Sunday, December 21, 2008

canisters for food storage

I've spent quite a while on this very cold day browsing online for things for our alternative wedding registry. I selected organic cotton sheets, towels, and a retractable clothesline, but one thing that has eluded me are the perfect kitchen canisters. I want some canisters for our flour (white and whole wheat) and our sugar (white and brown). I want nice ones that I won't mind looking at for the rest of my life since that's how long I plan to keep them.

The canisters should have these features:
-Large enough for a 5-pound bag of flour (the two for flour must be this big, the sugar ones can be smaller)
-Large opening for measuring cup and hand to get in and out easily.
-Square (this is important for saving space. Why are all of the large canisters round?)
-Not plastic! Metal, glass, or ceramic are all fine.
-Solid colored or clear. Nothing with animals or fruit on it.

I must say that I am completely amazed that on the whole world wide web I cannot find any canisters that meet all of these specifications. Seriously, almost all of the canisters out there are round, and if they aren't round, they're too small. Why don't these ideal canisters exist?!?!? If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

I really do like biking in the winter

Today was the first day that I rode my bike since last week when my pedal fell off. It was a nice, clear day and in spite of the cold it reconfirmed for me that I really do like biking in the winter. It's kind of a fun challenge to bike across the snow, too, though in general I wish they were plowing the streets this year like they did last year.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Well that explains a lot

I biked to school on Wednesday (like I always do) and stayed late to finish up some things for Thursday. I'd barely left campus and crossed Roosevelt when my left pedal felt weird... almost soft. The next thing I know it's gone. It just fell off! So I pulled over and went back to retrieve it. I couldn't figure out how to put it back on in the dark and cold, so I just walked home with my bike.

It was above freezing for most of the day so much of the snow melted, but then it cooled off quickly and whatever was on the ground was refrozen by 9:30 pm when I left school. Once I turned (walked) onto the side street near our apartment, I almost slipped on black ice in the middle of the road. I'm almost sure I would've wiped out on my bike if I'd been riding. That same day, Hyde Park cyclist-blogger Jennifer posted news from the Chicagoist that Chicago will plow and salt side streets less often as a budget-cutting measure. She's right that this is bad news for cyclists.

I haven't had time or motivation to figure out how to put my pedal back on since it's mostly been dark and very cold when I've been home for the past 2 days. In spite of the fact that I ride my bike 5+ days per week (but not far), I'm pretty clueless about bike repair. That will have to change.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

first sticking snow

We were away for Thanksgiving and got back yesterday evening, so today was my first day this winter biking to work in the snow and ice. I've got my system for keeping warm pretty well worked out, and if anything I tend to overdress and get hot.

This morning when I biked to school it was about 23° F. Here's what I wore.
-lightweight wool blend hiking socks
-Gore-tex rain pants

-wool sweater
-fleece jacket
-waterproof/windproof outer shell jacket
-fleece earband under my helmet
-wool scarf
-Thinsulate leather gloves (they cut the wind but aren't super warm)

When it gets colder I switch to my warmer items. I haven't bought any of these items specifically for biking (except the helmet). I cope with cold by layering, so I've got layers galore. My favorite and most useful winter layers, especially for biking, are my rain pants and my silk long underwear (I haven't worn them yet this year).

I'm happy with how my snow tires worked on my bike and I felt secure even on the slippery patches.

Sorry for the slow posting! I'll try to post more frequently.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sunday Parkways

At the Chicago Wilderness Congress I heard a presentation by one of the organizers of Sunday Parkways. Basically, they shut down about 4 miles of north/south streets for a few hours on a Sunday to give people the chance to walk, bike, skateboard, skip, or dance their way from neighborhood to neighborhood. I think this is a great way to encourage people to get some exercise, meet their neighbors, and explore the communities. The two pilot Sunday Parkways in October 2008 included the Logan Square, Humbolt Park, Garfield Park, Lawndale, and Little Village.

But what struck me most is this: the people on the near the lake have the lakefront trails. The people to the west have the forest preserve network. What about all of those people in between? The lack of greenspace in many parts of Chicago is painfully evident on this map (links to a pdf). Sunday Parkways essentially turns a boulevard into a public space, even if only for part of a day. Though it isn't exactly a forest preserve or lakefront trail, I think it's a step in the right direction.

Friday, November 14, 2008

oh. my. gosh.

Yesterday I attended the Chicago Wilderness Congress at the UIC Forum. I could probably write an insanely long post with all of my thoughts, but I don't think anyone would read it. So, instead, I'm just going to encourage you to learn more about the exciting things going on with all of the Chicago Wilderness partner organizations! I'm particularly excited about the Leave No Child Inside initiative.

Honestly, I've been learning so much this semester about awesome organizations in Chicago that I've been overwhelmed to try and post about them so you've been stuck with ump-teen views of my plants.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Moving plants inside for the winter

I wanted to post some photos of transplanting my window box plants to their new lives as houseplants. Some of their root systems were really impressive!

Below: Cordyline. The roots just kept going!

Asparagus fern 'springeri'. I had a hard time getting this one out of the window box.

Sweet potato vine. They really do make little potatoes! But don't eat them.

These were my biggest plants that came indoors (two cordyline, two asparagus ferns, and two sweet potato vines- one pictured).

This is my herb box. I moved it inside when I thought it was going to frost, but then I moved it back out. From left to right it has: sage, basil (scraggly), and lemon balm. The boxes behind it have dusty miller, which I gave away on Freecycle.

My nasturtiums are also inside now. I never noticed what a lovely scent they have until I brought them inside. They aren't doing quite as well as before, but hopefully I can enjoy them a while longer and then save the seeds for next year.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

UIC in full splendor

Photo taken November 3, 2008 from UIC campus. The Sears Tower is in the background.

I really don't think UIC is ever going to win any kind of awards for its architecture or landscaping, but for a few weeks in the fall there are some spectacular displays of color. Here's a series of photographs taken from approximately the same place on different days.

October 31, 2008

November 2, 2008

November 6, 2008

November 7, 2008

A closer look from Nov. 7.

These Norway maples do look beautiful in the fall.
November 3 (above)

November 6 (below)

Part of getting to know a place and its nature involves getting to know its seasons. I'll try to make regular posts of seasonal harbingers.

Monday, November 10, 2008

the real first frost

Just kidding. Two weeks ago when I thought we might have our first frost, it only got down to about 36° F, and then we had more wonderfully warm weather! But last night was the real deal. For the past few days the lows have been hovering in the mid-thirties, but last night it was 28° F at Midway Airport.

Amazingly, I still have tomatoes. On November 10. In Chicago. Two weeks ago I went out and picked everything I could find, but it was dark and I missed some. I've actually got another round of cherry tomatoes. I think there's a strong microclimate effect on our porch. It faces south and gets direct sunlight all day. But most importantly I think, there is a roof over the porch. I think this, combined with the sun on the bricks all day, probably keeps our porch just that little bit warmer that keeps my tomatoes from freezing. Here's two cherry tomatoes:

I took this photo this morning before I went to work.

Today was also the first day this fall that I wore a scarf over my face to bike to work. I might do a post soon about cold weather biking.

Gosh, writing about those tomatoes reminds me that I didn't actually pick them and it's supposed to get cold again tonight. I should probably get out of my nice warm bed and go get them (this morning I did retrieve a few plants that really shouldn't have stayed outside last night)!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

biking to Obama's big bash

First of all, OBAMA!!! YEAH! We made history tonight.

Biking to and from the rally was definitely the way to go. We locked our bikes at State and Jackson and joined the rally in the ticketed section with our friends. Afterwards, we definitely weren't among the first to leave but we made it home at 12:20 am.

A scary thing did happen when we were walking back to our bikes. We saw a guy get knocked out cold in the middle of State Street a few blocks south of Jackson and some guys took off running. Another guy had a bloody nose. I have no idea what happened but we crossed to the other side of the street.

I'm so proud of electing Barack Obama. I think his election will go a long way to restoring our leadership in innovation. America has a lot of greening to do! This is our chance to make it happen. I can't wait!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

turning on the thermostat

We'd been putting it off, but we finally turned on the heat yesterday for the first time. It was 59° F in our apartment and we decided that was cold enough. We installed a new programmable thermostat just in time. I've got pictures and I'll try to blog about it soon, but I have a big deadline next week and I still don't have my new computer so no photos until then.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

last farmers market and first frost

Today was the last Pilsen farmers market of 2008. Neither of the regular produce vendors were there, so sadly I was unable to stock up on winter squash and apples as I'd planned. I wish I'd been able to go last week but I was out of town! According to the other people I talked to, the farmers didn't have enough produce left to make it worth the trip. It sounds like next year they'll end the market sooner.

There were pumpkins for sale and most of the regular neighborhood food vendors (Cafe Aorta, Soy Organic, Kristoffers) and of course the honey vendor.

(Photos to follow next week- I don't have space on my hard drive to download the photos from my camera!) ***UPDATE: Photos added November 10, 2008***

As I write this post it is 38° F at Midway Airport with 16 mph winds, 29 mph gusts, and some rain drops. It is fiercely windy and cold. The forecast calls for a low of 35° F but a chance of snow tonight and tomorrow morning (How does that work? Snow above 32° F?). So, I did a lot of pre-frost container garden work this evening.

I brought my window boxes into the kitchen to transplant my springeri ferns, cordyline, and sweet potato vines like I said I would eariler. I'm also going to try keeping my nasturtium inside.

I did all of the most important transplanting, but I still have to finish cleaning the window boxes because there's a lot of dirt left in them.

Then I went outside and cut all of the basil that wasn't already brought inside. We'll make our last pesto batches of the season tomorrow. I picked all of the tomatoes, ripe and unripe. My last two brandywines still aren't quite ripe, nor were my roma tomatoes. The plant finally produced some tomatoes without blossom end rot and I had to harvest them green. (photos in another post next week)

There's no denying it now- winter is upon us :-(

Monday, October 20, 2008

still no frost in sight

We ate another batch of pesto with cherry tomatoes for dinner tonight (our fourth or fifth this year) and the basil is still growing. There's still no frost in the forecast, so I think I'm clear at least through the weekend. I've been putting off the final basil harvest and transferring many of my window box plants inside. Hopefully I can get them transplanted this weekend. I think we'll harvest all of the basil the night before the first forecast frost.

Photos to follow later this week, I hope!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Apple goes gold

I'm still here and I really will blog more! I have a lot of pictures to post, but as I think I've mentioned before my poor little computer's hard drive is soooooooo full. However, I am about to get a new laptop and then I'll be able to download pictures from my camera to my heart's content because the new hard drive will be more than 10 times as large! So, until I get my new computer, I thought I should write about it.

Earlier this week Apple released their new MacBooks and MacBook Pros which have some major improvements that make them much more environmentally friendly. They have reduced the amount of heavy metals used in production, used materials that are more easily recycled (aluminum and glass), made the computers more energy efficient, and reduced the product packaging.

The new Apple laptops have been rated Gold by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). You can see other Gold rated laptops and see the critera used to rate them.

I'm buying the best MacBook I can get right now with the intention that it will last me for the duration of my Ph.D. (4-5 more years). My computer isn't dead yet, so I'll definitely be finding it a new home to extend its useful life for as long as possible. It is so important to keep computers and other electronic waste out of landfills- and to recycle them in a way that doesn't put human health at risk.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Little garden in Little Italy

Last week I noticed this garden while I was biking down Taylor Street between UIC's east and west campuses. It's in front of an abandoned building that is adjacent to Arringo Park and across from Bar Louie.

They have a few watermelons in the garden.

Flowers & Food

You can see the trees of Arringo Park in the background.

The garden is completely fenced in but has its own water supply. I wonder who takes care of it? It looks great! I didn't see any signs but it's possible I missed them completely while peering through the fence at the plants.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

most people probably think I'm crazy

But maybe not you if you're reading this blog.

I've been reading this book called Garbage Land because I've always wanted to know more about recycling and what happens to the rest of our waste. I'll try to write a review about it later, but for now you just need to know that the waste system in most of the United States is dismal at best. We throw away so much stuff.

Last Friday on my way to school I noticed someone across the alley from us had thrown a pile of clothes in the garbage and they were just sitting on top. It looked like mostly baby clothes, and it didn't seem like anything was wrong with them. I thought maybe I should salvage and launder them, but I was running late. Besides, I didn't want to be known to my neighbors as the crazy girl who picks through the garbage.

Every time I passed the pile of clothes I thought about how I should really get them out because surely after a thorough laundering someone would find a free bag of baby clothes useful. I felt guilty knowing decent clothes were sitting in the garbage and I hadn't done anything about it. I thought about it on my way to school on Monday, and then Monday afternoon when it was pouring down rain I felt even guiltier. At least before the rain I could hope that someone else might take them.

On Monday night I was laying in bed reading more about garbage and suddenly I just couldn't take it anymore- I had to go get those clothes out of the trash. So at 12:15 am I got dressed and went outside with two plastic grocery bags and pulled all of the rain-wet clothes that looked ok from what I could tell in the perpetual city twilight. No one saw me, except for a cat. I took them inside and put them straight in the washer.

This morning I inspected them as I moved them from washer to dryer and, as I initially suspected, they look fine. A couple have stains. They are mostly girl clothes around 12 month +/- 6 months. Why didn't the previous owner offer them to someone else? Or put them in the alley with a free/gratis sign? So now I have a bunch of baby clothes and no baby. I even have an infant carrier! If anyone reading this blog wants them, let me know. Otherwise I'll post them on craigslist or freecycle in a few days.

Smart Home at MSI

If you haven't been already, you should definitely go check out the Smart Home at the Museum of Science and Industry! We finally went to see it last weekend after months of intentions to see it. They showcase amazing innovations in eco-friendly technology. One of my favorites was the indoor composter.

My dream house (unfortunately not my current apartment) has a lot in common with the Smart Home, such as
  • native/edible landscaping
  • solar energy (passive & photovoltaic)
  • radiant subfloor heating
  • greywater toilet flushing
  • rainwater collection system
Check out the exhibit website for much better photos, but here are a few that I took.

Swiss chard comes in such nice colors, and you can eat it too.
The rain barrel has a screen on top to keep mosquitos from breeding in it while letting water in from the downspout.
The Smart Home is to the left of this beautiful oak tree.

You can visit the Smart Home until early January 2009. According to our tour guide, it will be reopened later in 2009 to showcase another set of eco-friendly options.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Planning our 'green' wedding

School hasn't gotten any less busy for me as the semester pushes on, but I'm trying to keep up on the blog. Matt and I are also planning our wedding for spring 2009. Last weekend I was working on our wedding website and our registry. We've been living together for a few years now so we have most of the typical housewares. We have always tried to find things that we needed second-hand at yard sales and thrift stores (and craigslist!), or we've done without. We're trying to decide what things we want to put on our registry. Since we don't really need a new set of dishes, pots, or silverware, we didn't think it made sense to register at one of the typical stores if we only need a few items. Also, there are some things we'd like to ask for that you can't put on a normal registry (e.g. pottery from a specific potter that we like or non-material gifts such as assistance with flower arranging).

Thankfully, we aren't the only people in the world who have ever had this dilemma and the Center for a New American Dream created an excellent solution- the Alternative Gift Registry. It encourages second-hand or non-material gifts in addition to more traditional gifts by allowing you to put it all in gift registry format. You can use it for weddings, baby showers, pets, or whatever! I think this is a great way to encourage people to use resources wisely and think creatively about what others may have to offer them. Go check it out!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Musings on blogging

I've met some great people at the Pilsen farmer's market during the last few weeks because I thought the organizers should know that this blog was getting a lot of hits related to the farmers market. The farmers market should definitely get its own blog since that is just a small part of this one, but in the meantime I'm happy that so many people are finding out about it here. (sorry no photos this week- I forgot to bring my camera!)

I am considering bringing on some friends (new and old) as additional bloggers, but the possibility also forces me to think about my vision for this blog. My intention when I started this was for it to be about my attempts to make eco-friendly chocies in life. Recently, though, I find myself writing more to inform others about happenings in Pilsen and the rest of Chicago, which is perhaps more appropriate for a blog called Living Green in Chicago. Or perhaps it is just more important? I also think it would be great to have many voices on a blog like this because other people could share their experiences and perspectives as well. But on the other hand, I think a blog about my tomatoes, recycling, and energy-saving has its place too.

I'm going to keep thinking about this. If you've been reading my blog I'd love to know what you think. Is there already a multi-person Chicago-based blog about trying to live lightly on the earth? I don't need to reinvent the wheel. Thoughts, anyone?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Windowbox plant to houseplant?

Our new apartment has more space and better light for houseplants, so I'm trying to expand my collection (anyone else in Pilsen want to trade cuttings?). I'm thinking about bringing some of the plants from my windowboxes inside.

You might have noticed from my pictures that none of my windowboxes are actually in windows. Well, they were, when we lived on the north side of the building facing the street.
We moved them to our current alley-view apartment (much to the disappointment of our neighbor) but haven't mounted them so they're all at foot level.

This Cordyline is a houseplant candidate. I have two of them, and they remind me of New Zealand.

These soft-looking plants are asparagus fern 'springeri' and can live for years as houseplants according to the internetz.

I decided this year that I really like nasturtiums. I planted this one really late and it hasn't bloomed yet (those are petunias peeking out on the right). I didn't find much about them as houseplants. It sounds like it might do ok as long as it gets a lot of light.

This is a terrible picture of my purple sweet potato vines because I had to stick my arm out over the railing and point the camera at the plants. Not recommended. Anyways, I think they might do ok as houseplants too.

Any suggestions, wise readers? None of these are hardy through Chicago winters, so I figure I might as well give it a shot.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Tree of heaven

I have a love-hate relationship with the tree of heaven. I hate that it is so invasive but I have to admire its tenacity to thrive in my tree-deprived, park-poor, coal-fire polluted neighborhood of Chicago. It's a hard life being a tree here where most everything is paved or otherwise impervious, but tree of heaven succeeds.

The five largest trees near our apartment are all tree of heaven.

Is there even soil there?

Tree of heaven (scientific name Ailanthus altissima) is one of the most common trees in Pilsen. It is an extremely vigorous tree able to cope with the difficult conditions of city living such as soil compaction and air pollution. These characteristics make it invasive and capable of displacing native trees. It was introduced from China first to Europe and the to the United States over 200 years ago. It is hard to eradicate from natural areas due to its numerous wind-borne seeds and tendency to resprout from stumps and roots.

The wikipedia article about tree of heaven has a lot of information and can help you identify if you have tree of heaven in your neighborhood. If you live in Chicago, you probably do.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Today's farmers market

Since so many people seem to be finding my blog by Googling something like "pilsen farmers market" I figure I should keep writing about it!

The weather today was perfect and we really needed produce. There are also several artists and artisans who sell their creations. I took photos of some of the artist booths and lots of close up fruit photos today because it's just so fun to take photos of beautiful produce.

One of the artists is Diana Solis.

Here is some of her work.

One of the market vendors is Soy Organic. Their store is just west of Ashland on 19th St.

If this isn't a sign of fall I don't know what is.

I guess this is a sign of fall too.

Here's everything I brought home today:
Most of the produce was $1/pound. I spent a total of $15.25.

I ate one of the apples as soon as I got home and used the cucumber in gazpacho. The hot peppers are for making salsa, the tomatoes are for pasta salad, the sweet potates are for a casserole, and the squashes will probably become soup.

Jardin Mariposa

In August while looking for a yard sale I discovered Jardin Mariposa. It's a nice little green space at 1835 S. Carpenter. On my way to the farmer's market today I stopped by to take some photos for the blog.

The entrance to the garden on Carpenter

Mural in the garden

Colorful stage

Looks like a variety of black eyed susans
Honeybee- probably from the local hive!

According to the Openlands calendar, there was a garden workday on September 6 and I think there will be another in October. I'm planning to go so I can meet some other Pilsen gardeners.