Spring and Summer Trail Running Tips

Technical Off-Road Workouts Offer Shade, Require Special Gear

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith; © 2022

Seabrook, TX running and hiking trails
Seabrook, TX running and hiking trails
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When you consider running in the summer heat and humidity here in South Texas, it makes sense to leave the pavement behind and hit the softer trails. If you are running as part of a weight loss program, you can’t just take up an intermittent fasting diet and bail on your workouts, but you can make it more comfortable.

If you can find a shady area, and stay properly hydrated, you’ll have a much more satisfying workout for a short run or a weekly long run. If you’re not yet a trail running aficionado, know that there is a slight but interesting learning curve when coming from a road or track background. Here’s a few handy trail running tips.



Be alert! Pay close attention to the trail surface, even on a seemingly-benign crushed rock trail. Things like exposed tree roots, partially-embedded rocks, and pesky gravel on steep declines can sideline you in a flash. I’m not saying you have to constantly stare at your flying feet; rather, pay attention to what’s coming up. Anticipation is the name of the game. Then you can make adjustments as you go along. I generally scan about ten feet ahead with short glances as needed.

Run Softly and Carry a Big Stick

The unsung running stick is an important tool if your trail is at all wooded, like parts of the Seabrook Hike and Bike Trail. So what’s the purpose? Spider web control. They spin their webs across the trail, presumably because that’s where the bugs fly. You’ll find most of them in the morning and in shaded areas.


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Bigger webs means a bigger bug harvest for a hungry spider. I can’t think of many things to get less excited about than a mouth full of viscous spider innards or a web clinging to my sweaty body. That stuff just won’t let go. Running with a group? In theory only the lead runner needs a stick. What kind of stick works best? I like one with a “Y” shape on one end, similar to a dowsing rod. Hold it up in front of you keeping the “Y” at face level. That won’t help your legs too much, but most of the webs are higher anyway, torso and face, specifically.

Use an Insect Repellant

Keep a small spray bottle of insect repellant in your water belt. Mosquitoes are attracted to trails just like runners are. The incubation period after a recent rain is seven days. They’re not a big problem while you are in motion, but they’ll be on you like white on rice when you pause to climb over a log or take a break.

Use Trail-Running Gear

If your trail is at all technical, trail shoes are a good investment. I run in Kahtoola running gaiters“>Kahtoola INSTAgaiters. They are easy to use and effective since they offer an offset locking zipper and a top drawstring.

Obviously, have fun! It’s no surprise that running trails are dirtier than city streets by nature Well, unless you are running the streets of San Francisco. Then you have to avoid random junkie’s used needles and piles of fecal matter. Getting dirty on the trails is unavoidable if you’re doing it right, so just go with the flow. Mud puddles? Not so much flow but go ahead and enjoy them like your inner kid wants you to.

These are just a few spring and summer trail running tips to bring trail nubes up to speed. There’s a great selection of trails in Texas and elsewhere, so take advantage of them and catch some shade.


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Further Reading

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Organic Foliar Feeding with Garrett Juice

Spray Fertilization Will Take the Health and Yield of Your Garden to the Next Level

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith © 2022

Lemon balm and tomato plant
Lemon balm and tomato plant
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Many gardeners unknowingly miss half of their fertilization schedule because they focus on the ground, which is understandable. Roots, right?. But, foliar feeding with a product such as Medina Hasta Grow Plant Food will increase your harvest. Why? Because plants also uptake nutrients through their leaves.

Medina Hasta Grow is one of the best sprays on the market, but perhaps you might be the DIY sort? In that case, Garret Juice is your answer. In addition to stimulating plant growth, this organic concoction will also protect against some garden pests. Why add foliar feeding to your schedule when you already fertilize on a regular basis? Because it offers yet another, safer avenue to getting nutrition into your vegetable garden, fruit trees, and rose bushes rather than using chemicals and neurotoxins.



If you have chosen backyard homesteading and self-sufficiency, or prepping as a lifestyle, or just want to get a better return on your labor and investment, then organic foliar feeding with Garrett Juice is a given. Enjoying better, healthier yields relies on this type of horticultural strategy.

Basic Garrett Juice Ingredients

Be sure to use organic ingredients and methods whenever possible.



Additives for Pest and Insect Control

Want to boost it up for insect control? Add 1/4 cup garlic tea/pepper spray. To make this, use a blender. Liquefy 1 clove of peeled garlic, 1 quartered habanero pepper, and 16 ounces of water. Everyone, but especially those wearing contact lenses, needs to wear disposable gloves when cutting the habanero or when you take your lenses out for the night, you’ll never be able to use them again. Been there, done that. Great balls of fire!

You’ll need to strain the solids out of the resulting liquid. Since the particles are so small, you’ll need a very fine strainer so you won’t clog up your spray tip. A good choice is the small fuel strainer for Coleman lanterns and camping stoves. You will have some leftover but you can save it for spot treatments later with a hand bottle sprayer. For spot treatment, mix it with 3 parts water.

Foliar Feeding Procedure

Add all ingredients to a pump-up garden sprayer and mix well by shaking. The molasses is a very thick liquid so give it a little extra shake than you normally would. Pump up your sprayer and adjust the tip to a wide mist, not a jet spray. Just lightly coat the leaves; a little goes a long way. If you have any left over, go ahead and use it up on your ornamentals. I always make enough to spray my magnolia tree, for example. For tall trees like these, you will need to adjust the sprayer tip to a stronger stream in order to reach the higher leaves. Or, conversely, drag out that ladder.

Using Garrett Juice for foliar feeding on a monthly basis will give your plants and trees a new zest for life. And of course, your vegetable garden will put more on your table.



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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Biden’s Pork Barrel Spending Bill

Calling it Build Back Better or the Reconciliation Bill; it is Still Redistribution of Wealth

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Federal Pork Barrel Spending
Federal Pork Barrel Spending
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This article was updated on 02/18/22.

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First, let’s look at what pork barrel spending is. Investopedia.com defines it this way, “Pork-barrel spending, or earmarking, is the controversial practice of directing government funding in a way that serves local businesses or other special interests. While the term has strongly negative connotations, there is no clear distinction between pork-barrel spending and funding legitimate local projects. Although House Democrats temporarily prohibited the practice in 2011, they are now revisiting the practice.1

One obvious problem is that pork spending leverages an economic benefit to one or more particular regions involved, with the money typically going toward infrastructure and other projects that create jobs and improve quality of life. However, the effect on the rest of the country is negative, with taxpayers shouldering the cost of these pork barrel projects without receiving the benefits.



Biden’s $3.5 Trillion Build Back Better Plan

As of this writing, the “Reconciliation” package is writhing in turmoil. I don’t know about you but I can’t even conceptualize that number. When and if this behemoth financial folly passes, it will be in a trimmed-down version. There’s just too much self-serving and progressive fecal matter involved. For example

Biden’s scheme to inflate government spending by about $3.5 trillion over the next 10 years—paid for with a merging of massive tax increases and up to $1.75 trillion in new borrowing (from who, the Chinese?) will decrease future economic growth and hammer private wealth, according to a new analysis from the Penn Wharton Budget Model (PWBM), a macroeconomic forecasting project based at the University of Pennsylvania.

A CBS poll determined that a meager 10% of Americans knew “a lot of the specifics” about the Build Back Better plan (also known as the budget reconciliation bill). 29% did not know what was in it at all. Surprise!

Liberals believe an inexhaustible fund exists that can be tapped endlessly to pay for government social programs. Tax the rich and give it to a long line of moochers, pork barrel hustlers and ne’er-do-wells. These funds would otherwise have been employed as additional capital indispensable to economic progress.

James Cook


What is in the Reconciliation Bill?

Build Back Better concentrates on a long laundry list of progressive social policies and programs including education healthcare, housing, and climate. Republicans are unified in opposition so Democrats are using a special, roundabout budgetary gambit known as “reconciliation” in order to avoid the 60-vote filibuster threshold and pass the bill on a party-line vote. Why are fiscal conservatives in opposition? Here are the included provisions:

  • Universal preschool for children. This is aimed at children aged three and four. Parents can either elect to sign up their children to a publicly-funded preschool program or to any number of the privately run preschool programs already available. Indoctrination begins early. Hello, Critical Race Theory.
  • Expanded Medicare services and Medicaid. It will expand Medicare services to take care of vision, hearing and dental health needs. As far as Medicaid goes, it will remove specific income and health limitations to allow more people to qualify for the first time.
  • Lower prescription drug costs. The U.S. stands first in the cost of prescription drugs such as insulin and lisinopril. The reason? Right now, pharmaceutical companies can determine the price of drugs because the US lacks price controls. In addition to expanding Medicare services, Build Back Better would give Medicare bargaining power to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs with pharmaceutical companies for the first time to bring prices down.
  • Tax cuts for families with children and childcare support. Build Back Better (here BBB is not the Better Business Bureau) would raise the current child tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 for kids ages six and older. The new tax credit for children under the age of six would be $3,600. The credit arrives in the form of monthly checks, so that parents don’t have to pay the cost of childcare all at once. This is the intent but there is no oversight to be sure that is where the money goes.
  • 12 weeks of paid family leave. Currently, the United States is the only industrialized country to not offer paid family leave, or financially compensated time off after adopting, fostering, or birthing a child. Some private companies offer this as part of a compensation package to their employees, but Biden’s plan would make sure all new working parents (and caregivers) enjoy job security and almost three full months of at least partial paid time off.
  • Housing investments. This involves investing in the production, preservation and upgrading of an excess of a million affordable rental housing units and 500,000 homes for low- and middle-income aspiring homebuyers, as well as increase rental assistance agreements. How is this problematic? It puts the government in charge of a segment of the economy that rightfully belongs to private investors. Clearly, using your tax money like this is a Marxian redistribution of wealth.
  • It establishes a taxpayer-funded climate army. The Civilian Climate Corps would be the largest mobilization of federal government labor after the New Deal, a massive and most likely permanent bloat of government power entrenching the radical progressive climate agenda in the bowels of our government. It would saddle taxpayers with a gargantuan debt — without any impact at all on the global climate — and allow unelected apparatchiks to shuffle your taxpayer dollars to overtly political organizations with nearly no oversight. In fact, it explicitly endorses racially oriented decision-making. This is the opposite of both equity and transparency.
  • Tax cuts for electric vehicles and other climate incentives. Well, you knew this one was going to be in it, didn’t you? The term “New Green Deal” is toxic on so many levels. This is a way to sneak some of AOC’s key tenets in there. A tax credit of a minimum of $4,000 would be offered to those buying an electric vehicle (again, your tax money, Mr. and Ms worker bee). If the car is bought before 2027, enjoy an additional tax credit of $3,500. If the car was made in the U.S., there would be $4,500 added on top of that. When it’s all said and done, a taxpayer in the US can reap a maximum of $12,500 in tax credits for buying an electrical vehicle under these conditions. When Obama gave an incentive for electric vehicles, people in my neighborhood rushed out and bought golf carts.
  • It penalizes reliable electric utilities for doing their jobs. According to the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “By far the furthest-reaching proposal in the bill, the Clean Electricity Performance Program aims to place financial penalties on utilities who do not meet arbitrary increases in renewable electricity generation. The plan has no provisions to ensure reliable electricity even though history has shown time and time again that increasing variable generation on the grid leads to an unstable and expensive power supply.2


That’s Joe Biden’s pork barrel spending bill in a nutshell. You can put lipstick on that pig by calling it Build Back Better or the Reconciliation Bill but at the end of the day it will just drag the country deeper into the financial morass that we already find ourselves it. But that’s what the Marxist progressives do so well. “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

References

  1. The Investopedia Team, Investopedia.com, How Does Pork Barrel Spending Hurt the Economy?, How Does Pork Barrel Spending Hurt the Economy? (investopedia.com)
  2. Texas Public Policy Foundation, Five Things You Should Know about the Reconciliation Bill, www.texaspolicy.com/five-things-you-should-know-about-the-reconcilliation-bill/

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Ambient Smart Wi-Fi Weather Station

Model WS-2902C WiFi Product Review

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Ambient WS-2902C Wi-Fi Weather Station
Ambient WS-2902C Wi-Fi Weather Station
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So, this Ambient Weather Wi-Fi Smart Weather Station is my latest project. I’ve always been interested in weather conditions and here in South Texas it’s always a good thing to stay informed of. I do a lot of running and dog-walking so knowing how to dress before venturing outside is always a good idea. It gives me a bit more freedom as I go about my day.

I bought it from Amazon.com. Yes, Walmart sells small sensor units, of which I have had one for years. It was just time to ramp up my game. This model is mid-range in price for Ambient stations, but it does everything I need it to do. For example, knowing how barometric pressure works is imperative; I do live in a hurricane zone.



Weather Station Installation

Right out of the box, putting this gadget together is a simple task. Just a few basic assembly steps and viola! You will need to procure and put up a mounting pole. I used:

  • A 10′ length of electrical conduit, about $10 at Home Depot.
  • A post-hole digger.
  • About 4 cups of Quikrete. No mixing, just pour it into the hole and pour water over it. This is definitely DIY concrete, mixing not required.

Ambient Features

  • It comes with the unit and a tablet-sized display console suitable for setting on your desk or table or mounting on the wall.
  • Solar-powered.
  • Wireless all-in-one integrated sensor array measures wind speed/direction, temperature (indoor/outdoor), humidity (indoor/outdoor), rainfall, UV and solar radiation, barometric pressure, time and date.
  • Supports both imperial and metric units of measure with calibration available.
  • Enhanced Wi-Fi connectivity option that enables your station to transmit its data wirelessly to the world’s largest personal weather station network.


Predicting weather with the barometer
Predicting weather with the barometer

Do I recommend this Ambient Weather Smart Weather Station? Yes, I do. For my purposes the data reported is all that I could ask for. Assembly was easy, about an hour and a half including installing the pole mount. Finally (for a very rare occurrence with today’s products), the instruction booklet is comprehensive and detailed.


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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

6 Plants That Repel Mosquitos

How to Design Your Garden and Landscaping to Get Rid of Pests

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

Lemon balm in the garden
Lemon balm in the garden
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Here in South Texas, mosquitos are just a fact of life. They are bad for people; they’re bad for pet dogs and cats, and they’re just pests. Dennis Prager once said when he gets to heaven he’s going to ask God, “Why?” Good point. But, while we have to live with them, we will talk about 6 plants that do a good job of repelling mosquitos whether you are having a barbeque or just enjoying your backyard deck. For best results, stick with an organic feeding program.

  • Lemon balm. As you can see in the picture above, this is a fine-looking plant. This is a member of the mint family that gets its distinct scent from citronellal. This is an oil that has some of the same properties as citronella, one of which is the ability to repel mosquitoes. It’s an easy species to grow. Lemon balm is a perennial (more bang for your buck) that, like mint, can become invasive and take over your whole flower bed or vegetable garden. It likes full sun to part shade and adequate water. The leaves can be used as a tea.
  • Citronella grass. The active ingredient here is the essential oil that’s used to make insect-repellent candles. Be sure you’re planting the tall spiky grass Cymbopogon nardus, and not “citronella plant” (Pelargonium citrosum), which is a kind of geranium that smells similar but doesn’t offer the same mosquito-repelling oils. It likes partial sun and moist, loamy dirt, so water it every day, especially if you’re growing it as a container species. It’s a perennial in tropical climates but it still can be grown as an annual in colder places.


  • Basil. The anecdotal evidence says it helps control mosquitoes but the studies are on-going. If you like pesto but veer away from grocery store prices, keep several basil plants in your garden and prune them regularly to keep them from going to seed. Also, why not whip up some Creamy Parmesan Basil Chicken? Basil thrives in full sun and moist soil.
  • Catnip. The active ingredient here is nepetalactone, the essential oil that gives catnip its smell. It’s also a member of the mint family and grows best in full sun and well-drained soil, but will tolerate partial sun and almost any type of soil if that’s what you are working with.


  • Lavender. Who doesn’t love lavender? Anecdotal evidence and tests on lavender essential oil indicate that mosquitoes shun this plant. Some people dry the flowers and make or buy lavender and cedar sachets to ward off mosquitos and moths. Grow it in full sun and drier soil. You only need to water it once or twice weekly in the growing season. It is a perennial species, so expect it to come back yearly.
  • Peppermint. Yet another member of the wonderful mint family. It’s the essential oil that works the mosquito magic. It is related to the lemon balm and has essentially the same care requirements. It likes lots of sun and water. It does well in a pot; in your flower bed, it will want to take over. I like it in tea and add it to my freshly-ground coffee. What a way to start the day!

So there you have it; 6 plants that repel mosquitos, look good, and serve other purposes. They won’t eliminate these outdoor pests completely but you can certainly cut down on those toxic insecticides.

Further Reading


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Insomnia – Symptoms, Causes, Myths

Sleep Depredation Adversely Affects Your Body, Brain, Mood, Cognitive Function

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith
Sleep deprivation -- asleep at the wheel
Sleep deprivation — asleep at the wheel
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What is insomnia? Insomnia is a very common sleep disorder. It makes it hard to drift off to sleep, difficult to stay asleep, or lead you to waking up too early and not being able to get back to sleep. It is not uncommon to still feel tired after you wake up. Insomnia can diminish not only your energy level and your mood but also your health, work performance, and your quality of life.

How many people suffer and what is the probable cause? The Mayo Clinic says, “At some point, many adults experience short-term (acute) insomnia, which lasts for days or weeks. It’s usually the result of stress or a traumatic event. But some people have long-term (chronic) insomnia that lasts for a month or more. Insomnia may be the primary problem, or it may be associated with other medical conditions or medications.”1 Some cases may be associated with the COVID-19 pandemic isolation.

What causes insomnia?

Symptoms of Insomnia

  • Waking up too early
  • Increased errors or accidents at work and at home
  • Difficulty falling asleep at night
  • Waking up in the night
  • Not feeling well-rested after a night’s sleep
  • Difficulty paying attention consistently, focusing on tasks, or remembering things
  • Ongoing worries and concerns about your sleep
  • Daytime tiredness or sleepiness (nodding off at your desk, or worse, in your car)
  • Irritability, depression, confusion, or anxiety


Causes of Insomnia

This is not a one-size-fits-all ailment. It may just be happening on its own, other conditions can contribute to it, or be the primary cause. Medical treatment can be elusive as well. Melatonin can help. Treating the underlying cause may resolve your insomnia, but on the other hand, it can last for years. Possible causes include:

  • Travel or work schedule. Circadian rhythms function as an internal clock, managing such things as your sleep-wake cycle, metabolism, and your core body temperature. Disrupting these circadian rhythms can well result in a case of insomnia. Causes include jet lag from traveling across multiple time zones, exposure to too much blue light, working a late or early shift, or often changing shifts.
  • Eating too much too late. Having a light snack before bedtime is just fine, but compulsive overeating may cause you to feel physically uncomfortable while lying down. You might also experience heartburn, a nauseating backflow of acid and food from your stomach into your esophagus following eating, which can leave you wide awake.
  • And of course, Stress. Concerns about your work, grades at school, health, financial situation, or family circumstances can keep your mind alert during the night, making it difficult to sleep. Stressful life events or trauma like the death or illness of someone close to you, a pending divorce, or a job issues are recognized causes of insomnia.


Myths Regarding Insomnia

Like other medical conditions, there are pervasive myths about this one. WebMD2 has put together a list of the more common ones.

  • A drink will help you sleep. This myth probably persists because drinking alcohol can help you fall asleep. But as it moves through your body it may lead to disturbed, restless sleep, or it may make you wake earlier.
  • Insomnia Is strictly mental. It’s true that psychological issues can cause insomnia. As a matter of fact, stress is the No. 1 reason people report a lack of sleep. But it’s not the only insomnia trigger. Many things can cause insomnia, including poor sleep hygiene, illness, drug side effects, chronic pain, restless legs syndrome, or sleep apnea.
  • Screen time winds you down. You might want to try to wind down by reading on the computer or perusing TV before retiring, but that can actually stimulate you. The blue light and noise of TVs and computers can be overwhelming at a low level and can reduce brain melatonin levels. You want your melatonin levels to increase around bedtime to help you fall asleep. Need just a little noise to help you drift off? Try listening to relaxing music or download a relaxing, sleep app.
  • Sleep aids = risk-free. Yes, today’s sleeping pills are safer and much more effective than the older variety. But all meds have potential downsides, including dependency. Always talk to your primary care doctor before you reach for sleeping pills. Some help relieve insomnia symptoms temporarily but by themselves they can’t banish insomnia permanently. Fixing underlying health problems and fixing your sleep environment is usually the surest approach to insomnia.
  • I’ll just make up for lost sleep. Nope, it’s unlikely that you can really catch up on sleep you’ve mislaid. In fact, sleeping in one or two days per week or during the weekend may upset your natural body clock. The disruption may make it harder to get to sleep the next time. The only sure method to make up on your lost sleep is to get right back into a consistent sleeping schedule.
  • A nap will help offset insomnia. Naps are lovely, aren’t they? They affect everyone differently. For some, a short 10- to 20-minute cat nap siesta can be refreshing and put fuel in the old metaphorical tank. For people with insomnia, however, an afternoon snooze will decrease the brain’s sleep drive.
  • You can teach yourself to need less sleep. Believing this hocus-pocus can end you up with some serious consequences. We are all born with a fixed sleep need. Most adults fall into the 7-8 hour category. While you can learn to get by on less, you can’t teach your body to need less sleep. If you find yourself sleep deprived, it’s much more difficult to pay attention and remember things both important and trivial. Being consistently tired has some serious consequences. These include lowered work performance, a higher risk of mishaps, and of course, poor health.

If you have insomnia (as I occasionally do, by the way), don’t worry; you are not alone. Just knowing and understanding these insomnia symptoms, causes, and myths will go a long way towards understanding your condition and finding a solution that works for you. Me? I do just fine with late night melatonin and using blue light blocking glasses as I labor at my computer screen all day.

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References

  1. The Mayo Clinic, Insomnia, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/insomnia/symptoms-causes/syc-20355167
  2. WebMD, Insomnia Myths and Facts, https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/ss/slideshow-insomnia


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Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Valentine’s Day Outdoor Space Ideas

Romantic Gestures That Keep on Giving (Unlike Cut Flowers)


Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith
Lilies blooming in the flower bed
Lilies blooming in the flower bed
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This post was updated on 01/19/22.

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Valentine’s Day is a perfect example of a holiday that inspires us to redesign spaces inside and outside our homes. Designing an outdoor space for a Valentine’s Day gift or parties and celebrations can be a lasting surprise for someone that you care about pleasing. Many gardeners remind us that Valentine’s Day is the time to trim our rose bushes so that choice makes perfect sense.

Any climate-appropriate plants are a great way to improve the look of your yard, flower bed, garden, or outdoor living space. Here are a few plant, seating, and lighting ideas that can help you design the space of your dreams at this time of year when nature is just busting out. Just think of it as the opportunity to tackle that list of new year’s DIY projects!

Choosing the Perfect Flower

Almost every woman that I’ve ever met loves to get flowers on Valentine’s Day, and some would far rather receive something living that will bloom on more than just that one day. After all, why limit yourself to a wilting bouquet when you can have cut flowers on a regular basis?



Many of us don’t mind caring for the flower or floral arrangement minimally, either, especially during the mild spring and fall months. Annuals, such as the coriopsis below, are very hardy and come back year after year once established. Our bird friends help to distribute the thistle seeds so keep those bird feeders full.

Coriopsis flowers in full bloom
Coriopsis flowers in full bloom

It goes without saying that the perfect flower species should be designed to suit your climate, sunlight requirements, and of course, soil conditions. If you are unsure of this type of information, talk to someone in a garden center, nursery, or plant retailer for more details. If your community is lucky enough to have a Master Gardener group, they are very knowledgeable about local plants and are generally very free with their information. Most even conduct indigenous plant and tree sales in the spring.

One useful tip is to find out her favorite color, and keep in mind how much time and energy will need to be devoted to caring for the plant. Design your outdoor Valentine’s Day surprise with this basic information in mind, so that you can be sure that your significant other will appreciate what you have created.

Find accents and accessories for the space in the favorite color if you cannot find in-season plants that are blooming for this special occasion, such as lighting, flags, decorations, water features (ponds, fountains), and similar items designed for outdoor use. These all are animal-friendly and count towards your nature-conservation efforts.

Choosing Outdoor Seating Arrangements

If the space is large enough, why not consider adding seating to your outdoor space to create the romantic environment this day is known for inspiring.

A great garden bench is a wonderful idea, so that two can sit comfortably, but be sure that any seating arrangement you choose is intended for use outdoors, including fabric choices. Marketing claims are not always what they seem. If you have a homeowners association, check to ensure that your project falls under their (often unreasonable) guidelines. A garden bench with storage such as the one shown below, doubles as a spot to keep your gardening tools.

High-quality and functional furniture will ensure that your gift lasts much longer, and the durable and beautiful addition will add monetary and aesthetic value to your home. We can’t say enough about home equity, can we?

Your seating needs to strike a balance; make it comfortable without presenting health risks. Select fabrics that are specifically designed and treated for outdoor use, so that the fabric does not mildew or mold after the first hint of condensation or dew.



Choosing Exterior Lighting

You may or may not be spending a significant amount of time in your space outdoors after the sun sets, but adding exterior lighting changes that parameter and gives you that opportunity should you desire to sit, entertain, and relax after the sun has gone down. A simple lantern, LED spotlight, or a couple of Tiki torches for the space is ideal for most arrangements.

The right combination and choice of illumination will add that perfect touch of light for a romantic rendezvous, this Valentine’s Day and into the foreseeable future. Certain lighting resembles candlelight, which is the most popular lighting for romance, so you can’t go wrong with a hint of light that doesn’t cost you an abundance of time, energy, or money to purchase or install.

Finally, if you really want to go big when you consider Valentine’s Day outdoor space ideas, think about a relaxing backyard deck. Springtime and income tax returns are coming; hint, hint.



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Visit Kelly’s profile on Pinterest.

About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Grow Your Own Orange Tree, Harvest Citrus Fruit

When Life Gives You Oranges, Make Orange Juice!

by Kelly R. Smith

Making fresh orange juice
Making fresh orange juice
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This article was updated on 12/31/20.

Ads we feature have been independently selected and reviewed. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission, which helps support the site.

When my daughter Shannon was very young, she had an appetite for oranges that the local grocery store markets as “cuties.” In reality, they are a type of Mandarin orange. Just easy to peel. This caused me to embark on a journey to plant one fruit tree each year. Year one was that Mandarin orange tree, planted in the back yard.

The next year it was a Republic of Texas orange tree (pictured below). In the photo above, you might notice that the rinds darkened a bit from a slight freeze, but the insides remain fine. This tree bears fruit in the summer and by early December it’s ready for picking. No rush though; the fruit will hang there in suspended animation for months.



Choosing Your Fruit Trees

Many people make the mistake of seeing a tree at Walmart, Home Depot, or some other big box store, buying it, planting it, and then wondering why they never get any fruit. Well, it’s because these trees are sold irrespective of customer location. What works in upstate New York does not work here in south Texas. It is all about the growing zone — how freeze-tolerant the tree is. For example, consider the avocado tree. It is a southern tree but some species do well in moderate freezes.

Republic of Texas orange tree
Republic of Texas orange tree

The best bet is to go to a local nursery, after you do your initial research. They have a vested interest in the community and will likely want to keep a customer base. There are other resources to consider. Here, we have Randy Lemon, graduate of Texas A&M, who does a local radio show. I’ve listened to his weekend show for years and I have to admit, I wasn’t totally onboard initially because he poo-pooed organic, but now that his advertisers have began offering organic products, it’s all good. Imagine.

The bottom line here (I know you’ve been waiting for it) is that it is always a good time to put in your own fruit trees. You might be a prepper or not. You might trust organic produce at the grocery store or not. You might just want to save money. Regardless, there is a lot to be said for self-sufficiency. And, if you’ve got the real estate, why not?

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

What is Geothermal Energy?

A better Alternative to Oil, Gas, Coal, and Solar Energy

Photo of Kelly R. Smith   by Kelly R. Smith

How geothermal energy is produced
How geothermal energy is produced
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This article was updated on 08/31/2021.

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Geothermal energy is nothing new; it’s been around for decades. During the 1890s, the city of Boise, Idaho accessed a naturally occurring reservoir of geothermal heat close to the earth’s surface and created the US’s first district heating system. This is where one central source of heat feeds into multiple commercial and residential buildings. It’s still in use.

This type of energy production is far more intensive than ground-source heat pumps, which take advantage of steady shallow-earth temperatures to heat buildings or groups of buildings. This type is most likely to be found in single-residence or multi-residence abodes.

Why Geothermal Now?

So why is this alternative energy coming into the limelight just now? It makes sense for a society such as ours that wants sustainable energy but is frustrated by other technologies that have been tried.

  • Solar energy. It only works when the sun shines. Solar panel farms take up a lot of real estate. When they get dirty/dusty (as out in the wide, open spaces), water must be trucked out in hydrocarbon-fueled trucks to spray them down. Forms of storage media like batteries save captured energy for when it’s needed, but this is expensive. They require rare earth minerals such as Cadmium telluride (CdTe) and copper indium gallium deselenide (CIGS)1. It gets worse; if you install these expensive panels you may partially be able to get off the grid but it takes many years to recoup your investment. If you have to re-roof your home, it gets very expensive.
  • Wind power. It’s noisy. It threatens wildlife; gold eagles and tailed hawks notably have a propensity to fly into the blades. Studies show that approximately 45,000 birds have fallen victim over the last 20 years due to these wind turbines. They are inefficient; the functional part of the wind turbines are only able to extract about 59% of the wind’s power. Not much ROI. Installation is expensive; just one can be as much as $2 million or more, and that is before maintenance begins2.

Geothermal carries none of these burdens but it is just as plentiful as sun and wind. Vox.com says, “The heat is continuously replenished by the decay of naturally occurring radioactive elements, at a flow rate of roughly 30 terawatts, almost double all human energy consumption. That process is expected to continue for billions of years.3” What’s not to love?

Vikram (Vik) Rao is the former Senior Vice-President and Chief Technology Officer at Halliburton and is now the Executive Director of the Research Triangle Energy Consortium. He says, “Deep very hot geothermal development looks approachable. Suddenly we are talking about building on a new technology base to exploit heat reservoirs rather than fluid. What this all means is that geothermal is no longer a niche play. It’s scalable, potentially in a highly material way. Scalability gets the attention of the industry. Scalability is required for industry to pursue the opportunity profitably.”4

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The Four Fundamental Types of Geothermal Energy Tech

One of the great things about geothermal is that any level of heat can be used directly; there need not be any waste. For example, it can operate pond fisheries or all-season greenhouses, to dry cement, or to make hydrogen. Taking it a step further, we can convert this hydrogen into liquid hydrocarbon fuels.

  • Conventional Hydrothermal Resources. In some areas on earth, water or steam heated by the earth’s core rises up through somewhat permeable rock formations that are full of fissures and fractures, only to become trapped under a solid caprock. These mammoth reservoirs of pressurized hot water usually betray themselves on the surface through fumaroles (holes in or near a volcano, from which vapor rises) or hot springs. Here, a well is drilled. The hot water rises and can be just over ambient temperature up to 370°C. The heat is extracted from it, the fluids are cooled, and then returned to the field by way of an injection well. This maintains pressure.
  • Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS). The limitation of conventional geothermal systems is that they are limited to specific locales where heat, water, and porosity join together just so. Those areas are limited. The way to broaden that scope is to drill down into solid rock, inject water at very high pressure through one well, fracture the rock to give the water a passageway, and then collect the heated water through another well.
  • Super-Hot-Rock Geothermal. The goal here is to tap into extremely deep, extremely hot, rock. The water here exceeds 373°C and 220 bars of pressure, it is called “supercritical,” a new phase that is neither liquid nor gas. It holds anywhere from 4 to 10 times more energy per unit mass than water or steam. It is possible to get more power out of three wells on a 400°C project than out of 42 EGS wells at 200°C. All this efficiency using less fluid and a fraction of the physical footprint. Win-win. Economics shows that that the hotter a geothermal gets, the more competitive its power price becomes, so that super-hot EGS could be the cheapest baseload energy available.
  • Advanced Geothermal Systems (AGS). This is an exciting new generation of “closed loop” systems. No fluids are introduced to or removed from the earth; no fracking is involved. Fluids circulate underground in sealed pipes and boreholes where they absorb heat by conduction and direct it it to the surface, where it can be used for a custom mix of heat and electricity.


It seems logical that geothermal energy could well be the next alternative to oil and gas, at least from a technical point of view. The political realm is another story altogether. Environmentalists and radical democratic socialists like AOC and her squad will surely find something to protest against.

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References

  1. The Earth Project, Solar Farms Pros and Cons: 7 Facts We Can’t Deny, https://theearthproject.com/solar-farms-pros-and-cons/
  2. Udemy, 10 Disadvantages of Wind Energy: Not as Clean as You Thought, https://blog.udemy.com/disadvantages-of-wind-energy/
  3. Vox, David Roberts, Geothermal energy is poised for a big breakout, https://www.vox.com/energy-and-environment/2020/10/21/21515461/renewable-energy-geothermal-egs-ags-supercritical
  4. The Heat Beat, ‘I Hated Geothermal. Then I Realized it is Now Scalable’ – An Interview with Vik Rao, https://www.heatbeat.energy/post/i-hated-geothermal-then-i-realized-it-is-now-scalable-an-interview-with-vik-rao

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at Considered Opinions Blog where he muses on many different topics.

Cooling Paint Could Cut Emissions From Buildings

Reducing Carbon Dioxide Via Scheduled Building Maintenance

by Kelly R. Smith

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Commercial building with a painted exterior
Commercial building with a painted exterior

The World Green Building Council tells us that combined, buildings and construction account for, “39% of energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions when upstream power generation is included.”1 In a previous post, I discussed how HVAC units2 (heating and cooling) systems are responsible for the lion’s share of this and a proposal to capture that carbon dioxide to generate hydrocarbons. This article discusses using paint to minimize CO2 in the first place.

The Quest: Finding an Effective Paint

Researchers have been attempting to come up with products to raise the efficiency of cooling and heating for years. Many types of reflective paint have been developed for the exteriors of both homes and office buildings that would reflect away sunlight resulting in a reduction the temperatures on the interior.

Up to this point, none of these reflective paint products have been successful in deflecting enough of the Sun’s rays that would result in the building’s temperature lower than the ambient conditions. That may be changing.

Researchers in the US say they have developed a white paint with strong cooling properties. Prof Xiulin Ruan, from Purdue University in Indiana says, “In one experiment where we put a painted surface outside under direct sunlight, the surface cooled 1.7C below the ambient temperature and during night time it even cooled up to 10C below the ambient temperature. This is a significant amount of cooling power that can offset the majority of the air conditioning needs for typical buildings.”

The Tech Behind the Paint

The researchers found that the key is adding calcium carbonate. By utilizing a high concentration of this chalky substance, differing the particle sizes, they developed a paint that reflected an astounding 95.5% of sunlight.

Prof Xiulin Ruan said, “Sunlight is a broad spectrum of light wavelengths. We know that each particle size can only scatter one wavelength effectively so we decided to use different particle sizes to scatter all the wavelengths. This is an important contributor eventually resulting in this very high reflectance.”

The paint may have a broad range of applications, in particular data centers, which require large amounts of cooling power. Because this particular paint doesn’t contain metal, it is not likely to interfere with various electromagnetic signals. This makes it ideal for cooling telecommunications equipment.

Of course, it goes without saying that there will be a number of steps to go complete before this product can be put on the market, because like any other product, it needs to be tested for its reliability and efficiency in the long term. The researchers remain optimistic; they have already filed patents and there is already a strong interest from major manufacturers. Cooling paint that can cut emissions from buildings of all types will lower costs across the board.

References

  1. World Green Building Council, Global Status Report 2017, https://www.worldgbc.org/news-media/global-status-report-2017
  2. Kelly R. Smith, I Can Fix Up My Home Blog, Can Climate Change Be Minimized Using Air Conditioners?, http://www.icanfixupmyhome.com/WPBlog1/2020/07/29/can-climate-change-be-minimized-using-air-conditioners/

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About the Author:

Photo of Kelly R. SmithKelly R. Smith is an Air Force veteran and was a commercial carpenter for 20 years before returning to night school at the University of Houston where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science. After working at NASA for a few years, he went on to develop software for the transportation, financial, and energy-trading industries. He has been writing, in one capacity or another, since he could hold a pencil. As a freelance writer now, he specializes in producing articles and blog content for a variety of clients. His personal blog is at I Can Fix Up My Home Blog where he muses on many different topics.

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