Blog and Video Categories
Friday, 22 July 2016 00:00

I just happened to be in Woodland, CA, around the 4th of July, and was delighted to see that they would be having a bike parade to celebrate. I was able to attend the celebration afterward, and what I found was a charming, small-town charm. The parade seemed to be especially cherished by the children in town, many of them dressing up in costume and decorating their bikes in striking patriotic colors. The parents also got into the spirit with dress and décor.

The celebration was quaint, with a ragtime band playing in a gazebo, game areas for kids, and some food concessions. I could see that this was a great way for townsfolk to come together and connect with each other. I was happy to see that the great spirit of township is alive and well in America.

Photos by Pandora Patterson

Save

Saturday, 17 September 2016 00:00

Greener Good has been busy creating a new show called Greener Good What Is and Greener Good How To. The show will feature how to do something or what something is in each short 6 to 12-minute episode. Here is a preview of our upcoming show.

Media

Friday, 02 September 2016 00:00

When traveling, I am often so focused on spending time with those I'm visiting that I forget to take time out for myself. I am an introvert, so I need a bit of alone time to recharge and reenergize myself for my next adventure. I find it hard to ask for that free time because I fear that it will seem selfish, and that others often see it as rejection.

I'm wondering if the best way to go about this would be to schedule it ahead of time so that it is expected and doesn't come up as a surprise to those I am visiting. Talking about it before the trip would also help, as you may find that the host also needs a bit of time off.

Sometimes, the time off can't be put on a schedule. For instance, your host may become tired or need to do some things for themselves, but they are trying to be a good host and keep you entertained. Or perhaps one of you is having an off day, and not feeling well. It is better to acknowledge this at the beginning of the day or at the time you realize this, so that you can get some rest and relaxation when needed.

For me, being able to wander by myself somewhere uninterrupted is essential. This is my creative time. This is the time I can think and plan and dream. I love discovering a new place at my own pace. If you crave individual exploration of a new territory, then dare to schedule it in.

You, your traveling companions, and your hosts will all appreciate your mini-break. So, next time you travel, be sure to take a little time off from your "vacation," and take some time to explore your inner self.

Tuesday, 26 April 2016 00:00
Tuesday, 21 February 2017 00:00

Tumamoc Hill is a nature preserve in Tucson, Arizona. It's presently maintained by the University of Arizona, and features a paved walking trail. The trail stretches only 1.5 miles, but extends up more than 700 feet from its starting elevation, making it a great cardio-climb.

For more information, click here.

Sunday, 23 October 2016 00:00

Out in the garden, it is sometimes tricky to balance the ornamental elements with the functional ones when you want everything to be aesthetically beautiful. In some cases, building an enclosure to hide something like your garbage can just doesn't make sense. It would be less functional and flexible, would take up a great amount of space, and might not look very good anyway. In this case, you could try putting up a simple windscreen to distract your eye from the unpleasant elements.

Here is one simple windscreen. It's artistic, and uses very simple upcycled materials. This one uses farm fencing and fence posts, some bamboo that we cut from the garden, and an old stained glass window.

Saturday, 20 August 2016 00:00

We have been trying out a new organizational structure at my community based on the book Reinventing Organizations by Frederic Laloux. It looks like there is a new illustrated version out. The illustrated version is great for those who like a visual representation of the concepts you are reading. The illustrations also help break the text up into sections that are easier to read.

As far as using the concepts at the ecovillage, we are just getting started, so we are learning and growing. I will write a bit more about the results when we are further along. Here is a nice video about the illustrated version of the book.

Media

Thursday, 12 February 2015 00:00

Here is a nice sheet to list your seeds that you want to start this year. Just click one of the following links and print. PDF  ,  JPG

Saturday, 22 April 2017 00:00

We've been house-sitting in Coos Bay, Oregon, since September. Our hosts kindly gave us free rein over their small vegetable patch while they were gone, and they planned to be gone for quite a while. I'd had a bit of experience growing in various climates over the last few years, and I knew gardening would be a challenge here on the southern Oregon coast, but I had no idea how much of a challenge it would be!

After enjoying the last of our hosts' tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers last fall, we cleared out their small plot and pots. Enthusiastically and optimistically, I bought Adaptive Seeds, winter lettuce, kale, spinach, and carrot seeds—all suggested for extreme cold and snow conditions. (Snow conditions on the coast—ha, ha, ha! Turned out that Mother Nature would have the last laugh there.)

I seeded the carrots in the raised bed, and started the rest of the veggies indoors in pots, then moved them to the lightweight plastic greenhouse our hosts had purchased as a test greenhouse.



Things were looking good. Finally, I moved them to the raised bed, and then actual winter hit. Honestly, I think we got a few leaves of lettuce, and we're just now enjoying the carrots, but otherwise, my efforts were a flop.

In January, I picked up various veggie seeds from our local seed community, and (finally) got them into the dirt in mid-February. The eight tomato starts were doing really well until I put them out on the porch on a warm day a few weeks ago, hoping for a dose of vitamin D, only to look out the window an hour later to see a windstorm in progress. Needless to say, the poor tomato plants keeled over. I've revived two (maybe), but the rest are compost. The difference between the start I purchased a few weeks ago from the local grange and the seeds I started almost ten weeks ago is almost comical!



One of the zucchini seeds from the seed community might survive, and there are a few bell pepper sprouts that might survive, and the parsley is growing like a weed. But otherwise... sigh. That greenhouse would've been great with all these plants right now, but it was demolished in a winter storm back in January.



Despite the challenges, there are a few bright spots to the garden this spring. The fava beans from the seed community are thriving! (At least I think they are... they are for this time of year, right?) Time to look up some recipes.



And the borage I seeded last fall is thriving. too. Tonight we enjoyed some in our salad.



Otherwise...

So, southern coastal gardeners, what tips do you have for me—other than to move inland?!

Monday, 20 February 2017 00:00

At Kailash Ecovillage we make tons of compost with our large-scale compost system, so why would we choose to purchase a truckload full? There are several reasons.

1. The batch that we have at the end of our compost bin that should be ready is not. We have been putting so much material into our courtyard that by the time we get around to the other side, we find that it is not ready yet. This may be partially because we didn't chop in enough green vegetation in proportion to wood to chip, so it didn't compost as quickly.

2. I think we have become compost snobs! As we have continued to experiment with composting, a growing number of our members would like to start a new system to create a more perfected compost. The new system will probably be managed alongside the old one until we have a system we like better. Our old system was designed to process a large amount of compost with very little effort, which kept a lot of waste out of our waste bins. We would like to gear the new system toward making ultimate compost for our garden and not for just composting everything.

Here are some photos of our new "black gold" compost and our "old stickie" compost.

 

Sunday, 30 April 2017 00:00

Here are some photo from our fruit tree training workshop at the ecovillage.

Tuesday, 08 November 2016 00:00

Putting watering bowls out for bees and other insects can be like creating artwork. All you need is a vessel to hold water and a way for the bees to crawl and drink without falling in. This is usually done by putting small pebbles or some other creatively found items in the dish. The pebbles are easier for bees to maneuver than the slippery slopes of a deep dish. Take a look at these beautiful offerings in the ecovillage.

Thursday, 05 November 2015 00:00

“I put seeds into the ground and they grow into beautiful plants and food for people. I want to know more about that miracle—actually, everything that there is to know about it.”
—Amber Roskos

I wrote in a previous post that my family and I were planning to move. We needed to find just the right property and spot for our lifestyle before we placed our offer and made it happen. Fortunately, I was able to find a ranch-style home on a large flat lot that had an enormous heirloom garden growing. The previous owner had been growing it for four years, and it was well underway and growing gorgeous pesticide-free heirloom veggies! SOLD!

Now I have a thing…I need to learn about heirlooms, their seeds and growing them, because I’m sure they will be popping up all over the garden this spring, as there are already greens growing in all over the yard…beet greens, cabbage, and chard everywhere!!! This place is like a dream to me. I wanted to take the time to research the history of heirloom seeds because I find them fascinating and I want to really know my garden and what we are eating. This is what I came across about heirlooms that I think is important to know and worth mentioning:

Each heirloom variety of seed has a history, and many have a story all their own, some dating back hundreds of years to the early 1800s, when immigrants brought their own seed varieties with them to plant. These seeds were important to them. This was food. The seeds were like gold, and they were going to grow themselves good, natural vegetables and fruits to feed their families.

Now fast forward to our modern-day gardening boom. It’s important to mention that there are laws regarding heirloom seeds and what you can plant in your area. Due to the recent resurgent popularity of heirloom seeds and backyard gardens in America, we are starting to see a crackdown on some independent seed companies. There are laws that govern what they are approved to sell and what you, the home gardener, are actually technically allowed to plant. But for the most part, planting heirlooms from a reputable commercial seed company is really safe. Better yet, you can save your own seeds from your already-established plants/heirloom plants.

The seed company you purchase from should provide a history for each variety of heirloom seed they sell. Look on the seed packet! It usually has all of the information you’ll need. This gives the gardener a great history of the plant and adds some importance and real value to the seed by showing that it has been on a journey for years.

You can save your heirloom seeds, just like any other seeds, and replant them in your garden for years. I have been noticing that heirloom seeds seem to grow super hearty plants. Heirloom seeds are pesticide-free, and most companies boast that they are also pest-resistant and do well in a variety of climates. They are usually non-GMO and organic, the whole lot of what you really want. Heirloom plants are original and unique, and make for a really great gardening experience. What do you have to add about heirloom varieties? Do you have experience with them or something to add? Comment here and let us know.

One last thing that I want to mention: I am no expert gardener. I do my own research and summarize what I’ve learned in my own words, in the hopes that it helps others grow their home gardens. I’m a very novice backyard gardener. I garden for the vegetables, the reward of fresh food for my family whose source I know, and my love of nature, the sun, and the dirt. I put seeds into the ground, and they grow into beautiful plants and food for people. I want to know more about that miracle—actually, everything that there is to know about it.

Wednesday, 01 March 2017 00:00
Saturday, 29 April 2017 00:00

Gardening and its Life Lessons 
This is only our fourth garden since living in the Carolinas, and plenty of life lessons have been apparent as we've gone through this journey. Surprisingly, growing something as simple as watermelon and cucumbers has taught us a lot of valuable life lessons that help us manage our corporate positions that support our family.

Patience
Completing a project with a blank slate has started to become easier. When we start planning for the garden, we have such a blank slate to start with each year that we have to just go with it. Just going with the overall vision of being self-sustained by having a garden, and creating the project as we go, is so similar to projects proposed at work. I find myself having less anxiety when presented with projects at work because I’m used to the uncertainty in my garden. Like my garden, it will all organically work out in my favor.

Mistakes
We planted a whole batch of broccoli that never came to harvest. We couldn’t figure out what the mistake was; we followed the schedule, but the maturity date did not hold true. This often happens at work—promises made by managers and others in higher positions that never come to reality. Gardening has taught me that although the reward may not show when expected, it will show when ready. The broccoli was able to be harvested a few months after we forecasted, when it was ready. The same thing happens in life; everything is in due time.

Milestone Celebrations
Small victories never get missed in the garden because it takes so much work to get to that point. One cucumber is a major victory, and I’ve started to recognize that small accomplishments at work are worth the same amount of attention. Recognizing how much effort it takes to reach a certain point in a project helps with momentum by enhancing the sense of accomplishment and recognition in the team. This vibe helps me keep going with the garden, and also helps me continue with completing long projects at work.

Do you have moments of clarity in your garden? Have life lessons shown up for you to harvest?

     

Monday, 27 March 2017 00:00

I love giving tours of the ecovillage to students of environmental studies. This week, I gave a tour to Stephanie Mullen, who wanted to take photos for an assignment at Portland State University. I showed her many of our sustainable experiments, including the solar panels, rainwater catchment, recycling and composting.

At the end of the tour, she asked what we were doing to show our ideas to the greater community so that other apartment complexes and communities could replicate what we were doing. I had to admit that while we were busy doing our own experiments, so far we hadn't done much to facilitate events to share our knowledge. She gave me some ideas for partnering with other organizations that could help us produce an event.

This question got me thinking about my role in the ecovillage. I have always wanted to do more with community outreach; I create a lot of videos and photos to share on the web, but I would love to do more. I think the idea of partnering with another organization is a great one! I hope to create this event soon.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016 00:00

For those living in eastern North America, fall is the right time to look for Apios Americana, a wild vine popularly known as Hopniss, Dakota Peas, Groundnut or the American potato bean. This plant is known for its edible beans and tubers, and its distribution is throughout eastern North America with Colorado forming the western boundary. It prefers well-drained soils and can be sighted in riparian woods, wet meadows, banks of ponds and streams, ravines and the moist prairies.

Potato bean is a relic of the past. It fed the Native Americans and even the early European settlers. The New England colonists, facing a food shortage, were so enamored with potato beans that some towns even passed a law to prohibit natives from harvesting tubers from the English lands. Early efforts towards domestication were in vain, and the plant faded into obscurity. Today not many are aware of its edibility.

Though the entire plant is edible, it is the tubers that steal the show. They are produced on a rhizome at irregular intervals and are arranged like beads on a rosary. Like other tubers, they are predominantly starch, but their protein content is three times higher than potatoes. They are rich in calcium and iron and also contain isoflavone genistein which is an anti-carcinogenic substance. As far as the taste is concerned, the tubers are comparable to a roasted sweet potato. Some people find its taste closer to a nutty potato which explains why the plant is called potato bean.

The tubers can be harvested from plants that are more than a year old, but mature plants (ones with thicker vines, larger leaves, and more than five leaflets) produce bigger tubers and can sometimes provide yields as high as 2.3 kilos per plant. They can be gathered all year round, but it is easier to dig them in autumn and winter, especially when the frost has killed the succulent vine. The pea-like seeds are also edible and can be harvested during late summer or early fall.

Here is a word of caution for those interested in trying the tubers. First, do not eat them raw as they contain protease inhibitors, substances that interfere with protein metabolism. Also, be careful while consuming them for a second or third time as this is when most people fall sick. The plant is also an attractive ornamental owing to its brightly colored blooms and can be propagated via seeds and tubers. However, it gets expansive and dominates the surrounding flora.

Identification Characteristics:
Habit: Perennial herb.
Roots: Moniliform (beaded roots) with pear shaped tubers (i.e. rhizomatous stems). Tubers are variable in size. Latex appears on the damaged parts.
Stems: a 1-3 mt long climbing vine, herbaceous, pubescent (hairy) or glabrous (smooth), turn brown and flattened in winter. Tendrils are absent. Twines counter clockwise.
Leaves: Alternate, pinnately compound, with 3-9 leaflets. Each leaflet is 2-10 cm long, 1.8- 7 cm wide, egg-shaped, with smooth margins and sometimes hairy on the underside.
Flowers: Inflorescence is 5-15 cm long, dense conical raceme arising from leaf axils. Flowers present in dense clusters, hermaphrodite, pea-like (with short wings and incurved keel), mildly fragrant and pinkish maroon or brownish purple in color. Blooms are produced from July to September.
Fruit: 5-12 cm long and 4-7 mm broad legume (pod) containing 2 to several seeds. Appear in late summer.        

References:
http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=APAM
http://plants.usda.gov/java/charProfile?symbol=APAM
http://plants.usda.gov/plantguide/pdf/cs_apam.pdf
http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Apios+americana
https://www.hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/duke_energy/Apios_americana.html
https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/proceedings1990/V1-436.html
http://www.maryrowlandson.com/groundnuthomepage.htmlhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apios_americana

Photo credits:
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d6/Apios_americana_tubers.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/f/fa/Apios_americana_WFNY-117.jpg
https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c9/Wp5035_apios_americana.jpg

 

 


                                         

Monday, 03 April 2017 00:00

I love it when the tulips come out to play. That is when I know it is truly spring!

 

Monday, 17 April 2017 00:00

I hate wasting anything, and I love creative projects, but figuring out how to reuse something when I’m done using it is difficult. Recycling is at the bottom tier of the green mantra for a reason; it’s very energy-intensive. Glass, specifically, is something you can reuse and recycle over and over again. I’ve been agonizing over what to do with my empty glass bottles, and luckily the internet has provided some very innovative ideas. Here are a few fun ideas for what to do with the glass bottles sitting on your counter or inside your recycling bin.

Impress the Neighbors with a Wine Bottle Bird Feeder
This project requires some skill, but the result looks downright adorable! It's a cheap project by the looks of it; all you need are an empty wine bottle (cleaned out, of course), a hose clamp, wood glue, a table saw, a hammer, nails, some pine furring strips, a piece of plywood, and paint for the lovely finishing touches. This project will not only make your backyard visitors happy; it's also a great yard accessory and conversation piece for friends and family!

Out of Flower Pots? Why Not Make a Bottle Planter?
If you feel comfortable cutting a wine bottle in half, this project is for you. It's great for budding plants, and the only costs here are the soil and plant for the bottle planter. What’s really cool is the fact that you can watch your plant grow!

Want a Vase in a Tight Space? Why Not Try Making a Wall Vase?
When I saw this, I thought it looked really modern and cool. It’s also a great solution for someone like me, who lives in a small apartment with limited table space. This project also requires a trip to the hardware store, but it doesn’t look too intimidating. Drill some holes, screw in some screws, insert a bottle, and boom! Wall vase.

Light Up Your Living Room with a Wine Bottle Lamp
Depending on how handy you are, or the size of the bottle, for this project, you can either drill a hole at the bottom of the bottle for the LED lighting wire or simply insert some battery-operated LED lights inside the bottle. The final result is beautiful, so pick some of your favorite colored glass beads, and have fun!

This last link provides a couple of different tutorials on how to cut glass bottles as well as several different unique ideas on what to do with them. The ideas include everything from serving platters to wall mosaics and even chandeliers. I hope you all feel inspired to give one of these projects a try. I’m certainly eager to get started!

Thursday, 30 March 2017 00:00

I grew up in the '60s and '70s, when things were simpler, and we didn't have all the complications of high-tech devices. I enjoyed growing up in that era, as I found lots of things to keep me busy. I took music and horseback riding lessons, joined a girls club with lots of events, and was in a soccer league with my dad as the coach.

In my first year of college, the first computers were becoming popular. The Commodore 64 was one of the first home computers, and many people just used them for playing video games, but some of my friends were studying computer science. I have always been an early adopter of new technology. I was one of the first to get a home computer, and then a cordless phone, then a cell phone, and I bought the first iPhone. Technology was a big exciting thing in my generation; everything new and exciting came out when I was in my twenties.

Now, in my fifties, I find that technology has started to get in my way of experiencing some of the beauty of life. I am on technology overload, and have started considering going lower-tech.

Here are some lower-tech things I have added recently:

A lower-tech sewing machine.  I still use my new computerized machine, but for some projects, you just can't beat the old steel workhorses.

A notebook and a good pen.  For a long time, I wanted to type all my notes on my computer and mobile devices to save paper. Now that I have a junk pile of old devices, I am starting to think that paper is more sustainable and easier to recycle. I also buy pens that are meant to last seven years instead of taking the free ones you find at events. There is nothing like taking a pen to paper to get the real creative writing flowing.

An old slimline telephone.  I've added a house phone. I like the old-fashioned slimline phone, but I don't like the phone service that comes with my internet provider. When the internet goes out, I can't use Skype on my computer or my slimline phone. I wanted to hook up an old-fashioned phone line; there is a connection for it in my apartment, but finding out how to get the line activated was not as easy as it was in the old days. I also don't like the computerized robocalls that come these days. I think it was better when someone had to look up your phone number in a phone book and then hand-dial it. Now that phone numbers have been digitized, scammers are taking advantage of this by having their computers dial random numbers.

A lower-tech iPod.  My husband bought me an iPod Shuffle, which I am amazed will do almost what my iPod Touch will do as far as playing music. The 4th generation came out seven years ago, and they haven't updated it for seven years, so hopefully it will be longer-lasting. The iPod Touch comes out every other year, and is obsolete about four years after you buy it because of the software and apps that it runs.

A musical instrument.  Instead of always playing music on my computer or other devices, I decided to buy a ukulele and learn to play it again. I find this more entertaining, as it is more of an activity than a passive listening event.

I plan to reassess more of my technology and consider going lower-tech with other items in the future to bring back more of the charm of my youth.

Saturday, 04 March 2017 00:00

The underarm has a direct route to an essential part of our immune system called the lymphatic system. Our skin may absorb whatever we put onto it—so let’s take a closer look at what we’re putting on the skin under our arms. Deodorants and antiperspirants are used by most Americans on a daily basis. There are many ingredients in these products known to be potentially dangerous to our bodies. Here is a list of five of these ingredients and a brief description of why they should be avoided. 

1. Parabens (methyl, ethyl, propyl, benzyl and butyl) are a kind of preservative used in deodorants and antiperspirants to prevent bacterial growth. Parabens have also been shown to mimic the activity of estrogen in the body’s cells. By doing this, they disrupt the body’s hormonal balance. When checking a label for parabens, look for “methylparaben,” “propylparaben,” “butylparaben,” “benzyl paraben,” and “isobutyl paraben.” These are found in 75–90% of deodorant products. Deodorant chemicals like parabens can accumulate in human tissues, and unfortunately, parabens have been linked to the development of breast cancer. In a study done in the UK, researchers collected 160 samples of breast tissue from women who’d had mastectomies, and tested them for the presence of the five parabens I just listed. At least one form of paraben was present in 99% of the tissue samples, and all five were present in 60% of the samples. Because parabens are estrogenic, they can also build up in breast milk.

2. Aluminum compounds (Aluminum chloralhydrate, aluminum zirconium tetrachlorohydrex gly) are the active ingredient in deodorants and antiperspirants. They act as a plug within the sweat ducts to block the body from sweating. Research shows that these compounds are easily absorbed through the skin and can cause changes in estrogen receptors (potentially promoting the growth of breast cancer cells). 

3. Triclosan is a common deodorant ingredient that can irritate your skin and cause contact dermatitis. Triclosan is an antimicrobial agent with antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral properties, capable of killing the bad bacteria in your body, but also the good bacteria. The FDA has listed triclosan as a pesticide. This ingredient is lipophilic, meaning it can accumulate in your body tissues. Triclosan is detectable in human breast milk, blood, and urine samples. 4. Propylene Glycol (may be listed as PEG or PG)Propylene glycol is used as a moisture sealer and a penetration enhancer. Like aluminum, it is easily absorbed through the skin and is sometimes contaminated with lead, nickel, or arsenic. Propylene glycol is a known neurotoxin and is known to cause contact dermatitis and liver and kidney damage. When I first read the label on my Secret brand deodorant I saw a warning telling me to consult a doctor before using if I had any kidney problems. That was my first clue that deodorant was not just something that stayed on the surface of my skin. 

4. Propylene Glycol (may be listed as PEG or PG) is used as a moisture sealer and a penetration enhancer. Like aluminum, it is easily absorbed through the skin and is sometimes contaminated with lead, nickel, or arsenic. Propylene glycol is a known neurotoxin, and is known to cause contact dermatitis and liver and kidney damage. When I first read the label on my Secret brand deodorant, I saw a warning telling me to consult a doctor before using if I had any kidney problems. That was my first clue that deodorant was not just something that stayed on the surface of my skin.

5. Fragrance (phthalates). Obviously, we want our deodorant to smell good, so we can smell good when we use it. But fragrances (listed as DHP, DBP5, DEHP, and dibutyl phthalate) are considered probable carcinogens by the EPA. Phthalates can increase the absorption of parabens (linked to breast cancer). Phthalates are known development toxicants, meaning they can interfere with the development of a fetus or a child. They are also endocrine disruptors that may interfere, mimic, or block hormones, and they can harm the reproductive system.

So, what’s the alternative? There are a number of excellent natural deodorants out there. Do your research, and try one (read the label carefully first). My first suggestion, though, would be to make your own! There is something empowering about taking charge of what you are putting on your skin. To know for sure what ingredients are in your deodorant, mix them together yourself. A main factor in choosing deodorant is the effectiveness of the product. The first time I made my own, I thought the process was fun, but I was doubtful of how well the product would work. However, I was pleased to find that my homemade deodorant smelled as good and lasted as long as my favorite store brand, and even felt better (the peppermint oil gave my skin a nice cool feeling).

Wednesday, 18 November 2015 00:00

You may have already taken steps towards healthier eating, but did you know that the types of pots and pans you’re cooking with can also affect your health?

Teflon pots and pans have been regarded as a miraculous solution to kitchen cleanup since they were first sold commercially in 1946. However, like many seemingly miraculous fixes, the possibility of adverse health affects from using Teflon has come into question over the last 15 years.

Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) is a chemical used in the making of nonstick pans, and has been detected in the blood of most Americans, adults and children alike. Various animal studies have shown a correlation between PFOA and cancer and liver disease. However, there is no irrefutable proof that nonstick pans can cause cancer in humans.

What we do know comes from the Environmental Working Group’s 2003 study concluding that “a nonstick pan left to preheat on high reached a temperature of more than 700 degrees within five minutes, at which point it released several toxic gases, including TFE, DFA, and PFOA (all animal carcinogens), and alarmingly, MFA, a chemical that can be lethal to humans at low doses.”

What now?

To help you out with deciding what kind of nontoxic cookware to use, here is a quick list of options. If you desire specific brands and designs, Mother Nature Network provides a list here.

Stainless steel

This option is a mix of different metals, including nickel, chromium and molybdenum, but unless your cookware is worn or damaged, the amount of metals likely to get into your food is minor. Stainless steel is also very easy to clean; scrubbing pans down with steel wool will keep layers of oil from accumulating on the surface.

Glass

Glass is an eco-friendly, nontoxic and durable option. However, you can’t use glass for everything, and certain items (like baking tins) are hard to find in glass. Glass pans generally work best for savory dishes like potpies, baked pasta, and quick breads.

Ceramic

Ancient cultures used ceramic for baking, and it’s still a great choice today. Ceramic pots have a non-scratch cooking surface (which makes them easy to clean with steel wool without scraping the surface), heat evenly, and hold in flavor. They don’t leach anything into foods, but can be easy to break.

Cast Iron

Cast iron is known for its durability and even heat distribution. Unglazed cast iron can transfer iron into food, but iron is considered a healthy food additive. Cast iron is nonstick after seasoning, which means to treat the cast iron with oil and bake it to fill in the porous surface.

Safety First

Most Americans have at least one piece of chemical nonstick cookware. If that’s you, follow these safety guidelines:

  • Never leave nonstick pans unattended on an open flame or other heat source, and keep cooking temperatures below 450 degrees.
  • Don’t use metal utensils on nonstick cookware.
  • Wash the pans by hand using nonabrasive cleaners and sponges, not steel wool.
  • Watch for wear and tear or flaking of any nonstick surface, and replace when necessary.
Friday, 30 December 2016 00:00

Some of the holidays may have already passed, but that doesn't mean there aren't several occasions throughout the year to give a gift. If you're like me, the stress of finding the perfect gift can be overwhelming. Ideally, I want to give gifts that people will use versus collecting dust in a closet or attic. There's plenty of waste in the world, so today I have some tips that ought to make your next gift green and spectacular.

Get them something perishable.
Whether it's food or a fragrance, or really just anything with an expiration date, this means your friend can't just set this gift aside for later. Food is something everyone needs, and, in my humble opinion, an understated gift. It's not just the thought that counts, but the time, creativity, love, and all the cooking and cleaning done for you!

Try making something.
If you're short on cash, but you want to give something special, why not look around your own home? Chances are you'll find a few things that could turn into a thoughtful, creative gift. Have some paint and extra glasses hanging around? Why not make them some decorative glasses? Found a few nice jars or boxes? Tidy those up, and give them something nice to store their knickknacks in.

Have a few photos of them? Frame a nice collage!
Personally, I think this one is a win-win. You give them something nice while you get to declutter your own home. Reuse, Reuse, Reuse! I love going to Goodwill or really any resale store—it's amazing what you can find. There's something even more amazing about giving a gently used item another chance versus buying something brand new that won't ever be used. Try browsing through a Goodwill, and be amazed at how many great gifts you can find–anything from clothes to furniture to kitchenware.

Give them something that can't fit into a bag or box.
Whenever my birthday or a holiday comes up, I find myself looking forward more to the time spent with friends and family than to the gifts I may receive. Spending some valuable time with someone is a gift everyone enjoys. Good times with good friends are something that can't be wasted, only cherished. I hope these tips may help, and just remember to take a deep breath. Everyone appreciates receiving a gift.

Thursday, 23 February 2017 00:00

It is a most curious and awesome feeling when you wake up in the morning, open the door to your room, and find three people in synchronized yoga poses in your shared living room space, one person cooking a large breakfast in the kitchen, and the other reading a book on the loveseat by the window.

An even greater feeling of joy comes when you walk outside of this space to people rolling into the parking lot from the market on their bikes, fresh vegetables in their backpacks, about to cook up their part of the next potluck dinner for all members of the cooperative community to share. A lovely couple lounges on the hammock in the common area. A friend from the apartment next to yours sits in a chair facing the sun, sipping a cup of tea, gives you a smile, and says, “Hey! How are you today? Coming to the co-op meeting? There will be vegan soup and fresh-harvested lavender honeysuckle sorbet!” (Of course you are—wouldn’t miss it for anything.)

You walk out to the garden that you helped build a few months prior with a few members of the co-op’s garden committee in front of your apartment building, and harvest some peas, greens, and whatever else you can manage out of the space. A plan to cook your part of the potluck dinner tonight is in the works. 

This was my world while living in a cooperative community in the always sunny, always beautiful North Carolina.

Throughout my life, up until my move from Maryland to NC, I had lived in pretty conventional housing spaces—living with parents or with roommates who more or less did their own thing, saying hello in passing when one of us miraculously had time in between working part-time, going to school full-time with internships. These environments, although wonderful and loving spaces, were a little more solitary, making it easier to create and accomplish goals on an individual level, but perhaps a little less conducive to group collaboration or team-oriented goals and focusing on the idea of embracing community.

Everything changed for me when I got a call from a good friend who had recently moved to North Carolina, telling me about how wonderful this community he was living in was. He told me he knew that I’d fall in love with the place and the area, insisting that I visit, because his apartment had an open bedroom. My friends and I arranged a visit within the next two weeks, packed backpacks for the weekend, and drove six hours south to stay with our buddy in North Carolina at the co-op. I knew the moment I stepped out of the car and into that warm, spicy cedar aroma in the air, and found myself enjoying a cup of local coffee at a hip café in town, that this place felt right already. We made our way to the co-op, and were greeted by friendly hellos, though we were not even members of the community yet! I ventured back to Maryland after this trip, feeling different. I had never known community quite like that. My friend called me and offered to move me into the room in his place within the next few days. After having finished up with my bachelor’s degree, serving tables at a restaurant for years, and not feeling completely satisfied with my major’s career opportunities after school, I figured, why not? It took me only about two or three weeks to get my Maryland world settled and to make my way down south to North Carolina. I was incredibly excited—ready to be a part of something bigger than myself and my small town. 

This opportunity was more than I could have hoped for. The cooperative community consisted of three apartment buildings, each with three apartments. Each apartment had two to four people living inside. These spaces were considered “low-income” housing, for people who made less than $28,000 a year—an amazing incentive to create an environment where people felt comfortable with their living situation, able to make ends meet, feed themselves, and have time to be a part of the community’s ongoing projects, group-related upkeep, and grounds maintenance. Basically, this allowed members of the co-op to live happy, healthy lives, working jobs they enjoyed, spending free time doing fun things they loved that made a difference, pushing toward future progress and positive change, and spending this time with people they loved. Yes, this was my kind of home.

I got to be a part of what felt like a large group of family members, working toward common goals of being good to each other, the planet, and the people around us. We worked hard to maintain a safe and healthy environment for all members of the co-op, as well as all guests, visitors, and members of the local community. We offered a hand when others were in need, took care of pets when each other went away, and tended to the outdoor spaces.

We also all enjoyed many days and nights together spent around a bonfire in the community outdoor space, hiking and running around on local trails, cooking and enjoying delicious farm-fresh food, going out and exploring the town, having good conversations over coffee, and listening to live music. It was an experience I had not previously had the pleasure of being a part of, and after being exposed to such collaboration—such genuine love and teamwork—I didn’t want to not have this in my life. After these experiences, I learned a lot about myself and about others.

Living with a community of people taught me how to keep open lines of communication, work collaboratively to create goals and projects, and understand that although people may not work the same way as I do, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing. It’s actually a great thing! Diversity is what makes this life so interesting and beautiful. It taught me how to open up and let go of any ego, walls, or defense systems that I may have had from previous toxic living situations. Dropping passive aggression and negativity opened up so many doors to collaboration and love.

With this community, I was introduced to the very wild and wonderful idea of “being completely myself.” Crazy idea, huh? Through this community, I thrived. The support I received from my co-op family on a daily basis was beyond measure To have a home away from home, a family away from family—now that is something special.

I believe that this is true of any community space or gathering. When people come together with the love of humanity in their hearts, so much can be accomplished. I carry these stories with me every day, and they have led me to a happier, more open and understanding lifestyle. We can meet our goals! It’s always easier together.

Thursday, 20 April 2017 00:00

For decades, scientists and environmentalists have warned us about the dangers of the increase of plastic packages on Earth’s soil and water. Skipping Rocks Lab, a scientific organization that promotes innovation, has made an amazing and interesting invention. The Ooho! is an absolutely biodegradable package that can be eaten without consequences for humans or the environment.

This sphere is made from algae, and inside, it can store an amount of water, makeup, or any other liquid. Thus, this sphere could replace all plastic bottles, glasses, cups, etc.

The scientists of Skipping Rocks Lab experimented with many materials until they got the right mixture and proportions. The final recipe is made with alginate sodium and chloride calcium. The process of creating gelatin leads to the final outcome. The material of this edible sphere is like gel.

This great idea reaches many sponsors who want to be a member of this next-day step. Apart from the eco-friendly material of this sphere, it keeps the content fresher, and it is cheaper. The carbon dioxide from the production of the plastic decreases. It also saves the world a lot of extra energy. Ideas like this help people to decrease their trash and think more about the environment. Tons of plastic bottles and other packages will be eliminated when this invention becomes more popular.

Check it out for yourselves with the Skipping Rocks Lab's demonstration.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016 00:00

Artificial light has changed the way we humans interact with the world, for better or for worse. Once we were dependent on the sun’s cycle for lighting our daily activities, but the invention of the incandescent lightbulb in 1879 allowed us to work, study, and entertain ourselves at any hour of the day. During its 137-year history, the lightbulb has made several evolutions, most recently the switch to compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. This transformation made our lighting more efficient, and following that, the invention of light-emitting diodes, LEDs, improved efficiency even more. Currently, LEDs are becoming more affordable to the general public; prices in stores are rivaling those of traditional incandescent and CFL bulbs, and considering that LEDs last far longer than other bulbs, the cost savings are even greater. Many people may be buying their first LEDs and wondering, what makes LEDs better?

1. Energy efficiency

According to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the organization that awarded the Nobel Prize in 2014 to the three Japanese inventors of the LED, about one-fourth of world electricity consumption is used for lighting, which means a potentially huge reduction in the planet’s energy use if all incandescent bulbs were switched to LEDs. One thing that makes LEDs so much more efficient is that they emit almost no heat. According to the US Department of Energy, incandescent bulbs emit almost 90% of their energy as heat, and CFL bulbs emit 80% of their energy as heat. The Department of Energy also goes on to say that “Widespread use of LED lighting has the greatest potential impact on energy savings in the United States.”

2. Resource use

Besides being more efficient, LEDs last far longer than traditional bulbs. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences again tells us that “materials consumption is also diminished as LEDs last up to 100,000 hours, compared to 1,000 hours for incandescent bulbs and 10,000 hours for fluorescent lights.” While LEDs ultimately still end up in the landfill, it takes much more time for them to get there. According to my quick calculation, a 100,000-hour lifespan means one could leave an LED on for eight hours a day, every day, and it would last approximately 34 years. LED technology makes purchasing new lightbulbs a very special, twice-in-a-lifetime experience!

3. Efficiency in use

LEDs emit light in a specific direction, whereas the light emitted from traditional lightbulbs may not even leave the immediate area. Additionally, LEDs turn on and off more quickly, making them more efficient for things such as traffic lights.

4. Can be used anywhere

LEDs are incredibly durable! LEDs can operate in extremely hot and cold temperatures. In addition, since they emit so little heat, they can be used around plants or animals that may be sensitive to heat. LEDs also emit far fewer UV and infrared rays.

5. Cost savings

As mentioned above, LED prices are beginning to rival those of traditional incandescents, but they need to be purchased far less frequently. This means an incredible cost saving for consumers, both in the purchase of bulbs and the subsequently reduced electricity bills!

You now know why LEDs are better than traditional lightbulbs. The next time you need to replace a lightbulb, or if you want a special, twice-in-a-lifetime experience, shop for and buy an LED light!

 

Thursday, 06 April 2017 00:00

My last post was a list of potentially harmful ingredients found in most store-bought deodorants. This week I am going to share with you a recipe for natural, homemade deodorant I have found works well for me. 

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup baking soda
  • ¼ cup arrow root powder
  • 7 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 3 tablespoons shredded beeswax
  • 1 cap tea tree oil
  • 25 drops lavender or peppermint oil (or both!)

To make:

  1. Combine baking soda and arrow root powder.
  2. Melt coconut oil and bees wax.
  3. Mix together, and add tea tree and lavender oils. 

You will need a small container, like Tupperware, to keep the deodorant in. If you have an empty deodorant container, you can add your homemade deodorant to that. Keep in mind that because this deodorant is made with coconut oil, the texture varies with the temperature of the air. If you live somewhere warm where coconut oil is always liquid, your deodorant will be very soft, and probably won’t work in a normal deodorant dispenser. If you live in a cooler climate, the deodorant will be more solid.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I do!

Friday, 14 April 2017 00:00

Here are some photos showing the progress of our structure that will hold the rain chains at the ecovillage.

See my previous post on the rain sculpture.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016 00:00

The cashews you see in the bulk bins at your local grocery are not actually raw. Raw cashews can contain toxins that would make them inedible if not processed. Here is a video of the process.

Media

Tuesday, 11 April 2017 00:00

The number of cleaning product choices at the grocery store can be overwhelming and expensive at times, when standing in an aisle looking at countertop cleaners, floor cleaners, and toilet bowl cleaners, among numerous other options.

But did you know there is a healthier, simpler, less expensive way to clean your house?

It’s true, there is an eco-option available sold at any grocery store that can clean and disinfect. The secret is white vinegar.

Here are the top 20 white vinegar cleaning uses:

1. Clean windows
2. Remove carpet stains
3. Remove water stains
4. Clean toilet bowl
5. Clean ceramic tiles
6. Clean pet accident areas
7. Clean the fridge
8. Clean coffeemaker
9. Wood floor cleaner
10. Clear drains
11. Cut grease stains
12. Remove stains from pots and pans
13. Brass polisher
14. Remove sticker residue
15. Clean tubs and showers
16. Clean mirrors
17. Clean ovens
18. Remove clothes stains
19. Eliminate odors from garbage disposal
20. Clean and disinfect cutting boards

In some cases, white vinegar will need to be diluted with water before cleaning, or another ingredient added to the solution before using.

Check back soon to see cleaning recipes using distilled white vinegar!

Saturday, 25 March 2017 00:00

I’m not a vegan, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy or appreciate vegan dishes. I’m a huge produce fan, and considering all the health benefits a vegan diet provides, I’ve been eager to try some vegan recipes. After searching the web, I wanted to share some tasty recipes I plan to try.

curried quinoa

Curried Coconut Quinoa and Greens with Roasted Cauliflower
Normally I am not a fan of cauliflower, at least when it’s raw, but cooked cauliflower can be delicious, especially if seasoned with cayenne pepper, curry powder, and turmeric. I’m a huge curry fan, and quinoa came to be my new vegetarian delight, considering how fast it cooks and how it can work with any flavor profile. This dish combines the awesome kick of curry, throws in the complementary bitterness of arugula, and brings it all together with the crunchy texture of cayenne-seasoned roasted cauliflower. Delish!

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Veggie Burgers
I love sweet potatoes—it’s a root both my husband and I like to incorporate in all our cooking when we need the extra starch. Sweet potato is the awesome missing ingredient I’ve been looking for when making veggie burgers. Seasoned with cayenne, paprika, freshly diced red onion and cilantro, this burger will pack a punch! Especially if you add some lime juice and a fat slice of avocado on top of it.

Butternut Squash Chipotle Chili with Avocado
Unfortunately, this does involve the pains of peeling and dicing a butternut squash, but anything delicious is usually well worth the troubles that go on in the kitchen. Cook inside a Dutch oven; fill to the brim with peppers, onion, butternut squash, and beans; add in that awesome chili taste, pepper, and some avocado on top, and you have an amazing vegan chili.

Voilà: three vegan recipes to try! If you couldn’t tell, I like my foods spicy. I can’t wait to try these and hopefully reap the benefits for not only my health, but my wallet, too. Meat and dairy can be expensive!

 

Wednesday, 02 November 2016 00:00

Ask any American who’s traveled internationally for an extended period of time what they missed while they were away, and I’m pretty sure you’ll get the same answer: “Good Mexican food!” This was certainly our answer when we got back to the United States after our travels.

We’re making up for three-plus years of cuisine withdrawal with recipes like this easy “Mexican” lasagna. Although it’s not authentic Mexican food, it is inexpensive, tasty, pretty healthy, and very forgiving.


Ingredients

12 small corn tortillas
2 cups brown rice (cooked)
1 14-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup onion, diced
½ bell pepper (any color), diced or sliced thin
2 carrots, diced or sliced thin
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup tofu, pressed and diced
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
½ cup frozen corn
1 small zucchini, sliced thin
Mix-and-match spices: cilantro, parsley, oregano, chili, red pepper, paprika, cumin, salt, pepper
1-1/2 cups shredded cheese of your choice (cheddar or Pepper Jack are nice, but Monterey Jack or queso fresco would work too)
Extra virgin olive oil

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a small bowl, combine brown rice and black beans. Set aside.

2. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion, pepper, and carrots, and sauté until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and tofu, and continue sautéing for about 5 minutes.

3. Stir in the diced tomatoes and corn, and then add various spices until your taste buds are happy. There is no science here!

4. Spoon the brown rice/black bean mixture into a large baking dish, and spread evenly. Top with six tortillas (I put three down the center, and cut three in half to place along the outer edges, cut side facing the edge). Add a few handfuls of cheese.

5. Spoon the spiced tofu/veggie mixture in next, and lay the thin slices of zucchini on top. Reserve a little cheese, and distribute the rest evenly over this layer. Again, top with six tortillas and finish with the reserved cheese.

6. Cover with foil, and bake for about 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake, uncovered, for another 10 minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the tortillas are light brown. Top with a little chopped parsley and sour cream, and enjoy!

(One thing I always forget is to reserve some of the diced tomato and juice to spread on the top layer of tortillas before adding the last of the cheese. It doesn’t affect the taste or cooking time, but it keeps the tortillas from curling when the lasagna is cut, so it looks nicer on the plate.)

This is a great dish for anyone on a budget—one pan got us through dinner and several lunches of leftovers. The flavors get better the next day, too. Give it a try, and let me know what you think!

Sunday, 16 April 2017 00:00


Ingredients
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons milk or water
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/8th teaspoon baking powder
Chocolate chips as required
1/8th teaspoon vanilla extract
1 pinch of salt
Vanilla/chocolate ice cream (optional)
Chocolate sauce (optional)

Directions
Take a bowl or mug and mix all the dry ingredients listed above with a spoon. Add all the wet ingredients,  and mix well until it is smooth, with no lumps. The mixture should be liquid. Place the bowl/mug in the microwave for 2 minutes. Remove the bowl/mug from the microwave after letting it rest for around 20 seconds, and serve warm. If desired, you can also add a scoop of vanilla or chocolate ice cream and chocolate sauce over the cake, and serve.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017 00:00

Party potatoes are a tradition at all of our family functions. With a little prep work, they are easy to make and quick to serve. The recipe can be modified to suit many taste preferences—try adding peppers or different veggies for a new twist.

Ingredients
1 package frozen, cubed hash browns (2 lbs.)
1/2 cup melted margarine or butter
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 can cream of chicken or cream of mushroom soup
1 pint sour cream
2 cups grated cheddar cheese

Directions
1. Thaw the hash browns.
2. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a bowl, and place in a baking pan. Bake at 350° for 1 hour. Serves approximately 10–12. Enjoy!
 

 

Saturday, 04 February 2017 00:00

This is such a delicious and hearty salad.  If you want to impress your guests, this salad is it!  It does take time to cook the sweet potatoes and wild rice, so keep that in mind.

Serves: 4–6
 
INGREDIENTS

2 cups cooked wild rice (about ½ cup raw)
2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and diced (about 3–4 cups)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups arugula
½ cup cashew pieces

For the dressing
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (about 2 lemons , or more to taste)
Zest of the lemons
⅓ cup good quality olive oil
2 teaspoons agave nectar
2 cloves garlic
¼ teaspoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS

1.    Cook the wild rice according to package directions. Meanwhile, make the dressing by puréeing all the dressing ingredients in a food processor. When the rice is done, toss it with a little bit of the dressing, and refrigerate. Let it rest for a little while so it takes on the flavors of the dressing (I let it chill completely, but you don't have to do that).

2.    Preheat the oven to 350°. Place the sweet potato pieces directly on a baking sheet. Drizzle with the oil, and sprinkle with the chili powder, salt, and pepper. Stir directly on the pan to get everything mixed. Roast for 20–25 minutes, stirring every so often to keep from burning. When the sweet potatoes are golden brown on the outside, remove from the oven, and set aside.

3.    Toss the arugula, wild rice, sweet potatoes, cashews, and the remaining dressing together. Serve warm or cold. YUM!

Source: pinchofyum.com

Friday, 14 October 2016 00:00

This version of grilled cheese has a creative spin to it and is perfect for a chilly day!

Ingredients

• 4 slices of sourdough bread

• 1 small zucchini, thinly sliced

• 4 thinly sliced eggplant slices

• 1/4 cup of sliced mushrooms

• Half of onion, thinly sliced

• 2 cups of sautéed spinach

• 4 slices of tomato (don't cut too thin, to avoid being mushy)

• 4 tbsp of Trader Joe's Smooth and Creamy Classic Hummus

• 1/2 tbsp of Trader Joe's harissa spread

• ½ cup shredded mozzarella cheese

• Olive oil spray

Set the oven to 350 °F. Cut up zucchini, eggplant, mushroom, onion, and tomato. Spray some olive oil, salt, and pepper onto the vegetables. Set the vegetables onto a baking sheet and roast them for 25 minutes. Flip the vegetables halfway through. Remove from the oven when done.  On a heated skillet, spray olive oil, and sauté spinach. Remove the spinach, and heat two slices of the sourdough bread. Once it's slightly toasted, put some hummus and harissa spread on it. Spread your vegetables, spinach, and cheese on one slice of the toast. Place the other slice of the bread on top, press down with a kitchen turner/spatula onto the sandwich, and if possible, flip until the other side is toasted. Remove from heat. Cut in half, and enjoy! 

Wednesday, 01 February 2017 00:00

Before I try a new recipe, I always "comparison shop" online. Most of the time this is because I can't eat potatoes, so I end up subbing cauliflower or squash, or otherwise amending the recipe. It's also because my partner appreciates spicier food, and recipes online tend to be milder in flavor. And sometimes, I just don't have the ingredients, and I'm too lazy to make a trip to the grocery store.

Usually, the recipe I end up making is a mashup of all the ones I read on the web, and they always turn out pretty good. This one is no different, but it's also probably the easiest recipe I've ever mashed up.

Ingredients
1 small butternut squash
1 medium onion
2–3 carrots
1 apple
3–4 garlic cloves
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp mild curry powder (or to taste)
1 tsp ground ginger (or to taste)
3 cups vegetable broth (less if you like thicker soup)
Salt and pepper (to taste)

Method
1. Dice the squash, onion, apple, and carrots into equally-sized chunks. Toss with olive oil, sprinkle with curry powder and ginger, and roast at 425 °F for about 30 minutes (or until the squash is tender when poked with a fork).

2. Let the roasted fruit and veggies cool a bit. Peel the garlic, and put everything into a food processor along with a little of the vegetable broth.

3. Add the puréed vegetables to the remaining vegetable broth, and simmer for 10–15 minutes. While it warms, add salt and pepper to taste.

4. Top with roasted pumpkin seeds, and enjoy!

Note: You could also add a little cream or plain yogurt to the bowls when serving. A little paprika would be nice, too.

Winter's here, and it doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon! What's your favorite easy soup recipe? 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016 00:00

This recipe is from Jill Nussinow's cookbook Vegan Under Pressure. This cookbook consists of all vegan recipes to be made with an Instant Pot. If you don’t know what an Instant Pot is, check it out here. It’s an amazing tool for your kitchen—a must-have!

Oh, and I guess you are also asking, what the heck is freekeh? It’s another ancient grain that is pretty delish, with a nice texture. You can read more about freekeh here.

 
Freekeh with Eggplant and Tomato
Serves 4 to 6

 
Ingredients

1 cup diced red onion
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped red, yellow, or orange bell pepper
1 cup cracked freekeh
½ cup diced eggplant
1 ¾ cups vegetable stock
½ cup diced fresh or canned tomatoes
Salt and black pepper (to taste)
¼ cup finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

 
Directions

1. Heat the Instant Pot to sauté. Add the onion, and dry sauté for two minutes. Add the garlic and bell pepper, and cook one minute longer. Add the freekeh, eggplant, and stock.

2. Lock the lid on the Instant Pot. Bring to high pressure; cook for seven minutes. Let the pressure come down naturally. Remove the lid, carefully tilting it away from you.

3. Stir the tomatoes into the freekeh. Lock the lid back on, and let sit for two minutes.

4. Remove the lid, add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the parsley. Transfer to a platter, and serve.

 
This is a dish that can be served all year round. Serve it warm in the colder months and cold in the warmer months.

Check out Jill’s website, The Veggie Queen, for more information and loads of recipes. You can buy the cookbook Vegan Under Pressure here.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017 00:00

This recipe is perfect to serve at a party or as a snack at home.

Prep time: 15 mins.

Ingredients

• 2 lbs of cashews
• 2 tablespoons coconut oil melted (or oil of choice)
• 5 dashes of hot sauce
• 3 teaspoons chili powder
• 2 teaspoons of cumin
• 4 tablespoons of rosemary
• 2 tablespoons of salt
• 2 teaspoons of cayenne pepper

Directions

1.  Preheat oven to 350°.

2.  Coat cashews with melted oil of choice.

3.  Spread cashews in large baking dish.

4.  Mix allspice and rosemary together, and spread evenly over cashews. Apply the desired amount of hot sauce. Mix together with spoon to make sure seasonings are evenly spread.

5.  Place in oven for roughly 20 minutes. You will have to stir every so often to make sure the nuts toast evenly.

Remove, and allow to cool for half an hour or so before serving.

Enjoy!

Use this recipe as a guide, and adjust measurements and ingredients as necessary.

Thursday, 27 April 2017 00:00

These 100% whole wheat pancakes are so delicious, you won't believe it's whole wheat! Not only are they healthy and yummy; they are also easy to put together.

Ingredients:
• 1 cup whole wheat flour
• 2 eggs
• 3 tablespoons coconut oil/vegetable oil
• 1 tablespoon honey
• 1 cup buttermilk
• 2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preparation:
1.  Mix together the dry ingredients in a big bowl.
2.  Whisk together the eggs, buttermilk, honey and oil in another bowl.
3.  Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones.
4.  Whisk till combined but still lumpy.
5.  Heat a griddle.
6.  Take a quarter cup of batter and pour onto the griddle.
7.  When bubbles form on top of the batter, flip it over. Cook for a few seconds.
8.  Serve warm with pure maple syrup!

Friday, 04 November 2016 00:00

Let's get one thing straight: I love spice. I especially love the heat, the taste, and the fruity aroma of hot peppers. My favorite one is the humble jalapeño. It goes with almost anything, or you can even eat them straight out of the jar! This version is probably a little more expensive than the store-bought ones. With this method, however, you know exactly how they are made and what's going into them (adjusting the flavor and ingredients as required).

This recipe is good for anywhere between 5 to 10 peppers. How you enjoy them is up to you. I may come back to these for a future recipe (spoiler alert!).
 

Ingredients

5–10 jalapeño peppers

Pickling brine

1 cup water

1 cup white vinegar (I tried a substitute for this once, and the results weren't as great.)

1 tablespoon salt

2 tablespoons sugar (adjust to taste)

1 to 2 whole garlic cloves, peeled

1/2 tablespoon dried oregano (can be substituted for Italian seasoning, but I prefer oregano)
 

Method

1. Cut the peppers into rings of roughly equal thickness. Quickly rinse under a cold tap to remove any seeds dislodged when cutting. You can skip this step if you like more of a fiery kick, as this step can take some of the heat out.

2. In a saucepan, add the water and vinegar. Next, add the remaining brine ingredients, and give it a stir. Bring the brine to a boil.

3. Once the brine has started to boil, add the peppers. Stir, and then turn off the heat. Allow the brine and the peppers to cool to room temp. You'll see the color of the pepper change as they start to pickle.

4. When the brine has cooled, grab a slotted spoon or kitchen tongs, and pick out the peppers from the brine. Add them to the jar (don't forget the garlic clove(s), too!), and then fill the jar with the brine. Store in the fridge once cooled. They should be good for a week or so.

 

Monday, 13 June 2016 00:00

My local farmers market has finally opened, and in a week or so, my CSA share begins. So many fresh veggies to look forward to in the next few months! In the meantime, I have found a few seasonal items to tide me over; namely, spinach, radishes, green garlic, and broccoli rabe.

I'm told that broccoli rabe is an acquired taste, but I've always been fond of it. I'm not sure if I would have enjoyed its bitterness as a child, but as an adult, I find it adds a refreshing complexity to most dishes. Broccoli rabe is also somewhat common, and can be found relatively easily in local grocery stores. This is in part due to its popularity among various cultures, and its usage in Chinese and Mediterranean dishes. It has also enjoyed a somewhat increasing popularity, though it pales in comparison to that of kale or arugula, which were virtually unknown in mainstream American cooking not so many years ago.

Despite being commonly available and having somewhat of an increase in popularity, broccoli rabe is still not well known or understood. In fact, many people I've spoken to are still surprised to learn that broccoli rabe is not a type of broccoli, as suggested by the name. One reason that there may be some confusion about this plant is that it is known around the world under many different names. In the U.S., the most common names are broccoli rabe (also spelled broccoli raab) and rapini.  Some of its other names include raab, rapa, rapine, rappi, rappone, turnip broccoli, taitcat, Italian broccoli, Chinese broccoli, broccoli rape, broccoli de rabe, Italian turnip, and turnip broccoli.

Perhaps unsurprising, given some of its more common names, broccoli rabe originated in the Mediterranean and in China, and it continues to be extremely popular in both cuisines. Its popularity in Italian cuisine led to it's introduction to the US by an Italian farmer in the 1920. Now, it is a common crop in states like California, New Jersey, and even Arizona. For you avid gardeners out there, or the beginner gardeners as well, you will be happy to hear that broccoli rabe is easily grown, and can be seeded directly into the garden. It is generally recommended as a cool weather food, so it is best to grow it in early spring or in the fall. However, some gardeners will tell you otherwise. The key to growing broccoli rabe all season long is picking a quick-growing variety and then cutting it as soon as it is ready. However, this does require some vigilance, as the maturation dates of the varieties are more like loose guidelines; the time of maturation will very much depend on individual growing conditions.

Another fact that can make growing broccoli rabe a bit more fun is that it will readily cross-pollinate with other closely related plants, such as turnips or mustards. So if you are a seed saver, you might end up with a different plant than what you were expecting in your second season.

When it comes to cooking broccoli rabe, it is extremely versatile. Pretty much any cooking method will work: steam, stir fry, bake, boil, grill, sauté. or braise. Given its popularity in southern Italy, a very typical and tasty way of serving broccoli rabe is sautéed with olive oil, garlic, and a touch of salt. Really, it is an extremely diverse food with a great nutritional profile. It is a good source of calcium and vitamins A, B, C, and K. If you are looking for inspiration for recipes, there are several options available. But essentially, broccoli rabe can be substituted for a dark leafy green like kale or collard greens, or even broccoli. Thus, broccoli rabe can work for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, or snacking. I wouldn't recommend it for dessert, but maybe someone out there has come up with an ingenious recipe for that, too. It is always wonderful when good food is good for you.  

Now, if you aren't a fan of food with a little bit of bitterness in the taste profile, broccoli rabe may not be the green for you. But if you are a fan of food that bites back just a little, it might be the perfect find. So, I recommend that if you haven't tried broccoli rabe yet, or even if you have had it, try it in a new way. You can pretty much bet that there is always something new to try or discover in your garden or kitchen. Let's keep spring as the time for having new beginnings, and enjoying really good, fresh local food.

Edited by Lisa Charles, MPH

Wednesday, 07 December 2016 00:00

We've been off farms for several months now, and we're starting to miss simple things like backyard eggs and fresh milk. Luckily, we recently got connected with a local couple who raise pasture-fed Jersey cows as a hobby. Every week or so, we pick up a gallon of raw milk for about the same price as organic milk sold in the average grocery stores. During our visit, we see the cows, and chat with the farmers. It's a great experience.

From this milk, I've been experimenting with cheeses and other dairy products. Properly-handled raw milk is nothing to fear, and it enables so much flexibility in making your own dairy products free from those weird additives you find in store-bought products.

My most recent endeavor was an attempt at cream cheese. I got the basic recipe from The Complete Guide to Making Cheese, Butter, and Yogurt at Home. This has been a great resource as I've been embarking upon DIY dairy products, but you can easily find similar recipes online.

DIY cream cheese is a pretty simple process—heat cream, add starter and rennet, let it sit for 12 hours, heat curd, strain, and enjoy!

I strayed from the original recipe a little bit, using kefir as starter and liquid vegetable rennet instead of a tablet. The recipe promised a drier cream cheese that would be great for cheesecake, and I was not disappointed!

You may have noticed that there's no "recipe" in this post. I'm not kidding that you can easily find these recipes on the internet or in the cookbook section at your local library. If you have access to fresh milk, find a soft cheese recipe that looks interesting, give it a try, and let me know the results!

I've also made butter, sour cream, yogurt, chèvre, panir, and halloumi. (I've attempted mozzarella... Let's just say, that one needs more practice.) I look forward to having the appropriate space and time to give hard cheeses a try, too.

DIY dairy definitely takes time and patience, but knowing exactly what's in my food—and exactly where it came from—is worth the effort to me. And supporting a local farmer? Priceless.

Saturday, 08 April 2017 00:00

Ingredients
4 large tomatoes
2 jalapeño chilies
3 garlic cloves
1 onion
Salt
Pepper
Cilantro

Directions
Grill tomatoes, chilies, garlic, and onion on medium heat until charred—approximately 7 minutes, turning often during grilling. Remove and transfer to a plate when charred.

Remove stem and core from chilies and tomatoes. Combine chopped tomatoes, chilies, garlic, and onion into a food processor. Blend until desired texture is reached. Blend in chopped cilantro. Add salt, pepper, and lime to taste. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 28 March 2017 00:00

Check out this great fire cider recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs.

Ingredients

1/2 cup fresh grated organic ginger root
1/2 cup fresh grated organic horseradish root
1 medium organic onion, chopped
10 cloves of organic garlic, crushed or chopped
2 organic jalapeño peppers, chopped
Zest and juice from 1 organic lemon
Several sprigs of fresh organic rosemary or 2 tbsp of dried rosemary leaves
1 tbsp organic turmeric powder
1/4 tsp organic cayenne powder
Organic apple cider vinegar
Raw local honey to taste


Directions

Prepare all of your roots, fruits, and herbs, and place them in a quart-sized jar. If you've never grated fresh horseradish, be prepared for a powerful sinus-opening experience! Use a piece of natural parchment paper under the lid to keep the vinegar from touching the metal, or a plastic lid if you have one. Shake well. Store in a dark, cool place for a month, and remember to shake daily.

After one month, use cheesecloth to strain out the pulp, pouring the vinegar into a clean jar. Be sure to squeeze as much of the liquidy goodness as you can from the pulp while straining. Next comes the honey. Add 1/4 cup of honey and stir until incorporated. Taste your cider, and add another 1/4 cup until you reach the desired sweetness.

Saturday, 21 March 2015 00:00

Knowing how to make your own granola opens up a multitude of possibilities—you can make your own (healthy!) breakfast cereal that tastes way better than anything you can buy, and contains only ingredients that you added yourself. You can control the level of sugar, salt, and fat, and you can make it vegan or gluten-free. You can also add all of the healthy extras you can handle (barley flakes, flax, quinoa, wheat germ, ginger?) or add in tasty extras for a sweet –but still nutritious—snack (chocolate chips and peanut butter coated oats; dried cherries and dark chocolate chunks!). You can try new flavor combinations to switch things up: banana-cashew-cacao nib (recipe below!), sea salt-olive oil-apricot, cranberry-maple-pecan, pumpkin-cardamom, dried cherry-almond; the options are endless. The most important thing to remember when making granola is that the recipe is under your control. You can change most of the ingredients to suit your preferences and you can be sure that it will work out.

 

To get started with making your own granola, you need a basic formula that can be endlessly adapted for variety and convenience. There are two approaches to granola that most recipes follow:  

 

a) The simplest granola: Dump all ingredients except dried fruit into a large bowl, mix, spread onto baking sheet(s), and bake. When cool, add dried fruit.

 

b) Two-step granola: Mix dry ingredients in a bowl and combine the wet ingredients in a pot; heat wet ingredients, incorporate into dry ingredients, pour onto baking sheet, bake. Add dried fruit when cool.

 

The former method is the most common, and it’s the one I use for my everyday granola. It’s obviously more convenient: you can wake up, realize your granola jar is empty, and bust out a new batch before your brain is fully awake. The latter method is for extra-special granolas that incorporate difficult-to-combine ingredients like peanut butter or fruit purees. By first heating the wet ingredients on the stove, you’re transforming the clunky ingredients into a kind of granola sauce that can be stirred in to evenly coat the oats, nuts and seeds. I’ll demonstrate the more elaborate, two-step method later on with a recipe for banana, cashew and cocoa nib granola.

 

Many recipes also differ on the baking temperature and bake time. I had always baked my granola for about 20 minutes at 400°F and I liked it just fine. But when researching recipes for this article, I saw again and again that my favorite food writers instructed to bake their granola at 300°F for around 45 minutes. I tried it and I was amazed at how evenly toasted and deeply browned my granola came out of the oven. I will still make granola the quick way when I don’t have the extra time, but I do recommend the longer, slower bake time if you can wait for it.

 

Some people idealize clustery granola. My preference is loose granola with some clumps running throughout. If clumpy, crunchy granola is your goal, there are a few ways to achieve it: you can use less oil, press the granola down into the pan before baking, or add an egg white when adding the wet ingredients to the dry. And be careful when stirring the granola throughout the baking process—aim for flipping the granola rather than stirring it. When the granola has cooled in the pan, you can break it up into the sizes you prefer. Also it is important to add the dried fruits after the granola has cooled, and for the crunchiest granola, don’t add dried fruit into the granola mixture at all, keep it separate until you are about to eat it.

 

Granola is basically made of the following elements: grains (usually rolled oats), nuts and seeds, sweetener, spices and flavorings, and dried fruit. Each of these broad categories has countless ingredients that you can swap in to make your own favorite recipe, or that you can switch up for endless variations.

 

The base: The bulk of granola is most often made up of old-fashioned rolled oats, but you can swap out a cup or more of the oats for spelt flakes, rye flakes, barley flakes or wheat flakes.

 

The sweetener: Granola is often quite sweet, but it doesn’t have to be! The least amount of sweetener I’ve used is two tablespoons of honey. My current preference is for ¼ cup maple syrup for maple flavor and 2 tablespoons of honey to add some more sweetness. Sometimes up to three types of sweetener are used in a single recipe, with each one providing its own unique characteristics, for example, ¼ cup of honey for sweetness, ¼ cup maple syrup for maple flavor, and ¼ cup brown sugar for caramel flavor. Other sweeteners you can experiment with are agave syrup, brown rice syrup, and brown sugar.

 

The fat: I use olive oil in my granola because it has an interesting savory quality. It also helps the granola brown nicely. You can use any oil you like, but most popular are canola oil, coconut oil, melted butter, browned butter, and even a small amount of hazelnut oil.

 

The add-ins:

Before baking: Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, quinoa, almonds (chopped, slivered, or sliced), chopped hazelnuts, pecans, walnut, cashews, pistachios, wheat germ, coconut flakes.

 

After baking: Dried fruit (i.e. raisins, dried cherries, dried cranberries, candied ginger, dried apple or banana, dried figs, prunes, or dates), larger pieces chopped, carob chips, chocolate chips, hemp seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds (I would add the hemp, flax, or chia seeds to granola after baking as you are likely eating them for their healthy properties, and heating them doesn’t improve their nutritional quality).

 

Flavorings and texture enhancers: Some recipes use fruit puree (i.e. apple sauce, banana puree, or pumpkin puree) or fruit juice concentrate to add sweetness and flavor, and to replace some of the oil in the recipe. Peanut butter or other nut butters can add a delicious, nutty coating to granola. An egg white added to granola before being baked makes for clumpier, crunchier granola. Spices are optional in granola; some great recipes choose to let the natural flavors of the oats, nuts, and seeds stand on their own. I like adding cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon, but I’ve also tried nutmeg, allspice, and even a touch of black pepper. Salt is not essential but most recipes use between ¼ to ¾ teaspoons. I use a ½ teaspoon.

 

Here is the barebones recipe for granola that can be used as a starting point for making your own. Just choose the ingredients you like from above for each element of the granola.

 

The basic recipe

4 cups rolled oats

3 cups add-ins (i.e. 1 cup seeds, 1 cup nuts*, 1 cup coconut flakes)

2-3 Tbsp fat

¼ cup to ½ cup maple syrup, honey, or preferred sweetener

2 Tbsp water

Optional: 1 Tbsp vanilla

Optional: 1-2 tsp of sweet spices

Optional: 1 egg white

1 ½ cups dried fruit

 

Directions:

 

For 20-Minute Granola:

Preheat oven to 400°F. In a large bowl, combine all ingredients, including egg white if using, except for coconut flakes and dried fruit. Pour into two baking pans with sides (optional: press into pan for clustery granola). Bake on middle oven rack for 15 minutes, remove from the oven and add coconut flakes. Stir the granola and bake for another 5-10 minutes, keeping a very close eye on the granola near the end of baking. When the granola is golden and smelling delicious, it’s ready. When granola has cooled, add the dried cranberries and cherries. Pour into an airtight container. 

 

For extra-toasty Granola:

Same as above, but include all nuts and coconut in the bowl with all ingredients except dried fruit. Bake at 300°F for 45-55 minutes, stirring halfway through. Watch carefully near the end of baking and pull the granola out of the oven when it’s thoroughly toasted.

 

Notes:

*If using the higher baking temperature, sliced or slivered almonds can begin to burn before the other ingredients have toasted. If using smaller pieces of nuts, like sliced or slivered almonds, wait to add them until the last ten minutes of baking, and them with coconut flakes.

 

Here is the recipe for my very best, everyday granola. I’ve experimented with many recipes and I’ve taken the best aspects of each one for my ideal granola. It’s perfectly, lightly sweetened, and it has just enough healthy add-ins to feel good about eating it for breakfast—which I do, daily, with organic plain yogurt and seasonal fruits.

 

Favorite everyday granola:

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup barley flakes

Heaped ¼ cup wheat germ

½ cup sunflower seeds

½ cup pumpkin seeds

1 cup slivered, slivered, or chopped almonds

1 cup unsweetened flaked or shredded coconut

3 Tbsp olive oil

¼ cup grade B maple syrup*

2 Tbsp honey

2 Tbsp water

1 Tbsp vanilla

heaped ½ tsp each of cardamom, cinnamon, and dried ground ginger

Two pinches of salt (about ½ tsp)

optional, for clustery granola: one egg white

1 cup dried cranberries

½ cup chopped dried cherries

 

*Grade B maple syrup has a stronger maple flavor than Grade A maple syrup (it’s often cheaper, too!). However, the labeling of syrup will soon change and the “grade A/B” labels will be phased out—not to worry, look for “dark maple syrup” on the label.

 

Here is a recipe that uses the slightly more elaborate, “two-step” method for making granola. You can use this as a base for many other granola flavor combinations: swap out the banana puree for 2/3 cup of nut butter (also add 2 tablespoons of water) or switch the banana puree for another fruit puree (apple, pear, pumpkin). This banana cashew granola has flavors that remind me of a tasty granola bar I loved as a kid. It’s sweeter than my usual granola so it’s not something I would eat for breakfast daily, but it makes an amazing snack!

 

Two-step granola method:

 

Banana-cashew granola with cocoa nibs

 

4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2.5 cups cashews

2/3 cup pumpkin seeds

½ cup cocoa nibs

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

2/3 cup banana purée

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/4 cup honey

2 tablespoons canola oil

optional: ½ cup golden raisins

 

 

Preheat the oven to 300°F. Mix the oats, cashews, pumpkin seeds, cocoa nibs, brown sugar, cardamom and sea salt in a large bowl.  In a small pot, gently heat the banana purée, maple syrup, honey, and oil. Pour the pot’s contents into the large bowl with the dry ingredients and combine. Spread the granola mixture onto two baking sheets with sides and bake for 45 minutes, stirring halfway through and checking often near the end of baking time. Remove from oven, let cool, add raisins, and enjoy!

Friday, 28 April 2017 00:00

This is a very easy recipe with a few ingredients. The procedure seems a bit long, but it is just fermentation time, and you can make this bread while doing other chores. The best thing is that you get two loaves in one recipe. I usually freeze one loaf after cutting into slices.

Ingredients
2-1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
1/2 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup honey or maple syrup
1 tablespoon salt
6 to 6-1/2 cups whole wheat flour

Method
1. Add the yeast to the warm water in the bowl of your standing mixer/a big bowl. Let stand for a few minutes till the yeast starts frothing.
Meanwhile, warm the coconut oil with the honey/maple syrup till the oil melts. Add this mixture to the yeast and water mixture. Also, add the salt. Stir all.
2. Start adding the whole wheat flour gradually while kneading the mixture. Add the flour in small amounts while kneading with the dough hook/hand. Check after adding 6 cups if you need to add more to make a dough that doesn't stick to the hand. Knead well, and keep in a greased bowl. Let the dough rise for an hour or till doubled in size.
3. Grease two loaf pans.
4. Punch down the dough, and let rise again. Punch the dough down again, and divide it into two. Make two balls. Stretch one of the balls into a rectangle as long as the loaf pan. Roll the rectangle into a log, and place inside the greased pan. Do the same for the other ball.
5. Cover the loaves with cloth/plastic wrap sprayed with baking spray. Let the loaves rise again.
Bake the loaves in a preheated oven at 350 °F for 30–35 minutes. Let the bread loaves rest in the pans for 10 minutes before taking them out. Cool on a cooling rack before slicing with a bread knife.

Tuesday, 04 April 2017 00:00

A creative twist on cauliflower. This is savory enough to be an entrée or can be paired with any dish as a side.

Prep Time: 90 minutes
Serves 8

Ingredients

3 heads of cauliflower, chopped
8 ounces Gouda cheese
2 cups sharp cheddar cheese
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 ounces cream cheese
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg
½ teaspoon pepper

Directions

1. Boil cauliflower for 20 minutes in a large pot until soft but not falling apart, then set aside to dry.
2. Bring heavy cream, cream cheese, Dijon mustard, cheddar cheese, and Gouda cheese to a simmer until all is melted.
3. Add garlic powder and pepper seasoning, then the egg.
4. Pour cheese sauce over cauliflower in a baking dish (we used a cast iron skillet).
5. Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until browned.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, 10 January 2017 00:00

Cooking something new can be intimidating, especially if you’re using unfamiliar ingredients. I’ve had little experience cooking with tofu myself, but I have tasted some great recipes, as tofu is a very versatile food with a ton of protein. Today I’m going to share some unique tofu recipes.

Want something spicy? Why not some Crispy Tofu Tacos?
Admittedly, I wouldn’t think to combine tofu and tacos together, but this recipe is a ringing endorsement for the two. Sweet, spicy tofu bites, covered with cornmeal to give it that nice crunchy texture, drizzled with a tasty scallion cilantro sauce and topped with all your favorite taco toppings—as a taco fan, I’m really excited to give this one a try.

Want some breakfast? Have a Tofu Scrambler.
I’m not as into the breakfast craze as are some of my friends, who could literally just have breakfast for lunch and dinner, but I do like scramblers. This was another recipe that piqued my interest because egg has a very distinct flavor, but with a splash of turmeric, garlic, green onions, and ketchup, I can start to see the makings of a very tasty meal. For anyone who loves breakfast but wants to try something egg-free, you might want to give this a try.

Need more variety? How about some Tofu Lasagna?
For anyone vegan, this recipe is up your alley! Substitute tofu for cheese in a tasty, creamy “ricotta” filling. This dish will melt in your mouth. Enjoy the blend of tofu and spinach mixed with garlic, lemon, and basil that could stand toe-to-toe with any meaty lasagna recipe.

In a hurry? Maybe try these Oven-baked Honey Garlic Tofu Bites.
I’m usually in this particular situation, where I lose track of time, and with what is left of it, I need to whip up something for dinner, and fast! Although I see this more as a snack than a meal, if you already have some leftovers sitting in the fridge or the veggies needed for a simple salad, this recipe would be a great complement to your meal. This recipe also has me sold on honey and garlic.

Want to Thai something new? Have some Ginger Lemongrass-Infused Thai Soup.
A few of things about me: I like Thai food, I like soup, and I like definitely like lemongrass. Add the fact that this recipe is entirely vegetarian but still gives me enough protein, and I call this dish a win-win. Smooth, creamy, with the zest of ginger, lemongrass, and coconut—I can hardly wait to eat this.

All right! I feel inspired, and I hope you all feel that way too. Maybe tonight I’ll get to warm myself up with some tofu Thai soup. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 January 2017 00:00

Ingredients

1 cup lentils
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
3 tbsp. ground flaxseed
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper
1 tbsp. cumin
1/2 tbsp. ginger
1 tsp. olive oil
1/8 cup soy milk
1/4 chopped bell pepper
Lettuce, sliced onion, and avocado for toppings
Serve on split grain burger rolls

Cook lentils in a 3:1 ratio with vegetable stock of your choice. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 20 minutes.
Remove excess liquid from lentils.
Add peppers, oil, and other dry ingredients to the lentils in a large mixing bowl. Mix.
Slowly add soy milk, and continue to mix.
The mixture should come to a consistency similar to ground beef (the way it holds together). Remove palm-sized amounts, and shape into patties.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Place patties on a baking sheet coated with oil (to prevent sticking).
Keep patties in the oven for about 30 minutes, removing them at 15 minutes to flip, then placing them back in.
Finally, remove from the oven, place on a bun, and dress however you like!
*The burgers go really well with Marie's Habanero Avocado Ranch dressing.

Monday, 10 April 2017 00:00

Tempeh is the often forgotten vegetarian protein source. Rich in protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, tempeh is earthy and delicious. Although soybean-based, tempeh is different from tofu due to a unique fermentation process that maintains the integrity of the whole bean.

Cooking with tempeh is, well, easy. I find myself cooking with tempeh on some of my busiest evenings due to the minimal prep time that is needed to make a fresh, colorful meal with this protein.

There are several ways to prepare tempeh. My favorite way is to crumble the tempeh and simply heat two tablespoons of EVOO in a skillet and cook it until it's a nutty brown. How do you make this into a meal? Prepare your favorite vegetable and herb combinations, season everything to your liking, pair them with the tempeh, and voilà!

Here are some of my favorite tasty tempeh bowl combinations.

Tempeh Taco Bowl

Ingredients
Organic tempeh
Extra virgin olive oil (or other desired oil)
Avocado
Green leaf lettuce
Red onion
Tomatoes (or your favorite salsa)
Seasonings (your choice of paprika, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne, and/or sea salt)

Directions
1. Sauté organic tempeh with EVOO (or other desired oil).
2. Add fresh ingredients: avocado, green leaf lettuce, red onion, and tomatoes (or your favorite salsa).
3. Season to your liking with paprika, cumin, garlic powder, black pepper, cayenne, and/or sea salt.
4. Add any other topping you like on a taco salad.
5. Add sour cream or cheese, if you prefer.

 

Tempeh Teriyaki Broccoli Bowl

Ingredients
Organic tempeh
Extra virgin olive oil (or other desired oil)
Broccoli
Bean sprouts
Garlic (chopped)
Tamari
Red pepper flakes
Honey

Directions
1. Sauté organic tempeh with EVOO (or other desired oil).
2. Add fresh ingredients (broccoli, bean sprouts, and chopped garlic), and sauté.
3. Season to your liking with tamari, red pepper flakes, and honey.

 

Southwest Tempeh Bowl

Ingredients
Organic tempeh
Extra virgin olive oil
Red and green bell peppers
Yellow onion (or green onion)
Seasonings (your choice of black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, sea salt, and/or red pepper flakes)

Directions
1. Sauté organic tempeh with EVOO (or other desired oil).
2. Add in red peppers, green peppers, and yellow onion (or green onion), and sauté.
3. Season to your liking with black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, sea salt, and/or red pepper flakes.

 

Look for tempeh in the organic refrigerator section at your market, and make something new tonight!

Monday, 09 January 2017 00:00

When body aches, chills, fever, and fatigue come calling, natural resources may bring a sufficient level of comfort and relief. The winter months have settled in, and therefore the cold and flu season is well underway. Getting plenty of rest is extremely vital in helping your body cope and recover. In addition to resting your body, hydration is another important element. Keep hydrated by consuming water and vegetable broth. Vegetable broth loaded with onions and garlic is especially advantageous because these two vegetables have anti-inflammatory properties. Medicinal teas are a beneficial choice for many cold or flu-like symptoms. Consider trying ginger tea in order to relieve stomach nausea. Brew a bit of chamomile tea to aid in sleeping. Sip a cup of thyme tea as a treatment for coughs. National Geographic’s Complete Guide to Natural Home Remedies book states that thyme has a long history in Europe of being used to treat this symptom. Mix salt and warm water, and use the mixture to gargle several times a day to alleviate a sore throat. According to an Herbal Remedies magazine article, "First Aid for Travelers," written by Laurel Vukovic, using a eucalyptus and peppermint steam inhalation promotes the breakup of mucus, and opens sinus passages. Furthermore, eucalyptus and peppermint both have antimicrobial properties to fight infection. Boil 1½ quarts of water, and add 3 drops of eucalyptus essential oil and 2 drops of peppermint essential oil. Put a towel over your head, and breathe in the steam for 10 minutes. Each of these treatments, met with a continued effort to live a healthy and natural life every day, can assist in coping with your cold successfully. Use this article and its sources in addition to consulting a licensed healthcare professional.

Sources:
Linda B. White, M.D., et al
National Geographic Complete Guide to Natural Home Remedies (Home Remedies on Hand)
National Geographic Society, 2014
p. 25

Laurel Vukovic
"First Aid for Travelers"
Herbal Remedies
Harris Publications, 2016
p. 103

Saturday, 28 January 2017 00:00

There are so many great camera bags on the market today, but most of them are made out of synthetic materials, and are not recyclable. I have started exploring ways to create camera bags out of organic, compostable, and recyclable materials.

My ultimate bag would be made out of organic cotton and have a waterproof cover that I could put on or take off. All of the materials used would be compostable or recyclable.

I have started working on prototypes of cotton duck that will hold their shape during use and are not too difficult to make at home. I am also creating a plastic cover that can go over the top of the bag.

Take a look at the video below to see some of my early ideas for this.

 

Media

Friday, 06 February 2015 00:00

Clean and abundant drinking water is something that most of us take for granted, but in many parts of the world, potable water is a lot harder to come by. Millions around the world still live with either insufficient or unsanitary sources of drinking water. Thankfully, there are many people doing work to develop and improve water sources across the globe. For example, there are some truly ingenious engineers and architects out there coming up with innovative ways to extract water from the air. Here are a few of my favorite innovations:

A water-collecting billboard in Lima, Peru was built by the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru, in the hopes of drawing the interest of more engineering students for the university. The billboard runs off the power grid, and houses five condensers similar to those in an air conditioner. Water vapor cools and liquefies on the surface of the condensers, then runs down through a filtration system to be stored and dispensed from a faucet at the base of the tower. The billboard reportedly produces 96 liters (or 25 gallons) of water per day.

Along similar lines, Eole Water, a company based in France, specializes in the production of a water-collecting wind turbine. The turbine generates electricity to run a condenser that collects water from air drawn in at the top of the unit. The water flows down through a filtration system and into reservoirs for use by the community. Eole says their system can collect up to a whopping “1200 liters of water per day.” That’s about 317 gallons! Eole also offers a range of solar-powered water condensation systems.

A less technological approach to water collection is being developed by Warka Water, and is currently being implemented in Ethiopian communities. This one uses no generators, condensers or electricity, focusing instead on simple materials and construction that don’t require heavy machinery or power tools. A bamboo frame supports a plastic mesh, on which water droplets from the air collect and trickle down through a filter to be collected at the bottom. On average, the tower can collect between 13 and 26 gallons per day. That’s pretty remarkable for an unpowered structure. The design of the tower implements elements of various plants and animals that have adapted to survive in low-moisture regions, and the name comes from the Warka tree, a fruit-bearing native tree that serves as a community gathering place in Ethiopian culture.

Thursday, 28 April 2016 00:00

I love shawls, and I have a special place in my heart for shawls made out of plant fibers. They feel drapey and breathable, which makes them perfect for the summer weather that is approaching the Pacific Northwest.

One of my all-time favorite patterns is really more of a recipe or formula than a pattern. It’s called a triangle shawl, and it is truly simple. You can memorize it and customize it to fit your skill level or time. You can do it while walking, or, like I did, while watching a movie.

You only need to know two stitches for the most basic version: Knit and Yarn Over. That’s it!

When beginning, it will feel like you are working from the bottom or point of the triangle up, but in fact you are working from the middle of the long side or top of the triangle. You will be increasing by 4 stitches on each right side row, starting with Row 3. Here is how to do it.

Abbreviations

k - knit

yo - yarn over

pm - place marker

sm - slide marker

Triangle Shawl Pattern

CO 3 stitches

Row 1 - k1, yo, pm, k1, pm, yo, k1

Row 2 (and every even row) - k to marker, sm, k, sm, k to end

Row 3 - k1, yo, knit to marker, yo, sm, k1, sm, yo, k to last stitch, yo, k

Repeat Rows 1–3 until shawl is desired length. Cast off loosely. Weave in ends. Block if needed. To sum up, you only need to know how to do 3 rows, and one of them (Row 1) you will only do once at the very beginning. The rest of the rows are simply knit one and yarn over (creating a new stitch) at the beginning of all right side rows; knit until you get the center stitch (signified by the markers); yarn over on both sides of the center stitch (creating two additional stitches), and then knit until you get to the last stitch on the needle, yarn over (creating your final new stitch for that row), and then knit the last stitch. On the wrong side/even rows, simply knit all the stitches, sliding the markers when you come to them so they stay in their proper place.

Following this, you can get as creative as you want. If you like stockinette better than garter, purl the wrong side rows instead. Don’t like the holes made by a yarn over? Here is a great reference for other types of increases you can do that don’t make holes. If you are an advanced knitter, you can add your own lace or cable pattern. Play with self-striping yarn. As long as you keep increasing by one on both ends and by two in the middle, the shawl can be as simple or as elaborate as you want.

Here is a pattern for a fun short project:

Lacy Triangle Headscarf

You will need:

1 skein of Elsebeth Lavold Hempathy in Light Blue (042) or similar yarn

Size 9 US 28” circular needle

A ½ to ¾” button (bamboo would be lovely; I opted for a vintage one I had lying around)

A tapestry needle that will fit through your buttonhole

Using the above pattern, knit Rows 1–3. Repeat Row 2 & 3 twenty times or until project measures about 19 inches in length and 7.5 in height (adjust for your head size, if needed). Repeat Row 2 one more time so you finish on a wrong side row, and cast off loosely, leaving a long tail at the end to sew on a button. Block. Sew button on, and weave in ends. The button will simply go into one of the yo holes on the opposite side.

The triangle shawl is a great way to make something with a yarn that has been sitting in your stash a while but maybe doesn’t have enough yardage to make a big project. Get creative, and have fun with what is really one of the simplest patterns.

Full headscarf

Vintage Button

Stitch Detail

 

Tuesday, 19 May 2015 00:00

Local Sustainable Woodcrafter

 

photo by Indo Gemstone

Let’s be honest, woodcrafting is a much bigger topic than it might seem at first. To begin with, woodcraft is a term that may refer to any item made crafted from wood. So, under this umbrella term, we’re talking about anything from building materials to furniture, from kitchenware to art.

Then, of course, there are multiple ways of assuring sustainability. The two easiest ways are first by using materials from sources certified by the Forest Stewardship Counsel, and then also by using reclaimed materials. Now, I love the idea of taking something old and giving it new life, so the majority of the woodcrafters featured in this post below are focused on reclaiming practices. Of course, sourcing local materials is always a preferred means; I myself am located in the Northeast, but in this case let’s use Oregon as our base of operations, as Greener Good also calls it home.

 

Viridian Reclaimed Wood www.viridianwood.com

Viridian Reclaimed Wood was founded in 2004 by Joe Mitchoff and Pierce Henley with the unique idea of taking shipyard discards, such as pallets and crates, and reclaiming them for new use. Sounds easy enough, right?  Except for the fact that these materials are particularly challenging to recycle. However, where there is will, and creativity, there is a way. They pioneered a method for upcycling these materials, which otherwise would have been destined for a landfill.

Since then, they have expanded to include FSC-certified wood, and they have even gone beyond the shipyard to include wood reclaimed from abandoned buildings, old gymnasiums, and forest salvage. They now offer a variety of products: solid flooring, paneling, decking, beams, stair treads, tables, counters, and custom designs.

Viridian was started in, and continues to operate out of, Portland, Oregon. Some of their work can be seen at other Portland establishments, such as, Ex Novo Brewing and Multnomah Whiskey Library.

 

photo by Indo Gemstone

Pioneer Millworks www.pioneermillworks.com

I’ll admit: I was surprised to find that Pioneer Millworks was founded in 1988, making them by far the oldest company on this list. They started small, in a small New York town, and, as the industry has grown, so have they. They now have two locations—one in Portland, Oregon, and the other in Farmington, New York. The facility in in New York is 50,000 square feet with a 9-acre yard. This didn't come as a surprise once I learned that they are apparently the largest domestic resource for reclaimed and sustainable wood products.

While they have grown substantially from their humble start, they have maintained their values of running a socially and environmentally responsible business. They also offer a variety of products, such as flooring, siding, paneling, beams, countertops, tables, fixtures, and custom designs. They provide even more products through their sister companies, NEWwoodworks, a fine woodworking company, and New Energy Works Timber Framers, a timber framing company.

 

Salvage Works

Salvage Works was established in 2010. It started as a one-man project and has now grown tenfold. The company is a lumberyard and wood shop that focuses on reclaimed construction materials. One thing that makes them unique from other companies is that, in addition to providing upscaled or refurbished items, they also provide vintage materials to be used by the customer in a new way. Some of the products that they try to keep on hand are barn wood, barn doors, barn ladders, live edge slabs from urban cut trees, corrugated barn roofing, vintage flooring, and home collectables. In addition to these materials, they also offer tables, fixtures, countertops, bar tops, bookshelves, mantelpieces, screen doors, wall treatments, art walls, and custom designs. They are also the only company I’ve listed that provides even smaller gift items such as cutting boards, stash boxes, picture frames, mirror frames, and planters.

Salvage Works is located at 2024 N. Argyle St., Portland, Oregon 97217. They also do a number of events, such as the Kenton Street Fair, and they even host some events such as their “Third Thurs” featuring art, music, food, and fun. It is very evident that they are a company that is receiving tremendous support from their community, as their work can be seen at a number of other Portland establishments such as The Sweet Hereafter, The Bye and Bye, The Alleyway Bar, Tin Bucket, Keen Shoes, Danner Boots, Arbor Lodge Coffee, Motavasi Coffee, and Ned Ludd.

As always, I encourage you to do a little research of your own. I’m sure there is a crafter just around the corner with from you making something beautiful out of something old or unexpected.

 

photo by Indo Gemstone

 

Saturday, 30 May 2015 00:00

Better Cotton Initiative: How retailers can commit to a Better Supply Chain

When we look at the impact a material we use has on the environment, we need to look at its lifecycle. It is important to know how it is grown or the process of extraction, the production processes, the method of transportation and how it is sold and used. It is only when we know the overall impact that a change can be made in the production process.
While cotton textile is a staple material used in clothes, bed sheets, towels, drapery – its use causes the greatest environmental impact. The impact is growing with cotton production increasing to meet the world’s growing demand. Currently cotton accounts for 40% of the world’s textile production – and uses approximately 10% of the world's agricultural chemicals.
Global cotton production comes increasingly from countries where laws about pesticide and fertilizer use are lax and the farmers are paid low wages. These countries rely heavily on the exports of this cash crop. Unfortunately, intense competition has kept the price of cotton to a minimum while inputs and costs of production have increased. The increased use of pesticides impacts the health of the farmers. Additionally, the cotton crop is becoming highly vulnerable to pests and to the decreased availability of water. The crop production process thus needs to be addressed to keep the current supply of cotton.


Moving towards a Sustainable Supply of Cotton

The Better Cotton Initiative was established in 2005 by a group of retailers. Their objective was “to make global cotton production better for the people who produce it, better for the environment it grows in and better for the sector’s future”. The advantage to the retailers in investing in the BCI are multifold - the most important being it would secure a future supply of cotton. Today famous retailers such as Adidas, Nike, Ikea and Levi Strauss & Co participate in the BCI.


The BCI has four aims:
• Reduce the environmental impact of cotton production
• Improve livelihoods and economic development in cotton producing areas
• Improve commitment to and flow of Better Cotton throughout the supply chain
• Ensure the credibility and sustainability of the Better Cotton Initiative


The BCI is trying to achieve the production of more sustainable cotton (cotton with a lower environmental impact and better economic impact) by building the capacity of all of its stakeholders. This means the farmers, ginners, suppliers and retailers. Each is taught the benefits of sustainable cotton and how to document the inputs at each stage which can lead to the certification of the entire production process with the Better Cotton Standard System. While the Better Cotton Standard is applicable to farmers, ginners also receive training for monitoring – playing an important role “as an actor that bridges farm level and the global cotton supply chain”.


Becoming a Better Cotton Licensed Farmer

The BCI’s work with farmers includes training the farmers how to grow cotton to give an optimum yield. Farmers are trained on Better Production Principles: crop protection; water; soil health; natural habitats; fiber quality and decent work, and a number of production criteria. This has in many instances been undertaken by understanding many of the traditional practices that were used 30 to 40 years ago. This includes the ideal time of watering the crops, method of picking cotton, and soil maintenance. Many of these practices had been lost by the lure of modern methods such as the use of fertilizers. Farmers were using fertilizers and even pesticides without knowing the proper methods. This led to overuse, causing negative impact to cotton crops.
To become a Better Cotton licensed farmer, the farmer has to maintain a log book – the Farmer Field Book, recording his methods of cotton production such as the use of fertilizers, pesticides, water, yield, and profits. The data gathered is used to compare with farmers not taking part in the BCI. The BCI uses the data to monitor and evaluate the positive results. BCI farmers are getting better yields in all of the regions where it is currently being practiced.


Supporting initiatives by shopping from retailers investing in the Better Cotton Initiative

As consumers we have become aware of how the decisions we make impact the environment and society. By choosing to buy products made from BCI certified cotton we choose to reduce our impact on the environment. We also choose to improve the livelihoods of the producers with better wages, and improving health as they use fewer pesticides in the production. A conscious decision is the only way to move forward.

 

 

Monday, 13 February 2017 00:00

In the age of smartphone technology, the key to improving your ride can be right at your fingertips, and best of all, it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. Check out some great free apps that will help you plan for a smooth ride.

Strava
Probably one of the most popular cycling apps out there, Strava not only lets you plan and track your ride lengths and speeds; it also introduces a social component where you can share and compare your results with other bikers in the area.

Strava App

 

Endomondo

Similar to Strava, Endomondo is Under Armour's route tracking app that also records heart rates and calories. It also works with a huge variety of other activities, from aerobics to kite surfing and yoga.

Endomondo at the Google store
Endomondo at Apple store

 

 

Bike Gear Calculator

To really take your cycling to the next level, check out Bike Gear Calculator. This app takes things like cadence, tire size and crank length to determine gear and gain ratio, speed, and pedal rotations.

Bike Gear Calculator Google
Bike Gear Calculator Apple

 

St John Ambulance First Aid for Cyclists

The name of this one is pretty self-explanatory. While no one wants to find themselves in a situation where they'll need this information, the app provides basic and emergency first aid  for common cycling injuries.

St John on Google
St John on Apple

 

Rain Alarm

This app really gets to the heart of the most common weather-related issue: rain. Instead of just providing a forecast, this app gives you a warning when precipitation is headed your way.

Rain Alarm Google
Rain Alarm Apple

Bike Unchained

While this Reb Bull app probably isn't going to improve your real-world biking ability, it's definitely a fun little game where you can conquer some mountain biking trails and pull off some sweet tricks.

Bike Unchained Google
Bike Unchained Apple

Tuesday, 06 September 2016 00:00

While traveling, I am often at the mercy of my host's preferred method of travel. Hosts often ask you as the guest what you would like to see in town, but they don't often think to ask what method of transportation you prefer.

Different methods of travel are preferred in different parts of the country, with personal car travel being the most popular method. I happen to live in an ecovillage where most of my neighbors prefer to travel by public transit, bicycling, and walking. I live in Portland, Oregon, where we have excellent transportation options. When I travel to a location where car travel is the norm, I experience a bit of culture shock.

When guests come into town, I usually ask them if they would like to go by streetcar, light rail, bus, or bike, or to walk. I usually end up using the mode of transportation that they find most comfortable. Most of the time, this is by car, but some of them really enjoy our new modern streetcar system. I realize that using public transportation can feel foreign to some people, and that comfort in travel is all a matter of what you are familiar with.

For me, safety is a big factor. So, when I go out of town and start riding on fast freeways, I start to feel anxious. Studies have shown that riding transit is the safest form of travel, but most people have become so accustomed to seeing auto accidents that they are able to overlook them.

For me, going out of town means that I will be riding in cars on highways, which is something I don't do much of at home. What is commonplace for one person is out of the ordinary for another. Just the thought of riding in a car creates stress for me. I know that some people fear riding public transit because of the news stories that they hear, so my need to make my guests comfortable often overrides my own need for comfort. As a result, I often ride in their cars when they are visiting me.

Next time you have a guest come from out of town, consider asking them what form of transportation they prefer, and then dare to go with it to make them feel comfortable. If that won't work for you, then each person taking their own preferred method of transportation is another sensible way to go.

Sunday, 03 July 2016 00:00

Everywhere I go, I seem to experience a different sense of community. On the train, there is an ever-evolving community because of the changing people who ride through the various stops. The unwritten community rules are formed by the train conductors and by riders. One of the common courtesies is to share a table in the dining and snack car in what I call "European style." Sometimes, someone will motion that they want to sit at your table, or will interact with you from another table, whereas in most American restaurants, you would have your own table, and people at nearby tables would keep to themselves. Being an introvert, I am perfectly content to sit by myself and think my own thoughts, but on the train, I just think of it as an unusual adventure.

Here are some adventures from my latest train trip.

I heard some teen girls at a table behind me playing a type of card game where they would challenge each other. Then, suddenly. one gal reached over my right shoulder and placed a card and origami bird on my table. I was delighted at the gesture. After a bit, I decided that I should return the card so they would have a complete deck of cards, and I handed the card back. She said, "Keep it." I figured that I probably was not hip to these new card games, and that I should hang on to it. Then I noticed a URL and tracking number on the card. Perhaps I will take note of the tracking number and fold a new origami creature to share with someone else on the train ride back.

One fellow sat down and wanted to chat, and then he set a drum pad on the table and started drumming. It was a very quiet drum pad, perfect for community travel. It seems to be a nice hobby for him. He couldn't see well, so he was not as entertained by the usual digital entertainment that one usually brings when traveling on a train. We had a nice chat about music, and then I moved on to another location on the train to see what my next adventure would be.

 

Monday, 12 October 2015 00:00

Fact 1: Public transportation is one of the greenest, cleanest, environmentally friendliest ways to get to work.

Fact 2: It can be better.

Better not just by improving routes, efficiency and overcrowding, but by ditching fuel altogether.

Fact 3: Those black plumes of smoke that buses spew could be a thing of the past.

If a company called Proterra has its way, we could be well on our way to making that third fact a lung-friendly reality.

The company, run by early Tesla employee Ryan Popple, has just revealed a new electric bus that drove 258 miles on a single charge. Granted, it was empty. But the average route of a city bus is only 130 miles, so even with a full load, during a snowstorm and on rough roads, this groundbreaking bus would fare well enough to relieve the “range anxiety” that usually accompanies the words “electric car” (or, in this case, bus).

Fact 4: A diesel bus gets approximately five miles to the gallon.

Fact 5: This bus charges in as few as five minutes.

Those last two facts aren’t just neat and symmetrical; they illustrate just how much better public transportation can be if transit agencies could figure out a way to stop buying diesel buses and invest in clean tech.

And some have. Right now, you can find Proterra’s buses across America—in California, Washington, Texas, Florida and more. But the company has its sights set on, well, everywhere. While Popple understands that there are financial barriers, he also believes “there's no physical reason why you couldn't deploy zero-emission, quiet, high-tech buses."

Yes, it’s a big investment. Yes, it’s a big change. But so is pretty much anything worthwhile that could potentially help us stave off the effects of global warming. Popple and his people had the guts to not just imagine, but to start creating a future where clean tech is for everyone. Now we just need the gumption (and the funding) to hop on their bandwagon … ehrm … bus.

--

Source: Fast.Co Exist, Proterra

Photo credit: Fasto.Co Exist: http://www.fastcoexist.com/3051475/meet-the-electric-bus-that-could-push-every-other-polluting-bus-off-the-road

Monday, 24 April 2017 00:00

Spring is finally here. I have waited so long to be able to get outside and enjoy a walk, smell the dirt and grass, and watch the birds and squirrels. But even though the days have grown warm enough and the streets are clear of ice, I find my winter habits hard to break. I sit inside and look out the window, happily enjoying spring from my couch. If you are like me, I encourage you to get outside. Go on a walk. The first step is hard, but every step after is a reward.

Taking a walk each day has numerous health benefits—you can Google it. But walking is also a matter of joy. Going on a walk gives us a perspective change; allows us to breathe in new sights, smells, and sounds; and helps us to observe a world outside of our immediate home or workplace so we can be reminded that ancient, natural processes are still going on. The birds are migrating, the snow is melting, the crocuses are blooming, the bugs are hatching—all while we go about our busy lives.

John Burroughs once wrote, “Herein is no doubt our trouble, and one reason of the decay of the noble art in this country. We are unwilling walkers. We are not innocent and simple-hearted enough to enjoy a walk. We have fallen from that state of grace which capacity to enjoy a walk implies.” Burroughs wrote those words over a hundred years ago. “This is a lesson the American has yet to learn—capability of amusement on a low key,” he wrote. He said Americans expect rapid and extraordinary returns, and we have nothing to invest in a walk because it is too slow and “too cheap.”

Taking a walk slows us down to our own natural pace. Jogging and biking are great for exercise and enjoyment, but a walk is something else. Take a walk as often as you can this spring, and pay attention to what you observe that you may have missed if you were moving too fast. Burroughs wrote, “A man must invest himself near at hand and in common things, and be content with a steady and moderate return, if he would know the blessedness of a cheerful heart and the sweetness of a walk over the round earth.” There are times in my life I get caught up in the rapid and extraordinary. A walk brings me back to the blessedness of a cheerful heart.

“To find the universal elements enough; to find the air and the water exhilarating; to be refreshed by a morning walk or an evening saunter…to be thrilled by the stars at night; to be elated over a bird’s nest or a wildflower in spring—these are some of the rewards of the simple life." —John Burroughs, Leaf and Tendril.

Monday, 30 October 2017 00:00

Greener Good is now Earthvillage. See our new website at: http://earthvillage.org

Our new blog is at: https://medium.com/earthvillage

Our new YouTube Channel is here!

Media

Thursday, 05 January 2017 00:00

Use the following tips to make and work on your 2017 New Year's resolutions.

1.  Make a list of all your resolutions. Brainstorm. Be creative. Write down all the things that come to mind. 

2.  Prioritize your resolutions. Ask yourself, what matters most in the next twelve months? To which resolutions can you realistically devote energy and time?  What are you motivated to tackle? Pick your top three or four resolutions.

3.  Start with one resolution. Doing this keeps it simple. Once you have made some progress on your first resolution and it is feeling easier, fold in the second one on your list. Continue adding more of your resolutions throughout the year.

4.  Set a specific and measurable goal. For example, a goal of "saving $100 per month" is more precise and easier to measure than a goal of "saving money." Set a goal that is realistic and achievable. You can adjust the goal's complexity and level throughout the year as you make progress.

5.  Make a plan. Write down the actions you will take to work toward your goal. Consider your obstacles, and start small, addressing one obstacle at a time. Another way to approach planning is to think about what actions to take in January to get started.

6.  Put your plan into action. Choose a start date. Celebrate it. Make it fun and positive by involving family and friends. Support helps to keep you motivated.

7.  Monitor your progress. Ask yourself, how am I doing? Am I achieving my goal? Is my plan working? Why or why not? Post your progress on the refrigerator, mirror, or your cell phone. Another way to track progress is to keep a journal.

8.  Tweak your plan. What do you need to change or do differently?  Remember that change is a process, and that most New Year's resolutions require a behavior change, which is often easier said than done.


For additional information about New Year's resolutions, check out verywell.com

Saturday, 11 March 2017 00:00

Jeanne Roy Center for Earth Leadership

http://www.earthleaders.org/

Media

Saturday, 24 December 2016 00:00

2016 is quickly coming to a close. There is still time to finish the year feeling healthy and strong whether this year’s health goals were accomplished or not. Help yourself begin your brand-new year on a positive, healthy note. That is what it’s all about: new year, new chance to succeed at whatever you want. In the midst of the end-of-the-year countdown, there are still a couple of holidays to potentially trip up our admirable intentions to work out. Nevertheless, don’t let the celebrations and festivities of the wonderful holiday season be a deterrent from moving your body (and I’m not speaking of moving from the dining room table to the couch). Adopt a few of these ideas to maintain focus on your way to an organic new year.

1.  Depart for a brisk walk outside. Grab a family member, bundle up, and set out on a walk through your neighborhood.

2.  Going to a holiday party? Step onto the dance floor and get your heart pumping.

3.  Do a number of jumping jacks at home or wherever home may be for the holidays. (Try 3 sets of 10.)

4.  Split a bit of wood for the fireplace. This effort will absolutely elicit muscle work.

5.  Sweep/vacuum often (you know you need to with all of those house guests).

In addition, be sure to limber up first with a warmup, and always practice good body mechanics no matter what exercise you choose. Start moving your body, and finish the year off feeling healthy and strong. Moreover, plant seeds now to begin anew. It’s not too late.

Saturday, 03 September 2016 00:00

I don't use social media as often as some people do. I think one reason for this is that I often have so much other computer-related work to do that I don't want to expend extra energy staring at a computer or other device screens. Another reason is that some of the media "traps" I click are often disappointing, or even at times disturbing.

I quit watching the news on TV years ago because it seemed to concentrate on things that I really didn't want to know about. With modern social media, the news is everywhere. You have to be aware of where you click or you land on misinformation sites, waste-of-time sites, or news that you would have rather not heard about. My not wanting to see the extra junk that could get stuck in my thoughts for the day is one reason that I don't carry a cell phone.

My dilemma is this: because I run a non-profit organization and am starting a new business, I need to increase my use of social media to bring more attention to my websites. So, I am asking myself, can I increase my use of business social media and at the same time decrease the amount of clicking on junk links? If I can do this, then I will be more efficient with my time on social media, and the outcome would be that I don't actually increase the amount of time spend on media sites.

I am going to challenge myself with a "don't-click" diet. I won't click anything that is in the trending column, is an ad, is not directly posted by a friend, or is not on a channel that I subscribe to. I will let you know how it all works out later. Did I increase my social media time? Did I waste less time? Was I able to spend more time in my garden?

P.S. You can follow all of my adventures by clicking on my name at the top of this article.

Saturday, 18 February 2017 00:00

If on your way to Machu Picchu, you get off the train in the village of Ollantaytambo and go not toward the main gate of the station but the other direction (past the entrances of the hotel and Cafe Mayu), you can follow a stone fence overhung with melon vines up to an entrance with a sign pointing to a two-room schoolhouse behind terraced fields of crops and vegetables. The farm itself is part of the school, both a classroom and playground, and the fewer than two dozen students can often be seen doing hands-on projects alongside teachers, volunteers, or field workers, under the backdrop of distant, snow-capped mountains. The children might be playing soccer, watering the herbs or ground cherries in their own small garden, or having class in the gazebo, speaking Spanish, English, or Quechua. Alpacas and sheep graze near the bamboo-roofed structures, across from several greenhouses that supply enough spinach, basil, and tomatoes for the salads of both the students and guests at the hotel. Lemongrass, carrots, lettuce,Brussels sprouts, arugula, and quinoa are irrigated by aqueducts built thousands of years ago.

I didn't arrive in Ollatay by train. When I first saw the streets, squares, fields, and markets of the city, it was from the windows of a taxi I had taken along a winding mountain road from Cusco, about two hours away. The road had dipped into the sacred valley, along the Madre de Dios river, and the city, built by the Incas, had risen like a fortress out of the giant steps in the mountains, ancient ruins perched in the cliffs. That was February of 2015, and I taught English at the Kuska school until December. If you visited the farm that year, I might have been the one to walk across the field to greet you in broken Spanish, and invite you to walk around the garden. If you wanted to visit the school, I might tell you the best time would be at lunch, which we ate in the outdoor kitchen, with fresh vegetables the students harvested from the farm. From the way I talked, it would have been clear (as it probably is now from the way I’m writing) how much I loved the school and the work I was doing there.

Setting, I feel, is not often adequately considered as an aspect of education. The environment where learning takes place, and how students are allowed to interact with and take inspiration from that environment, can be a tremendously important factor in a child’s acquisition of habits and knowledge. The Kuska school, nestled in a convergence of two rivers, brooded over by the fortress and Pinkuylluna archeological sites of the Incan empire, next to the river and mountain pools, has one of the most beautiful natural settings I have ever seen.

Appreciation of the natural world is part of the Kuska school’s “experiential approach," which, according to their website, “nurtures individual creativity and spiritual strength, with a focus on environmental and social responsibility." Children at the school not only learn about the world around them scientifically, and respond to it creatively, but they are also made to experience how an ecological or environmental outlook is a continuing part of indigenous Quechua traditions.-

The students in the school are a diverse mix of ages and backgrounds. I was one of four or five other educators, not including several young volunteers who helped with classes over the year. I taught English and physical education, while other teachers gave lessons in Spanish, math, science, music, and art. The integrated nature of the curriculum, and the project-based philosophy of the school, meant that as teachers we would often combine subjects and age groups, adapting to whatever the goals and circumstances were for a given day.

My year in Ollantaytambo felt like the first time in my life I had ever really lived according to my ideals—I was eating fresh, local foods, producing virtually no waste (non-recyclable trash was stuffed into “eco-bricks” of 2-liter bottles and used in construction projects on the farm), and spending most of my free time hiking in the mountains or along riverbeds. I didn’t use a car or air conditioning. I was teaching 6- to 14-year-olds English, but I was also learning what a sustainable lifestyle, which I had idealized but never achieved, actually looked like.

Now I’m living in Portland, teaching English over the internet, and trying to carry forward that feeling of living more in tune with my natural surroundings, hiking through a different but equally inspiring landscape. I am grateful beyond words to have been able to live for a full cycle of seasons in the sacred valley of Peru, and encourage anyone interested in volunteering or working as a teacher to learn more from their website. The Kuska school demonstrates for me the effectiveness of place, community, and project-based education.



 

 

Thursday, 29 December 2016 00:00

I have been writing about cool season plants lately, and next in the series is winterfat or winter sage, an important winter forage native to western North America. It is scientifically known as Krascheninnikovia lanata, Ceratoides lanata, or Eurotia lanata, and belongs to the family Chenopodiaceae. Those living in the Intermontane West will find this plant growing in arid plant communities like a salt desert scrub, pinyon juniper woodland, or sagebrush scrub. In the Southwest, it can be seen growing in Joshua tree habitats. The plant thrives in a wide variety of soil types, but is intolerant of acidic and flooded soils.

Winterfat is a low-growing shrub that at first glance can be easily mistaken for sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata); however, unlike sagebrush, the leaves of winterfat do not emit fragrance. The stems and leaves of this plant are densely covered in fine hairs, giving it a woolly, silvery-white appearance. The plant is remarkably tenacious in arid conditions, and has an extensive root system to withstand drought. It is cold-tolerant, and produces seeds that remain viable even after exposure to sub-zero temperatures.

This compact shrub is a protein powerhouse. which explains why it is preferentially grazed by livestock and wild animals alike. Besides being a superior winter browse, the plant helps in soil stabilization, and thus prevents soil erosion. It is an established pioneer species that can also be used for reclamation of disturbed or poorly-developed soils.

Identification Characteristics:

  • Habit: Perennial shrub. Erect to spreading, and approximately 3 feet tall.
  • Roots: Fibrous roots present near the surface along with a deep taproot that grows three times the length of the shoot.
  • Stems: Erect, and emerge from a 4-inch-tall woody base. The central stem is woody, whereas secondary stems are generally herbaceous. Hairy and grey-brown in color.
  • Leaves: Alternate, simple, linear, or lanceolate, 3/8 to 1 inch long, and with a prominent midrib. Margins are revolute (i.e., rolled back),l and the surface is hairy. The leaves appear grey-green in color. They persist during winters, and are replaced with new leaves in the spring.
  • Inflorescence: Axillary spike.
  • Flowers: White, inconspicuous, lack petals and sepals. Male and female flowers present on the same plant (monoecious), but on different spikes. Staminate flowers placed above the pistillate flowers, female flowers, have long hairy bracts. Blooms appear in mid-spring, and last till summer.
  • Fruit: Utricle. Seeds are flat, tear-shaped, hairy, and enclosed by two bracts at maturity. The seeds mature by mid- to late fall. Seeds are wind-dispersed.
  • Plant Propagation: Through seeds and buds that sprout at the base when the herbage gets damaged or grazed.

Credit: Stan Shebs

 

Credit: Stan Shebs

 

References:

Photo Credit:

Thursday, 09 March 2017 00:00

Greetings, readers! If you’re like me, then you’re probably very interested in nature. One of the things I enjoy doing in my spare time is observing wildlife and learning something new. Owls are an animal I’ve rarely had the pleasure to see in person. Truth be told, I think I’ve seen one only once, and this happens to be what I’m writing about today. I want to share some interesting facts about the great horned owl.

They regularly eat skunks.
This was definitely a head-scratcher for me, considering I didn’t even think skunks had any predators to worry about. Yet it’s true—on top of eating rabbits, mice, rats, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, falcons, and even other owls, they also eat skunks.

Some of their calls are ventriloquial.
Another astonishing feat I was completely unaware of is that great horned owls can throw their own voices. Whether this is to distract potential predators away from their nest or simply to throw some nasty crows or blue jays off their tails, I’m not sure.

They can fly up to 40 mph.
Although these owls are ideal for slow and maneuverable flying, they can fly as fast as local traffic! It’s a good thing great horned owls aren’t normally aggressive towards humans; just stay away from their nests!

They’re every crow’s nightmare, and are often harassed for it.
I’ve witnessed flocks of bluejays harassing red-tailed hawks before, so I can imagine it’s exactly the same thing when crows harass great horned owls. Besides eating a large variety of mammals, reptiles, invertebrates, and other birds of prey, great horned owls are notorious for hunting crows. So the next time you hear a large flock of incessant cawing, it might not hurt to investigate.

Their eyes would be the equivalent of oranges if they were human-sized.
On top of having a keen sense of hearing, capable of hearing a mouse squeak 900 feet away, great horned owls have freakishly huge eyes! With binocular-like vision, and a neck capable of turning at 270 degrees, great horned owls can see practically anything at night.

There you have it! I hope you have all found these fun facts interesting, and that they might even inspire you to do the same and learn something new. Nature truly is amazing.

 

Sources

 

Thursday, 26 January 2017 00:00

My previous blog posts have all mentioned green things you can do at the convenience of your own home, but what about what’s beyond your home? I think it’s safe to say that anyone who takes the pledge to be an eco-steward is aware of what threatens our environment, and who cares to do something about it. Today I’m talking about bumblebees—or, sadly, endangered bumblebees.

I once heard at a symposium that worms were more important than people, and I understood exactly what he meant. You can’t have a functioning global ecosystem without its foundation, which in this case would be worms. But I’m talking about bumblebees, another insect that for us is just as important.

A quick lecture for you: unlike honey bees, bumblebees don’t produce honey, but they are just as important as, if not more than, pollinators. According to the Honeybee Conservancy, bumblebees can pollinate 400 times faster than honey bees. "Buzz pollination" is when a bumblebee dislodges pollen by vibrating its wing muscles, producing that buzzing sound you usually hear. Crops like tomatoes, peppers, cranberries, and blueberries all benefit from buzz pollination. Bumblebees also make for great pollinators because they are capable of flying in cooler temperatures and at lower light levels. In fact, for me, one of the best indicators of spring is seeing the bumblebees out, bright and early, pollinating the daffodils and other early spring flowers.

A little silver lining before we jump right into the bad news: there are some bumblebee species for which considerable conservation efforts are in effect, but sadly, not all endangered bumblebees are protected. There are several factors that endanger bumblebees, including pesticides, loss of habitat, climate change, and transmitted diseases from commercial bumblebees. The good news is that there is a considerable amount you can do to help the bumblebees.

From early spring to late fall, bumblebees rely on a variety of nectar and pollen. So the first thing you can do, especially if you’re a gardener, is to plant plenty of native or indigenous plants. Fostering a native landscape is something I emphasize, not just for the sake of bumblebees, but for all wildlife and biodiversity, as the wildlife that surrounds your home lives best off what natively grows there. In this case, bumblebees rely especially on native plants because they have coevolved with indigenous bumblebees. You can even turn your yard into a certified wildlife habitat.

It’s common for bumblebees to nest underground using holes dug up by larger animals, but bumblebees are very resourceful, and can use anything from empty bird nests to hollow logs, compost piles, and even empty birdhouses. With this in mind, be conscious that bumblebees might be nesting in something that looks abandoned to you. If you really want to make your yard a bumblebee haven, you can make a bumblebee nest for them.

Queen bumblebees hibernate over winter in small holes, or underground, just below the surface. According to the National Wildlife Federation, you should avoid raking, tilling, or mowing your lawn until April–May. If you need to mow your lawn, set your blade to the highest safe level, and it wouldn’t hurt to do it a little less frequently.

Eliminate all use of pesticides. Insecticides, herbicides, and especially systemic pesticides like neonicotinoids, should be avoided. Neonicotinoids are taken up by the vascular systems of plants, and therefore bees and other pollinators are exposed to the poison long after the product has been applied when feeding on the plant’s nectar and pollen.

You can also help scientists continue to study bumblebees, whether you’re helping to identify new species through Bumble Bee Watch, or volunteering with the Entomological Society of America. If you want to be even more active, you can always speak with your local government about agricultural policies, or even share this information with a friend or someone who might not even be aware that there are bumblebee species on the endangered list.

There’s a lot you CAN do, and it’s only a matter of getting started. Good luck, fellow eco-stewards; our fuzzy friends and crops depend on us.

 


Sources:

Saturday, 19 March 2016 00:00

Alewife are a type of river herring that live in the salt water of the ocean most of their lives, then swim up rivers and streams to inland ponds for spawning. Throughout the history of civilization, the freshwater habitats of these fish, who aren’t great hunters, have been blocked by dams and culverts. The dams stop them from progressing further inland to spawn. With the fish stopped, the wildlife in the area that feed on them also stop, affecting many types of birds of prey, who are restricted to certain areas in order to feed. Alewife populations have seen big declines throughout much of their range, which has caused the US National Marine Fisheries Service to classify them as a “Species of Concern.

This is the mouth of Woodhull Dam. Beyond it is a placid lake, which would be an ideal habitat for spawning if the alewife could reach it.

Here in Long Island, New York, where I am located, the Volunteer Alewife Survey is conducted every year by the Seatuck Environmental Association, which is working to restore habitats for local populations of these ecologically important fish. Concerned citizen volunteers, Seatuck staff and partners survey the many different streams and tributaries around the island, checking and rechecking for signs of these fish. As part of this conservation effort, authorities have even installed Fish Ladders to help the fish cross the man-made barriers. 

Volunteers are recruited to survey different designated streams and tributaries along Long Island and search for alewife in the water. Seatuck-affiliated workers will sometimes go to sites and sample the fish. The picture below shows a list of samples divided by males and females. The first size is the nose-to-butt measurement of the fish, and the second is the tip to the end of the tail fin. Each measurement is taken in millimeters.

The survey runs from mid-March to mid-May, and the 2016 survey has just begun. If you live on Long Island and would like to volunteer, please contact . If you live inland in New York, contact your local Fish and Wildlife Department to see if there are ways for you to volunteer or help! 

Tuesday, 28 February 2017 00:00

What I love about a sustainable culture are innovative designs and lifestyles that solve difficult problems, especially big issues like climate change. Architecture showcases just how much mankind is capable of, as well as the size of its impact. I wanted to find something good and green in the world, man-made and with a real wow factor. What I found were literal forest cities.

Architect Stefano Boeri plans to build a city in China that’s densely covered with forests. The Forest City of Shijiazhuang, a work in progress, will be a city for 100,000 new inhabitants. Shijiazhuang unfortunately has the highest rate of air pollution in China. With this forest city in the process of being built, there’s hope that the dense woods can mitigate a significant amount of the smog and soot that pollute the air.

Similar to his Vertical Forest in Milan, Boeri’s forest city will consist of several buildings of various sizes, each covered with planters of trees, shrubs, and flowering plants on the façades. As the buildings are designed to "bring new life to a small corner of China’s polluted urban sprawl," Boeri believes they could suck 25 tons of carbon dioxide each year, as well as produce 60 kg. of oxygen each day!

His plan is for sustainable mini-cities that hopefully provide a green roadmap for the rest of urban China. Personally, I hope this is something that catches on worldwide. While I think the forest city concept is something all cities should implement, I can understand why in some cases (especially really old cities), that’s easier said than done. However, if people can build sustainable cities in one of the most densely populated countries on earth (if not the most), I don’t see why other countries couldn’t do the same.

Sources:
http://www.treehugger.com/urban-design/stefano-boeri-so-beyond-tree-covered-buildings-hes-now-designing-forest-cities.html
http://www.treehugger.com/slideshows/green-architecture/another-look-stefano-boeris-vertical-forest/
http://www.corraini.com/en/catalogo/scheda_libro/1226/Un-bosco-verticale
https://www.stefanoboeriarchitetti.net/en/portfolios/forest-city/
https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2017/feb/17/forest-cities-radical-plan-china-air-pollue e tion-sot tefano-boeri

Tuesday, 22 November 2016 00:00

I first learned about manta rays as an undergrad student while watching a BBC documentary called Land of the Tiger. That particular episode was about India’s coastline and its rich marine habitats. Every minute of that episode (and all other episodes of that series) was packed with information, and was a visual treat. However, the image that will always remain in my mind’s eye is that of the manta ray whose elegant and serene gliding movement reminded me of a bird in flight underwater, all in slow motion. I’ve lost count of how many times I hit the rewind button to watch that clip over and over again.

Manta rays are cartilaginous fish, and are close relatives of sharks and other rays. They have large triangular pectoral fins (or wings) that measure 5 to 7 m across. This explains the name "manta," which means "cloak" or "blanket" in Spanish. Mantas feed on plankton, and live in warm waters in the tropical, sub-tropical and temperate regions of the world. They have been sighted along the coastline, in coral reefs, as well as in the deep sea.

Two different species of manta rays exist, and they vary in size, habitat preference, and distribution. The reef manta rays (Manta alfredi) are smaller in size, and prefer shallow waters and reefs in tropical and sub-tropical waters of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. There have been sightings of the species in the Atlantic Ocean, as well. In comparison, the giant manta rays (Manta birostris) have a wide distribution in the tropical and temperate waters of the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. The life span of mantas is estimated to be over 25 years.

Despite their worldwide distribution, manta rays have been classified as vulnerable by the IUCN1 due to targeted fishing (their gill plates are used in traditional Chinese medicine) and accidental by-catch. Adding to their vulnerability status is the fact that mantas have a long gestation period of 12 months,2 and usually give birth to only one pup at a time. Tourism-related industries may also have a negative impact on the species and its habitat. Total population numbers are unknown, but subpopulations of mantas are small (giant mantas have 100–1000 members; reef mantas have 100–2000 members), and experts suspect a global decline of 30% in the manta population.

Steps are being taken to protect the species, as seen in Indonesia and Peru, both of which have imposed a ban on manta fishing. As of early 2016, 13 countries had imposed regulations, providing varying degrees of manta ray protection. On an international level, mantas were listed on CMS3 Appendices I and II in 2011, and as a result, harvesting of these species is no longer permitted (with exceptions for traditional subsistence users). In 2014, mantas were included in Appendix II of CITES  to “ensure that international commercial trade is strictly regulated to ensure its sustainability, legality, and traceability for the long-term survival of the species in the wild.” There are recommendations for trade moratoriums (for import and sale of gill rakers), consumer education (regarding unproven claims regarding benefits of gill raker tonic), responsible ecotourism initiatives, and regular monitoring and enforcement of protective measures. As individuals, we can contribute by raising awareness within our circle of influence, volunteering, or making donations to organizations such as the Manta Trust, the Manta Pacific Research Foundation, or those that focus on conserving the marine ecosystem itself such as the Marine Conservation Society.

I do hope that these multiple conservation efforts help the mantas to thrive, and that we continue to learn more about these gentle giants.

____________________________

1International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources

2This is the information available for reef manta rays. The gestation period for giant manta rays is unknown as per the IUCN. Some sources suggest the gestation period is 13 months.

3Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

4Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

  

References

1. Marshall, A., Bennett, M.B., Kodja, G., Hinojosa-Alvarez, S., Galvan-Magana, F., Harding, M., Stevens, G. & Kashiwagi, T. 2011. Manta birostris. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011: e.T198921A9108067. (http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2011-2.RLTS.T198921A9108067.en). (Accessed: 14/11/16)
2. Marshall, A., Kashiwagi, T., Bennett, M.B., Deakos, M., Stevens, G., McGregor, F., Clark, T., Ishihara, H. & Sato, K. 2011. Manta alfredi. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2011: e.T195459A8969079. (http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2011-2.RLTS.T195459A8969079.en). (Accessed: 14/11/16)
3. Manta Trust (http://www.mantatrust.org/about-mantas/mantas-at-a-glance/) (Accessed: 01/11/16)
4. Heinrichs, Shawn, O’Malley, Mary, Medd, Hannah and Hilton, Paul (2011). The Global Threat to Manta and Mobula rays. Manta Ray of Hope (http://www.mantarayofhope.com/learn/about-manta-and-mobula-rays/taxonomy-morphology-and-distribution/) (Accessed: 10/11/16)
5. Neme, Laurel (2016). “New Protections For World's Largest Population of Giant Manta Rays”. National Geographic (http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2016/01/160108-manta-rays-conservation-wildaid-traditional-medicine-china-bycatch-peru/) (Accessed: 14/11/16)
6. Mantaray-World (http://www.mantaray-world.com/manta-ray-habitat/) (Accessed: 11/11/16)
7. Shuraleff II, G. 2000. "Manta birostris" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. (http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Manta_birostris/) (Accessed: 10/11/16)
8. CITES Press Release (2014). Stronger protection for five shark species and all manta rays. (https://cites.org/eng/shark_ray_listings_come_into_effect.php) (Accessed: 14/11/16)
9. CMS (2012). COP10 Outcome: Migratory Manta Ray under CMS Protection (http://www.cms.int/en/news/cop10-outcome-migratory-manta-ray-under-cms-protection) (Accessed: 14/11/16)

Wednesday, 14 September 2016 00:00

Recently, as I was scrolling through my LinkedIn feed, I ran across an article on solar energy. The article set the tone of optimism from the beginning, with some amazing and very hopeful statistics about solar energy. I learned that in just 112 hours (less than five days), 36 zettajoules (ZJ) of energy are generated by the sun. To gain perspective, I searched for “zettajoules” on the internet in order to understand how much energy that amounts to. I learned that the annual consumption of energy by humans is around 0.5 ZJ for the entire globe! Learn more: All about Joules - Wikipedia

The image accompanying the article showed the power of solar energy delivering a very small but important daily basic need: a meal being heated by the sun while the chef stood by patiently. This cooker was so large as to be impractical to most people, and prompted me to cast out a few searches on solar cooking devices available, and the limitations, if any. I was amazed to find significantly smaller, more portable and practical cookers available for outdoor recreationalists, and also larger ones that looked very simple to set up in your backyard, including several resembling a cabinet with a clear lid. The principles for solar cooking are basic: solar power is converted to heat energy (infrared) that is retained for heating the food.

Here are some flexible aspects of solar cookers:

  • Some solar cookers take the season and latitude into consideration, and give options for winter and summer cooking as the angle of the sun changes.
  • Portable cookers can be small enough to fit into a backpack. Some of these are just big enough to cook two hotdogs in a cylinder, but people have claimed to cook anything from oatmeal to potatoes using these types of portables.
  • Some cookers are a large, parabolic (this basically means designed mathematically to the right shape to collect heat, waves, etc., for maximum efficiency) silver bowl large enough for a human to curl up inside. Temperatures can reach as high as 550 Fahrenheit, and everything from main dishes to desserts can be prepared.
  • One of the best features of solar cookers is they will still perform on cloudy days.

Not only are solar cookers hugely valuable to those areas of the planet whose people survive each day by cooking their meals over an outdoor fire, as this eliminates the need to spend precious money on firewood, but it also saves lungs and prevents burning fossil fuels and overharvesting trees. It can also benefit outdoor recreational users and the environment by reducing the risk of fire in forests, and gives the freedom to cook in environmentally sensitive areas and even on small boats. As one article pointed out, you can keep these outside in the summer, and prevent the house from heating up and the air conditioner from running.

Learn more:

Solar cookers around the world

Mother Earth News

 

Monday, 29 June 2015 00:00

Of all substances on Earth, water is the most common.
Water is also the only substance on Earth that exists in all three states: solid, liquid and gas. The totality of these three states – all the earthly bodies of gas, liquid and solid – is known as the hydrosphere. The hydrosphere comprises the oceans, lakes, rivers, underground aquifers and groundwater, along with the North Pole and South Pole and all forms of ice and snow therein, plus gaseous water vapor found in the atmosphere.

There are numerous substances on Earth that dissolve easily into water.
Oceans, lakes, rivers, ice and other forms of water dissolve chemicals. One such chemical is table salt, which is composed of chlorine and sodium, and abbreviated NaCl. When table salt is added to water, the positive parts of the water molecule embrace the chlorine and the negative parts embrace the sodium. As a result, the salt molecule disappears and is dissolved. The opposite process – removing the water molecules from the salt – is known as desalination. In nature, this happens naturally when seawater evaporates, becomes clouds in the atmosphere and the salt remains behind in its molecular form. People use a similar means to make saltwater drinkable by boiling it to remove the salt crystals, then collecting the steam.

Almost all (approximately 97%) of the water in the hydrosphere is saltwater.
As mentioned above, the process of removing the salt from saltwater is known as desalination. One of the oldest means of making drinkable water involves evaporating saltwater and then collecting the steam, which condenses to form droplets of water. This process is called solar distillation, since it requires the sun to evaporate the water. From around 400 A.D. forward, the process evolved – from passive solar heating to actually boiling the water and using sponges to sop up the freshwater from the air above the pot.

The word “freshwater” means water that is less salty than the oceans.
There are two kinds of freshwater. One is moving water (e.g. rivers) and the other is stationary (e.g. lakes). Stationary freshwater bodies change dynamically over the seasons, influencing the lives of their plants and animals. In spring, after the ice has melted, water from the bottom of the lake warms and moves upward to mix with water at the surface, which is then made available to surface-dwelling plants such as phytoplankton. Toward summer, the phytoplankton is also supported by the lake’s decomposers, like fungi and bacteria, which begin breaking down the lake’s dead animals to provide more nutrients. Toward fall, daylight decreases, the lake cools off and plant life grows slower. In winter, the lake continues to cool, but the ice forming on the surface forms a kind of insulation for plant and animal life in the lower regions of the lake.

Water activity changes dramatically over the seasons for people.
Even frozen bodies of water attract fun seekers in winter – in the form of skating, skiing and ice fishing, to name a few. In ice fishing, the surface ice is cut to make a hole through which a fishing line is dangled below the ice. In warmer seasons, other fishing takes over. Fly fishing is popular on rivers and streams, wherein the fishing line is flicked back and forth across the river in an almost hypnotic manner both for the fisherperson and the fish. Spin fishing, often done from boats or other watercraft, involves attaching to the line weights that draw the hook and lure down deep into the water. Rowboats, sailboats and kayaks are propelled through the water by oars or sails that use wind energy to push them across the water. Speedboats travel across the water at high velocity due to the power of their motors. Another form of aquatic recreation is the enjoyment of thermal springs, which are created by the natural flow of groundwater that is heated geothermally – literally, by the natural warmth of the Earth. Also, shallow volcanoes can heat groundwater to make hot springs hot. One country famous for its hot volcanic springs is, ironically, Iceland.

Sunday, 17 January 2016 00:00

My friend teases me about my fascination with Mount Hood, a rather larger-than-life character of the Pacific Northwest that is visible from many locations in and around Portland.

From my early visits to Oregon, long before moving to the state, I always enjoyed the sudden surprise I’d get when I’d spot the snowcapped mountain from far away, driving across a bridge or into Portland after visiting family outside the city, or heading to the airport for a flight home to Southern California. Its majestic beauty never failed to brighten my day.

Photo by Victoria Serorian
During my first year of living in the state, I took two friends visiting from Southern California on a scenic day trip to Multnomah Falls, another well-known landmark that is an easy day trip outside the city. The falls are a natural wonder that are spectacular to experience up close, and my two friends and I enjoyed a lovely afternoon of nature appreciation.

 

“Which way is Mount Hood?” asked my friends innocently as we headed back toward the city. I wasn’t sure, but was too embarrassed to admit it. What kind of tour guide would that make me? But what I did know from my own experience is that if they saw it, if only from afar, they, too, would be awestruck. So, with me behind the wheel, we exited the highway here, and then there, and then way over there, laughing often about our unplanned hunt for Mount Hood.

Finally we found it. Eureka!

My friend jumped View from Timberline Lodge by Victoria Serorianout of the car, excitedly grabbed her iPhone, and snapped pictures of Mount Hood. A few minutes later, we learned from a young man at the drive-through where we stopped for coffee that she had actually photographed Mount Adam, in neighboring Washington State.

As the highest elevation point in all of Oregon, Mount Hood, which rises approximately 11,200 feet above sea level, reigns supreme in the state’s culture. You will find its familiar pointy, jagged profile etched on t-shirts, ball caps and businesses that link their identities to the recognizable mountaintop.

Now that I live in Oregon, my enjoyment and awareness of the mountain vista continues to bloom. Initially, there were times when I forgot it was there, off in the horizon, blinded by life’s everyday distractions that can make us overlook a beautiful rose blossoming right in front of us. In fact, I lived in the city for a couple of months before one day, when I pulled back my kitchen window curtain and realized I had a view of the fabulous Mount Hood.

I absolutely love the mountain as a metaphor. From afar, I see strength in its broad shoulders, and feel inspired by its lofty elevation. In life, we climb and stumble, get back up, continue. When we make it to the top, it’s then that we can take a precious moment, twirl around, survey our progress, and ask ourselves, "Was it worth the effort?"

Late last year, two of my sisters, a nephew and I headed up to Mount Hood to celebrate the season’s first big snowfall. We had a blast. Savored the views. Played in the snow. Shivered.

Photo by Victoria Serorian
And we snapped away with our camera phones. My big sister loves to photograph nature. and most of the shots included in this article were taken by her from various viewpoints at Timberline Lodge, a National Historic Landmark on the south side of the mountain with an elevation of about 6,000 feet.

I’m happy to say that the next time my SoCal friends return for another visit, I feel confident that I can show them the real, the one and only, Mount Hood.

View from Timberline Lodge, Mount Hood by Victoria Serorian

Above four photos by Victoria Serorian

Sunday, 19 March 2017 00:00

I delight in seeing the first flowers of spring. I love to see to garden flowers, native flowers, and even the flowers that would be considered weeds, spring to life.

 

 

Friday, 23 December 2016 00:00

This past summer, we answered a house sitting post asking for a five-month winter stay in Coos Bay. We'd been through the area on a coastal camping trip back in 2012 and enjoyed it a lot, and living on the Oregon coast (especially during the winter) had been on "the list" for years. Having no other firm plans, we applied, had a chat and then a meet-and-greet with our potential hosts and their five adorable cats, and did a little happy dance when they confirmed.

Cape Arago State Park has definitely turned out to be one of the true gems of this housesit. It's about a 15-minute drive from our temporary home, and although it's a small park with a handful of trail miles, the countless views never get old.

We did the Sunset Campground - Simpson Viewpoint hike several months ago, when we came down to meet our hosts. (This was about a six-mile return, but if you're up for the full hike, you can go the 8.5-mile return from Sunset Bay all the way to Cape Arago.) It was clear and bright that day, the vistas were stunning, and the sea lions were everywhere.

We also got to explore the tide pools during that visit. Gotta love the tiny crabs in tide pools!

Recently I've been exploring the other viewpoints and trails in the park. Even on cloudy, windy days, the vistas are still beautiful—and better yet, the park is all but deserted.

Today's hike was a four-ish mile return up through the forest of fir, spruce, and myrtle, and back down to the shore. Along the hike, I ran across an old WWII observation post that's been artistically enhanced with floral and oceanic graffiti.

Many visitors can't help but check out Shore Acres State Park, the former large estate of Louis and Lela Simpson, who played a big role in the shipping and lumber industries back in the day. During the milder seasons, the formal gardens are amazing...

... and during the winter, the community-driven Holiday Lights show is well worth a visit. This year featured 325,000 (mostly LED) lights, about a dozen animated light displays, underwater fish, free cider, and cookies... oh, and Santa in the bathtub in the Garden House. It's no Peacock Lane in Portland, but it'll definitely do!

Life often gets in the way, and we're not able to get to Cape Arago as often as we'd like. Here's hoping that 2017 brings us—and you—more free time to enjoy this lovely Southern Coast spot!

Wednesday, 12 August 2015 00:00

My most recent visit to Somes-Meynell this past week went much better than the one prior.

Nearly two years ago now, there had been a call to the local wildlife clinic about an eagle acting strangely there. She hadn’t left her perch for two days and appeared to have difficulty flying. After several awkward hours through the brush to retrieve her, the examination clearly indicated lead poisoning with the resultant disorientation, poor balance, and nerve impairment. Fortunately, a purging chelation treatment along with several weeks of fresh water, food and rest, got her back on her feet. Her plight helped showcase efforts made to promote the use of copper bullets, bury entrails and otherwise ensure lead wasn’t part of an easy meal in the future. She was very lucky; as was I, when I spotted her again the other day.

In the historic village of Somesville, Maine, the Sanctuary has a charming set of trails contained within 230 acres of the forests and wetlands surrounding Somes Pond; which flows into Somes Sound, the only fjord on the Eastern seaboard. (It’s since been reclassified by the Geological Society to a ‘fjard’, as the surrounding slopes aren’t steep enough to rival Norway, but I will refrain from bad puns ~ this time) The waterway is a crucial wildlife thoroughfare and the pond itself is particularly key to the local turtle populations, being one of the few freshwater spots in the locality with shores sandy enough for easily burying eggs.

Surrounded by heavily traveled roads on all sides, Somes-Meynell maintains a surprisingly pristine and evocative quiet. While the human decibels are muted, loons, eagles, osprey, herons, ducks, woodpeckers, nuthatches, chickadees and a whole host of neotropical migrants are making their presence known as the calls swirl around the natural amphitheater, boosted further by the echoing acoustics over water.

Mid-August can be a tricky time for birding. Territorial relays have gone to the wayside in favor of keeping up with chattering, largely indistinguishable, young. I note recent Pileated Woodpecker activity along the trail. Kinglets, both ruby and golden crowned, are a decidedly notable theme now as they reign, and rain down their ‘treble yells’ during my walk. It is only after five minutes of absolute stillness that I finally manage to catch sight of them. I then pass the snag which for so long was my failsafe during ‘dud’ bird tours, allowing for something to talk about when weather and timing, rendered the woods silent.

I’d ask the youngest of the group to knock at the base to see if anyone would peek out of the cavities. Hairy woodpeckers resided there, as did a flying squirrel family for a time, but the last attempt yielded an angry buzzing, followed by a rapidly spreading, living stain of honeybees. That was my chance to discuss the natural history of this introduced species, the relative chances of finding them there, and how the surrounding lunch counters, apple trees, and flower laden fields kept them in business- but instead I’d said,- “RUN!!”!

This year, I find the snag down after a wild winter of heavy snow and wind and, though admittedly lazy and lame, I don’t knock by the cavities or even stop long enough to see what gives.

Along the pond Pickerel weed, Smart weed, Floating heart, and Pipewort are still in bloom. Cool evenings of late hint that these colors will soon give way to the reds inherent in the Red Maples prevalent throughout the property; all the more noticeable for being dotted amongst the Balsam, white Pines, Spruces and ruddy Oaks. Most of the paths are too shady to lend themselves to blueberries, though there are some huckleberries ripe in places along the sunny edges, and a deposit of virtually blue fox scat evidences that there are plenty of blueberries to be had not far from here. Eastern Mountain Holly in full berry lends some striking color along the southern swale and up on the drier slopes, wintergreen stands out amongst the reindeer moss.

When nearby Acadia National Park is in full blown tourist season, the Somes-Meynell Sanctuary is an oasis of shady quiet. It is the only public retreat where dogs are not allowed and the wildlife take note, and advantage, of this fact. A small nature center offers programs for all ages and has a wonderful, staggered, descending front porch which fronts the pond, allowing for clear views and great wildlife sightings!

Tuesday, 29 November 2016 00:00

Castlewood State Park is nestled in a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. The Ballwin, Missouri, park offers hiking and biking trails for adventurers of all skill levels. Fishing and water activities are available, as are picnic areas. The Meramec River runs through the park, allowing visitors to fish, kayak, and overlook the water from atop the bluffs. Train sightings are also a hit feature, as the Union Pacific Railroad runs amid the park acreage.

The park was a popular retreat area in the early 1900s, containing clubs, cabins, and a large hotel. However, visitors stopped frequenting the retreat due to then-upcoming roadways and economic changes. Though the clubs and lodging are no longer attractions, the more than 1,800-acre park area was reserved in 1974 as Castlewood State Park, and has since continued as an increasingly popular location for outdoor activities.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016 00:00

When most people think of Long Island, New York, they think crowded suburb, strip malls, traffic, and the infamous Hamptons. Yet there are many parks throughout the island where you can become one with nature. My favorite (mostly because it is across the street from my home) is Manorville Hill County Park. As part of the Pine Barren Society, this park has over 6,000 acres with countless miles of clearly-marked trails for hiking, biking, and horseback riding, with elevations as high as 250 feet. While spending an afternoon walking the trails in this park, hearing the sounds of nature and catching a glimpse of deer, you can easily forget you are in a metropolitan area.

 

Tuesday, 16 February 2016 00:00

The main mountain range, and the fifth-largest mountain in Mexico, is the Sierra Madre. It starts in California and continues all the way to Guatemala, south of Mexico. Although the highest peak is the El Pico de Orizaba in the state of Puebla, the Sierra Madre range can be found all around the country, and is divided into three parts: Sierra Madre Occidental, Sierra Madre Oriental, and Sierra Madre del Sur. It ranges from 6,000 feet to 12,000 feet above sea level, and the climate conditions in the mountains can vary depending on the location and height of the mountain. Some parts can be snowy, while some have the desert climate characteristic of the northern region. Either way, they attract mountain climbers from all over the world, especially those interested in a traverse climb.

Tuesday, 08 March 2016 00:00

Our most recent housesit was on Orcas Island where we enjoyed many hours hiking around Turtleback Mountain Preserve and Moran State Park.

Moran State Park is the fourth largest state park in Washington. Its 38 miles of year-round trails offer stunning vistas, roaring waterfalls, gorgeous meanders through beautiful forests, and peaceful lakeside strolls. During our four weeks of housesitting, we were able to hit most of those 38 miles. 

Waterfall

Lake in Moran State Park

At 2,409 feet, Mount Constitution is the park’s highest point (and also the highest point in the San Juan Islands). The hike to the peak weaves past a few lakes, and uphill through cedar, western hemlock, and Douglas firs to a dense forest of lodgepole pine at the top. It’s well worth the effort, but those who don’t have time or energy can also drive to the tower at the top. On a clear day you can enjoy views of Canada and (if you’re really lucky!) Mount Baker, Mount Rainier, and the Olympic Mountain Range. We tried four times and finally got lucky on our very last day on the island. 

Mt. Baker

We loved all the trails, especially the Mount Constitution climb and the waterfall loop, but one of our favorite trails in the park was the "Mystery Trail"—it’s far less traveled and even more rugged than the main trails.

Mystery Trail

Moran State Park has something for everyone. Summer activities include camping, swimming, paddle boating, kayaking, row boating, fishing, and picnicking. During the winter months many trails are open to bikers and horse riders, and the winter mosses are truly amazing.

Moss!

Park entry costs $10 per day or $30 for an annual pass to all Washington State Parks, including Moran. We invested in the annual pass and found this to be a very small price for a wonderful payoff. 

Moran State Park was founded by former Seattle mayor Robert Moran in 1921. In the early 1900s Moran, age 47, was mentally and physically exhausted, and his doctors warned that he would soon die of heart disease. Moran sold his business and chose Orcas Island as the place to live the last few months of his life…where he recovered and lived to the age of 86! A fine lesson for us all, eh?

Saturday, 28 November 2015 00:00

It’s raining again. I stop and huddle beneath the branches of a big spruce tree, resting my back against its trunk. I shove my hands deeper into the pockets of my raincoat and let out a deep breath that billows into the air like smoke. The rain is dripping on my hood, and the sound is strangely comforting. I may be damp and cold, but there’s something about the sound of the rain on a tent or a raincoat that makes me feel safe, protected from the rain. I smile and close my eyes, breathing in the smell of wet leaves and lake water. I can’t quite feel my toes in my rain boots, so I try to wiggle them around. Soon it will be night, and I can crawl into my warm, dry tent; pull of all my wet, cold gear; snuggle into my sleeping bag and listen to the rain—my favorite part of the day.

I love it out here, where the loons call and the fish leap, where the lakes are each unique and the colors are always beautiful. I love the small little spruce trees all huddled together in the rain, the big tall aspen trees arching over the hillsides, and the pretty birch trees swaying in the wind. The sounds, the smells, the colors—I never want to leave.

 The Swan Lake and Swanson River canoe routes are located in the northern lowlands of the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, a 1.92-million-acre wildlife preserve located on the Kenai Peninsula of Alaska. The refuge was established in 1941 to conserve the fish, wildlife, and habitats of the Kenai Peninsula in their natural diversity, as well as to provide opportunities for fish and wildlife-oriented recreation. The canoe routes are in nationally designated wilderness.

The 120 miles of lakes and water trails comprise one of only two wilderness canoe systems established in the country. The Swanson River Canoe Route links 40 small lakes on the northern Kenai Peninsula, and also includes a 46-mile stretch of the Swanson River.

I have been canoeing in these lakes since I was too small to hold a paddle. If I'm quiet, I can see common loons and trumpeter swans, or watch fish under the water occasionally coming up to grab insects running delicately on the surface. The seaweed and algae are reminiscent of childhood science projects in the pond behind our house. Seeing such a rich ecosystem reminds me of all the natural places existing all the time just beyond my presence. There is something ageless and truly peaceful about these lakes.

I would highly recommend a visit if you’re ever lucky enough to find yourself in the area. If not, find somewhere near where you live to get away from human activity and observe a new kind of ecosystem. Remind yourself of how other living creatures interact and coexist. This is a good reminder to us all not to live too much within our own technological sphere and to realize how much our actions affect other living things within our area. 

Thursday, 25 June 2015 00:00

Marin County is famous for being almost 80 percent open space, in blatant contradiction to the built-up cityscape and housing frenzy of the neighboring San Francisco.

I live in Oakland, which is (perhaps surprisingly) home to some of the best county parks in California, but when the flowers began to bloom I decided to head for Marin.  

The sky there is a nearly-indigo shade of blue, making everything else seem somehow saturated with color, uncanny in its loveliness. It’s the kind of sky that makes everything happening beneath it seem like, at any moment, a character from A Midsummer Night’s Dream might come scampering by with a wreath of flowers and a Fitbit. 

Armed with only my phone’s camera, which has rarely before or since produced a photo that doesn’t look like a crime scene analysts’ blooper reel, I struck out with my friends to see the rocks and the ocean. 

We ended up lingering at the community garden next to a bakery in Occidental, which falls in the West.  

 

 

The plants were blooming, flaunting their colors, and looking around reminded me of why – even when it’s inconvenient or irritatingly Califlakean – it’s worth it to keep nature closer than behind a chain-link fence.  

Thursday, 14 July 2016 00:00

About 75 miles north of Tampa on Florida’s Nature Coast sits the little town of Homosassa, embraced by its natural surroundings. It boasts clear water and a laid-back pace; even manatees love it here. They can be seen feeding among the mangrove islands where the Homosassa River meets the bay, as well as farther up the river in the clear, temperate springs. 

Homosassa sits on the northern boundary of the Chassahowitzka National Wildlife Refuge, which has more than 31,000 acres of marshes, bays, and mangroves. It offers protected habitat for waterfowl, reptiles, and mammals (both land and sea). 

The best way to experience “the Chaz” is by a small boat, canoe, or kayak. There is a launch on Mason Creek in Homosassa, but others are available in the refuge. The waters are generally shallow, only 2–3 feet in most places, and calm. Low tide reveals oyster bars and the mangrove roots that act as nurseries for myriad species of fish. On our recent trip through Chassahowitzka, two dolphins provided us an escort as we left the refuge, swimming deftly beneath and beside the bow of the boat. 

Florida is not all beaches and high-rise condos. The Nature Coast and Homosassa offer a pleasant respite where nature is still abundant.

Save

Tuesday, 07 June 2016 00:00

I was born and raised in Georgia, and never traveled outside the Southeast as a child. As an adult, I've been to the West Coast and even Europe, but only recently did I venture above the Mason-Dixon to discover the beauty of Michigan.

Northern Michigan is an exhibition of nature's simplest pleasures. Peering through the window of our cabin in the woods, I watched chipmunks fill their cheeks with birdseed, and turkeys chase bugs through the field.

Avery Lake

Within a few miles of the cabin were several natural lakes. The most impressive site I had the opportunity to visit was Avery Lake, a 350-acre oasis near Albert Township. The water is unbelievably clear in this spring-fed lake. In the shallows, I could see water lilies climbing toward the sun from the sand below. As I floated away from the shore, I watched large fish swim between the fallen trees and stumps.

Avery Lake

A dark swath divides the lake where the water is far too deep to see the bottom. On either side of the dark blue line are sandbars that appear aquamarine in the sunlight. The islands provide havens for birds of many species. Several orioles darted and dove overheard. Bull frogs called to one another in the grass along the shore. A trail meanders around the edge of the lake where the beavers have trimmed more than a few trees. Houses sit along one side, unobtrusively overseeing the water, while a state forest campground occupies another. A bubbling artesian well can be found near the boat ramp.

The abundant wildlife and peaceful wilderness of Northern Michigan will draw me back there, and the mesmerizingly clear water of Avery Lake will be waiting.

Avery Lake

Save

Wednesday, 10 August 2016 00:00

Our first attempt at the Stairway to Heaven: Pochuck Valley to Pinwheel Vista did not go as planned. While the beginning of the day was friendly enough for hiking, as you can probably see from the pictures, a storm was coming in by the time we actually drove out to the trail.

There isn’t much of the Appalachian Trail that runs through New Jersey, but the portion that does includes some really beautiful views. The terrain can be moderately challenging, but overall it is very well maintained, a fact owed in no small part to the popularity of the trail and the dedication of the volunteers.

To give a very brief history of the Appalachian Trail, it was originally conceived of by Benton MacKaye, who introduced the idea to the public in 1921. The footpath itself was not completed until 1937, after a number of other parties became involved in the project, including Judge Arthur Perkins and Myron H. Avery. The trail did not gain federal protection until 1968, when President Johnson signed the National Trails System Act into law. The trail celebrated its 90th birthday in 2015.

Like many, I have always aspired to hike the entirety of the trail, and maybe I will at some point. In the meantime, I am happy to enjoy the parts of the trail that are easily accessible to me. I’m hoping that, barring another storm, our second attempt at the Stairway to Heaven this year will yield more enchanting pictures of the vista.

 

Monday, 20 March 2017 00:00

Greetings, readers! As much as I love writing about the environment and sustainable topics, it can be tricky coming up with new things to write about. So I searched the internet in hopes of finding some green and inspiring news. Luck was on my side, as I discovered a company that can print houses with a 3D printer. Talk about innovation!

Apis Cor is the first company to create a mobile 3D printer capable of printing entire buildings onsite. According to their website, they can print affordable, eco-friendly houses in a single day that can last up to 175 years. Nikita Chen-yun-tai, the inventor of the mobile 3D printer and founder of Apis Cor, wants to start printing homes all over the world, even in Antarctica if necessary.

After printing their first house, Apis Cor is eager to even get started building on Mars. Chen-yun-tai wants to change the construction industry globally, including what people think of that industry.

“We want to globally change public views that construction can’t be fast, eco-friendly, efficient, and reliable all at the same time,” states Chen-yun-tai.

I’m hopeful that this is a technology that doesn’t backfire, but rather catches on, inspiring more people to create buildings and houses with the simple push of a button.