Book Review Poetry

Breathing Poetry

This past fall I participated in a Madwomen in the Attic Workshop led by local Morgantown poet, Lori Wilson. The class of five women, including Lori, provided an intimate setting in which I felt comfortable reading raw work in an effort to produce better poetry. The class also made me focus on writing. Lori’s insightful comments have continued to echo in my thoughts while I rework many of the poems presented in class. Last year I read Poetry for Dummies for the first time, which gives additional suggestions for inspiration and refining poetry. I thought I’d share a few examples from it below.

poetry for dummies

I’m finding these exercises below very helpful:

Chapter 9 – Going for the Breath: Framing individual lines

As you read poetry you become sensitive to the way you breathe. You read a group of words and then pause before reading another group of words -it’s just natural. Pay attention to that when you write poetry as well. Let those natural pauses determine where lines end. The breath, as it’s called in the poetry world, is a natural way to frame individual lines. -pg 162

My poem went from this:

To this:

Chapter 10 – Working with Traditional Forms of Verse : Traditional Ballads

Ballads take many forms. A popular one is the four-line stanza in which the first and third lines are written in iambic tetrameter (four iambs) and the second and fourth are written in iambic trimeter (three iambs), with a rhyme scheme of ABXB (the third line, X, need not rhyme or may rhyme with A).

Here’s what two such stanzas may sound like:

The winter moon had tipped and spilled
Its shadows on the lawn
When Farmer Owen woke to find
His only daughter gone;

She’d taken all the clothes she had
Against the biting cold,
nd in a note to him she wrote,
“I’ve taken all your gold.”

pg 170

Chapter 10 – Sonnets

  • It must consist of 14 lines.

  • It must be written in iambic pentameter (duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH-duh-DUH).

  • It must be written in one of various standard rhyme schemes.

If you’re writing the most familiar kind of sonnet, the Shakespearean, the rhyme scheme is this:





Every A rhymes with every A, every B rhymes with every B, and so forth. You’ll notice this type of sonnet consists of three quatrains (that is, four consecutive lines of verse that make up a stanza or division of lines in a poem) and one couplet (two consecutive rhyming lines of verse).

Ah, but there’s more to a sonnet than just the structure of it. A sonnet is also an argument — it builds up a certain way. And how it builds up is related to its metaphors and how it moves from one metaphor to the next. In a Shakespearean sonnet, the argument builds up like this:

  • First quatrain: An exposition of the main theme and main metaphor.

  • Second quatrain: Theme and metaphor extended or complicated; often, some imaginative example is given.

  • Third quatrain: Peripeteia (a twist or conflict), often introduced by a “but” (very often leading off the ninth line).

  • Couplet: Summarizes and leaves the reader with a new, concluding image.

    pg 172


Chapter 11 – Writing exercises for Poets pg 184-185

1. Using language from one subject to write about another. (By Bernadette Mayer)

2. Hiding half of your poem from sight. Take one of your poems and fold it in half horizontally, so you can see the top half of the poem but not the bottom half. Rewrite the half you can’t see- without looking at the original. Compare the original to you revisions. (By Maxine Chernoff)

3. Reworking poems you don’t like. Select one of your poems that you’re dissatisfied with. Read it through. Now put it away. Try to write the same poem again without referring to the older version. (By Maxine Chernoff)


house where a woman

Check out Lori’s work, and join the Madwomen in the Attic local class as we host Mary Lucille DeBerry in the celebration of her new book. Hope to see you next Saturday, at 2:00 on January 10th at the MAC in Morgantown, WV.


Book Review Poetry

Poetry for Dummies


I’m currently reading Poetry for Dummies published in 2001 and have given myself Saturday afternoon homework.

poetry for dummies

In the middle of chapter 9, a chapter describing Open-Form poetry, there is a great open verse tutorial. I’ve found it online as well at the Dummies website too and have copied it below.

Think of open-form poetry as a way of thinking — an especially intense awareness of every single aspect of the poem, from subject and tone to music and rhythm, from the physical shape of the poem to the length (in space and in time) of the lines, from the grammar you use to the parts of speech.

When you write an open-form poem, try to be very conscious. Everything in the poem, every feature, every aspect, must have a reason for being there. Be conscious of the following:

  • Economy. Cram as much energy as possible into each word. Cut everything that doesn’t absolutely need to be there.
  • Grammar and syntax. Are you always using complete sentences? Well, that’s fine — but you could also do it another way. Decide whether you have a reason to write in complete sentences for this poem. If you can come up with a reason, fine. If not, consider alternatives — bursts of words, single words, word fragments. And who says you have to use “proper” grammar? Or punctuation? Try breaking a few rules, if that improves the poem.
  • Parts of speech. Some teachers say you shouldn’t use adjectives or adverbs; they prefer nouns and verbs instead. That’s an excellent starting point: Use only the words you need. If all you’re doing is prettifying something, forget it. Use adjectives only when they’re surprising (“your green voice”), contradictory (“aggressive modesty”), or give information the reader simply can’t get elsewhere (“It was a Welsh ferret” — how else would we know a ferret was Welsh?).
  • Rhythms. Look at the rhythms in your lines. Does the rhythm of the line contribute to its meaning? Anything sing-songy? If so, is it good that it’s sing-songy?Often, open-form verse falls into iambs (a group of syllables consisting of an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable, as in “alas!”) and dactyls (one stressed syllable followed by two unstressed, as in “penetrate”). Don’t let this happen unless there is a reason for it.
  • The physical lengths (the number syllables and the actual length) of the lines you use. Avoid falling into exactly the same lengths. Every length should have a reason behind it.
  • The length (in time) it takes to read each line aloud. If each line takes about the same number of seconds, figure out whether there’s a reason for it. If there isn’t, consider other shapes and lengths.
  • Line endings. Poets realize that line endings carry a certain emphasis or pressure. Your lines should end where they end for some reason. The way a line ends — where, and after what word or punctuation mark — should be the best way to end. Do you want a pause there? What’s going to happen when your readers go to the next line? Something unexpected? Some surprise?Read a lot of open-form verse, and you’ll notice that poets use a great deal of enjambment, winding the words around the ends of lines in gorgeous and meaningful ways.

I have so many half-formed poems that need to be worked on. I brought one of them to the table with me and tried to think of its’ form and consider it in the light of each of the bullet points above.

My poem went from this:

The Rush of Wings


Each day that passed she fell in order with living

The resonance of time, individual

The light of the sun

Counted on


The rush of wings

Shook loose the snow

Buried on top of the earth


Dreams of her mother

Visited at night

Awaking other thoughts that had been lost


taking care of yourself,

cleaning the closets,

using glasses from the cupboard,

time alone


When quietness had come.

To this:

The Rush of Wings


Death is a gaping hole

A limp lived with

In the wake of a loss

Someone is left alone


Each day passed

Living fell in order

Time, individual


The movement of the sun

Counted on

My grandmother smiled.


The rush of wings

Shook loose the snow

Buried in the earth


Dreams of her mother

Visited at night

Awakening lost thoughts


Taking care of yourself

Cleaning the closets

Using glasses from the cupboard

Time alone


When quietness had come.


Other quotes I’ve picked up in my reading are below:

More meaning, fewer words. pg 10

Use vowels, consonants, sounds as a rhythm to the music of your poetry. pg 69

An intricate braid of poems. pg 103

Let the natural poem breath make the line break. pg 163

One thing I don’t do very often with my poetry is to speak it aloud. Joining a writers group allows this verbalization, which in turn informs my poetry by the way I hear myself and the way others describe understanding my poems.

(I liked the grassy swirls on the first image above. I took this at Phipps Conservatory.)
Architecture Book Review

Architecture Forces

I immediately had to agree with Mr. Hawthorne! While reading through Taking the Pulse of Architecture (By Christopher Hawthorne for Architectural Record) I underlined the following sentence: The two most disruptive forces to hit the profession in decades: the digital revolution on one hand and the global economic crisis on the other.

The 2012 version,  {of the Venice Architecture Biennale} running until November 25 and anchored by a thoughtful, beautifully crafted, and rather cautious main show by the 58-year-old British architect David Chipperfield, is no exception. It reveals in almost painfully honest terms the clashing ways that architects are reacting to the two most disruptive forces to hit the profession in decades: the digital revolution on one hand and the global economic crisis on the other.

Then, I had to write about it myself.

Two influences on Architecture today:

the digital revolution and an economic crisis.

~ Part 1 – The Economic Crisis

There are problems with the profession of Architecture. In a production-induced environment creativity comes second to a quick project. The products we build with, the environment we build in, and the schedules we work around are binding. Construction itself is cost prohibitive. We are value-engineering ourselves out of work. This is an economic crisis within an economy that has tried to grow too quickly. Lending money to house every willing individual created a sinkhole in 2008, when banks needed a bailout to survive. The money problem is grand. But within it I’m still, luckily, working in a small architecture firm. As an architect not only do I have to fashion the way materials come together, but I have to be creative with how my client will afford the architecture. This process requires foresight just as much as buildings do.

The price to build hasn’t changed and neither have the means to complete one. This translates into proposed projects my clients cannot afford. I must find a creative solution to advance their plans. So, I must move beyond the drawing table to initiate thinking of an economic model for architecture. I can design and build, keeping the sensitivity of design and cost by developing localized responsibility on nearby resources. The role of architect expands to encompass being a “program” worker, a cost estimator, and a magician with new materials to shelter societies needs in an affordable way.

Architects have different ways of managing budgets while getting projects built.  Susanna Sirefman’s book ‘Modern Shoestring’ discusses building with inexpensive materials much like Jill Herbers’ book ‘PreFab Modern’.  Herbers’ book suggests using readily available materials to cut costs. Steel, glass and aluminum are suggested materials that can be found in abundance. This is confirmed in the new use for old shipping containers. These steel boxes are sliced to fit windows and doors within a houses’ program of spaces. The structural blocks have been stacked, embed in the earth, and cantilevered from sites to form creative solutions to house our fascination of how to shelter ourselves.

‘Building around bargain basement windows, Sirefman describes, is an inexpensive solution to providing windows where sunlight is needed. Using recognizable materials in new ways can provide a sustainable reuse of items that may have been discarded. Specific applications for materials may also be selected for inherent qualities in the material to create insulated, solar, off-the-grid homes that provide comfortable houses without the over dependence on nonrenewable energy. The well-worn materials can be used to their best purpose. Herbers’ book describes a case study on five homes. These homes, Ikea Blokok House, Graves’s Target House, Holl’s Turbulence House, D. Hentz’s Venice Ca ‘Concrete House’, Susi and Fred Houses by KFN Architects, and J. Siegals Office of Mobile Design are built examples that push creative ideas for practical applications. Herbers’ book offers ‘advice on new materials and processes’ with these examples (as I read in a recent review here.)

Cost-Effective Building, a book edited by Christian Schittich is another book that markets building to ‘create unique architectural solutions with small budgets.’  Within a book review on A Daily Dose of Architecture, the author simplifies the summary of the solution as ‘simplified structures and volume affords more (envelope) detail.’ A comment on the post responds that ‘repeating non-planar, inexpensive elements you begin to see non-orthogonal buildings constructed cheaply.’

Sirefman offers a third solution in the budget versus architecture balance to be the selection of the construction team. ‘Perhaps the client can offer his hand, an undergraduate class is available for a learning session, or a less expensive contractor may sometimes be found.’ Though, I would imagine this ‘cheap labor’ is something that cannot be shopped for so easily. Some contractors bill labor and material directly to the customer. Other contracting firms mark-up the materials on top of the labor costs. Just as every site and client differs, so do the ways in which to get creative with a budget.

Stephen Crafti, in his book Affordable Architecture suggests a focus on the planning phases. Architects take on the role of a psychologist, or a life organizer, related to the structure that surrounds your living. ‘Strong ideas are more valuable than unlimited budgets.’ He says. With a focus on ‘short term and long-term costs, program shrinkages, and on what the client needs versus what they ‘want’ a realistic plan can be pulled out. It takes an architect that is well versed in bargaining and thoughtful solutions from the onset. The architect must stand on the side of the budget for their client, so that in the end a project is constructible.

Perhaps architects should work harder at finding materials to build with in the beginning. If I don’t want to be shocked with the sticker price as bids come in, I shop, collect, and find solutions within materials already accumulated. Materials architects may find at their disposal can found in antique shops such as those I’ve found in Pittsburgh at the end of this article.

The solutions begin to repeat the same mantra, materials and labor, materials, labor, and an architects’ expertise is challenged and celebrated in the way they choose to work with both to their advantage.

Architectural Emporium, Adams Ave. in Canonsburg Pa

TriState Antiques in Canonsburgh Pa

Construction Junction, Lexington Ave., Pittsburgh

Final Authority Antiques 2358 Penn Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15222  (412) 281-1488

Mahla & Co Antiques – 17th & Smallman Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 (412) 471-2090

Zenith Antiques – 86 South 26th Street Pittsburgh, PA 15203   (412) 481-4833 

Who’s New 5156 Butler Street Pittsburgh, PA


~ See the plywood ceilings Above ? ~


After writing the article above, I’ve found numerous publications siting how Architects can budget with materials. For example:  Use cheap and recycled materials! by Parrish Art Museum by Herzon & de Meuron

To keep costs down, Mergenthaler used the pocked and craggy concrete that covers the museum’s long exterior sides after seeing similarly rough walls in a local basement. The scruffy character of the mottled concrete keeps the vast expanses from looking monotonous. “The thing that you really engage with first has to have a presence, a solidity, and a character,” says Mergenthaler. “It’s not just cladding.”  – Article in Architecture Record by William Hanley

Book Review

Reading and Reflection

There’s nothing like a well written book to give me a full dose of inspiration. I return to Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writer every few years to remind myself again to read slower, seek classic writers, and be more perceptive in the life that surrounds me. Francine Prose

In the last month I’ve let go of my leadership role in a local book club to focus on books I’ve wanted to read for years. This year I’ll be focusing on reading work to inspire my writing and architecture work.

So, to the Happy New Year I go.

My bookshelves are stocked with the following books:

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Threshold by Shirley Kaufman

Molly MCBean and the Secret Cave by Joanie Murray

Blaise Cendrars Complete Poems

Green-Silver and Silent Poems by Marc Harshman

Complexity and Contradiction by Robert Venturi

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain

All thatFeeds Us by Marc Harshman

Virginia Woolf’s essay on Being Ill

The Lacuna by Barbara Kinsolver

A Land More Kind than Home by Wiley Cash

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Professional Practice: Architects

Reveal by Studio Gang Architects

Virginia Woolf: An Inner Life by Julia Briggs

Chuck Dugan is AWOL: By Eric Chase Anderson

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham

Sample: 100 Fashion Designers (Phaidon Press)

Land of Love and Drowning by T. Vanique

The French House by Don Wallace

The Victorian City by Justin Flanders

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Thinking Architecture by Peter Zumthor

Cusp: Poems by Jennifer Grotz

David Adjaye: Making Public Buildings by Peter Allison

David Adjaye: Houses; Recycling, Reconfiguring, Rebuilding by Peter Allison

Local Journeys Poems by Marc Harshman

Joseph Albers: To Open Eyes

A Writer’s Reference by Diana Hacker

The Sense of Order by E H Gombrich

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

The Face of North America by Peter Farb

The Dream of Earth by Thomas Berry

Signs and Seasons by John Burroughs

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Animal Farm by George Orwell

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

A Jury of Her Peers by Elaine Showalter

Where I’m calling From: New and Selected Stories by Raymond Carver

American Pastoral by Philip Roth

The Odyssey Translated by Robert Fagles

Sappho: A new Version by Willis Barrstore

Beowulf translated by Seamus Heaney

Hafez and Rumi (Khajyam and Ghalib)

The Sonnets by W. Shakespeare

Dante: The Divine Comedy, The infernno of Dante by R. Pinskey

Pacific and Other Stories by Mark Helprin

As I Lay Dying and Light in August by William Faulkner

Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

A Portrait of Dorian Gray by Karl Lagerfeld

She Walks in Beauty, Caroline Kennedy on Poetry

Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

Mary Oliver’s New and Selected Poems

Noose and Hook by Lynn Emanuel

a gathering of matter a matter of gathering by Dawn Lundy Martin

Finding Beauty in a Broken World by Terry Tempest Williams

Figure Studies by Claudia Emerson

The Last American Man by Elizabeth Gilbert

The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson

Frank Delaney’s Ireland

All Quiet on the Western Front by Enrich Maria Remarque

Blood, Bones, and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton


That should be enough to get me through winter, right?

Architecture Book Review Building Sustainably Environmental

The search for The Greenest way I can build a new Home

The best methods, The best materials

What is Green Building in the Northeast U.S.? I’ve consulted the following book many times in designing new spaces. I’ve found the information in what has been provided to me through searching The Passive Solar House links.

The Passive Solar House by James Kachadorian

Book Review

Rule #1: Build in Reference to your Surroundings

Position the long direction of the house in the East/West direction and plant deciduous trees along the South. James gives direction for how to know your site. ‘Make a point of being on site at sun rise and sunset at different times of the year. Develop a sense for which direction the prevailing wind comes from…in addition to solar orientation, consider access, view, wind, direction, snow removal, power, septic and water.” In the past when I have mentioned Slow Building, this is the direction I was seeking.

Rule #2: Design on a 12 month basis. ‘Accommodate and benefit from the sun’s shifting patterns and other natural seasonal cycles.’

Rule #3: Provide effective thermal mass to store free solar heat in the day time for nighttime use. The above diagram is a graphic from the book where he notes ‘achieve thermal balance by sizing the storage capacity of the thermal mass to provide the heating needs of the building through the night.

4″ slab over 12″ CMU is approximately 10″ of solid concrete.

10″ x by the building x and y dimensions = the ____ cubic feet of volume.

Ways of keeping the heat in include thermo-shutters, as described in the image below. However, you want to make sure that your building envelope is a closed cell construction to protect the R values you’ve invested in it as well as to prevent insect damage. The envelope is something that you may ‘Dress as you please.’

This is a graphic for a wall section, envelope, that you would find in the north-eastern United States. For example, the vapor barrier is always to be on the warm side, and in this area the warm side is the heated side of the home, on the interior because we heat in the winter. This leads us to Rule #4:  Insulate thoroughly and use well-sealed vapor barriers.

While constructing a home for my family I studied Advanced Framing, also termed Value Engineering. This means building with typical construction methods, but arranging the building components  in a smarter way. The simple spacing of 2×6’s at 2′ on center versus 16″ or the ways in which to construct a corner and header of a window frame are two examples in which less wood can be used to build a solid home.  Look at these sites listed:  Building Science Consulting and The Energy and Environmental Building Alliance

Getting back to the book, the author makes it a point to differentiate between house wraps and vapor barriers. House wraps are designed to stop wind, not moisture, and a vapor barrier is an extremely important part of the building envelope sandwich.

Tightly sealed buildings should exhaust and vent to the outside through controlled or deliberate openings. For example, areas that have excessive moisture such as the bathroom, kitchen and laundry rooms. So, what are deliberate and controlled openings about?

I sought out the information on the internet and found Scandinavian Homes; Passive houses who described a Ventilation heat-recovery system by Temovex. These systems control the air-exchanges in a home, and in the winter months when we don’t want to pump out our expensive heated air with necessary ventilation, they have a way of recovering the heat without compromising our inside air quality.  Click here to see how the Temovex works in expanded terms.

With a balanced mechanical system, you control the amount of ventilation in the house. Not too much on windy and cold days and enough on humid and mild days…A whole house ventilation system helps to provide consistent temperatures though-out the house or apartment. The house or apartment must be reasonably well insulated and draft-proofed for the system to work to its highest potential…Temovex units make your home into a thermos! You retain the heat in the building without the need for unnecessary new thermal energy…

In chapter five the book begins to describe floor plans and layouts in the same way it invites you to learn your site. ‘We should layout the home’s rooms in relation to the patterns of the sun; that is, morning areas and activities should be planned for the east side of the home, and evening activities generally on the west side.’ The sun and normal living habits migrate from the east to the west. For example the living room should be well warmed by mid day, but the breakfast area should be warming first. I found these images on this site.

This plan uses space efficiently and uses the space below the stairs for storage of the water tank and air circulation equipment.

This leads us to two important and key rules to this entire passive strategy.

Rule #5: Utilize windows as solar collectors and cooling devices.

Rule #6: Do not over-glaze.

What the book provides here is an in-depth lesson on how to calculate exactly what your home needs to maintain a comfortable living environment. I suggest you find the book to learn about this exactly. You can find the book at Amazon by clicking the picture below.

The author tells us that ‘There are not cookbook recipes for solar design.’  A summary of the design procedure is provided by Google Books, and is represented below.

Rule #7: Consider the contribution of solar energy (indicated by insolation values for your region) and natural processes (including breezes and shade) to the heating and cooling of the home, in order to avoid over sizing a backup heating system or air conditioner. A home that is oriented to true south, is tightly constructed and well insulated, and has operable windows for air circulation should not require large fossil-fuel burning equipment to maintain thermal comfort.  Size the conventional backup systems to suit the small, day-to-day heating and cooling needs of the home.

Rule #8: Provide fresh air to the home without compromising thermal integrity.

Rule #9: Use the materials you would use for a conventional home, but in ways that maximize energy efficiency and solar gain.

Rule #10: Remember that the principles of solar design are compatible with diverse styles of architecture and building techniques.

Other ideas to come… what about Malcolm Wells Earth Sheltered Homes or those by Jacques Couelle?

Book Review Poetry

What I’ve Read this Year – Part 1


I have a library full of thin spines. I read a lot of poetry, and was lucky enough in February to listen to my favorite poet, Claudia Emerson, at Waynesburg University. Other books that I’ve read this year include the end of the Harry Potter Series, Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir, Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and Late Wife by Claudia Emerson. What would you recommend?

Architecture Book Review Building Sustainably

Biomimicry and Slow Building

I am involved in an Environmental Book Club at Oglebay’s Schrader Center.

I have read many new books thanks to this club, and every Third Thursday presents a discussion with wiser environmentalists than me. Many of these books are written in a cohesive long arrangement of definitions. No plots or climax, but critically arranged facts from beginning to end. Like portions titled Eco-Inventions from Janine Benyus’s book Biomimicry.

Here are a few of my favorite thoughts.

The biomimicry revolution introduces an era based not on what we can extract from nature but on what we can learn from her. Pg 2

The cost of money, the price of my time and why the bottom thread of my new winter coat falls off.

From being taught a ‘human centered approach’ in forestry management Benyus began to look to organisms and ecosystems for their ‘cooperative relationships, self-regulating feedback cycles and dense interconnectedness.’ Pg 3

‘Adapting to earth (as a new reality), the changes we make now no mater how incremental they seem, may be the nucleus for this new reality.’ Pg 5

The cannon of nature’s laws

Nature runs on sunlight

Nature uses only the energy it needs

Nature fits form to function

Nature recycles everything

Nature rewards cooperation

Nature banks on diversity

Nature demands local expertise

Nature curbs excesses from within

Nature taps the power of limits (which means maintain a balance) Pg 7

‘Because nature spins her spell in such a small space, her creations read like a poem that says only what it means.’

30,000 land tailored variations of rice – farming that mimicked industry, not nature. Pg 17

Her ideas on polyculture in the prairies. What about the idea of a polyculture at home in our own garden. Plants that feed, nourish and sustain the winter without our work. Pg 30

If you had a place to pull down the sun, the ASU campus in Tempe would be the place. Pg 63

Nature wants a balance – entropy – like ink dispersing in H20, it wants everything to have equal parts. Pg 67

What is Hydrogen gas?

Molecules into membranes Pg 82

Chemical graffiti

Garden-type sunshine

Purple bacterium reaction center photo

200 billion output increase every two years… why we are faster in the untactile world? Pg 241

Take back laws or ‘asset recovery’ as Xerox puts it. Pg 256

We are using the ancient sun. Pg 261

When she talks about using the condensed matter that didn’t have oxygen to decompose properly? Is the earth getting larger in diameter, or how  is this upcycle working from the exterior to center of our earth core?

Closed Loop

A community designed system to use a better as a whole, water, better land, air water, build, shelter feed.

Things I’ve started thinking about since our book club began:

World population

I am my own responsibility, I must live with what I do and try not to push it on somewhere else.

Low Impact Man / Family

Hollow under-layer shifts

We fall into perfectly round holes

Circular sink holes

Whole cities swallowed down the serpents throat. Hollowed from within, termites practicing their limits.

Pouring the unused black remains of dinosaurs

Aloe plants and grub worms into our copper lines.

Instead of quickly building Architecture, perhaps time in concept-to-foundation-to-finish should take us longer, so we are taking more controlled and thoughtful steps in the process. Perhaps I should invest my time in Slow Building.

Architecture Book Review Building Sustainably Environmental

The Interior – Making $ense

The Interiors

Because I am always in search of great and healthy ways of Interior Designing I was glad to come across a few products I hadn’t researched yet. I have a full list on my blog in the tab ‘Sustainable Interiors.’ This is the last post of the Book Review  I did of Eric Corey Freed and Kevin Daum’s book

Green $ense for the Home

The counter top chart was extensive and fantastic!

Healthy Wall Coverings:

Mioculture wallpaper of 100% recycled paper. This company created by two Columbian boys has a neat sit full of lighting furniture and accessories.

Home $ense gives a Homemade Wallpaper Paste Recipe too! There are lots on the Internet, like this one from Tree Hugger.

There are companies such as Design Tex and Len-Tex who have achieved Cradle to Cradle certification, and others such as:        Maharam       MDC Wall coverings       Milliken      Mod Green Pod    Pallas Dialtones (made of discarded Japanese telephone books)         Sinan Natural Wallpaper Adhesive

Below those wall coverings can be fully recycled content drywall too. Gypsum is a coal combustion byproduct. I looked that up and found useful in formation through the University of Kentucky. Resources for Recycled DryWall include  : EcoRock from Serious Materials   Synthetic GYP from CertainTeed or G-P Gypsum or the recycled content from CleanBoard   National Gypsum Company   Temple-Inland Forest products or USG Corporation

Other interior products highlighted in the book are ~

Cork and Bamboo: Expanko     Habitus   Nova Distinctive Floors   US Floors     Teragren    Eco Timber     Cali Bamboo      Smith & Fong

To protect our Indoor Air Quality  Formaldehyde-free fiberboard: Columbia Forest Products    Flakeboard   Kirei   SierraPine

Cabinets built out of formaldehyde free wood: Breathe Easy Cabinetry    Neff Kitchens    Neil Kelly Cabinets     Custom Cabinets from  Greenline  &  Humabuilt

For Carpet, look at Sheeps wool carpet.


Tomorrow I will share how all this knowledge actually applies to a project, when I showcase

7 Sustainable Choices

I made when designing the interior of a recent doctor’s office.

Book Review Food & Exercise

Food Matters . Discussion Tonight!

Tonight, at Oglebay’s Schrader Environmental Center –

Mark Bittman’s Food Matters  .  Ecobookclub.wordpress

Like everything else that seems apparent on the outside, there is so much more beyond what meets the eye.

For the food industry, and behind the avocados and almond health benefits being toted for good fat lately, lurks a marketing plan for these foods. Yogurt sales, for example, over the last twenty years have doubled. (p34)  America is being sold more calories, and we are consuming them. Even the solid foundations of the USDA’s food pyramid can’t be trusted… the same pyramid in which, growing up and until one month ago, I based my diet off of.

What are others, at the mercy of the media, have to defend themselves with?

Bittman approaches eating food in the most basic way and offers in this book a concise history of eating versus the food industry.

The 2000 calorie diet so many people base their diet on is up 25% from 1970 when most people averaged eating 1500 calories a day. (pg44) Advice on a 2000 calorie per day diet goes hand in hand with the 1992 birth of a food pyramid. Louise Light, a nutrition expert at New York University, was consulted in its conception. (pg47-48) However, the pyramid flopped upside down against her advice, changing the recommended daily servings of (whole) grains at 4 servings to 11 max servings of bread, cereal, rice and pasta, in support of people behind the production of the grain industry. I find myself wondering how such a simple system of food growth and eating has become so difficult to untangle and understand.

Bittman writes with candor in response ‘Cereal, efficiently a boxful of small cookies’ (Pg35) and it boasts a larger question for me -not only, who can be trusted? But, how do I treat these seemingly simple, but now complex systems?  The more elements that there are to a system the more difficult it becomes to service it. Think of your HVAC system or your car, and the technology intricacies it takes to maintain their performance. It is more difficult to pinpoint problems when something goes wrong because there is an influx of likely scenarios. The other problem of finding clean information is that companies who sell a product, a pharmaceutical, don’t want to lose a profit and as soon as a study is complete with unfavorable findings, a second one is funded (by the company) to disprove the first. Apparently that’s a cheaper option to losing profit. It reminds me of Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Tipping Point’ and the powers of influence society’s views on items have on their success or failure.

Society doesn’t need any more stimulation or confusion, but by defense, and by design, there will always be conflicting information, because it is making someone money.

Bittman brings up a question that makes me think. He asks, ‘Who sees meals with home-cooked breads, desserts, and soups for example?’ (pg 46) He is right of course, when I bring three-ingredient beer bread to a dinner party, people can’t believe I actually made the bread in an oven!

I was in the middle of reading the chapter on the food pyramid…and the story of our food pyramid is an interesting one. It has been changed over the years. In 2005 it became more vague, and did not base the image or food suggestions on any distinct nutrition we need, such as water, protein, carbohydrates, and fats.

My husband was in the middle of The Colbert Report and consequently the new Plate diagram appeared. Type in and you will be forwarded to choose My Plate! I think this is an act to fix the misrepresented nutrition needs for us, mislead people all these years. You can download a complete history of the USDA’s food guidelines here at: ABriefHistoryOfUSDAFoodGuides and see for yourself.

This begs me to ask how I can help the education of solid principles. Those based one health, personal choices, community, fairness and consideration? What can I be inspired with, to develop my own weekly habits and promote a sustainable model for me, my family, and my community? The answer has always been for me to live as an example.

It’s neat. Two years ago I looked out my back yard and saw my neighbor’s three pine trees. Now, I see two gardens with a better bounty than my own, a rotating composter over there, and often a friendly face offering me bok choy over the fence.

What can stop our habits of seemingly simple means of preparing foods out of a freezer box, poor choices, and a neglectful attitude towards our health? Bittman responds ‘What’s stopping this, largely, is inertia, habit, a lack of good information, and a drive to maintain the status quo b the people who profit from it.’ (pg 65)

In Bittman’s view on foods, he uses a bang-for-buck method comparing calorie density versus nutrition to measure how foods are good for us. In my favorite chapters, he offers a fantastic lesson in what we should be eating: Protein, Carbs and Fat. (pg 85-92)

Protein: ‘The meat industry has tried hard to make protein synonymous with meat’ (and it’s worked.) ‘However, per calorie, cooked spinach has more than twice as much protein as a cheeseburger.’ He states too, that ‘there isn’t a point to over eating protein either. Your body will dispose of the excess. Consuming too much protein causes calcium loss, increases your need for fluids and causes your kidneys to work harder.’

Carbs, like ‘those found in whole grains and legumes (considered complex) are necessary. Fiber, in the category of carbohydrates, (useful in the digestion of food, but not a direct nutrition) helps you to feel full and satisfied after eating. Simple carbs are the ones to avoid –white flour found in commercial bread, bagels, cakes, muffins, and pizza, sugars, and processed foods including cereal. Instead, look for whole grains –oatmeal, polenta, grits, rice, wheat quinoa, barley and some whole grain breads.

For Fat! Fat is important! But, we all are getting too much of that found in processed foods, refined carbs and animal protein, and not enough of that found in plants. He talks about cholesterol here and states that ‘it is not the cholesterol that you eat that is of concern, but the type of fat you eat and how much cholesterol your liver produces in response to the type (found most in animals.) Try to eat natural occurring fats in plants (and in limited quantities animals.)

After reading these few pages on Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat, we peered into Mark Bittman’s own pantry, and his advice on the types of food never to be without. The easiest way to maintain his ‘vegan before six’ diet is to always have fresh fruit, veggies, nuts and berries on hand to hold you over until you can make your meal.  Here is what is in his cupboard:

Grains: rice, cornmeal and whole grain flours

Beans: Dry beans, all colors and kinds.

Oils:  Extra-virgin olive oil, minimally processed sunflower or peanut oil, sesame oil

Staple Veggies and Fruits: onions, garlic, spinach, peas, corn, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, celery, lemons, and limes. Can tomatoes too.

Fresh Herbs: basil, mint, dill, rosemary, thyme, and cilantro


Vinegar: sherry vinegar, balsamic, red and white wine vinegar

Soy Sauce:

Dried fruits and Nuts:

Meat, Dairy and cheese: Bacon, parmesan cheese, butter and eggs.

Baking powder, baking soda, and instant yeast


What’s in your pantry?


I read my response to reading this book, and then one by Laura Miller, who writes for, titled How to live what Michael Pollan preaches and realized how negative my review in comparison seemed. I recommend reading her response, influenced with religious associations that I found on target and clever.

The Environmental Book club At Oglebay’s Schrader Center meets tonight, the third Thursday of the month, at 7pm. In preparation for leading the book club, I am bringing the following discussion points.

What do you think about a diet that requires a regimen and planned days-worth of food, but allows relaxation or non-conscious eating after 6pm?  Does this plan help someone who would like to tackle a diet, and feel good about achieving it, all in a day?

Bittman with colleague Keri Conan devised a plan ‘Vegan till 6’ that means no animal products, no simple carbs and no junk food before 6pm everyday. What diets do we practice, and how are they compared to this, how affective are they?

Where do we find time to schedule our meal times and prep?

What do you think about the basic foods we should always have stocked in our kitchen?

How do we stock our pantries and what part of these skills have manifested as an attitude through our regular practice?

What Good Practice tips should we add to:

Preparing more than one serving at once

Cutting / peeling all veggies at once

He is described as a practical cook (Laura Miller), in some reviews of his book. What do you think?

How important is changing our diet and can we do this in part to foster community and health?

Bittman encompasses three huge promises in writing his book: weight loss, environmentalism and penny-pinching. (Laura Miller) What do we think of this?

How can we profess a true education at a local level, to combat the media’s influence of product pushers? I ask what is in it, and where does it come from?

Book Review Building Sustainably Environmental

The Building Envelope

House Warming in the Winter:

I would love to be able to keep my $15 gas bills year round, but in a 1930’s house with an antiquated furnace what are my options? My monthly bill from November – April on average, raises $100.

I can make sure that the air I am heating in my furnace is being delivered to my rooms the best it can by checking all of my ducts to see if there are any leaks. Duct Sealing with ‘Duct Mastic’ can be applied with a brush or caulk gun. Find one that is a water based formula like Uni-Mastic 181 Duct Sealer, that is safe for you and your indoor air. Use mesh tape if the gaps are larger than 1/4″

EHow tells you step by step what to look for in leaks and what to use. Green Sense adopted an image from the Department of Energy and offered six places where leaks are most likely to occur: Duct Connections, return leaks, furnace and filter slot leaks; ineffective duct tape seal, fallen duct insulation, supply leaks, or restricted airflow because of duct work kinks.

Speaking of leaky ducts.. how about leaky houses?

Making sure you have a good building envelope is the first step. The easiest way to keep the conditioned air in your home is by caulking and weather-stripping. Check any place where two different materials are next to one another, for example, wood door to metal threshold or aluminum window to wooden frame.

You can get an energy audit, hire a contractor or perform the maintenance yourself.

In Ohio, AEP offers In-Home Energy programs for Energy Efficiency. Columbia Gas in Ohio offers Home Performance Solutions, and a link to a cute adobe flash presentation on home performance solutions. Ohio even offers a Home Weatherization Assistance Programs. Wonderful!

Replacing old windows? – Think about replacing the sashes. Great Efficient Windows Collaborative here!

We need more insulation over here! I’ve done a lot of research on insulation and I show what I’ve found to be good here, at my Green Building Supply Matrix. But, through this book I found a little more. Here in Ohio we are in zone 5, almost 6. If you go looking on the DOE website they have a nice insulation calculator. The book directs me to peek into my walls through my outlet boxes to see if my walls have insulation. They probably don’t, so I’ve been looking into a few types of blow in insulation that can be for homes built before modern construction methods.  Recycled newspaper is used in cellulose blow-in applications such as NuWool, but I still want to make sure that these materials aren’t compromising my indoor air quality. At the Pittsburgh Home Show I came across USA Premium Insulation, so I am currently comparing these products for my own home.

If I were building new I’d look into Green Polyiso from Atlas Roofing. This building product provides an R value of 7 per inch! And, I’d consider making my roof as light as possible. Light in color, that is.  A roof coating can be applied to make an existing roof lighter or reflective. An SRI of 29 or higher is good and what that means in the roof’s Solar Reflectivity Index number, being higher is more reflective, and less hot… and that’s good summer news.

~The Building Envelope and the Things we Build With~

Now, let’s talk about the things we build with.  It is important to me to choose local materials that contain no toxic chemicals. In some cases I may even find repurposed materials that would do the job! Look for buildings coming down (so sad!) in your area and create discussion for disassembling versus demolishing them. Then, use the materials in a new way. Habitat for Humanity has ReStores across the country. Check out Habitat for Humanity or the Re Use People. Other places to find reclaimed materials are: Building Materials Reuse Association Salvage Web

If you are considering using concrete in construction look into companies that use fly ask cement from Coal plants. This is the left over soot that can go into the concrete mix and replace portland cement. This gives concrete a smoother and stronger finish and by using the by-product, we turn waste into something useful!

These are just a few notions the book led me too… research in this area of the things we build with is ongoing. It consumes my thoughts and research daily and I really enjoy learning about how to be more energy-efficient so that I can share my knowledge with clients and the general public… and hold intelligent conversations with people who have been practicing a light lifestyle a lot longer than me.