Tuesday, December 6, 2016

I'm dreaming of a GREEN Christmas!

Happy Nikolaus Tag!  Once again we’re dreaming of a white Christmas (it's just raining in VA), but what about a green Christmas?  Four years ago, greenmomster started posting some ideas for making your Christmas celebrations a little more eco-friendly.  Here are some old and new ideas for greening up the holiday!

1)  The wrapping!  Making Christmas gifts festive and fun to unwrap is part of the fun of giving the gifts.  Even the Grinch knew that taking the wrappings might put a damper on things as he left Who-ville:  “he packed up his sled, packed it up with their presents!  The ribbons!  The wrappings! The tags! And the tinsel!  The trimmings!  The trappings!” (XMAS FUN 2012).  But then again, according to Earth911, “wrapping paper and shopping bags alone account for about 4 million tons of trash annually in the U.S.”  None of us wants to be a Grinch, so how can we green up the wrappings?
  • If you want to wrap gifts in wrapping paper, why not try recycled paper?  And follow your mom and grandma’s lead – reuse that wrapping paper!
  • You can always wrap gifts in tissue paper (I use the tissue paper that’s stuck into dry cleaned clothes), fabric, or even the comics.
  • Reuseable gift bags can be used year after year (I have some bags that have been through at least 5 Christmases).
2)  The tree!  OK, it’s the age-old debate – should we use a fresh tree?  artificial?  tree in a pot to be planted later?  A few thoughts, then you make your own decision:
  • Artificial trees – Here’s a fun fact from Earth911, “a U.S.-based toilet bowl brush manufacturer, the Addis Brush Company, created an artificial tree from brush bristles in the 1930s, acting as the prototype for modern artificial trees.”  I’ll remember that tidbit, as I relax next to my beautiful fake tree that I enjoy year after year.  Here’s the big con to artificial trees – most are made of non-recyclable, non-biodegradable metal and PVC.  Thus, when you throw them away, they’ll sit in the landfill for many generations to come.  Since my family keeps their artificial trees for decades (my mother has had her artificial tree for nearly 50 years), I’m not losing sleep over this con.  A more troublesome issue with artificial trees --  most are produced overseas and must be shipped to the U.S. – think fossil fuels and pollution in production and shipping  (Earth911 2012).  If you’ve decided on a fake tree,GoodHousekeeping has some recommendations regarding brands to try. 
  • Real trees – Most experts agree that this is the more eco-friendly option.  Over 30 million Christmas trees are sold in the U.S. each year, and 93% of those trees are recycled into mulch (Earth911 2012).  Additionally, Earth911 (2012) reports that a single farmed tree absorbs more than 1 ton of CO2 in its lifetime!  The cons?  Since Christmas trees are an agricultural product, we can expect application of pesticides, fertilizers, and herbicides, unless they’re grown organically.  Additionally, if you don’t live in an area where conifers grow naturally, add the cost of tree transport into your eco-footprint calculation (Earth911 2012).  If you do get a real tree, just say no to the plastic mesh wrapping.
  • Real LIVE trees – The most eco-friendly option.  Buy a live, potted tree, which you can keep in your house for about 1 – 1 1/2 weeks and then plant outdoors after the holidays.
3) The cards!  I come from a proud line of Christmas card senders and Christmas letter writers.  So how can we green up this annual tradition?
  • Send cards and letters online.  Friends and family can read about your adventures in the past year, and then save, print, or delete!
  • Try one of the eco-friendly card companies, using soy inks and recycled paper.  One of my favorites is Minted!
  • Send cards that support a green organization, such as the cards made by the National Wildlife Association.
4)  The gifts!  There are actually fun green gifts that don’t lead to forced smiles and insincere “thank yous!” 
  • For the animal lovers in your family!  Through many organizations, you can symbolically “adopt” an animal, and receive a plush toy, certificate of adoption, and a poster or photograph.  Young children get a toy and wildlife organizations get badly needed financial support.  Some of the programs I’ve enjoyed in the past include the Adopt a Lemur from Duke U., and World Wildlife Fund’s Species Adoptions
  • Do you have a bike?  By giving bikes to not just the kids, but also the adults in the family, you’ll be encouraging the option of green transportation for local trips (plus you might lose a few of those Christmas cookie pounds!)
  • How about a new set of non-teflon coated cookware?  Have you been wanting to upgrade your cooking utensils?  By trading up for pots and pans that AREN’T coated in teflon, you’ll be reducing your family’s exposure to many harmful chemicals.
  • Got an avid gardener in the family, or do you want to become one?  Christmas is the perfect time to set someone up for a successful butterfly or vegetable garden in 2013 – garden tools, seeds, composting equipment, even rainbarrels are gifts that your family can enjoy throughout the year.  Birdfeeders and bird baths are a nice addition to any garden.  If you really want to go all out, how about beekeeping equipment?
  • Lifelong learning!  Gift certificates for classes are a waste-free gift that can be enjoyed throughout the year.  Be it cooking, archery, knitting, photography, or architecture classes – you know they’ll love it! 
  • How about a gift that lets the receiver enjoy the great outdoors?  Camping equipment was my gift at my last birthday!  Not into camping?  Think “roughing it” is a black and white TV?  Then how about binoculars or a field guide for an aspiring bird or butterfly watcher, or a camera for the budding nature photographer?
  • How about non-toxic soaps and shampoos from eco-friendly companies?  Many manufacturers now make these products, but some of my favorites are The Body ShopAveda, and the Parsonage.
  • Got someone in your family that enjoys camping or cabins?  Virginia State Parks offer gift certificates that can be used for camping, cabins, parking, and picnic shelter rentals.  Don’t live near VA?  You can always give an annual pass for national parks and federal recreational lands.  Need trip inspiration?  Check out this post on Bryce National Park.
Want more great ideas on how to green your holidays?  Check outEarthEasy’s tips for green gift giving, wrapping, and lighting.

From the greenmomster’s house to yours, we wish you a very merry and GREEN holiday season!

Earth911.  2012.  Facts About Recycling Wrapping Paper.  Accessed 11/29/12.
EarthEasty.  2012.  How to have a ‘green’ Christmas.  Accessed 11/29/12.http://eartheasy.com/give_sustainchristmas.htm
GoodHousekeeping.  2012.  Getting an Artificial Christmas Tree!  Choose This Type.  You’ll save resources and reduce risk of toxins.  Accessed 11/29/12.  http://www.thedailygreen.com/going-green/tips/artificial-christmas-trees-buy-american
XMAS FUN.  2012.  How the Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss.  Accessed 11/29/12.http://xmasfun.com/stories/Grinch/Text.asp

Friday, December 2, 2016

Spicy Meat-free Friday!

This week’s recipe for Chickpea Curry is adapted from a recipe I found in the January/February 2013 issue of Cooking Light.   It’s easy and quick to make, and even my most finicky eaters enjoyed the dish, despite the fact that it’s got a little kick! (photo of chickpeas from plant-biology.com)

3 cups Jasmine rice
1 tblsp olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 tblsp garam masala (see below)
3 15 oz cans chickpeas, 2 with juice and 1 drained and rinsed
2 10 oz cans Rotel
1 5 oz package baby spinach
1 cup plain 2% Greek yogurt

1)  Cook rice.
2)  Heat the oil in a large pan.  Add onion and saute for about 5 minutes.
3)  Stir in garam masala.  Saute for about 1 minute.
4)  Add chickpeas, Rotel, and spinach.  Cook until the spinach wilts.
5)  Remove from heat and stir in yogurt.
6)  Serve over rice.
Note:  There are lots of ways to make garam masala, but here’s the mix I use – 5 parts ground cumin, 4 parts ground coriander, 3 parts ground black pepper, 2 parts cardamom, and 1 part ground cloves.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

So you slept through science class -- Going vegetarian!

"But how do you get your protein?" That's the most common question people ask when they hear that you're eating vegetarian, vegan, or just cutting back on meat.  This question illustrates two common misconceptions about our diets:

  • Most folks assume that they need WAY more protein in their diets than they actually do.  The Federal government's dietary guidelines recommend that an adult should have about 10% of their calories come from protein each day -- that's about 200 calories for most of us.  Examples would be 4 oz. of pork, 5 1/2 tablespoons of peanut butter, or 1 1/2 cups of black beans.  Take a look at these comparisons of what we eat and what is recommended.
  • People often assume that the only way to get protein is to eat animal products -- not true!  The molecular building blocks of protein are smaller molecules called amino acids.  There are 21 amino acids needed by your body to make protein (sources cite between 20 and 22 amino acids), and your body can manufacture all but 10 of these amino acids.  These remaining 10 are what we call "essential amino acids" -- you must acquire these amino acids through your diet.  Here's where the confusion lies -- many people think you must eat animal products to have a complete protein.  It turns out, there are plant-based ways to eat all the amino acids in one sitting.  You can eat soy-based protein, or combine certain foods, like rice and beans, to get the proper nutrition.  
Environmentally, you're encouraged to reduce meat consumption.  Whether that's a meat-free Friday, meatless Monday, going vegetarian, or going vegan, the environment thanks you.  If you do decide to go vegan, be sure to supplement with niacin and B vitamins.

Still thinking that meatless will make you weak and they'll be kicking sand in your face at the beach?  Then check out this recent article in the Chicago Tribune about elite athletes who are eating vegan diets.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Shop til you Drop!

Now that we've enjoyed Thanksgiving and thought about what we're thankful for, it's time for shopping!  Sometimes we shop for things we need, or things we've been saving up for and have wanted to a long time.  But a lot of times we buy things we didn't really need or want.  I'll admit it -- I've done it.  So let's go into this holiday buying season a little more conscious of what really makes us happy and how we can save resources along the way.  I thought this was the perfect time to show some comparisons of our spending, compiled by Miller and Spoolman in their textbook Living in the Environment (published in 2015 by Cengage Learning).  This info is compiled from the UN, the WHO, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Office of Management and Budget, Earth Policy Institute, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, and World Bank.

First, we'll look at the estimated expenditures per year needed to do the following:

  • Reforest the earth -- $6 billion
  • Protect the tropical forests -- $8 billion
  • Stabilize water tables -- $10 billion
  • Deal with global HIV/AIDS -- $10 billion
  • Restore fisheries -- $13 billion
  • Protect topsoil on cropland -- $24 billion
  • Protect biodiversity -- $31 billion
  • Provide basic health care for all -- $33 billion
  • Provide clean drinking water and sewage treatment for all -- $37 billion
Seems like a lot of money.  But here's a little comparison on expenditures per year on items we buy everyday (from the same source);
  • U.S. dog food -- $39 billion
  • U.S. potato chips and similar snacks -- $22 billion
  • U.S. cosmetics -- $8 billion
Want to see what we're spending every second?  Check out Retail in Real-Time to see what Americans are purchasing.  

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Transcript of New York Times interview with the President-elect -- your thoughts?

It's definitely worth reading this transcript of the latest NYT interview with the President-elect.  On the environmental front, there's still a lot of mis-information being stated by the President elect.  A few items to note:
  1. the scientific consensus is that climate change is occurring and it is human-caused (the President-elect states that there's still some debate),
  2. the "scientist email" scandal was debunked long ago, 
  3. the reason we're buying renewable energy equipment from other countries is because our country has not encouraged this type of development -- as long as we drag our feet on this issue, we'll continue to buy from overseas, 
  4. yes, birds do get hit by wind turbines, but the number is tiny compared to the number of birds killed by domestic cats and CHANGES IN CLIMATE, 
  5. will the Paris treaty signatories hold our feet to the fire and enforce tariffs if the U.S. pulls out? President-elect says "no", this greenmomster hopes "yes", 
  6. the President-elect wants to focus on clean air and clean water, which is great, but don't be fooled -- many climate change deniers state that CO2 shouldn't be regulated because it is not a primary human health risk; that's a red herring. We're not encouraging limits on CO2, methane, HFCs because of risk to human health (lungs). We're encouraging limits on CO2, methane, HFCs because of what happens in our atmosphere -- their heat trapping potential and persistence in the atmosphere.

I'm glad the NYT printed the actual transcript of this meeting so that we can read and analyze the discussion -- anyone else see anything interesting?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Wading in the water... again

Yesterday was coooold, but it was time for our quarterly stream monitoring!  This time, we had a great group of volunteers, led by Dan Schwartz of the Northern Virginia Water and Soil Conservation District.  The results were typical -- Difficult Run in this area isn't dead, but it's not totally healthy either.  We still need to pay attention to urban stormwater runoff, both quantity and quality.

What did we find?  LOTS of netspinners, (photo credit:  Aquatic Insect of Central VA website)

Friday, November 18, 2016

Green Enchiladas!

This week's meat-free Friday recipe is adapted from a recipe I found in the September 2016 Southern Living.  The secret ingredient is collard greens!  If you haven't cooked with collard greens before, check out the video below for more info.  Very tasty!


  • 2 tblsp butter
  • about 1 pound of chopped collard greens 
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tblsp chopped garlic from a jar (use less if it's fresh)
  • about 1/2 cup whipped cream cheese
  • 1/2 milk (I used skim)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt, to taste
  • pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1 package Quorn meatless chicken tenders, defrosted
  • 2 15 oz. cans green chile enchilada sauce
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 12 corn tortillas
  • 1 small can Hatch diced chiles -- hot
  • cilantro for topping
  1. Preheat oven to 375 F degrees and coat a 13x9 baking pan lightly with cooking spray.
  2. Melt butter in a large pot.  Add collards, onion, and garlic and cook until collards are soft -- about 15 minutes.  
  3. Stir the cream cheese, milk, sugar, salt, pepper, and 1 cup of cheese into the collard mixture.  Stir until everything is melted and mixed thoroughly.  Remove from heat and add in Quorn tenders.
  4. In a separate bowl, mix together the enchilada sauce and sour cream.  Spoon 1 cup of this mixture into your baking pan.
  5. Spread the tortillas on a plate, cover with a wet paper towel, and microwave for about 1 minute.
  6. Into each tortilla, spread a spoonful of the collard mixture.  Roll up the tortilla and put it seam side down into the baking dish.  Continue to stack the tortillas side-by-side until the baking dish is filled with your 12 tortillas.  Cover the tortillas with enchilada sauce mixture, remaining 1 cup of cheddar cheese, the Hatch chiles, and the cilantro.  
  7. Bake for about 30 minutes.

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