Energy Audit

Now that we have gotten settled from all the holiday and school traveling, we have started focusing on the house. Well that’s kind of a lie… We actually got an energy audit done on the house before Thanksgiving and we’re just now dealing with the results.

Anyway… What is an energy audit? Well, it’s a comprehensive review of your house and it’s ability to maintain internal conditions (temperature and humidity). The goal is to identify aspects of your house’s construction or appliances that are deficient, defective, or costing you a lot to use and make repairs/replacements to lower your cost on energy and make your home more efficient. The best part about this process is that the power company encourages it and will give rebates (up to about $3000 for GeorgiaPower) if you can reduce your energy usage by certain amounts.

Our house is basically a leaky sieve with a 25 year old HVAC system and lots of awesome windows, so we knew there were plenty of things that needed some work. We decided to work with a local company that came with a glowing recommendation, Energy Conservation Solutions (ECS).


We worked with them through a 3-step process:

  1. Initial energy audit – The crew comes to your house and assesses everything including weather stripping, appliances, large systems like HVAC and water heater, window sealing, fans, etc… They assess how well your house is sealed from the outside using a vacuum apparatus where they pump air out of your house and look at where air comes back in using a nifty little instrument that detects differences in temperature. They head back to their office and write up a detailed report, including pictures, and prioritize issues based on the easiest to fix vs. most energy gains if it is fixed. This includes an estimated cost of the work if they were to do it (you can also contract everything out if you want).
  2. Do the work – We decided to have ECS do all the work for us because it was easy and we trusted the quality of work they would do. We had some extensive work done, including the installation of copious amounts of insulation in the attic space and a complete sealing off of our crawl space. The work took 3 days. The crew was great.
  3. Re-assess – After all the work is completed ECS comes back to the house to re-test the house for energy improvements and sealing. They must notify Georgia Power in case it wants to send people to oversee. We were told they rarely show up, but we must be really lucky because not one, but two people showed up from Georgia Power. Under normal circumstances this process should only take about an hour, and then ECS will fill out all the paperwork and submit it to Georgia Power and a rebate comes in the mail. Easy peasy!

Unfortunately our special house failed the re-assessment. Now that the house is all nice and sealed up, part of the re-assessment is to make sure that our big systems (HVAC and water heater) can run properly and control their wastes (like carbon monoxide). To do this, they test them at maximal levels and then at normal use levels. Our water heater failed at both levels and our HVAC failed at the maximal level. So, before they were just old and now they’re a safety hazard. It wasn’t a surprise because they are 25 years old and this is why we were so adamant about extending our home warranty for three years. So now we have 60 days to get new major systems and submit paperwork to Georgia Power to get our rebate. Ouch! On the other hand, when we’re done with everything our house is going to be super duper energy efficient!


JanTerm and the Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge

As a teacher at a fantastic school, I get the opportunity to do some pretty cool things. This past week was no exception. The Westminster Schools (high school only) decided last year to implement a January term; a three week learning experience for students to explore concepts that they normally wouldn’t be exposed to during the regular classes. Teachers were requested to design courses that were interdisciplinary, with focuses on meeting people, traveling, and interactive hands-on activities. Classes include The Science of Cooking, Biotechnology, DIY Culture, Sports Medicine, Entrepreneurship, Journalism, and my favorite class: Coastal Ecology and Culture of the Southeast.

51QQKSS3BALThe class I teach (Coastal Ecology and Culture of the Southeast) was designed to introduce students to the science of coastal habitats like salt marshes, estuaries, maritime forests, and barrier islands. Within this context students learned about the local people and culture (the Gullah-Geechee) by visiting museums, talking to locals, and reading God, Dr. Buzzard, and the Bolito Man By Cornelia Walker Bailey (a Gullah-Geechee woman that still lives on Sapelo Island, Georgia).

The highlight of this class is a week-long field trip to Skidaway Island and the UGA marine extension service. While there, students were able to interact with the communities they were introduced to in the classroom. They explored biodiversity, learned about the animals and plants, got their hands dirty, and explored.


Sampling invertebrates off the dock at the marine extension service.


Tromping through the salt marsh exploring and getting muddy.



Under the Pier at Tybee Island.



View from above the pier at Tybee Island.


At the Pinpoint Museum, a Gullah-Geechee facility near Skidaway Island.


Learning how to make a crab net from a Gullah-Geechee man at Pinpoint.

The week culminated in a trip to Wassaw Island, part of the Wassaw Island National Wildlife Refuge. Wassaw Island is a protected and undeveloped barrier island. People are allowed to visit without any permits, but no boats are allowed to stay docked or ashore and there is no overnight camping. Because of this, the island is pristine. The maritime forest is on its way to developing a climax community of live oak trees, alligators wander around in the holes they have dug for the winter, the wrack on the beach harbors little crabs, the birds stretch out in large flocks, and the beach is littered with shells and driftwood. There is not a footprint in sight.

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So, thanks to my school for making this happen. I can only hope that my students understand the opportunity they have been given to enjoy and interact with nature! I truly believe that experiences like these can shape people and help make them better stewards of the earth.

Walkabout – Holiday Style

We have always been a relatively untraditional family, but our holidays still involve eating copious amounts of food and consuming too much liquor. Everything else we do is generally done so that we can “eat more later” or to “make up for what we’ve already eaten”.

We usually make an effort to get outside and do active things. This Christmas day we had a walkabout through the neighborhood. It just happens to be a block from the beach and it just happened to be a gorgeous day.

We set out with no plans, but came home three hours later with new nooks explored and a renewed appreciation for the sleepy little beach town of Morro Bay, California.

Some highlights included:


The duck pond at a housing tract right along the beach called the Cloisters. We learned that black coots have coot babies with fuzzy yellow heads (not pictured).


Gorgeous views of Morro Rock from the newly completed bike/walking path.


Surfers trying to catch little waves at the breakwater. Its hard to imagine that when the swells come through that the surf is huge!


A secret canopy of trees lining the path behind Morro Bay High School.

Other highlights not pictured include the derelict miniature golf course in front of the high school and random trees along the bike path that were decorated with ornaments.

What new treasures have you discovered on your walkabouts?

Christmas Cookie Exchange

I first experienced this phenomenon a couple years ago when a friend invited me to a Christmas cookie exchange, and again this past weekend. The idea is that a bunch of friends get together and each person brings a small number of cookies to share with every other person. Each person goes home with the same number of cookies they brought, but with more variety. Sometimes there is a recipe exchange included so that if you really like your friend’s cookies you can make them yourself. So here’s my top 9 list of Christmas cookie exchange awesomeness:

  1. It is an excuse to consume butter and sugar. Lots of it!
  2. It lets you see people that you might not normally see, or meet new people if you like that kind of thing!
  3. You can get a good laugh out of other people’s tacky Christmas sweaters (and you can wear one if you like tacky).ugly_christmas_toilet_santa_sweater_2
  4. It usually involves getting to eat other holiday treats like spinach dip, nacho cheese, meatballs, pretzels with hershey’s kisses melted on top, and punch (spiked of course).
  5. You get to bake. This one could be good or bad, depending on how good at baking you are. If you are the person that makes a bunch of cookie dough and then realizes that you don’t own baking sheets, this might not be enjoyable to you!
  6. Variety. Enough said.FNK_12_DAYS_OF_COOKIES_OPENER_H_s4x3.jpg
  7. You make the people you live with happy by bringing home treats, although I warn that this could backfire if your friends can’t bake.
  8. If you aren’t so into the holidays, it can count as your one holiday party!
  9. Did I mention butter and sugar?

Panamerican Ultimate Championships

We found ourselves in a Spanish speaking country again last week, although very temporarily. Our visit consisted of a lot of ultimate, some relaxing, and reconnecting with some of our Uruguayan friends. Seeing them and chatting made me remember the joy and pleasure that writing this blog gave me when we were living in Uruguay and beyond.

I have decided to re-kindle my relationship with the blog. In reacquainting myself with the blog I noticed that I had several drafts of half finished posts. It seems that the longer I neglected sharing our adventures, the more burdensome it felt to catch everyone up. The end result was just a void. So… that being said, I’m not going to try to catch you all up. I’m just going to jump right in!

We (the husband, the roomie – yes the same one from Uruguay, and I) traveled to Cancun, Mexico the week before Thanksgiving to participate in the Panamerican Ultimate Championships. It is a 4 day tournament  of teams from North, Central, and South America competing, coexisting, and interacting in the wonderful world-wide ultimate community.


I was playing for a master’s women’s team from Atlanta, the Atlantiques! Yes, I know the name is awesome😉 The husband and roomie played with Team Uruguay. They could only field a men’s team so I was out of luck, but that’s okay. It was the first time in about 4 years that I have played on a women’s team and it was a blast! We won the third place trophy in the women’s division with 14 players all over 30. For those of you who can’t quite grasp the awesomeness of this feat, just picture a small number of slow ladies schooling an army of 20 year olds for nine games over three days. Experience counts!


The Uruguay team almost made it to the quarterfinals, but a weird three-way tie in the pool threw them into the bottom brackets. It was disappointing, but everyone just seemed happy to be there and playing! Watching my old friends play made me super happy. They have come so far in the three years that we have been gone and it’s really gratifying to know that we have had a part (and continue to have a part) in their development and growth.


The weather was awesome in Cancun, especially for all those teams from Canada! The fields were really great, although they got a little muddy after a downpour on the second day. The only complaint I have, and I hear this is pretty common for international WFDF tournaments, is that the field site was really far from the lodgings and the arranged bus service was limited. All this basically meant was that we went to the fields in the morning and came home at the end of the day. This usually isn’t a horrible thing, but the AC of a hotel room is awful nice in the middle of an 85 degree F, 100% humidity day. We just kept telling ourselves… “We’re in Cancun! Life could be a whole lot worse!”IMG_0700.JPG

All in all… A fantastic experience and one to be remembered!

After a Long Hiatus: We’re Back!

Wow, it’s been a while. Sorry about the absence… Its been a busy year!

1. I have now completed my whole first year as a high school biology and environmental science teacher at a great private school! I really enjoyed myself and am certainly enjoying my summer break!

2. We have had a series of roommates, ending with the best… Matt! He moved back to the states in November, and in an effort to start up a business with my husband, he moved in with us. And he’s still here!

3. My husband and I bought a house! Its a super awesome place and I’m sure there’ll be lots of future posts about our adventures in home ownership.

4. My husband and I went to Europe (Italy and Croatia) to see one of our best friends get married to the man of her dreams in a crazy multilingual, multicultural week-long event near the sea.

I am going to try and get back into the habit of writing a post or two each week, or when something exciting happens. You can expect upcoming posts on the above topics as well as our gardening projects, putting in ceiling fans, and the gym!

Here’s a teaser picture for the next post… our vacation to Europe!

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Our Balcony Garden


We decided to try our hand at growing green things this year. Ideally we’d love to have a whole garden and grow things in the ground, but our apartment living has relegated our experiment to our balcony and pots. This is our second round of growth. The first round of basil, mint, and cilantro was wiped out my some kind of aphid infestation.

All of our plants have come from seeds. We have used a miniature plastic greenhouse to start growing the seeds which has worked great, although it might have led to the demise of our cilantro by making them grow too quickly and getting top-heavy. When the seedlings reached the miniature greenhouse lid, we planted them in real pots and left them outside.


This second round of plants consists of basil (in the two small rectangular planters), purple tomatillos (in the large rectangular planters), and tomatoes (in the large pots). Hopefully the basil will grow big and strong and we can make some yummy pesto and the purple tomatillos sounded like they would make an excellent and visually stimulating salsa. The tomatos were given to us as seeds of two different types already planted in small pots. Of course we now have no idea which type is which because the cat knocked the pots, soil and seeds off the table before they could make it to the balcony. We were still hopeful and pushed the soil back into the pots and put them outside. Despite their rough beginnings they have grown big and strong!

Oh yeah… and our little aloe plant is as happy as can be, even if we do forget to water it!