Sometimes the difference between a useless tool and a helpful one, or a good tool and a great one, is merely a matter of imagination.

I dislike decorative trinkets, and most especially if they must be dusted.  My mother-in-law, however, loved them, and we received many gifts that were more in line with her preferences than mine.  Thus I wasn't entirely pleased when she proudly presented me with a Charleston, South Carolina sweetgrass basket, beautiful as it was.  But inspiration hit, and instead of hanging it as a wall decoration, I put the basket on a desk in our entranceway.  Not only does it look lovely, but in an instant I solved my perennial "where are my keys?" problem!  Because the basket gets continual use, it never needs dusting, and its presence must have saved me, over the years, hours of searching time.  The right tool in the right place(More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, February 6, 2010 at 10:39 am | Edit
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What do hippies and Christians have in common?  A lot more than you might think.

The stereotypes:  Hippies are free-lovin', goddess-worshipping ultra-liberals who rebel against society's norms and customs; Christians are moralistic, hyper-conservative corporate capitalists; and never the twain shall break bread together.

Quite the contrary.  Christians and hippie types alike tend to look at society's conventions with a skeptical eye. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, November 6, 2009 at 9:58 am | Edit
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I don't know why anyone would want to annoy a worm, but apparently lemon balm does the trick.  I had some less-than-perfect leaves that I didn't use in making my lemon balm tea, so I fed them to the worms.  Rather, I put the leaves in their bin; feeding was out of the question.  The next time I checked, all the worms were huddled on the side of the bin furthest from the leaves.  They didn't seem particularly unhappy, but they didn't return to the other side until a few days after I removed the offending foliage.
Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, July 1, 2009 at 11:19 am | Edit
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Making vegetables grow in our nutrient-poor, nematode-rich sand soil is always a challenge.  After the initial shock of moving here from a world where one puts the seeds in the ground and stands back, we pretty much gave up on gardens until a couple of years ago.  We do a little better each year, but at least financially the balance sheet is still dismal.

One plant that is still thriving, even in the oppressive Florida summer heat, is our lemon balm.   We planted it this year for no other reason than that it was available at Lowes (or Home Depot, I forget which) and I remembered that Porter had remarked on how good it smelled when we encountered it at Leu Gardens.  We let it grow untouched for a long time, mostly because I didn't know what to do with it, but when a friend mentioned making lemon balm tea, I had my answer.

Now I brew a pot of tea with one regular PG Tips tea bag and a handful of bruised, fresh lemon balm leaves.  I don't know how it tastes hot, as we're not in that season, but I can attest that it makes a wonderful iced tea.  I generally prefer my tea unflavored, but at least for now I can't get enough of this delicious combination.

Posted by sursumcorda on Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 2:43 pm | Edit
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The worms have completely devoured their Carnegie Mellon t-shirt moisture mat, except for places—stitching, and part of the design, I think—that were not natural fiber.  Therefore, since they are now more mature, and have clearly excelled in their majors of eating and excreting, I hereby declare that they have graduated, and confer upon them a new moisture mat.

It's possible they may end up in grad school—we have a couple of University of Rochester t-shirts that are getting on the worn side—but for now they are enjoying their venture into the wide invertebrate world.  (Or not so wide.  We still insist they stay in their dorm-turned-apartment.)
Posted by sursumcorda on Saturday, June 27, 2009 at 10:07 am | Edit
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On June 12—tomorrow—Food, Inc. opens.  As usual, we'll probably wait for the DVD, but it's definitely one I want to see.  Do I really want to hear more about the dangers of our factory farming system?  Unfortunately, yes.  True, it produces plenteous, apparenly low-cost food—we spend less of our paychecks on food than in any time in our history—but the true costs are hidden, and high.  Did you know that 90% of the items in our grocery stores contain some form of corn or soy?  That our supply of beef, chicken, potatoes, and many other foods is driven by the fast-food industry? One reason I'm looking forward to the movie is that supposedly it is not entirely a doom and gloom horror flick, but also celebrates the power of the individual to make a difference.  We shall see.  Thanks to DSTB for the alert.

Here's the official Food, Inc. website, where you can see the trailer.

And a PBS show about the movie.

Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 4:24 pm | Edit
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altLast Child in the Woods:  Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv (Algonquin Books, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, 2005)

I'm sorry to say I gave this book short shrift, but reading time has been scarce lately, and I must return it to the library today.  I can say, however, that it is a must-read for anyone who is not already convinced that children need, as one of life's basic necessities, plenty of time in the natural world:  hiking, camping, and learning with their families, building forts and tree houses, exploring on their own, and just being in the world of bugs and fish, stars and sand dunes, trees and caverns.  If for you this kind of exhortation is preaching to the choir, it's probably still worth at least skimming it as much as I did, if only for the shock value of learning that today's children are even more cut off from such activities than you had imagined. (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Wednesday, June 10, 2009 at 2:32 pm | Edit
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Worms Eat My Garbage, by Mary Appelhof (Flower Press, Kalamazoo, Michigan, 1997)

Long, long ago, John Holt introduced me to Worms Eat My Garbage.  Whether it was in one of his books, or in the magazine Growing Without Schooling, I don't remember.  What I do remember is that worms ate his garbage.  John Holt lived in an apartment in downtown Boston; if he could manage a small worm farm there, what was my excuse?  It would be many years before I finally joined the movement, but here we are.

The book I borrowed from the library is the second edition; the original was written in 1982.  Both are somewhat dated, and offer much more detail about making your own worm bins that I needed, being quite happy with our out-of-the-box Can-o-Worms. It's also oriented towards people of northern climes, offering more advice on dealing with cold weather than hot.

I'm glad I borrowed the book, because while I was glad to read it, I don't feel the need to keep it as a reference.  There's plenty of information about worm farming online now, too.  But for those of us who prefer the comfort of reading a physical book, it's a good introduction to the subject of vermiculture and vermicomposting.
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, June 4, 2009 at 6:07 pm | Edit
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The people who sold us our worm farm gave us this advice for giving the worms a special treat:  put some melon in their bin.  Red wiggler worms love melon, they assured us, and will mob any pieces you give them.  On the way home from church yesterday, we bought a watermelon from a local farmer.  It was red, sweet, dripping, and delicious...and I couldn't wait to share the remains with the worms.

When I last checked, they hadn't shown any interest, possibly because I froze the melon pieces first, so they would also provide some Worm A/C.  I'll check again tomorrow.  However, I can report that they are going absolutely bananas for their Carnegie Mellon moisture mat.


On the left is what it looked like when I first put it in the bin, not quite two months ago.  On the right, what it looks like now.  If you click on the picture and enlarge it, you'll see a few worms (red-brown), some melon (green and pink), a lot of castings (brown), and the shredded-paper bedding showing through a large hole that they have eaten through the middle.  (The green is another piece of cloth on which I place the frozen water bottle for cooling; I've pulled it aside so you can see the hole.)   What you can't see is the masses of worms swarming under and through the mat; "infesting" would be a good word.

It's true:  Worms love melons.  But they can't spell.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 11, 2009 at 6:03 pm | Edit
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In Switzerland you must bring your own bags to the grocery store, or buy them there.  We've tried variations on that theme here, with little success.  Thirty years ago one of our stores in New York started using cardboard boxes instead of bags, and paid five cents for every one you brought back and reused.  That the store went out of business not much later was probably not due to that particular policy, but it certainly put an end to it.  At one time or another the stores here in Florida would pay a nickel for each reused bag, and some still do.  But, frankly, five cents isn't enough incentive one way or another.

Then several stores began selling reusable "green" bags.  A good idea, but I couldn't see buying them, even for the low $1 price, when we had plenty of bags at home I could use—especially since the new bags are made in China.  I don't boycott Chinese products altogether, but their dominance makes me nervous, and I like to find alternatives when I can.  Besides, it just seems ridiculous to ship products halfway across the world in the name of protecting the environment.  Despite having bags at home that would do, however, I never got around to making the switch...  (More)

Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, May 5, 2009 at 6:47 am | Edit
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Our worms now have more living space:  we put the second level onto their condominium/college dorm.  There's still a small amount of uneaten food in their first level, but that section is full, and I think they need more food.  They've been munching on their Carnegie Mellon t-shirt moisture mat, and while I know they will eventually consume it no matter what I do, I'd rather tempt them with kitchen waste.
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, May 4, 2009 at 6:23 am | Edit
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I think the U.S. Postal Service is great.  Sure, there are occasional mistakes, like the one that resulted in some of our mail still being delivered to my sister's house five years after a temporary forwarding order expired.  That is an exception, however; for the most part, the USPS does its job exceedingly well, I think.  I'm sure my good feelings are in large measure due to the workers at our local post office, who happen to be an amazingly friendly and helpful crew.  Folks go out of their way to do business at our post office.  It was one of those helpful clerks who told me, after our forwarding debacle, never to forward or even hold mail if at all possible.  The very best vacation plan is still to have a friend check your mailbox for you.

Thus when a friend posted Going Postal, a long and negative article about the USPS, I barely bothered to skim it.  And yet my eye was caught by this information about the Swiss postal system, which I find most intriguing.  (The above-mentioned excellent clerks also told me that the Swiss mail system is the best in Europe, if not the world.) (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, April 24, 2009 at 7:32 am | Edit
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Water supply is an issue in Florida.  We'd probably be a desert, like most places at our latitude, if we weren't embraced by two large bodies of water.  What's more, the water table is generally high, so it's easy to foul the nest with pollutants.  So what do we do about it?

I'm sure there is much being done at the state level, and I don't minimize its importance, but I'm more concerned at the moment with what can be done at the community, family, and individual level.  Our city pioneered the residential use of treated wastewater for irrigation and car washing; in addition to the usual, potable water system, each home has a source of reclaimed water.  Although the water is considered non-potable, with the exception of nitrate and phosphate levels it meets federal standards normally applied to drinking water, so it's safe—and the plants love the extra nitrates and phosphates. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Thursday, April 23, 2009 at 9:30 am | Edit
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I'm sure you're all waiting on the edges of your chairs for news about our worm farm.  I'm getting more and more excited, as they are finally beginning to make garbage disappear.  I made the mistake of thinking of this as an out-of-the-box working system:  having taken the plunge and bought the Can-o-Worms, I could no longer bear to throw away kitchen garbage.  However, this was like buying a brood of newborn chicks and expecting free-range eggs for breakfast the next morning.  After filling up and freezing two large bags of scraps, which I labelled "worm food," I gritted my teeth and returned to former disposal habits. The worms are settling in, eating their plenteous coir fiber introductory bedding, and growing.  For now, they are teenagers without teenage appetites.  A fully mature system should be able to handle five to eight pounds of waste per week, but for now I must be patient.

They've shed their post-transplant shyness, however; when I lift up their moisture mat I can see they are happy and active.  And they're finally beginning to turn garbage into gold, albeit in small amounts.  Already we're harvesting fertilizer in the form of the liquid that drains from the bottom—it's not as good as it will be, I'm sure, but enough to keep me enthusiastic as we wait.
Posted by sursumcorda on Tuesday, April 14, 2009 at 10:40 am | Edit
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Green is as green does.

[Quoting Desperate (Green) Housewives] The greenest people are totally unhip and unlikely to be photographed for the Times or a glossy magazine. They’re still wearing their clothes from twenty years ago. They aren’t keeping their home spa-worthy clean. No need to worry about polluting the air with chemicals, if you aren’t dusting every five minutes. They aren’t constantly renovating their kitchens and bathrooms, all of which uses enormous amounts of energy and resources; they are still living with the Formica numbers from the 70s. They aren’t jetting off to Europe to browse the Paris markets; they go bowling in the next town over. They aren’t constantly shopping for new things and tossing out the old things.

Barring the bit about jetting off to Europe (is it okay if the purpose is to visit family?) the author could have been peering in our window.  Good to know we're cool if not hip. (More)
Posted by sursumcorda on Monday, April 6, 2009 at 5:37 am | Edit
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