Category Archives: Innovation

Unless …

As promised, I put together a Soundslides show last night for folks who may have missed the Tulsa Solar Tour but would like to learn a little bit about how the crunchy-granola half lives. It includes information on energy efficiency, recycling, water conservation, composting, organic gardening, chickens, beekeeping, woodstoves, LED lighting, solar energy, hybrid cars, carbon offsets, and more. The slideshow is set to John Lennon’s “Power to the People.”

To see the show, click here … then borrow some ideas and go do something to knock down your power bills. 🙂

On an unrelated note, the time/date stamp thingy on WordPress is acting weird. I decided the other day to join the ranks of the National Blog Posting Month participants. I’d thought that I’d missed a day or two in November, but when I looked back over my posts, I found that I hadn’t missed a single day, so I went ahead and signed up, figuring I could keep the streak going easily enough. Two days later, I glanced at the calendar on my sidebar and noticed there were some gaps in it. Apparently the time/date stamps had readjusted themselves in some strange fashion, so I had to go in and manually change them back. Weird.


Tulsa Solar Tour

(Cross-posted from House of the Lifted Lorax, because I am too tired to write a whole new riff here.)


I think our hens may have been even more popular than our solar panels this afternoon as we led tours of the House of the Lifted Lorax. They certainly made a big hit with my young neighbor, who has been watching them from afar (or at least from across the easement) for months. He wasn’t comfortable with the idea of petting them when we took them out of the chicken tractor, but he definitely liked watching them through the chicken wire. When his mom and grandma got ready to leave, we had to coax him inside with the promise of a cookie (oatmeal-cranberry-chocolate-chip, made with honey and eggs from our backyard).

Between 20 and 25 visitors from all walks of life stopped by to see the house and yard. We had some old friends show up, we made some new friends, we got to know a few of our neighbors a little better, and we had a surreal but utterly wonderful moment shooting the bull with a pair of self-described “old hippies” who could have been us in 20 years.

One of our visitors told us she’d come more for the chickens than anything else, and one couple on the tour walked out to the backyard to see the solar array but shifted their focus to the chicken tractor the minute they saw it. As it turns out, they’ve been thinking about keeping chickens but weren’t sure how to start, being city dwellers. I think our feisty, funny Bond Chicks offered them as much encouragement as anything I might have said. I hope they’ll post and let us know how they’re doing when they get a flock of their own.

Our bees were a big hit, too, and several people were interested in the LED “lightbulb” in my desk lamp, which isn’t the brightest light in the world but is pretty whizbang nonetheless.

If you missed the tour, the organizers are already planning to do another one next fall. I am also hoping to get a hand free in the near future to put together a kind of virtual tour to give you a sense of what’s possible … and in the meantime, you can
click here
to see a copy of the flier we handed out, explaining the various things we’ve done to reduce our ecological footprint.

I’ll leave you with one more dose of cute:


Have a good weekend, and go do something nice for the environment.


Almost time!

Two hours to showtime. I’m just about ready, too … just a few last-minute touches to take care of in the next couple of hours (like getting Ron up so I can make the bed), and we’ll be good to go.

One last time: If you’re in the Tulsa area and need something to do today, the Tulsa Solar Home Tour starts at 11 a.m. and goes to 5 p.m. You can start at any of the three participating sites and visit them in any order you like. You can find a flier with directions and details here.

I’m really looking forward to this event. There are a lot of misconceptions out there about living lightly on the earth — people always seem to think you have to spend a lot of money or live like Laura Ingalls Wilder to reduce your environmental footprint, but that just hasn’t been the case for us at all. You can do some expensive (solar panels) or labor-intensive (organic gardening) things, but most of what we’ve done here is simple, inexpensive stuff that anybody could do with a minimum of effort.

I hope we get a big turnout, of course, but even if just one person shows up, sees what we’re doing, and gets inspired to install a few CFLs or turn the thermostat back a few degrees this winter, it will have been worth the effort.

It’s going to be a good day.


Solar open house

OK … I am beyond excited about this: We are participating in a solar open house event here in Tulsa on Nov. 10. I’m a teensy bit overwhelmed (I have a lot on my plate in the next couple of weeks, and I’m not sure just exactly how I’m going to finish up the mural, repaint the hall — which desperately needs it — and give the house a top-to-bottom cleaning like it needs between now and then), but I’m really excited about letting our house serve one of its many purposes, which is to be a real-life example of how to live comfortably in an environmentally friendly manner.

Here’s the announcement I posted on our House of the Lifted Lorax blog tonight:

If you’ll be in the Tulsa area on Nov. 10 and need something interesting to do with your afternoon, local alt-power guru John Miggins of Harvest Solar and Wind Power is putting together a solar open house.

The event, which will run from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 10, will include visits to John’s office on Utica; a sustainable house that Frank Palmeri is building in Brookside; and, of course, the House of the Lifted Lorax.

I’m not sure exactly what John and Frank are planning at their places, but Ron and I intend to provide a guided tour of our house and backyard; a handy-dandy flier explaining all the stuff we’ve done to reduce our environmental footprint; eco-friendly snacks (including homemade salsa made from homegrown organic tomatoes and peppers, a batch of cookies made with honey and eggs produced in our backyard, and — if the weather is cool enough that day — hot tea and cider made right on top of the woodstove); and photo ops with the Lorax himself, who graces the mural on our garage.

We’ll try to answer all your questions about our efforts to reduce our environmental footprint … and if we don’t know the answer, we’ll be happy to make something up. 😉

Hope to see some of you on Nov. 10!


Busy evening

I finally got around to doing something this evening that’s needed to be done for months: I reorganized my office, rearranged the furniture, and replaced some big, clunky wooden shelves with a sleek little chrome shelf.

When I was done, Ron treated me to a fun new piece of furniture: a $20 fold-up rocking chair that sits directly on the floor and doesn’t take up a whole lot of room. I also got a small plush cushion, which Ron hates but I love. It has bright purple, blue, and green stripes. I like it ‘cos it’s very soft, and it makes the chair (which is just the right height for my makeshift “computer desk” — visible in the picture) more comfortable, too.

While I was cleaning and reorganizing this evening, I decided to sweep the carpet — and I mean “sweep,” not “vacuum.” About three weeks ago, I got an absolutely wonderful tool from the Lehman’s Non-Electric catalog: an old-fashioned carpet sweeper. The design is a little bit different from the toy sweeper I had as a kid. Rather than attempt to explain it, I will just suggest that you click here to take a peek at it. I will also note, just for the record, that this was probably the best $55 I ever spent, because it picks up lint and dog hair without wasting electricity or making a lot of noise. I love it.

If you aren’t familiar with the Lehman’s catalog, their Web site is a great timekiller — lots of cool gadgets that don’t require electricity to work.



I’ve decided that I absolutely have to have a hexayurt.

“Exactly what is a hexayurt?” you might ask.

Without putting too fine a point on it, a hexayurt is probably best described as a totally-pimped-out cardboard box. You can build one for under $100; the price goes up to $500 or so if you want something fancier, but your basic hexayurt resembles nothing so much as a landlubbing version of one of former SIUC Professor Richard Archer’s final exam projects.

According to this presentation by the inventors, a well-constructed model can actually last up to 20 years.

Laugh all you want, but I am seriously considering this as a viable alternative to conventional retirement programs. I could see myself living quite contentedly in a hexayurt somewhere in New Mexico.


New pond

Well, that turned out to be a different project than I anticipated. I drained the pond this afternoon and got ready to swap out the pump. As I was scrubbing algae from the sides, I noticed the old pond liner had a couple of spots where the sides and bottom apparently weren’t supported properly, so the liner — a rigid, molded plastic model — had folded onto itself, creating serious questions about the structural integrity of the liner.

Rather than wait around for the old one to spring a leak, at which point I would have to do an emergency replacement (a dubious proposition if said leak happened to show up in the middle of winter — pond liners are rather scarce in January), I decided it was time to buy a new one.

We couldn’t find a liner identical to the one we had, but Lowe’s had a kidney-shaped liner with an extra-large planting shelf that was just the right size to accommodate an azalea pot full of gravel.

“Why would you want an azalea pot full of gravel in your pond?” you might wonder.

Good question. The answer: filtration. Rock does a wonderful job of cleaning water. A container of rock positioned under the waterfall adds a layer of filtration. And an azalea pot has the dual advantage of being A.) cheap, and B.) equipped with a large drainage hole on the bottom, allowing the water to come in the top, percolate through the rocks, and come out the bottom clean and fresh.

Given our problems with algae, I expect the additional filtration will do wonders to increase the life of our pump. Shade would be even more helpful, but I can’t provide attractive shade in a single afternoon; that will have to wait for spring.

Modifying the existing pond to accommodate the new liner was hot work (last time I dug out that area, it was springtime, and we had a tree out there to provide shade and keep me cool), but I got two nice reminders of why I was working: A big green frog was hopping around in the space beneath the old liner when we removed it, and as I was digging to make way for the new liner, a little red toad about the size of my thumbnail went bouncing along the ground next to the hole. We tried to get a picture of the toad, but it didn’t come out. It was a cute little thing, though, and quite tame — it let me pick it up and carry it to a safer spot where I wouldn’t be likely to step on it while I worked. I hope I see it again. It was adorable.

I still need to finish installing the flagstone around the pond, but I put in mulch cloth and got the waterfall and filtration system working, which is good. The photo is a little blown-out (Ron’s camera does not like sunny afternoons), and the water looks a little murky (dust from the gravel; the filter pad should take care of that in short order), but you get the idea. I’ll try to take a nicer picture once the water settles and I finish arranging the flagstone and maybe planting a few chrysanthemums around the edges to make it pretty.

I hadn’t anticipated having to replace the liner, so it turned out to be a bigger project than I expected, but the waterfall was easier to put together than I’d anticipated, and I’m pretty happy with the end result. The pond isn’t perfectly level, but neither is our yard. I think I’m OK with that. Last time I put in a pond, I carefully leveled it, and then the sand underneath it settled, and it wound up sloping with the yard anyway, so I just eyeballed it this time and settled for “pretty good” instead of slaving over it for hours to get it temporarily perfect.

I’ll get some water hyacinths next spring and put them in the flowerpot with the gravel. The only thing better than filtering water through rock is filtering water through rock and plants.

I think the wasps are happy to have their water supply back. I saw two or three hovering uneasily around the area while I was working; one of them actually came over and started looking for a way to get to the water without falling in while I was installing the secondary filter. I need to figure out some kind of landing strip they can use to perch and drink and take off safely so they don’t drown.

Hope your Labor Day was as satisfying as mine.


Heat wave

It is ridiculously hot. For the umpteenth day in a row, we had triple-digit temperatures. I don’t mind it so much for my own sake, but it’s making the air conditioner work overtime, which eats up all the power our solar panels collect and then some, and we’ve had a lot of ozone alert days lately. If I had a moped, I’d ride it to work.

Speaking of environmental considerations, I’m feeling pretty good about a project I did the other night during one of my infamous creative outbursts. Using a tutorial I found on Craftster, I recycled two old T-shirts into reusable shopping bags. I used them and a canvas grocery bag from Viviano’s in St. Louis to haul my last round of groceries home from the store. I had the T-shirt bags inside the Viviano’s bag, and the bagger was a little confused when she found them. I had to explain that they were bags, not T-shirts. They held a lot of groceries, because they stretch well. I even remembered to take one of them along when we ran an errand this evening.

It’s a little thing, but it’s another easy way to reduce your carbon footprint and your petroleum use a little bit. I used to have trouble remembering to take bags with me to the store (even if I kept them in the car, I’d forget to take them into the building), but making my own helped a lot — now that I’ve invested a little time and energy in my bags, I remember to use them.


Divine energy

“… when we realize that immortal Mind is ever active, and that spiritual energies can neither wear out nor can so-called material law trespass upon God-given powers and resources, we are able to rest in Truth, refreshed by the assurances of immortality, opposed to mortality.”
— Mary Baker Eddy

I’ve been concerned about the environment since I was a little kid, reading Ranger Rick magazine and poring over National Wildlife Federation brochures about how to create a backyard wildlife habitat.

I boycotted styrofoam and aerosol hairspray in the early ’90s as part of the much-discussed (and ultimately successful) effort to help fix the hole in the ozone layer. I’ve always driven cars that got the best gas mileage I could afford. And I spent most of high school and college (and a good many years beyond!) drawing plans for houses with trombe walls and heavy insulation and all sorts of alternative architecture designed for maximum energy efficiency.

Through it all, I daydreamed of having a home powered by the sun.

Five minutes ago, I stood in my backyard and watched my electric meter spin backwards as the solar panels on my roof collected free energy from the sky and fed it into the grid.

Until this moment, I never realized exactly why it was that the idea of solar energy so thoroughly appealed to me. Of course I want to do right by the environment. Of course I want to reduce my dependence on fossil fuels. Of course I want to shrink my environmental footprint. Of course I want to slow down global warming. But my affinity for alternative energy runs much deeper than that.

Last night, I had a really great run at the gym. I ran six miles — twice as many as I’d planned to run yesterday — and it felt good. I didn’t get tired. I didn’t need to stop to walk every few minutes, as I often do when I run, and I didn’t feel unduly hot or tired, the way I sometimes do. I just ran and ran and ran.

As I ran, a phrase from Science and Health came to thought several times: “the unlabored motion of the divine energy.”

It occurred to me that there was no reason I should feel tired, because everything I needed to run — my energy, my strength, my coordination, my speed — was coming from God. In other words, there was no reason I should ever find myself unable to express the “unlabored motion of the divine energy.”

I thought of that today as I was watching the meter run backwards and listening to Ron read numbers off the display on our new inverter. It came to me that the way the sun powers my house — naturally, effortlessly, and cleanly — is exactly the way divine Love, God, powers me.

The sun doesn’t have to flip a switch or dig minerals out of the ground or spew noxious chemicals into the air to power my house. All it has to do is what it’s already doing, what it always has done, and what it always will do. All it has to do is be, and in being, it naturally radiates warmth and light and energy. Talk about “unlabored” — the sun just is, and all this useful energy is a natural byproduct of its innate radiance. If we choose to take advantage of that radiance, we can cool our homes and power our appliances and our tools and our computers with it. It’s only when we turn to other, less natural power sources that things start to get messy.

Similarly, God doesn’t have to flip a switch or dig minerals out of the ground or spew noxious chemicals into the air to keep me safe, healthy, and happy. God — divine Life, Truth, Love, Principle, Mind, Soul, and Spirit — just is, and in being, He radiates all the spiritual warmth and light and energy we need to live joyful, productive lives. It’s only when we turn away from Principle and its “divine energy” and start looking to matter to meet our needs that things get messy.


P.S.: If you’re interested in the technological details of our new solar power system, take a peek at Ron’s new Lifted Lorax blog. He’s posting some information on there, including a video of our power meter running backwards, which ought to bring a smile to anyone who’s ever grumbled about high electric bills. 🙂

Ask the Hippie, Vol. 2, Issue 4

Q. Is there an organic way to get rid of ants?

A. Yes.

I discovered an infestation of ants in our kitchen just before we left for Clinton a couple of weeks ago, but I didn’t have a chance to do anything about them before we went out of town. Of course my negligence gave them a chance to multiply, and by the time we got back, they were all over the counter and sink.

I sort of like ants. Like honeybees, they’re hard-working, single-minded little critters who understand the importance of sacrificing self-interest for the greater good. I appreciate the lessons they offer, and I’m loathe to kill a teacher, however small it might be.

That said, I didn’t want a colony of ants marching across my counters, tromping through my food, and stealing anything that wasn’t hermetically sealed, so I decided to let them know it was time to leave.

Ants hate the smell of peppermint. I think it messes up their sense of smell and makes it hard for them to detect the trails of formic acid that they lay down to help each other find food sources.

I had some peppermint essential oil and an empty spray bottle on hand, so I mixed about a teaspoon of the oil with about a quart of water and spritzed down the sink and countertop with it.

Two treatments, spaced a couple of hours apart, took care of the entire problem literally overnight.