Tuesday Discussion Summary archives
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May 4th Discussion
May 4th Discussion:
Small Is Big:
- We received the first of 3 books we'll be reading on permaculture: The Earth User's Guide to Permaculture by Rosemary Morrow. Two more books will be arriving, and we'll share them as a group.
- Helen B. planted her root crops (radishes, carrots and green onions) according to the moon cycle (the day after the full moon, in the afternoon when the soil had warmed up). She reports that her radishes popped up in an astonishingly short 4 days!
- Helen S., while sipping on her Rooibos tea, told us that her neurologist told her of some research that roibos (spelled that way in academia) can help protect neurons in the brain, in addition to other benefits that have been previously reported.
- Mitzi reminded us that our bag credits at Whole Foods are going to the Greening of Detroit, a great organization.
- Mike reports that the Troy Police Department is collecting pharmaceuticals for recycling. Where do these products go? I have sent that question out to a friend who works for the police dept and will report on it.
- TRU (Transportation Riders United) is a great organization to keep up with transportation initiatives.
- Leaner and greener article in Free Press on Sunday pointed to the fact that homes for the next generation will be smaller and more energy efficient. Fantastic! Two links in the article work looking at: Walkscore.com looks at the walkability of your location, and Passive House Institute US is another excellent site.
Topic of the Day: Native Plants
We have learned that there is no one definitive source for native plants. Various publications select certain plants, and sometimes they contradict each other. It's good to look carefully at the source of your information before deciding if a plant is native or not. Some of the sources we have used:
- Eco-Yardening by Celeste Watts ("remove invasives, plant natives, mulch")
- Native Plant Nursery in Ann Arbor. Click on their plant list.
- Wildtype Nursery Mason, MI. Click on their Growing Guide.
- The Oakland Land Conservancy is a good place to pick up some Michigan native plants. This year, they are having a Native Plant Festival on Saturday, June 5th at the Paint Creek Cider Mill in Rochester.
- Bordines also has a native list - you pick it up at the store.
After discussing native plants, we took a tour of our yard. Our native plants have been in for about 4-5 years.
April 27th Discussion
April 27th discussion:
Small Is Big
- Two new things about rain barrels. First, Tom reported a recent discovery that if you don't close the spigot on your barrel when you set it up for the season, no water will stay inside. Brilliant piece of detective work! Also, we were walking around the mall last week and saw a beautiful rain barrel in the Aveda store. The clerk noticed our interest and handed us a business card representing the company that makes these barrels. The company is called Mr. Rain Barrel, and it is run by a man from Royal Oak. The barrels are blue and have a small pump on the top for the water to exit. They cost $135. This represents the first local larger-scale rain barrel business, and I salute Jon Muresan, AKA Mr. Rain Barrel. Good job!
- Have you seen the new 100% compostable Sun Chips bags? We have one and plan to bury it in our garden, then dig it up in 45 days (the recommended time for composting from the bag). We'll let you know how it goes.
- Don brought in some information that will help finish up our sump pump discussion. There is a Pro Series Pump that is far more efficient than normal sump pumps. So if you have a sump pump that runs all year, or one that seems to run continuously, you may want to check this out.
Topic of the Day - Garden Planning
- Helen Strahl has done some work in this area, primarily using suggestions from a book she recently read, Four Season Harvest, by Eliot Coleman. Coleman gets to the 4-season idea via succession planting (planting a succession of a crop over a few weeks rather than one mass planting) and the use of cold frames for early spring and late fall. I liked his philosophy of simplicity, seasonality and something intriguing called 'diplomacy in the garden.' He is also recommending rotating crop families to keep soil healthy.
- Helen also sent us a Vegetable Garden Timetable that she has found helpful.
- We also got into an interesting discussion of planting vegetables according to moon cycles. People used to swear by this. The idea is that you plant certain types of plants during certain phases of the moon's monthly cycle. For example, on Keith Moon's Planting Page, he shows us a chart that in the period between the new moon and the first quarter, you should plant above-ground crops with outside seeds or flowering annuals. The Farmer's Almanac has even more specific detailed charts as to what to plant, and when, according to the phases of the moon.
- Finally, we moved on to a wrap up of permaculture, although we feel like we have only just begun with this topic. M.C. had gone to a week-long workshop on permaculture and reported some of her findings at our last monthly meeting. She recommended a number of books, which I have ordered and am anxious to read. More on the topic in the blog.
Next week we'll be spending a bit more time on native gardens.
April 20th Discussion
April 20th discussion: First we covered the topic of exploding Pyrex. Some of us have received e-mails about Pyrex exploding when it comes out of the microwave, particularly if it is left in too long. Helen B went to Snopes.com, which researches rumors and provides the facts. if you click on the link, you'll find a lengthy discussion on the matter. To sum up the results, however, consumers should be aware that all glass products are subject to breakage due to thermal shock. The rumor also suggested that Pyrex switched from borosilicate glass to soda-lime glass in the late 1990's, which was causing more breakage, and that manufacturing was moved entirely overseas. Snopes acknowledges that Pyrex is now using the soda-lime glass, but that the switch began in the 1940's. And Pyrex glassware is made in the USA. Hope that helps.
We had been to Martha's home last weekend and found some mold in the liner of her front-loading Sears washing machine. As I have written about previously, she had tried to address this with Sears, and with some home remedies, with no luck. Mike suggested that she research the problem on repairclinic.com. We'll see if this works.
Tom recently had to fill up his car with gas....the first time in 6 months. Most of the time he is biking and taking the bus downtown. He had been sick, however, and had to take the car in. He found that he resented the time and expense of filling up a car with gas. He also mentioned that when riding his bike or taking the bus, he has time to do work, watch people and buildings, not deal with the traffic, etc. I mentioned that I felt the same way when we lived in Japan and I took public transport or walked. Getting back home, I resented having to drive my pre-teen children everywhere. It interfered with making dinner, and it promoted me being a little too much into their lives -- I loved the independence they had in Tokyo, sharing adventures with their friends, as opposed to their mother.
Somehow we moved to the topic of shopping carts, useful when walking to the store. Here is one I bought for Nick, my step-father, which has proven useful to him: Jumbo Black Shopping Cart.
In our next meeting, we plan on tackling 3 things:
- Helen S. on changing her system for planting.
- Developing a pattern for planting throughout the year.
- a debrief on permaculture.
April 6th Discussion
April 6th Discussion: No agenda for this meeting, but we did cover a number of topics. First, Tom drew to our attention an article from the NYT called Giant Greenhouses Mean Flavorful Tomatoes All Year by Chris Ladd. The picture shows beautiful tomatoes growing in a greenhouse in Maine, and points to the fact that most of our tomatoes we eat in the winter come from places like this. Near the end of the article, we learn that the greenhouse uses 20,000 high-pressure sodium lights to grow the tomatoes, which uses, in one half hour, an equivalent amount of power as the average American household uses in a year. WHAT? This is crazy! In our discussion of this, Helen Strahl told us about a man named Temple Gradin, who practices a more sustainable form of 4-season gardening.
Peggy pointed us to an article, again in the NYT, called ‘Green Gone Wrong’: Can Capitalism Save the Planet?, a review of a new book by Heather Rogers (who wrote "Garbage Wars"). Rogers feels that our capitalist system is actually undermining green progress by encouraging us to buy "green" products instead of simply buying less stuff. She contends that if people bought less stuff en masse, our entire economic system would have to undergo a massive transformation, which currently we are unwilling to do. So this is a dilemma. We agreed that we may need to investigate what a non-growth model of economics might look like.
Mitzi just finished reading a new book by Daniel Pink called A Whole New Mind: Moving from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age, which might lead us to a new direction in economic growth. The author contends that in the new workplace power will inevitably shift to people who possess strong right brain qualities. If you look at new Silicon Valley-type companies and the type of person who began them, he may have a point. Considering the fact that most learning now takes place on a computer, and that learning on a computer involves a branching model as opposed to a hierarchical one, our definition of "smart" may have to change.
An update from last week on the front-loader washer situation. Martha has had long-standing problems with a mildew smell coming from her machine. Peggy was walking with her neighbor yesterday, and she reported that she is having no mildew problems with her machine, but she does open a trap door on the front of the machine periodically (every 6 months) and empties a pipe that is holding mucky water. So we are going to check this out at Martha's when we are there on the 17th for our monthly meeting.
Next week we'll be taking about a few unrelated - but always fascinating - items: the use of plastics in cooking, hot water tanks, and a wrap-up of our sump pump discussion.
March 30th DiscussionMarch 30th discussion:
Small Is Big started out on an unusual note: green burials. Peggy had just received an urn with the ashes of her Uncle Tom to be buried on April 10th. A mention of this led to the idea of green or natural burials, which are a more sustainable alternative to traditional burials. They usually do not use embalming chemicals and the coffin is often biodegradable.
The discussion then migrated on to appliances. Both the Bradleys and the Carters need a new washer, and Martha reported problems with her front loader (mildew smell). Martha has had to do 2 rinses to get rid of the smell, and we encouraged her to take it back and get a new one, even though she has had it for 3 years. Mitzi pointed us to a rebate for appliance buyers in the state of Michigan that will end April 12th, and she bought one using the rebate.
Mike has recently repaired his washing machine and used an online help service called repairclinic.com.
Our monthly meeting in April will be at Martha Peterson's on April 17th at 7 pm. The topic will be permaculture.
March 23rd Discussion
Small Is Big began with junk mail. Tom brought out 2 pieces of mails we received while on vacation. The first was a booklet from Detroit Public TV, interestingly enough a 'green' issue. Tom looked inside and read that $3 of our $50 contribution goes to producing this little booklet. He called to get off the list and told them he'd like them to consider not sending out the booklet but adding the $3 to operations. They said that might be a good idea. Also, he found out that it's not good enough to get off a list -- you need to say you want to get off ALL MAILINGS. The second booklet came from AAA (who, by the way, do not insure us any more, but have decided to keep sending us their literature). Tom thought ahead this time and asked to be removed from ALL MAILINGS. They said they could do it, but it required a different form. If that's what it takes....
MC reported that she has gone to 2 recycling bins and has found that her trash is moving from 2-3 cans to 1. Many of us have discovered the same thing. She also was shopping for insurance and received 4 quotes from the same company. Instead of giving them all to her in the same plastic folder, they handed them to her each in their own separate plastic folder. She asked them to put it all together and handed back the other 3 folders. Good for you!
Tom and I were gone for about 10 days and we were able to turn our heat down to 50 and shut off the water. We received our energy bill and found that we used about 1/2 the energy as we did for the same time period last year, and 40% less than last month. It is pretty east to turn things off while you're gone - no pain and suffering involved - so this is what we call low-hanging fruit.
Our topic of the day was self-watering containers for plants. MC led us on this discussion. Let me start with the benefits. They are good for container gardening or if you don't have good soil; reduces critter hit and runs; you fertilize less; better height for those with bad backs; and this is a good system if you don't want your plants to die while you are traveling. MC told us that the correct term is really sub-irrigated planters, and this is because they utilize capillary action from the bottom. Much of her ideas came from a site called Homegrown Evolution.An idea for a sub-irrigated grow box came from Inside Urban Green. Another idea is an Earth Box, in which plants are planted above a screen with water underneath. Finally, you can but all kinds of self-watering containers from catalogues, such as Gardener's Supply.
Our monthly meeting in April will be at Martha Peterson's on April 17th at 7 pm. The topic will be permaculture.
Tuesday, March 9th
March 9th discussion: Small Is Big started on a happy note - Helen Strahl has put in her order of seeds. Spring is surely around the corner. Peggy reported on their dual flush toilets. The Brennans have had them about 2 years, and the report is mixed. They do save water, but they are a bear to clean. Because there is less water, they do not stay as clean as a conventional toilet, so they need to be cleaned multiple times in a week, somewhat defeating the purpose of saving water. So the jury is still out on them. Dual flush toilets could definitely go back to the drawing board for an upgrade. Mike McCarty reported on an expansion of Operation Medicine Cabinet, which will allow for prescription drug collection every Wednesday in 4 Oakland County locations. This is great. He also demonstrated a new hat he found at Loews - called a Panthervision Hat. Fantastic idea. We then meandered into a discussion of utilization of gas fireplaces for supplemental heat when power lines go down (Libby has regular outages). We agreed that our gas fireplaces are mostly decorative only, not great sources of heat. Wood pellet fireplaces would be a better idea, but not necessarily for use that was limited to occasional power outages. The last reports were about getting out into the spring air - MC is walking more on errands, and Tom is back to longer bike rides to catch the downtown bus.
The topic of the day was sump pumps. We acknowledged that we have sump pumps in our houses primarily because we have built our homes in the wrong places (in wetlands and high water tables). A sump pump is essentially a bailing system for the basement. It actually has a pretty large motor - a 1/6 horsepower motor, which is small, is 800 watts. It is capable of pumping 50 gallons a minute. There is a high efficiency unit that uses 60% less energy using a PSC motor. We were also wondering if we could somehow get that water out into our yards or collect it instead of allowing ll of it to feed into the storm sewer. One idea comes from John and Eileen Heasley - their sump pump feeds directly into their rain barrel, as pictured here.
Our next topic will be self-watering containers for gardening.
Tuesday, March 1stMarch 1st discussion:
Our discussion of the effects of transportation:
Next discussion will be about sump pumps, and how to use the water.
Tuesday, February 23rd
Tuesday, February 23 discussion. Small Is Big started out with a discussion of snow and ice, not unusual for February! Martha mentioned that she was surprised at how little deicing product she needed to be effective. Tom said he just uses product on a small path, and Helen said she uses it on ice only, not snow. Martha also mentioned that the new insulated door to her laundry room was incredibly helpful in keeping the cold air out - it's steel plus fiberglass.
Tom talked a bit about the fact that our total heating/cooling/water bills have come down substantially since we began GLGI (with geothermal, our heating/cooling and water bills average $58 total per month). The rate of improvement, however, has slowed down considerably. We have taken a large step forward, representing a 90% improvement, but he was wondering what to do about the final 10%. Either we will have to begin to generate energy, or make a fundamental change to our lifestyles. This is just something that he's thinking about right now.
We also discussed what to do with our sump pump water, and concluded that we'd like to see if we could get it to drain to our yards. We'll be tackling this as a group.
Finally, we discussed what has been most important to us on our GLGI journey. Here's what we said:
- Martha felt the biggest change for her was in the area of food.
- Helen S. felt it was just being here, in a community that made the biggest difference - local people who shared interests.
- Helen B also felt that community was most important.
- Peggy felt that she learned the most studying the process of change, and that what was learned could be applied to the rest of life.
- Tom felt that transportation was his biggest area of change, surprisingly.
On that note, we decided to talk more about transportation at the next meeting, and how each of us has either changed our habits or been affected by our changed perceptions of transportation.
Tuesday, February 16th
Tuesday, February 16 discussion. Our Small Is Big discussions are getting increasingly hard to summarize, as the topics tend to go all over the place. Sometimes we'll spend 15 minutes on one idea, sometimes an idea or link is mentioned for a brief second before we move on. On this day, Tom started the discussion with a story from the past week. It seems that a young man named John had found the Green Garage site while looking up 'earth tubes' in Google, and contacted us when he found we were local (he works for Ford in Dearborn). Tom invited him down to the GG for a meeting, and there he found that John was searching for earth tube design because he wanted to build a greenhouse on his property in Royal Oak and heat the inside using earth tubes. He was impressed by our Earth Tubes page on the site and wanted to learn more. So he and Tom met, and Tom found out that he needs to build a greenhouse because a friend of his had recently given him 200 tomato plants, and he wants to keep them outdoors, but protected...and warm, quite a challenge in Michigan in February. So Tom is connecting him with Helen S, Erica and Kirsten, and is helping with the feasibility of this project. So, bottom line, someone with 200 tomato plants in February is looking to us to help with greenhouse design and earth tube placement, all because we happened to develop an earth tubes page on our site. See how quickly you become the expert nowadays?
Mike brought in a copy of the Engineering Society of Detroit's magazine, and pointed out 2 upcoming events: Michigan's Future in Renewable Energy at Lawrence Tech on Thursday, February 25, 2010 from 7:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. Nice 'n short, the way I like 'em! Also, the ESD Alternative Energy Conference: Creating Solutions, Driving Change at the Doubletree Dearborn Hotel on March 3rd, beginning at 8:30 AM.
A little more on the world of purging. The Bradleys are working on this right now since their basement was redone. Tom found they had some old bedding that wasn't good enough to donate, and found through a Google search that the local animal shelter, Royal Oak Animal Shelter, was happy to use it for the pets. Good thinking! Helen also menntoned that she has some scraps of fabric (stretch polyester) and candy molds she's willing to donate to a worthy someone.
After a few more twists and turns, we found ourselves with the topic of the day: the challenges of cooking at home. I mentioned that in any of the Michael Pollan books (such as In Defense of Food), or in Mark Bittman's Food Matters, one of the first things they ask you to do is cook. Just cook. Stop going out to eat and eat at home. Now, I've read about this for a long time and it doesn't seem to have altered my habits. We usually eat out 2 - 3x per week. Why is this? So I thought the group could help brainstorm why we were where we were and what we could do about it. We all agreed that full schedules contributed a lot to this syndrome, as well as cheap and available restaurants. In addition, with a nation of people who want things tailored to them, you can go to a restaurant and everyone can order what they want, rather than cook something that some may not like. Also, we didn't always take the time to plan out our week's meals. As for suggestions, we came up with: find an ingredient you like (say, beans), and make a meal around it; you can cook meat if it's frozen; have a domestic day once a week where you cook large portions; crock pots help; cook all week and have leftovers Sat and Sun; bring your lunch, and keep the ingredients simple, like small bags of nuts, cheese, crackers; eat later if necessary; put recipe cards in your purse so you'll know the ingredients you'll need; one weekends do your planning and search the cookbooks; salads or soups are always easy and good for you.
Next week we'll get back to our top ideas for living more sustainably.
Tuesday, February 2nd
Discussion on Tuesday, Feb 2nd. Small Is Big: Our meeting with Jim Townsend (running for Marie Donegan's seat in the Michigan legislature) at Prono on Saturday was a success from our perspective. As I have mentioned before, we are the antithesis of political people, but in Jim we found someone who closely allies with a number of our concerns, so of course the meeting went well (like minds enjoy each others' company). And speaking of legislators, Tom Bradley had written to Marie Donegan about the issue of transparency in the area of utility bills when a home is sold. Right now a seller does not have to reveal heating and cooling bills, and we think this is wrong. So Tom wrote to Marie, and she did respond, saying that she also found the matter interesting and would look into it. We'll be following up with this. Tom is going to forward his letter to Marie and her response to Jim Townsend (closing our political loop), and see what he has to say.
This week many people had material they brought in from the papers and magazines. Sometimes it goes that way - the papers are full of interesting articles regarding issues close to us - and this week must have been one of those weeks. A couple of highlights: An article pointing to a company that can change your toilet to a dual-flush toilet: www.one2flush.com. Crains Detroit Business has a couple of articles that discuss the shrinking of Detroit, and Kresge Foundation's commitment to fund an overall plan. The Free Press also reports that the Troy-Brimingham Transit center got an 8.5 million stimulus grant, with construction to begin this spring.
One more thing: Dobrasevic Food Company, a local Troy company that delivers fresh local produce.
On to our topic of the day: purging stuff. This discussion went all over the place but here are some ideas that we can consider:
- Getting rid of stuff is easy with Craigslist, freecycle, and Hugs In Detroit (MC is a member).
- We all mentioned the toughest group when it comes to stuff: crafters. What can we say? It'll always be there.
- By 2015, we'll all be able to return our used TVs to the manufacturer.
- You can take your printer cartridges to Walgreens or Cartridge World (around 13 and Woodward) and they will refill them.
- Microsoft software called One Note allows you to scan papers and keep the info digitally.
- Many of us scan photos to keep digitally (Flickr), and you can scan personal info, too.
- At United Way in Detroit, after their recent move, they were all given a small tub and told that all of their paperwork had to fit there - good incentive to keep everything digitally.
Finally, Tom discussed a bit more his growing realization that TV is toxic for him, and that he is getting better sleep and is more productive without it.
Next week, we'll be discussing our top ideas or changes that have most impactful to us since we started meeting in 2005.
Tuesday, January 19th
Tuesday, January 19 meeting summary: In our Small Is Big discussion, the Bradleys told us that they have recently done an epoxy floor in their laundry room. It's basically a paint coat that you add texture to. This is a good solution for them because their floor is uneven and it has been hard to keep tiles flat on the floor. An example of an epoxy floor is pictured to the right.
The Carters brought along a wireless thermometer that read the indoor and outdoor temps. It was interesting to see how the temp varied in the kitchen as we spoke. It went up a degree as we all gathered together around the table. It was nice to know that the indoor temp read 66.9 and we had the thermostat set at 67.
Tom mentioned an article we had seen in the NYT titled: Therapists Report Increase in Green Disputes, all about the difficulties couples can have when they have different views on adopting a green lifestyle. Pretty funny. In keeping with a report on media, our TV went out on Saturday, and we did consider not replacing it. Our group did discuss the issues related to the changing style of viewership (i.e. watching programming on our computers). Not the greenest discussion we have ever had, but it was pretty interesting.
We had 2 more issues to address at this meeting: de-icers and setting up a comfortable winter environment. Martha developed an excellent de-icers page, and the bottom line was that there is no perfect solution, but the lest impactful product seemed to be something the Brennans' are using, called Near Zero Meltdown, which you can buy at Uncle Lukes. Peggy covered the winter-comfort topic, and we came up with the following ideas to make you more comfortable in the winter: great time for baking or making soups and stews; don't use the fireplace, but you can light candles for a warm effect; insulation is important; get outdoors and exercise, or even swim; migrate to warm spots in the house; drink tea; get more vitamin D; check out our Personal heating/cooling products page for more ideas.
Tuesday, January 12th
Tuesday, January 12th, meeting summary: Small Is Big discussion started with Martha talking about the fact that she is now walking about 1/2 hour every morning outside, and how refreshing it is to be outside this time of the year. Tom Brennan is also walking or sometimes biking as part of his commute to downtown every day, and reports that the best biking is in the city of Detroit itself - the streets are cleared of snow and are very passable. Someone mentioned something called Trax, which slip on over boots or shoes for added traction in snowy or icy conditions. We also discussed the fact that Farmington Hills was considering dropping from the SMART bus service, but I am happy to report that it looks like they voted to continue (see Crains article). Helen S. pointed out that a local company, Kuka Systems, normally an auto parts supplier, is getting into solar panels. Mike brought to our attention that DTE Energy has a long list of incentives for energy efficient home improvements. He also brought along a copy of his Mechanical Engineering magazine that contained an article on Osmosis Power, which basically suggests using the power that is derived from fresh and salt water coming together (as when rivers meet oceans). M.C. told us about a new green wall being developed by Planterra at 14 and Drake. She also pointed out that our local Meijer stores are now rating all of their products on a nutrition scale, going from 1-100. Finally, we spent quite a bit of time talking about the availability of utility bills when considering the purchase of a new home, and I'll deal with that in our blog.
In the second hour of the meeting, Mike talked at length about humidifiers and why its important to maintain an appropriate humidity level in your home, especially now in this cold weather. His information can be found on this page: Humidity and the Indoor Environment, put out by the Minnesota Blue Flame Gas Association.
Our next meeting will be the 19th, and will cover the topics of deicing and setting up a comfortable winter environment.
Tuesday, January 5th meeting summary: Our Small is Big discussion dealt with a wide variety of topics, as usual. Someone wondered what to do with leftover Christmas cards, and the suggestions included cutting them up for bookmarks or using them for tags for next year's gifts. Tom has been biking up until the bitterly cold weather that has settled in this past week. He mentioned that his Smartwool shirt from REI had been great for biking - not too warm, but doesn't allow you to be too cold, either. Erica brought the latest copy of the Landreths Seed Catalog, which features a a new African American Heritage Collection. Mike McCarty pointed us to an article in the Free Press that featured a new solar farm in Michigan. It is a risk, considering the number of cloudy days we have in Michigan, but they are using information about Michigan's more moderate climate to back up their theory. We'll be following this project.
We then moved on to a discussion of what topics we'll cover this winter. We focused on:
- ice removal
- dressing for the weather
- hibernation/need to sleep in winter (including food cravings)
- setting up a comfortable winter environment
- seasonal cultural expectations
- inspirational reading
Our first topic, discussed next Tuesday, is ice removal and humidifiers. Our next monthly meeting will be January 23, and the topic will be the greening of Detroit, and local vs industrial initiatives. See this article from the LA Times as a point of reference: Investors See Farms As A Way To Grow Detroit.