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Underachievers

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That would be us. In the energy world. At least according to our latest and not so greatest report from our “Smart” meter. I have a hate-hate relationship with that meter. It only gives us bad news. Like this.

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Basically telling me to stop making home cooked meals for us.

My peak load on electricity. Dinner time. I suppose to become an overachiever we need to hop in the car nightly and head out 20-30 miles round trip to buy a dinner at a chain restaurant that would feed a family of six in a developing country.

In other words, we don’t do as well in energy consumption as 70 of our closest “neighbors”. We ranked 71st in the latest mailing, out of 100 people around us. It does NOT include any of the local McMansions. Since they heat with natural gas, they aren’t compared to us. Only the older homes that are cursed with heat pumps.

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We have two of the beasts. They work well, since we can tailor the output for bedrooms versus first floor, but still they consume beaucoup energy. Particularly when you are retired and home all day. Yes, we could crank that temp high and swelter in the house, since we no longer head off to government jobs in ice boxes that are set low to keep the computers cool.

All of those energy saving suggestions are tailored to those who leave their homes every day to go to work. Not to those of us who are here when the temps hit the high nineties.

But really. How is it more energy “efficient” to not use our stove or oven. Or to get rid of the chest freezer with all our home processed fruit and vegetables in it. Should we be buying all those quick fix meals that can be nuked or heated quickly? What about all the energy waste in the packaging and the transport?

None of that is counted for those of us who cook from scratch nightly. Who don’t do the carry out or fast food or restaurant hopping that keeps our kitchens clean and spotless. That minimizes those loads in the dishwasher. That lowers that “bump” from 5-7 pm in our energy curve.

Really. I want to believe that buying local food and making it myself is better for us. But is it? How much do we really save? Honestly, I think we are doing a better job in many ways, but it certainly isn’t reflected in the reports we get monthly.

How do we measure what our real carbon footprint is? I can’t easily answer that, but it is a good question.

Something to ponder on a Monday night.

A Tale of Two Counties

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Specifically …

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… suburban Howard County.

And …

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… rural Howard County.

What prompted this post was an editorial in the Sun during the Howard County Fair. Not far off the mark, about the differences between those two worlds. Also I was intrigued that the county will be offering a Farm Academy starting in October.

The first session is out at Triadelphia Lake View Farm. Details to sign up will be on the Live Green Howard page next month.

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I wrote about them in my Farm series. They are known throughout the county due to their participation in a number of farmer’s markets and their pumpkin fields and cut your own Christmas trees.

For many people moving out of Columbia into the new developments all over the once rural west county, learning to live with combines, tractors, manure spreaders, noise from machinery and the other everyday occurrences on the farms has been enlightening to say the least. I can’t tell you how many times I hear people saying that the surrounding rural lands have unsightly buildings or fields.

We don’t all live on manicured lawns, and many outbuildings get a bit rusty. There are no covenants or HOAs out here in the older areas. Which is why many of us live here.

Learning to respect those who have farmed or who run businesses here is important. Trying to force the farmers to restrict what they do isn’t the way to peacefully coexist.

Yes, cow manure reeks. It’s a spring ritual out here to fertilize the fields. It isn’t noxious. It isn’t hazardous. It is necessary to maintain good soil for planting. Yes, we need tall strong fences to keep livestock in. Strength is more important than looks to keep horses, goats, sheep, alpacas, cattle, dairy cows and hogs where they belong.

Yes, there are naturally growing meadows that get harvested when the weather cooperates. I just close my windows and turn on the A/C if my allergies go a little crazy when my surrounding neighbors bring in the equipment to cut and bale hay.

If you ever wanted to learn more about how people live out here beyond Clarksville, check out this new initiative. And thank TLV when you see them at the markets for volunteering to be the first host.

And if you really want to know why we love it out here so much, scenes like this are way better than all the words I could write.

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Spec Ops

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Special Operations, that is. Did you know that Howard County has a special operations team in our fire and rescue services department? And that they are using a very versatile and energy efficient way to deploy their assets wherever they are needed?

They are using #PODpower. Platform on Demand.

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There’s a Collapse Rescue POD.

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A HAZMAT POD.

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And a Mass Casualty POD.

Tuesday we had the opportunity to attend a press/media/blogger event at the Howard County Fire and Rescue Training Center. I joined about two dozen others to hear how we are using this method to provide support all over the county using two transport vehicles. The units are stationed in Kings Contrivance, convenient to I-95, US29, and fairly easy access to reach I-70 as well. Last year they responded to approximately 160 calls, an average of one almost every other day (technically one every 2.25 days but only geeky mathematicians like me would calculate that).

It was a large initial investment, but it works very efficiently. Instead of having numerous single mission dedicated trucks spread all over the area, the county uses the transport vehicle to grab the necessary POD and take it to a call. You only have to license and insure that transporter as a vehicle. Maintenance costs are lower too.

We split up into small groups and rotated through demonstrations, including some hands on opportunities. Including running the remote controlled crane.

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This is the unit some of you may have seen in the news, rescuing a Clydesdale that was stuck in a ditch just over the county line in Baltimore.

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The above picture was from the county fire facebook page and it was in our handout.

The collapse unit was just recently used when someone drove an SUV through a sliding glass door entry in an apartment complex near COSTCO.

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The special operations team shored up the corner of the building which had been damaged by the vehicle, keeping the structure safe from collapse until it could be permanently repaired.

The mass casualty POD was really interesting. It gives the county the ability to simultaneously “triage” up to 50 people. The type of capability that could support a bus accident, or an incident at a business, for example.

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Every green container has the necessary equipment a paramedic could use for each individual victim.

This unit hasn’t used for any mass casualties, thankfully, but the ATV it houses has been utilized on the miles of trails throughout Columbia and the county parks.

According to their leader, LT Zimmerman, all of the team members are trained in HAZMAT ops, and there are members who support the other missions. They currently have 120 people who work in spec ops. Out of a 900 member force. I can remember when I moved here 40+ years ago, we probably had less than half that number and many of them were volunteers.

The fire and rescue services here have come a long way, with 12 stations, their own training facility that opened ten years ago, and so many other improvements. One near and dear to us out here in well and septic land, is the installation of all of the underground fire suppression tanks. Most are located at our schools but they are also found on some of the more rural roads.

I was glad we got the chance to see the new capabilities in action, and a chance to talk to those dedicated men and women who led the demonstrations for us.

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Thanks to all those in the Public Information Office who invited us and managed the event, and to those in the spec ops team, who provided us with insight into their role in fire and rescue services.

Yes You CAN

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If I can can, you can can.

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My first entries into the canning arena at the fair. Cherries and dill pickles. I got a fourth place for the cherries. Nothing for the pickles but I am still learning. I saw the better jars did spears. I did slices.

I knew I wanted to learn how to can more fruits and vegetables and I finally got the courage to enter the fair. So glad I did. You never know until you try.

These luscious cherries. From Larriland. Picked in June.

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I separated them before making the preserved batches.

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This was a very simple cherries, sugar and water mix. No pectin. No hard work other than pitting all those cherries. Water bath processed. I got 5 pint jars of them.

As for the rest of the fair. Two blue ribbons, plus one third and one fourth place

Herbs. This may be the third blue ribbon for herbs. I have to look at the records, as I have never gotten a blue ribbon in anything other than herbs before this year.

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And, onions. They got me my other blue ribbon.

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Those onions. Lots of work to dry. But, oh so worth it.

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The five selected hung out in a closet in the laundry room, on hangers and string, until I was ready to enter them.

I didn’t take pictures of my third place basket. I need to go back and document that for my records. My final ribbon, for yellow slicing tomatoes. Somehow I missed taking that picture too.

As usual, I struck out with my heirlooms. They just lacked the intense flavor they need in order to win a ribbon. But, there is always next year.

If you have never had the courage to enter items in the fair, you really should just throw caution to the wind, and get in there. Easy to do. Really. Every year I learn more, and the people I meet are all very helpful.

Next year, I may even overcome my inexperience in baking and enter my zucchini bread. Or, take the time to enter some of my photography. There are so many ways you can participate.

Healthier Eating

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There’s been this debate in our county about “nutritional standards” and now we seem to be legislating it. I suppose in my world, healthier eating means removing as much artificially flavored, overly processed foods from my diet. To others, it may mean gluten free, or vegan, or paleo, or any combination that fits a person’s wants, needs and possible allergies.

I thought we lived in a highly educated, motivated, discerning, well informed corner of the universe. I seem to be somewhat naïve since now we need the government to choose what is “healthy” for us.

I read the county council passed bill, with its exceptions, convoluted language, and even its confusing parts that make me shake my head. Low fat milk is full of sugar. Diet sodas have lots of sodium. Which wins? I thought healthy now included fats? According to this bill, it doesn’t. And that 25 cent thing? Really? OK, I’m a vendor. I put a four ounce healthy snack in my machine for 25 cents less than an eight ounce “unhealthy” snack. Which would you buy?

Why don’t we just ban vending machines if we are worried people won’t make the right choices? While we are at it, can we get rid of those annoying Girl Scout and Cub Scout fundraisers that push sugar laden foods on us as we try to get to the library? And, why aren’t the schools included in this “purge” of unhealthy choices?

Make it simple. Stop selling packaged stuff. Period. Whether it’s the sugar, or the fat, or the artificial flavorings and colorings. They are all bad for us in excess.

The people who live here do a pretty good job of thinking for themselves.

For example. Our annual Field Day. Where we once went through cases of soda.

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Now, we ended up turning back most of the sodas. We go through large amounts of water, and not quite as much Gatorade. In the extreme heat, the crews drink more Gatorade to rehydrate, but even that is changing. They didn’t need bans or legislation to change their habits.

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Heck, this year, they ate almost all my tzatziki and veggies, and all my salad I brought. Seven years ago, they wouldn’t have made a dent in it. The first pizza to be finished. The veggie one.

Seriously, people. Give our fellow residents some credit. We are one of the healthiest counties in our state. We don’t need all this legislation to tell us what to eat. If we don’t want processed food in county buildings, ban the vending machines.

Opening Doors

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And discovering the world.

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In two days a blogging friend who also volunteers with me at the Conservancy is leaving on a one YEAR trip around the world. Something many of us dream of doing. She is starting in Istanbul, one of my absolute favorite cities that we visited during our travels in the past.

I am following her family’s journey on their web page. I admire their quest to travel the world with only a backpack a person. Husband and Wife. Three girls. Their nanny.

Anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Travel to places where they speak a different language. Eat different foods. Live their lives in totally different ways than we do.

Their journey reminds me to dust off my bucket list. Look for those things I want to do, but haven’t yet. I’ve done quite a bit of it, but there’s always more mountains to climb. Seas to sail. History to discover.

In the meantime, those grounded items on my list keep getting checked. The garden. Check. The house in the country. Check. That radio tower for my husband. Getting closer.

First prize for my heirloom tomatoes at the fair. Sometimes I think it’s unattainable. The weather keeps conspiring against me. But, the search and the challenge is what keeps us going.

I wish Lisa and her family fair winds and following seas. We will be following their adventure, and maybe planning a dream trip of our own.

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Committing to a Garden

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While up at my community garden today, and dealing with the almost daily weeding task, I thought about those who have attempted to garden only to be discouraged by the amount of work it takes.

Yes, gardening is fun for some of us. But, we have to have patience, to wait for those plants to mature. We also have to have dedication. To go out there in the heat or the rain or the cold, to weed and water.

We had a few changes at our community gardens already this year. It is a daunting task when you begin. Before you figure out the rhythm necessary to keep it going. To keep it weed free. To keep it pest free.

To harvest during the peak season. To protect it from the elements.

Still it is rewarding when you get that bumper crop. When the tomatoes start to go nuts.

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When the zucchini are out of control.

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I find it therapeutic to weed. To spend the time nurturing those plants.

And right now it’s fun to watch those baby killdeer running everywhere.

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You too can have a garden. Start small. Maybe some herbs to add to dinner. Maybe a small salad table. Maybe just a tomato plant in a pot.

Nothing like fresh, home grown treats that you made yourself.

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