January 23, 2014

Leaping Into the Year of the Horse


Welcome to the January 2014 Natural Living Blog Carnival: Starting the New Year Off Green.

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Natural Living Blog Carnival hosted by Happy Mothering and The Pistachio Project through the Green Moms Network. This month, our members are reflecting on the successes they had from last year, and setting goals for themselves this year. Check out all of the posts to get ideas on how you can start your New Year off green!


A new year! And not just any year: the coming Chinese new year rings in the year of the Horse. And not just any horse: 2014 is the year of the Yang Wood Horse.

Yeah. I didn't know what that meant, either, until I read this article by Karen Abler Carrasco of the Western School of Feng Shui, which starts with the following words:

"There might not be a bigger shift of energies in the entire 60 year wheel of Chinese astrology than this one coming up – the shift from two Water years of deep introspection to the fast-paced spurt of extroverted forward propulsion that the Wood Horse brings. Hold on to your hats, folks, and realize that you won’t be able to, nor will you want to, slow your horses in the New Year ahead!"

January 21, 2014

Review: 2014 Nissan Note / Nissan Versa Note

Here's a car I would drive: the Nissan Note. To be precise, one with that defiantly aubergine body. And the 1.5L diesel that I estimate will get around 60 mpg.

It's a good-looking hatchback with nice lines, room for five, and decent space in the back, although it will certainly not fit a full-size cello across the trunk, indeed not even a 3/4 cello. You can fold down the back seat in a 40-60 configuration; the seats don't fold flat: that's okay to move two cellos, but maybe not a large flat pack from Ikea.

January 17, 2014

The Nitty-Gritty on Road Salt

Ah, winter. The season when all cars turn white, regardless of what colour they had when they left the factory.

Could it be chromatic sympathy with the hoary landscape? Ach no, it's more to do with the reality of driving on icy roads. As soon as the first snow falls, out come the trucks piled high with road salt. The spreader gets activated, and the roads are covered with a sprinkling of coarse rock salt, sometimes mixed with sand for added grit, sometimes with more unexpected ingredients like beet juice.

Wait: beet juice?

Okay, hold your Vitamix. Before you start experimenting with spreading veggie juices on your driveway, let's step back a bit. Let's go back to rock salt and ask how that helps snowy or icy roads in the first place.

January 15, 2014

Save The .... Tennis Players?

Who is your favourite for the Australian Open this week? Williams? Azarenka? Nadal? Djokovic? Enjoy them while they last. --Better yet, implore them to stop playing. Before real tragedies happen.

Photo by Vladsinger.

The 2014 Australian Open started under impossible conditions: temperatures have soared all over Australia, and in Melbourne it was 42C today, or 108F. At least it's not humid. But it is, shall we say, non-optimal for athletes to perform at their top. This tournament has been marked with players (and one ball boy) collapsing on the court.

January 10, 2014

Wedding on a Wind Farm

We hear a lot about how bad the pollution is in China: how you can't see across Tiananmen Square; how children can't play outside; how measurements of particle pollution are off scale.

But change is coming, and like so many things in China, it does so in a big way. China is becoming a leader in renewable energy generation. The massive scale at which they deploy wind and solar energy farms play no small role in the precipitous drop of the cost of clean energy worldwide.

It's a transition. A good transition. And the people working to make that transition happen are fiercely proud of their work. Why not? I would be, too.

One young man working in a factory that produces wind generators decided to skip the traditional bridal photos at the park or the temple, and instead took his new bride to a wind farm installed by his company. In their wedding pictures, she is in his arms, radiant, and her frothy wedding dress is trilling to the breeze that powers the turbines. It's hard to find a more auspicious image of a new beginning.

[Click on photo for BBC segment on wind energy generation in China].

As they say, shift happens.



You may also like:
1. Energy Transition: Moving Into a Better Future
2. We Need Good News on Climate Change
3. Ten Ways to Calm Car Traffic


January 7, 2014

Freeze Your Animals

Freeze especially your children's animals.

Before you call the SPCA on me, understand that I'm talking about stuffed animals. Those who get loved so much. Who get carried around, petted and hugged. And - sometimes - left behind in dusty corners. Or get loved by the dog or cat (or, for that matter, serve as a nice comfy pillow for dads).

All that loving makes a stuffed animal collect dander, and therefore dust mites. Pretty soon, the beloved animal turns into a fearsome source of allergens.

While the preferred way to get rid of dust mites is by laundering in hot water, you can't very well do that with stuffed animals - even if you did get permission for such a dastardly deed as drowning them in the washing machine.

But there's another way: dust mites don't survive freezing.

So every winter, I wait for a good hard freeze. Then I organize a "camping trip" for the stuffed animals. It's a grand party: they all get to come and spend the night outside. Blankets are welcome too (it will all get frozen by the morning, anyway).

How to prevent real animals from kidnapping your children's beloved stuffed ones? Why, put the camping trip in the car.

Arrange the animals according to their preferences, each close to its favourite buddies. Admonish them not to make a ruckus. Then wish them goodnight, and close the car door (No, this is the animals' private camping trip, children get to sleep in their own beds. Inside the house).

January 6, 2014

A Pocket Full of New Year's Resolutions

A die-hard nerd like me isn't typically into "community". The image of the solitary scientist working late nights in the lab on a world-changing idea is iconic in my field, sort of the geek version of the lone ranger.

But in my middle age, I am waking up to the possibility that there is enormous value in community. Even, that community may make the difference between perdition and resilience.

If you look at stories of disasters - the real, on-the-ground stories, not what you see on the evening news which follows a mythical storyline - you find that what makes a real difference in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake or a hurricane is the community that springs up to help neighbours.

Rebecca Solnit's book "A Paradise Built in Hell" shows that amazing feats of altruism are accomplished in the wake of disasters, and supports sociological research that finds that, unlike the Hollywood stereotype, people hit by disaster as resourceful, kind, and very, very generous to neighbours and even total strangers.