Category Archives: Power to the people

Eco-Saturday: Toaster oven

In my relentless march toward a tiny house somewhere off the grid in New Mexico, I’ve spent a big chunk of the past year experimenting to see which appliances are expendable, which are helpful but not absolutely necessary, and which are completely non-negotiable. (More on that in a future Tiny Tuesday post.)

About a year ago, as part of my experimentation, I bought a lower-end toaster oven similar to this one and started using it in place of my regular oven.

Small but mighty.
Small but mighty.

Even if you bake regularly and are absolutely committed to using a full-sized oven for cakes, cookies, Thanksgiving meals, etc., you can do the environment (and your power bill) a big favor by using a toaster oven instead of your regular oven as often as possible.

I cook most of our meals at home, and for just about everything I make, I’ve found the toaster oven equal, if not superior, to the regular oven. Its compact size means I don’t need to preheat it, which saves me time and money every time I bake. I always hated preheating, partly because it took extra time, and partly because I resented the fact the heating element was drawing power for 10 minutes without giving me anything in return.

The smaller size also means you’re not wasting money and energy heating a lot of empty space around your food. If I’m just making a small fritatta for the two of us or a few break-and-bake cookies to soothe a craving, I don’t need to heat five cubic feet of space. Instead, I use the toaster oven to get the same results in roughly one cubic foot, thus knocking down my energy consumption for that meal by about 80 percent.

Two other ways the toaster oven saves resources, neither of which would have occurred to me before I bought it:

1. The smaller space means I cook smaller batches, thus reducing the risk of having more leftovers than we can eat. (This also helps with portion control, as I don’t end up eating more than I need just because it’s there.)

2. Most toaster ovens come with a timer that shuts off the oven when the time is up, reducing the likelihood of wasting food by burning it.

A toaster oven won’t work for every household or every project. But it’s a nice option, and one I’ve used far more than I expected.


Activism 101

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I used to do an activism unit with my sophomore English classes. To kick off the unit, I presented a lesson on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” speech, which you can read here.

In recent weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of would-be activists undermining their own efforts with ineffective and/or counterproductive tactics, and it occurs to me that this might be a good time to share that lesson with my readers.

Here, then, are what my students and I referred to as “Dr. King’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective Activists”:

Habit 1: Stay positive. Don’t tell me why the other side is wrong. Tell me why you’re right. Negativity is a waste of time, and it turns people off. If your cause is truly worthwhile, it will stand on its own merits.

Habit 2: Stay together. There’s strength in numbers, and infighting will destroy a movement faster than anything else in the world.

Habit 3: Sacrifice. Activism isn’t always easy. If you can’t deal with that, you’re not going to accomplish much.

Habit 4: Stay on message. Don’t let your tactics overshadow your issue. Don’t write obscenities on your protest signs. Don’t get naked for animal rights. Don’t make out with your same-sex partner in the middle of a Chick-fil-A. Don’t stand in front of a restaurant, holding pictures of bloody fetuses, to protest the fact that the owner moonlights as a receptionist for an abortion clinic in the next county. Don’t get violent. Don’t violate your opponent’s civil liberties. You want the media to report on your issue, not your asinine behavior.

Habit 5: Don’t give up.

Habit 6: Hit ’em in the pocketbook. Economic pressure is a powerful motivator — which is why a boycott is one of the most effective weapons in an activist’s arsenal. Control the bottom line, and in most cases, you control the company’s behavior.

Habit 7: Help each other. If your group is sympathetic to another group’s cause, work out a sort of mutual-aid agreement in which you show up for each other’s rallies, participate in each other’s letter-writing campaigns, and honor each other’s boycotts. Again: There’s strength in numbers.

These tactics work. They worked for Dr. King. They’ve worked for me. And they will work for you. All I would really add to his list is this: Know what you’re talking about, and be able to back up your opinions with verifiable facts gleaned from credible sources.

If you can pull that off, you can win a lot of battles.


The third-base coach waved me home.

Sorry I’ve been so quiet; I’m nearing the end of a 10-day road trip. I’ll post a full report when I get home, but in the meantime, I’m contemplating the strange and graceful way a figure from my childhood keeps sending my thought into familiar places with new eyes.

Last summer, I spent three days watching Ryne Sandberg manage the Iowa Cubs in a series against the OKC RedHawks. I got back to Tulsa to find that most of my friends and colleagues were unfamiliar with my childhood hero.

I thought, This would never happen in Southern Illinois, and three days later, I was sitting in a dugout at Diamond Three in Herrin, reading a W.P. Kinsella novel and watching a thunderstorm roll in while I made my peace with my hometown.

At the Triple-A level, the manager coaches third base. Last summer, my favorite third-base coach waved me home.

This summer, Ryno is managing the Lehigh Valley IronPigs in Allentown, Pa., so Ron and I used that as an excuse to head east on the Lincoln Highway. Along the way, I discovered that it might be possible for me to survive somewhere besides Route 66: I fell in love with the farmland of Iowa; the vibrant energy of Chicago; the charming downtowns of Goshen, Ind., and Van Wert, Ohio; the giant teapot in Chester, W. Va.; the winding mountain roads of rural Pennsylvania; and the ethnic neighborhoods and skinny townhouses with old men killing time on their front stoops in the narrow side streets of Allentown.

Everywhere we went, I mumbled, “I could teach here,” until this afternoon, it suddenly occurred to me that I don’t want to live in any of the places I’ve visited; I just want to gather up what makes me happy about those places and bring it back to Tulsa, the way I gather up little souvenirs and glue them all over my dashboard. That love-the-one-you’re-with ethos that drove me to paint pictures on cabinet doors and turn my ordinary Honda into a unique artcar suddenly spilled over, and it clicked for me: Tulsa does not understand its own potential. Forget the Glenn Pool. We are sitting on a much larger reserve of a much more powerful resource: our own diversity and creativity.

After tonight’s game, we’re heading back to Tulsa, and I am bringing a boatload of shiny objects to glue on my town’s metaphorical dashboard. From here on in, I am indulging all of my artistic impulses, and I am encouraging others to do the same, even — and maybe especially — if those impulses involve public acts of eccentricity, because it is high time we tapped this giant pool of creativity we’ve been sitting on all these years.

Once again, the third-base coach is waving me home.

Stay tuned. I feel a massive, contagious creative outburst coming on.


Another cause

I really hate my hair when it’s short, but at the moment, I think the planet needs it a whole lot worse than I do.

Tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to Supercuts in Glenpool to have my stylist, Jon, take off a few inches to send to the folks at Matter of Trust, who will stuff my split ends into somebody’s old pantyhose to make a hair boom.

Songdog doesn’t know this yet, but he and Walter will also be contributing to the cause. I take the equivalent of a Pomeranian off of Song every time I get out the shedding blade, and Walter’s big, fluffy tail is basically a giant dustbunny farm. I’ve always thought a resource that abundant must be good for something. As it turns out, it is: When you’re mopping up an oil spill, animal hair is as good as human hair.

If you’re thinking of having your hair trimmed or your pet groomed, please make sure the clippings find their way to the Gulf. Many salons are already collecting hair for this purpose; if your favorite doesn’t, please ask your stylist to save your clippings so you can ship them to Matter of Trust yourself. You have to register online — which is free and takes only a few minutes — and then you’ll be placed on a mailing list to receive updates about where to send your hair. (The organization relies on donated warehouse space, so locations change frequently.)

While you’re at it, head over to the Sierra Club and strike a blow for the good guys by participating in the Best Fundraiser Ever. I sweetened the deal by using my Nature Conservancy credit card to make the donation, thereby helping TWO environmental organizations.

I’d like to see a lot more of this type of fundraiser. Positive action is the best antidote to ignorance and hatred.


Folk Thursday: Politics and fond memories

At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I had two run-ins with adults who refused to take me seriously and felt they should be allowed to exercise prior restraint over my stories simply because I was young.

It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t right. But there wasn’t a bloody thing I could do about it, and that frustrated me to no end. If I could have snapped my fingers and aged 23 years overnight, I would have done it.

Then something amazing happened. On a sunny autumn afternoon in late October 1992, at a press conference following a get-out-the-vote rally I was covering in Carbondale, Illinois, Hillary Rodham Clinton looked into my then-17-year-old eyes and answered my question. She did not talk down to me. She did not ask to read the article before it went to press just to make sure I hadn’t misquoted her. She did not treat me like a little girl playing dress-up with a press pass and a reporter’s notebook. She simply responded to my question — just as she would (and did) for any other member of the press.

I rewound my tape of the event and listened to it over and over, and when Bill Clinton won the election a few days later, I taped the front page of the local daily newspaper to my bedroom wall, where it hung until I moved out of my parents’ house my senior year of college.

As far as I was concerned, that press conference was the journalistic equivalent of a bat mitzvah or a quinceanera — it was the day I officially became a grownup, and I remember every minute of it, from SIU professor Barb Brown greeting me warmly before the rally to press secretary Lisa Caputo collecting everybody’s press passes and taking them to the future first lady to be autographed afterward.

Toward the beginning of the rally, a local band called St. Stephen’s Blues played a Bob Dylan cover. I’ve thought of that song often during this campaign season:

And while we’re on the subject of great songs from that campaign cycle:

If don’t like the way things are going in Washington and want them to change, get off your duff and vote.

If you love the way things are going in Washington and want them to continue, get off your duff and vote. (WARNING: Sound file starts automatically.)

If you care at all about your country, get off your butt and vote. 


Folk Thursday: The flowers


I’m not in the habit of turning Folk Thursday into a crusade, but after reading a few articles about neonicotinoids and their suspected role in Colony Collapse Disorder, I’m making an exception.

Please take a few moments to explore the links above, then sign this online petition asking the federal government to follow the wise example set by Germany and France in banning these neurotoxins. There are plenty of ways to protect crops from agricultural pests without murdering millions of innocent bees in the process.

If you live outside the United States — or if you just want to take another step to make the world safer for honeybees — you can help by buying organic products instead of conventionally farmed products whenever possible.

I thank you. More importantly, those cute, fuzzy, hard-working little girls in my backyard thank you.


Weathering the storm

I left my parents’ house at 10 a.m. Monday and got home roughly 11 hours later, after dipping south through Arkansas to avoid the ice storms and downed power lines along the I-44 corridor.

I came into a dark house, put the dogs out, and wandered out to the backyard to find icicles hanging from every imaginable surface. Amazing how an ice storm can turn ordinary objects into something extraordinary:









When I rolled into town around 9:30 p.m. Monday, the only spot in Red Fork with any lights on was Ollie’s Station Restaurant. My neighborhood was dark and silent, and broken branches littered the streets, some still clinging to trees and scraping the windshield as I passed. The roads themselves were clear, making it hard for me to grasp the magnitude of the storm.

Here at the House of the Lifted Lorax, our woodstove and gas water heater kept us warm and comfortable despite recordbreaking power outages. I got a lot of reading done by the light of an LED headlamp and learned a few things that will help the next time we have an outage.

I’ve got tons of photos of Jamie from my trip home, but Ron just got home from work, and we need to clean the refrigerator and head to the grocery store so we can replace the stuff that got too warm on the deck today, so I guess I’ll get offline now.

Hope you’re warm and comfortable, wherever you are.


Coolest. Thing. Ever.

Check out this article about a new solar technology that could change the way we all think about electricity.

By my calculations, if the PowerSheet actually works as well as this article suggests it might, you could finance it for five years and end up with a monthly payment lower than the one you get from the power company.

This is the coolest thing since the release of the Honda Insight.


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.