Seven Things, a Reprisal

Many years ago, when I was blogging regularly, I used to share a monthly blog entitled “Seven Things”. It was largely just a list of seven quick, casual statements or stories from the month that kept me blogging somewhat regularly. Seeing as how I haven’t been able to do that for years, I thought I might pick it up again and see how it feels now.

Without further ado, here are seven things:

  1. I deleted instagram for the month of August, and I have mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I was spending way too much time scrolling. While I have spent time curating my feed so that I largely only see real life friends and family or internet people who make me happy or inspired, I was tapping out of the current moment far too often to see what my internet friends were up to. On the other hand, our entire family and the grand majority of our friends live at least a two hour drive away, and I miss the quick check ins and views of their everyday lives. But also, here I am actually writing a blog. A blog that probably no one will read because it has been defunct for so long.
  2. Last Sunday morning I taught paddle board yoga in a light rain while loons dove for fish around us. Core memory.
  3. Speaking of, I can feel myself shifting into a more yoga based movement season. I think I’ll be stepping back from the heavy weights for at least a month or so and leaning into the flow a bit more.
  4. A little more than a week ago, a friend had us over for dinner and made a zucchini soup that was simply made of zucchini, a bit of ghee, and water. I haven’t stopped thinking of it, and now that I have a refrigerator drawer full of zucchini, I think I’ll be making it myself sometime this weekend.
  5. I bought a chainsaw and signed up for a chainsaw safety class in mid-October, which is great because we have a maple tree down in our front yard that needs to get taken care of before winter.
  6. Some local friends have re-started our old book club and we decided we’re not reading anything heavy or too thought provoking. Light stuff, beach reads, rom-coms, the occasional thriller. It’s a true joy. As with most book clubs, we chat about the book maybe 10% of the time and spend the rest of our meet-ups chatting about life and laughing. As it should be.
  7. I’m going to attempt to make dolmas this week, using grape leaves from our grape vines. I have high hopes.

Cheers! And here’s to increased creative writing, which is to say, any at all.


How we got here

Let me tell you a story. I’m not sure exactly what kind of story it is, but one might consider it a love story. A love story between a couple and the land. A story that will hopefully put many things into context. 

When starting a story there is always a question of where exactly to begin. And while this one could start in June of 1984 at my birth, or Christmas of 1991, when I first learned about the Peace Corps, but I’m going to fast forward just a bit to fall of 2006. 

Little baby 22-year-old Clare had just graduated from college and was about to move to Tanzania for a two-year stint with the Peace Corps. I had a duffle bag full of things I for sure thought I would need in the bush and a plan. I was going to teach secondary school in Tanzania for 2 years, come home, go to graduate school for aerospace engineering, and pursue work through NASA. 

Rain storm rolling through the mountains of northern Tanzania

If I had to pinpoint a moment when that all changed, it would have probably been during a bus ride up a dirt road at six in the morning, out of the valley, into the mountains. I  watched the sun rise as fog settled into all the low nooks and crannies. Even now, 15 years later, I can perfectly envision it, and it’s just crack-your-heart-open beautiful. I mean, hand on my heart, the north eastern mountains in Tanzania are just the most beautiful place on the planet, and that’s all there is to it. Anyway, about that time I had just finished reading The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan, and, all eye rolling aside, it changed my life. There, winding my way through the mountains at the beginning of the day, with a new and active interest in soil farms and overwhelmed by the way the hills poked their heads through the fog below me, I knew my plans were changing course to keep me much closer to the ground.

Clare walking on a path through mountain farms in Tanzania

I lived in a community of subsistence farmers who were experiencing the changing climate right then and there. They had been taught to adopt the industrialized agricultural practices of monocrops along with heavy fertilizer, pesticide, and herbicide use to grow corn and beans. Meanwhile the season of long and heavy rains was shifting. Rains were heavier and no longer as predictable as they had once been. At least where I was located, the farming was happening on the sides of mountains without tractors or other machinery. With each rainstorm the soil was washing down the mountain. With the use of more and more chemicals, the quality of the soil that remained was becoming poorer and poorer. 

In the mountains of Tanzania, I planted my own garden and started a compost pile. I battled the neighbor’s chickens, who ate all my seedlings when I foolishly planted out of season. Coming from Minnesota, I expected seasons to be defined by temperature, leaves changing colors and falling from the trees, and daylight changes rather than rain patterns and when the chickens were no longer allowed to free range for planting time. I was finally able to grow my own broccolini and cilantro. I read my text book on permaculture cover to cover, and spent my free time daydreaming about working with the soil and the seasons to grow my own food. At the same time that I was beginning a relationship with my now husband, Neil, I was preparing to return to the U.S. and realizing that my decade long dream of being an astronaut was being pushed aside by a new and growing passion for creating healthy land and pursuing renewable energy sources.

Clare and Neil on a log walking bridge over a river in Tanzania

I returned to Minnesota at the beginning of winter, but as soon as the weather permitted I built a large compost bin in my dad’s backyard. I planted rows of tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes. And I started looking at graduate programs in mechanical engineering.

Hitching my wagon to a partner pursuing a medical degree with a rural family medicine specialty led to a lot of moving around in the early days of our relationship. Without a yard of our own, we planted seeds in community gardens. I took classes on rain gardens, home solar projects, and a beekeeping course, and we dreamed of eventually owning an old farm and transitioning the land back to native prairie and woodlands. By the time we settled in Baraboo we were ready to plant an ambitious kitchen garden. We tore the lawn out  of the entire back yard, and replaced it with prairie grasses, wildflowers, all varieties of vegetables, and planted a native shade garden. On that little fifth of an acre, we grew towering sunflowers, and watched bunnies make their home in our grasses and hummingbirds and butterflies regularly flit through our flowers. We joined a local climate change action group and started learning about controlled burns and invasive plant management.

Neil rolling up sod in a backyard
a curly haired toddler with a flower in his hair stands in a corn, beans, and squash garden

Isn’t it funny how looking back it seems like a perfectly logical build up to where we are now? And yet, on that late June day, when we closed on our property, after we finished unloading the moving truck and started poking around the land, we found ourselves completely overwhelmed by what we had gotten ourselves into. How had our friends and family members not stopped us from purchasing a 91-acre farmette? Who did they think we were? Who did we think we were? We had no idea what we were going to do with all this land.

carbon negative project

Going Carbon Negative: A New Project

going carbon negative winter field close up

In mid-January 2020, Microsoft announced that it would be working toward becoming carbon negative by 2030. I, being the person in our household that intentionally consumes news content, mentioned it to Neil (who actively avoids consuming news content unless it is via The Onion), and he replied, “So, we should go carbon negative by 2030 too?”

I kind of laughed it off and continued with the discussion of what Microsoft was planning to do while I finished washing the dishes, and making dinner, and all those regular tasks. But the idea stuck. And soon so many questions were swirling around my mind. Could we go carbon negative as a family? Is that something that only businesses can really do? How would we even figure that out? What would it look like? Can you be carbon negative and still be a part of mainstream society?

A week or so later, I brought it up to Neil again.

“Remember when we were talking about Microsoft going carbon negative, and you asked if we should do it too? What if we did?”

Neil, no stranger to my sometimes (always) over ambitious plans, said, “Sure.”

garden and chicken coop with chickens eating grass

Ok, so what next?

Well, what’s next was everything that was 2020 and now into 2021. We’ve really kicked this one off with a bang, aren’t we? Which is largely why I’ve been sitting on sharing this project for the past 12 months. But while we were stuck at home, we also had some opportunity to start making moves.


Let us remember

baraboo river sunriseLet us remember, in the wake of 45 pulling out of the Paris Agreement, that ultimately, it is on us to act.

Make the choices in your everyday life that use less fossil fuels, more sustainable materials and manufacturing practices, and conserve the beautiful Earth we have. Make the choice to support companies that are doing the same. Vote with your dollars, and when the time comes, vote with your vote.

Constant vigilance, right?


living green

state of support

lady slipper in the upper penninsula, MI
lady slipper in the upper penninsula, MI

Something that has crossed my mind more than once in the last 5 months has been moving to California, where they seem to take environmental protections at least a little bit seriously. Realistically, this wouldn’t even be possible for another 3 or 4 years, but the thought has floated through my head.

It seems like every week, on top of the anti-environmental moves being made by the federal government, our governor here in Wisconsin is trying to keep pace. Trying to remove climate change from the rhetoric. Making it against the rules for government employees to work on climate change issues. Trying to take a century old publication away from the DNR. All of the denial is exhausting. Especially when each summer we watch the effects of more severe weather take a toll on the crops. A state with a largely agriculture based economy should be doing everything possible to preserve our natural resources.

But the answer is not really for us to move to a part of the country where more people already think and act like we do when it comes to conservation and care for the earth. Instead it is to plant our feet firmly here and do what we can on this land. Act as an example of how we can not only preserve nature, but we can restore it. We can make the land healthier with each passing season if we act thoughtfully. And we can do it while both enjoying the beauty of the land, and enjoying the benefits of our 21st century life.

We currently live in a town of about 12,000 people. We live in town, just a few blocks from the town square. Our small house sits on about a quarter of an acre, with neighbors on all sides on similar lots. We chose this house because its modest size is enough for us at this stage in our lives and it means we get to have a big backyard. Even knowing that we were only going to be in this place for a few years, we decided to invest in the small bit of land. We began amending the soil with compost, manure, and blood meal. We planted a substantial garden full of herbs, vegetables, and flowers to attract pollinating and beneficial insects. And we dedicated a few hundred square feet of the yard to a prairie garden, full of native grasses and wildflowers. Over the course of two years we’ve seen birds and butterflies flock to our small space. A reprieve amidst the other lawns and driveways. It takes some sweat equity, but we’ve made a little ecosystem here over the last two summers, and we’re hoping to take what we’ve learned and apply it to bigger lands in the future.

Californians, please keep working to protect our beautiful country. The regulations that you enact are important, and your population is big enough, that businesses have to take note, have to make adjustments to be able to keep up with you. Set the path. And we’ll do our best here to hold down the fort in the middle of the country. To act as an example. To vote responsibly when we have the opportunity.

And to hope that someday soon, our government will takes it head out of its ass.



sunset in boston
Sunset. Boston.

I’ve been thinking about sitting down and writing again in this space for months now. I’ve been thinking about what I want this space to be. I’ve been thinking about what I want myself to be in our current world, current United States, current environment. And the answer is not clear yet.

But part of the answer seems to still be a voice. Maybe a voice shouting a bit louder than the rest of the din. A voice saying, “Hey, take care. Take care. Take care.”

In a few months we’ll be moving again. Our third move in as many years. With at least one more on the near horizon after this one. Just another 80 miles down the road. Slightly north, slightly west. We’ll say goodbye to our little town, our little garden, our little house. And make a new home. Just like we have in the past, numerous times. Bringing mostly the same stuff with us, and also a few new plants. And we’ll try to put down new roots. And we’ll try to build more earth. And we’ll try to take care. Because this is all we have.



I didn’t necessarily intend to take a 3 month break from this place. It just happened. Life moved along, and I didn’t have the words to put here for a time. But I hope to say hello a bit more often in the new year. I think it’ll be a good one.

energy house

The Energy Efficiency Project: Month 8

Energy Efficiency Project month 8

July 13th – August 13th, 31 days

Late July and early August was considerably drier in these parts, so we didn’t have to run our dehumidifier very often. With the dry also came the heat, however, so we definitely were running our ceiling fans for most of this month. On really hot afternoons when the fans just weren’t cutting it anymore I would close up the house and turn on the air conditioner. Once the house cooled down to about 74°F, I would turn off the AC and keep all the windows and doors shut to keep the heat from getting in as much as possible. Usually running the AC for an hour or so would cool down the house until the heat broke as the sun went down.

This month’s upgrade cost: $0.00

Total upgrade cost to date: $26.64

Over 31 days we used 492 KWH. Which comes out to an average 15.9 KWH/day. Compared to the last billing period average of 19.2 KWH/day, you can really see how much electricity that dehumidifier was using while it dried out our basement.

We are part of the Alliant Energy Second Nature renewable energy program, at the 100% level. (In this program you can choose the amount of your energy use that you want to be matched in renewables, and we chose 100%.) The cost of our renewable energy was $0.14 per KWH for this billing cycle, for a total of $69.81

This month we used 0 Therms of natural gas heat energy. Which averages out to 0.0 Therms/day. However we did still have a small charge to keep our gas on this month, and probably also to pay for meter readers and what not. Degree days this month compared to last month: 0 vs. 25

The natural gas market fluctuates in Wisconsin, so there is not an easy dollar per Therm number to give you, but during this billing period we paid $9.90 for our gas use.

Our energy bill also provides these numbers for helpful comparison:

Electricity used this month last year: 159 KWH. This was clearly the month that the previous owners moved out of this house and were just using maintenance electricity while it was on the market!

Gas used this month last year: Unavailable – Again, this is the time the previous owners moved out and put this house on the market, so they may have turned off the gas for the summer. Average temperature this month: 73° F. This month last year: 70° F.

Degree Days this month: 0 vs this month last year: 10. Degree days are the number of degrees below 65° F in one day, all added together for the total 31 days of the billing period.

Have you signed up for the building earth newsletter yet? You can do that here!

Want to see previous months of the Energy Efficiency Project? Here is Month 1Month 2, Month 3Month 4Month 5, Month 6, and Month 7.

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energy house living green

40 Green Actions You Can Start Today

simple green actions to start todayFor the past month I’ve had the opportunity to be a part of a climate change discussion group in my community. We’ve been reading EAARTH, and discussing the realities of climate change both world wide and within our own small part of SW Wisconsin. And we’ve been trying to envision what action looks like for us.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by how big this problem is, and how little it seems like our personal actions are. The Tanzanian’s have a saying, “Haba na haba hujaza kibaba.” Which translates to “Little by little the bucket gets filled,” and that’s important for us to keep in mind. Yes, we may have seemingly little say in the policies enacted within our own states and country, let alone in the worldwide cooperation that is needed to tackle our energy, and resource issues and our greenhouse gas emissions. But we can start taking simple, concrete actions now. And as we successfully implement each habit, it will be easier to take the next step. Little by little, we’ll fill the bucket.

So with those thoughts in mind, here’s a list of actions you can start taking right now to increase conservation, decrease energy use, and reduce your carbon footprint.

40 green actions you can start today

1. Switch out your incandescent light bulbs for LED light bulbs.

2. Plug your electronics into a power strip, and turn off the power strip when you’re not using them.

3. Turn your thermostat up a few degrees now (and down a few degrees in the winter).

4. Sign up for your local power companies green energy program, you’ll pay a little extra for your energy, but you’ll get it from renewable supplies and tell your power company how important it is for them to invest in renewables.

5. Set the temperature on your hot water heater to 120 degrees or lower.

6. Hang dry your laundry.

7. Stop watering your grass.

8. Plant something edible.

9. Shop your local farmers market.

10. Bring reusable bags along for all your shopping trips (not just to the grocery store!)

11. Purchase dry goods like beans, grains, and pasta from the bulk bins.

12. Start a compost pile.

13. Clean with vinegar, baking soda, and castile soap.

14. Walk if your destination is less than a mile away. Work your way up to two miles away.

15. Look for opportunities to carpool or take public transportation.

16. Add meat-free meals to your repertoire.

17. Purchase humanely and ethically raised meat.

18. Unsubscribe from catalogs

19. Unsubscribe from “junk” mailings

20. Refresh yourself on your communities recycling capabilities and look for opportunities to expand your recycled materials.

21. Carry a reusable water bottle or coffee mug.

22. Use reusable bags or glasses for food storage.

23. Eat fruits and vegetables that are in season and grown in your area.

24. Support local small businesses and local trades workers.

25. Shop consignment or second hand stores for clothing, rather than buying new.

26. Share infrequently used appliances and tools with your neighbors, like lawn mowers.

27. Shovel your snow instead of using a snow blower.

28. Set up a clothing swap among your friends and neighbors.

29. Support local conservation by visiting your state parks.

30. Let your grass grow a bit longer between mowings.

31. Purchase “made in America” and recycled materials.

32. Donate your own no longer used items to second hand stores.

33. Cook more meals at home.

34. Make your own coffee.

35. Use mulch on your garden to cut down on watering needs.

36. Wash your clothing on the cold cycle.

37. Switch from paper napkins, towels, and tissue to cloth.

38. Check out books from the library.

39. Sign up for electronic statements.

40. Sign up for electronic bill pay.

Again, these simple actions aren’t going to save the world from climate change, but they will start a habit of mindfulness about consumption and energy use. These small actions can help pave the way for you to start taking bigger actions, and they can start conversations with your neighbors, friends, family, and co-workers.

Do you have others to add to this list? Send them my way!

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energy house

Home Solar Power: How much solar power do I need?

A few weeks ago I wrote about getting started with a home solar power project. That post was an overview on how much power you might need to power your home, and how much a home solar power project is likely to cost you. This week I’m going to start the deep dive, and I’ll use our home as an example.

How much solar power do I need

So, how much solar power do I need?

Well, let’s start with a quick overview of our household, so you can do a simple comparison to your own home and get an idea of if you’ll need more or less before doing your own deep dive.

Our house is a single story bungalow, a little over 1000 square feet. It is home to my husband Neil, our toddler Eli, and myself. We live in a small town in Wisconsin, so we have both cold winters, and fairly warm, humid summers. We are careful with our energy use, but we enjoy pretty much all modern amenities, with the exception of a dishwasher and a microwave. Our appliances are aging, 15 – 20 years is my guess, and we have an electric stove.

We are connected to the grid, and if we put in solar power here, we would stay connected to the grid.

Step 1: Calculate your energy use

Look up the amount of Kwh of electricity that you have used for each billing cycle over the past year. Add it all together, and divide by 365 (or 366 if it was a leap year).

You might think that you should look at your highest energy use month and use that to find your daily use. This method would help ensure that you are drawing all your energy from solar power all year long, but it is also going to cause the size of your solar project to go up quite a bit. This can be both cost and space prohibitive.

By building a solar power project based on energy use averaged over the entire year, you will probably have to buy some extra electricity during the winter, when there is less sunshine and you are possibly using more electricity. But in the summer, you will produce enough to sell back to the grid, recouping your electricity costs in the winter, and over time your solar power project costs. It will also keep your solar panel array to a more manageable size and cost.

Realistically, if you live in a city or town, you’re just not going to have the space necessary to put in enough solar power to meet your entire usage needs. But knowing how much you are using daily will put your project in scope from the beginning, and maybe also help you to think about where you could start cutting back. Remember, if you don’t use the energy in the first place you don’t have to pay for it, and we don’t have to create it by any means, saving all sorts of resources.

OK, so on to our house and our energy use. For the 7 months that we’ve been home owners thus far, I’ve been chronicling our energy use in the energy efficiency project posts. So far we’ve used 2873 Kwh over 208 days. This puts our average daily use at 13.8 Kwh. This is actually a pretty low ball estimate of our daily electricity use, because keep in mind that we were only living here part time for 5 of those months. As we continue living in this house, I’ll revisit these numbers and update as we get a more realistic idea of our average daily use.

Ok. So our goal is to produce 13.8 Kwh of electricity each day with our future solar panels.

Step 2: Find the amount of sun hours your location gets

We use 13.8 kwh of electricity each day, on average. But we don’t need to produce all that electricity at once, just over the course of the day. Because, as I’m sure you’re well aware, the sun doesn’t shine for just one hour most days. In the summer, it might be shining for 14 – 16 hours per day, and with solar panels you can turn that sunlight into electricity the entire time it’s shining. But, as I’m also sure you’re well aware, sometimes the sun really does only peak out for a short while, and some days not at all. So you need to find the average amount of time that the sun shines in your location each day.

Most companies that sell solar panels and accessories have charts and maps that can help you figure our the average hours of sunshine your location gets per day. For example, this chart on the Wholesale Solar website tells me that Madison, WI gets an average of 4.3 hours of sunlight each day. Again, this number is averaged over the entire year, so using it in my calculations means that on cloudy winter days, I’ll probably have to purchase electricity from the grid. But on sunny summer days, I’ll produce extra electricity that I’ll be able to sell back to my power company.

Step 3: Calculate the amount of solar power capacity you need. 

Solar power capacity is the amount of kilowatts your panel array can produce when the sun is shining on it at any moment. It’s pretty simple to calculate: Take your average daily electricity use, and divide it by the average daily hours of sunlight in your area.

For us, 13.8 kwh / 4.3 hours = 3.2 kilowatts.

So we want enough solar panels to produce 3.2 kilowatts of electricity.

Step 4: Factor in efficiency

You may remember from high school physics (or maybe not) that when energy is converted from one form to another, their are losses. In this case, when the light energy from the sun is converted into electrical energy by the solar panels, not all of the solar energy collected gets turned into electricity. Some of it is lost as heat, or friction between the electrons in the wires, etc. Currently, solar panels are 78% efficient. Meaning that 78% of the solar energy they collect, makes it into electricity.

In order to account for this efficiency (or inefficiency, as the case may be) we divide our solar power capacity by 0.78.

So, how much solar power do I need? 3.2 Kw * 0.78 = 4.1 Kw

In order to power our home we need enough panels to produce 4.1 Kw of electricity. How about you?

Or at least in an ideal situation. Next time we’ll take a look at other things we need to consider.

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Want to learn more about solar power? Check out how it’s made in these posts: Solar Power part 1, Solar Power part 2

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