Saturday, July 26, 2008

Walk Score your neighborhood

I just learned about this great website called Walk Score. You type in an address, and it gives it a score of 0-100 based on how many amenities are within easy walking distance. My apartment scores 91- walker's paradise. The Lower West Side averages 85. The Loop is the highest scoring neighborhood in Chicago with 98, followed by the Near North Side with 97. Check out all the Chicago neighborhoods.

I love Walk Score because it draws attention to the need for our communities to be pedestrian friendly. This is important for reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, staying healthy, and getting to know our neighbors.

There are plenty of things Walk Score doesn't currently take into consideration, such as bodies of water, and it calculates distances as the crow flies, but this is a great tool for exploring cities and neighborhoods where you might want to live. Check it out!

Friday, July 25, 2008

freecycle vs. craigslist

My preference when acquiring most household items and clothing is to get them second hand. Finding a new home for your unwanted items, and getting something second hand rather than buying it new, is one of the smartest ways to conserve resources. The old adage that One man's trash is another man's treasure is so true.

The ways in which you can find used items has grown considerably. In childhood and as a teenager, used items came from family, friends, thrift stores, the side of the road, and yard sales. Late in high school my family entered the ebay world (the long-distance yard sale as I liked to think of it). During college I got most of my second hand things from friends. Post-college, I still use all of the earlier methods, but craigslist has made the exchange of miscellaneous stuff so much easier. Just in the past month I also joined the Chicago Freecycle group. I'd like to compare the merits of craigslist and Freecycle for getting second hand items because they accomplish similar goals, which is getting things from people who don't want them to people who do.

Craigslist Pros
  • Extremely simple format.
  • Searchable by location, item, price range, etc.
  • Pictures can be posted to a listing.
  • More expensive used items can be found, such as cars (I bought and sold my first car on craigslist). You're not likely to see a working vehicle come up on Freecycle.
  • You can RSS searches so they come up automatically in your feed reader (or your bookmarks toolbar in Safari). This lets you know within about 30 minutes of the posting so you've got a much better chance of snagging high demand items like free furniture.
Craigslist Cons
  • Not everything is free.
  • Are there others? I can't think of any.

Freecycle Pros
  • Everything is FREE
  • The freecycle group you join is limited to your town or area (in my case, Chicago)
Freecycle Cons
  • The listserv format is tedious. You can either get each individual email offer as it is sent, or you can get the digest. If you get individual emails, it's a LOT of email. If you get the digest, by the time you read it it might already be 'promised' to someone else.
  • You can't easily search for items specifically from your neighborhood. This is important for someone like me who is car-free and lives in a big place like Chicago.
  • People tend to list their location by zip code. This is useful if you know exactly where all of the zip codes are in Chicago.
  • You can't easily search for specific items you want like on craigslist.
  • No photos of the items.

My verdict: I really like the concept of Freecycle, but I think they need to change the format. I think they need to find a way to make it more like craigslist so you can look only for the items you're interested in or items in your general area. I'm not terribly interesting in sifting through 6 digests every day to see if someone is giving away something I want in a place where I could actually pick it up without much hassle. My craigslist RSS's do a much better job of alerting me to items in my neighborhood that I might want (example: Pilsen yard sales), even if they aren't free.

Could I put a rain barrel on my balcony?

I keep Googling things like "chickens on my balcony" and "rain barrel on my balcony" to no avail. I'm awfully excited about the south-facing balcony we'll have in our new place. The other day I noticed that it might be possible to divert water from one of the downspouts to a rain barrel because the downspout is located at the corner where the building meets the balcony.

At this point this is mostly a daydream since rain barrels start around $100 and the ones I like best are $130-$200. I think one important consideration before putting a rain barrel on a balcony is how much weight the balcony is designed to hold. If you've got a rain barrel, chances are you'll have some plants too, and it would be terrible for the thing to collapse when you have some friends over. I don't think weight would be a problem for our balcony, since my landlady told me that some previous tenants had a very large fish tank up there (she had a very large water bill to pay because of it)!

Do you have a rain barrel on your balcony? Do share.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Chickens in Chicago

I learned last night while surfing around that you can keep laying hens in Chicago! I'm amazed there isn't some crazy law here prohibiting it. I found a blog by someone who keeps a few chickens in her backyard. I'm totally curious. It would be great to have fresh eggs. Could we keep chickens on the balcony? Our new place actually has poultry potential thanks to a large balcony. Hmm... Some research is in order.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

movin' on up

At the end of this month we'll have our easiest move ever- we're moving to another apartment in our building. Person power is the only thing required for this move! We love our current apartment, but it is a wee bit small and awkward for the number of overnight visitors we have. Our new apartment will have a bedroom large enough for us to fit a bed and a dresser! The other great thing about the new apartment is that it gets a lot more light. It's higher in the building, faces south, and has a great deck on the back that I plan to fill with plants.

The cons: larger space to heat and cool, lots of halogen light fixtures (very energy intensive), electric stove (less efficient than gas stoves), and no ceiling fans (yet?). Hopefully we'll be able to improve the lighting and ceiling fan situations to reduce the apartment's energy use (of course our habits impact this more than anything else).

I'm not sure yet how the apartments compare in terms of square footage or volume. I'll try to figure that out.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

uh oh... too much winter squash?

In May I planted some squash seeds that I saved from a calabaza squash that I bought at a farmer's market last fall (it's generally shaped like a pumpkin but variable in color). I planted them in a large window box that is actually sitting near our front steps. There are three squash vines all growing at one end of the box. I'm training all of the plants in this particular box (pole beans and squash) to grow on and around the fence.

Things seem to be going well. But. Today I did some reading online about calabaza squash and it says their vines can be 50-60 feet long with fruits up to 50 pounds!!! What have I gotten myself into? Where are these things going to grow? Surely they can't grow that large when planted in a container. But hopefully they can grow large enough to actually produce fruit! All three vines currently have flowers. If nothing else I can eat the blossoms.