Counting to zero, one kilowatt at a time

My newest feature article. We’ve already started making the switch to LEDs in our house thanks to this:

Counting to zero, one kilowatt at a time

by Karina Coombs

Residential electric rates have doubled since 1990, with the biggest increases in just the past ten years. In November, citing the rising cost of natural gas (used in the power plants that produce the electricity), National Grid increased its rates by 37%. NStar followed suit earlier this month and raised its rates by 29%.

While many are bracing for larger bills, Energy Task Force member Claude von Roesgen is having a decidedly different experience, thanks to his home’s photovoltaic system. Instead of paying for the electricity he uses, von Roesgen is being paid for the electricity he generates through 36 roof-top solar panels. But after decades of energy conservation awareness, the absence of an electric bill is not his end game. Instead, von Roesgen is focused on getting the building to net zero energy, helping to reduce his carbon emissions.

What is net zero?

A net zero energy building (NZEB) is an energy efficient building that also produces as much annual renewable energy on site as it uses. The building becomes self-sustainable, yet most NZEBs remain on the electrical grid for storage needs. With a vacation home that is already a NZEB, von Roesgen does have some experience in this area. Now he is working on scale. That is because his solar powered tiny houseboat, “TinySol,” at 128 square feet is smaller than the sunroom in his 2,800 square foot home. (See “The little house that makes a big impression,” August 28, 2013.)

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Walden Pond

A great thing about living next to Concord (Massachusetts) is nonchalantly getting to take out-of-town visitors – with literary inclinations – to some pretty great local attractions. On an unseasonably warm and sunny Monday, we made an outing to Walden Pond and hiked the trail around the pond to find the original site of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin. Not a bad way to end 2014.

“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” 
― Henry David Thoreau, Walden: Or, Life in the Woods

Cranberry Harvest, 2014

This past weekend was the cranberry harvest at the Carlisle bog. A strange little berry, but it does make for a good photo.

Growing up in Massachusetts I took this for granted as a kid and just wanted the harvest to be over. That meant winter was coming and the flooded and frozen bog would become our personal and free skating rink. Learning to ice skate on a bog – with roots and twigs every few feet – makes a real rink look too easy. And a Zamboni, ridiculous.

What is old is new again (to me, anyway)

For someone who thinks she is fairly aware of trends – and is clearly wrong about this fact – I can’t believe I wasn’t aware of terrarium fever until this past July. It was a visit to a local garden store with a little money and time to kill that first brought them to my attention.

I ended up buying, Tiny World Terrariums by Twig Terrarium out of Brooklyn, NY and am now obsessed. This obsession hasn’t actually translated into the mass-production of terrariums I had anticipated, but I finally made my first one and was able to take the idea and translate it into an activity for a 9 year old birthday party. It also doesn’t hurt that we basically live in a terrarium and are surrounded by a large variety of mosses both on and around our house.

I’ve always loved miniatures and at 44 still buy the occasional Lego set. But I had no idea of the endless possibilities HO scale figures could provide and I think I’m more interested in acquiring them at this point than building with them. Although I keep telling myself that will come in due time.

WordPress Wonkiness

Just a word that this blog may be moving from WordPress at some point in the very near future.  I’ve been encountering some weird issues with it for over a month now where some days I can access it and some days it’s broken.  And even though I may not post as regularly as I should, the thought of it not working (or, horror of horrors, the content disappearing!) as designed makes me crazy.

I’ve finally managed to post, now let’s see if I can export the content!

Anyone else having problems?

Video Snacking

Valley of Dolls from Fritz Schumann on Vimeo.

~ A resident of a small Japanese village replaces residents who have moved or died with handmade dolls. How weird it would be to just stumble upon this without any context, arts and crafts zombies.

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The Pact

She knew it was an unfair question the moment she opened her mouth. But it snuck out, accidentally or on purpose.

“Promise me you’ll take care of your sister.”

The urgency in her own voice was almost unrecognizable and she realized it was the first time she had admitted out loud that something was really wrong. Of course she and Grant had talked about their fears for their oldest daughter before, but only to each other and always at the wrong time keeping the discussion halted: a moment of panic after Chloe melted down again or in the early morning hours unable to sleep with the gnawing sensation that their child would end up helpless and alone, a prisoner of her own mind.

“Who will take care of her when we’re gone?” would repeat on infinite loop until Margot finally fell asleep.

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Stone Zoo, Stoneham

Today’s zoo trip was to the Stone Zoo in Stoneham. The facility is managed by the same organization as Franklin Park and one membership gets us into both.  It’s a funny little zoo and I ended up liking it a lot.  It’s on the small side and set across from a residential neighborhood on one end and what I assume to be a reservoir on the other.  We all agreed it would be amusing to look out our living room window and see a snow leopard across the street or Mexican  wolves – both of which faced homes.

The animal enclosures are set throughout a very wooded area with streams and wooden walkways.  One section is entitled “Treasures of the Sierra Madre” and consists of animal enclosures with an “old timey” gold mine aesthetic.  Picture a jaguar in an abandoned mining camp and lizards resting in the store display windows of a deserted mining town.  It’s totally weird and a little rundown, but charming all the same.

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Franklin Park Zoo, Dorchester

With one of the kids sick and school vacation coming to a close we decided to go to the Franklin Park Zoo in Dorchester.  The germs would be free range, if not the animals.  It’s been well over a decade since I was last at Franklin Park and while it looks better than it did back then, I realize I’ve been spoiled with some pretty amazing zoos these past years: Denver, San Francisco, Oakland, and Fort Worth (though the latter was a little over branded for me with the Cheetah exhibit sponsored by Cheetos).

While his roar was fantastic, the lion today looked a bit weathered and may or may not have had a cataract (or two).  And the gorillas?  I don’t remember them looking so sad or having such a strong urge to rescue them.  They looked dirty, displaced, and depressed.  I have a love/hate relationship with zoos on a good day, but the gorillas I saw on the west coast did not behave like these. The ones in Denver had a some anger issues and a certain western swagger, but otherwise seemed very well cared for.  Perhaps it was just the setting and I caught them on a sleepy day, but today’s gorilla enclosure did not leave a favorable impression.  Nor did the smell.

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