Friday, December 6, 2013

Natural Grocers Open

Natural Grocers
I went to the pre-opening event at Natural Grocers in Wichita Falls on December 5. They put the sign up just that day. There has been a lot of side betting about whether the store could be completed on time, as it looked as if the building was running behind schedule. But the store was finished and fully stocked that evening.

We've been needing a store like this. This is what I always wished Sunshine would be. I hope the community will support it.

The produce looked awesome!
Although United Market Street has a lot of organic products, I did some casual price comparisons and found many of the items were about the same price and perhaps less expensive here (we'll see if that holds up over time.) In fact the butter I bought that morning at United was $1 less at Natural Grocers. There is also a larger variety of organic items.

The produce section was beautiful. Not only did they have more items than the organic section of United, but the produce looked really nice. Often the organic produce at United looks wilted. Another thing we'll have to watch over time. There were also some unusual items, like blue sweet potatoes, so it will be fun to try some new things.

Bulk section

Vitamins and supplements
Personally, I was interested in their bulk section. I was a little disappointed that their bulk was all in plastic bags, but still, there is less packaging here than in many of the same items bought in a regular grocery store. I liked that there was at least a few types of loose leaf tea--both black and herbal. There were also a lot of bulk spices. This is a good area to check out. The items don't jump out at you--you do have to take your time and look at the labels. But I'll be checking out this area in more detail, for sure.

I am not a big supplements user, but if you are, I can't imagine you couldn't find what you're looking for at this store. You can see the well-stocked aisle.

Samples of dishes made with some of the foods available were set up for taste testing. The recipes were set out for most of them. The demonstration kitchen and community room are set up for cooking classes to teach people how to make healthier foods and use foods consumers may not be familiar with.  They had some classes set up for Thursday about paleo wraps, but I don't know how many people got out with the snow. Thursday evening a demo on organic, gluten and dairy free smoothies and snacks was scheduled.

For the cooks among us, Natural Grocers is looking for people interested in teaching others about cooking and nutrition. If you're interested, contact Janeen Goldsmith at or call her at (303) 986-4600 x 175. You can find out more at their website.

They also have some interesting personal care and cleaning products. I was happy to see Dr. Bronner's pure castille soap.

Everyone was very friendly at the pre-opening. We'll see how their customer service stacks up after they are open. They'll have their work cut out to compete with United Market Street on that front.

Because of the weather, I haven't been back when I've been able to actually shop. I do have some items I want and will definitely be going back. Stop by, check it out and tell others what you think.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Greening Your Christmas

We're heading into the season of gifting. Of buying a lot of stuff that people often don't need and sometimes don't want. Things made from resources we could be preserving using money we don't have in abundance. So let's talk about how we can still give gifts that we can feel good about giving that the receivers will feel great about getting.

I am not saying never to buy a gift. In fact, I am going to give you some ideas of things to buy, but I hope to give you some ideas of things that can still help the receiver live a more sustainable, healthier lifestyle. I am sure there are lots of great things out there I am not going to mention because of space or because I don't know about them--that's what the comment area is for. Feel free to chime in.

First of all, consider buying local first. I admit, I shop a LOT at and a few specialty internet stores. Mostly because I haven't found a source for many of the off-the-wall things I want in the local area. If I could find them, I would buy them here. Hint, hint!

Encourage DIY by purchasing books, magazines, equipment and supplies in areas that your person has indicated they would like to learn how to do themselves. For example, this past year I have been getting into making cheese. Last year, one of my kids bought me a book about making cheese because I was interested in learning. Throughout this past year, I have been purchasing small things for some of the simpler cheeses, but there are still some related equipment (a cheese press comes to mind) that could still be helpful. If you don't know the person is going to stick with their interest, start with something inexpensive and basic--you can always revisit next year if they discover a passion for it and you aren't out much if they decide it's not for them after all. Small tools for making/fixing things, for gardening, or for cooking would all be welcome to the person who wants to become more self-sufficient or know what is going into their food/personal care products/cleaning supplies. And consider regifting. One of the neatest kitchen gadgets I have is a ceramic mortar and pestle I found for 50 cents at a garage sale and if someone came up with a nice cast iron skillet, I wouldn't turn it down, even if it was rusty--they can be reconditioned.

Encourage better health by purchasing lessons, memberships at health facilities, workout clothing, shoes, etc. I would be careful about purchasing a gym membership, unless the person has said, "I wish I could afford a membership; I would love to be able to go to xxxx gym." But what about yoga lessons? Zumba classes? I'll bet Breathe Yoga Studio would set you up with a gift like this. Again, kitchen items that encourage a person to cook from scratch and gardening tools/seeds would also go in this area.

Encourage rest and relaxation by purchasing items to help them enjoy a hobby--books, magazines, equipment and supplies. You may not know exactly what they might need; if not, how about a gift certificate at a store that carries items related to that hobby? My husband gave me a gift certificate to Wild Birds Unlimited--whoo hoo! What about entertainment? Tickets to a concert, play, sporting event, etc.  There are all kinds of special events coming up around the holiday: The Nutcracker (both the traditional version and a modern version), The Cirque de la Symphonie concert on December 14, A Christmas Carol, It's a Wonderful Life at Backdoor Theater, and probably a half dozen other special events I haven't listed. Or, the Wichita Theatre season tickets for 2014 are on sale now for a truly excellent gift that will last for months as are season tickets to Backdoor Theater. Last  year I bought my husband (and me) a pair of season tickets to the Nighthawks games. My husband and I had a great time rooting on this local team. Know someone who likes to eat out? Gift certificates at their favorite restaurants come in handy. If you know they often bring home leftovers, help them bring those leftovers home without those horrible styrofoam containers. To-go ware (or similar) will help stop that.

Encourage lifelong learning by paying the registration for a class at Vernon College or the Parks and Recreation department. Although there are a lot of free on-line classes, you might consider purchasing a specialized course in a subject they are interested in. I purchased a course for my son from The Great Courses in an area he has an interest. My husband bought a course on bird behavior from Cornell University for my birthday last year.

Help someone do something they otherwise couldn't/wouldn't do or just something nice. Paint a room, change the oil on their car, cook them a meal, etc. Maybe do something more than once. Did you ever give or receive the little cards with promises to do something the person could redeem when they needed them?

Encourage a connection with nature by purchasing books, magazines, and videos about nature (I reviewed a few great choices in my last post.) Help them bring nature to their yard with bird feeders, bird and bat houses, trees, shrubs and flowers (yes, even with the drought). Help them get out and enjoy nature: hiking boots, walking stick, binoculars, day or back pack, etc. What about fishing gear (if we ever get any water back in the lakes), magnifying lenses, etc.? Maybe a registration at a nature-related event.

Give something you made yourself. It takes more time to make something than to give something (and often costs less also.) Mixes for cookies, dips, etc. People pay a fortune for a dip mix that costs less than a quarter to make yourself. My mom made me not one, but several tea cozies last year. I was griping that it was ridiculous to pay $25 for basically a quilt to fit over a teapot. She looked up a picture and whipped out several in an afternoon. I kept a couple and gave some to others. My husband made my son a gaming table and made us a dining room table and chairs. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Donate to a charity you know is important to them in their name. My parents send a small check to Wild Bird Rescue every once in awhile because they know the organization is one I spend a lot of time volunteering for.

Now that you have thought of some gift ideas, let's talk about some of the other rituals that go along with the holidays. Here are some ideas to make your holiday more sustainable:

  - Give less "Stuff." We talked about that above.
  - Focus on the sustainability of what we do give. Less plastic, less packaging, high quality to last longer.
  - Decorate a living tree and plant it when you are done. Wichita Valley Nursery has living Christmas trees that are hardy for this area.
  - Reduce, reuse, recycle. I have a hard time throwing things away. The kids have always enjoyed the tradition of opening Christmas gifts wrapped in old cereal boxes or other boxes that have been reused year after year. I still have ribbon and bows that have graced packages since they were small children (and they are in the vicinity of 30 now). I don't throw bows away until they cannot be used again. This year I am purchasing some fabric and making gift bags that can be reused for many, many years. If you are better at sewing or more creative than I am, you could probably make these from scratch.
  - Focus on what's important about the holiday: family and friends. It is more important to make memories that will last. How many of the gifts you've received over the years can you really remember? Probably only a handful. But you probably have many memories of playing games, watching movies or football games, eating and laughing. You probably have some traditions that are very meaningful to your family.

I wish you a happy holiday season with many fond memories.

Books for the Nature Geeks

I occasionally review bird books on my Charm of Finches blog. I recently received some review copies of other books from Princeton University Press. They aren't bird books, so I thought they would be more suitable for some of the readers of this blog, as I know some of the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist follow.

I am a little behind on my reviews, so I am going to put three of them in this one post.

The first book is Bugs Rule! An Introduction to the World of Insects, by Whitney Cranshaw and Richard Redak. This book was originally intended as a basic textbook for nonscience people taking a course in entomology. However, you don't have to sign up for a college course to get, read and enjoy this book. This book is about insects and arthropods (spiders, scorpions, centipedes, millipedes and crustaceans.)

This book is not a field guide, but as a way to get a good general grounding in bugs, it would certainly be a nice supplement to a field guide. Lots of wonderful pictures (830 color photos and additional drawings) help illustrate the information in the text.

Although written as a textbook, there is nothing dry about the writing, if you have any interest in the subject at all. When I originally got the book, I thought it might be a nice giveaway at the local Texas Master Naturalist meeting, but after reading the book, you other Master Naturalists will just have to get your own copy. This beautiful hardback book sells for $55 from Princeton University Press, so it isn't cheap. It is $50.17 from Amazon/$34.09 for your Kindle. But if you have a bug lover on your gift list, you could be a hero with this book.

Another book I have spent hours pouring over is The Kingdom of Fungi by Jens H. Petersen. I have always been fascinated by the fungi and their role as decomposers. For what appears to be such a simple plant is so much more than it appears. Over 800 gorgeous pictures in this book drive home just how beautiful these often overlooked plants are. There isn't a lot of text, but what text there is conveys a lot of interesting information. Even if you didn't have a fascination with fungi, you could enjoy the photographs--they're exquisite. If you also have an interest in this little known family of plants, then you'll spend hours, just like me looking and relooking at the pictures. The book does lead you through some basic taxonomy. Although it is not a field guide, again I can see where this book would help you use your field guide more effectively. You can purchase this book for $29.95 from Princeton University Press or for $19.59 from Amazon.

Another excellent book for you naturalists out there is The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Trees (2nd Ed.) by David More and John White. This is an awesome resource for identifying trees, although it is way too big and heavy to carry into the field. This comprehensive book catalogs nearly 2,000 tree species in North America and Europe. With some 5,000 illustrations, there are enough illustrations of leaves, twigs, fruit, bark, etc., to help guide even the least knowledgeable among us (like me.) I have trouble identifying trees outside of the few species I have gotten to know through frequent exposure.  I don't do well with most field guides identifying trees. This one has a lot more detail to help compare similar species. In addition to the usual information found in a field guide, however, this book has more information about the origins of the trees and various cultivars. This would be a fine addition to not only a naturalist's library, but that of a gardener. This book is available from Princeton University Press for $49.95 and from Amazon for $38.40.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Lake Arrowhead Cleanup Saturday

Photo 09/14/13: worse now
The bad news is that Lake Arrowhead, the primary source of drinking water for Wichita Falls and surrounding communities is below 30% of capacity due to our long-running drought.

If you have been out to Lake Arrowhead lately, you have seen just how much trash is being exposed. Now is a great time to get the lake bed cleaned up before we get some much-needed rain (note the optimism.)

On Saturday, November 23, Lake Arrowhead State Park is hosting a lake cleanup. A number of groups are participating, including two groups I am involved with: the Friends of Lake Arrowhead and the Rolling Plains Chapter Texas Master Naturalist. The park and the City of Wichita Falls (which owns the lake) are asking for community support for this effort. Interested people should come to the park at 9AM. Bring work gloves. It is also suggested participants wear boots, and considering the expected weather on Saturday, it would be a good idea to dress warmly.

For more information, call the Park office at 940-528-2211.

Wichita Falls Community Garden Open...But Not!

A very good turnout for this opening

The big event in Wichita Falls recently was the ribbon cutting at the new community garden on the east side of town on November 14. (Yes, I am just getting around to posting about it.)

The Community Garden opened just in time for Stage 4 of the drought plan--no outside watering. But at least the garden is in place, ready to go.

There are some really neat things about this garden I wanted to highlight.

Note the demonstration rainwater harvesting system. The reservoir isn't big enough to allow watering these beds, but the point is to show people how much water can be gathered from such a small roof area.

Storage shed, sink and demonstration rainwater barrel

Looking down the row

Beds for disabled--great idea!

Beds raised especially high will be convenient for those who have mobility problems getting low to the ground. For some reason I had never thought of this. When I saw it, all I could say was, "well, duh!" Great planning...disability shouldn't prevent people from being able to garden a small area, like these beds.
Composting bins

And then I found the composting bins. I am assuming the citizen volunteers running the garden have an idea of how they will get the compost turned....but so glad to see it. Now all we need is some MULCH! These beds are going to turn into bricks without some cover in the summer.

If this garden takes off, the City is interested in placing other community gardens at other places.

Why are community gardens important? Yes, they provide an opportunity to grow fresh produce. It also provides a way for those new to gardening to learn from those with experience. It creates a sense of community by getting people out of their houses and into a common area where they can get to know one another. Community gardens can also fulfill social needs and those of us who garden also know it's a good physical activity and stress reliever. So many great things can come of this--I am looking forward to seeing it succeed.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October Unprocessed

I tell you--I obviously go around with blinders on because I constantly discover neat awareness campaigns when they are already happening, instead of when I can actually plan to capitalize on them. For example, did you know today is "World Vegetarian Day?" Me neither. However, since it is just the first day of Vegetarian Awareness Month, I guess it isn't a catastrophe.

Today is also Day One of the October Unprocessed challenge. For this month, the challenge is to try to eat unprocessed food. In other words, make it yourself. That should be relatively easy if you also tend to eat toward the vegetarian end of the food chain. I am not a vegetarian, although I eat mostly fruits, veggies, grains and dairy. My husband eats very few fruits or vegetables, and I doubt that will change--he had a heart attack about 13 years ago, and it didn't affect his lifestyle a bit. However, he doesn't get a lot of unprocessed food, because I cook most things from scratch.

However, I did take the October Unprocessed Challenge. I don't buy much processed food anyway--we'll just see if I can cut it back even further. Before I knew about the challenge this morning though, I did eat some toasted cheese sandwiches (not grilled cheese) for breakfast using store bought bread and American cheese slices (so, I'm not a saint)--even though there was fresh baked bread right next to it on the counter. I made anadama sourdough bread yesterday. Pretty good, but not going to be one of my favorites. I had been thinking about having baked potatoes for dinner, so I guess that will be a go. It's one of the few vegetarian meals I can get hubby to eat. I like to saute some peppers and onions together and add some butter, cheese and diced tomatoes. I might just throw in some broccoli tonight (my husband won't eat it, but my daughter and her husband will.) I also still have a fresh pineapple from my last Bountiful Baskets pickup, so we'll have that as well. Sounds yum to me!

The point of these campaigns is to make people aware of alternatives and to get people to think about healthier lifestyle choices. Will I probably break down and eat some processed food this month? Most likely. And the world won't come to an end because of it. But if I can continue to add more unprocessed food to our diet, that will be great. I hope to find more recipes for things I buy I can make myself.  I am not likely to become a vegetarian either. However, if I eat a little less meat and a little more veggies, that surely can't hurt me or the environment. Being a little more conscious of our food choices is a good thing for all of us.

Bon appetit!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

It's Not Too Late!

Compost out of the barrel before sifting
Sifted compost ready for the garden
Lovin' my compost today--see the pics of the finished compost I just dumped out of my composting barrels today.

We didn't have a big group for the first night of the Master Composter course yesterday, but it's going to be a great class. However, if you weren't able to attend because you didn't get the word in time, no worries--you can still take part in the rest of the course. This Thursday's class will be at the Sanitation Department--the class will likely move after that to a location better suited to hands on compost making.

The first night we talked about the Yardwise program. Americans are crazy about lawns, which leads to a lot of problems, not the least of which is poor water quality. For example:
  • 90% of the pesticides uses are used on lawns. 
  • Lawn grass is the most heavily irrigated crop in the US.
  • 75% of river and lake pollution comes from landscaping.
The basic elements of the Yardwise program are:
  • Landscape design 
  • Grasscycling (Don't bag it)
  • Mulching
  • Composting
  • Integrated pest management
Of course, the primary emphasis of the course is composting. Other than water quality issues, the City wants to encourage composting to extend the life of our landfill by diverting a significant percentage of the waste out of the waste stream. Although Wichita Falls now diverts 22 - 25 tons of compostable waste from the landfill, only about 25% of homes participate in the program. Curbside pickup of compostable materials constitutes only 10% of the waste the city uses to make compost. This is crazy. Almost 2/3 of the stuff we throw in the trash can be composted. Landfills are costly to build and it takes a long time to get all of the permitting done, for good reasons. If you don't want to pay for a new landfill, quit sending stuff there.

We have a great city composting program. Although I compost most of my kitchen scraps (except meat/dairy) and a lot of yard waste, any organic can be sent to the city composting program. I put out a full can almost every week, filled with cardboard and paper primarily. I don't put out much regular trash. There are sometimes 2 or 3 weeks between putting out a regular trash container (and if I could get better cooperation from the other household members, I bet we could do twice as well.)

I was under the impression that if you live in a house with alley dumpster pickup you couldn't have an organics container. But according to Dave Lehfeldt at the Sanitation Department, that is not true. So those of you who heard the same thing, call them and order a cart (see the phone number is the link above.)

My point? Everyone needs to compost. If you don't have the room or the inclination for your own compost pile, then order up an organics container.  I hope to see more people at the Thursday night class.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Attention All Composter Wannabes!

Home composting system
My husband built me a great composting system that made it easier for me to make compost. Overall, I love it, but I think I should be turning out more compost than I am. I have also tried starting a worm bin multiple times, but stopped because I felt like a serial killer of worms.

If you're like me, you want to compost, but you could use some help. Have I got a deal for you! Well, not me exactly. The City of Wichita Falls has a deal for you. I just get to be a messenger.

The City will be offering a Master Composter course. For those wanting the Master Composter designation, you must attend all of the classes (20 hours) and do 30 hours of volunteer work. Volunteers offer programs on composting and on-site assistance for people having problems with their composting efforts. However, anyone with an interest in composting is welcome to attend some or all of the classes.

Here are the details:

  • The class will be held from 6:00 - 9:00 PM on the following dates: 24 and 26 September and 8, 10, 22 and 24 October.
  • The first class will be held at the Sanitation Department offices at 200 Sunset Dr (adjacent to the Lucy Park entrance).
  • The class is FREE! Register by calling the Sanitation Department at 761-7977.
Individuals who complete the requirements of the Master Composting class receive a pretty green shirt, an opportunity to buy a worm bin and backyard composting bin for cost, a tour of the city composting facility and a load of compost. How cool is that?

I'm signed up. Hope to see you at the first class on the 24th.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Living Green Meet Up Reminder

Don't forget the Living Green meet up on Wednesday, September 18, 6:30 - 8:30 PM, at the Lake Wichita pavilion (last entrance to the park.)

The topic for this meet up is "Make It Yourself." The idea is to bring something you make yourself (cleaning product, personal care product, food items, soap, etc.) Bring a sample and the recipe to share with others.

Please RSVP to if you plan to come (or post to the Facebook page) and indicate what you'll be bringing to share as an enticement to others who may want to learn more about your item. Don't feel like you have anything to share at this time? No worries. Just come anyway.

A Trashy Weekend

Some people posted on a local newstation Facebook page that they were ashamed at the litter around town for the  Hotter 'n Hell Hundred. Of course, most of their ire was directed at the City of Wichita Falls which had been putting out a yeoman's effort to ensure the city looked nice for the 15,000 riders. I wasn't very nice and offered to direct the complainers to a number of groups that pick up litter around town on a regular basis. Not surprisingly, no one contacted me.

Trash at Sikes Lake
June got a little muddy
 One such cleanup was the annual Sikes Lake cleanup that is the Saturday following Labor Day each year. The Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter joins up with Midwestern State University to do a lake cleanup. We have had as many as 200 volunteers show up. This year, there were probably about 25 - 30 people, which was enough.  Although the amount of trash in the truck may not seem like a lot, that's a big truck.

One of the hardest working volunteers was June, who ended up muddy, but keep up good humor throughout the project.

Trash near Lake Wichita
More trash in same area
There are still a lot of places that need a good cleanup. The next day I was birding out around Lake Wichita and came across this trashy area. I took the picture with my cell phone, so it isn't the best, but if you click on the photos you will get a better idea.

If everyone did their best to reduce the amount of trash they produce and to dispose of the trash they do responsibly, then we wouldn't have to be embarrasssed when we have company. We can all pick up around our houses and businesses. I have to do a litter patrol around our house at least once a week to pick up the trash people through out of their cars.

In addition to the annual Sikes Lake cleanup, the Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist chapter cleans up Plum Lake quarterly. The Friends of Lake Arrowhead State Park host at least one park cleanup a year and there are several groups that do Adopt-a-Highway areas. The one I participate in is along Sisk Road with the Red River Sierra Club group. Annually the Keep Wichita Falls Beautiful hosts a city-wide cleanup in April.

There are lots of places that need a cleanup. Take a trash bag with you when you walk, get involved in one of the groups that does a cleanup, or organize a group yourself.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Save the Night and Star Party at Lake Arrowhead State Park Saturday

Saturday at Lake Arrowhead State Park there is a special event open to the public. You can attend all or part. The only portion of the day that requires attendance at any other portion is the Light Assessment Training, which requires the Save the Night presentation first. For most members of the public, the Star Party beginning at 9 PM will have most of the information and be of most interest. 

Rolling Plains Texas Master Naturalist members may count the Save the Night and Lighting Assessment and Retrofit Project Training as advanced training.

If you want to attend for dinner, you are asked to RSVP to Terry at

4:00 PM to 5:30 PM      
Save the Night Presentation

Almost every living thing on our planet uses the cycle of light and dark to trigger life processes. Humans are for the most part diurnal and have come to depend on artificial light for nighttime activities. So, how does our artificial light at night effect fauna and flora? We know what death by bulldozer looks like. It’s hard for us to see what habitat destruction by artificial light looks like. This session helps us understand the effects of artificial light on living things and how we can reduce the negative effect of our lights.

Most of the presentation is a peek into our natural world after dark and the affect that artificial light has on it. The scientific background is derived from the research papers compiled in the book “Ecological Consequences of Artificial Outdoor Lighting” which was edited by Catherine Rich and Travis Longcore.

Participants will take home a new awareness of the nighttime activities and processes of the fauna and flora around us. They will be more knowledgeable about outdoor lighting practices allowing them to have the light that humans want or need for nighttime activities while they save energy costs, reduce glare, increase safety, reduce light trespass, create a more aesthetically pleasing nocturnal environment for humans and limit the negative consequences on the environment. Participants will see samples of good lights and be given a handout with drawings of recommended light fixtures and light fixtures to avoid.
5:30 PM to 6:30 PM      
Dinner time 

If you have a special dietary need, please bring your own dinner. We plan on having chicken spaghetti courtesy of the Friends of Lake Arrowhead State Park. We’ll have water and coffee for beverages.If you have a special dietary need, please bring your own dinner. We plan on having chicken spaghetti and hot dogs available courtesy of the Friends of Lake Arrowhead State Park. We'll have water and coffee for beverages. If you have a special dietary need, please bring your own dinner. We plan on having chicken spaghetti and hot dogs available courtesy of the Friends of Lake Arrowhead State Park. We'll have water and coffee for beverages.If you have a special dietary need, please bring your own dinner. We plan on having chicken spaghetti and hot dogs available courtesy of the Friends of Lake Arrowhead State Park. We'll have water and coffee for beverages.

6:30 PM to 8:00 PM      
Lighting Assessment & Retrofit Project Training 

(Save the Night is the prerequisite for this workshop)

The Lighting Assessment and Retrofit Project (LARP), is part of a larger initiative in which Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) has partnered with both the Texas Section of the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA) and McDonald Observatory. McDonald Observatory will train Texas State Park interpretive rangers to deliver night sky programs. The LARP initiative from the Texas Section of IDA will train volunteers from all over the state to do lighting assessments for Texas Parks near them in order to assist the parks in the implementation of best practices in night lighting. The Lighting Assessment and Retrofit Project hopes to recruit at least two volunteers for each Texas State Park with camping. A volunteer may request to work with more than one park or facility.

The three-hour LARP workshop teaches participants how to critique outdoor lighting fixtures and make recommendations to retrofit or replace ones that produce light pollution. You’ll be provided with the details about and samples of the approach agreed upon with the Texas State Parks for consistent reporting for all parks. The workshop will also briefly cover the broad challenges that outdoor lighting can produce as it can create glare that reduces safety & security, produce light trespass, waste money in needless energy costs, obscure our view of the night sky, and jeopardize the health and sustainability of ecosystems. Workshop activities will allow participants to test their new skills and provide contacts for post workshop questions.

Volunteers who want to participate in the LARP program for the Texas State Parks are expected to:
·         Communicate with the park leadership
·         Do a site visit
·         Inventory the existing outdoor lighting at their mutually agreed upon Texas State Park
·         Determine recommended changes to reduce light pollution
·         Create a written assessment of the park’s lighting situation
·         Follow up and coordinate with the park superintendent

Cindy Luongo Cassidy, LARP Training Coordinator for the Texas Section of IDA, will facilitate the workshop. Steve Bosbach, Texas IDA Section Leader will work with any parks selected to pursue the designation of Dark-Sky Park by IDA.

9:00 PM until about 10:45 PM              
Public Star Party 

Starts with a 15 minute "Intro to Good Lighting" talk (especially for those who have NOT attended the earlier workshops). It should be completely dark by 9:25 and the moon rises about 10:25. The moon will be very bright so, after everyone who wants to gets a good look at the moon and it's craters we'll shut down for the night.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Status of Community Garden

Kale from my backyard garden
It may seem it has taken years to get a community garden in Wichita Falls (it has), but we are almost there. The new community garden on Smith Street is nearing completion. It will have 75 spaces and should be open by the end of September.  The garden will be operated by a volunteer committee made up of residents of the neighborhood it's in.

Interested in a space? You can contact the oversight committee through the Martin Luther King Center at 940-761-7980.

If this community garden is successful, the City is interested in establishing additional gardens in other residential areas. Not only are community gardens a good way for people to take control of some portion of their diet, but it is a good way to bring neighborhoods together socially.

World Overshoot Day

The Blue Marble. Photo by NASA
Although I managed to get it up on the Living Green in Wichita Falls Facebook page on the 20th, I am just now getting around to posting about World Overshoot Day here. August 20 was the approximate day in 2013 that we humans used as many natural resources as can be sustainably replaced for the year. For the rest of the year, we are using resources we don't have and driving up the level of carbon in our atmosphere.

It seems many times as if we are Don Quixote tilting windmills--the news seems to get worse all the time. Every day there is another news story of some serious environmental threat.

However,  look at all the good that has been done since the 60's: the Clean Air Act (1963), the Endangered Species Act (1973), the Clean Water Act (1972), and establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency (1970), to name a few. Yes, there are some whack-jobs out there who want to dismantle our environmental protections (and if the House budget passes, they would manage to do much of that.) However, generally I think most Americans know these protections are absolutely essential and support them.

The key here is not to give up. We still have the power of the ballot box (if we can get environmentally aware people to run). We absolutely have the power of the wallet. Although our individual purchases may not be a lot, they add up. We have control over our own lives and the choices we make to reduce our environmental footprint. I am not advocating taking all of the joy out of our lives and live so austerely we feel guilty about everything we do, but we can make the conscious choices that matter.

Many times you hear that the American economy runs on consumption. And that is true. But who is to say that we can't turn the tide of consumption from goods to memories, to experiences, to learning, to health, to relationships, to art? Yes, we all need some stuff, but we don't need near what most of us have. We can choose to spend our money on things that matter in making us happier and healthier as individuals, families and communities.

Each of us can do something; collectively we can turn the tide on the consumption madness.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Working on a Meet Up

This has been a topic on the Living Green in Wichita Falls Facebook page, but since not everyone is on Facebook, I am posting it here as well. We are considering having a Meet Up of like-minded people to share information on some topic related to green living. It looks like there is interest. There are so many possible topics that narrowing down the subject for the first meeting is difficult, but it looks like cleaning and personal care products are likely to be the subject of the first meet up.  Still working on a date/time. Right now the larger number seem to prefer a week night. Once we have a date/time/location/topic, I will post the announcement here. Hope some of you can come.

How Low Can You Go?

Although many locals complain about the lack of recycling opportunities in our area, for those who care, there are a lot of options, especially now that the Progressive Waste single stream recycling is here.  Even before that option became available, my husband and I could go 2 - 3 weeks without putting out a cart, due to the amount of compostable materials that could go in the City compost bin. However, now we can also drop off bottles and plastics in the single stream dumpsters around town, reducing the need to roll out our cart even more.

My daughter and family have been living with us for several months now. Although it sometimes seems these adults cannot get the hang of sorting their trash, we are still doing pretty well. They got used to the single stream where they used to live and are a little lazy. We're working on that.

We have a compost barrel set up for most garbage (not meat), the City compost cart that goes out weekly, and we drop off plastics, glass and metal at the single stream dumpsters when we are out and about. I also periodically drop off those annoying plastic shopping bags that still seem to show up in the house when someone besides me goes shopping. My husband hordes aluminum cans and turns them in when he has a pick-up load of crushed cans to finance some of his projects.

But some online posts got me low can we go? The Utne Reader had a good article on zero-waste living that is worth a read by anyone. Even if you don't want to go as far as some of the folks mentioned in the article, it does point out some ways in which you can reduce a lot of waste, save money and live healthier. A win-win-win. Here are some tips from the Zero Waste Home blog. I'm not sure I am 100% ready for all of the ideas, but most of them wouldn't require a lot of effort.

There are several blogs on this topic out there. Two good ones are mentioned in the Utne Reader article. Another I particularly like that also has some great idea for businesses is Pick Up America. The link here is to The Zero-Waste Home toolkit.  Zero Waste in ACTION is targeted more toward business and industry. There are a couple of other related blogs worth mentioning. One I particularly enjoy is My Plastic-Free Life.

Who knew there would be so many people making such an effort to reduce their trash production? If only there were more. Even if you aren't ready to take on the zero-waste challenge completely, all of us can do better. Why not see how low you can go?

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Opportunities to Get Involved

Most of the readers of this blog are interested in environmental issues and are individually working to live more sustainably. However, I wanted to bring up some opportunities to get involved in the community on some important issues.

- Lake Wichita Study Committee. The City Council has appointed a committee to look at options to improve the recreational and economic value of Lake Wichita. The main committee, comprised of members of the cities of Wichita Falls and of Lakeside City has begun meeting. At the last meeting, the committee decided on several subcommittees to work on various issues. In addition to the main study committee, I will be serving on the Public Awareness and Permitting Subcommittees. There are several other subcommittees. These subcommittees provide a way for interested people to get involved in planning the future of Lake Wichita. If you are interested in serving in some capacity, email me at and I'll be happy to put you into contact with the right person(s).
- Region B Water Planning Group. Nominations are being accepted for members beginning September 1. There is a short fuse on applications as the nominations close Friday, July 19. For more information, see the public notice.

The more people who get involved the better.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

National Pollinators Week

Bee covered in pollen
Photo by Sage Ross, Wikimedia Commons
National Pollinators Week is June 17 - 23.

Pollinators are responsible for the successful reproduction of 70% of flowering plants and over 2/3 of crop species. But the number of pollinators is dropping fast. They are also a keystone species in the environment, being vital to the success of many other animals. Pollinators are at risk from habitat loss,  pesticide use and introduced diseases.

These unsung heroes are a vital part of our communities and are under severe stress. We can all so our part to help keep these little guys around, without a lot of work.

The Xerces Society has a lot of helpful information on their website, including the following four principles:

  • Grow the right flowers, shrubs and trees
  • Don't use pesticides
  • Provide suitable habitat for nesting
  • Talk about the importance of pollinators
For a list of suitable plant species for our area, see the Pollinator Conservation Resource Center.

So this coming week, how about doing at least one thing to help the pollinators in our community?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Status of Community Garden

A question came up last week at River Bend about the status of the community garden project. Tom Hall from the AgriLife Extension office noted that the project was still on.

I brought up the topic at the city Park Board meeting as it has been a topic on and off for some time. The project is still a go. The initial garden will be on the east side of town, and if it is successful, additional gardens will be put in other areas of town. A group of volunteers from that neighborhood will be managing the gardens. There will be about 70 plots, depending upon the size.  It is anticipated the garden will be underway by the fall planting season.

Permaculture Tour

At last week's presentation on suburban permaculture, several people indicated an interest in working together to share ideas. I went to John Hirschi's house this past weekend to check out his front yard native landscaping. John's yard is beautiful. It was designed last year by Paul Dowlearn at Wichita Valley Nursery and is doing well. Many of the plants are multiplying. The only problem he is having now is a marauding wild pig which is rooting around in the yard and doing a lot of damage. John has traps out, trying to catch the critter. I hope he gets him soon, it is making a mess of a beautiful landscape.

We also discussed some of his ideas for his backyard.  Because we had such a good time talking about what he had done and his ideas going forward, we discussed putting together a day to visit one another's yard and share ideas with other members of the permaculture group. Even if we haven't done anything, this would be a chance to share ideas and talk over what we're trying to do with others with similar interests.

If you're interested in joining in, email me at or "Like" the Living Green in Wichita Falls page on Facebook and join in.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Great Program at River Bend

Last night River Bend Nature Center hosted Jan Spencer of Suburban Permaculture for a presentation on suburban transformation through permaculture.

Jan's presentation centered around what he considered the sensible actions we should all be taking:

  • Downsize material lifestyle
  • Reorient ourselves to live within what the Earth can accommodate
  • Green homes, neighborhoods, communities, culture and economy
Personally, I was happy to hear Jan talk about the importance of civics. Too few people get involved with their local government and if we are to make progress, local action can have significant results faster. "Think globally, act locally." This saying was highlighted in Jan's talk by the examples of actions taken by individuals which are having an impact on his communities.

The crowd was relatively small but very interested. We agreed to set up a mailing list and look at ways we can help one another in our own initiatives and possibly collaborate on projects in the future.

Several questions came up about what is and is not permitted by the city. 
  - Can chicken/livestock be kept in the city? Yes, with certain restrictions. Permits are required which require inspection by animal control. No roosters, guineas or peafowl are permitted (noise). Livestock also require a permit and inspections. 
  - Can citizens harvest pecans from public property? (I wasn't able to find anything in the ordinance, but have a question pending with the city.)
  - Can homeowners plant vegetable gardens in their front yards, if there is no Homeowner Association restriction? (Again, I wasn't able to find any restriction in the ordinances, but have asked for a reading from the city.)

We also got an update about the community garden being organized on the east side of town.

If you missed the presentation, you missed a lot of ideas. We all learned what a "woofer" is (and no, it has nothing to do with a sound system.)

For now, I am going to encourage those interested in this topic to post their thoughts on the Living Green Facebook Page or comment here.

We're Back

You'll recall that months back I decided to add a Facebook page. The idea was to supplement this blog. The Facebook page was easier to maintain and did attract some people who did not subscribe to this blog. The downside was that there are a lot of people not on Facebook and I got a little lazy. So, although I plan to keep the Facebook page, I'm going to put more attention back here. In the meantime, you can join us on Facebook.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Earth Day 2013

Two people, 2.5 hours, can make a difference!
 What did you do to celebrate Earth Day this year? I had a pretty decent day, overall. First I went out for the Red River Sierra Club trash cleanup for our Adopt-a-Highway segment on Sisk Rd. This time, only Joy Parsons and I showed up. However, we picked up a lot of trash in 2.5 hours as you can see in the photo of Joy next to our trash to the left.

Chris Ross with his hydroponics unit
After I cleaned up a little, I headed to River Bend Nature Center for the annual Earth Day event. Although going to RBNC is always a treat, I must say I was a little disappointed with the event. However, I was able to catch up with several people I know and needed to talk to, the event still worked for me. There were probably several people there who had never been to RBNC and had a chance to visit the conservatory and walk the trails, so that's all good. One display that was especially interesting to me was a gentleman who had a hydroponics display. The lower tank has fish in it and the upper containers, vegetables. No chemical fertilizers. The person with the display is Chris Ross. He said a larger unit could have tilapia in the lower tank (this one had gold fish.) He is willing to help others put a unit together for free if they buy the supplies. He indicated a unit like his would cost $250 - $300 if you bought everything new. I have his phone number. Contact me by email at for a phone number.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Infographic on Plastics

I've ranted about plastics before. With the recent introduction of single-stream recycling by Progressive Waste, there is an easy way to recycle most plastics in Wichita Falls. They don't take the plastic bags, but pretty much all other recyclable plastic is fair game.

I personally favor using as little plastic as possible to start with and then recycle the rest. It isn't difficult to substantially reduce the amount of plastic in your home. I thought this infographic from was informative.

Plastic Infographic