Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

Walking again

26 January 2014

I’ve started walking seriously again. You may remember that a couple of years ago I walked in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure. You may even have donated. I am training for a different event this time, and I am NOT doing any fundraising. This is purely for fun.

I’m going to walk the Portland Half Marathon with my mother-in-law, Keiko. So by Sunday, October 5th, I need to have the speed and stamina to keep up with her. This is going to be a challenge. For the 3-Day, we had a rest stop every five miles and lunch and snacks and there was no need for speed. I just had to keep walking. The half marathon is going to be 13.1 miles without substantial rests, and I will be trying to keep up with Keiko. Here she is walking in last year’s half marathon, which she walked at just under 14 minutes/mile:


I’ve started training using the long park that runs along the power lines near our house. It is very hilly, and there are plenty of other walkers. Last week I did a “fast” 3 miles at 17 minutes/mile, and today I did a relaxed 4.4 miles at 19 minutes/mile. It has been beautiful and sunny (we are in a drought) and the walking has been lovely. When the hours of daylight increase more, I should be able to walk in the evenings as well as on the weekends. I am looking forward to that. Obviously taking a walk once per weekend is not going to cut it in terms of training.

The weather has really been incredibly lovely here in Oregon. I know much of the country has been experiencing the polar vortex, and my former school district has been having show days. I see lots of talk about that on facebook. However, the polar vortex has not affected the West Coast. It has instead been unseasonably dry, and there have been unusual winter wildfires in some parts of Oregon. But the weather means that on today’s walk, I got a glimpse of Mt. Hood:


Of course, just because it isn’t in the single digits, doesn’t mean it’s not chilly. The weather channel told me that it was 36° F when I started my walk, and in some places the sun was just starting to melt the frost that had lingered in the shade:


I hope you are keeping warm and cozy, and I hope you get sunny weather soon if you don’t have it right now!

Lapa Rios

13 July 2010

When we went to Costa Rica, we spent the first 5 nights (after an initial night in San José) at Lapa Rios, an ecolodge in the Osa Peninsula.  To get there, you fly on a 20-passenger plane to Puerto Jimenez, then drive for 45 minutes to an hour over bumpy potholed dirt roads fording several streams.  The ecolodge is situated on a ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean and the Golfo Dulce, and has a 1,000 acre reserve that they maintain free of development.  There is no phone, no internet, no televisions.  There is electricity, and there is “hot” water provided by solar heaters, there is a pool and indoor plumbing (as much as anything is really indoors at Lapa Rios).

We loved it.

Inside our bungalow

Falling asleep, we listened to the waves of the ocean and the beeping of the tiny red frogs that we never saw, and the chirps of insects.  It was pretty loud, but I had no trouble falling asleep.  We woke early to the sound of howler monkeys and bird squawks.  Breakfast does not start until 7 AM, but there is an option for early morning coffee brought to the bungalow, plus coffee and banana bread are provided at 5:30 at the main lodge, and a cold breakfast can be had at 6 AM if you order it the night before.

The view from the hammock on our bungalow's deck

Every day, a variety of hikes and tours are available to sign up for, with your bungalow number and the number of people in your group.  Most of the tours are limited in how many people may sign up.  In addition, the front desk staff can arrange outside tours through other providers.

We chose the early morning bird walk with Danilo, the medicine walk with Guillermo, the Osa trail hike with Ulises, the night walk with Danilo, and the sustainability tour with Andres.  In addition, we arranged for a dolphin watch on the Golfo Dulce.  The medicine walk and the sustainability tour were the most educational.  The night walk and the early morning bird walk netted the most photos of wildlife.  The Osa trail was where we saw puma tracks, of a small puma.

Guillermo demonstrates burning sap on the medicine walk.

The first evening, we attended a talk about the wild cats of Central America.  Ricardo (the guy who gave the talk) is a researcher (think poop analysis and camera traps) who obviously cares deeply about his work: documenting, studying, and preserving wild cats.  The puma is the second largest of the wild cats in Costa Rica, and its paws have oval pads, which is how Ulises identified the paw prints we found on the Osa trail.  We also saw camera traps along the trail, so it is likely that this small puma was caught on camera.  Maybe we were, too.  The tracks were pretty fresh, but heading in the opposite direction that we were going in.

Interestingly, one of the strategies for preserving the wild cats is to enlist the help of poachers.  The poachers help set up a camera trap, and then are paid $100 for every cat photographed by the camera trap.  Thus, the poachers have incentive to keep the cats alive.  Unfortunately, research grants don’t cover payments to poachers.  Find out more at the project website:

Puma paw print on the Osa trail

The weather in the Osa Peninsula in late June is humid, warm, and prone to afternoon rain.  The day before we arrived at Lapa Rios, they had torrential downpours, and people arriving at the lodge had to swim one of the streams because the car could not ford it safely.  They were met on the other side by another car.  We saw a lot of mud, and it caked our hiking boots and stained our clothes.  We also got very sweaty.  While Lapa Rios itself gets a lovely ocean breeze, the hiking trails in the rain forest do not.  Happily, there is a lovely swimming pool, and all the cool water showers you could possibly want.  We showered several times a day to wash the mud and sweat off.  However, it took forever for anything to dry, whether it was our towels, our clothes, or my hair.  There were some sunny mornings when we could lay our damp things on the deck and things DID get dry, but with all the showering and clothes changing we decided to splurge on laundry service on our last full day at Lapa Rios.

The sticky mud of the Osa Peninsula

As I said, they have a lovely swimming pool.  It has a salt water chlorination system and we found it very relaxing.  An added benefit–show up at the pool and start swimming, and shortly a staff member will come and ask you if you would like a drink.  Pool towels are provided in a cabinet, Brazilian recycled-plastic lounge chairs surround the pool, and bats reside in the poolside shelter.  I remember the times I stayed at hotels with my parents, when I was a kid.  I always wanted to swim in the pool.  As an adult, I generally don’t care about such things.  But I was very glad of the Lapa Rios pool.  It was the perfect place to cool off after a hike, when the cool shower in the bungalow just wasn’t enough.

All this writing and I haven’t even gotten to the food.  The food at Lapa Rios is wonderful, and happily they have half portions available so you can manage to eat all the way to dessert!

Breakfast can be simple fruit, or yogurt and granola, or local fare like pupusas or corn cakes or the breakfast version of casado.  There is always coffee (we take ours con leche, with milk) and juice (I preferred blackberry while Greg usually chose mango).  At lunch, a juice of the day and a chip of the day are featured for tasting.  Lunch offerings include a soup of the day (with chips), plus an entree and dessert if wanted.  Entrees include salads and sandwiches (with chips) in addition to casado, fried rice, tortillas, or pasta.  I love chips.  I like potato chips, plantain chips, taro chips, yuca chips, whatever kind of chips that are offered, I love them.

At breakfast, it is also time to order the dinner entree.  This is because if they know what you are having for dinner, they know what to order from Puerto Jimenez, from the local farms, etc, and they don’t have so much waste.  It is a good system.  Generally there are two soup or appetizer options and three entree options, plus two dessert options.  One entree is always vegetarian, so Greg’s choice was easy.  You arrive at dinner and find a candle-lit table with the right number of place settings, and your server arrives to ask if you would like a drink from the bar.  A small appetizer is provided, and the bread of the day.  Then, the server knowing already what you ordered, your soup arrives.  Similarly, your entree.  It was hard to have room for dessert, but we made an effort for coconut-chocolate pudding!  One layer of chocolate pudding, one layer of coconut pudding, garnished with dark chocolate shavings.  YUM.

Lapa Rios was definitely an awesome place to spend a chunk of our vacation!

I knew them when…

22 June 2010

Some graduates of the school where I teach made this video about the BP reaction to their spill.  It is very well done, but does contain some lyrics like b**ch, motherf**ker, and s**t, so it isn’t something you want to show your kid or play at top volume at work.  But it is funny!  If you like it, please pass on the link to people you know.


4 April 2010

My friend Ron wished to go to Hawk Mountain for his birthday, so his wife e-mailed a bunch of friends and got together a small gathering for a huge lunch and a short hike. I was pleased to attend!

We met at 11:45 at the Port Clinton Hotel, in Port Clinton, PA, which prides itself on serving huge portions.  I think their burgers must start with more than half a pound of ground beef.  I had the Mushroom Swiss burger, and it was cooked perfectly to my medium-rare specification.  The four of us shared a large order of fries, and we were unable to finish them.  I couldn’t finish my burger, either, though it was very yummy.

After lunch, we loaded the four of us into a Mini Cooper for the short drive from Port Clinton to Hawk Mountain.  After putting on our hats, choosing our viewing equipment and cameras, and paying our trail fees, we crossed the road to the trail.

The weather was beautiful – warm and sunny, but not too warm and not humid.  The sun was lovely through the still-bare branches of the woods, and there was a perfect breeze at the rocky lookout points where the sun was strongest, so nobody got too hot.  It was my first time visiting the mountain, and the trails were busy and the lookout points were getting a fair amount of traffic.  Families with small children, groups of teens, random people who seemed to just want a place to sit and talk on their cell phones.  Why come to such a nice place to talk on your phone?  I suppose it beats talking on the phone inside your house.  But it seems awfully public for one of the conversations we heard.

We saw a lot of turkey vultures, which are not that special, in my opinion.  They are found all over Pennsylvania.  But while we were at the North Outlook, which has an excellent view down the valley the birds fly up, the Hawk Mountain interns there pointed out a bald eagle, which took its time soaring by.  That was pretty special.

It was also pretty special to relax in the outdoors, to laugh and joke, and enjoy the sunshine!  And never fear, I wore sunscreen and did not get a burn.

I’m really glad I got out into the woods this weekend!  Happy Birthday, Ron!

Our hike

April was two months ago

23 June 2009

Waaay back in April, I attended a local physics teachers’ meeting that I helped organize.  It was definitely one of the best such meetings we’ve had in years, though I must say we do a good job on meetings.  I don’t recall a bad speaker that we’ve had or bad food.

Our Friday evening we hosted a local top physics student and his physics teacher, part of our new outreach initiative.  We enjoyed a catered meal with adorable tiny and multitudinous desserts…oof.  Thank goodness for the exercise class I started taking at school!  Then we walked to the building next door and listened to University of Pennsylvania professor Ken Lande, who amazed us and grabbed us with his energy talk.  He’s nearly as good as Al Bartlett – certainly he is as alarming.  I started thinking about what I can do to help save the world.  (Follow the Al Bartlett link and watch his talk – I highly recommend it)

Saturday we had a talk by my NCSU professor, Bruce Sherwood.  He’s the one who taught me to use vpython and completely changed my view of introductory physics.  I’ve been promoting vpython with the local physics teachers and Bruce’s talk was very well received.

There were some short talks by members of the group and a business meeting at which I was elected “Corresponding Secretery” which means I took over the mailing responsibilities and I now write a bi-weekly newsletter.  But after lunch, we had an awesome experience:

Ollie brought members of the Eastern Electric Vehicle Club (EEVC) and their cars to explain electric cars, answer our questions, and show off their work!  I was impressed by the plug-in vehicles made by modding existing vehicles.  There was a guy with a  Ford 150 pickup truck that he converted to a plug-in gas-electric hybrid, a woman with a student-modified van, a guy with a Geo Metro convertible (link gives specs) turned into a purely-plug-in electric vehicle, and more!  Here’s the workings of the Metro:

under the hood

under the hood

in the trunk

in the trunk

The acceleration on these electric cars is very exciting – lots of delta v in a short delta t!  It comes from having a powerful electric motor and a low mass that needs to get moved.  The Metro got towed to the meeting behind a sexy sportscar, that’s how light it is.

Here is Ollie in a car converted to electric by high school students:


Ollie let us drive this car around the parking lot, and that was pretty cool too!  Those extra guages on the dashboard show the voltage across the batteries and the current drawn by the engine.  Multiply the two values together, and you will get the power in watts.  746 watts is 1 horsepower.  Mostly, you wouldn’t multiply while driving though…but you have to keep track of the voltage or you could find yourself stranded without enough “juice.”

I had a great time!  I am itching to find some crappy used car in decent shape, rip out the insides, and make an electric car for runs to the grocery store or whatever.  Yet another thing to put in the “future projects” file…

Population growth

23 November 2008

Thanks to a great birdfeeder my parents gave us and my father in law helped us put up, we’ve been feeding the birds in our neighborhood for nearly five years.  When we first started feeding the birds,  I can’t remember seeing more than one adult male cardinal at a time.  We’ve had juvenile males hanging around, however.

This fall, I have seen FOUR adult male cardinals at once! Here’s one of them:


Not a normal day

22 November 2008

When I got up yesterday, it seemed like a normal day.  When I walked out the door, it still seemed pretty normal.  As I drove to school, it was clear that normalcy was no longer the state of the day.

As I drove to school, first, a few flakes of snow started falling.  The snowflakes got fluffier, quickly, and I enjoyed the Millenium-Falcon-transistions-to-hyperspace effect of the snowflakes in my headlights.  I don’t get to see that very often, and here it is still November!

Then, the snow started sticking to the ROAD.  whoa.

Traffic slowed a bit, and as I got closer to school the snow completely coated the road.  The main thoroughfare near school was merely wet, which was not surprising since there is a lot of traffic on it, but then I turned onto the road the school is on which is usually terrible in snowy weather.  The local salt crews leave it until late and it is moderately hilly.  Though it was snow-covered, it was fine.  Even when I pulled into the parking lot, I could see the lines well enough to pick a parking space and get in just fine.

I got into my classroom, pulled out some plasma demonstrations, found a big chart of the nuclides, and enjoyed watching the snow out the window, something I have ALWAYS enjoyed.  I happened to glance out the window at the parking lot at 7:20 AM, when teachers are required to be in school.  The faculty lot was still half empty, and my car looked like it had 2-3 inches of snow on it!


Homeroom wound up being held over for 25 minutes beyond our normal dismissal time, first period was really short, and I managed to do only one of my plasma demos with that class.  All morning, students kept trickling into the building.  I had started a lab experiment with my third period class and one more student came in with a pass, saying he had been on his bus for two and a half hours!  One of the guidance counselors had been involved in a fender-bender with a student and a school bus, lots of kids reported passing multiple accidents and cars in ditches, and one of my colleagues took two hours to get to school.

I love snow.  It is very very unusual to have snow like this here in November.  Apparently this narrow band of heavy snow only across the county I live in and the county I teach in caught a lot of people by surprise, in addition to starting too late for a delayed opening to be called.  Even the accuweather website called for merely a cloudy morning, while also posting a late-breaking weather advisory for my school’s zip code a little after 7 AM.

By the time it was time to leave school, the roads were merely wet and the snow had melted off my car, but the district still canceled all extra-curricular activities after school as a belated precaution.

Odd day!


16 November 2008

Every year, we get asked what we want for Christmas.  I don’t mean this in the general sense, I mean my mom calls or e-mails and asks if my husband and I have our lists yet and to please send them as soon as we can.

This is difficult.  We both maintain wish lists on, and keep them fairly up-to-date.  But to come up with things we need is a challenge, and things we want, well, we don’t want much and when we do want something we usually buy it for ourselves.

So this year, we decided to make a list of charities.  A list, so there would be some choice, or maybe our parents could give a little to each one.  Here they are:

  • Heifer Project International – Donations buy farm animals which go to needy people who can then sell the eggs or milk and breed the animal(s) to expand production.
  • Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres – Doctors help people who are victims of natural disasters, wars, or poverty.
  • The Nature Conservancy – Donations are used to conserve nature, either by directly buying up land or by partnering with others to buy or protect land.
  • Camfed USA – This group is educating girls in rural Africa and empowering them to become leaders for change in their communities.

I hope you will agree that at least one of these charities is worth supporting.  I have given to each, and I would love it if you would also.  Please do not give me any gifts this year.

If you are curious about how these organizations (and many others) spend their money, you can check out Charity Navigator.  This website gives a breakdown for charities on how much they spend on accomplishing their mission, fundraising, and administrative expenses.  You can see how much the CEO is paid and how big a chunk of the overall pie that is.  I recommend checking this site before donating to any organization that is asking you for money.


24 May 2008

Last summer we bought a worm bin and have been adding kitchen scraps to it on and off. We keep the bin in our basement, and it has produced a tray of dark, earthy-smelling, nutrient-rich soil. I think it is amazing that we could plop a couple thousand redworms into some coconut fibers, add the bits we cut off beans and broccoli and other scraps, and wind up with this glorious material!

Below is a picture of the former vegetable waste, with some eggshells mixed in. We should probably crush our eggshells more before adding them, but I don’t mind seeing them in there.  I wish you could smell through the computer screen—this stuff smells like great potting soil!

Our bin is round and less than two feet in diameter. Still, it wouldn’t really fit in the kitchen, and it isn’t very pretty. True to the blurbs in catalogs, it doesn’t smell bad and doesn’t breed flies. We got it in part because going down to the basement is easier than going out to the compost pile in the back yard, especially in winter or in pouring rain. Also, there are poison ivy plants near our backyard bin (they weren’t there when I first constructed the bin, or I wouldn’t have put it where it is) and I do not want any poison ivy on me, thank you very much.

I highly recommend having a worm bin if you don’t have room for a compost pile. We take out our garbage only once a week most weeks, though our neighborhood has two collection days every week. We’re looking forward to adding the castings to our potted plants (I have to do a bunch of repotting this summer) and we’ll continue watering our plants sometimes with the liquid “tea” that collects at the bottom of our bin (there is a handy tap for getting that liquid out). When we get a whole tray full of castings, we can mix it into the soil in the rose bed. Also, I can sell you some bait if you want to go fishing!