Monday, May 28, 2007

Rambles: around my neighborhood

I took a walk this morning. Hurrah!

In college and grad school I walked all of the time, mostly to get places. I always loved being outdoors like that, and the walking usually seemed an easy, natural thing. It's been years, though, since I routinely walked places or took walks. For a year or more I've been yearning to start walking. I wanted to get outside in my neighborhood, get my body moving, feel the air, listen to the birds and insects, see the homes and yards at a walking pace, and enjoy field-edge grasses and wildflowers up close (we live a block from farm fields).

Here's the thing: in order to start taking good walks, I really needed to deal with my total lack of good shoes for walking. Flipflops and little sandals are my basic warm-weather footwear! Friday evening I found sport sandals at a great price, so I snapped them up. On Saturday I wore them with socks for our day-long visit to the annual Chuckwagon Gathering and Kids Cowboy Festival (at the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum) -- and they felt great! Last night as I was falling asleep I vowed that I would go for a short walk this morning.

I overslept, but by mid-morning today I was out the door for my walk. It was cloudy and breezy, and I wore a long cotton knit dress (I nearly always wear dresses), a fleece jacket, and my sport sandals with socks. It was GREAT! It rained very lightly for a while as I walked on the sidewalk down our block and then past the apartments and onto the sidewalk-less big field. The rain faded away and the breezes continued as I walked the other two sides of the big field and listened to the big rustling sweeps of wind through the trees.

Along the mown edges of the big field I got a good, up-close look at some prairie wine cups, closed to the cloudy skies, and some evening primroses. Then I crossed the street to walk against "traffic" next to the farm-field-edge grasses and flowers. An amazing variety of growing things! It was great to be able to stop and look carefully at what from our car is simply a blur of violet or dots of yellow. After a bit, I crossed the road again, walked the sidewalk back to our street, then along our street to our house and some good coffee. I varied my pace as seemed good. Early on I felt my legs complaining a bit (on the big field's uneven ground); mid-walk I felt looser; and I took a slow pace to wind down in the last few minutes. I think it was a 30-minute walk.

It was wonderful. Afterward I took a big picture book of Aldo Leopold's Sand County Almanac and my cup of coffee out to the bench in our entryway and enjoyed them both while breezes rustled through the trees in our front yard and our neighbors' and, on occasion, a bit of rain fell for a while. A bluejay arrived in one of our river birches and was immediately chased away by a smaller bird I didn't see clearly. The sky brightened, and brought out the colors of our flowerbed full of perennial foliage and scattered blooms: yellow coreopsis, red-orange-yellow Indian blanket, and yellow-tipped russet Mexican hat. The daylilies are stretching up fat bud sets, a promise of deep orange flowers in days to come.

A very good weekend morning for me.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Water, water

So far this month we've received over six inches of rain. I think it all showed up last week! With curious timing, water has been a theme for me lately.

It sort of ended up that I began reading quite a lot about water, where we get it, how we use it, and lots more. Informative booklets to help me learn about possibilities for rainwater capture and use on our suburban lot (Water Storage, Create an Oasis with Greywater, Branched Drain Greywater Systems). For an understanding of global water issues, the book When the Rivers Run Dry: Water -- the Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century (the first three-quarters was incredibly informative and depressing; the last quarter is fascinating and actually a bit hopeful). I started reading Water Storage in the midst of When the Rivers Run Dry, and the simple presentation of aquifers, groundwater, surface water, wells, runoff, and all that stuff in Water Storage helped me understand better what I was reading in WRRD about dry areas of the world (like ours).

Then it started raining. A lot. And I discovered that all of that water looked different to me than it had. Usually I would be vaguely happy that the plants (from gardens to fields) were receiving water, and I'd also be annoyed at how waterlogged our yard and garden beds would be for a day or so.

This time I saw that many of the big puddles we carefully drove through extended onto the neighboring land. A big stream of runoff water gushed across a road and along a ditch between nearby fields. The big "lake" formed, as it does in every substantial rain, at the bottom of a huge grassy slope outside a campus building. Suddenly I loved all of that water in unpaved places because now I understood that it was recharging our precious groundwater. Also, what a luxurious contrast to the drought we've been in! At last, all over the state, farm ponds and reservoirs are nearly or entirely full. Last week rivers reached flood stage for a time. Creeks ran full and fast, and then gradually subsided.

Witnessing all of this water, so much so fast, here and then gone, I wished the runoff across the land moved more slowly, so that much more of it could sink into the soil. Sure, a big rain would create for more flooded areas for longer (that could be directed into various areas..). And yet. Water in the uppermost layer of soil would be there for the plants to draw from during dry times this summer, and water in deeper layers could recharge groundwater... rather than so much water being rushed off to the river in such great quantities. Wouldn't it be great if every homeowner, business owner, and commercial builder considered water something to capture more of, rather than send straight to the (paved) street? Why not slow it down or even capture some of it before it runs down driveways, across sidewalks, into gutters, down stormdrains, and away to the river?

The grassy drainage ponds designed into new developments suddenly look a lot less like a big bother and a lot more like a wonderful thing -- slow down that water and let it percolate downward rather than dumping it right into the stormwater drainage system. What always seemed such a neat and tidy solution to rainwater runoff (the storm drain system) now looks to me like a big waste of all of our wonderful rainwater. A way to avoid understanding what we have done by covering so much of the earth with hard surfaces. Now I understand a little more of the purpose of farm ponds.

In our own yard there are various ways we can slow some of the runoff to encourage more water to be held in the soil for the trees and plants, while still directing water away from the house. In our front yard, which gets pretty waterlogged in a big rain, we do have to make sure the water moves through the garden beds and away from the house. In one narrow side yard that also gets waterlogged, we need to put in a French drain... not toward the street in front of the house, but toward the back yard, which slopes away from the house and is very hot and dry all summer long.

In the back yard, I hope to plant fruit trees this fall. I'm thinking about various ways to direct rainwater runoff into the soil to hang on to that water a bit longer. The idea I currently like is this: when we plant the trees, leave a slightly lower soil surface around the trees, and fill that with mulch so that the downhill flow of rainwater is slowed down there and some is directed into the soil. For greater effectiveness, possibly do this in long curves across the yard with the fruit trees sort of lined up, and plantings under the trees... Hmm.

In the back of my mind, I wonder what our town's water resources are. How we are managing our resources. What percentage of our town is paved. How our creeks are cared for. How badly our groundwater aquifers have been drawn down. What plans have been made for the future. Whether any big-picture thinking has been done, to look beyond dollars and users to the environmental impacts that always, eventually, impact us.

This morning dear husband read aloud to me an editorial in the local newspaper that mentioned the state water resources board and some upcoming meetings about its statewide water plan! I found and began looking through documents online and learning a lot about the state of water in Oklahoma. Hmmm.

Water, water everywhere, 'cause it's springtime in the Great Plains. Splish, splash, splosh is our springtime tune. Summer and dry times are right around the corner, though. Dear husband is mowing the front lawn; when he's finished I'll put up my yard sign: Make Every Drop Count.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Watching the weather

A quintessential weather-watching day at our house! It's Sunday afternoon, everyone is home and relaxing (well, that's actually sort of unusual in the spring), and dear husband and I are watching/listening to the television tuned to a local channel, for live coverage of the bad weather in far western Oklahoma. Meaning -- intense thunderstorms, big hail, and potential for tornadoes.

This is the third day of rough weather. The people in a south Kansas town lost most of their town to a tornado the night before last. Last night there was tornado damage in a little town in far western Oklahoma. Talking with some folks at church this morning we heard that the weather was firing up again in the very same area of western Oklahoma. Now, in mid-afternoon, it's shaping up to be a very active day all day... and to possibly arrive in our area in late afternoon or early evening.

I'm sure dear husband is conversing by computer with friends about the weather and probably has eight bazillion windows of current weather data open on his computer to review from time to time. Me, I'm happy with the TV info and the fact that the stormy weather is currently far from us.

Earlier I found and printed a map of the Oklahoma counties, because the weather radio alerts are typically by county and my memory is a bit hazy on that particular info.

The kids? They're playing games and eating a snack!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Meals on the run, for baseball nights

Thanks to a full schedule of weeknight baseball games and practices, it is time to get a grip on dinners besides fast food. I need to prepare dinners ahead of time, or stock practically ready to eat fixings from the fridge, and figure out dinner food I can pack in our little rolling cooler cube to eat before, or between, or during games.

Our first, basic thoughts were these:

Fast at-home dinners
Sandwiches, especially messy ones (hoagies/subs...)
Pasta salad
Bean salad (for the adults!) -- three-bean salad, my blackeyed pea salad with diced bell pepper in vinaigrette

On-the-go food
Lay in supplies for sandwiches and tortilla wraps
Cheese hunks
Granola bars
Cut-up fruit
Pasta salad
Bean salad

Then I asked on a favorite homeschoolers' discussion board, and got a bunch more ideas (thank you!!)

Almond butter and jelly sandwiches
Salad wraps
Pasta salad
Hummus and carrots
Coleslaw variations
Trail mix
Granola bars
Frozen fruit such as mangos and pineapples -- they'll partially thaw on the go, very yummy.
Cold pizza
Cottage cheese with fruit on top (we don't do cottage cheese, but yogurt -- yum!)
Hard-boiled eggs
Bean dip with whole-grain tortillas
Eggs microwaved in a coffee cup then kept warm in a thermos -- wrap in a tortilla, and top with salsa and cheese packed in small containers.
Cook a chicken in a slow cooker, remove the meat, and use for chicken salads or sandwiches, or finger food.
Vary the bread as well as the fillings -- bread, buns, tortillas, etc.
Heat meatballs in a slow cooker for meatball subs
Pasta with meat sauce
Chicken sandwiches, especially BBQ'd earlier in the day and served on homemade bread
Calzones -- little bread pockets stuffed with meat & sauce

Many of these will be great for us, and now I've also thought of:

Fast at-home dinners
Sloppy Joes -- filling done ahead, and veggie sides
Tacos -- all prep done ahead
Pasta salad with our very favorite things in it
Big green salad with lots of veggies and sliced hard-boiled eggs, or chicken (beef), and/or cheese
Cold-cut sandwiches on good bread or rolls or tortillas
Maybe try muffaletta or other "stacked" prepared sandwich? Might be too different for Son2, though.

On-the-go food
Yogurt-fruit-granola cups
Thai-style noodles with peanut sauce, veggies, and nuts
Lo mein with whole-wheat noodles, veggies, and protein
Same all-our-favorites pasta salad
Same cold-cut sandwiches
Peanut butter balls (with oats and dry milk and stuff)

Now come the next challenges: keeping ingredients in the house, and doing the early food prep. It makes sense to cook and prep everything in the morning or at lunchtime, way before I might run out of time, and to lay out dinner or fill the cooler shortly before we need it.

I feel much better about the task of dinners for the next two months. Whew! And don't those foods sound delicious?

It's May, it's May, the lovely month of May!

May Day has come and gone, drenched in rain and little in the way of garden flowers to pluck for ring-the-doorbell-and-run bouquets for neighbors. Instead, my recent quirk of mindlessly singing songs related to what I notice or am thinking about... brought this to my lips. "Tra-la, it's here..." Perhaps you recognize it, from the musical "Camelot"? I listened to the cast recording of "Camelot" a LOT in my early teen years; I'm guessing it was the Broadway production but I dunno. Loved it lots, long ago.