Edible Landscaping

I started reading this book called The Urban Homestead. It’s the kind of book I should not be allowed to read because I’m a natural born crusader and highly susceptible to do-gooder influences.

I’ll probably be blogging a lot from this book and others like it this summer. It’s interesting. It’s also posed a real challenge for me in claiming that all of the space you have in your urban or suburban yard should be devoted to food production.

My yard is 3/4s of an acre. So far I have 4 4×4 garden beds and three peach trees devoted to food production. I have a ways to go.

But one thing at a time. A term the book uses is edible landscaping. The idea had never occurred to me before, but I like it. I’m not sure why I have crepe myrtles in my front yard instead of fig trees. It just is what it is. Everyone else on the street has crepe myrtles too. The guy who developed the subdivision probably got a good deal on them.

That was all out my control. The caladiums I recently planted along the front of my house were in my control, though. If I’d only thought about it, I could have planted strawberries there instead. Maybe next year.

In actuality, I’d only have to tell the guys who cut my grass to leave the beds alone to have edible landscaping. If they didn’t pull up weeds and weed eat, volunteer blackberry vines would take over. They would be messy but productive.

This is another point the book makes. Nature is messy and wild. Our obsession with overly manicured lawns takes us too far away from nature. It destroys the habitat for the bugs and critters of the variety that are actually helpful to gardening.

I’m not bold enough to be too terribly different, but honestly, what would it hurt to plant some food items in the front yard? A fruit tree, an herb bed, chives as ground cover? Why not?

Turn That Thermostat Up

I’ve been keeping my thermostat on 75. I’m comfortable at 75. It’s where I like it. I tried turning it up to 80 one day when I was feeling particularly fervent about energy savings, and I thought I would expire on the spot. 80 is not comfortable as an indoor temp even if you are wearing shorts.

I just read an article, though, that said you are a real jerk if you keep your thermostat any lower than 80 in the summer. It said ceiling fans use far less electricity than air conditioning; therefore, responsible people turn the thermostats up and the fans on.

I’m going to give it a try. I can see where this might result in real energy savings. No way am I going to turn on the oven when it is 80 degrees in the house, nor am I likely to expend any energy of any sort on the treadmill. And I don’t see myself turning on a light unless it is absolutely necessary.

The savings could truly mushroom from here.

The fact is we could all stand toughening up. We’re spoiled. We’re weak. We think our excesses are necessities.

That’s what I’m telling myself as I push the thermostat up this morning. If it doesn’t come back down by the end of the day, I’ll feel like a real hero. If it doesn’t come back down by the end of the summer, I’ll feel downright righteous.

I make no predictions or promises, though. I’ll just have to let you know if I endure.

So far I’m doing okay on my summer resolutions. I haven’t had a Diet Coke in two or three days. Living in a hot house with no Diet Coke, though, could turn out to be a deal buster.

I’ll let you know.

Vampire Appliances

I’m going to call the vampire living in my house Erik. I suspect he’s an old and strong vampire.

I have lots of gadgets, and I have a real history of not paying attention to how much electricity I’m using. When they started writing us up for wasting energy at work, though, I began to wonder if maybe the small things really do matter.

It seems they do.

I ran across the term vampire electricity while looking up information about low fume paints. Don’t ask me how the two went together. It’s all about taking care of your house, I guess. Suffice it to say I diverted the path of my attention at that point, completely losing interest in painting a bedroom. Now I’m all about looking for things to unplug.

Evidently, a significant chunk of the electricity consumed in a typical house goes to vampire appliances, those sucking electrons out of the grid even when they are turned off. Unplugging or plugging them into power strips that can be turned off can save a noticeable amount on your electric bill.

Do you really need a clock running on five appliances in one room all day every day? Why not unplug the coffeepot when it isn’t making coffee? Why not unplug the microwave when it isn’t making waves?

Maybe the differences seem negligible if we’re talking about perhaps saving $20 a month on your utility bill, though $20 is lunch money for 3 1/2 days at the going rate on my campus. It is worth saving.

The real point, though, is in the power of the many. By the time 300 people save $20, that’s $6000, which is the whole point the school has been trying to make in policing our electronic habits.

We’re using too much electricity as a society. I think we usually assume there’s nothing an individual can do about that without taking drastic measures like electing to bake through the summer rather than use the air conditioner. Not so. Little steps do matter. Thousands of little steps from thousands of people matter a whole awful lot.

Excuse me now. I see a light blinking on an iPod dock. I have to go pull the plug on Erik.

1. Eat Food

I’ve decided to blog my way through Michael Pollan’s food rules. There are sixty-something of them, and I only plan to do two or three a week, so this could take some time. That’s okay.

I believe that the biggest problem with my own diet is that I don’t pay enough attention to what I’m eating. I get busy, and I eat while I’m thinking about something else. I eat junk. I eat processed foods. I cafeteria pizza and what passes for cheese sauce at Taco Bell.

And so it seems appropriate that Pollan’s first rule is Eat Food. Eat food as opposed to processed junk. Eat cheese instead of what passes for cheese sauce in a fast food drive-through. Eat rice instead of processed rice cakes that look more like cork board than anything you might be pleased to scoop up with chopsticks.

Eat food, not chemically designed substances. That sounds simple enough, and I believe anyone who starts there is bound to become a little healthier.

In that spirit, the most obvious rule I could make for myself to start my path to better health is no more Diet Cokes. Assuming we include drinks with food, Diet Cokes aren’t food. They provide no nutritional value. They fill the body with added chemicals. They aren’t good for you even if to you they’re so good.

Coffee and tea are much healthier sources of caffeine, or at least much less damaging sources. Their labels are free of a whole bunch of chemical additives. Plus, used coffee grounds and tea leaves can be spread around in the garden to nourish plants. I haven’t found a gardening book yet that recommends giving your tomatoes a Diet Coke, but even my great-grandmother fed tea leaves to her garden.

So there you have Michael’s rule 1 and Sharon’s rule 1. I’m not sure how I’ll get through all sixty-something. I’m starting huge. Huge, I tell you. If I really give up Diet Cokes, we’ll know the world is changing for sure.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Meanwhile, today I plan to make sweet potato chili. I don’t know if this will satisfy all of the food rules or not since I’m going to take them on one at a time, but at least it counts as food. Delicious food at that.

Saving Our Place

Here’s my column that appeared yesterday in the Hattiesburg American. I was nervous about this one. I thought people would leave rude comments on it. I usually write about things that aren’t in the least bit controversial for this column, and people leave rude comments anyway. This time when I thought people would have rude things to say, no one left a comment at all. Maybe this isn’t controversial after all, or maybe no one read it. 🙂

At any rate, it’s very difficult to say what you mean in less than 400 words, especially on a large and complex topic. I cut more sentences than I kept in writing this. I may not be finished with it yet, but here it is…


The Onion (www.onion.com) had a story last week with the headline “EPA: Stubborn Environment Refusing To Meet Civilization Halfway.”

The Onion is all about satire, but satire only works when it resembles truth. This sentiment does in fact accurately reflect our societal attitudes toward the environment. We tend to think we have a right to do whatever we want for as long as we want.

Then something happens like an explosion on an oil rig that kills 11 people and pumps vast amounts of oil into the Gulf, endangering habitats and livelihoods across multiple states.

Something happens to make us take stock, to make us question whether we ought to keep doing what we are doing. Despite our carelessness, we humans are very good at momentary guilt.

We’re ready in the aftermath of disaster to make changes. The trouble is that real change takes a long time to accomplish.

We’re at a point now, though, where we can’t afford to be short-sighted. We can’t afford to just keep doing what we’ve been doing. We need rational, deliberate, determined, and long-term commitment to both conservation and alternative fuels.

I won’t claim we need to stop drilling for oil right now. I’m horrified by what has happened in the Gulf, but I’m not prepared to give up my car or my air conditioning.

I’m not prepared to see the many people in our area who make a living in the oil field lose their jobs. I’m not prepared to see our economy suffer because gas prices shoot to new and alarming heights. I’m not prepared to see us shift even more of our oil purchases to foreign sources, thereby further enriching the people who hate us the most.

There isn’t an easy answer, and there isn’t a quick answer. For now, we are undeniably dependent on oil. If, however, we have not radically shifted to other fuel sources in another 10 or 20 years, we are a foolish people indeed.

This isn’t just about saving the dolphins and the turtles; it’s about saving our own place in the world.

This week I’ve been reading Thomas Friedman’s “Hot, Flat, and Crowded.” He makes a compelling case for America taking the lead on clean energy initiatives. In a hot, flat, and crowded world, can we afford not to put our considerable industriousness toward finding new ways to fuel our own habits?

Rest in Peace, Mr. Bill

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Posted via email from Just Haphazardry

The Obituary from the Daily Leader

Services for Walter E. “Bill” Morgan, of Wesson, are 2 p.m. Monday, May 17, at Riverwood Family Funeral Service Chapel, with burial in Mission Hill Baptist Church Cemetery in Wesson.

Visitation is Sunday from 5 until 9 p.m. at the funeral home.

Mr. Morgan, 78, died May 14, 2010, at his residence. He was born in Wesson on Feb. 21, 1932, to Clyde Morgan and Nell Dunnigan Morgan.

He was a member of Mission Hill Baptist Church.

Preceding him in death were his parents; his daughter, Deborah Ann Morgan Gerald; and his brothers, Kenneth Morgan, Royce Morgan and Freddie Morgan.

Survivors are his wife, Myra Mitchell Morgan; his sister, Elma “Lele” Lovette; his grandchildren: Jeremy Blakeney, Brandy Myers and Dusty Gerald; his precious great-grandchildren, Brittnee Blakeney, Dallas Myers, Adalynn Blakeney and Vaiden Blakeney; his son-in-law and best friend, Keith Gerald; and his sisters-in-law, Barbara Morgan and Mary Crane.

To express your thoughts to the family, you may visit www.riverwoodfamily.com and click on his/her name to leave a comment.

Going Green

Last week I got a note from the energy police that I’d left my computer monitor on in my office. I was praised for turning the computer itself off. I even got a piece of candy. But there was a strong implication that I should not forget the monitor next time.

I hope no one has checked my office this weekend. I’m sort of afraid I forgot again. I don’t want to forget. I really care about lessening my impact on the environment and saving my school some energy costs. The problem is nothing more than a lifetime of bad habits. Those habits are so strong and so prevalent that the school expects to pay the salary of the person going around checking up on us out of the energy savings from everybody just turning stuff off.

Who knew?

When I got my energy waste citation, I decided I needed to start paying more attention at home as well as at school. Turns out small electronics were on and unused all over my house. I’d never noticed. A printer here, a DVD player there, a clock in a seldom used room that had been blinking 12:00 for possibly a matter of years rather than weeks or months.

I don’t know how much turning all that off will matter, but I’m going to do it on principle if nothing else.

I’m also going to research ways I can lessen my impact on the environment.

The day I decided that I received an email ad for a book called No Impact Man. I’m sure I’ll read the book, and I’m sure it will be fascinating. I can tell you now, though, I’m not going that far. I’m not giving up toilet paper.

A few days ago I made a facetious comment about how killing trees had sent me to college and I wouldn’t mind if more were killed to get me stuff that I wanted. I was joking. Mostly. But I will say this. My dad never cut a tree in his life without replanting. He’s probably planted far more than he’s ever cut. I’m absolutely certain he’s planted enough trees in his life to keep me in toilet paper for all of my life. I’ll go paperless on everything else, but I’m not giving up Charmin extra soft.

Alas, I must look for other ways to improve my green status.

That thought led me to considering the air conditioner. It uses more electricity than everything else in the house put together. Just turning it off or turning the thermostat up can make a huge difference. It can indeed, but my resolve to do that lasted for about 20 seconds. Apparently, I’m not that kind of girl either.

That’s why I was glad to hear that Mississippi is getting a solar panel plant. I hope this is an indication that the cost of converting to solar energy is going to inch a little closer to affordable in the next few years. If so, I would gladly switch over to solar in lieu of rationing my use of electrical appliances.

I’m so interested in whether this will become cost effective in the next few years that I’m considering assigning it as a research project for my students so that I can find out. What’s the point of having an army of source gatherers on hand if you don’t put them to good use, after all?

Solar is something I think we should all be taking a closer look at. The cost is prohibitive right now, but I believe it is coming down. Even so, there are far more difficult ways to go about doing your part for the earth. Air conditioners run just fine on solar power. We don’t have to give them up to be good. That’s what I’m telling myself.

Summer Wish-I-Would List

I don’t like making resolutions in January because my life is not my own that time of year. I belong to a job from August to May. January doesn’t even feel like the start of a new year. It’s just a continuation of the current school year. May is when I actually have a slim chance of reinventing myself for the next year.

Yet I can’t bring myself to make resolutions even now. This has been a bear of a year, and I’m all out of resolve.

I can probably scrap together some frayed and fragile edges of hopes, though. Even that seems questionable. The school year might be at an end, but responsibilities still loom. What am I supposed to say for my resolutions or my hopes? Get this done, get that done? Fun.

And then of course there is this truly looming thing of the oil blob that could decide to attack my state at any point. Maybe anything I might choose right now as a summer goal would change if I were suddenly to be overcome with the need to volunteer, or if I were to become immobilized by depression over the destruction of our coastline.

Still, I guess I do have some wish-I-woulds. I wish I would exercise more, get my house in order, and find some time to relax. I wish I would find some time to write fiction and poetry. I wish I would learn more about my camera. I wish I would set aside some days for fun with children. I wish I would go to the beach with my camera before the oil arrives.

As one of my niece’s friends put it quite aptly, I’m still paying alimony to the gym though we’ve been divorced for a while. I wish I would make an attempt to reconcile.

It’s impossible, though, to do all I wish. I’m just going to take it one thing at a time. For today, I’ve been puttering around the house pretending to clean. There’s no visible proof I’m having an effect yet, but I have aspirations for the next few days.