Athena in Red Fork

The most amazing thing happened tonight. When I got off work this evening, I met up with an MIT student named Anne who is doing her master’s thesis about community development on Route 66, or something like that. We cruised 66 to the Rock Cafe in Stroud.

I didn’t think I’d be a whole lot of help on the whole community development thing, since she was dealing with a lot of city planners and stuff, and all of my Route 66 projects have been grassroots-type things — painting historic signs at Vernelle’s Motel and the Vega Motel, writing letters and attending public meetings to save the Boots Motel and the El Vado Motel, etc., etc., etc. — but I figured maybe I’d be useful for background information about the road or whatever.

When we got to Depew, we got out to look at some of the murals in town, and I ran into my friend Linda, who owns Spangler’s Grocery. As we started telling Anne how we spent our summer, I realized that our project, which had the mayor and the local business owners and a bunch of Route 66 activists all working side-by-side, was a primo example of a small-scale community development project hinging on cooperation among stakeholders.

Anne and I had a good time on 66, and when we got back into Tulsa, we stopped by the house so she could see Red Fork and I could let my dogs out. As we left to head back downtown so I could drop her off at her hotel, I pulled up to the stop sign a couple of blocks from the house, and a big ol’ bird flew low and fast across the street in front of my car. At first glance, Anne thought it was an eagle, and I thought it was a hawk. As it came to a stop on a wire just next to the street light, we realized it was an enormous owl.

Anne got very excited and went scrambling for her camera to try to get a picture of it, which she is planning to e-mail me later.

I’m not sure what kind it was, but my best guess is that it was a barred owl. It definitely wasn’t a barn owl, it didn’t have ear tufts like a great horned owl, it was much too big (and way too far east) for a burrowing owl, and it had too much brown on it for a snowy owl.

Whatever it was, it was beautiful, and I was really glad Anne got to see it. I owe her one for giving me a reason to be in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment to see that magnificent bird. I don’t know whether it was male or female, but the former English teacher in me just can’t resist naming it Athena.

I’m going to pay closer attention to small objects I find on the ground, now that I know we have owls in the neighborhood. It would be cool to find an owl pellet or two.

My sister-in-law cracked me up this summer when she and my little brother got started talking about her fascination with owl pellets. (I think they used to dissect them in gifted class or something.) Oliver was just sitting next to his bride at the dinner table, gazing at her with an expression of utter worship, as she gleefully told us all about how she’d discovered an owl pellet, dissected it, and discovered tiny bones in it.

I had to laugh.

She didn’t know it at the time, but Ashley earned my eternal respect with that little riff. You have to love a girl who is so interested in science and nature that it never occurs to her that owl pellets could be gross or icky or anything but utterly fascinating. In that moment, she confirmed for me that my little brother had, indeed, married a nerd of the highest order … and I mean that as a sincere and affectionate compliment.

If I find an owl pellet, I might just save it and take it with me the next time I head home for a visit so Ashley can dissect it with me. 🙂

Emily,
ubernerd and proud of it

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Too cool.

I found something cool on the City Farmer Web site today. They have posted videos about various aspects of urban agriculture. You can download the videos for free and watch them on your iPod or your computer.

Video subjects include several aspects of composting; vermiculture; and winter gardening using a cold frame. I haven’t watched the movies yet, but I’m especially looking forward to seeing the one on vermiculture.

I had a very small but very successful worm bin under the kitchen sink in the apartment Ron and I lived in right after we got married. (Thank God I had the good sense to marry a farm boy. A lesser man might have had some second thoughts if he’d walked in one evening to find his new bride sitting on the kitchen floor, tending a plastic shoebox full of worms. Ron just asked what I was doing, said, “You think it’ll work?” and asked me if I’d mind handing him a beer, since I was blocking his path to the refrigerator.)

I used the compost to feed the herbs I kept in pots on my balcony. When I got a house, I built a bigger worm bin … which promptly failed. I’ve made several attempts at vermicomposting since then but have never had as much luck with subsequent bins as I did with that first little experimental composter. Maybe I’ll try one more time … with a tiny little bin like that one I had six years ago.

I really want a Can O’ Worms, but I don’t really have space for it in the kitchen just at the moment.

However, I do have a three-drawer plastic cabinet I bought a few years ago to sort small amounts of recyclable materials. When I got a bigger recycling bin, I cleaned the cabinet and used it as a nightstand. When I got a bed with shelves built into the headboard, the plastic cabinet/recycler/nightstand went into the closet, where it has been sitting dormant, full of stuff I never use, ever since.

I think if I get out my cordless drill and put some drainage holes in the top two drawers, I can make a pretty nice three-story worm bin similar to a Can O’ Worms that will collect compost tea in the bottom and produce rich compost in the top. I’ll have to dink with the design a little bit to make it work, but I believe I can come up with something pretty good without spending a whole lot of money. I will probably see the owner of Worm Solutions at our Route 66 Association meeting later this month. I should call him and see if he’ll bring some redworms to the meeting for me so I don’t have to drive all the way to Yukon to pick them up. I only need about a half-pound to start with, because this is not going to be a very big bin. For some reason, the bait shops I’ve checked with around here don’t have redworms. I don’t know why. I guess Oklahoma fish don’t like red wigglers.

I’ll let you know how that project goes.

If you haven’t made a New Year’s resolution yet, consider resolving to do something positive for the environment this year. I made that resolution in 2000, and it’s been part of my lifestyle ever since. It’s kind of fun once you get started. And you don’t have to keep worms under your kitchen sink … although I highly recommend it if you’re into that sort of thing. 🙂

Emily

Slow day

Too much time cooped up indoors today — I was at work later than usual, and then I had a project to work on, and then I was in a meeting for part of the evening.

When I got home, I went outside looking for something new in the yard, but I didn’t find much. The Waterman and Hill-Traveler’s Companion says this is “Twelfth Night — animals speak tonight.” I didn’t hear them, although a little while ago, Scout did sit next to me, sending telepathic messages that said, “Share your dinner with the terrier. Let the terrier lick that bowl. Feed the terrier….”

It’s been warm lately, but this evening has gotten a little chilly. I wish it would rain. We really need the moisture. It clouded up once this afternoon, but nothing happened. Maybe I should wash the car. 😉

I’m looking forward to a good weekend. First thing Saturday morning, I’m jogging along the Arkansas River with a friend. I imagine I’ll have plenty to report when I get back; I always see all sorts of critters along the river trail.

In the meantime, here’s a photo I shot in the front yard the other day. I don’t know exactly what kind of evergreen this is, but it’s putting out quite a few pinecones:

Pinecones

Emily

Clover

I came home to let the dogs out during lunch today, and I discovered some white clover growing in the front yard. No blossoms, of course (it’s much too early for that!) but there were a few leaves.

A couple of sparrows were also playing between the bushes in the front yard, and the bees were working in the back. I think I annoyed them by getting right in their flight path while I was showing the hive to a friend, but they were good-natured about it and just flew around me.

A lady at church was wearing a really cute necklace tonight — it had a pendant on it shaped like a pansy blossom. I told her I liked it because it reminded me of the pansies growing in the big planter outside the building. We got to talking about flowers that bloom in winter, which prompted a whole conversation about gardening. She is from Indiana originally, so she’s had to make the same adjustments I’m making — getting used to a different planting zone, adapting to Tulsa’s soil and weather conditions, etc. I might ask her a few questions when I get ready to plant my garden this spring.

Gotta run. I’m trying a new butternut squash soup recipe tonight and need to get into the kitchen and get the squash ready to bake. I’ve been toying with the idea of jumping back on the vegetarian bandwagon lately, so I bought a bunch of produce tonight and dusted off my Mollie Katzen books. I’m planning to spend part of my weekend on the river trail and part of my weekend in the kitchen. 🙂

Emily

Berries and birdseed

I didn’t find a whole lot happening in the yard today. When I got off work, the bees were hanging around the outside of the hive and had drained the jar of sugar water Ron left for them, and the birds apparently had discovered the seed I put out for them yesterday, because it was all gone.

My neighbor’s tree, part of which extends into our yard, has lost its leaves, but there are little berries all over it. I never really noticed them before, but they’re pretty little things. I don’t know what they are. The birds must not like them. I’ve always been told that if you plant things that produce fruit, you’ll be overrun with birds, but I haven’t seen any.

That might have something to do with Red Fork’s proliferation of stray cats — two of whom were sitting in my next-door neighbor’s back yard this evening, taunting his dog.

My neighbor has this hilarious pit bull mix named Skittles who — like most of the pits I have known — seems to have more enthusiasm than intelligence.

Skittles used to have the run of her yard, but after she jumped the fence for the umpteenth time and wound up in our yard, where she joyfully plunged into the pond (and came out with her belly and hindquarters tinted a lovely shade of robin’s egg blue, thanks to the dye I added to the water to prevent algae bloom), her owner has taken to tying her up when he puts her out.

The cats apparently have figured out that she can’t reach them, because I came home from work this evening to find two of the ornery felines sitting in Skittles’ yard, safely out of her reach, staring at her with expressions of utter contempt.

Poor Skittles. No more dips in the pond, no more bounding over the fence to visit her friends, and now, to add insult to injury, she has to put up with cats invading her yard.

Those cats had better hope that cable holds….

Emily

Great … now she thinks she’s Bob Vila

With a little phone support from Daddy (who has more plumbing experience and is better at thinking backwards and inside out than I am) and a teensy bit of elbow grease from Ron (who helped me loosen a couple of corroded copper valves and went out a couple of times to turn the main water line on and off while I stayed inside to make sure nothing leaked), I managed to replace our worn-out bathroom sink and faucet with a brand-new set tonight.

It took a lot longer than it should have, mostly because it was a plumbing project involving 20-year-old fixtures, and when you’re dealing with old plumbing, it always ends up being more complicated and time-consuming than it should be … but I got it done, and I think it looks pretty good.

This is the new sink. Notice the cool retro faucets, which Ron found at 84 Lumber for $24 — about $12 less than the set we’d picked up at Home Depot, which wasn’t nearly as interesting. There’s still some putty around the edge of the sink, which I haven’t cleaned off yet, but at least you can see what it looks like:

New sink

This next picture isn’t very exciting, but I’m proud of it anyway, because I had to replace the supply line valves, which I’d never done before (Ron actually wound up doing a lot of the work on that part, because I was on the phone with Daddy, who was trying to walk me through it, and I couldn’t hold the phone and two wrenches all at the same time), and I had to replace the trap on the drain and take a hacksaw to the PVC pipe coming out of the wall to get the new plumbing to fit right. Here is my handiwork:

New drain plumbing

I’m really happy with this project for three reasons:

1. It fixed a problem we’d been having with the water pressure in there for a couple of weeks.
2. I assembled the pop-up drain correctly on the first try. (I messed up that part last time I installed a sink.)
3. I learned some new stuff about plumbing.

The thing about home improvement that makes it frustrating is also the thing that makes it fun: Invariably, you’ll get right in the middle of a project and then run across something you weren’t expecting or hadn’t dealt with before. Sometimes that can be really frustrating, but it also keeps things interesting and forces you to learn something new every time.

Plus it gives me an excuse to spend half an hour on the phone with Daddy and make umpteen trips to the hardware store in one day … which sort of reminds me of all those times Daddy let me tag along with him on his trips to the hardware store in my hometown when I was little bitty. 🙂

Emily

Lemon balm

Another winter survivor: The lemon balm I planted next to the deck last spring had died back, but with the warm temperatures lately, it’s putting out new growth.

Not much else going on in the yard today. I put some birdseed in my feeder today, and I heard birds singing in the neighborhood, but I guess they didn’t find the food, because they didn’t come and eat it. They’ll figure it out eventually, I suppose.

I found some good articles and Web sites about various environmental issues today, though. Today’s Christian Science Monitor has an interesting story about solar-powered LED lamps that are being used to illuminate homes in rural India. According to the article, 100,000 remote villages do not have electricity, so the lamps — which run on free power from the sun — are a good alternative to kerosene lamps, which are a constant expense.

My mom was reading the Southern Illinoisan when she ran across this article about how the local Sierra Club chapter spent New Year’s Day. Every year, they go hiking in Giant City State Park and then cap the outing with a big batch of stone soup. Sounds like a good way to start the year.

While I was piddling around on the Monitor site, I found another story about the Tofte Project, a 50-year-old summer cabin on Lake Superior that was remodeled to be a highly energy-efficient, full-time residence.

I’m not sure I like the Tofte cabin as much as I like the Earthship that Ron and I visited in August 2001, but it’s still a cool project.

I’m pretty excited about our long-term plans for the house we live in now. We purposely bought something small (950 square feet) and energy-efficient so we could adapt it for solar power in the future. We use compact fluorescent lightbulbs in all our fixtures, which saves us a bundle on power bills, and we are going to get some more power strips to help eliminate phantom loads.

We had a boxelder tree removed from our back yard this fall to allow more solar gain on the south side of the house and to let more sun hit the roof, where we intend to put solar collectors (hopefully Sunballs) at some point in the future. This spring, we’re going to add some insulation and a radiant barrier to the attic and install a solar attic fan up there. We upgraded our refrigerator a few months ago, and our old dishwasher decided to retire recently, forcing us to buy a replacement model that is MUCH more efficient. We plan to swap our old electric water heater for a more efficient gas model this year as well, and we’re definitely going to replace a couple of windows that tend to be drafty.

I’m also going to get some plastic and a strip door and use it to enclose our front porch to help keep out the cold air when we open the door. It will look pretty trashy, but hey — this is Red Fork. Besides, this is just an experiment. If it makes a big difference in our power consumption, I will take it down and replace it with big windows and a storm door before next winter. If it doesn’t make a big difference, I won’t have spent a bunch of money and time on a home-improvement project that didn’t perform well enough to be cost-effective.

We’ll plant sunflowers in front of the south-facing windows this summer to reduce heat gain, and I’m hoping to find time to build myself an earthen oven and a solar oven so I can do some cooking outdoors when I don’t want to heat up the kitchen.

We’re not quite where I’d like to be yet in terms of reducing our environmental footprint, but we’re getting closer.

Emily

Sustainability on a shoestring