Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Yes, America, Climate Change WILL Affect You, Too

I was reading this article yesterday.  For those who don't want to click-through, it's about the perception of "climate change" by the American public.  The gist is that most Americans believe that Climate Change is a real thing - that is, that the climate is changing, and it could be a problem that, maybe, someone should do something about.

As the article points out, however, that problem is that, while most Americans recognize the fact of Climate Change, most of them don't believe it will really affect them.  I mean, we all know that those of us living on the coasts might end up having to move, because our houses will get flooded when the oceans rise, but what-evs, right?  We live in a mobile, disposable society.  Who cares if we have to move off the beach and further up the hill?

Unfortunately, it's really not that simple.  There are, actually, deeper concerns than just ocean rise that WILL affect us.

I read this article a few weeks ago.  It's been in the back of my head to say something about it, but I didn't know what to say, until I saw that report about the common view of how climate change will affect us. 

For those who don't want to click through, the article is entitled "The Five Big Mass Extinctions", and according to the article, around 251 million years ago, there was an eruption near Siberia that sent massive amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere, and "methanogenic bacteria responded by belching out methane (a greenhouse gas)."  The combination of the two events caused a warming of the planet and an acidification of the oceans, resulting in a 96% species loss.  In short, life on Earth was nearly wiped out.

CO2?  Greenhouse gasses?  Global warming?  Acidifying oceans?  Sound familiar?

The end of the world is all too scary and catastrophic for the average, chick-flick-loving American to think too much about, and so we tend to bury our heads in the proverbial sands and just go about our day.  But the reality is that there are less apocalyptic events than the end of life on Earth that ARE occurring and that DO affect us.

First there is the issue of species migration.  When Deus Ex Machina was a kid, there was no such thing as opossum living in Maine.  I see them here all of the time, now.  They've migrated north with the warming of the overall temperatures. 

Opossum going north?  So what, you say?  Yeah, it's probably a good thing, actually, because opossum eat ticks.  Ticks are the main, known vector for Lyme disease.  In the last forty years, since it was first discovered, Lyme disease has proven to be a lot worse than was originally thought.  In fact, in a recent article Dr. Mercola states that Lyme will "plague America."  Most of us living in the northeast know someone who has had or does have Lyme.  It's a real issue. 

Ticks aren't the only disease vectors, and insects who carry potentially fatal diseases are moving into areas where they weren't normally found, because the environment for them has become more hospitable.  Tropical diseases, like West Nile, are finding their way into places as far north as New York City.  Zika?  Yep, on it's way up

Of course, that's no big deal, right, because they'll spray the mosquitoes, and we can just avoid ticks by staying out of the woods, or we can use a bug spray to protect ourselves.  Ignore that pesky evolution thing, you know, that allows species to mutate and develop immunities.

There are other issues that will, at least, marginally affect all of us.

One of the most concerning has to do with growing food.  Most of the produce we Americans find in our grocery stores is grown in California - an area that is being plagued by a decades-long drought.  There are places in southern California where their water supplies have completely dried out.  Changing climate patterns are going to exacerbate the drought conditions.  How much longer we will be able to depend on that area for our food production? 

Or, worse, when will they start to transport water, the way we transport oil, from water-rich places to those agricultural centers?  When will they start to take Maine's water to hydrate the fields in California?

Water wars are already happening in other parts of the world.  Lake Chad sits on the border between Nigeria, Chad and Cameroon on the African continent.  Over the past several decades, it has been shrinking.  The millions of people who have depended on the lake for their water are finding themselves in dire straits, with each country claiming the rights of access to that water for its citizens.  Imagine if Lake Superior started getting smaller, and the people of Michigan started to feel like the Canadians were taking more than their share of the water, but water is life, and we all need it to exist.  Both the Americans and the Canadians would fight for the right to access that water.  That's what's happening with Lake Chad.   As the lake recedes, there's less water, but there are the same number of people needing that water.

Another issue has to do with rising temperatures, and I know, this time of year, especially here in Maine, where I look out my window and I see snow still blanketing everything, summer heat seems a distant promise, but there are parts of the US where they may experience more than just heat.

I lived in the southeast US for most of my childhood and early adulthood.  I spent my elementary and junior high school years in Georgia and Alabama.  I lived in Kentucky as a teenager.  After I graduated from college, I moved to Florida for a little bit.  After I joined the military, I spent just over two years in South Carolina, Alabama and Texas.

The one commonality of all of those places was the astronomical summer temperatures combined with oppressive humidity (yes, even in Texas the humidity was oppressive).  I used to joke that we had to have gills to live there. 

It was only half of a joke, actually, and there is a term that is used to measure the combined heat and humidity.  It's called "wet bulb."  I actually experienced what wet bulb can do to a body when I was living in the south.  The gist is when the temperature rises, the human physiological response is to sweat.  When the sweat evaporates, it cools our skin and keeps our core temperature from rising.

The problem is that when the air is already too heavy with water (humidity), it can't evaporate our sweat off our skin, and we end up just dripping, but not cooling.  As a youngster, I suffered heat exhaustion when my body couldn't cool itself. 

One of the results of climate change will be an increase in the wet bulb phenomenon in the US southeast, and at some point, those places where I lived as a youth in Alabama, Georgia and the panhandle of Florida, may no longer be habitable by humans during the summer.

This year, we experienced a very long "January thaw", and we tapped our maples.  Unfortunately, for us, the weather turned cold and snowy again, and we haven't, really, harvested enough sap to boil.  We may or may not have any syrup this year.

The maple sugaring industry here in Maine has been hard hit for the past several years, thanks to some really weird weather.  Most of the last five years of sugaring have been short seasons for us.  For the sap to run, the nights have to be below freezing, and the days have to be above freezing.  We haven't had long enough stretches of that occurring for the last few years for commercial sugar houses to make what they used to make.  When sugarers get less sap, but still have to do the same amount of work to get the syrup, the price of the syrup increases.

Maybe most folks don't care about *real* maple syrup, but for those of us who do, it is a real-life example of how climate change is personally affecting us. 

Look around you.  There is something similar happening in your world - an insect or animal that wasn't in your town a few years ago but has suddenly appeared on the landscape; a plant that used to thrive in your climate that no longer grows well; a plant that your climate couldn't sustain that is suddenly thriving; more water in places where there used to be none; streams or lakes drying up; birds that used to migrate that have become year round residents. 

Climate change is real, and it's a real threat to life as we know it.  We probably can't stop it, now that it's already happening, but being aware can at least allow us to make some changes in our own lives that will help us weather the effects. 

I don't know how many more years we'll have maple syrup, but as a hedge, I could start planting other tap-able trees that were not cold hardy enough for our past climate.  Chances are, they'll do fine now, as my hardiness zone grows warmer.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Frugalista ProTip: Rewards Programs

I'm not usually one to promote spending.  The idea is to not spend money, and rewards programs are decidedly pro-consumerism. 

Like, the other day, I received a credit card offer, but it wasn't a usual offer.  The offer was framed in a way that made it sound like I was getting the better end of the deal, because they were going to give me "miles."  Basically, for every dollar I would spend on travel (let's ignore, for a second, that I don't do a lot of traveling), I should add two zeroes for the number of miles I would have to earn for them to pay.  The offer is that I would earn 1.25 miles for every $1 I spent.  So, if my flight costs $210, I'd need 21,000 miles to pay for it. 

Did you do the math?  That's $16,800 I would have to spend to save $210 on travel costs.  No, actually, I did not apply for the card ... but I did put the offer in the fire, and it helped to warm my house for a few seconds.  So, it was useful.

So, the idea that I'm actually going to discuss rewards programs - in the positive - is a little alien, even to me.

The point here is that if one is going to patronize that establishment, anyway, it actually does pay to join their rewards program.  For instance, I am in the middle of what has turned into a years' long renovation.  We're almost to the painting phase, and so I needed to buy paint. 

Back many years ago, when we first bought our house, our remodeling budget was, basically, $0.00, but I could, occasionally, purchase some paint.  And so, I did.  I remember it being really cheap.

Since then, I've had occasion to purchase paint, and it's not as cheap as I remember.

At some point, in time, I joined the rewards program for our locally owned/national chain Ace Hardware.  It's a home improvement franchise, which means the brand is national, but the owner is local.  It's a little more "local" than the Big Box stores. 

Anyway, I have this rewards card, and I let them scan it every time I go into the store to get something:  clover seed, garden tools, canning jars, screen for my rain barrels, nails and screws, hinges, clothes line, clothes pins - you know, hardware store stuff.

I don't think much about it, when I'm not in the store, but recently, I received some dollar-off coupons from them, and since I'm planning to paint anyway, I thought I'd stop by and see what they had for paint.

I actually lucked out.  I had decided that I was going to look at the paint mistakes rack.  This is where the gallons of paint that were mixed, but that the customer decided he/she didn't want, end up being sold for bargain prices.  I bought two cans of a beige/off white/coffee-like indoor wall paint for $9 each ... with a $5 off coupon.  Plus, the guy threw in a free can of this awesome blue color ... just because I smiled really big and babbled a lot - or it was sitting unused, and he just wanted to get rid of it.  One of those.

I have enough paint to do the whole room, plus probably some extra, for $13 ... all because I'm a rewards member.

I'm also a rewards member at a local coffee shop (it's a long story, but we get coffee every week before music and bring our music teacher a coffee).  For every 12 cups of coffee I purchase, we get a free one.  I get a free coffee at least once a month.  It's not a bad deal.  I save them up so that when I don't have the extra cash, we can still get coffee ;). 

Then, there's the music store credits/rewards. We can sell back used movies, CDs and books for either cash or store credit at this regional chain.  We also get points for every dollar we spend.  At the end of the year, that's how I buy holiday gifts for our annual Jolabokafloo (book flood).  We save up all year, and by the holiday season, I have enough points and credits for nearly everyone on the list.

I'm not a consumerism advocate, but since many of us do still purchase much of what we use, it is frugal to use our purchasing power to get some of it back.

What Rewards programs do you belong to?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Things to Do When the Power Goes Out

Tuesday, March 14, 2017, a big snowstorm "ripped" through the Northeast, "pounding" the New England states with more than a foot of snow.

Sounds pretty serious, right?

I'll tell you a secret.  Big snowstorms, in Maine, during the winter, aren't a novelty.  It happens.  In my two decades of living in here, it's happened more times than I can count.  I've stopped taking pictures of the snow, because as beautiful as each storm is in its own right, my computer, phone, camera SD card, and Facebook page are full of snow pictures.  They all look, mostly, the same.  It's snow.  It's white.  It's piled up around stuff.  Most of the time, I'm only taking a picture to record the sheer volume of the white stuff for those who don't believe that we got a lot of snow.  We measure it in feet.  When my southern friends talk about their three inches of snow, I laugh.  Three inches?   I don't even bother shoveling.

I'm not making fun.  It's just that, like really hot weather down south (and go ahead and laugh at us here in the northeast when we complain out our 90° days - you've earned it), snow is a normal event here. 

But I love the news stories that paint this - and every. other. snowstorm. in. every. other. winter - as something that's remarkable and new and different ... and newsworthy. 

I mean, yes, tell me about it.  Yes, cancel schools and close businesses, because driving in snowstorms, like the one we had Tuesday, is dangerous.  Yes, encourage us to stay home and enjoy some peaceful, quality time with our families. 

I guess it's actually pretty awesome that nothing else was going on yesterday that the purveyors of news had nothing else to tell us.  That's good, right?

What's more funny, though, was the news article about the woman who lost her power.  Instead of using candles or a flashlight, she used a headlamp.  Umm ... pretty sure a headlamp IS a flashlight, but whatever.

What was sad (other than that this was considered a "newsworthy" story) was this comment she made: "There's not much going on really, no TV, can't do anything."

So, for people who are looking for something to do during a power outage, I thought I'd make a list.

1.  Make a meal.

But how can I cook without electricity?  You ask.  There are dozens of ways.  I cook on my woodstove, but I realize that having a woodstove is the exception rather than the rule - even here in the northeast where winters are cold and long, and the electricity does go out ... a lot. 

A few years ago, my daughter was given a dessert fondue set as a birthday gift.  It was one of the most creative and fun "toys" she was ever given, and I completely fell in love with the whole low-impact aspect of it.  The ceramic bowl holds chocolate that is melted using a tea light candle.  It really works.  The chocolate really melts, and it really does get hot. 

I imagine that we could melt butter using this fondue pot.  We could, then, gently sauté some vegetables in the butter - things that are best served still slightly crispy - like broccoli - or that cook fast - like greens.  If we have leftover or canned meat, we can add that to the sauté.

It's also possible to roast marshmallows and toast bread using just the heat from a candle. 

2.  Play games. 

Like having a woodstove, I might be an anomaly when it comes to the collection of board games my family has, but given the huge success of game-making companies, like Milton-Bradley, I'm guessing I'm not.

But even if one doesn't have the assortment of factory-made games that I have, that should not preclude one from enjoying games.  Making a checkers board is so simple, even I can do it.  In fact, I did!  And it turned out pretty awesome - if I do say so myself

And the bonus of making the game board is that it will also take up a bit of time.  Making the board and playing the game could fill up an entire evening.

3.  Read a book.

This one can actually be a lot of fun for the whole family with everyone taking a turn reading, or the adults reading and the littles listening ... or the littles reading and the adults listening.  Pick a book everyone likes and make an evening of it.

Trust me ... it's WAY better than TV.

4.  Weave a basket out of plastic bags. 

Although I have never made a basket from plastic bags, I have made baskets out of barn rope.  Imagine the conversation piece when you're done. 

Friend:  Hey, that's a cool basket.  Where did you get it?
You:  I made it.
Friend:  What?  When?
You:  Remember that winter storm, Stella?  We lost power, and I made a basket, because there was no television.

5.  Play music.

Many years ago, I read the dystopian novel, "Dies the Fire."  In it, one of the groups of survivors headed by an ex-military type, meets up with a different group of survivors headed up by a Wiccan matriarch.  The paramilitary group is impressed when the Wiccan clan brings out their instruments and begins entertaining the group with songs and dance.  The military guy admits that he's missed music.  It was completely alien to me that no one in his group was the least bit musically inclined.  I mean, not even any a capella?

Okay, again, my family is weird.  We have a whole band's worth of musical instruments from simple recorders to an acoustic bass.  We could spend hours playing music together with each of us playing two or three different instruments - depending on the song.  I know not everyone is like us - although to be honest, we're not exceptionally talented.  It's just that we made this sort of thing a priority in our lives.  We like music, and how better to appreciate it than to learn to make it?

Not having a houseful of instruments shouldn't stop anyone from creating music, though. 

The other day my very talented daughter, who skillfully plays five different instruments, asked for a kazoo.  Um, okay.  We went to the dollar store in search of one, but the dollar store didn't have them.  What?  So, I found a tutorial on making kazoos from a toilet paper roll. 

It's easy.  Wrap wax paper on the end of a toilet paper roll. Hold wax paper in place with a rubber band.  Using a pencil, poke some small holes in the wax paper.  Hum into the open end of the cardboard tube. 

And, like the example of making a game board above, making the instrument will take a little bit of time. 

Don't stop at a kazoo.  There are dozens of musical instruments that can be made from stuff we just have lying around the house.   

6.  Make sock puppets.

One year we were trying to decide what to do for my daughter's birthday.  Initially, she asked for an ice cream party, and we thought we had booked the space at a local ice cream shop.  Her birthday was late in the year, and this seasonal shop was closing before her birthday arrived.  She was  so bummed!  Two weeks before her birthday, we were scrambling for something else to do with all of these kids who'd been invited.  We decided to move the party to our house, have an ice cream bar here, and also make sock creatures. 

We bought a book to help give us patterns and ideas, but I'm sure we could have used our imaginations to make them, also.  At the end of the party, all of the kids had a belly full of ice cream, and they got to take home a toy that they had made themselves.  It was fun. 

There are certainly adults reading this who are thinking, "What do I need with a sock creature?" and the answer is nothing, really, but there are places where one can donate toys - some of which may be tax deductible.

Or better, if one does not wish to make toys to donate to humans, how about toys to donate to shelter animals?  There are lots of options for making pet toys from stuff that's just collecting dust around the house.  I, personally, have several vases full of wine corks.  I should probably get busy repurposing those into cat toys.   

7.  Write a letter.

Admit it - you like getting snail mail.  So does everyone else, but no one ever writes letters anymore.  It's just too easy to sit down and type up an email message or send a quickie text message.  We're all guilty. 

Several years ago, before Deus Ex Machina and I were married, but after we had announced our engagement, his mother sent a card to me.  It was the middle of April.  The card was a Father's Day  card.  Okay.  I wasn't a father, nor was it Father's Day.  She explained that she and her friends had started a Crazy Card Club.  The goal was just to send cards, the crazier the better, because people like getting mail, but no one ever sends mail anymore (sending mail was more usual back in those days, because we didn't have email, yet, but phone calling had replaced letter writing). 

What better way to spend a day without electricity than starting up a crazy card club ... and it's something that can be done when one has electricity, too.  It's also a lot more fun to read a card from a friend than it is to watch some putz "lose" a million dollars on some ridiculous prime time game show. 

8.  Draw or make a picture.

When my daughter was eight, she sat down one day and started cutting shapes out of construction paper.  The result was this amazing picture.

I loved the pockets on the person's jeans.  The detail was just spectacular. 

If one was looking for something to do, because there's no television, drawing, cutting out shapes and taping or gluing them to paper, making a collage from magazine pictures, or just coloring in a book using colored pencils or crayons, can be therapeutic ... and certainly is something to do. 

We don't have a television, but we do watch stuff using our computers.  I'll also admit to spending a goodly portion of my day on the computer.  My children spend a lot of time on their computers, too. 

But when the power goes out, we don't lament not having Facebook or YouTube.  We do something else.  It's not a big deal, and we enjoy our day without electricity as much as we enjoy our days with electricity.

How about you?  What do you do when the power goes out? 

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hurry Up ... and Wait

This time of year is one of my favorites.  It's also a time of impatient waiting.  In my Army days, this would be the "hurry up and wait" phase. 

It's spring.  Yes, even in spite of the snow squalls the other day and the frigid temperatures for the past three, it's spring.  The snow banks are shrinking.  The sky is sapphire blue and clear.  The sap is running.  The chickens are starting to lay more eggs each day.  The wild birds are checking out the birdhouses to see if they'll make a suitable nesting place.  We even saw a Robin the other day. 

But it's still too early (and too cold, and there's still too much snow on the ground) to really start our spring chores, and so we're waiting, but also planning.

I submitted my chick order to the feed store this weekend.  We're planning to raise a few dozen meat birds this season and I've ordered four more laying hens (two Easter Eggers and two Buckeyes - which will be a new breed for us). 

It's also time to start planning my garden for the year. 

The last two summers my garden has really suffered.  Let's just say that my gardening duties were stretched too thin by a commitment I allowed myself to accept, and the result was that I ended up neglecting ALL of my gardens - even the ones right outside my door. 

One of my problems, always, is that I make a plan, and then, I allow myself to deviate from the plan - for lots of reasons.  I love garden volunteers, but they're also a problem, because when they're small enough to control, I often don't know what it is, and by the time I figure it out, the volunteer is not something I would have planted, because I don't know how to fully utilize it, but it's dominating my very limited garden space. 

So, that's actually part of my plan this year - eliminate volunteers in my vegetable garden spaces (they will be freely accepted and embraced throughout the rest of the yard). 

The second big switch in my plan this year is that I will only grow a very finite variety of plants - things that can be stored and that we eat a lot of throughout the winter.  While I would love to have a garden full of color and variety, the fact is that I have a very limited space, and I have, yet, to make the best use of it.  This year I am shooting for the biggest ROI that I can get by narrowing the number of crops I will plant.

The short list is:  potatoes (grown in strawbales); tomatoes (grown in strawbales); peppers (grown in strawbales); cabbage (in raised beds); garlic (already in the ground); carrots (in containers); beets (in containers); and lettuces (in containers). 

I'll also grow lots of herbs, as usual, and I want to add some more flowers.  The herbs and flowers are good companions (like calendula and nasturtiums grow well with tomatoes; rosemary and thyme grow well with cabbage; and marigolds grow well with potatoes).

I'll seed some summer squash and some zucchini in the front rock bed where the mint has taken over, and perhaps under the Granny Smith apple tree ... also where the mint has taken over.  I'll be happy if some grows, but not disappointed if the crop fails, because my primary focus will be on the seven plants listed above. 

I have several different companion charts saved to my computer and in books I have, but I think I like this one best for its simplicity.  All of the foods I'm planning to grow are listed - along with other plants that make them happy, and it will be a huge help to me when I go plant and seed shopping. 

In fact, I think I'll put a copy of it in my bag so that on those, occasional, times when we're out and we decide, on a whim, to stop at the nursery, I can keep myself focused on what I want to grow rather than being overwhelmed and dazzled by all of the awesome plants available (and bringing home lots of plants I have no space or time for).

We have half a dozen projects out in the yard this summer, including new rabbit hutches that will need to be built, finishing the woodshed Deus Ex Machina started in the fall, hopefully building a tiny greenhouse/glorified cold frame out of reclaimed doors and windows, a new compost bin, and repairing/replacing the fence.

It's going to be a busy summer.  Good busy.

Now, I just need to hurry up and wait for the snow to melt and the fun to commence.