Thursday, May 29, 2014

"Water: Our Most Undervalued Resource"

This morning, Sustainable Princeton will host another in its excellent series of Great Ideas Breakfasts at the Princeton Public Library. This month's program is about water that comes through Princeton in all its forms: precipitation, runoff, drinking water, wastewater. And those are just the liquid forms of that most magical of substances we take for granted. I'll be leading one of the discussions at the event, which prompted going back through the hundreds of posts on this blog and finding the ones particularly relevant to the issue at hand. Together, they show how connected are all these sources of water in our community.


Where Our Drinking Water Comes From--Canoeing the Mighty Millstone: A kayaking adventure downstream to where Princeton's drinking water is drawn from the confluence of the Millstone and Raritan Rivers, treated and pumped some 20 miles to our faucets.

Princeton's Drinking Water: A writeup on what watersheds supply Princeton's drinking water, and what chemical is used to treat it (usually not chlorine).

Where Princeton's Drinking Water Comes From: Some of Princeton's water used to, and occasionally still does, come from wells in a nature refuge.


Where Princeton's Wastewater Goes: Princeton's annual electrical bill for wastewater treatment approaches $1.5 million dollars.

Save On Sewer Rates: How to reduce your sewer bill and, while you're at it, your water bill.

Reduce Your Water and Sewer Bills:

Practical Dreaming: Atlantic City Lives Part of the Future Today: Windmills, solar panels, a green roof, and treatment good enough to restore nearby shellfish beds.

Willow School: Where the World Starts Making Sense: Cisterns to catch and reuse rainwater, and off-the-grid wastewater treatment by wetlands, are just a few of the sustainable features of this private school to the north of Princeton.


Sump Pump-ageddon: Sump pumps can be a tool for good or mayhem, depending on where they pump your basement water.

Philadelphia's Waterworks: How Philadelphia used to pump its water to the top of the hill where the art museum now stands, and let it gravity feed to neighborhoods.

Clean Water and Recycling: The Connection: The fate of plastics that fall into the street.


A Great Blue Heron Pays a Visit: Backyard miniponds + goldfish = surprise backyard guest

Native Floodplain Wildflowers and the Pollinators They Attract: Many posts can be found on the beauty and rich habitat that runoff can sustain in a backyard. This link was created by typing the word "boneset" into the search box at the companion blog, Try typing in names of other plants or insects to find additional posts.

Retention Basin Beauty: Converting the retention basin "turfpit" at Farmview Fields in Princeton to warm-season native grasses.

Habitat for Education: Another retention basin converted into a rich wetland with frogs, crayfish, wild rice, and thirty other native plant species, at Princeton High School.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Use a Prius as a Backup Generator

For anyone considering buying a generator to run portions of the house during power outages, consider the hybrid car option instead. Though a gas generator can be bought for under $1000, they are noisy, polluting, and will prove undependable if not properly maintained. I overheard a hardware store manager speaking very pessimistically about the life span of the generators he sells. Natural gas generators hooked permanently to the house are quieter and more dependable, but are much more expensive, may require that larger bore gas pipes be installed, and also cannot be guaranteed to start when needed. A generator, after all, requires substantial investment in a machine that will be used very rarely.

One couple I know is considering using their money instead to invest in a Prius for their second car. Devices are available to convert a Prius (and perhaps other hybrids as well) so it can serve as a quiet, dependable generator to sustain vital home functions during power outages. The engine in a Prius is designed to automatically turn on and off to keep the battery pack charged. Here's one brochure on the subject. Definitely worth researching as an option.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Saturday's Pancake Breakfast Benefits the Princeton Rotary

The Rotary Club of Princeton is one of those organizations that works quietly to do a lot of good. I've been getting to know the club's members through their efforts to help save the historic home of the visionary mathematician Oswald Veblen, in Herrontown Wood.

They are a group with a can-do attitude, who find pleasure and satisfaction in serving the community, and have international service projects as well. Their annual Pancake Festival at Palmer Square makes it easy to support their work. Come by tomorrow, Saturday, May 24, for food and jazz, then catch the Memorial weekend parade down Nassau Street.

Learn more about the Rotary at

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Aroma of Sun-Dried Bedsheets

I've encountered these pullies before--rusted, crumpled on the ground--and wondered what they had been used for. Here's one in working order, holding up a clothesline in a friend's backyard. She hangs sheets and pajamas on it. She had worried the neighbors would mind, but that's not the case. The pulley system allows her, or a housekeeper, to hang up all the laundry while standing in one elevated spot on the backyard deck.

Interesting is the story she told of the appealing aroma of sun-dried laundry. She thinks it's the wind that makes it smell so good. She has vivid memories as a child of crawling into bed with freshly cleaned and air-dried sheets. She continued the tradition with her own children. When her kids were young, there was one item (a security blanket?) that one of the kids would only allow to be washed if it was dried out on the line. I like to think of the air-dried sheets as sails whose aroma does the transporting.

This deep sensory connection, of falling asleep to the aroma of the wind, captured in the bedsheets, has an added dimension when it comes to energy. In the photo is our "whole house energy meter", which all houses should come with. The first photo shows our house being powered by nature (air-drying of clothes). Only 90 watts are being used. The consumption skyrockets to 4000 watts if the electric dryer is being used. A clothesline, then, is a way to be solar powered without the expense of panels.

As important as the pulley at either end of the clothesline is the mechanism that allows the clothesline to be easily tightened, particularly when it's new and is stretching out. This little device locks the rope in place after you pull it through.

One note of caution: It may be important to keep the clothesline away from shrubs and other perches, as birds are most likely to lighten their load while perching or at the moment of takeoff. At our house, we use folding racks indoors to dry laundry, with the exception of towels, and an outdoor line under an overhang for sheets in the summertime.

Update: Here's my friend's experience with clotheslines and birds:
"When I started using the clothes line more than 40 years ago I decided that if I had bird droppings I would spot wash the item if I needed to. Surprisingly enough, I have had very few problems over the years even when I still had some wild cherry trees in my back yard, and some of the bird droppings left some very purple markings on my deck. But not on my clothes!!! You just have to have faith."

Friday, May 16, 2014

OnStage Performs Locally Harvested Stories This Weekend

(Also posted at 

OnStage, the 55+ community theater group I joined two years ago, will be performing locally harvested monologues and scenes at the Arts Council of Princeton this Saturday, May 17 at 7:30pm. Directed by McCarter Theater's Adam Immerwahr, we create original documentary scripts gathered from interviews within the community. This year's show, "Live With That", has to do with "the decisions we make, big and small, that have shaped our lives--everything from starting college at age 40, to moving a parent into a nursing home, to dealing with a daughter’s less-than-ideal date."

More info, including a video, can be found at Tickets can be bought online, and there may be some at the door.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Rummage Weekend

Princeton's Unitarian Universalist church is packed again this weekend, that is, with furniture, books, and who knows what else, ready to sell during its super sized rummage sale on Saturday, May 10. Funds raised are given to a long list of local nonprofits.
 Here are the details.
I took the opportunity to deliver a few items rescued from the curb that still had some life in them.

Looks like they'll be going headboard to headlamp against another annual rite of redistribution, the flea market hosted by the Princeton First Aid Squad at 237 North Harrison Street, next to the Shopping Center. That one's 9-1.