERE to visit the Pepperell Mill/North Dam Mill website.

Art Outside the Mill

On this day, I take a few photos of the impressive smokestack near the parking lot and then stroll into the reception area on the main floor of building 18. The large hallway is dim, with its exposed pipes painted black to blend in with the black ceiling. An expansive red Oriental rug anchors two over-sized leather couches in a sitting area. Right near the windows of a small off-shoot of a hall, a tiny coffee shop wafts acoustic music and the aroma of fresh-ground java.

This is “Perk”…and while I sit at the narrow counter in front of the windows, a few residents drift in to order lunch or coffee. The young guy behind the counter makes pleasant chit-chat with everyone. His co-worker is busy making sandwiches or something. I hear clanging pans behind the music (Sarah Brightman, maybe?)piped in over the speakers

Outside the windows, I can see the river across the road, traffic zipping past, three guys hanging out near the benches and steel flower sculpture near the entrance. Neighbors chatting? I think so.

The entire place makes me think of a castle, the walls rising along the river and road like ramparts, the smokestack a watchtower. Inside are art studios and professional offices on this main floor. A sign beside me reads, “River’s Edge Wood Products: Showroom open on an appointment basis.” Upstairs floors are dedicated to apartments.

Exposed pipe against a white-painted brick wall

I can imagine living here. The exposed pipes. The high ceilings. The well-used hardwood flooring. Mostly, though, I love the idea of living within biking/walking distance to Main St. and all the great local stores and restaurants and the library. The Amtrak station is a short walk, as well, for trips to Boston and beyond. Living close to neighbors. Stopping for a morning latte at Perk.

Art in the hallway

This is a New-Urbanists dream! Click HERE to read about New Urbanism. Walkability. Diversity of purpose. Community and connectivity. Traditional neighborhood structure. Common space. I’d like to see a community garden somewhere here–maybe on the roof!

The Saco River

I took this picture from a little patio off the parking lot overlooking the river. The Saco side of the mills are across the water.

Windmill at the Mill

Isn’t the juxtaposition between the old water/coal-powered mill and the new, space-agey windmill great? To me this symbolizes the future . . . if we have the guts and willpower to transition to a more sustainable way of life. A way where we go back to our more densely-populated urbans centers, our Main Street stores owned by our neighbors, and our sense of community purpose while at the same time taking advantage of new technologies and ideas and art.

I want to wake up and smell the coffee . . . at places like Perk!

Day 40: Some “Catch-Up” With Those Fries

Dinner at the Austin Grill

Dear Reader:

With about three weeks left to go on our great Outside the Box in D.C. adventure, I’m beginning to wind down from my hyper-touristing. With the ‘Rents in town this past week, I got a little behind on my blog posts, so today is all about the Catch-Up.

July 23–Sustainability Symposium at NMAI

Sustainability Festival Pamphlet With Corn & Squash

Back on July 23, Hubby, the Teen, and I attended the Living Earth Festival at the Museum of the American Indian. I was determined to get to the “Creating a Climate of Change” symposium, where Jeremy Rifkin, a business consultant to multinational corporations, heads of state in the E.U., and other global entities, spoke on issues near and dear to my heart: global warming, peak oil, sustainability, localization, renewable energy resources and technology. Although he painted a grim picture, he also outlined a pathway to move forward. For me, it was almost a relief to hear someone “in the know” about world and business affairs affirming what I’ve been reading and learning about for the past three or four years. Peak oil is not a myth . . . it’s a reality we have already crested. Sustainable, renewable energy is not just for “greenies” and environmentalist hippie throwbacks to the 60’s and 70’s . . . it’s the wave of the future, if we are to have a future.

Symposium Poster

Heads of state are listening. From Rifkin’s website:

Mr. Rifkin is the principle architect of the European Union’s Third Industrial Revolution long-term economic sustainability plan to address the triple challenge of the global economic crisis, energy security, and climate change. The Third Industrial Revolution was formally endorsed by the European Parliament in 2007 and is now being implemented by various agencies within the European Commission as well as in the 27 member-states.

Granted, this is his own website, and self-promotion should be looked at with a skeptical eye. However, if you are interested in learning about what Rifkin thinks we need to do in order to survive in a low-carbon energy world, check out the NMAI blog post.

Beautiful, Living Earth

The two speakers following Rifkin were also knowledgeable and insightful. Gregory Cajete spoke passionately about the indigenous perspective on global climate change, comparing the indigenous communities to canaries in a coal mine–they feel the effects first. Melissa K. Nelson then spoke about the importance of re-indigenizing our food supply, talking about such issues as food sovereignty, the negative health impacts of our modern diet, and urging a return to slow, local foods.

After the symposium, we strolled outside to listen to some music by Native performers. The concert opened with a blessing performance by the Santa Fe Indian School Spoken Word Team. This may have been the most powerful student performance I’ve ever seen in my life. The emotion rolling off these young people through their strong voices was palpable in the air. When they finished, the group went to the side, and, crying, threw their arms around each other forming a tight ball of support and celebration. I strongly encourage you to click on the link above and see what I mean.

Plateros T-shirt

Later we heard the Plateros, a young blues rock band whose lead guitarist, Levi Platero, along with his brother/drummer Douglas and bass guitarist, Bronson Begay, seriously rocks with the sound of Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn.

I went home from the festival thoroughly inspired. Thanks MOAI for putting on this important event!

July 24–Dance DC Festival Downtown Battleground

Graffiti Artists

Hubby and I visited the portraits in the National Portrait Gallery on July 24 and luckily ran into the Downtown Battleground event outside between 7th and 9th Streets. It was hotter than Hades out there on the wide sidewalk, but we were thrilled to join a large crowd listening to drumming and watching some very talented African-style dancers. I don’t know how those young ladies kept going in that sweltering heat!

Dancers at Dowtown Battleground

The graffiti artists were hard at work with their spray cans on large pink “wall” set up for the event. These artists were up high on metal ladders, scooching down to the bottom of the “canvas”, and all over the spaces in between creating some very jazzy, bright, cool art.

Orange Image

Detail from Painting

American History Museum

These Boots Were Made For Leading

I already wrote about the visit with the ‘Rents to the American History Museum in my previous post, but time and theme did not permit me to add these boots to my Great D.C. Shoe Scavenger Hunt. Take a look at George Washington’s boots in the The Price of Freedom: Americans At War exhibit.

Chinese Lady's Shoe

I also found this bound-foot shoe tucked away in the Transportation exhibit. I won’t tell you exactly where. When you visit D.C. you’ll have to scavenge this one out on your own!

Metro

Waiting for the Train

Of course, we wouldn’t get anywhere without the Metro, man’s finest invention, IMO.

Typical Metro Station

All of the underground Metro stations look almost exactly alike, which I find reassuring. You find a Metro post, take an escalator down to the platform, and you know exactly what to expect . . . except for the passengers, of course. People always add the spice of variety.

From Holocaust Museum to Harry Potter Deathly Hallows

Holocaust Museum

On Saturday, the ‘Rents, Hubby, the Teen and I visited the Holocaust Museum off 15th Street. We were unable to get passes to the permanent exhibit (will have to do so before the end of my stay), but we had an excellent tour guide that ushered us through the Propaganda exhibit with all the old Nazi political posters, pamphlets, recordings, and timelines showing Hitler’s rise to power and the eventual horror of the Holocaust.

From National Holocaust Museum Website

Please go to see this important exhibit if you are able to get to D.C. Otherwise, click on the link and visit the museum online.

I was reminded how we have to be vigilant when watching one-sided news stations, when looking at legislation that blocks freedom of speech, press, and assembly in the name of safety (anybody thinking about the Patriot Act anymore?), and when reading blogs and other pieces of “journalism” . . . even this one! Check things out for yourself. Read. Think for yourself. It is so important–crucial–in a democracy.

3-D for Harry Potter

It might seem a bit of a jump to go from the Holocaust to Harry Potter, but when you think about it, there are some similar themes in the Hogwarts Saga. The “Dark Lord” wants to rid the magical community of “mud-bloods” and eventually takes over education and the press, uses torture and kidnapping to terrorize regular magical citizens into allowing his evil takeover of the government, and creates an “us against them” mentality in order to accomplish his ultimate desire for ultimate power.

We caught the movie on the Imax screen at the Museum of Natural History. The first floor of the museum was a madhouse before the show. A hot Saturday afternoon in the Dinosaur Exhibit? Don’t recommend it unless you are also one of the two thousand other families with small children under the age of eight trying to find something for the kiddos to do on a blistering hot pre-dinnertime afternoon. {{Shudder}}

(As an alternative, I’d suggest the hotel swimming pool. Take the kids out of school in the fall for a day at the museum instead. You’ll thank me.)

Like Neanderthals hiding from a predatory beast, we hid out in the Fossil Cafe for a half an hour and then gratefully entered the dim calm of the theater.

Dinner at Austin Grill

Outside Dining at Austin Grill

After the show, Hubby and I wanted to share our favorite D.C. restaurant (so far) with the ‘Rents and the Teen, so we trotted up 7th St. to E St. and the Austin Grill. This is a franchise, but so really good. The service is attentive, the Tex-Mex is delicious, and the prices are reasonable.

Austin-tini

The Austin-tini wasn’t bad, either. Think Cosmopolitan, in pink.

Chalupa Salad

Everyone ordered burgers except for me. I had the Chalupa Taco Salad with Grilled Chicken. It comes in a deep-fried tortilla bowl with sour cream, tangy vinaigrette dressing, and guacamole–yummy!

And that is the “catch-up.” Yesterday, we browsed around in Alexandra again, and I’ll post some pics of new, fabulous finds–just wait until you hear about the Torpedo Factory!–over there in quaint Old Town Alexandria, Virginia. I absolutely love the place!

If I ever had to move . . . well, no need to think about that now since we are already here, Outside the Box In D.C.

A World Without Borders Bookstores

My Bookshelves

Dear Reader:

I am taking a break from Outside the Box in D.C. to comment on the news about Borders. Remember when the big-box bookstore rolled into town? Independent bookstores weakened and died. Patrons mourned, but they ended up shopping at Borders anyway because, let’s face it, Borders carried just about everything you ever wanted to read and more . . . plus you could have some great coffee and feel chic and intellectual sitting at a cafe table, sipping lattes and reading your Philip Roth, your Stephen King, or your Candace Bushnell.

Image from IMDb website.

Movies were made. Who can forget Meg Ryan’s character, Kathleen Kelly, in YOU’VE GOT MAIL? She tried so hard and loved her store so much, and it just about broke your heart when her authors jumped ship for bigger booksignings at the megastore “around the corner.” The movie ended with this feeling of inevitability. Little guys will lose. Big guys will win. End of story.

Image from Amazon.com

Image from Amazon.com website.

And what is bigger than a big-box brick and mortar bookstore like Borders? An internet retailer. The virtual shelves of an internet bookstore are endless. End-less. Was the closing of Borders inevitable?

Probably. First, the rising tide of online shopping ate away at the retail giant’s sunny shores. According to some analysts, Borders did not adapt quickly enough with their online platform. Annie Lowrey wrote an article for Slate magazine slamming the bookseller for outsourcing their internet sales to Amazon early on. Then the tsunami of electronic books & magazines rocked the publishing world.

Some of us (read: older) readers love our hardcovers and paperbacks and glossy print magazines. We like the smell of books. We like the feel of turning the pages. We like dust-jackets. But as time goes on, I see more and more people reading on their Kindles and Nooks, and if we haven’t already reached a tipping point there, the time is fast approaching. In fact, I’m wondering how much longer we will have any new printed materials at all.

I still have certain reservation about e-publishing, namely: what happens if the power goes out? In a low-energy world where we’ve used up all the easily-available oil, where a non-renewable resource–coal–continues to power the electric grid of large cities, where that grid infrastructure is vulnerable to decay and terrorist activities, where we haven’t yet ramped up our alternative, sustainable options such as solar, wind, geothermal, and tidal energy technologies . . . in a world like that will electronic readers, tablets, laptops, and smartphones really be a reliable platform for information storage?

How will we make sure that the least affluent in our democratic society still have access to information? Will the rich and middle-classes be willing to buy e-readers for the poor via library programs, education initiatives, or flat-out charitable donations?

Will “somebody” be printing out at least a few hundred copies of the most important works, storing them in a secure location just in case? The thought of losing our collective knowledge gives me the willies! We will need all the information–scientific, sociological, historical, psychological, anthropological, etc–if, indeed, the fit hits the shan.

More of my library

Which is why we need to keep some of this (see pic above) even as we move into a new bookselling era.

The role of independent, brick and mortar bookstores will become increasingly important, I believe, in the coming years. For those of us who love “real” books, these stores will be suppliers for our fixes. They will also be micro-conservators of information, as will those of us who keep home libraries. Locally-owned bookstores will continue to provide spaces for book-lovers to meet, to talk about literature and the issues that literature explores.

Will we survive in a world without Borders? Sure thing. Click on the Indie Store Finder and check out a local, independent bookstore near you. Shop there. Buy something. Build a family library. Be picky. Go to a used book store and find some unusual books on subjects most interesting to you. Become an "information saver." If your bookshelves are already full, go through your collection and weed out the books you'll never want to read again and make room for some classics. Donate your old books to library book sales, swap groups at a community center or transfer station, or bring the best of them in to used bookstores to trade for some credit.

And, yeah. Go ahead and buy a Kindle or Nook or other e-reader if you want to. It's the wave of the future . . . the near future, anyway.

Days 9 & 10: Five Things I Do Differently In D.C.

Flowers in the Smithsonian Sculpture Garden

Dear Reader:

Riding home from the American History Museum yesterday, I began to think about what sort of things I do differently here in the city versus at home in the country. It hit me, then, the truth in a statement my good friend, Sandi, made before we left Maine.

“No matter where you are,” Sandi said, “your life is going to be pretty much the same because you are still the same person.”

Wise words! Sandi’s philosophy lines up quite nicely with that of Confucius who wrote, “No matter where you go, there you are.” It’s so true. I do find I am still me here in D.C. I’m reading my books, drinking my coffee, and thinking my oh-so-deep thoughts (she says, self-mockingly).

There are, however, a few things that I’m doing differently.

Ironing Board

# 1: Ironing. I haven’t done this much of it since Hubby quit teaching ten years ago and no longer had to wear dress shirts to work. When I was a kid, my mom taught me the proper order for ironing men’s shirts. Collar, yokes, cuffs, arms, side, back, side. The smell of damp, hot cotton steaming beneath the iron brought back some good memories. I didn’t like ironing at age 11 or 12. Now 43, I discover I rather enjoy it. Go figure.

By the way, engineers wear jeans and tee-shirts, while teachers wear shirts and ties. Why is it that teachers have to dress like executives and get the same amount of schooling as executives but do not get paid like executives?

And can anyone tell me why this program is giving me a spelling error underline for the word “men’s.” Isn’t that the proper plural possessive? It’s bugging this English major. Thanks.

Dishwasher

#2: Using A Dishwasher. When moving into various apartments over the years, Hubby and I never made a dishwasher a priority. In fact, only our Westbrook, Maine apartment had a dishwasher. When it was time to move into our new house, I nixed the idea of a dishwasher and opted for an extra cupboard instead. I figured I’d save some electricity. As a housewife, I had plenty of time to wash the dishes by hand. Now I find out that using a dishwasher MAY be more sustainable (click HERE for a sampling of what seems to be a consensus). I don’t know. Pre-scrubbing before putting the dirty dishes into the machine, I really think I might as well wash the darn things. Anyway, the water here doesn’t get very hot from the tap, the Teen’s summer job is to clean the dishes, and so we’ve been using the apartment’s washer.

Water Filter

#3: Filtering the Water. If the water from the tap doesn’t get hot, it must get cold, right? Wrong. It is tepid. Always. And yucky. After a few days lugging home bottles of water, I bought this Britta water filter pitcher. It only holds about five cups, which is about what I put in the coffee pot every morning, but it is easy to refill and the water is so much better after being filtered and refrigerated. It may even be healthier. I will say this for my community back home–we have the most excellent, clean, good-tasting water.

Metro Smartrip Card

#4: Using Public Transportation. This is a big one. I haven’t driven a car in ten days, and I’m not missing it one tiny bit. NOT ONE TINY BIT! There is nothing easier than popping over to the Metro station and getting around the city. Granted, it is summer and not a frigid day in January or a pouring wet day in March, but being able to read while getting across town? It is easy with the Metro’s Smartrip cards. You just press this up against a reader on the turnstiles (they are called turnstiles, but they slide in and out now, not turn) and voila! Hop on the train to Chinatown or Woodley Park or wherever. The trains here run on electricity, and 70% of the electricity in D.C. is generated by coal, according to a Greenpeace volunteer with whom I chatted in Adams Morgan the other day. So, this mode of transport isn’t perfectly sustainable. However, you can move many more people with a train than in individual automobiles burning precious oil, sending carbon into the atmosphere, and enriching Middle Eastern countries. Public transportation is a little bit tougher to figure in rural areas, but it is definitely a no-brainer in the city.

My makeup "collection."

#5: Makeup. I confess, since moving to the country and giving up work outside the home, I’ve let myself go in the cosmetics department. It just doesn’t seem necessary to put the on the “face” before going to the Limerick Supermarket for a quick run to the popcorn aisle. I always wear lipstick, feel quite naked without it, but now I’m lining my eyes with a navy pencil, picking just the right coordinating color from the palette of eyeshadow I picked up at the Dollar Store in Sanford, and even–gasp–spreading a light, SPF-15 foundation all over my face!

SPF is good, especially since I’m walking in bright, southern sunlight to the grocery store or to the Metro or all around the National Mall, and I admit that I look better in photos. However, I’m not sure if all this personal grooming is really “me” anymore. I’ve grown to like the woman who slaps a little lipstick on her mouth, sticks her hair in a ponytail, and heads off to the public library to volunteer. Or tromps out to the garden boxes in her beat-up “croc-a-likes” with the broken straps. Or pulls on a pair of wrinkled shorts and a tee-shirt to go biking with a friend.

That person is still here. So is the more citified me. I realize it is okay to be both because deep inside, wherever I go, there I am. Thanks Confucius and Sandi, for the reminders.

Tomorrow: Off to Celebrate the 4th of July in front of the Capitol Building!

Day 2: Flying Through the Air & Space Museum

Mural of WWII Figher Plane

Dear Reader:

Day Two of OUTSIDE THE BOX IN D.C.

Because it was Saturday, we slept in late, had a couple cups of coffee, sat on our balcony overlooking Nordstroms at the mall, and looked through tourist guides to figure out what we wanted to do with our day. We thought we might go over to the National Mall for a taste of BBQ at the Safeway National Capitol Barbecue Battle XIX. This is a benefit festival/contest to raise money for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Washington and has raised over 1.2 million dollars for the organization! However, we got such a late start, we decided to save the ribs for Sunday and flew over to the Air & Space Museum instead.

Here’s the funny thing: I’ve been to D.C. four times including this trip. I’ve been to the Air & Space Museum three times now . . . and I don’t even really care about airplanes! Craig wanted to see a couple of IMAX movies showing there, and it is close to our “favorite” L’Enfant Square Metro stop. We did enjoy reading about the Red Baron, WWI and the beginning of airplane warfare, looking at the WWII pilot uniforms and the colorful names and decorations painted on the planes, and learning about Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh in the Pioneers of Flight gallery.

1783 Balloon at 1/4 Scale

I thought this was pretty. It is a quarter-scale model of the first balloon flight in 1783.

The most compelling moments of the day for me were watching the two IMAX 3-D shows–RESCUE 3D and HUBBLE 3D. The RESCUE 3D movie featured rescue workers who all ended up helping in the Haiti disaster. Seeing the shots of the Haiti and the devastation and the people trying to survive in the aftermath of the earthquake was sobering. Seeing it, you can’t quite imagine how anyone could have survived or how they can rebuild.

HUBBLE 3D took us off planet Earth and into space. Our planet is incredibly beautiful viewed from space. The juxtaposition between the incredible amounts of energy expended on our space program (watching lift-off, you can’t help but be awed by the blast of fire propelling that shuttle out of the atmosphere) and the miracle of a blue planet covered in water and green and brown land and wisps of clouds. I was hit by the irony that in order to “see” our planet and appreciate how precious and vulnerable it is, we had to develop technology to this level, putting massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere that may or may not be raising the temperature of the planet and putting natural systems in jeopardy.

http://www.earth-policy.org/indicators/C51 Earth Policy Institute “2010 Hits Top of Temperature Chart”
http://www.giss.nasa.gov/research/features/200711_temptracker/ NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies “Earth’s Temperature Tracker” by David Herring

Can we continue to afford to burn that much fuel in order to explore space?

We are looking for an alternate planet out there that could support human life. The Hubble telescope has taken pictures of millions of solar systems, some with their own planets. That’s hundreds of millions of planets (or billions?) Nebulae are out there “birthing” new stars all the time, nascent solar systems that one day may cool and form even more planets. It’s more than my mind can comprehend.

The law of averages would suggest there would be at least one other planet out there that could support human life, but I do have to wonder: Instead of looking for a new Earth, shouldn’t we try to maintain the one we already have?

Tomorrow: I’ll hopefully be posting about today’s BBQ consumption and a bike ride along the Potomac.

Growing In The Shade

Red sky in the morning . . .

“Red sky at night, sailors delight. Red sky in the morning, sailors take warning.”

Dear Reader:

The above quote is an old adage I learned as a child. Basically, it means that if there’s a red sunset you can expect clear, sunny skies the next day, but if you have a red sunrise, watch out for a gloomy day ahead. (click HERE for a scientific explanation.)

I say, with all the news we’ve had lately about oil prices, revolutions in the Middle East, mega earthquakes, nuclear power plant problems, our national debt ceiling about to be reached come May, and a stalemate over our Washington budget, we are seeing a red sky in the morning here on planet Earth. Will we heed the warning signs?

Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard about Peak Oil yet? If you haven’t, I encourage you to find out about it as quickly as possible. The Post Carbon Institute has published a Peak Oil Primer (click HERE to read it)that will give you an overview of the issue. Basically, Peak Oil is the point in time when we have used up half of the original oil reserves in the world. If graphed on a bell curve, the extraction and production of oil would form a “peak” at this point, and from that point on extraction and production will become more difficult and less efficient over time. Another term for this is “energy resource depletion.” Or, as I like to call it, “running out of gas.”

You can also watch a few documentaries:
COLLAPSE with Michael Rupert (click HERE)
THE END OF SUBURBIA (click HERE)
ENERGY CROSSROADS (click HERE to view the trailer)

These are just a few. I encourage you to explore and share what you find.

In essence, what these films (and the myriad books that are available–more on those in another post) tell us is that everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, in our current way of life depends on oil. Our food is grown with oil-based fertilizers applied by oil-run tractors that are manufactured using oil. Irrigation pumps to water the fields run on oil. All plastics are made with oil. Obviously, our transportation is mostly oil-fueled. We heat our homes and hot water with oil. Our clothing (and just about everything else in the stores) is shipped to us via a fleet of trucks that run on gasoline. Suburbia depends on the automobile to get its residents to and from work, school, stores, and hospitals. We have fewer and fewer walkable, liveable communities.

I am aware that this all sounds alarmist. It is. I am alarmed. The more I learn, the more I read the news, the more I think, the more alarmed I become. All my little projects here Outside the Box have been attempted because I believe the only way to make a difference in this alarming scenario is to go local. Even then, deep down, all this square-foot gardening/buying local milk/knitting socks feels more like child's play than a real answer to the disaster-waiting-to-happen. Unless everyone else begins to localize, too.

A couple years ago I tried to bring Peak Oil and its implications to the attention of my homeowner's association–asking that we begin to think about some changes to our bylaws that would allow us to become more sustainable and less dependent on oil and outside resources. Opening up the canopy to let in much-needed sunlight was my biggest plea. I said we needed to be able to learn to grow our own food in our own backyards, and and that takes eight hours of sunlight, minimum. I also said we could become more energy independent if we used solar technology to heat our homes and hot water, possibly even selling excess energy back to "the grid" and easing some of our home economies and off-setting increases in our association dues.

As you can imagine, nobody took this seriously. Maybe it was because I also mentioned raising goats.

I understand that some people moved here to "get back to nature." Our development was created as a vacation community, after all. I understand that people "up to camp" like the old, Maine pine trees swaying above the cottage while the sunlight sparkles on the lake. It is beautiful. I like it, too. I wish our way of life could continue on just the way it is now, driving outside the community to go to work and coming home to our nice houses and power boats and microwave ovens and the wind sighing through the pines while we sip our pre-dinner Merlot on the deck while the steak sizzles on the gas grill. It's a wonderful life.

I just don't happen to believe it's gonna last. Hopefully I'm wrong.

While we wait and see what the future holds, I'll keep on playing around with my projects. I can't do much about what other people chose or chose not to learn. To give up entirely would mean giving in to fear.

In the spirit of doing something even if it is a drop in the bucket, I am plunging ahead this year with more garden boxes. I am going to focus on vegetables and herbs that can be grown in the shade and hope to trade for some tomatoes and peppers and squashes from someone with a sunny garden spot. I’m also going to experiment with those Topsy Turvy planters . . . growing tomatoes upside down on iron hooks stuck into my septic field–the sunniest spot in my yard. I’m also contemplating growing a few tomatoes in large pots . . . on top of my septic tank, the area of my yard that remained mostly snow-free all winter despite record snowfalls due to the heat underneath the dirt.

If you have a shady area of your yard, if your entire yard is shady, and if you want to give gardening a try, HERE is a list of plants that will grow in 3-6 hours of sunlight. Compost heavily. Water regularly. Read the article about Peak Oil and share it with others. Good luck, and let us know how it turns out.