Sunday, November 22, 2009

Christmas on the Woodlands Waterway - Lighting of the Doves 2009

On a dreary cool rainy day, our 2009 holiday season began. I'm sure many people did not come this year because of the weather. We were, however, fortunate at the end to have clear skies and cool temperatures. It felt like winter in the air. Even before the skies cleared, it felt like a snowy day here in paradise.

If you look close or click on the photo, you will notice the light snow. This was a truly an event that children adored! There was no doubt as one looked at the faces of these children.

As adults sloshed through the muddy grass, it was apparent that some wished it was a little drier, but the rain did not dampen the spirits of anyone I saw there. One lady in nice shoes was stuck in the mud and commented on her predicament, but even she was smiling and in good spirits!    

Employees of the Township with their families were here and there, enjoying the fruit of their labor. We know it takes a lot of work to put these events together and appreciate such quality in our community. Y'all did a great job again this year! Thanks!!! We are all family.

Have you ever eaten deep fried Oreo cookies? They are "to die for", quoting the M.C. of the event. I DO agree! A dollar a cookie and worth it!

At 5 P.M., the featured entertainment took stage - Needfire. What a show they delivered! Tremendous energy and superb Irish/American electric guitar music and songs.

This high spirited group  came offstage with their wireless instruments and mingled with the crowd while they played.

Sometimes, I could not even find the energetic young man playing the fiddle. He was simply spectacular with his showmanship!

In fact, here he is in mid air playing his music like he was on the ground. Incredible!

But he was not the only energetic performer! This year like last, the Irish dancing group showed off their energy. You can't help but clap and dance with them when you see these girls perform in their colorful costumes. The sound of their feet synchronized to the beat of the music is enough to lift anyone's spirit on a dreary day!

There were many young couples present such as these two lovely people.

Some families really did get into the holiday spirit. Sure it is before Thanksgiving, but then again, winter was in the air, and you just can't get much better than that to jump start the season.

Local ballet talent reminds us of the tradition we have in the arts, especially the Nutcracker, which many of us will see this season. The elegance of this young lady certainly caught the eye of those around the stage.

This lovely and talented "Woodlands Idol winner" prepared the youngsters (and adults) for the arrival of Santa - his debut for 2009! Her Christmas songs and beautiful voice could be heard throughout the park.

And there was of course Santa who attracted a very large crowd as he arrived in his traditional style, by boat on the waterway.

This family caught my eye, all having been to the face painting booth to be branded in the holiday spirit.

Many families enjoyed this evening. A few had to ride daddy's back to be able to see what was going on above boot level!

More photos of the event can be seen at this link.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Montgomery County Library System

The Woodlands enjoys the presence of two libraries from the Montgomery County library system.  These two libraries provide state of the art services, but there have been some recent county funding issues. One can check out paper books, videos, and e-books. Items are checked out for two weeks and can be extended one additional two week period, if required. 40% of county residents own a library card. I have had mine for 10 years and discovered recently that it had expired. Each card expires after 5 years, but it is renewed electronically. I renewed mine over the telephone. I needed it activated, because I checked out an e-book.

The library also offers free computer classes, use of their computers connected to the internet, with a fee for supplies like paper. Free tours of the library is offered to acquaint residents with what is where. They also have meeting rooms that can be reserved. There are story times for toddlers, babies and preschoolers. They offer ESL and adult tutors. The Genealogy Department is recognized statewide for its services. It ranks as the 3rd largest such department in Texas. Another popular services is the same-day library-to-library transfer service. One can request a book be transferred from one library to another in order to check it out.    

Two million items were checked out in the last year in a county with a population of only 400,000 residents. They have an agreement with Lone Star College to exchange technology books for non-technology books, so that each library system can stock more efficiently. That brings the ability to loan technical books to residents without any additional cost  burden to the county. There are several programs available to help the library. In The Woodlands, one is "Adopt a book". Another is the "Friends of the Library" organization.  The "Friends" raise funds by operating a used book store at both libraries, a semi-annual used book sale and from donations.

An interesting trend away non-fiction to fiction material has been occurring over the past few years. A typical book must be replaced after about 46 uses. The library needed to replace some 879,000 books  last year but only was provided enough funds to replace 300,000. This is also a trend. The county is reducing the library's annual funds. Next year, the library will be provided with $50,000 less than 2009! We have empty shelves at some locations.

South Regional Library: 2101 Lake Robins Dr., 77380 Mon-Thurs - 9AM-9PM, 9AM-5PM on Fri-Sat
936-442-7727, 936-788-8372

George and Cynthia Woods Mitchell Library: 8125 Ashlane Way, 77382, same hours as above
936-442-7728, 281-362-0772



Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Before putting out the trash

Doing it every week! Do you? Just like clockwork in The Woodlands, like every other urban area these days, we make a trip to the curbside. Trouble is, we have to make decisions what goes where and when. In my neighborhood, once a week, we must put out our recyclables first thing in the morning or the evening before trash pickup day.  To organize the little green bin takes some doing, but more stressful than trying to be orderly, we ask ourselves, what exactly is allowed in that green thing? I look at our bin in the garage and see all this stuff my family has presented me in our container. I must take out what does not belong. Nope, no bottles. Nope, no plastic bags. Nope, no Styrofoam. There are a bunch of nope's! Yep, I can leave the plastic milk bottle in the bin, but need to take the lid off. Ugh! Wish the family had rinsed it out first. That is nasty! Bet it was put in here a full week ago!

Well, most of us want to be do-gooders, but when it comes down to execution, maybe we are not too thrilled or knowledgeable about the task. Tonight, our community sponsored a lecture about the recycling process here and generally how it works in Texas and globally. I have to thank Lynn Aldridge from the association for organizing the little very informative presentation. Everyone in the community was invited, but the little room in the library was only half full of spectators. Not much interest on this Monday night, but generally, there is not a lot of enthusiasm to attend these presentations. What few people do attend are definitely interested though. There were plenty of questions and plenty of answers. I do wish more residents would take an interest in these lectures. Lynn manages to have guest speakers who are subject matter experts at each meting. Many of us know her from Environmental Services as she is one of  the senior staff who works full time to make the environment be part of our lives, on our platter of concern, and the quality of our lives better.

On this particular occasion, I saw flaws in our recycling process. The association staff are quick to point this out. Like so many other recycling communities, we fall far short in our attempt to reclaim what can be reused. If we are diligent, we leverage not only curbside pickup of reusable trash, but we also take some items to the local recycle plant and grocery store. Most residents don't go that far. Curbside yes; retaining and delivering stuff elsewhere is not so popular. Much of it gets put into the trash can, to help fill our diminishing land fill areas.

Our curbside process in The Woodlands only supports plastic #1 and #2. We have what is called a single stream  of recyclable materials. We can put folded boxes at curbside, other cardboard boxes, newspaper, magazines, and some plastics in the green bin. On arrival at the processing center here, the materials are baled to be sent to another location for sorting and packaging as a commodity for a third party to purchase. This is simple and archaic, with a relatively low overall material recovery rate. In The Woodlands, we should have a much better process. I wish we would be recycling on a much higher plane. In my opinion, we do not exhibit sufficient environmental responsibility for this day and age. Lynn tells us that it is a financial issue and that the staff in the association has the same desire and long term goal to do much more. I ask that it be brought forward to residents to decide if they want to expend more to take on a higher level of responsibility on this subject. Maybe we need a special interest group to push this in the Township.  

Plastics are graded by their chemical makeup and melting point. They have to be fairly "clean", of low contamination, to be considered a valuable commodity by the marketplace. There are seven grades of plastic that can be recycled. We process only two of them in our single stream processing system. Do you know you need to take plastic bags to the grocery store for recycling? What do you do with glass? That should not be placed in the bin either but delivered by you to the county's recycling plant at 1122 Pruitt Rd, easily accessible from The Woodlands. What else? Look at the definition of the plastic grades.1 What I want to do is put every plastic out for curbside pickup, but we do not have the technology to process them. A new contract is being prepared by the association, soon to be the Township. In about a year, the current contract will end. We need to rethink where we are and where we want to go with recycling here.  In this economic climate, it is generally felt that we should not set out on anything new, but maybe that is exactly what we need to do. Start-up of something new always requires cash, but hopefully the Environmental group here will be challenged to come up with a strategic plan, a road map to achieve true partnerships with service companies that can help us get unstuck and free us to move forward in this 21st century. I am happy we added folded boxes to our curbside pickup. We however need more, much more. Bottles, Styrofoam,  aluminum cans, plastic bags and other recyclables need to be part of the curbside pickup. We also need a larger container for some families.

The list of plastics that can be recycled are cited from earth911 1. We process only #1 and #2 plastics. On many containers, the type of plastic is actually printed on the bottom of the container. So look for PET or HDPE on the bottom for helping to sort it out. I looked at a few bottles in my frig; Hunt's Catchup had PETE on it as did another product. RAGU had nothing, but I would guess PETE. I will put them both in the recycle bin when they are empty.

#1 PET (Polyethylene terephthalate) (normally called PETE) – Fizzy drink bottles, oven-ready meal trays and water bottles
#2 HDPE (High-density polyethylene) – Milk bottles, detergent bottles, yogurt and margarine tubs, cereal box liners and grocery, trash and retail bags
#3 PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) – Cling film (plastic food wrap), vegetable oil bottles, loose-leaf binders and construction products such as plastic pipes
#4 LDPE (Low-density polyethylene) – Dry cleaning bags, produce bags, trash can liners, bread bags, frozen food bags and squeezable bottles, such as mustard and honey
#5 PP (Polypropylene) – Ketchup bottles, medicine bottles, aerosol caps and drinking straws
#6 PS (Polystyrene) – Compact disc jackets, grocery store meat trays, egg cartons, aspirin bottles, foam packaging peanuts and plastic tableware
#7 Other - Three- and five-gallon reusable water bottles, certain kinds of food containers and Tupperware

So how about bottles? These days the value of glass continues to be high enough to produce recycled products. There is substantial savings to recycle glass, but it needs to be prepared, just like other materials for selling as a commodity. Colored glass must be separated. We used to have curbside collection of glass and it has been discontinued. We just don't have the facilities to safely and efficiently sort it out and deliver it to a processing manufacturer.

And paper? We miss a great deal of paper products to sell. There are many types of paper we do not process. I will put telephone directories, pamphlets, magazines and newspaper into the bin.

And cardboard? paperboard and cardboard can be placed in the bin. It should be clean from food.

And aluminum cans? Yes, they should be placed in the bin.

Further information on recycling or trash pickup, please refer to the association website.

On the back side of our routine, we must remember to put the bin and garbage can back out of sight from the street, before the next morning. That is a requirement here, and we agreed to do that when we signed our covenant when we purchased our home (or rented it). That makes our community more aesthetically pleasing and believe me, residents appreciate their neighbors doing that. No one wants to see a garage can on the curb more than 24 hours! And we don't want to see it in front of the garage either. It should not be a part of the landscape. 

1 Earth911 website - plastics
2 Earth911 website - paper