Friday, January 22, 2010

Banner Day for Birds

Well, yesterday was a banner day for backyard birds and bugs!

Why? Well, because I finally went outside and spent a few minutes outside looking around.

It seems as if one of the major lessons in my life is that if you're not looking, you're not seeing.

I went (outside), I looked, I saw!

Our weather has turned absolutely gorgeous - clear blue skies and seventies, so yesterday afternoon was perfect for playing in the backyard.

This is the first time that's happened since we moved! So, like a bad housewife but a good mother, I ditched my housework (a minor mountain range of laundry) and took Abbey out back.

And, oh, the reward for slacking on housework! The afternoon sun shone gold on the water and the birds were soaking up the rays in the sky.

Laughing gulls flew over head, one starling showed off every song he knew (more than I thought he had) in our neighbor's oak, tiny warblers flitted and sang between that oak and our willow, the lesser scaups dove in the water snatching up fish with their powder blue bills, and a yellow bellied sapsucker poked around and pecked at the many old knots and holes in the willow's bark.

A yellow bellied sapsucker! My first! Woohooo!!!!

Then, we also saw a large leaf footed bug - we're talking almost 2 inches long here - that let us get close enough for Abbey to touch it!

Awesome, awesome, awesome afternoon! And this was just in the space of an hour or so.

How am I supposed to do laundry when there's all of that outdoors??? I swear it's only the need for the neighbors not to see me naked that keeps the clothes cycling through the wash. Otherwise we'd be out back in the buff, I swear.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Our Eco-Location Part 1: Water

Giving directions to our home is easy - we're right off of Interstate 10, four quick turns and you're at our doorstep.

(Unless, of course, you miss the exit - it's the last before the bridge and you'll have to drive 17 miles, turn around, and come back all 17 till you can exit again. We know this because we've done it.)

There are so many required change of address forms with a move that our street address is branded on my brain. Including zip code. With the extra four digits.

In fact, even our three year old, Abbey, can reel off our address from memory.

But I want to know more about my location. I want to know the natural aspects of my home.

I'm inspired to start with the water aspect of my home ecosystem because 1) it's literally in my backyard and 2) I spent the last 15 minutes with Abbey, watching Lesser Scaup ducks diving back there. Holding their breath, feeding underwater for five or more minutes at a time.

So what, and what kind, of water are they diving in?

I can already tell you that we're in the Lake Pontchartrain watershed. So close to it, in fact, that any excess pesticides or fertilizers that I put on my landscape would be washed into the lake minutes after the start of even a light rain.

This is why I won't use either in this landscape. The lake is already challenged enough.

The water quality reports indicate a good amount of dissolved oxygen in the water at the testing site a mile from our house, but after every rain the Fecal Coliform Bacteria numbers (yup, poop germs) spike so high that you can't even swim in the water.

I don't know what the water quality was like before Katrina and Rita, but I just met some wonderful educators at the Pontchartrain Institute for Environmental Studies who taught me that 217 square miles of wetlands were destroyed by those hurricanes.

Wetlands are nature's sponge filters for surface water. They clean the fertilizer, pesticide, and most especially poop (wild, domestic, livestock - all varieties) out of the water before it gets to the lake.

A loss of 217 square miles - that's about the same size as the entire city of Austin, TX - is a significant set of holes in that water filter. It's bit like trying to use swiss cheese as a sponge.

Yes, I hear you - "But the hurricanes did it!"

But we are putting the vast amounts of additional chemicals (and pet poop - that's washing off and through the lawn, too) into the water to be filtered. We are polluting the atmosphere and warming the planet that increases hurricane intensity.

And it doesn't matter that we've just moved here (my family, I mean - though you know you're welcome to visit - just don't miss that last exit before the bridge) - we made our fair share of the mess by driving cars and using electricity and eating crops grown with chemicals.

In fact, since this area filters the Mississippi, and the Mississippi drains most of the agricultural land in the U.S., it's a good bet that we've all made our fair share of this mess.

In short, we've got a lot of work to do rebuilding America's Wetland, and I'm starting with my back yard.

Before spring rolls in (Laissez le printemps rouler?) around the middle of March, I'll complete a Backyard Habitat landscape plan.

I'll scan it and post it as it comes along - but I'm starting now, so feel free to start sending me ideas for native, eco-friendly and wildlife-friendly plants if you have any ideas!

In the meantime, air quality is up next on the list for examining my eco-location. Cross your fingers for low air pollution . . . but don't hold your breath!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Adventures in Home-Cooking

Well, folks, I have been reducing my arse off.

And by "reducing" of course I mean cooking at home instead of eating at restaurants or via drive through windows or using prepared foods and by "my arse" I literally mean my arse.

(Everything's funnier in the British dialect, no?)

I'm down two pounds. It's probably water weight - all weight loss seems to be water, whereas all weight gain is pure lard - Murphy's Law.

Still, I think it might have something to do with cooking at home a lot more than I usually do.

I am certainly setting cuisine standards that I won't be able to maintain when I get the environmental education job I'm hoping for, but what are standards if you can't blow them to smithereens, right?

Well, this is what I've learned from cooking home for the past couple of weeks:

1. Dishes are wretched. They're EVERYWHERE. All the time. There's a concise mathematical relationship between the deliciousness of the meal you cook and the number of dishes that are dirtied by the cooking. It's exponential.

2. Washing dishes in the dishwasher really does take less water than washing by hand. It also makes you feel less like a Dark Ages kitchen wench.

3. Never, under any circumstances, put bowls on the bottom rack of the dishwasher. It ruins the wash in every dishwasher I've ever owned. So you end up re-washing half the load and transform yourself into a water wasting kitchen wench. With dishpan hands.

4. Even with all the work, I still wouldn't use disposable dishes. Why bother to tear down all of those trees for leaky, flimsy plates when you're going to spend a bunch of time washing the pots and pans anyway? Silly kitchen wench.

Besides doing acres of dishes, I've also cooked some fairly fabulous meals. My favorite so far is a fairly scrumptious baked penne recipe, which I will share with those of you that have waded through my dishwater tirade thus far:

Dorothy's Baked Penne


1 package of Italian Sweet Sausage
1 package organic penne pasta
1 package organic mozzarella (pre-shredded if you can find it)
  • 2 cans organic diced tomatoes
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 stalk of celery
  • 1/2 to 1 sweet onion
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 3 T. olive oil
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Put the water on to boil the pasta.
  3. Dice the carrot, celery, and onion. Saute in olive oil in the bottom of a stock pot.
  4. Mince the garlic. Add it to the saute when the onion starts to turn translucent.
  5. Once the onion is translucent, add the two cans of tomatoes with their juice.
  6. Let this simmer for 20ish minutes while you're busy doing everything else.
  7. Salt the boiling water and put the pasta in to cook when the water has come to a boil.
  8. Squeeze the sausage meat out of the casings into a medium-hi pan. Break up the sausage as it cooks.
  9. Put a little of the tomato sauce in with the sausage so you can use it to deglaze the pan (AKA scrape up and dissolve all of the yummy bits stuck to the bottom of the pan.)
  10. Put the rest of the tomato sauce in a blender or food processor and puree it.
  11. Put the pureed sauce and the cooked sausage back into the stock pot together.
  12. Add a handful of the shredded mozzarella to the sauce mixture.
  13. When the pasta is al dente, strain it and add it to the sauce mixture.
  14. Mix thoroughly.
  15. Spray a 13x9 pan with olive oil (or grease it in any other way you like) and dump the pasta mixture in.
  16. Sprinkle the rest of the mozzarella all over the top.
  17. Bake until the mozzarella on top is all bubbly and yummy - takes maybe 10 minutes.
This was a mixture of three different recipes from two different cook books with a lot of improvisation on my part. Next time I'll add parmesan cheese, too.

It got rave reviews from the family and we had leftovers to eat lunch for two days . . . in which time I had just about cleaned all of the dishes I dirtied in making it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

My Trash Can Runneth Over

Okay, so I'm not going to say that yesterday was an unmitigated disaster in terms of my quest to buy less.

It was a mitigated disaster.

The disaster part: Bed Bath and Beyond after-Christmas sale.

Bought twelve drapery panels, each in it's own clear plastic container (with zipper - why not just a flap, I do not know) and with a couple of pieces of cardboard stiffener inside.

Also bought a set of sheets on clearance, non-organic cotton. (I did just purchase an organic set for Abbey's new bed - part of her complete new bedroom suite. See? Mitigation and disaster.)

Also bought a new set of towels, non-organic cotton. Old ones have bleach stains, though I would swear they have never come within an arm's length of even a closed bleach container.

But they were all sooo pretty, and sooo cheap.

It's a quest for reduction, though, not a day trip.

Today's buying results were much better. I discovered Rouse's!!!

Rouse's is one of three local options for a grocery store. (There would be four, but I don't count Wal Mart - they're getting much better with eco-friendly products, but the noise and activity of the place gives me a twitch.) It's competitors are Winn Dixie and Lishman's.

Rouse's rocks!!!

Lishman's was too expensive, Winn Dixie was too expensive and the parking lot was a nightmare.

Rouse's is too expensive (but, then again, I'm comparing it to military commissary prices, so I may be a little biased), but it's got so many eco-friendly and organic products I was in green shopper's heaven!

Tonight we bought organic butter, cream cheese, broccoli, apples, cauliflower, lettuce, milk, and soy milk. We bought eco-friendly dish detergent and will be able to buy Mrs. Meyer's, Seventh Generation, or Ecover laundry and cleaning products when we need them!

Joy, joy, joy!

And I didn't even fill up the trash can with extra packaging when we got home!

Which was good, because they're all overflowing from the unpacking and new buying detritus of the past few weeks.

Seriously - when you can't recycle, the trash cans need to be emptied every day, it seems. Such a pain!

Then again, the mitigation there is that my dear husband is usually the one that empties the trash. Which he did (again) while we were out shopping.

Good husband.

Good grocery store.

Grateful wife/mother/tree hugger/shopper.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Bon Jour, Louisiana!

It has been a busy two months since I wrote the last post in this blog. We have had adventures in life!

My husband finished his treatment for Lyme disease (round two) and we were transferred to and subsequently moved ourselves to Slidell, Louisiana.

Though we had hoped to move back to our native Virginia, we quickly discovered that our new home on the north shore of Lake Ponchartrain is fantastic!

We have a little bit of waterfront on a freshwater canal (no alligators - I checked before we signed the lease) and can now seagull- and duck- and pelican-watch over morning coffee. Woohoo! I can't wait to see what birds join the party once I put my feeders up!

One of my first concerns about moving to Slidell was that the area wouldn't have any environmental education opportunities. Silly me! New Orleans is home to the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, the Audubon Insectarium, and the Audubon Zoo, any of which I'd absolutely love to work at. (Are you listening, Audubon human resources people?)

There's also a plethora of wildlife refuges (read: swamps and marshes with alligators - I don't mind working with them, I just don't want them for neighbors - blatantly alligator-ist) and a fantastic botanical garden. (By "fantastic" I of course mean that I'm having fantasies of working there, teaching native gardening and garden photography to students of all ages.)

One major disappointment, though: Slidell has no recycling. None.

Milton had no curbside pickup, but I got used to taking it to a drop off center. Having no recycling at all really hurts. Literally - every time I have to throw away a recyclable, another drop of painful guilt falls into an ever-growing mental guilt bucket.

I understand why there's no recycling - the waste management system is still in knots cleaning up from hurricane Katrina. I'm not mad about it or anything, just terribly disappointed.

So, this will have to be my new year's resolution: to really and truly reduce my consumer footprint. Out of reduce, reuse, and recycle, I think reducing is the hardest.

It's especially hard when you're moving into a significantly larger house and suddenly find yourself in "need" of a lot of stuff.

It's even harder when there are after-Christmas sales everywhere. Everywhere!

So, this is my mission and my New Year's resolution: finding ways NOT to buy things. Maintaining the things we already own. Definitely buying things with less packaging (must find a bulk discount store in the area).

Tips and tricks are welcome, both on reducing and finding recycling options in the New Orleans area (as are job recommendations, preschool recommendations, and restaurant recommendations)!

Happy New Year to all - may 2010 bring us all exciting new adventures in nature and in life!