29 June 2007

Re: From my In Box

Okay, I know there are some folks out there who are less than enamoured with Al Gore. I am not one of them.

I think the guy has done a world of service by taking a marginalized issue and turning it into something really significant.

Plus, I've had the hugest crush on him since we met at the Jefferson Jackson Dinner in Atlanta about 23 years ago. I was attending with my Grand Father, a committed Democrat, and amazing organizer.

Several times I've had the all too brief pleasure of seeing Al Gore again, and I'm always amazed that the respect he shows for everyone when he's under tremendous pressure. He and I were shoved together in a mass event at the UGA campus when he was running for VP, and despite the throngs of people I felt like he was the classiest guy there. (Swoon!)

I won't go on at the moment, but suffice to say, if Al Gore were to run for president, I would seriously consider taking a break from my current work to help him get elected.

Okay, I've gushed long enough. I've said it. Now everyone knows. I (heart) Al Gore!

From my In Box:

Dear Mary,
On 7.7.07 more than two billion people will come together during Live Earth. That number is unfathomable - more than one-fourth of the world’s population will participate in a single event and demand a solution to the climate crisis. This unique moment presents us with a unique choice.
Do we use this unprecedented opportunity to organize a global movement that will last beyond 7.7.07? Or do we let the moment pass?
I know my answer - and I think I know yours. That’s why I am issuing this challenge: Let’s use this moment to pledge our support to solving the climate crisis. Just as important – let’s ask everyone we know to join us as part of this movement.
Sign the 7.7.07 Live Earth Pledge:
The 7.7.07 Live Earth Pledge:
1. To demand that my country join an international treaty within the next 2 years that cuts global warming pollution by 90% in developed countries and by more than half worldwide in time for the next generation to inherit a healthy earth;
2. To take personal action to help solve the climate crisis by reducing my own CO2 pollution as much as I can and offsetting the rest to become "carbon neutral;"
3. To fight for a moratorium on the construction of any new generating facility that burns coal without the capacity to safely trap and store the CO2;
4. To work for a dramatic increase in the energy efficiency of my home, workplace, school, place of worship, and means of transportation;
5. To fight for laws and policies that expand the use of renewable energy sources and reduce dependence on oil and coal;
6. To plant new trees and to join with others in preserving and protecting forests; and,
7. To buy from businesses and support leaders who share my commitment to solving the climate crisis and building a sustainable, just, and prosperous world for the 21st century.
Sign the Live Earth Pledge by visiting:
Together we were able to make March’s Congressional hearings a huge moment by collecting more than 500,000 messages and demonstrating the significant public support for solving the climate crisis to our elected leaders and the media. Our next opportunity to demonstrate this growing movement will come on 7.7.07
Live Earth will not just be a 24-hour concert – but the launch of a massive campaign to demonstrate that the political will exists to solve the climate crisis.
Sign the Live Earth Pledge by visiting:
As our movement grows larger we will shake loose the paralysis currently gripping our political system. Working together we can get it done.
Thank you,
Al Gore
P.S. You can still sign up to host a Live Earth House Party by visiting:

Just how far?

Last night my 17 year old son was very frustrated with me.

He was mad because I didn't want him to run the clothes dryer.

He complained that I was being an "eco-nazi" by refusing to allow him to do it.

When I asked what the problem was with clothes dried in the sun shine, he said "They are scratchy and stiff".

Now this is a child who never wore disposable diapers. He wore cloth diapers. No land-fills of poopie diapers for this kiddo. And we didn't own a dryer, and I hand dried all his diapers and he NEVER had diaper rash. Ever. His pediatrician - a kindly older fellow, was near tears when during a check up he saw the child's cloth diaper. He exclaimed "I NEVER thought I would see one of those in this office again!!"

But now that same cotton clad wee one is calling me an extremist? He's been a lifelong vegetarian, and is forever switching off lights behind other people, and castigating me for imposing my beliefs on others.

The discussion ended with me agreeing to do his laundry, and then taking several of his life-guarding T-shirts (for work) and crumpling them aggressively to "soften" them. He seemed happy and had the stench of victory around him. It all ended in smiles.

But it has left me wondering if there is such a thing as pushing other folks too far? (Or not nearly far enough?)

Or maybe it was just his clever scheme to get me to do his laundry...? HEY!!!

27 June 2007

I want an eco-converter!!

Okay, Another hot day in the tent/fortress/future building site. But with a nice little oscillating fan, I'm pretty comfortable. Lucy, my dog, has made it her home during the day. She's found several special spots to keep cool and I have to admire her for it.

Green Pa of Little Blog in the Woods has sagely urged me to continue to consider the earth sheltered construction. I appreciate his insights, since he's been doing this a lot longer than I have, and I gather he knows a good bit about the practical side of eco-friendly existence.

But as a resident in a region in a severe drought, (See here for more) the thought of using all the water to mix the cement, and the carbon emitted by the stuff to get it here, and to dig out the dirt and to take out some of the trees (WHAAAA!!) I find myself wondering if it makes sense to build under ground still. Also, since the stone for cement is often mined from riverbeds, severely disturbing the ecology there...? Oh I don't know!! Wood is renewable but well... finding used wood is tricky. I could get a used prefab building, but then there is shipping.

This is the deal, I want an eco converter.

There are really helpful converters on line. Like this one which converts to metric and back for science stuff.
Or this one for currency.

So I want something like this where I can enter in some thing or some activity and it can give me an eco-rating. Essentially a rating the is an index of water use, energy use, carbon emission, biodiversity loss, transportation costs etc. That way, when I am trying to decide between, say concrete and wood, I can know which is better. Wouldn't that make things easier?

I mean think about it - you could go to the store and things could have a eco-rating on it. Organic vs. locally grown? Paper vs. plastic ? (kidding!) Or if you are trying to decide how to do something there would be some eco-guide with empirical scores for how to do it. (Like building an office?)

Okay. That's all I want.

That, and World Peace, and Al Gore to be our 43rd President.

Is that too much to ask?

(oh and the doors from the strip mall, but I'm working on that too!)

Hey wait!! There is this... but I haven't found it all.

Georgia Summer Heat

Well, summer is finally here and IT IS HOT.

We are in a terrible drought, as I mentioned before, so it's been a dry heat, though we've had a bit of rain the last few nights. Not much. Not enough. Not nearly enough. The county has implemented a full on water ban - no outdoor watering during the week. Odd numbered houses can only water between mid night and 10 am on Saturday, even numbered on Sunday. The nursery business is suffering, the University horse pastures are turning to dust, and even the bugs are down, since there isn't enough water to sustain them.

We need a good hurricane in the Gulf to get things back to normal, but it will take a big one. And there are major floods in Oklahoma. Weather has gone wonky - and we need to keep it going. A BIG major catastrophe to wake people up and get them to turn their air off, recycle a little more, and quite with the SUVs already!

Anyway, I digress... It's hot.

It's 9 am and 77 F/25 C.degrees already!!

It will be cooler today - 92F/33 C. Yesterday was about 95F/35C.

And most Georgia summers we'll have a few weeks that cap 100F/37.8 during the hottest part of the day. But that won't be until the end of July. Or at least usually that's when it is.

So the question arises:

Do I want to put an airconditioner in my office?

No, I don't. I don't want one. I dislike the feel of being hermetically sealed into the AC, and then trapped. I've had this on going battle with myself and others about turning on the AC. With Dad living here now, he's a Georgia boy at heart, and he's not pushing to turn on the air. He lived without it in Georgia (when it was cooler in the summers), and honestly at 73 his circulation is a bit slower, making the heat more tolerable. (Why do you think all the old folks move to Florida and Arizona?)

It will be cooler if I can build under ground, but that is still a question... but if not, I'll need to design it so that it's comfortable in the summer.

But, I also really need to be comfortable enough to work. Fans are great! and I've got one out in the fortress/tent now. It helps a lot. And I've got this neat thing that draws heat off my laptop. It keeps my mitts cool, hooks up to the USB port and makes it possible for me to hold my laptop, get this... on my lap, when it's sweltering, without wanting to toss it across the room. (At least due to the heat).

High ceilings are good for cool, as are fans and such. Good insulation and proper exposure will help, and windows that open at the top are good too.

I think I need to learn more about this. The office/shed/house/fortress will be in the woods so there is the shade.

But I'd like to avoid melting....

Ahhhh.... well... Better get on out there... and enjoy the cool while I can.

Suggestions, thoughts and comments welcome as always!

25 June 2007

When one door closes...another get's recycled?

One Last thing....

I want southern light in my office. I want to be able too look out into the woods, and I want it floor to ceiling. New french doors at Lowe's run about $900 a pair and I'm thinking 2-3 pairs. (damn!)
So, after the drive to North Georgia, and given the places I get to travel help me appreciate the ingenuity of our species. Afterall, we don't just find stray bits of hair and twigs and build our nests, we get serious, dig oil and coal out of the ground, burn it, get energy, dig more stuff like rock out of the ground and river beds, grind it up, and then with more stuff we dig out of the ground which we get real hot and then use as structural materials, build bridges across rivers and ravines, and then start all over. And in the meantime, we find stuff to build houses out of. I see houses build out of all sorts of things - local stuff, stuff people find, stuff people salvage, stuff other people discard. In Barda, Azerbaijan there is an entire fence made of nothing but car trunk lids. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Anyway, it occured to me that buying new "stuff" would be increasing the amount of "waste" that ends up in land fills. And some of the old "stuff" might be useful. Maybe even doors.
There is a strip mall being torn down near by. So that *they* can build another strip mall. The old one is probably 30 years old. The new one... well, it's inevitable.
But the old one, very 1970's strip mall looking. BUT it has DOORS!!

Okay, what are *they* going to do with the doors? Big, heavy, double glass doors.
Probably going to break -em down with a bull dozer. Load 'em into a truck and let them spend their retirement in a landfill. . .

You see where I'm going here?

I'm working on it, and will keep you posted...






Recent users say "My laundry seems to smell so fresh - AND NO MORE STATIC CLING!!", "I thought it would take days to get it to work - but it only took a few hours!!" and "A GREAT WAY TO DRY HEAVY LOADS!!"

I tell you, for years, I've been tempted to package a 40 ft. rope and 2 dozen clothes pins, and market it as "The NEW and IMPROVED SOLAR POWERED CLOTHES DRYER!!"

Actually, it seems absurd to even have to think about it. But of course, how many of my dear neighbors, and fellow country men (and women) will run an electic powered clothes dryer AND airconditioner at the SAME TIME??!!! It's like putting a humidifier and a de-humidifier in the same room and letting them fight it out.

Anyway, I've now banned using the dryer in the house until mid November. (Note the heavy duty packing tape!)

The boys have humored me. Actually, I think someone snuck a load Saturday night, but it was cool and the air was off.

But I'm not leaving them high and dry, or damp

I did laundry Sunday and got 3 loads out to dry in record time:

And we're talking heavy blankets, jeans, sheets, towels, and the other standard stuff.


and cost me Nuthin'! Zero! Nada! Nichevo! And CO2? Not a lick.

Okay, this may seems small, and absolutely bizarre to anyone who doesn't live in the US - but ya'll are gonna have to trust me on this one.

Besides, when James was a baby, we couldn't afford a dryer - so we washed his cloth diapers and dried them year round on a folding rack that was my grandmother's. And he NEVER had diaper rash. And to this day, he still doesn't. (I'm assuming.)

So who's with me on this one?

Serendipity and little houses.

Well, a day plus later and things continue to evolve.

First, my niece sent me this about a new type of insulation made from mushrooms.

I'm not sure it's viable at this point, but in a cave it could be like growing my own! And I do love mushrooms on my pizza!! (now if they's just make a solar powered pizza oven! And I am sure "they" do)

Second, Alex at Shedworking gave my page props! DUDE!! That is awsome! (and fun to see my "office" on someone else's blog)

Third - I am a strong believer in serendipity, if you're open to it, and let it happen, and IF it is supposed to, things fall into place. So here's a case in point. Today, my 17 year old son and I were hanging out. Just finished lunch and dropped by our local (favorite) coffee shop Jittery Joe's. I wanted to grab a cuppa, and also snag some of their Morning Ride Organic Dark Roast. (It's fine coffee and organic)

So as we are standing in the coffee shop the guy behind us places his order as we finish paying. I hear James cheerfully say hello and I turn around to see Brian C., a family friend we've known since our kids played soccer together as 5 year olds! Brian is a true Athenian, and a lot of fun. We spent many a frosty spring morning cheering our kids like true "football hooligans". Brian knows lots of folks in town and we caught up. Just as we were getting ready to say our farewells, I mentioned the "fortress", because it struck me that Brian might have an insight. I don't know why, I just did. It turns out that Brian is a big fan of "little houses" and has several books on the subject. (He's even agreed to lend them to me!!) He's interested in the project too, and seems to have both a grasp of what I'm trying to do, and the same passion for such spaces as Alex (of Shedworking) has and I seem to quickly developing.
I got more of a jolt from that side trip to Joe's and I can't wait to get my hands on the books!! Even if it's just some ideas, that's what I'm looking for.
Serendipity I tell you. Karmic equalizations works.
(and getting to hang out with my 17 year old? PRICELESS!!!)

24 June 2007

Considering the alternatives....

Yesterday the husband and I drove up to my mother's to visit with my brother's family.
As we drove, the reality of the drought in Georgia started to sting. Brown grass, parched pastures, even the kudzu looked miserable. Tough stuff.

We got into our standard cyclical debate about really making a difference and what is it going to take to get the whole climate change awareness into action in this country? It's tough because it seems that so little is happening, and yet, I feel like we are at a tipping point, culturally. I can't explain it, I can just feel it.

Also, as we drove I was looking at the buildings which might serve as models for my "greened house". Something pre-fabbed from Lowe's or Home Depot isn't going to do it for me. We are contimplating contacting the builder of a local strip mall (being build to replace the existing strip mall?), to see if we can have some of the stuff from the soon-to-be-demolision-site to use as materials for my greened house. Seriously. I don't know if it will pan out, but if possible, I'd love to do it. Still... we'll have to see.

It takes some creativity. I'd love to use reclaimed materials if possible. Save it from ending up in the land fills and relying on some of that ingenuity we are so desparately needing these days.

I'll post more in a bit, but I found this and thought it was a great, much needed point of view and response to the question "why bother".

Way to go Green Pa!
And thanks for the inspiration!!

It is from: http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/ and well worth the read.

Saturday, June 23, 2007
Pushing On Icebergs
Some weeks ago No Impact Man had a post succinctly titled Why Bother?.
He was looking for input and comment on the very basic question of whether all our little green activities actually make any difference. The responses got kinda rowdy, and some feelings were hurt before it settled down. Actually, I was glad to see the passion, though most of the hurt feelings were pretty unnecessary.I commented, near the end, and this was part of my comment: "But yes, Greenpeople- we have an elephant in the room, and we DON'T like to think about it. What it boils down to is; what difference does it make if I sacrifice, and cut, and have one child- so that some jerk on the next block can continue to drive his SUV, using the gas I saved- and have 10 kids and 4 plasma televisions and a jetski?
...Mostly what I can offer is- I've been doing it for 30 years- am still doing it- and the bottom line is; I'm an optimist. I think there are ways. But it takes what I call 'pushing on icebergs'.
"I have come to understand why great teachers lean towards the extensive use of parables. Somehow, the human brain is just more receptive to a story with a good lesson to it than to plain logic. Stories, and metaphors, reach us better.
My metaphor here is that huge societal problems are very much like icebergs. They are huge; massive, with tremendous momentum and inertia. Walk up to an iceberg (standing on anything you can) and push on it, as hard as you can. You will not see ANY response from the iceberg; it's just too massive for you to affect, you and all your force are infinitesimally small in comparison to the berg.
Pretty discouraging.
And yet. Physics; good old physics, should bring you some realizations here- the outcome of which can be positive.
Icebergs - float. They are not attached to the land; and they DO move. Mostly, they move in response to other huge forces; winds and ocean currents. And they tend to go in what looks like random directions.But like the rest of us, they ARE subject to the laws of physics; if you apply a force to the berg, it DOES have an effect. It has to.
So this big honking iceberg is edging towards you- and if it keeps going the way it is, it's going to crush your boat, which happens to have your family in it. Your boat is anchored fast; you can't just sail out of the way. Do you stand there and watch the berg come? Or do you push?Granted, there are plenty of folks who would/will just stand there, and watch it come to squash them.
I can't. I'm gonna push on the damn berg for all I'm worth.Obviously, one little shove IS useless. You have to buckle down; dig in with your feet, get used to the idea that you have to push, and push and push- and no, you won't see anything happening for a very long time. But- Physics is ON YOUR SIDE. If you keep applying force- the berg pretty much has to respond. At least a little.Something that's on your side- humanity. If YOU are busting a gut, trying to turn this oncoming iceberg- SOME of the bystanders WILL join in. It's just human nature. Now- what are the chances you can deflect the berg- if there are 100 people pushing? Better. But most of them won't help- until they see someone already committed. Really committed- and not quitting. More human nature. And sure, there will always be the jackasses who stand by and jeer, and tell you you're crazy.
History- also - is on your side. Immense social icebergs HAVE been shifted out of their course, multiple times. The nicest example is Women's Suffrage. That iceberg had been floating in the male direction only, for THOUSANDS of years. Logic was not responsible for shifting it. It was the emotional commitment of many many people; over many many years. And it started with a few utterly committed women; who refused to quit.
Many of the other examples are not so nice. "Abolition" was bloody and horrific- and in case you haven't noticed, is not really over yet. "Temperance" was astonishing, and ultimately a proof that logic, in isolation from reality, is a disaster. The outcome was not just funny movies, and speakeasies; it was thriving gangsterism, supporting more bloodshed and misery. Gandhi's peaceful persistence also generated bloodshed in the end. Icebergs are dangerous- don't forget that.
I've actually DONE this. Pushing on icebergs. They do move. The main example I'll give you is widely familiar at the moment- good ol' Global Warming. I was a speaker at the 2nd North American Conference - in 1988. Essentially EVERY scary fact and possibility you've heard about recently - was discussed, in detail, at that meeting. Very few people listened to us, and the hot winds generated by the oil companies and capitalists continued to push the iceberg right down its disastrous path.
But; look where we are, after only 20 years of constant, steady pushing, by a very small community. All of a sudden, a whole bunch of folks - thousands of times more than the original pushers- are starting to push too. Frankly, I still haven't seen the berg move- but things are looking up, quite a bit. Boy, though, we wish folks had started to push sooner. Ah, well.
There will never be a sudden huge shift in the iceberg. It's not possible, and we shouldn't expect it. But the direction, and the trends, can be shifted.Does your one compact fluorescent lightbulb make a difference? Physics says it does. Physics is a good ally.
So. Find a good place to set your feet. Dig in. And push. Don't quit. And don't waste your time yelling at the jackasses to come help- they won't, and the yelling just encourages them.
Just keep pushing.
And watch and see- somebody from the crowd will come and start pushing too- right beside you.I've seen it happen; and I'm still pushing.


22 June 2007

Down time, research day

I've blown a gasket. I tried looking at the demonstration project I'm writing next. Community led range land management to prevent desertification. But in all honesty, I just couldn't do it.

Tim and I refer to it as "hitting a wall". While neither of us are marathon runners, we know endurance and we know what it feels like to hit the proverbial wall.

So I ended out in the Fortress (my tent in the woods) reading through the blogs I posted yesterday. It was research I swear. Actually ut was a good thing to do. I'm feeling very inspired. One needs that to write on community led range land management to prevent desertification.

Also, I've been thinking about the building of the greened-house. In this climate, it may not be necessary to dig down so deep, sink concrete walls, and hunker down with such a thick roof.

I'm re thinking things a bit.

I did find a GREAT web page. http://www.shedworking.co.uk/ Of course, now I understand why Tim's always telling me to put a "shed in the bottom of the garden"

Inspiration. Pure and simple.

But tonight, I'm going to bed.

Ta ta!

21 June 2007

Reflections on how green to go...

Well, I'm definitely down from my "OH!! WE FINISHED THE PRO DOC!!" intoxication. Actually, I've been feeling a bit hung over all day. A few more things to do yet. Demo projects need scripting out, and there's that pesky new Incremental Cost Analysis format. (shoot me now?)

Anyway, despite a notable lack of sleep, it's been a good day.

Hot, but comfortable - worked out in the fortress of Gurlitude a good bit.

I'm still waiting on the quote from Steve. But I'm sort of wondering if I haven't gone over board with the dug out house. I mean really, right now I am working out of a tent. And it's not even a real tent. And it's pretty comfortable. Do I need a bunker?

Athens is not frigid in the winter, and not miserable (Florida miserable) in the summer. The rest of the year, it's actually quite pleasant. Plus I'm enjoying feeling "close to nature". And there are budget considerations. I'm still thinking, and waiting....

I've also been doing a bit of blog reading. A few new nifty finds:

Little Blog in the Woods. http://littlebloginthebigwoods.blogspot.com/ A neat hippy type guy who lives very simply in the woods. An interesting blog on how he manages. It's very down to earth, and well, deep forest green. The author "Green Pa" makes the point that when he was getting into this some 30 years ago, instead of reading the "success stories" of folks who had built eco-groovy homes for the first time, he looked to the Fox Fire series - stories of Appalachian folks who had lived this way their whole lives. It struck a chord. Not that I'm going to be building a shack with a still out back, but it's a reminder that this project doesn't have to be a very expensive building - that sort of misses the point.

The other nifty find was a woman who decided to really do something about her impact on the planet in Green as a Thistle (clean as a whistle, get it?) http://greenasathistle.com/ She's committed to doing something to be "greener" every day. It's very well written and very interesting. And Honestly, like Low Impact Man, and Green Pa, very inspiring. And clever. It's worth taking a look at!

It's also made me think about what I'm ready to give up - and what I'm not.

Tonight, I'm knackered, but so far:

I was out of toothpaste and used baking soda instead!! Just from the dentist fresh and smooth!! (okay, I can do that, plus a little toothpaste for fluoride - like once a day.

Willing to give up the need for AC in my future office. Yes, it will get warm. Fans work. shade works. Not a need for more freon in world.

Not willing to give up the DHC face stuff I use. It feels so good and the Deep Cleaning Oil - aahhhh... Plus I'm working outside in the woods. I think it's a fair trade off.

Not willing to give up my refrigerator. At this point. Sure, I *could* live without it, but my friends Ben and Jerry are counting on me to keep them cool.

Willing to give up incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescent. As the bulbs burn out, we replace them with the more eco-friendly ones. At first I didn't like them - light was too cool or blue - looked like a hospital. But now, I'm liking them more and more. And they are in warmer in colors too.

Not willing to give up my Chanel No. 19. A girl has to have limits. It's my little luxury, and ooooh la-la! I LOVE it!!

Willing to give up ... some more stuff. I just don't know what. Yet....

What about you? What are you willing to give up to make the world a little greener?

I need to sleep.

Ta ta!

Late nighter... professional reflections

Man, I love my job!!

Okay, it's one of those jobs people always say "Wow!! I wish I had your job!!" and then I say "It's a lot of waiting in airports, flying in airplanes and then getting to do really cool stuff." Even I have a hard time trying not to giggle when I realize how much I like it.

But tonight, or this morning, I find myself, on one of those late night highs that only comes from hours and days of writing and working and struggling. One thing I will never say is that my job is easy. I wake up and I'm on line almost before I leave the bed - I have to try to catch the folks who are 9 + time zones away, and whose days are just ending. I often say my commutes are either 20+ hours, or across the hall in my flannel pajamas.

Just because I don't always get dressed does not mean I'm lounging around the house. Rather it means I'm so frigging busy I don't have time to change clothes. And when I say I've been struggling - honestly, that's what it's been like. There is nothing easy about this work. Sure, I say "If it were easy then EVERYONE would do it!", but honestly the 15 day writing binge where I have to figure out what's going on in countries all over the world, untangle laws, economic conditions, cultures, social indicators, and then add a few layers of bureaucratic evolutionary confusion, with a document to produce that will outline how to start to solve these problems, and I'm glad to get a shower.

And then nights like this - when it's after 4:00 am and I'm at the dining room table listening to Gnarls Barkley and enjoying a few deep breaths because I've finally sent things over to Tim before he polishes it off and shoots it out to folks waiting on it's (timely) delivery, that I really feel amazingly blessed to be able to do this work, and to do it with the people I work with.

It is hard. There are times I think I'll never get it figured out, and there are times I feel utterly incapable of thinking one more constructive thought ever again in my life. But at the same time, I've learned if I just bear with it, and push on through really good things can happen. And then it feels wonderful.

It's not easy. It's damn hard. But I like the dogged determination it takes. It's always challenging and it's always such a rush to get it figured out. I really love figuring things out. And I love my job.

OKay, speaking of other things to figure out, I found this blog today. I mentioned it to Regan and Edwige who swung by tonight. (Great fun!! must remember to do again!!) It's a very very cool experiment in no impact living and I've got to give it to these folks, it's a great thing to be doing - no impact living in NYC!! Inspirational stuff:


I plan to spend some time reading up on this... but not tonight. Tonight I'm going to turn off the lights, crawl into bed, and hope to be sound asleep before the birds start chirping in another hour or so.

It's fun to feel like a grad student who just finally finished that paper, and will sleep a few hours before printing it out and turning it in to the professor... it's a soft catharsis.

Wishing you all well! and Green Dreams!

19 June 2007

Meeting with Steve the Builder Guy, and web pages

Last night, I had a great 1/2 mile swim - short but I pushed it, ran to Kroger and then dashed home.

Steve the Builder Guy, who I've known since he was a puppy, was promptly at the door at 6:45, and it was great to see him again! I've really known Steve for at least 16 years. He baby sat James way back long ago, married a friend, had a kid, started a business, moved to Athens, and now is all grown up, a single dad and a business owner to boot. An impressive fellow and a real sweetie, as always.

We sat inside and chatted about this crazy idea of mine, we came out to my office al 'fresco, and chatted about this crazy idea of mine. I'm really impressed with how much he knows and how well he explains things. Poured concrete, digging the space out, felling the trees that have to go, insulation, tensile strength, rebar, permitting issues, and so on and so on. It was really fun to get to do this, and Steve is very patient with my "crazy" ideas.

He'll put together an estimate for me, which will be good. As he was leaving he said that the biggest cost will be concrete (yep) and labor (sure thing). He's got teams of folks who can swoop in and do it, which is good to know. But we'll have to get a lot figured out.

He also said he's recently done something like this which was easily $30,000, and this could run that high. (cue audible gasp)

I talked with Bill about it, who slammed the breaks on things. (He's logical that way). So if the estimate comes in really high, we can (a) wait for the finances to even out and then do it, or (b) start looking at where to cut expenses without sacrificing the objective to build a low cost, energy efficient, minimal impact structure that is as environmentally clean as possible.

It would be easy to throw up my hands and say "oh well, can't do it" but that sort of thinking never get's problems solved. Creative problem solving is a favorite activity for me. So here is a very real opportunity to do just that!

Below are some web pages I've put together for Steve. Other observers might be interested in them too.


Some web pages that may be interesting in this endeavor include:

http://www.malcolmwells.com/ This guy seems to be the granddaddy of under ground building

http://www.greenfloors.com/HP_CF_Index.htm for the groovy cork flooring

http://www.1st-glassblock.com/ for glass blocks

http://www.homepower.com/ for some very interesting articles on things like passive solar, etc.

http://www.grannysstore.com/Do-It-Yourself/index.html some interesting reading and links in general... James found this one for me.

http://www.lcs.net/users/pinecrest/text/design.htm this is a web page of someone who actually did this - though in a much larger scale - I think. Interesting stuff nonetheless

http://www.radiantcompany.com/system/solar.shtml I thought this one was way cool!

http://www.poolproducts.com/-i-OPP-SNM-COMPACT-FNM-96.htm Fun with composting toilets!

http://www.tanklesswaterheaterguide.com/#electric tankless water heaters- tell me again why do don't have this?

http://rainbarrelguide.com/ rain barrels info. (maybe more than you needed)

http://www.summerwood.com/products/home-studios/index.html?gclid=CMuE5_GDw4wCFRK1YgodCBu_aA this is the/an alternative, though honestly, I'm not sure how energy efficient it would be - which is a big issue

BUT we aren't there yet. We are very much still in the positive side of things.

People often tell me something can't be done, and then I go ahead and get it done anyway.
I see no reason this shouldn't be the same way.

And as I sit out here this morning with 3 demonstration projects to finish drafting, TODAY, ASAP. I am reminded that while it is lovely to be all Bohemian on my carpet, under the tarp in the woods, the weather will be outrageously hot, and fairly cold in the next year, so something has to happen to make working out here on a more permanent basis more of a reality.

Plus, listening to the wrens, and the cardinals carrying on their morning conversation, while a cool morning breeze tickles my bare feet, just increases my belief that we have to do what we can to protect this planet. This is too precious to lose and figuring out how to preserve it is a good thing to do.

I'll keep you all posted.

17 June 2007

Office View 3

This is the south eastern view. Again, deep woods. Or so it seems. It's probably about 5 acres of woods, mixed pined and hardwoods, plus undergrowth. These pictures were taken about mid-day. One thing I've enjoyed is watching how the light changes throughout the day. In the morning to evening it is very different. It reminds me how much I like being and working outside. It's really amazing when there are storms rolling through, and the light in the trees changes, so that the green glows and the tree trunks become a deeper vivid darkness before it rains. Then as the storm passes a fresh muted pastel light hangs in the air. I think it will be a good site for building, and I hope we don't disturb the natural vibe too much while doing so.

We shall see!
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Office view 2

This is looking south west. The road is about 50 yards to the right. There is a stream about 50 yards straight ahead. We own to the middle of the stream, so most of the woods will remain. Plus Georgia has laws about not buildign within 25 yards of the riparian zone, so the other side will remain undeveloped. The does nto include the neighbors tree house, which a recent addition. It's sort of nice to hear the whole family out there in the summer playing.
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Office view 1

This is the view from my office - the south facing side which will be mostly windows. (Yes, the dog will be part of the view, of course!)
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The Office Al Fresco

Okay, for those of you who think I'm kidding, here is my current office.

It's actually on the site where we'll be building, but it will be about 4 feet deeper than it is here. Actually I'm glad to have this spot staked out like this. It gives me a good feel for the space, the way the light moves through the day, and of course a sense of the temperature throughout the day in the summer as well. It does get toasty - uncomfortably so for about 2 hours in the late afternoon when it's above 94 F. (34.4 c) But, I have a power cord running out there from the house and an oscillating fan - which makes a big big difference. I can also plug in the computer, the wireless works well out there, take my cordless office phone out, and I'm good to go! Seriously, it's been great for working.

Also, I've put down an Azeri carpet to make it a bit nicer (beats sitting on plastic) and I've noticed something really interesting - when I sit on the ground to work all day (I use the chair some, but find myself on the ground more and more) after a hard days work, I'm not sore. Rather, I feel pretty good. Like an all day yoga class. The stiffness from sitting in a chair all day is gone. I think I'm going to have to figure out how to keep doing this once the building it built.

If you are wondering, yes, it's fine in the rain, the top tarp keeps things covered well, and every night I role up the carpet, pack it, the fan and the folding chair into that grey garden box and everything is stowed until I'm back.

Bugs? Yes, since we've has some rain, the mosquito situation is more of a problem. I'm looking for a natural bug repellent. I'd like to avoid using DEET if possible. Suggestions?

I guess this is the lowest tech, lowest impact office I could have. I'd stick with is, except that eventually, I'd like it to be a bit more climate controlled, and secured. I'll scan in my sketches in a bit, and share them too...

Also, I'm planning on keeping a very detailed accounting of the cost of this project, to compare with "similar" projects, including energy savings long term.

Thanks for reading, and keep your input coming!

Very best,
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15 June 2007

The Plans (so far)

Hi Again!

Okay, this is where I list what I *want to do*. I meet with Steve (The Builder Guy, who I've known since he was a puppy and is a known green sympathizer) on Monday to go over the options. I'll try to get together the ideas. I've been making sketches, reading up on different green technologies etc. I've also talked with my accountant. Sorry, I don't get to write this off as a business expense. (Darn it). We'll see how much of this materializes. I'll try to scan in the drawings and include pictures of the site, but it may not be until after I meet with Steve. The Orange River Basin is in tough shape and I have to finish the project document this weekend, if possible.

But this is what I want:

  • Built into the hillside with south facing windows. Yes, I am building a cave. But the idea is that it will have passive solar in the winter for warmth, and in the summer the sun is farther north. Also, it will be in the woods, with lots of deciduous trees around - leaves in summer, sun in winter. Plus building into the hillside will make for GREAT insulation, both in terms of heating and cooling.
  • Sod roof. Yes, Seriously. Concrete (hopefully) with sod on top, slanted for drainage. Again, great insulation, great cooling. And a garden on top to boot. What else?
  • Solid concrete walls. Will double as a bomb shelter, if Canada attacks from the North at least.
  • A composting toilet. Don't say ewww.... what do you think people used before flush toilets? Actually composting toilets are a waterless way to compost "waste", without the smell, and it will need to be emptied (not smelly when it happens). Plus my flowers will be very happy! And no cost of running the sewage lines!! (SWEET!)
  • Solar powered radiant heating. It means that the floors will be toasty warm in winter, cool cool cool in summer. (may rival cucumbers)
  • Recycled cork flooring. Truly sustainable and cushy.
  • Glass brick internal wall for the bathroom, and 1/6th front wall (non-load bearing) to increase light reflection.
  • Water for shower and sink from a tank fed by rain barrels off the main house. May need to be supplemented in droughts.
  • Small electric tankless water heater. Warm water without spending the cash to keep it hot!!
  • Energy efficient windows - across the South side, plus one on the east and west for cross breezes.
  • Locally sourced slate for the patio to absorb heat in winter.
  • Retractable porch roof to keep things cool in the summer. (see cucumber above)
  • And of course, the florescent light bulbs. Always with the light bulbs. Thanks Verona kids!
  • And ???

There are bound to be more ideas. I have faith in all of you to help out with it too!!

Until then, I'm camped out at the site in "my office al fresco" also known as "The Fortress of Gurlitude". Yes, seriously. I'm working out of a tent - it's really pretty fun.

I'll add links for some of the stuff on the list too!

See you soon!



Hi Folks!!

I would expect that most of you all already know me, one way or another. For those of you who don't let me briefly introduce myself. My name is Mary M. Matthews, I live in Athens, Georgia and I am a full time international environmental consultant. My job takes me to wonderful places all over the world, where I help to design transboundary water projects, mainly for the UN and World Bank. I have a BA in cultural anthropology from Earlham College, a MA, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from UGA. I also have a graduate certificate in Prinicipals of Conservation and Sustainable Development from the UGA Institute for Ecology.

As a graduate student most of my work was examining how governments deal with the challenges of energy and environmental demands. I focused on the economic incentives for cooperation, which now translates into the work I do. This past spring I taught a course in Environmental Security for UGA's Globis Center in Verona Italy. The class was a lot of fun and gave me a lot to think about in terms of the way I live my life, and what more I can do to make the world a better place.

Now, to add another layer to my introduction, my step mother died about a year and a half ago. My father moved in with us, and so now I live with 3 men (my son, my husband and my father) and 4 dogs (our two, Luke and Lucy, Dad's 2, Molly and April). Because Iwork at home, when I'm here, it's a bit of a challenge. Formerly my office was our spare bedroom. Now it is my father's bedroom. My bedroom became my office, and after 8 months it became increasingly obvious it is an untenable situation.

So I decided it was time "to build an office in the back of the garden" as my senior partner said. The more I thought about it the more I liked the idea. Afterall, it made sense. But instead of something prefabricated, or something standard, I decided to take advantage of the opportunity to "practice what I preach".

After all, between the class in Italy, and the projects I help design, I advocate conservation measures all the time. Water conservation, energy conservation, and even money conservation. But could I actually do it myself? What would it take and what would it cost?

So, after talking with the county planning office about zoning (*check), looking at a budget (*check), and lining up a builder (*check), I think this crazy "office in the back of the garden" may actually be about to happen.

The goal is to make it as *green* as possible. I want to make it the most environmentally friendly I possibly can. I want it not just to be environmentally friendly to build but also to maintain. Oh, and I want it to be a good place to work. That's important too.

When I've mentioned my plans to friends and neighbors, everyone is very excited about it and want to know more!

This blog is my way of keeping folks posted, and, hopefully, getting some good ideas too. I welcome all and any suggestions, comments, thoughts, and questions. Since I still have a day job, which keeps me busy, I'll answer when I'm able to. Thanks for your understanding, your support, and your enthusiasm!!

Very best,