Saturday, May 29, 2010

Going Green

To me, going green means to make the Earth sustainable for our offspring generations to come.

At individual level, I believe, the key is less consumption, less waste.

Daily household consumption

In our home the largest daily waste is paper, then plastic bottles/containers. Less consumption means reuse and recycle when appropriate.

For example, I collect papers used only on one side in a drawer. I open junk mails, if papers are printed on one side , then I will keep these papers in the drawer as well. These papers will be recycled after their reuse as scratch papers.

We usually don't drink bottled water. We use reusable bottles with filtered water from a pitcher for sports events or exercises. That means significant less consumption of plastics.

Disposable utensil is very convenient but also a big generator of non biodegradable waste. Now we refrain from using them. We try to use conventional utensil as much as possible for all occasions.

Durable goods consumption

If we take good care of durable goods such as appliances, TV, computers, clothes, shoes, they will last a lot longer efficiently. So less consumption of durable goods means use with care, reuse and recycle when possible.

Here is a story I used to tell Lily about how taking care of stuffs can make them last very long time. On my way to college, I visited my maternal uncle. He gave me a pocket short wave radio as a present. Afterwards, I used the radio twice daily to listen to Voice of America. After each use, I put the radio aside under my pillow - no throwing, no squeezing, no heavy load - that was all the care I took. I used it through my college and almost through my graduate school. One morning I put the radio on the guard rail of the balcony of my 3rd floor dormitory at the graduate school, doing stretching exercise while listening to VOA. A sudden strong gust blew it off the guard rail, sending it plunging to the ground and broke it. I used the radio daily for 6 and half years by then! Another story I like to tell Justin is a watch I used for 12 years - when it was replaced due to its shabby looking - gold plating was all gone, it still functioned perfectly.

We recycle out-of-date but lightly used clothes by donating them to charity, we reuse worn clothes, socks for car wash or other cleaning, I reuse worn pants/clothes for yard work involving dirt or stains ....

All these are small potatoes when compared to the consequences of maintenance of major appliances, washer/dryer, dish washer, refrigerator, oven, stove. Prolonged appliances' life and keep their efficiency at high level not only significant reduce our carbon footprint but also save big bucks. We felt this type of impact recently by fixing our dryer - fixing the dryer effectively saved us ~ $300, and since we cleaned the dryer's duct inside and out, the dryer's efficiency improved 100% (time to dry a full load of bathing towels, bed sheets is ~ 45 minutes compared to more than 90 minutes before the cleaning and fixing the heating element) - this will lead to some reduction in electricity usage. I plan to check users' manuals of other appliances to see what maintenance are needed.


Our direct carbon footprint is from our daily driving.

Maintenance of cars are common practice. For cars we have, we can improve their efficiency by minimizing idle time during drive. After I wrote the post "drive to work", I am more conscious of relaxing and minimizing idle time while driving - I was pleasantly surprised that my Odysseys efficiency improved from ~ 20mph to 22mph this month.

Keeping your tires properly inflated will make your tires run longer and make your car more efficient as well.

Heating and Air Conditioning

In north Texas, our biggest, though indirect, carbon foot print comes from Air conditioning in summer and heating in winter. Tune up of furnace and air conditioners should help maintain or improve their efficiency. But I had bad experience the last time I had my air conditioners serviced by SEARS. The SEARS technician came, all he did was to turn on my AC, went to attic to check if there was leaking and then sprinkled water on the outside of the AC! We have not had tune ups for several years now.

To save energy what we preach to the kids are "take off clothes before turn on AC in summer, put on clothes before turn on Heat in winter". We follow widely recommended thermostat settings - 75 ~ 78F for summer, 68 - 72F for winter. Another important thing to do is to keep door and window seals in good conditions.

Solar energy

Texas is hot in the long summer - it means we have abundant sunshine and solar energy! We looked at solar panels a couple times, but have not made up our minds on it yet.

Without solar panels, we can still utilize solar energy - Sun dry laundry! Traditionally people Sun dried laundry all the time. Now days many home owners' associations actually ban such practice to make sure the real estates look good all the time.

After we moved to Texas, we started sun dry laundry from jeans, pants and T shirts initially to now all laundry except underwear. On a summer Sunday several year ago, when the kids were younger , they helped mom to take Sun dried clothes inside the house. As they were entering the house, I told them: "Smell the clothes" - they smelled it. "It smells good. What is it?", they asked. "It is the Aroma of the Sun" Lily told them. They were amazed. I smiled.

Sun drying laundry not only save energy but also make the cloth, linens have a good smell. Why not do it?

Note: To have real and substantial reduction of carbon dioxide emission, development and application of renewable energy, conservation of forests etc. requires national, international efforts. As individuals, we voice our support to sensible green efforts through ballots.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jury Duty

I was summoned as a stand by juror for a May 10 appearance at county court.

This was my first jury duty. Even though google map showed that it took about 25 minutes to get there, I was on the way to the court at 8am for a 8:45am appearance.

When I got there around 8:30am, going through airport like security check point, the central jury room was almost full. Most people sat there quietly, reading novels, navigate Internet via iPhone etc. I intended to bring a technical paper to read, but left it in the car. So I watched CNN on TV and looked around to observe people from time to time. The room has 11 rows of chairs, each row has 18 chairs - so the room can accommodate 198 people. The jury pool was diversified - old and young, man and woman, blond hair and black air, people of different origins - Caucasian, Asian, Arabian, east European .....

About 9am, the jury clerk, a lady, turned off the TVs, and started talking to us. First disqualifications - under 18, non citizen, non county resident, criminal conviction, can not read or understand English. Nobody disqualified themselves. Then she asked if anyone wanted to seek exemption. Quite a few persons, mostly women seek child care exemption - apparently these women did not go online to submit their juror questionnaires - otherwise they could claim exemption online saving time and gasoline. A gentleman asked;" I take weekend college class. Can I count it as college student exemption or not?" Jury clerk said; "Nice try. NO". The whole room erupted into laughing.

About 10 minutes later, an officer went to the lectern, "I will call 25 names, those who are called, please line up behind me". The lineup was as diversified as it could be. The officer led the 25 potential jurors to the designated court. After a few minutes, he came back with his name list: "Karen Wagner?" - a lady stood up, explaining herself: " I thought you called Teri last time". The whole room laughed.

Another officer called another batch of names. All officers had hard time to pronounce Arabian and Indian names. Then it is a female officer's turn to call names - she apologized in advance for possible miss pronouncing people's name. When she called out Ravi tentatively "ra vee ..?", an Indian guy stood up, mumbled "you can not even pronounce a 4 letter word?" The whole room erupted again!

As the fourth batch of names was called, I was hoping that my name would be called - I wanted to have the experience being a juror - but it was not. The clerk declared, hearings at two courts were cancelled, so you served your duty by just showing up, have a good day. The whole room cheered - most of the remaining people would get a day off for showing up in the court for 2 hours in the morning

I was a little bit disappointed that I was not called upon, I understood, however, the need of a larger pool of potential jurors. As I waited to exit, I saw a guy talking to the jury clerk. She said something to the effect that our county has the best juror pool in the whole state/country - people show up upon summon and willing to serve. I think that it is related to the educational level of the county population, and that the populace believes in the jury based legal process and wants to be part of it. I am glad to be a part of it, and look forward to the time to serve as a juror on a real case.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Spring Time Stories

Even for seemingly repetitive spring season around our community each year, there are something unique for us to observe, to enjoy and to fascinate about.

Mallards in swimming pool

There are a lot of Mallards, i.e. wild ducks, at the pond in Russell Creek Park. I saw paired mallards swimming in the pond, flying in the air, and sometimes they come to the residential area. According to all about birds, they are generally monogamous. No wonder they are regarded as affectionate couples. Even though it is said that female mallards raise ducklings by themselves, I frequently saw families of ducks - a female duck, ducklings and a male duck swimming in the pond. They are peaceful families

One evening, Lily and I walked around our block after dinner - for some reason I brought my camera with me. When we were approaching the community pool, a lone male mallard (drake) wandering outside the fence of the pool drew my attention - I had never seen a lonely mallard away from the pond. As we got closer, it flew inside the fence to the pool - looking over the bushes, we saw a flock of ducks in the pool. Curious, we went to the pool as well.

An old couple were there by the pool, the old man was taking pictures, the lady was sitting on a chair looking on: A female duck (hen) with 9 ducklings were swimming in the pool! The drake was swimming around the flock. I took a few pictures of the group - as it was getting dark quickly, I turned off my camera and put it in the case. As we were were wondering how the ducklings could get to the pool, supposedly from the pond, the drake started to chase the hen. As the chase went on, the ducklings swam to a corner of the pool. The drake finally caught the hen and mounted it! After the drake got off the hen, the hen quacked loudly and chased the drake away. I was surprised to see the discord, and was astonished to see the 'domestic violence' - assuming the two ducks were a pair.

Afterwards, I still see paired mallards gently swim at the pond - typically a drake following a hen, or fly overhead - projecting the very image of an affectionate couple; I still see a hen and a drake herding ducklings, lazily and harmoniously. I guess what we observed that evening was just an aberration.

House Finches and Northern Mockingbirds

The Saturday morning two weeks ago, when I was at our home office, I heard this beautiful bird chirping just outside the window - similar to the sound I heard when I worked in the yard. Looking out, I saw a red head bird on a branch of the big tree in the front yard - I thought it was a cardinal. After several tries, I finally took a clean picture of the bird. Looking at pictures of the bird, Justin told me it was some type of finch. It turned out to be a male house finch.

To take better pictures of the finch, I went out. Then I saw another bird (female - one could tell by looking at the feathers)with grasses in its beak flying into the pine tree. The pair of house finches were building their nest in the pine tree. My interests in the birds went through the roof. I stood in the front yard observing the birds for quite some time. Here is what I observed:

When the female bird gets grass stems or small sticks from somewhere, they fly back to my front yard. The male finch arrives first, landing on a branch on the big tree with a clear view of the pine tree, where they are building their nest. Looking around a bit, then it starts to make bird calls. A few seconds later, the female finch flies to the pine tree, flapping its wings, so it is almost stationary there right before it enters the pine tree - presumably checking if it is safe. When the female gets inside the pine tree building the nest, the male stopped chirping. After a minute or two, the male starts to make bird calls again, then the female flies out of the pine tree - perching on a different branch on the big tree - in a few seconds, the female flies away and the male follows.

The male finch is responsible for reconnaissance. The bird calls it makes are signals to its spouse that it is safe to come to him.

Sunday morning I went out to check on the finches, I noticed that my old bird neighbour, a northern mockingbird, was making ugly piercing noise - not its usual pleasant sound, and the finches were nowhere to see. The female mockingbird was on the roof edge with sticks in its beak. The mockingbird were remodeling their nest in the small tree :), which is about 20 feet away from the pine tree.

The mockingbirds obviously noticed that the finches were trying to build a nest near theirs. The male mockingbird was agitated, flew up and down in the big tree, to the roof, to the other side of the street, patrolling it territory, making the loud, piercing noise - trying to scare the finches away- even though the finches were building their nest on the pine tree. The mockingbird was making noise even when I approached the tree

The bigger, stronger and louder mockingbirds scared the smaller finches. The finches dared not to come to the pine tree when the mockingbird was around. When mockingbirds flew away to collect their building materials, the finches appeared on the roof edges, the male finch first, then the female. The male finch made a couple of calls then stopped, not feeling safe - they flew away to the big trees across the street, making calls there -maybe trying to lure the mockingbirds away?

I was tempted to help the finches, but eventually refrained to take any action.

Note: I mistaken the northern mockingbirds as swallows for some time until a reader pointed it out in a comment.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mommy is the best

In our household, mommy is the best.

She is fastest in playing card game 24. She is quickest in solving puzzles. Mommy is the smartest.

She makes all sorts of yummy food - dumplings, fish, beef stew, ... smells good, tastes delicious. Mommy cooks the best

She spends most time with us. She is fun to play with.

Nutrition, health, braces, grades .... She worries more about the kids.

She lets the kids have the best. She is busy with her work but she spends as much time with kids as possible. Mommy sacrifices more.

Study harder, eat healthier, get better grades, mommy demands more.

She worries more of the kids, she demands more from them because she wants the best for them, she loves them the most.

Mommy is the best.

Happy Mother's Day to all mothers!!

The picture: playing in the backyard of our previous house years ago.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

In the Yard

Our yard, though far from golf course quality, is beautiful.

Friends, neighbours, and even passing-by pedestrians, like to say: You have a beautiful yard. Do you have a professional lawn service? Yes, we do, and we have a good one. But it takes more than mowing and fertilizing grass to make the yard look sharp. It takes regular maintenance to keep the yard clean, the grass homogeneous and bushes and trees well shaped, such as picking up liters/blown trashes, killing fire ants, pulling die hard weeds, trimming bushes and trees.
On a sunny Sunday morning, the street was quiet, the sky was blue, trees gently swung in the breeze. I sat on a small stool in the yard, baseball cap on head, combing through the lawn square feet by square feet to pull the weeds and invasive grasses. I was by myself in the yard, but I was not alone. The birds were chirping around me, piano music Nicholas played flew into my ears from the house. The countryside like tranquility was occasionally interrupted by passing cars. I stopped after a while, drank water, appreciated the homogeneity of the treated area, and looked for weeds to pull next - it was not easy to find them sometimes. This cycle went on for a couple of hours before I was done for the day.
I like to walk around the yard after dinner or when I come home from weekend morning exercise, any time I see weeds, invading grasses, I pull them. Another thing I look for is ant mounds. Ant mounds are treated promptly to prevent it from damaging the lawn. Another benefit of treating ant mounds is to eliminate their potential invasion of our house.
An important part of the yard is bushes and trees - which need attentions as well but at much lower frequency - once a month or two months. Trimming bushes and trees is all my work. Regularly trimmed bushes grow better - they are greener, denser and in good shape. People usually don't trim big trees. I trim and thin trees for several reasons. The main reason to thin big trees is that thinned trees take less force from strong wind and thus less likely to crack during thunder storms and tornadoes. The reason to trim the trees is to prevent tree branches stretching too close to the house - less clogging of gutter. I am told that roots can only grow in the areas covered by the tree canopy - so a potential added benefit is to protect the foundation of the house.
Several years ago we hired a tree professional service to thin our three big trees. Afterwards we do the work ourselves. It is hard work and takes the whole family as a team to complete it. I use a pole pruner and 7 feet ladder for the pruning and trimming. Occasionally I have to climb the biggest tree to prune the tallest branches. It takes me half day to lightly prune and trim one tree - which leads to a big pile of tree branches. The rest of the family will help me to pull the branches to the drive way at the back of the house, and Justin will then cut/saw the branches into length required by the city for composite collection.
A few Sundays ago, Lily and I were pruning the big tree at the west side of the house, a neighbour walking her dog, passed by. She told us: " I love walking by your yard. " Another time, when I was working in the yard, a car in the street slowed down, the driver smiled at me and gave me a thumb up! Our lawn contractor told us that people called him specifically asking if his company worked at our address - our yard is a model yard for him. It was gratifying to hear compliments like these.
The better the lawn gets, the less work is needed from us to maintain it. The key is sustained maintenance. The sustainability comes internally - we work in the yard for our own enjoyment, not the compliments, not the comparison with neighbours. It also relies on patience, we do not try to finish everything for the season in a day or two - we work on it little by little, and enjoy every small progress we made.