Tag Archives: winter

An October Solar Surprise

October 2017 was kind of an ugly month for my solar photovoltaic system.  I calculated an expected production of approximately 400 kWh and saw production come in at just over 265 kWh.  This works out to about 66% of the predicted output.  Here is how ugly it was:

Solar October 2017.png

Do you see the period of time from October 10th through the 14th?  It must have been almost night out there all day.  What happened?

Easy.  Eastern Iowa saw some seriously gray conditions throughout the month.  Apparently we are entering into the so-called “stratus season” when local climate conditions produce low hanging stratus cloud formations that block out the sun.  November and December are apparently the worst months for this condition.  Awesome.

On the bright side I only ended up using approximately 73 kWh of grid electricity this month, which is not very much in the grand scheme of things.  Considering how well September turned out in terms of production I think I am still ahead of the game by about 64 kWh since my system became active at the end of August.  I will take net positive as we head into the gray months of November and December.


Spring Suffering

Suffering comes in two flavors during the spring: end of season suffering for skiers and beginning of season suffering for cyclists.  Unfortunately, I find myself suffering on both ends of those seasons.  Damn.

Spring skiing sounds like fun, right?  Warmer temperatures, laid back crowds, decent base…blah, blah, blah.  For the first couple of hours everything holds true.  The runs are great and the kids are happy.  Sometime around noon as the sun bakes off any cloud cover you slowly descend into a slushy hell known as the last run of the day.

The crowds wake up from their jaeger bomb comas for the two runs they will do for the day before going back to an après scene focused on even more jaeger bombs, but not before completely chewing up all of the decent runs and clogging the lift lines.  Seriously bro, do you even lift?  Sorry, I could not help myself.

Spring skiing starts off with so much potential and ends up being a sufferfest of slogging through snow more reminiscent of mashed potatoes than anything else.  At least my kids do not complain about cold fingers and toes.  So I have that going for me.

Spring biking is never meant to be fun and no one is really going to try and convince you otherwise.  The weather is usually leaning toward cold and wet.  The wind is never blowing less than ten to fifteen miles an hour with gusts of double those numbers.  And your legs are somehow not prepared for even a light day despite a winter of working out and skiing.

You spend the first few rides wiping snot every five minutes, huffing cold air like an asthmatic weed smoker, and generally struggling to push a gear that would be light in the middle of July.  What the hell spring?  At some point during every early spring ride you ask yourself why you do this and why aren’t you inside watching Netflix?

Why?  Because we are masochists who need to suffer in order to feel alive.  None of this activity is necessary to our living yet it is essential to our happiness.  We are smug in looking across the bar at a fellow skier with sun burnt cheeks and a wiped out thousand yard stare at the end of a long day plowing through snow cone conditions.  We are a member of that tribe.  We wave stealthily to the other hardy cyclists out in these early days of spring knowing that their lungs are struggling to suck down air just like us.  We are bonded in our suffering.

It is easy to go out when the skies are clear, the temps are in the teens, and there is an inch of fresh snow on the front side of the mountain.   It is easy to get in the saddle when the sun is out, the wind is mild, and your neighbors are out mowing their lawns.  What defines us as members of a different tribe is when we commit to the suffering willingly.

Friday Linkage 3/10/2017

There will be no Friday Linkage next week since I will be in Colorado enjoying all that Beaver Creek has to offer a low-rent skier like myself.

On to the links…

Iowa Sees Second Warmest February in 145 Years—Nothing to see here, right?

These Photos Show How the EPA Transformed America—Now that the fox is in charge of the hen house it is important to remember what America was like before the EPA and other agencies focused on cleaning our air and water.  No one wants to bring disco back and no one wants to bring 1960s style pollution back either.

Scientists Are Standing Up to Trump Because They’ve Always Stood Up to Bullshit—The right wing loves people to be active in politics as long as they agree with their narrow world view and, generally, assume positions that are free from a factual basis.  “But, Jesus said so in the Bible!”  Scientists and scholars are duty bound to resist this shit.

Yet Another Energy Company Bails On Canadian Tar Sands Oil — Is Koch Next?—Tar sands are too expensive to extract under the current market conditions, too dirty for most people to accept as a fuel source, and stuck in Canada.  So why exactly are people in the fossil fuel industry and the White House so hell bent on the Keystone XL pipeline?

California Just Hit an Incredible Solar Power Milestone—It was for just a moment, but California was producing some serious solar power in the middle of the day.

Colorado’s Solar Power Capacity Jumped 70 Percent in 2016—The best part for me is that even though Colorado added 70% more capacity its relative ranking compared to other states feel because it did not add enough capacity.  When you add 70% more capacity in one year and lose ground you know that something is happening that is going to be hard to stop.

Solar Now Cheapest Electricity Option On Average In 58 Emerging Economies—The new guard of electricity is here and it is based on the sun.  These countries have no incentive to build out a fossil fuel based grid because they have no capital investment tied to legacy systems.

Chinese Coal Draw-Down Gathers Pace—China is always the savior of some down-on-its-luck industry.  Guess what?  China does not want our coal anymore.

Coder Creates Ultimate Tesla Model S + Home Solar Data Visualization Tool—I cannot create the fuel for my truck at home, but I could create the fuel for a Tesla Model 3 or Chevy Bolt at home.  The future seems to be happening right now.

America’s Television Graveyards—When the apocalypse comes in the next couple of years I imagine people will roam the shattered United States and happen upon one of these warehouses full of old CRTs.  It will be a gigantic metaphor for how we got into this mess.

General Mills Boosts Eco-Friendly Grain Kernza—What if we could replace a portion of destructive annual wheat production with perennial Kernza?  What is wide strips of Kernza were planted along streams to slow runoff and deter erosion?  Imagine the potential.

Climate Ecoforestry—Let’s look to restorative ecology to rebuild our planet’s lost resilience.

This Man is Cloning Old-Growth Redwoods and Planting them in Safe Places—Imagine efforts like this replicated on a larger, dare I say nationally mobilized scale, and imagine what we could achieve in a short period of time.  This requires no new technology or process.  It would simply require political will and capital.

You’re Using Recipes Wrong—I have this complaint with cookbooks and recipes because I feel like I am buying bespoke ingredients only to repeat effort time and time again.  Ugh.  An efficient kitchen in terms of time and money should be one of my 2017 goals.

Reimagining Tater Tot Casserole

Winter is a great time to dig into unassuming comfort foods like macaroni and cheese or chili slow cooked all day into sweet submission. If you have children like mine than you have run head first into the problem known as tater tot casserole.

Sometime during their formative years someone exposed them to this strange dish of tater tots, cheap ground beef, and cream of something soup. If you slavishly follow a recipe on the internet you will be left eating a 9×13 pan of sodium enhanced flavors brought to you by the giants of industrial agriculture.

The first thing to eliminate was any ground beef that might contain the joys of pink slime or be dosed with antibiotics or just be nasty. This was easy. On my weekly run to pick up a loaf of jalapeno cheddar bread at NewPi in Cedar Rapids I ordered up one and a half pounds of all-natural ground beef. I chose the fattier product because I intended to sauté some vegetables in the drippings.

The other major quibble I had with most tater tot casserole recipes is the use of canned cream of goop soup. Seriously, who thinks cream of mushroom or chicken or celery or onion tastes much better than a jar of processed cheese? The stuff is basically a gelatinous salt delivery mechanism. The easy answer was to replace a couple of cans of condensed soup with a rich béchamel sauce. This is one of my go to sauces when I want something creamy as a base. It comes together in a few minutes and I always have the ingredients around.

A major way I added flavor without resorting to the salt shaker was to use very flavorful white cheddar. A little bit of white cheddar goes a long way in adding a shot of flavor.

I really wanted to do something about the inclusion of Ore-Ida tater tots. Like, I really did not want to give my money to a monster industrial food conglomerate like H.J. Heinz, but Ore-Ida’s tots are the best option. I have tried every bag of overpriced, supposedly better for me, options and every time the result is the same: buck up and by the tots from Ore-Ida. Damn.

In the end, it tasted like ‘Murica!


Reimagined Tater Tot Casserole


  • 1 32 ounce package tater tots of your choice
  • 1 ½ pounds all-natural ground beef
  • 1 decent sized onion diced
  • 1 cup corn
  • 1 cup peas
  • 2 cups béchamel sauce
  • Shredded white cheddar to personal preference
  • Salt and pepper to personal preference


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees
  • Brown ground beef and break it up into small chunks; Try not to make it into chili sized chunks because you want a little bit of size
  • While meat is browning, toss in diced onion and cook until softened
  • Add corn and peas; Cook until warm
  • Remove from heat and incorporate béchamel
  • Pour into 9×13 pan
  • Top evenly with tater tots; One 32 ounce bag should roughly cover an entire 9×13 pan with a few stragglers stacked on top
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until tater tots are crispy
  • Scatter shredded cheese on top and bake for an additional 5 minutes
  • Enjoy

Total prep time, including making a béchamel sauce from scratch, is about thirty minutes with a thirty five minute cook time. So, you are in and out in under an hour.

Friday Linkage 11/14/2014

You want to talk about winter? It arrived with a bang this week. Near sixty degrees and pleasant on Monday and it plunged into the teens with a nice brisk wind by Wednesday. Now it’s Friday and people are consigned to have the parkas out until spring. At least Ullr was nice and dropped fresh powder in Breckenridge.

On to the links…

SeaWorld Earnings PLUMMET As Outrage Over Orca Treatment Grows—SeaWorld is hurting. The documentary Blackfish is killing them in the public sphere and people are voting with their feet by not coming to the park in numbers. So much so that the company had to admit as much in its earnings release. Keep up the pressure folks. It’s working.

Voters In 19 States Just Committed More Than $13 Billion For Conservation—The mid-term election was a disaster from some perspectives, but ballot initiatives in 19 states set aside some serious money for land conservation.

Climate Tools Seek to Bend Nature’s Path—Be wary of geo-engineering and the promise of being able to continue in a business as usual mode with regard to our changing the climate. Sounds like snake oil to me.

Fossil Fuels Reap $550 Billion in Subsidies, Hindering Renewables Investment—Do you want to know why there are not solar panels on everyone’s house in the world? Because fossil fuels suck up billions of dollars in subsidies every year. Remember, these are the most profitable companies in the history of humankind.

How the World Uses Coal – Interactive—Coal is not dead, but it is down. Maybe with a few more knockdowns we can call it a TKO.

France Breaks Ground on Europe’s Largest Solar Plant—Some people get excited to see fields of sunflowers or bluebells. I get excited to see rows and rows of solar panels. 300MW of solar PV is a lot of rows.

Wind Power Generated 126% of Scotland’s Household Energy Needs Last Month—Granted, it was windy and demand was not particularly high but over 100% of power anywhere from renewables is a good thing.

UK Approves 750-Megawatt Offshore Wind Project—This is some serious offshore wind. Just imagine if the U.S. developed some of the offshore wind capacity in the eastern part of the country?

Here Comes the Sun: America’s Solar Boom, in Charts—Just check out how big the solar revolution is going to be in the near future.

40% Renewable Energy Integration No Trouble For Midwest—Iowa is probably going to be the test bed for this theory as the percentage of our power generated from wind is quickly approaching the 40% mark with proposed projects coming on-line.

New Bounty of Oysters in Maryland, but There Is a Snag—As we look to intensively use more and more spaces, particularly arable land and coastlines, there are bound to be conflicts that arise. Can’t we all just get along?

U.S.D.A. Approves Modified Potato. Next Up: French Fry Fans.—Do we really need a GMO potato so that people can eat more fast food French fries? Just asking.

The Biggest Lies About Science in the U.S. Government’s “Wastebook”—Conservatives love to publish little missives about waste and corruption by stretching the truth and acting like clowns. Here are some classics from a recent example. Remember, these are the people who preface every statement about science with “I’m not a scientist…”

Cash for Grass Changing the Landscape in California Drought—Why anyone would have a green lawn west of say Omaha is beyond me. Heck, I live in a place where do not need to water our lawn and I want to get rid of even more grass.

Saving the Last Wild Bison—Bison are amazing animals. A truly American animal that we should celebrate much more so than the stupid cow.

Gunnison Sage Grouse gets Federal Protection to Prevent Extinction—A lot of policy watchers anticipate this issue to be as contentious as the spotted owl decision in the 20th century. Instead of logging, a declining industry at the time of the spotted owl controversy, this impacts oil and gas. Get ready.

Finally, the Yard Recovers

This past winter was brutal and the plants in the yard paid the price. The final tally included a dawn redwood, all the butterfly bushes, a rudbeckia, and thanks to some unidentified animal using its bark as a chew toy one yellow poplar/tulip tree. One of the lilac bushes near the compost bins was also severely denuded when spring came around making me wonder if it was going to be added to the casualty list.

The easiest replacement was the yellow poplar/tulip tree. It’s a great tree for the landscape, not over planted like a lot of maples, and with two other yellow poplars in that part of the yard it forms a nice triple planting.

The problem is that that I have lost a couple of season’s worth of growth and the replacement looks a little undersized:

Tulip Tree Replant

Little guy is included for height reference and to witness the joy of gardening.  I am hoping that the difference in height will be less noticeable as the trees mature.

The loss of the dawn redwood vexed me. I love that species of tree and I was really hoping that it would add a lot of interest to the yard because it was such an unusual specimen. Remember, I live in a neighborhood where people plant autumn blaze maples and Bradford pears. I would estimate that three-quarters or more of the trees are of those two types. God forbid that there is ever a Dutch elm disease-like outbreak that targets autumn blaze maples because neighborhoods in eastern Iowa would be deforested in no time.

However, I was concerned that the harsh winter—although somewhat more in line with what pre-climate change winters were like on occasion—was the culprit in killing the dawn redwood. I did not want to replace the tree every few seasons because the mercury dipped into the negative teens.

The solution presented itself in a London planetree:

London Planetree

This particular tree is believed to be a hybrid of a plane tree and a sycamore. Possessing the traits of the sycamore was of interest because sycamores are native to my neck of the woods. Plus, as a tree that is adapted to bottomlands it would stand up well to the intermittent standing water that collects during heavy spring rains. Or the rains that have inundated us here in June. The London planetree is a vigorous growing species and it is highly tolerant of difficult urban conditions like heat and pollution. Neither are a major concern in my suburban backyard, but it is comforting to know that this is a hardy tree.

The butterfly bushes are not going to be replaced because that spot in the garden is going to be reserved for hops come spring 2015. I have the plans for a trellis in the workshop and should put something in the ground by early fall.

Oh, and the lilac? It’s making a fairly remarkable recovery:

Lilac Reborn

And the grass? Do not even get me started on the grass. With no fertilizer, lots of rain, and lots of sun when there is no rain the grass is growing like a weed. How so? I need to mow every four days to keep it from looking too shaggy. Granted, part of that is because I mow my lawn at the highest setting. But still…

Friday Linkage 6/13/2014

I watched the primary returns on Tuesday night with a disinterested eye that was more focused on drinking a glass of my latest House Pale Ale and figuring out the family’s upcoming trip to Colorado with my wife. When the news came in that Eric Cantor had been defeated in what was being described as a stunning defeat my ears perked up.

Is this the last gasp of the Republican Party as a national party? Think about it for a moment, Eric Cantor was considered too “moderate” to win a primary in a Congressional district where he was the incumbent. Never mind he outspent his opponent by a factor of 10 or more and his opponent was a virtual unknown to boot. If you thought the days of Todd Akin, Sharon Angle, and Christine O’Donnell were over…well, it’s mid-term election season baby!

On to the links…

In Some States, Emissions Cuts Defy Skeptics—Some states have already made the cuts in carbon emissions being rolled out by the EPA at the behest of the president. To complain vociferously is to prove that your elected leaders are in the pocket of special interests and not concerned with the long term viability of the planet.

Krugman: In The Real War On Coal, The Mining Industry Won And Workers Lost—The coal industry has a mythic hold on portions of this country, but it is ironic because the industry has been notoriously bad with regard to the treatment of its employees.

EPA Carbon Standards and Iowa: Breezing Past Proposed Goals—Sometimes, Iowa does not get the credit for being bad ass when it comes to renewables. As it stands today more than one quarter—27%–of our electricity is generated via wind and with new investments coming on line that numbers could approach as much as 40%. Now, if we can just get some solar rocking then Iowa will blow past whatever carbon goals are set at a national level.

In Response to President Obama’s Greenhouse Gas Regulations, Republicans Roll Out Their Usual Lies—At what point do people just stop believing these guys? It’s kind of silly at this juncture. Maybe that is why the only place the party is viable is in gerrymandered districts with voter suppression and a high viewership of Fox News.

Finland to Cut CO2 Emissions 80% by 2050, Legally Binding—Just when I think we are doing something grand in the U.S., some country in Europe goes and steals the thunder. Finland…way to go.

The Hot New Frontier of Energy Research Is Human Behavior—The way we act everyday can have a major impact on our energy usage. Just think about driving. You could take three drivers—one who drives normally, one who drives conservatively, and one who is a hypermiler—and get radically different mileage results with the same vehicle. Expand this to the rest of our daily interactions with energy.

It Took Until June, But The Great Lakes are Finally Ice Free—The summer has been a little cool in my neck of the woods, but it is nothing compared to seeing ice on the Great Lakes over Memorial Day. The last vestige of this very cold winter is finally gone.

St. Paul Makes a Bet on Revival with Green Line Light-Rail Train—It’s amazing how the residents along the Green Line LRT route are looking at the development as a way to really revitalize what has been a lagging area of the Twin Cities metro. I watch with interest as new light rail lines are installed in places because the development has been fascinating.

Illinois May Have Just Banned Your Favorite Face Wash—Thank god some state has finally taken action of getting these silly plastic microbeads out of the water supply. Do we really need to exfoliate with something that pollutes our waterways with even more plastic? Nope.

40 Maps that Explain Food in America—I have been a little light on infographics lately because nothing has really piqued my interest. This series of maps is interesting in a different way.

Farmers Markets Reaching more Consumers Who get Nutritional Benefits—These programs seem like one of those rare win-win type moments. People who need access to more fresh food are afforded access, farmers get access to a pool of money, and the community has better health as a result. Dig it.

Driving a Car Built in the ’90s? Join the Club—Now, think of all of these cars being retired in the coming years and replaced with vehicles meeting new mileage requirements. I am guessing this will be a driver, pun intended, of fleet mileage increases for years to come.

Japan Seeks to Squelch Its Tiny Cars—I have never owned or ridden in a kei car, but these little sprites just seem so Japanese. On my one visit to Japan these cars were part of the scenery that was unique to the country. I guess globalization will claim another victim in the inexorable drive toward a homogenized landscape.