Modern Flames

Modern FlamesFireplaces have long established a sacred spot in the center of our living or family rooms.  The nostalgic sound, feel and smell of a crackling wood fire has a cozy, romantic feel.  Many traditionalists believe that a natural wood fire is well worth the mess and effort it takes to build the fire.  And yet, in our never ending quest for “easy,” many have sought cleaner, easier ways to create the coveted fire in the hearth.

As natural gas became more prevalent, many fireplaces were built or retrofitted with a gas fuel to more easily start the wood fire.  However, this still required a supply of wood and the need to clean out the ashes and chimney on a periodic basis.  To eliminate this nuisance, artists created realistic looking ceramic logs to resemble burning wood, with glowing embers beneath.  These fires could be created with the turn of a knob, or even the flick of a switch.  Other artistic creations used glass or stone pebbles out of which the gas-fueled flames would rise, creating soft, elegant fires that warmed the senses. Continue reading

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Cropped Citadel from the Southeast

Machu Picchu city from just inside the Sun Gate, with Huaynu Piccchu mountain just beyond

Ecotourism is a new way to embrace sustainability in travel.  Per the backpacker’s motto – “Take nothing but pictures; leave nothing but footprints.”ecotourism is a style of travel that has a low-impact on the environment, and usually involves pristine or undisturbed natural areas off the beaten path of more commercial destinations. Travelers that choose this alternative vacation are typically eager to learn more about the area they visit, and often see it as a way to support the economic development of the local communities. Ecotourism can be a powerful means to encourage respect for diverse cultures and to support human rights.

After reading The Celestine Prophecy in the mid ‘90s, I became enthralled with Machu Picchu, fascinated by the history and culture of Peru.  I’d read the book after an enthusiastic recommendation from a good friend, and after years of talking about going, we finally decided to put it out on the calendar and make it happen.  After exploring the many options, we chose Peru Tourism to help us plan a two-week ecotour to explore all three distinct and diverse geographies of Peru – the coast, the mountains, and the rainforest. Continue reading

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Recycling Can’t Get Any Easier

Republic ServicesGrowing up, our family started recycling because my frugal father received a small pittance for our aluminum cans and newspapers, so we had special bins in the garage for each.  We’d crush the cans to optimize the space requirements, and haul them off to a specialized facility that would weigh them and pay us by the pound.  It might only be enough to go buy another six pack, but it was incentive enough to help rationalize recycling.

These days, rather than getting that small reward, we actually pay to recycle.  But that’s because recycling is easier than ever.  Most waste haulers offer single stream recycling to enable customers to put all recyclable items into a single container.  The waste hauler collects everything together, and hauls it to a central Material Recovery Facility where recyclables of all kinds are sorted, compressed and baled, then sold and shipped off to be reused.  Smaller MRFs use a lot of manual sorting, but these days there’s a lot of expensive equipment to expedite the sorting process.  After touring a $20 million facility operated by Republic Services, one of largest waste haulers in the country, I was amazed at the speed and immensity of their operation. Continue reading

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Team Microgrid Rides for MS

MS Jersey FrontAfter two wonderful years riding with Team Christner, we finally had enough critical mass to establish a company-sponsored team from Microgrid Solar.  In the last year, we’ve hired a number of new people who are avid cyclists, and ride to work on a regular basis.  Rick Hunter, our CEO and company owner, created a corporate culture that encourages this, allowing employees to wear shorts in the summer and change clothes as needed.  We installed a bike rack in our front stairwell, and offer subsidized transit for people to bike and ride.  As a result of this, Microgrid was awarded a Silver rating as a Bicycle Friendly Business by the League of American Bicyclists.  In addition, Citizens for Modern Transit honored us along with Washington University with an award for 2014 Best Workplaces for Commuters.  . It’s fitting that such a cycling-centered company would have its own team! Continue reading

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Sustainability: A National Strategic Narrative

A National Strategic NarrativeWe all have our “story” – that which defines us either individually or as a group.  As Americans, we have long held the belief in our democratic values.  And yet, as the world has progressed, we are coming to find that we must adjust our policies and goals to reflect new realities.  We need a new “story.”

After World War II, George Kennan published an article The Sources of Soviet Conduct, which established the framework for a new story – that the United States was “the leader of the free world against the communist world; that we would invest in containing the Soviet Union and limiting its expansion while building a dynamic economy and as just, and prosperous a society as possible.”  This led to a non-partisan effort to craft the National Security Act of 1947, which would be the basis for our national defense strategy for the next 50 years and beyond.  Unfortunately, we are finding that the challenges we are facing in the 21st century are far different, and require a much different approach. Continue reading

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Living the Better Life

Better LifeThey say having children will change your life – for the better, of course.  When my wife and I had our first child, we called it “redefining normal.”

When lifelong friends Tim Barklage and Kevin Tibbs began their families at roughly the same time, they watched as their toddlers crawled around the floor and put just about everything that would fit into their mouths, including the fingers that touched nearly every surface within reach.  While many parents angst over the countless germs that their children are exposed to, Tim and Kevin were more concerned about the hazardous residue from the variety of household cleaners that they used to clean their homes. Continue reading

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Living the Dream

DreamStreetTeamMartin Luther King Jr. had a dream that inspired millions, and contributed to an unprecedented era of social change.  His nonviolent stand against racial inequality moved people to take a stand for justice and truth.  He has been exalted and heralded as a martyr for his work.  In tribute to Dr. King, hundreds of cities across America renamed prominent streets after the man who gave his life to this cause.

Melvin White has a dream.  A middle-aged postal worker from St. Louis, he was disturbed by the increasing blight and decay of the street in St. Louis named after MLK.  When he noticed similar conditions in other cities with streets bearing King’s name, he felt compelled to do something to restore honor to the civil rights leader’s name. Continue reading

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Biophilia: Love of Life

Biophilic DesignThere is nothing like the natural beauty of nature.  Some of the most stunning photos or paintings are of natural objects; there is an instinctive bond between humans and nature.

Biophilia is the love of life.  In his 1984 book with that title, Edward O. Wilson originally defined biophilia as “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life.”  This was a pioneering concept that put forth the notion that contact with nature is a critical element to human health.

I recently had the privilege of attending a lecture by Stephen Kellert at the Missouri Botanical Garden on this subject.  A prolific author and researcher, Kellert wrote a book entitled Biophilic Design: The Architecture of Life.  He talked about challenge of incorporating nature back into our built environment. Continue reading

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Bringing Conservation Home

StL AudubonWe’ve lived in our home for over 20 years, and have a relatively mature landscape that we’ve cultivated over that time.  Our now 50+ year-old home is blessed with two handsome pin oaks and a number of other mature trees, including a pair of pink and white dogwoods that offer spectacular spring blossoms.  We inherited little else besides a few bushes and the sun-loving zoysia grass that requires little mowing during the summer.

We recently participated in the St. Louis Audubon Society’s Bring Conservation Home program.  For a small fee, we had an on-site evaluation of our property to identify ways to more fully embrace a native landscape.  Mitch Leachman, who coordinates the program for the Audubon Society, visited our home a week into spring, so only the bravest of plants had emerged from our harsh winter. Continue reading

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Getting the Green Light

Green LEDIf you love incandescent lights, you may feel the demise of Edison’s claim to fame is a shame.  The 100 watt bulb was the first to go in 2012, followed by the 75 watt bulb in 2013, and finally the most popular 40 and 60 watt bulbs are no longer being manufactured in 2014.

While many refer to this as a ban, it’s really a phase-out as a result of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. In anticipation of the change, many stores stocked up on this soon-to-be keepsake, perhaps coddling those who can’t live without their fire-in-glass lighting.  Staunch advocates include decorators, artists and others who insist that there is no match for a burning filament to produce natural light.  In fact, there are still a number of exceptions to allow these purists to continue using incandescents. Continue reading

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