Archive for the ‘building/design’ Category

Crosswalks and Pedestrian Safety

Monday, October 6th, 2014

There is a joke I first heard on Car Talk about a woman asking that the “Deer Crossing” signs be moved to places safer for cars to see them and to stop. I think Ann Arbor’s difficulties with crosswalks is similarly confused. And also provides a very good and real metaphor for considering pedestrian safety.

Volvo has come out with a car that has pedestrian airbags. Europe is far ahead of the US in looking at bumper design, pedestrian detection systems, and other design changes that can protect pedestrians. This is an approach to an increase percentage of pedestrian deaths that has a chance to make a real difference.

Laws and ordinances and better rules and even outrage doesn’t seem to change pedestrian behavior. Better access to safe crosswalks probably will, I don’t know many pedestrians who will walk a block out of their way to get to a safer crosswalk. And when the distance is 1/2 mile or more it is even less likely. Well engineered crosswalks help, great signage, scaring people with enforcement. But the most concerning thing is how to get people to pay better attention and be aware.

The metaphor is that pedestrians are like deer. You can’t really control their behavior, if you have a well behaved bunch there will still be those who are darting out into the roadway who are hidden form few until the last minute, who are a bit wilder. An experienced driver will see a deer and expect erratic movement. A good driver will see the glint of a deers eyes in teir headlights and SLOW DOWN.

Anytime we see a pedestrian, any time there are people near the roadway, any time someone seems to be approaching a crosswalk a driver has to SLOW DOWN and consider the many unexpected ways that pedestrian might move.

Hitting a deer is a serious accident. There is usually property damage, and drivers and passengers can also be seriously injured. Hitting a pedestrian is far more likely to cause injury and death. And with every bit of increase in speed, the injuries also increase.

As we have more pedestrians around, driver awareness and caution increases. I know when I drive on campus I always anticipate very erratic behavior by students. I watch for it. I’m more cautious around schools with young kids. I see a kid with a ball near the road and I’m even more concerned and slow down.

We can design and then move all the crosswalks so it is the best possible fit for drivers and pedestrians. We can carefully instruct people on how to be safe. But the best design also assumes human error, and also human nature. Which isn’t – in the end – a whole lot different than wandering deer.

My Imaginary Energy Protector Made of Magical Plexiglass

Monday, September 22nd, 2014

Sometimes imaginary thinks work really well. This one has been part of my practice for over 30 years.

Wanting to help other people is a natural urge. We may also be able to trace it to an evolutionary trait – those who were good at being a tribe survived the normal stresses and dangers of life better than those who were more outliers. We also have found that you can increase levels of oxytocin (one of the brain’s wonderful feel good chemicals) by being kind and helpful. Ironically – or purposely – when you have more exposure to oxytocin it also makes you want to be more generous. So you can get into quite a self perpetuating cycle when you help other people.

When you’re in a “helping profession” it isn’t hard to get pulled in and empathize with someone else’s pain or troubles. If you do this a lot, it can lead to burnout, resentment, lower levels of functioning, and even taking on the pain or distress form other people. The idea that “I’ll do anything” to help another may be an occasionally good idea, but certainly not sustainable long term for most people.

I found early on that some clients just took it out of me. I’d be exhausted afterward, I’d have dreams about them, I would obsess about their problems and if I helped them. It wasn’t healthy and it wasn’t workable.

So I imagined I had two tubes of magical plexiglass in my spine. One contained my personal energy, the other was inspired form that core current but only through the plexiglass. The core tube was untouchable. I didn’t use it when working on clients, and it could only be replenshed or “touched” by energy that was of equal or greater vibration. I use the term vibration as a way to imagine some spiritual core foundational energy that every has. Except mine is in a tube. The the secondary tube can be used entirely, and it is easily replenished from the core tube.

Why plexiglass? It was easy to visualize, it was familiar, it seemed like a fun thing. PVC isn’t transparent, I didn’t like the feel of soft plastic. No real good reason it was just what popped into my mind long ago. Some people were imagining crystal tubes and gem studded things. I wanted simplicity and practicality.

I’ve had many clients, especially moms in labor or their babies, who I wanted to give my all to feel better, be safer, or come more quickly in the case of a laboring mom. I don’t let myself go all the way. I don’t use that core current.

This has made it a pleasure and a refreshing experience nearly all the time I work with people. I rarely have trouble “taking on” the stuff that belongs with my client. I usually have more energy after working. I feel safe from any psychic jolts or weird activities that can go on. it is imaginary – and it works well.

just recently I’ve been considering instrumentation. Monitoring devices. Because this is all well and good, but can I also watch and monitor how my different energies are being used? That would add more control and specifics to my imaginary system.

I’ve had some digestive issues, and discovered a “monitoring” system for that. It has worked fabulously in choosing what to eat and when. There is a visual image, as well as an orientation of a spiraling wheel. That tells me a lot about how the system is working, if there are current glitches to be concerned about, and it also seems that I can “add energy” to the digestive system and then monitor the effect. Imaginary of course, but actually very precise as well.

I suggest using the idea to make up your own imaginary system to do what you need it to do. Practice using it consciously for a month or two and then let it be an unconscious practice most of the time. I’m still considering imaginary monitoring systems and would welcome any ideas you might have on that front as well. So far monitoring digestion before during and after has been a huge help for me.

I don’t need it to be real – just effective.

Make Your Raised Beds Tall

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

I’ve been doing raised bed gardening for over 40 years. I started in Jr. High when I planed a “French Intensive” 4 x 4 foot garden in my parent’s side yard. My enthusiasm waned over the summer, but it did produce a reasonable amount of food and I loved the “Intensive” idea.

When I bought my house 30 years ago, I took out the front yard – which was small – and brought in lots of straw and landscaping timbers that were about 4 inches in diameter. I removed the sod and double dug the whole yard. That was a months work. I was able to borrow a sod tool – it cuts the sod then scoops it up. that helped. I double dug by removing the first foot of soil and piling it elsewhere, flipping the next foot to the top level, and gradually flipping and loosening two feet of dirt all the way around.

I the result was beds about 8 inches higher than before, and place for vegetables. The area on the near side of my walkway I planted flowers and herbs so that the vegetable part would be more hidden from anyone coming down the street or to my house. More on that later.

As the years went by, I tried a few different styles to enclose the raised beds. But I stayed with the basic principles, no wider than four feet, and never ever allow anyone or any animal to step foot in the beds.

About 15 years ago, I started buying pallets of retaining wall blocks, about 1 foot wide and eight inches wide. I bought all “seconds” at half price. They were available each spring, as they started up production of the blocks and the colors weren’t exactly right. So they were about $1 each. Over the years I ended up with close to $1,000 of these concrete pieces, that can be stacked to make a wall, and that are designed to curve as well. I created beds in teh front yard that were a bit abstract, but that curved around the yard with narrow (too narrow it turns out) paths in between. I also built planters at the end of the driveway, which I have recently taken down and used to build my beds higher.

The joke is that the older you get the taller your garden should be. Well, if I had it to do over I’d have them tall decades ago as well. They now range from 3-5 rows high, so about 2 feet or a bit more. The blocks are wide enough you can sit on them or even stand, and since the distance is never more than 2 feet to the center everything is easy to reach.

At the lake I have another garden, with 20 raised beds so far, and all but four of them (which are planted with blueberry bushes) are also two foot high, but put together with inch thick boards as the sides, and 2×2 or 2×3 posts in each corner that the boards are screwed into. That gives some protection if you are dragging hoses or electric cords around the gardens, the taller corner posts stop you from pulling that into the garden and onto delicate plants.

This time I knew the importance of wide paths, and had the space to do it. The beds are all three feet apart at the lake. Wide enough for a lawn mower, as well as stray pumpkin vines that might make a run for it.

In both cases, it is pretty easy to then get great dirt or even pure compost and just fill up the beds. At the lake garden, the soil is awful. It was dredged up from the lake bottom, and then a sheet of black plastic was put down, followed by sod. My parents “improved” the garden soil for years, but it never really flourished. Filling the raised beds with pure compost trucked in form The Ann Arbor Composting Facility has been great. It isn’t organic, being city compost, but it is organic since it’s compost. Either way, it grows great plants. Just to give you an idea of the scope of things, we have trucked almost 20 yards of compost into Chelsea, Ann Arbor, and Warren for the three gardens we maintain.

For my Ann Arbor garden I also bought 9 yards of dirt long ago from a local nursery. That has done well. And in the beginning, that was what also introduced some great weeds into my garden. Weeds that I can eat or harvest for medicinal or therapeutic purposes.

Each year, I “tilth” the garden by using a pitchfork to fluff up the soil and remove the grass and weeds I don’t want. I say each year but will also admit there are some years parts of the garden have gone unplanted. Life goes on. One year the garden was very neglected, and I ended up with a beautiful crop of goldenrod. I was able to make tissanes, tinctures, and dry some of the flowers for later use. It looked and smelled wonderful.

I did all of this on my own, and when Tom came along he wasted no time giving advice and pointing out where I could make improvements. And of course we started using the Olla irrigation system he designed.

He also looked at the garden where I was growing flowers and herbs and asked why I was giving up the spot with the best light to non-edible plants. I had to stop and consider. Why indeed? I hadn’t thought about that in almost 30 years. Since the time I was trying to hide my vegetable garden and not offend anyone with front yard gardening. Well, there was my answer, and of course the reasoning behind it is now obsolete. There are plenty of front yard gardens in Ann Arbor, and times have changed radically. I don’t have to hide anymore. I moved the plants that were there, and ended up producing an amazing patch of kale that overwintered and fed be for more than a year.

I believe raised beds are the best. Since they are never walked on, they remain fluffy and easy for roots to grow deep. They are easy to plant, and maintenance of the soil is also decreased. They work well with Ollas. They are physically more comfortable to work than being on the ground, they can be planted more intensively, they are easy to amend with compost or good soil, and they are also lovely to see. If you add a couple raised beds each year it is a manageable project.

In about 40 years I’ve gone from a single raised bed of 16 Square feet to over 500 square feet of gardening space. I can grow most of the greens and veggies I will eat all winter, as well as fresh food all summer. I love the gardening shortcuts – the primary two are the Olla watering system and the tall raised beds.

Fruit Cellar Report

Monday, December 29th, 2008

The winter squash seems to love the root cellar. The apples are hanging on, better than I expected but not looking really appetizing. The Jerusalem Artichokes are a bit soft but still tasty and no mold.

The pears – well they are the cream of the crop. I love them. I’ve been eating many a day, so they are fading fast as far as quality and quantity. Last week, about 1/3 had serious mush spots. Today, about 1/2. The good ones are really really good – cold and crisp and even better than when I put them into storage. Gary and then Gary and I picked about 200. Gary and his family ate a good portion of that, I made a small amount of pear butter, I stored somewhere over 100, individually wrapped. There are about 30 – 40 left, which means they will be gone within a week, as only half are probably edible. That’s pretty good. Storing pears — a definite YES! I love pears.

I think their successful storage just paid for the root cellar. Not only are they rare this time of year, but at $2-$3 a pound the stash was worth about $100. Which is more than I spent (using materials just laying around form other projects).

I had the first of the frozen Pesto made from Ramps and Yellow Dock over the weekend. It certainly lost some of the fresh amazing flavor that it starte with – but still a flavor thrill and a wonderful meal. So that was from last May.

Going through the berries as fast as I can, I need to start doing more baking with the black raspberries. A Rhubarb and BRB crisp is on the menu for New Year’s day.

Next year – plant a lot of winter squash now that I can store it well!

my appliances are in a conspiracy to make me paranoid

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

And as you can tell from the headline, it is working!
While my house appears to be falling apart rapidly this month, the very good news is that I’m feeling well supported in getting things back in order.

The dishwasher repair was free – as it should be – with my new machine. So far it has worked, but the defective part will also be replaced. Replacing the thermocouple on the furnace was just $150, but when the furnace failed to respond a few days later (pilot light was on) Al from Modern Mechanical was here minutes after they paged him, found a short in the line, and didn’t charge me for the quick and effective service.

When the dishwasher stopped working a few days after the warranty work, I was at a loss to figure out if it was trouble on my end, (the drain) or with the dishwasher. Gary laid down on my kitchen floor and quickly confirm the drain problem, figured out a fix, and made it happen. Another gift.

While locking the front door yesterday, the lock fell apart. There was a worn part. While Gary correctly guessed – out of the blue – what part of my house had fallen apart now this was something I could do if I found the right part. Although I’m still impressed that out of all the possible things that can happen in a house I simply asked him “guess what part of my house has broken now” and he said “the front door”. Psychic repair man.

This story also has a happy ending – while Stadium Hardware didn’t carry the part, (it is no longer made) Mike went upstairs and found what I needed and provided it free of charge. Once again, Stadium Hardware to the rescue.

So while it is true that my appliances and the general hardware of the house seem in conspiracy to coordinate their failures for maximum stress, certainly the repair men and hardware people in my life have come through with flying colors and been supportive, effective, and inexpensive. Yeah for humans!

Perhaps my house is jealous of the pending new car. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Suuuuurrre.

Great Experiments

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Yesterday in my whining I mentioned that Gary and I have been having trouble within our relationship. Which stands to reason, we’re two people standing outside of mainstream life, each making a go at our own experiments in how to live in ways that are true to ourselves, that have more positive than negative impact on the planet, and exploring some very alternative lifestyles.

We’re both near 50, set in many ways, and each have really big dreams for the next few years. What are the chances that we would perfectly mesh? Nearly none. So there are some upsets, but we’ve worked some things out for now. It is all an experiment. Very personal, very intimate, very important. Very worthwhile.

So things do not look as dire as they had been seeming the last few weeks.

The temperature dropped to 40 in the house overnight, so I was happy to find another place for Nala and I to sleep. That is cold. The repair was indeed the thermocouple, $150 later and the house is well on its way toward warmth. Not fast enough for Nala, who is in her coat and snuggling as close and hard against me as is possible.

More experiments. I’ve never kept a root cellar before. I hope to finish installing the shelves today and tomorrow, and move much of the produce currently filling my refrigerator past capacity. The pears that Gary picked and gave to the cause are getting sweeter and more tasty every day – I have over 4 dozen carefully wrapped in paper and stored away. At least that many apples are waiting to be moved as well. The Jerusalem artichokes are also waiting to be stashed safely. And more.

So I’ll learn a few things, and pass on what wisdom I gain. I also hope to make Kim Chi later today, always a tasty experiment in fermentation.

I think if I see life as a series of interesting experiments the highs and lows may not be as high and low. If the fruit rots, I will have learned something. If things don’t work out with Gary, I’ll still know a lot more about myself. Sounds like a good theory. Now let’s test it.

more complaining

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Why is it only 50 degrees in my house when I finally turned on the furnace yesterday? The new furnace is now 19 years old. The pilot light is out and won’t stay lit. Likely a thermo coupler issue, simple fix? But I won’t know until tomorrow. So it will be a cold day and night.

The dishwasher repairman is due sometime in the next two hours, my brand new dishwasher can’t keep the door closed.

The storm window scenario ended up with three broken panes, once existing. One crack, one large hole, and a mountain of work to make everything OK that will ahve to wait until spring.

There is a leak in my garage roof. No time or money to fix it.

The root cellar is just beginning to be completed, but there are the minor glitches to now fix.

My freezer door won’t seal so the frost is growing and making things worse, and the refrigerator is freezing all my produce and eggs.

What else could go wrong? Oh yeah, the man I love seems to be done with our relationship.

I think this will be a hard, cold, lonely week ahead.

Venting While Sealing

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

I spent all afternoon putting up storm windows, a triple the usual task job due to the damage done and general incompetence of a painter who thought he knew what he was doing but really screwed up. It’s only time and money, but the anger at having to clean up and deal with someone who screwed up my home is also there.

But I haven’t turned the heat on yet – waiting for the storms to go on – it seems like such a waste of energy until then. But I also so didn’t want to deal with really delving into how much damage and mess this guy left behind when he walked off the job with no notice.

Luckily I had the cheerful back up of my new painter, who listened to me swear and growl and agreed with my every assessment. And he was able to do a lot of repair to the windows, and we even fixed a lot of broken sash cords once I showed him how easy it is. Which it really is, if someone hasn’t painted your windows shut and splashed paint on the inside of the frames and….. etc.

So I was venting as I also was sealing up the house for the winter. The final paint job is beautiful, the color is awesome, someone stopping by next door took the time to compliment the house and the color and that is nice. I went bold with a vivid deep blue and black trim.

And it is no coincidence that this is also very close to the color of MY NEW CAR! Which is heading to port even now, due to land on US soil on Wednesday. The blue will be a bit more metallic, but that is good for a car. Not a house.

I’m too tired to turn on the heat at this point at night, maybe tomorrow morning will be good for that.

I will first install my new carbon monoxide detector, however. A reminder to all who read this – please do have one installed and working. I resist the expense of the gas furnace, certainly, I also want to tread lightly and use as little gas as possible to heat. I also just don’t get very cold, so it isn’t a big deal to me to spend a few days in the 50s. But most of all my furnace nearly killed me on December 25, 1988. The heat exchanger clogged, dumping carbon monoxide into the house. This was before there were detectors. Luckily it was on a thermostat with a timer, so after 10 the furnace shut off and I woke up. But the faulty work of the furnace repair people, Koch and White, caused further exposure at a low level, and trouble with chemical sensitivities ever since.

So that is the primary reason I just don’t like having to use a furnace. And will not without a functional carbon monoxide detector.

Winter is here. Time to bundle up and be warm and cozy and reclaim my house from the abuse it has taken. And enjoy.


Monday, October 6th, 2008

It isn’t OK to lie. I suppose I expect it to some extent with the political campaign, but I was lied to by two groups that didn’t need to and it pisses me off. sent out a very questionable e-mail saying it appears that I’m not registered, and how to go to a web site to check. As far as I can tell not only is that total BS, what appears to be wrong? But it was totally unnecessary to lie about my voting status. They could have just said please check to be sure, you never know these days. Instead they are playing on fears and I expect better from that group. And I don’t have anyway of communicating to tell them they stopped too low — they don’t easily do that sort of communication.

I also got a third call from someone calling from Xerox. A local number, 734-453-8828, from Plymouth MI. The last two times they left messages, this time they caught me. The woman explained that she was my Xerox Account representative. I said I don’t have a Xerox account. She asked who I did have an account with. She tried to keep fishing, and I explained I was on the do not call registry and she had no right to call me. She said she would take me off their phone lists right away.

But it was made worse by claiming I had an account with them. How can lying be helpful in attracting new accounts?

It doesn’t help, not in politics, not in business, not in life. If you lie to me I would like to see you punished. That’s the response you’ll get. So you’re also interfering with my intent to be a compassionate person. And that makes me even less happy. I have no problem going public with people or companies that lie. So you’ll also see it posted anywhere I think people may respond. I still let people know about Best Block Company reneging on their delivery of limestone (they were supposed to spread and it and instead just dumped it blocking the road) and agreeing to a partial refund for blocking our street and creating much more work for me. I’ve only cost them a thousand dollars or so of business for that $70 that remains unpaid. But it will continue to add up.


Sometimes that’s what it all comes down to.

On the radio

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

I’m just back from doing an in-studio interview with David Fair, who hosts an environmentally focused interview each Wednesday morning at 8:20 AM on WEMU radio. The impetus was my op ed piece on bicycling, published in the Ann Arbor News. The show is also available on line, archived here.

He did a nice job. Hopefully I did as well. If I had unlimited time and ignored the rule about making just a few points and not getting complicated I would have so much more to say — so I’ll high light some of those points here instead. On the radio it was basically bikes need more visibility to be safe, it is to everyone’s benefit to have more bikes on the road, and enforcement should reflect riding styles and be encouraging to bikes.

Details? In no particular order –

John Pusher has written a lot about getting more people biking and bike safety. He suggests three things –
– separate bike lanes in areas that are heavily traveled
– separate the bikes at intersections
– do traffic calming in neighborhoods to make them pedestrian and bike friendly.

An Arbor Mayor John Hieftje claims we have a ridership commuting rate of 7.5%. Which is way beyond the country wide rate of 1% for bicycle usage. COntrast that to Belgium has 10%, Denmark 20%, and the Netherlands 30%. In Europe the usage is evenly distributed by age and sex. In the US mostly young males.

Places that have really high numbers like Amsterdam and Copenhagen have now created 400 KM in each city of separate bike lanes and paths – removed form car traffic. Other measures include traffic calming, car free zones, bike streets were bikes have priority over cars, and expanded rights for bicycles (for example bikes are 2 way, cars are one way).

“Bike Boxes” or “Advance Stop Lines” are helping as well as advance green signals for bikes, turn restrictions for cars where bikes are allowed to turn, and the yield on stop and stop on red lights all recognize the unique issues and support bicyclists.

Consider timing of lights for bicycle speeds, (creates traffic calming).

Lately there are 20-30 bikes in front of the Co-op most times of the day.

Ticketing bicyclists for running red lights, even when they came to a complete stop first, is accomplishing nothing as far as safety and promoting bicycling. There are many other offenses of greater concern – cars driving in bike lanes, blocking bike lanes, running lights without stopping, cars cutting off pedestrians and bikes when turning, not using turn signals, speeding, etc.

Most important are two studies that show that as the number of bicyclists increase, accidents decrease. Check out Science Daily and Injury Prevention. Policies that increase the number of bicyclists are better at decreasing accidents than bike safety programs that focus on the rider. Most bike accidents are cased by motorists, not bicyclists, so training and licensing have little real effect.

The Toronto Bike Plan found that people are more comfortable using bike paths and lanes seperate from cars, and of course least comfortable having to be in traffic with cars and no separate lanes.

30% of the bike car crashes were from bicycles on sidewalks or just leaving sidewalks.
What were the crashes? 1997-98
motorist driving out at controlled intersection – 284
motorist overtaking – 277
motorist opening vehicle door into bicyclist – 276
left turns while facing bicyclist – 248
right turn not at red light – 224
r turn at red light – 179
drive out form lane or driveway into bicycle – 179

and from there the numbers drop dramatically. There were 2325 car bike crashes total recorded.

A Danish study showed that while bicycling is dangerous, there was a 39% greater mortality rate in people who did not bike to work.

The benefits of increased number of bicycles include increased safety, better health fro the rider, less pollution, less money spent on parking spaces, less wear and tear on the roads, less pollution and climate change effects, and less traffic congestion. A new one for me is that as you make roads more bike friendly, you tend to make a friendlier environment for pedestrians as well.

So there is my unorganized rant on bicycles. I believe the radio interview will be far more coherent and simple.