Nature and Environment

Because at 160,000 years, the party is just getting started.

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Have you ever encountered a scene like this at a lake, river or the ocean?

Algal bloom

Algal blooms like this one can occur in water bodies as small as a neighborhood pond and as big as the Gulf of Mexico. When algae grow out of control in our waters, the result can be unappealing, harmful to our health and harmful to the environment.

The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the North American Lake Management Society (NALMS) want YOU to help spot and document algal blooms in our waters. Submit your photos of algal blooms where you live, vacation and recreate for a chance to win great prizes. Your submissions will help build a photo library that can be used to educate more people about algal blooms and illustrate the prevalence and impacts of algal blooms around the country.

Click here for more info!

Photo: Assateague Island National Seashore, Maryland; Eric Vance, U.S. EPA. From Flickr


Crazy Birthday Candle Jungle Books Teaches CountingAs a teacher, I have talked with several parents who are home-schooling their children about the best ways to introduce counting. Over the years, I've found a few books that I enjoy, and now there are newer resources that I feel good recommending to parents planning home-school lessons. 

The Crazy Birthday Candle Jungle book series by Mark Schmidt is a clever way to introduce and teach counting to children. The series has a book for each basic number and uses clever rhymes, fun language and colorful illustrations to keep children engaged. I would use this book when working with children just beginning to start counting as a read-aloud book and/or as a way to integrate language arts into the math curriculum. Further, the card games allow the children to continue to develop their math skills without realizing that they are completing work. 

I would rank this book in between a basic counting book and a more advanced math story. Some other notable books that could work in a similar role are listed below: 

Olivia Counts by Ian Falconer

How Do Dinosaurs Count to Ten? by Jane Yolen

Fish Eyes: A Book You Can Count On by Lois Elhert

Amanda Bean’s Amazing Dream by Cindy Neuschwander

The Grapes of Math by Greg Tang

Book cover by Eric J. Carter


Take a Second Energy Video Contest

Take a Second!

The National Environmental Education Foundation invites you to Take a Second for the environment by saving energy. Watch how we can find time for the environment every day, learn different ways to save energy, show in an Instagram video how you take a few seconds to save energy, and win great prizes by entering the Take a Second contest. Learn more at



tape 001 jpgI don’t think we are unlike most other people and we hate it when a bird flies into one of our windows and is injured or dies. Most birds just knock themselves out and if they don’t go into shock from the impact they recover. If I hear them hit I go to their aid and help revive them. I’ll hold them in my hand and keep them warm with my hands and wait for them to come to again. I will often talk soothingly to them, too. I don’t know if the talk helps or not but most seem to remain calmer and do recover. The longest it has taken to revive a bird has been a couple hours for a hairy woodpecker that really took a hard jolt upon collision. With that bird it was touch and go several times but tender care and calm reassuring talk seem to finally work. When the collisions happen during the winter I will often cradle them in my hands and bring them inside and hold them by the wood stove to warm up.

I have tried other methods over the years to keep these window collisions from happening with poor success. Sometimes the bird is being chased by another bird and they see the glass and its reflection and probably believe it is an escape route. As can be seen by the above photo the window reflects images very well and I believe the birds also sometimes see their image in the window and try to drive the ‘offending’ bird off or attack it. I have finally found something that reflects back at them and does not impair our views when we look outside. It is Mylar holographic bird scare ribbon. It is 2” wide and we bought a 100’ roll for around $6.00. It has small prisms all over both sides and because it is light the slightest wind will move it refracting light from those prisms and it seems effective in scaring the birds to keep from flying into the window.

Installing the Mylar Tape

What had me searching for this tape was two birds on two successive days flew into the window and died. We can go weeks with none hitting our windows and then it will be repetitive and often fatal. I believe it may have to do with the time of year and/or the position of the sun/cloud cover that causes reflections in the glass. What I find so good about this tape is it is light, has prism reflectors within the tape and it is strong but still light enough to move with the slightest breeze. Installation is as easy as cutting it to length and pinning it in place with a thumb tack. If a thumb tack won’t work tape could also be used to hold it in place. Mylar tape is very strong but to keep it from tearing loose from the wind I put about one inch of duct tape on the end where I used the thumb tack. We get pretty severe winds in the mountains and using the duct tape keeps me from having to go out and replace the holographic tape after strong winds.

Having two inch wide tape hanging from our window may not be the most attractive solution; however we live in the woods and no one but the birds and us will see it. To me having it deter birds is better than hearing a thump and going out to see a crumpled bird laying there. We have an abundance of birds and they keep our insect population in check. We therefore owe it to them to prevent them from flying into windows and getting injured. We benefit greatly from having them around as insect consumers. We watched one family of fly catchers this year build a nest and lay three tiny eggs which hatched into babies and grow up to adult birds. We watched the adults feed the babies an incredible amount of insects they caught. To have one of the adults fly into the window would disrupt the lives of those little baby birds and now that the baby birds are out on their own we would hate to lose one by crashing into the window.

We have attracted them here by providing flying corridors and making water available from our two all year under ground springs. We don’t want to attract them just to have them crash into our windows and become injured or die. We benefit from their presence and they benefit from our doing all we can to protect them. The holographic tape seems a good workable summer solution. Fewer birds remain in the winter due to migration so it is not as necessary at that time of year as it is when they are nesting and seeking food in the summer.

Mylar bird scare holographic tape seems to work for Bruce and Carol McElmurray, and for more on them and their mountain lifestyle go


It is illegal to shout, "Fire, Fire" in a crowed theater if there is no fire. It should also be illegal to shout, "There is No Fire, There is No Fire" if there IS a fire in a crowded theater, and others are warning, “There is a Fire”. If you pay to enlist others into this conspiracy to shout out "There is no Fire, There is no Fire" and drown out or suppress the observations of those who see the fire, in a conspiracy to suppress the truth which results in great damage and death it is a criminal act and the conspirators are guilty of murder.

Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling unit on fire 2010

Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling unit on fire 2010

People are dying of starvation in drought stricken areas affected by rapid climate change. Climate change deniers fall into the second class described above claiming there is no fire while California is burning up and the world is experiencing record heat. They are shouting down observed, recorded scientific facts and observations.  Their actions are a clear and present danger to the people and to the republic and are fraudulent, conspiratorial, and backed by the fossil fuel industry racketeering against the common good.

Drilling in Paradise: North Park, Colorado

 Drilling in Paradise North Park Colorado

The fossil fuel industry wants to exploit $400 trillion worth of resources and has suppressed the development of renewable energy by funding opposition to renewable energy in a multitude of formats. This includes funding climate change denial propaganda as part of their effort to keep their oil, coal, natural gas and nuclear subsidies and tax credits to prevent competition and funding legislators to eliminate renewable energy buy back credits. Let’s just call it what it is. It’s racketeering and the fossil fuel industry and their supporters are engaging in antitrust violations.

The environmental movement needs to unite and instigate anti trust lawsuits and criminal racketeering charges against the Koch Brothers, Exxon-Mobil, Peabody Coal, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Michael Savage, Rush Limbaugh and the like, and begin the 21st century version of the Scopes Monkey trial for all the people and for a healthy and safe planet.

If a powerful company uses market muscle to stifle competition, that is an antitrust violation. Living and Dying in Google’s World, New York Times, 12/4/12

Forcing Climates Change by polluting four states at once in the Four Corners near Shiprock, NM

Forcing Climates Change by polluting four states at once in the Four Corners near Shiprock, NM 

Millions of acres look like this thank to fossil fuels.

Millions of Acres look like this thank to Fossil Fuels Dead Trees As far as you can see


38,000 Square Miles of Dead Trees, The Beetle That’s Chewing up America, Business Week, June 5th, 2014. -       

Living and Dying in Google’s World, New York Times, page BU1, 12/4/12




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August 3 to 9, 2014, is National Farmers Market Week! Throughout the week, USDA will celebrate our nation’s farmers markets, the farmers who make them possible and the communities that host them.

10502240615_b7915bace9_mHave you ever wondered how weather impacts the fruits and vegetables you find at your local farmers market? Here are a just a few ways weather plays a role in crop growth and harvest.

Many stone fruits (peaches, plums, nectarines and cherries) need a certain number of “chill hours” – exposure to temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit – in order to flower and produce fruit. Buds that don’t receive sufficient chilling hours during the winter months can result in small or misshapen fruit, and reduced fruit quality.
Very hot weather, too much moisture and other stressors can reduce production in vine crops like melons, cucumbers, pumpkins and squash. Cold rains and cloudy weather can inhibit pollination in these crops. Too much rain during the growing season can cause rot and disease, and in the case of watermelon, the fruit can actually swell and burst!
Heat and low humidity affect the blossom growth and pollination of beans and corn. When temperatures soar above 90 degrees, fruit on tomato, eggplant and pepper plants is significantly reduced.

Tip: Lots of planning and care goes into the farmers market foods we enjoy! See what’s in season: check out USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory to find a market where you live. Interested in growing fruits and vegetables at home? The National Gardening Association’s Food Gardening Guide has lots of info to help you succeed.

Photo: Lance Cheung, USDA. Taken at Kirby Farms, Mechanicsville, VA.

(Sources: USDA. “Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer.”; Clemson University Cooperative Extension. What are chilling hours and what do they have to do with dormancy? Do cultivars differ in their chilling hour requirement?”; Texas A&M University. “Chilling Accumulation: Its Importance and Estimation.”; Casteele, J. Demand Media. “What is the Effect of Too Much Rain on Watermelons?”; Colorado State Cooperative Extension, Plantalk. “Hot Weather Impacts Vegetables,”


Asheville, North Carolina, possesses a rare trait of being many things to a lot of people.  A culinary destination, a gateway to nature, an artists’ community – and a place for wellness, the focus of this blog for Day 3 of a three day visit to the city. 

I previously blogged about how my wife and I embraced nature on Day 1.  On Day 2, we were on an adrenaline rush high in the trees on a zipline.  But for Day 3, it’s time to chill, revitalize ourselves and do some rebalancing of our mind, body and spirit on a health and wellness tour. 

As it turns out, Asheville has a long history of attracting people searching for a tranquil place for personal retreats and wellness. Perhaps due in equal parts to the city’s spectacular scenery and mild climate, Asheville has long been an oasis for the health conscious.  Today, even more so, with more than 630 message therapists, numerous yoga centers, plentiful vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free restaurants, and eco-minded lodging options.

A Wellness TourSalt Cave

For the ultimate in relaxation and rejuvenation, we joined the two-hour-long Asheville Wellness Tour that covers the highlights on foot.  First, we soaked up the restorative powers inside the Asheville Salt Cave, the only all natural salt cave in the United States.  With over twenty tons of curative salts imported from Poland and recomposed into a cave, our half hour “salt therapy” and silent meditation helped us center ourselves and, perhaps, detox a bit.  It’s believed that on-going therapies inside the salt cave can be beneficial in the treatment for those suffering from respiratory ailments, skin problems or arthritis.

Following our salt therapy, we were joined by the bubbly Cameron Gunther, founder of Traveling Yogini Tours, for some simple yoga stretches and breathing inside the cave before she led our small group of five through the city on a guided walking tour.

Our final stop and our favorite -- having just come from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS Fair -- was Wake, a foot sanctuary and shop. After a foot soak with warm waters infused with fragrant herbs, a warmed neck wrap and a cup of herbal tea resulted in the busyness of our day magically melting away. A little pampering goes a long way when you’re a homesteader with calloused hands.

Gluten Free Indulgence at Posana

Posana Cafe

With an emphasis creative preparations and mouthwatering flavor combos, executive chef and co-owner Peter Pollay of Posana Cafe sets the bar high on cuisine that’s local, farm-to-table – and gluten free. You’d never know that his restaurant is gluten free since the salads, soups, entrees and desserts don’t miss a beat on flavor or texture.

Chef Pollay showcases local artisan food producers and farmers, many listed right on the menu.  Here, the taste is both delicious and local.  It’s so good, even if you’re normally a glutton for gluten, you won’t miss it.  Perhaps the only clue is the rolls missing from the table.

“This is like us, eating at home,” says Pollay, who followed a gluten free approach in the kitchen after his wife had been diagnosed with Celiac disease.  “Veggies, a protein and a starch.  We’ve been this way since the start.”

We savored his Sunburst Farms trout, served with a warm quinoa salad, endives, shaved carrots, black radish and orange vinaigrette, lobster mac and cheese with ricotta gnocchi and aged cheddar cheese, and North Carolina monkfish with a curry mussel soup, potato gnocchi, royal trumpet mushrooms and local ramps.

Posana Café has received a 3-Star certification from the Green Restaurant Association, in part for Pollay’s artful cuisine made from organic, seasonal and locally sourced ingredients, but also for their solar thermal system on the roof, repurposed materials used in their renovation, and numerous energy and water conservation initiatives.

Detox at Asheville Green Cottage

Asheville Green Cottage

For those with chemical sensitivities, or anyone who wants to avoid anything toxic that they might be sleeping on, eating or sitting in, then the Asheville Green Cottage is the place to go. 

Nestled in a quiet historic neighborhood, the cozy B&B was completely renovated by innkeepers Vicki Schomer and Neeraj Kebede, leaving no details overlooked when it comes to removing any toxic substances in their 1920s Arts & Crafts granite block house.  Besides no or low VOC paints and finishes, area rugs made from wool, hemp or sisal, and hardwood or bamboo floors, numerous energy conserving products are used throughout the home.

Their internationally-themed rooms feature natural latex foam mattresses and cruelty free duvets and chlorine filtering showerheads.  The simple and immaculate property has attracted travelers with special needs or chemical sensitivities.  Most special dietary requests are happily accommodated.  For other bed and breakfast options in the area, check out the Asheville Bed & Breakfast Association.

John D. Ivanko, with his wife Lisa Kivirist, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef, along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by the wind and sun. Both are regular speakers at the Mother Earth News Fairs. As a writer and photographer, Ivanko contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, “9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living”. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam, millions of ladybugs and a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine.

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