One of my mournings on leaving New York for Oregon was No More Sledding. I might have cried over it. Things were emotional in general. Sure the skiing will be Mt. Hood Meadows and Timberline, but I was terrified that Jake and I wouldn’t share any more killer downhills right out the front door, or at a park like Cobbs Hill up the road: all dressed plump with layers and walking through snow covered streets, pulling our Flexible Flyers.

Um.. no worries needed. Portland is in the midst of its worst snow storm in 40 years. Commerce has been at a standstill for days and PDOT is telling us that it illegal to drive without chains on many roads. Thursday will be the first white Christmas of record. The neighbors, already suspicious, think we had something to do with all this.

Jake and I simply went sledding.

Uber-eco, we don’t use salt in Oregon. We use a liquefied magnesium something that doesn’t work as well and costs more. We also use sand and gravel. The latter is famous for popping up off the road bed in the spring and busting your windshield at 70 mph. I’m not complaining. We have cars older than your daddy that are still used as the commuter. Vanagons are everywhere, and we’ve stopped counting old VW bugs. (No there aren’t any Type 3 Squarebacks, sadly, but this was because the injectors failed 7 billion times and all their owners shot them, not because they rusted out. They wouldn’t’ve here.)

The corollary to not using salt is the utter lack of plows. Prior to now, the method of snow removal was to wait until the next day, 'cause it'll likely melt.. Cost-effective, earrth-friendly. With climate predictions heading toward greater swings in summer AND winter, we may need to re-think. We struggled out to grocery shop tonight, 2 days before Christmas, and stopped at a restaurant that had opened for the first time in a week. After 5 days of school shut downs, the city set up emergency call-in lines to help parents on the verge of strangling their offspring.


House Gets Built!

No permit yet. I have 15 more pages of re-calcs and answers to submit to the City Of Portland. If the snow would abate here I'll get downtown on Monday to do so. There's rumors floating that with so little going on in the building department, they are simply stretching out every last scrap of work they have.

But we did manage to get the gingerbread home complete.

Okay, it's something at least. We now just have to finish the landscaping. Every year we do this, and every year I promise not to eat the walls too soon. I just can't help myself. Something about really stale gingerbread.

We got all sorts of inspiration from the George Eastman House in Rochester, NY where they have a killer display of ginger things from all sorts of community groups and families.


el sauce, nicaragua

I referred to solar ovens in the last post, and was quickly asked for a bit more of an explanation. The link to our website at New Energy Works Timber Frame Homes called earth:shared, has too little information on what is a pretty cool project.

The story goes like this: Maxine, Jake River and I were hiking on Ometepe, an island in Nicaragua,when we came upon a young boy who was chopping at wood with an old an dull machete. Here's a pic of the ferries that take the hour trip to the island and one of its two volcanoes off the bow.

he was upset to see us, because we were in a small preserve (looking for howler monkeys, and dang did they find us!) and he knew he shouldn't be there. The boy should have been in school, not stealing wood. Turns out he was collecting lena, or firewood. Turns out that the collection and use of firewood for cooking is a colossal mess of unreal proportions in the developing world. It's just nuts.

Lessee, where to begin: collecting firewood is the major cause of deforestation in many countries, and therefore the cause of habitat loss, groundwater recession, erosion, ozone depletion and... okay, forget the environment, let's talk about people: the children stay out of school to gather it, scarce family resources are used to buy it, people get sick breathing its smoke. Lung desease is the second largest woman killer, I've been told. and surprise, I didn't discover all this, but rather some amazing people have been on topic for a while. Solar Cookers International is great, with info and technology exchange going on from Calcutta to Equador. Then there two organizarions that are making and distributing: Sun Ovens Int'l, which make a personal size and the Villager (!) and the Solar Oven Society which makes a less expensive but still good little unit called the Sport. They're similar groups. You could say they are competitiors in the race to do good here. I've tried out both smaller units up here in temperate-ville, and they work wonderfully on a sunny day.

Poeple at work were excited. no one more than Karen Parkhurst, who was about to become the next local Rotary president. (That's her above with me, Jake and Esteban, our beloved Nica driver, overlooking Lake Managua.) She took the fundraising ball and ran. We now have a team on the project made up of New Energy Works and Pioneer Millworks, Rotary International, Rotary de Managua and UNAG, a Nicaraguan farmers' and ranchers' cooperative who will be the lead distributor. We're about to hire a staff member to coordinate all this in El Sauce, east of Leon, and hope to soon be supplying ovens and training people in their use. Thinking that it would be a cultural hurdle, I asked the Co-op president if he thought the ovens would get used. His answer surprised me: "My wife is aware that the open fire is making her sick. She will use it happily."

Now we really want to get moving, as the need is immediate. But as I told my friend Jeff recently, immediately takes longer in Nicaragua. Sandinistas don't talk to Conservatives who don't trust Sandinistas. There's a new mayor, and new papers to sign. etc. etc. and thus our decision to hire our own staff member, on the ground. This works too, and we should have thought of it months ago. Part of our goal was job creation, after all.

We chose El Sauce because it has a long history of being a sister city to Rochester. Cuidad Hermana is a program originally put together in solidarity with the Nicaraguan revolution. Now it's got a school, a clinic, a program for visiting college kids from the local State University of Geneseo, and more. They call their program Pregnant Cow, for good reason.

Our goal in the companies is to give 10% of pre-tax earnings back into our community or perhaps an environmental organization. This is an interesting tiger by its very needy tail. If you're interested in sponsoring an oven, contact Karen (karen@newenergyworks.com.) If you're interested in going to Nicaragua, contact me, if only for a rousing good chat about.