Lively up your Place with Houseplants!

IMG_0649Hi all,

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer! Things are quiet out here in State College, Pennsylvania, and when I am alone in my apartment things can get well…a little lonely! Although I enjoy spending time with my good friend, Django (meet him here!), I also take enjoyment in my houseplants. Houseplants are a great way to lively up your indoor environment year round. Not only that, but plants absorb air pollutants! This is particulalary useful in new buildings where the fumes from construction may be trapped in tight. Consider using house plants in your new (or old) home or workplace to keep yourself feeling fresh and eliminate unpleasant fumes for you and yours.

You might be asking what sorts of plants do well inside. After all, the indoors usually does not provide an ideal environment for most plants. The best place to start is know your indoor environment. I face the Northwest, a direction that is poor for direct sun exposure. Therefore, I avoid plants that require a lot of direct sunlight, such as the jade plant or devil’s ivy. If you have this same problem, consider plants that thrive in shade, such as Chinese evergreen or various palms and ferns (note: not all palms and ferns do well in low light, but many do). Note that many indoor plants are either from tropical and arid regions that maintain consistent temperatures throughout the year (like your home more or less should).

The Aloe vera plant is always a classic that doesn’t need too much direct sunlight, although more than some of the plants named above. It is hardy and can grow for many years and even decades, creating some monster plants! Other environmental factors to consider are humidity, temperature inside (such as if your home has problems with drafts in the winter), etc. Remember, no plant is meant to be indoors, but some can do very well and can really add a lot to where you lay your head. House plants are also generally low maintenance and do not need to be repotted regularly unless the roots are outgrowing the pot, in which it is time to upgrade to a larger pot. Do not top off soil if it is getting low, which results from decomposing and absorption of the soil. Topping off soil can bury the roots too far below the surface, causing the plant to struggle for oxygen. If the soil level drops significantly, just repot the plant with fresh new potting soil. In terms of water, pruning, and other care, seek out information on your specific plant.

Below are photos of a few of my own plants. Happy potting!

The famous Aloe vera

The famous Aloe vera

 

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My roommate planted the remnants of his green onions on the left. Try this to grow yourself some new ones!

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A newly propagated succulent

 

Source: Michigan State University Extension Master Gardner Manual. For more information about MSU Extension’s Master Gardener Program, visit: http://mg.msue.msu.edu

Mark and Lauren Go Places: A Northern Michigan Adventure!

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A scene at Sleeping Bear Dunes, in the Northwest of Michigan’s Lower Pennisula.

Hi all,

While summer weather is here, it can still be difficult to get outside and enjoy it. Work and other obligations can be overbearing, but it can do a lot to take some time for yourself and your loved ones and go on an adventure. Even if you are limited in funds, there are pockets of greatness everywhere! Personally, I love hiking and camping. Its a great way to see beautiful places and experience the world on a budget. This summer has started off with a bang, as Lauren and I made our annual trip to one of our favorite locales: Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We also made a brief excursion to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. While we have been to Sleeping Bear Dunes several times, we continue to go and be awed by the scenery and great wildlife sightings. Here are some of our favorite photographs!

Enjoy,

-Mark and Lauren

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Gulls in the sunset over Platte Point

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A firewood vending machine!

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Lauren looks into what seems to be infinity

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On the Good Harbor Bay trail

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A Sandhill Crane, Michigan’s largest bird!

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Can you spot our friend?

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A deer along the Platte River

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View from our campsite in Hiawatha National Forest

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An old ferry in the port of St. Ignace

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Try Cast Iron Cooking!

Hello all,

Hope everyone is enjoying the summer (which starts tonight!). We have been slacking on posts over here at Urban Hermits so I figured it was time to hit the interwebs again. Ahh…feels good. Anyways, I recently purchased a cast iron skillet for $33 dollars today. It is something I have been thinking about doing for a long time but never got around to it. Now that it is all seasoned and ready to go, I’m going to share some reasons why cast iron is great, as well as demonstrate how to get your skillet cook ready!

Cast iron skillets ofter a stylish option that heats evenly, lasts longer than many forms of cookware (as opposed to Teflon, that can peel over time), can allow you to cook with less oil, and still can be found at very reasonable prices. However, most importantly, a lot of non-stick cookware has chemicals that can release toxic fumes. While these amounts may be low and not particularly harmful to humans, they can impact nonhuman animals in your home. Being a bird owner, I have become aware of PTFE toxicosis, the technical term for teflon poisoning. This results from the overheating of teflon cookware that releases potentially lethal chemicals. Be aware that birds are not the only animals affected by this. Cast iron, on the other hand, is chemical free!

Before you can cook with cast iron, you need to season your skillet! This will help protect your cookware, make it non-stick, and get the most out of it! Ladies and Gentlemen, I will now present the proper way to do so.


1.) Start by scouring all sides of your cookware with hot water to wash off any grime and material that it may have accumulated in the place of production or store: 
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2.) Wash your cookware with dish soap and hot water. Use a pad or brush to deep clean the surface. NOTE: DO NOT CLEAN your cookware with soap and water once it is seasoned. This will remove the non-stick surface. Simply clean it with water between meals. Soap and water should only be used when seasoning/re-seasoning:

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3.) Throughly dry your cookware:

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4.) Rub a thin layer of oil into the cast iron. This includes the bottom and sides, not just the depression for cooking. Vegetable or canola oil work best. Use a cloth or paper towel to even distribute the oil (excuse my broken finger and stint!):

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5.) Heat your oven up to 325 degrees and insert the oiled skillet upside-down onto a sheet of aluminum foil. This will allow any excess oil to drip off. Put the skillet in for one hour. Afterwards, you are ready to get cooking!:

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Sources:

http://www.eatingwell.com/healthy_cooking/healthy_cooking_101_basics_and_techniques/3_health_reasons_to_cook_with_cast_iron?page=3

http://www.peteducation.com/article.cfm?c=15+1829&aid=2874

http://www.petinsurance.com/healthzone/pet-articles/pet-health-toxins/Teflon-Poisoning-in-Birds.aspx

Nuclear Waste and the Future of the Great Lakes

Fermi II

To continue our recent saga covering the Great Lakes, I wanted to bring attention to a controversy taking place regarding storing nuclear waste off the shores of Lake Huron. There is currently a proposal to create a nuclear waste repository just north of Kincardine, Ontario,  the home of a nuclear plant operated by Ontario Power Generation. This site lies right on the banks of Lake Huron. Despite previous claims from the Canadian Nuclear Waste Management Organization that the proposed facility was safe, it is now believe that the organization’s original radioactivity predictions were, “underestimated by more than a factor of 100″ (Detroit Free Press). Furthermore, the director of the organization’s safety and licensing division has agreed to this claim.

As the Detroit Free Press articles states: “The new findings heighten the concerns many have over the nuclear waste facility’s proximity to the Great Lakes, from which 24 million U.S. residents get drinking water and that makes possible Michigan’s $2-billion fishing, $4-billion boating and $18-billion tourism industries”.

Nuclear energy production has been a controversial practice that has split those concerned about the environment. Some applaud the low emissions and potential to curb our reliance on dirty fossil fuels. Others have warned about the dangers of the resulting waste and social and environmental issues related to uranium mining. While nuclear power presents some potential to usher in an age of cleaner energy, it has been plagued by disasters, none more shocking than that of Fukushima in Japan.

The reason I am particularly concerned about this proposed site in Kincardine is because it makes me think of the current situation, which has not received much media coverage, in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Carlsbad has been the home of a nuclear waste repository for some 15 years now. While the facility has brought some economic stability to the community, it has now been closed since February 14th of this year. The closure was due to low levels of radiation detected on some 17 employees. While these levels of radiation are not said to be harmful, experts have still not been able to detect the source of the leak and the plant is closed indefinitely. To read more about Carlsbad, which I recommend you do, check out this New York Times article. It has also been brought to my attention that the Carlsbad facility is the only site that was capable of accepting the most hazardous radioactive waste. The proposed Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada was designed for this purpose but was never opened due to various political and local initiatives, as well as its significance in the local native American culture. Interestingly, the US Department of Energy has collected $37 billion dollars off utility fees for the purpose of developing a waste repository. It has now been announced that his fee will no longer being collected, implying that there are no immediate plans for such a facility and brining into question what the current sum of money will be used for.

Although the debate regarding the future of nuclear power rages on, we still have to deal with the challenges of how to manage the already significant stockpiles of waste, much of which is in crude temporary disposal sites. In addition, there appears to be a lack of specialized locations for the waste of utmost radioactivity.

In the meantime, stay a hermit, and read Urban Hermits!

Sources:

http://bigstory.ap.org/article/fee-build-phantom-nuke-waste-site-ends

http://www.freep.com/article/20140413/NEWS06/304130074/great-lakes-nuclear-waste

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/21/us/a-livelihood-in-nuclear-waste-under-threat.html?_r=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yucca_Mountain_nuclear_waste_repository

Image: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits

Concerns Mount Over Enbridge Pipeline Underneath Straits of Mackinaw

The Mackinaw Bridge seen over the straits. Underneath the water are two Enbridge pipelines

The Mackinaw Bridge seen over the straits. Underneath the water are two Enbridge pipelines

Hey folks,

Recently on Urban Hermits, we have been covering some of our concerns regarding the fossil fuel industry. In one of my posts, I discussed how with the track record of the industry, there is no way I would want significant fossil fuel infrastructure in my community. A few days later, Lauren shared news of a small, but concerning oil spill in Lake Michigan off the coast of Indiana. Ben further reported on some of the expected consequences of such a spill. Well, industry keeps making the news, this time with concerns over the safety of pipelines underwater at the Straits of Mackinaw, which is where Lake Huron and Lake Michigan meet amidst the world’s largest freshwater system. The two pipelines are over 60 years old and operated by Enbridge, a Canadian company that has been accused of negligence regarding their responsibility for a 2010 oil spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo river, which was the largest inland oil spill in US history.

As reported by Mlive.com, Michigan officials have put pressure on Enbridge to ensure the safety of the pipelines and share their contingency plans in the event of a spill, which could be catastrophic and extremely difficult to contain.

This is one of the last companies I would want to maintain such a fragile system in this crucial location. I can only hope for the best. Read the shocking article from Mlive right HERE.

Links:

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/close-to-home-bp-spills-tar-sands-into-lake-michigan/

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/28/the-unseen-consequences-of-the-bp-whiting-leak/

https://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/22/disaster-after-disaster-why-i-cant-trust-the-fossil-fuel-industry/

http://www.freep.com/article/20130623/NEWS06/306230059/Kalamazoo-River-oil-spill

Image:

http://blog.nwf.org/2012/10/enbridge-threatens-freshwater-drinking-source-for-million-of-people/

World Week for Animals in Laboratories

Leaping-Bunny-Cruelty-Free

Look for the “Cruelty Free” logo

Hey all,

Hope everyone had a good Earth Day! As the week comes to a close, however, I would like to mention another important set of dates that is coming to an end: World Week for Animals in Laboratories. This is a week for us to think about and act on the behalf of millions of animals that we often take for granted. Animal Legal Defense Fund says it best, “They are hidden from view, but animals in labs suffer by the millions each year, and we can all do something about it”. Explore their site if you would like to hear a bit more about the significance of this week.

While it is often argued that animal research is necessary for the development of cures for diseases (which there is some truth to), a lot of animal research does not work towards such a cause. For example, in the United States, many animals are subjected to testing for household cleaning products as well as cosmetics. The questionable ethical nature of these tests has led to an European Union ban on such nontherapeutic testing.

Regrettably, the institution who I work for (obviously not as an animal researcher; although I do research “about” animals) has over 13,000 mice present on its main campus, among others such as tamarin monkeys. Some are used for “life saving” therapeutic research. Others are experimented on for testing general knowledge or simply to result in publications of questionable utility (such as a study I recently read about fear and boredom in caged mink at the University of Guelph).

Regardless on what you believe to be the role of animal testing in society and whether it is justified or not, take some time as this week comes to a close to reflect on how the decisions you make as a consumer can have an impact. If you are like me and are trying to reduce your unnecessary impact on animals, there are some easy things you can do such as look for the Cruelty Free certification on hygiene and cleaning products, among others.

If you are interested in learning more about animal research and some of the current ethical musings on it, check out a book I recently read to review for the open source journal Between the Species. The book being Animal Rights without Liberation: Applied Ethics and Human Obligations by Alasdair Cochrane

Sources:

http://aldf.org/blog/world-week-for-animals-in-laboratories/

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/sectors/cosmetics/animal-testing/index_en.htm

http://www.gocrueltyfree.org/shopper

Images: Cruelty Free logo downloaded from http://www.seabuckthorninsider.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Leaping-Bunny-Cruelty-Free.jpg

Happy Earth Day!

Just wanted to say happy Earth Day from all of us at Urban Hermits! Today is a good day to think about your lifestyle and how you can use it to contribute to a healthier planet. It also is a great day to get outside and enjoy nature or watch a good film. I am going to try and catch a screening of Green Fire, an Emmy award winning film about Aldo Leopold’s land ethic later this week.

Here is something for your amusement: Google’s earth day logos over the years.

Have a great day and continue tuning into Urban Hermits!

If You’re in Chicago, Go to the Pet Store and…Adopt!?

yinny

Yin, a wonderful adopted house cat!

Here is an interesting and innovate solution for you. Just last month, it was announced that the city of Chicago is banning the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits from breeders within the city limits. In other words, pet stores will now be selling rescue animals from shelters and welfare societies, both private and public. A lot of the rhetoric around this ordinance relates to the abusive conditions in some breeding operations (think “puppy mills”). While I would warn everybody from assuming that all breeders are running inadequate operations in which the animals’ needs and rights are neglected, there certainly has been a share of cases to cause concern. What hasn’t been mentioned so far, and why I support this law, is that this could be seen as a way to manage the overpopulation of stray animals so prominent in many cities (especially my hometown, Detroit, MI). For example, I have heard estimates that there are 2,000 to 50,000 stray dogs in Detroit. While 50,000 seems a bit high to me, I can’t say I haven’t driven around at night, alongside a pack of 3 or 4 dogs in a desolate part of the city. By keeping shelter pets in the pet stores, and not breeding new ones, perhaps we can curb some of this problem. Some dogs are feral and at this point may not be appropriate to become house pets right away. However, many need a loving home and shelters often provide cheap or complimentary spaying or nudering, which alleviates the stray and feral problem.

It appears that this idea was so well received that the rest of Cook County, where most of Chicago resides, decided to follow suit. I believe that this law has potential to improve both the human and animal urban environment. In a sense, the control of stray and feral household pets has become the city’s version of wildlife management. For example, we have deer out here in central Pennsylvania. Detroit and Chicago have dogs and cats. While the current proposed regulations only deal with dogs, cats, and rabbits, I think this could definitely be extended to parrots. As a parrot caretaker, I am well aware of the the abundance of those, particularly the larger ones, who need to be rescued and re-homed. This happens while breeders keep pumping out more than what people can purchase.

Again, I am not trying to condemn all breeders. However, the amount of companion animals that need our help is astonishing and shutting down some of the countries worst operations, as well as the illegal pet trade, can’t hurt. I applaud Chicago and would like to see this pick up some momentum.

For another interesting and recent example of using legislation to protect animals, check out New York City’s animal abuse registry. Interesting stuff!

Sources: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-03-05/news/chi-chicago-antipuppy-mill-measure-advances-20140304_1_pet-stores-chicago-aldermen-homeless-animals

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-03-05/news/chi-chicago-antipuppy-mill-measure-advances-20140304_1_pet-stores-chicago-aldermen-homeless-animals

Image: Lauren Korany, Urban Hermits

The Unseen Consequences of the BP Whiting Leak

Yesterday, Lauren posted a scathing report on our latest oil spill fiasco. Like she said, this one strikes us closer to home. It’s not just Louisiana this time though that is affected; I have no doubt that the citizens of Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, even the rest of the bordering Great Lakes states are deeply perturbed. While differing in scale to say, the Deepwater Horizon spill, the circumstances of the Whiting leak are unique.

For frame of reference, the Macondo well spill into the Gulf of Mexico back in 2010 spewed somewhere between 3.26 to 4.9 million barrels of oil. The discrepancy of these numbers is so large because apparently, the government and BP offer two different estimations of how much oil spilled into the gulf (Both agreed however, that some 800,000 barrels collected during the cleanup would not be counted in that final tally).

The Whiting facility leaked about ten to twelve barrels. A very small, teeny tiny fraction of what it could and might have been. But this also happened in a lake, not a wide reaching ocean.

I mention this not to lessen the gravity of the situation, however. As Lauren also pointed out yesterday, The Great Lakes are sources of fresh water, and provide to millions of people surrounding the lakes. Even small amounts of oil leaking into these treasured resources can have dire, unforeseen consequences.

As it so happens, NPR wrote a report on the science of the Exxon Valdez disaster twenty-five years after the accident, coincidentally just days before the Whiting leak occurred (Lets also keep in mind that the Galveston event is still taking place and will have even worse consequences).

According to the article, Scientists have learned that there are smaller particles in oil called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH’s) are what cause long term damages to marine life. PAH’s are barely detectable, but their effects are more pronounced than the actual oil spill.

In tests done on pink salmon, they found that young fish, even embryos, were not able to swim nearly as fast for as long as the unaffected population. The PAH’s actually affect the development of the heart, which is one of the first things a fish embryo develops, and the researchers working on this believe that they interfere with the electrical signals that are needed for the heart to operate normally. It is a great article about some of the things we have learned about the long term, and even short term effects of oil spills, and I highly recommend giving it a read at the end of this article.

The effects on the pink salmon, among other things mentioned in the NPR article, should highlight the level of importance of this particular event.  This is our drinking water. If a pregnant woman ingests water tainted with PAH’s, then we don’t know what kind of effect that will have on a fetus. And if it does have an effect on one person, it will have an effect on the population, and that isn’t including any health issues a fully grown adult might develop. But this is why the Exxon Valdez research is so important, so that we can know what potentially we are looking at.

There is both bright side, and a concerning side. The bright side is that this spill was very minor in scale, and was contained quickly. But if even small dosages of PAH’s can affect the development of an embryo, then we do have something to concerned about. This is our largest supply of fresh water, and pollution of the Great Lakes is already a concern.

Between Fukushima having irradiated the ocean, Mocondo spilling into the gulf, Galveston in the works and the Whiting leak at our doorstep, have we begun to think about the consequences of how our society functions?

 

Sources

 

http://www.npr.org/2014/03/22/292131305/why-the-exxon-valdez-spill-was-a-eureka-moment-for-science

 

http://urbanhermits.wordpress.com/2014/03/27/close-to-home-bp-spills-tar-sands-into-lake-michigan/

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/25/refinery-operations-bp-whiting-idUSL1N0MM0RQ20140325

 

http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2013/10/08/307483.htm

 

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/03/25/294454330/bp-says-oil-spill-in-lake-michigan-has-been-contained

 

 

Close to Home – BP Spills Tar Sands into Lake Michigan

Urban Hermits - BP Oil Spill Lake Michigan

Just a few days ago, Urban Hermits wrote an article criticizing the fossil fuel industry. Well, unfortunately we have more content to write about on the topic. On Monday afternoon, it is estimated that the BP owned Whiting refinery in Indiana leaked between 630 to 1,638 gallons of crude oil into Lake Michigan (originally thought to be 500 gallons). The refinery, now being used to process tar sands from Alberta, had increased volume of crude oil production which supposedly caused a malfunction. The Great Lake is part of the world’s largest supplies of fresh water, the drinking water source for 7 million people just in the Chicago area. Ironically, the incident occurred less than two weeks after the U.S. lifted BP’s ban on bidding Gulf of Mexico oil leases since the massive Macondo disaster in 2010.

The EPA initially reported there appeared to be no negative effects on Lake Michigan. Furthermore, BP spokesman Scott Dean stated “I’ve had no reports of any wildlife impacted.”

Right.

Just recently the refinery, BP, and Koch Industries were sued by Chicago residents due to the mass storage of petroleum coke polluting the area and lake. Petroleum coke, or “petcoke” is the byproduct of tar sand oil. The Whiting refinery currently produces around 600,000 tons of petcoke per year. It now has the potential to produce 2.2 million tons per year with the recent $3.8 billion expansion. According to the Chicago Tribune, federal records show that the Whiting plant remains one of the largest sources of industrial pollution discharged into Lake Michigan.

It seems to be nothing but bad news for crude oil, from processing to transport. Two weeks ago, a damaged tar sands pipeline owned by Sunoco spilled 20,000 gallons of crude oil into Ohio’s Glen Oak Nature Preserve.

The Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration has admitted that they don’t have the resources needed to enforce standards on pipelines. Thus, corporations are responsible for routes and safety monitoring. Well, I for one am totally comfortable trusting that a large corporation isn’t going to cut corners… (sarcasm). If you would like to see stats, Kiley Kroh from ThinkProgress states,

According to an analysis of PHMSA data, since 1986 there have been nearly 8,000 significant pipeline incidents, resulting in more than 500 deaths, more than 2,300 injuries, and nearly $7 billion in damage.

Safe tar sands? Safe pipelines anyone?

Sources:

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2014/03/25/294454330/bp-says-oil-spill-in-lake-michigan-has-been-contained

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/chi-bp-whiting-crude-oil-lake-michigan-spill-20140325,0,3069441.story

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/03/25/3418808/oil-leaks-lake-michigan/

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/03/25/3418592/pipeline-spill-ohio/

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/03/25/refinery-operations-bp-whiting-idUSL1N0MM0RQ20140325

http://ecowatch.com/2014/03/19/pipeline-spills-crude-oil-ohio/

http://www.mlive.com/news/grand-rapids/index.ssf/2014/03/estimate_of_lake_michigan_oil.html