Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Leap Day!

eyes on youDSC_0074It’s Leap Day, which of course makes me think of one of my favorite animals – frogs!  With over 80 species of frogs and toads in North America and over 4,000 species worldwide (from the TN government website and Peterson Field Guide for Reptiles and Amphibians), this is a big group of animals.  Frogs are amphibians, which means that they have moist, glandular skin and their toes don’t have claws.  Here are some more fun facts about frogs and toads:
  • Frogs lay their eggs in water; they begin their lives with an aquatic tadpole stage with gills and metamorphose into adults with lungs.
  • Frogs don’t have ribcages, so they breath by a “swallowing” action that forces air into the lungs of adult frogs; oxygen can also be absorbed through the frog’s thin, moist skin.
  • Hundreds of millions of years ago, amphibians were the first vertebrates to live on land (National Zoo).
  • More than 75% of the world’s frogs and toads live in tropical rainforests (National Zoo), but they can also be found in the Arctic Circle and in deserts (Rick Emmer).
  • Frogs and toads are ectotherms, which means that they don’t make their own heat to keep warm.  Their body temperature fluctuates with the environment in which they’re found.
  • Frogs hibernate in the winter – if they’re aquatic frogs, they hibernate near the surface of the water or near water in mud; if they’re terrestrial frogs they can bury themselves in mud, find cracks in logs, or just hide in leaf litter (Rick Emmer).
  • Frogs (as well as other amphibians and reptiles) don’t freeze to death in the winter, because they have anti-freeze (or molecules called cryoprotectants) in their cells!  Specific chemicals prevent the critical cells from freezing, so that the frog can revive as temperatures increase in spring.
  • In my neck of the woods (the mid-Atlantic U.S.), the first frog we’ll hear calling is the spring peeper (Pseudacris crucifer).  These little guys can come out when it’s still pretty chilly – I’ve been out on spring peeper walks wearing a heavy winter jacket!
  • You can identify frogs and toads by their vocalizations, just like birds!
two frogs

Unfortunately, many frogs are in danger of extinction worldwide.  One-third of all frog species are in danger of extinction due to a fungus commonly called the chytrid fungus (Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis).  Habitat loss is an even bigger problem for frogs and other amphibians.  Often, frogs are viewed as the “canary in a coalmine” when it comes to the health of various ecosystems.  When we start losing frogs, scientists recommend that we really start paying attention.

So what’s a greenmomster to do?  Locally, be sure to protect frog habitat; the areas where frogs live are often sensitive areas that affect the quality of water.  Is there a new road or housing project being put into your neighborhood?  Have the builders checked for the presence of frogs and other amphibians?  Get busy – maybe this is your chance to “speak for the trees!”  You can also join Frogwatch USA and help with citizen science to keep track of local frogs.  Got a lawn?  Check out the FWS Homeowner’s Guide to Protecting Frogs – it’s a great guide for reducing use of pesticides and herbicides that can harm frogs.  Globally, consider supporting organizations involved in frog protection – Amphibian Rescue and Conservation Project (for frogs in Panama), Amphibian Ark, or you can even adopt a frog at the World Wildlife Fund.  So many options to help – luckily we’ve got an extra day this year to work on it!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

International Polar Bear Day!

Polar Bear Update -- February 27 was International Polar Bear Day!  In celebration of this special day, check out the following:

  • Why should we care about endangered species, including polar bears, anyway?  Read my post on the topic.
  • The new all-Siku, all-the-time (sort of) web cam!
  • Polar Bears International with info on things you can do to help save polar bears  Siku at 72 days

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Book Review– The Non-Toxic Avenger

The Non-Toxic Avenger, by Deanna Duke, is the fascinating story of one woman’s attempt to find out how significant our exposure is to “everyday” toxins.  Spurred on by her husband’s diagnosis with multiple myeloma and her son’s diagnosis with Asperger’s Image: front coversyndrome, Deanna Duke decided to take a look at toxins and determine whether it’s possible, or even desirable, to remove every toxin exposure from one’s everyday life.

The author begins by discussing the reasons for this project – her husband and son’s diagnoses, and her newly acquired knowledge that many chemicals which she believed were regulated by government agencies were not.  Her plan for the project is pretty simple.  She’ll get tested (both blood and urine tests) for specific chemicals found in our man-made environment, try to remove as many toxin exposures as possible over several months, and then get retested.  The first question is, does her daily life lead to any abnormally high toxic loads?  The second question is, can she reduce these loads by reducing exposure?  The third question is, can she live with the changes necessary to reduce the toxins?

The author leaves no stone unturned as she addresses the very high levels of various phthalates and parabens in her system.  She looks at exposures from food, indoor and outdoor air, clothing coatings (to reduce flammability), all the way to yoga mats, hula hoops, and Halloween costumes.  Did she succeed in reducing her exposure?  You’ll have to read the book to find out!

The book is well-written with many humorous anecdotes.  Ms. Duke is definitely not anti-science and is willing to say when changes are simply not doable in her life.  The information on the lack of regulation regarding various chemicals, and the differences between the European and U.S. regulations was quite informative.  I must admit, I felt a little like a troll as I read about her attempts to find the right cosmetics and hair dyes (I’m obviously not keeping up in the beauty department).  And there were definitely times when I wanted more numbers – Ms. Duke often states that exposure to various chemicals can lead to birth defects, nervous disorders, etc., but I wanted the numbers for the exposure levels.  She does provide substantial footnoting for the reader desiring more detail.

The Non-Toxic Avenger is definitely worth reading – one woman’s adventure into reducing toxic loads.  You’ll come away from this book much more conscious of your everyday choices, from soaps to shampoos even to Halloween costumes.

Anyone else read any interesting environmental books lately?

Friday, February 24, 2012

Meat-free Friday–Green Chile Stew

Billy Joel might be in a New York state of mind, and James Taylor has Carolina on his mind, but I’m thinking about New Mexico today – easily one of my favorite places.  Here’s a recipe for green chile69790002 stew from Family Circle magazine that I’ve altered (rather significantly) to taste just the way I like it.  I hope it takes you to New Mexico in your mind!


6 cups vegetable broth
1 jar tomatillo salsa (I like Frontera)
1 large green pepper, diced
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
3 heaping tablespoons of minced garlic
2 tsp cumin
3, 4 oz. cans of hot diced green chilis (I like Hatch)
1 tsp salt
2 12 oz. packages of Quorn Chick’n Tenders
2 15.5 oz cans of butter beans, drained and rinsed (use 3 cans if you want really thick stew, rather than soup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
sour cream, scallions


1) In a large pot, saute onion, green pepper, and garlic in olive oil to slightly soften the peppers -- don't let the onions become transparent.  Add veggie broth, salsa, cumin, chilis, and salt. Add in quorn nuggets and simmer on low heat for at least 1/2 hour.
2) Stir in beans and cilantro.
697900013) Garnish with sour cream and scallions, if desired.  Serve with Phil's corn bread 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lent, the environment, and Jerry Garcia

DSC_0024Well, we’ve stuffed ourselves full of pancakes, the shroves have returned to their nesting sites for another year, the king cake is eaten, and we’re cleaning up the beads.  What’s next for Lent?  It’s time to think green!  Even New Orleans is going green for Mardi Gras and recycling several tons of the Mardi Gras beads.  Although I’m not a big fan of giving things up for lent (we prefer to DO things for lent, like have each of our neighbors to dinner or volunteer somewhere), I can see a role for sacrifice this season.  I propose we give something up for the environment for Lent.  God created this big blue marble; we’re part of the creation and responsible for protecting it.  Here are some ideas:
  • Give up use of disposable bags.  For the next 6 weeks, try bringing your own bags everywhere that you’re usually offered a plastic bag – the grocery store, department stores, drugstores.
  • Give up meat for two meals per week for Lent.  Let’s kick it up a notch and try going beyond the ol’ “no meat on Friday.” 
  • Give up those disposable bottles of water for Lent.  Start carrying your own water in a reuseable bottle – it’ll save you money and keep plastic out of the landfill.
  • Give up one household cleaning product with toxic ingredients.  Try switching your dishwasher soap to one without chlorine – I like Seventh Generation dishwasher gel, no scent, phosphates, or chlorine.  Or maybe an environmentally-friendly laundry detergent?  I like Whole Foods or Seventh Generation products
  • Give up one car ride per week.  Is there somewhere that you’re driving, where you could walk once a week?  Give up that ride and you may also be giving up a couple of pounds!OR bridge bikes
  • Give up a patch of grass on your lawn.  Plant a native flower butterfly garden or an organic vegetable garden.
  • Give up one degree of heat in your house (frankly, this would be the toughest one for me).  Use a little less energy this Lent by letting your house be one degree cooler.
  • Give up 15 minutes each week to write your state or federal representatives about an environmental issue that you care about.  Do a little research and send off a quick e-mail or letter to voice your opinion.
  • Give up the winter raspberries.  Try to buy most, if not all, of your fruits and vegetables in season for the next 6 weeks.  Asparagus is almost ready and the leeks are looking good! 
  • Give up rinsing your dishes before putting them in the dishwasher .  This is an easy choice for the lazy green momster in all of us.
  • Give up disposable napkins.  Invest in cloth napkins or washcloths and use them at meals instead of disposable napkins.
  • Give up junk mail.  Sign up with Catalog Choice to limit the catalogs you receive in the mail.
  • Give up the long showers.  Try to conserve water and energy by taking shorter showers (ok, maybe this one would be the hardest for me….)
  • Give up a little cash and buy one new organic vegetable per week.  Organics benefit you and the environment by keeping pesticides and herbicides out of the environment.
  • Give up a day to volunteer for the environment.  State and local parks and other environmental groups are always looking for help.
  • Give up your old way of thinking and try to think outside the box on environmental issues.  What can you do to protect the planet?  Come up with a great idea!  At one point in their history, the Grateful Dead actually got involved in rainforest protection.  When asked why they were doing it, Jerry Garcia answered, “Somebody has to do something, it’s just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”  Some days, I agree with Jerry, but during this time of Lent, I believe God is saying that it does have to be us.  So let’s get busy givin’ it up!DSC_0039  Hippity, hoppity, Easter’s on its way!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy Presidents Day!

I had a great idea for a Presidents Day post – top 10 green presidents!  Then I found out that someone had already written about the top 10 green presidents.   Since this blog is about environmental awareness, including saving energy (if only we had listened to Jimmy Carter….), I’m going to save some of my own energy and send you to the DailyGreen’s top 10 list.  Enjoy the holiday!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Meat-free Friday -- Burrito Casserole

Burrito Casserole
photo from Family Circle 

This recipe is adapted from a recipe I found in Family Circle Magazine.

Burrito Casserole

2 cups uncooked brown rice
1 jar red salsa -- use one you think is really tasty
1 15oz. can refried beans -- I like Whole Foods 365 Refried Black Beans
1 10 oz. package frozen corn (you can thaw it, but I don't)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp red chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 cups shredded taco cheese blend
1 16 oz. package of frozen spinach (you can thaw it, but I don't)
3 tblsp chopped cilantro

1)  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 13 x 8 baking pan with olive oil spray.
2)  Cook rice.
3)  In a large bowl, combine rice, salsa, and oregano.
4)  In another large bowl, combine the refried beans, corn, chile powder, and cumin.
5)  Now it's time to make the layers.  Spread half the rice mixture in the bottom of the baking pan.  Spread the refried beans mixture and half the cheese over the rice.  Then spread the spinach over the cheese.  Top with the remaining rice mixture and cheese.
6)  Bake for approximately 35 minutes and sprinkle with cilantro before serving.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

That New Car Smell

As a follow-up to my post on the Washington Car Show and the new "greener" cars, you may want to check out this new report on the chemicals that give your car that "new car smell."  The Ecology Center posted the results of its 2012 study of car interior chemicals on the Healthy Stuff website.  If you're in the market for a new car, or if you'd like to minimize your exposure to chemicals in your old car, check out these sites.

Now if I could get rid of that old banana smell in my car....

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Cotton – the fabric of our lives?

Today, I’m thinking about my favorite article of clothing – the t-shirt.  What other piece of clothing can you wear to bed, wear to work out, make into a dress, and wear to work (if you work at home like this green momster)?  I love t-shirts -- big, baggy t-shirts.  I’ve always loved t-shirts, from the t-shirt I had in 8th grade with a St. Bernard dog on it that said, “don’t eat yellow snow!”, to my honeymoon souvenir t-shirt covered in lizards that says “all gecked out and nowhere to go,” to my current favorite 4-H fair t-shirt designed by my son.  Yes, I’ve always been a snappy dresser.

So I’m thinking about t-shirts, which gets me thinking about cotton.  The biggest producers of cotton in the world are the U.S., China, Pakistan, and Australia.  Texas is the biggest state producer of cotton and was hard hit by last year’s drought.  Cotton requires a relatively long, hot growing season and fertile soil with lots of nitrogen.  The other thing that cotton needs is a way to fight off insect predators, and that’s where we get into some environmental trouble.  Up to 15% of a cotton crop can be lost to insects.  In the past, the response of cotton growers has been pesticides and fertilizers. 

According to Mother Earth News and the Organic Trade Association, 25% of the world’s insecticide use goes to cotton crops alone.  Three of the most acutely hazardous insecticides, according to the World Health Organization, are 3 of the top ten insecticides used for cotton production.  These pesticides can make their way into soil and water supplies, affecting the health of workers in the cotton fields and anyone else who lives in the area.  Pesticide exposure can lead to birth defects, reproductive disorders, nervous disorders, and weaker immune systems.  The arrival of Bt cotton, or cotton with the insecticide inside the plant, has added to the impact of this crop on native, beneficial insects.  Additionally, excess use of nitrogen fertilizer to supplement the soil leads to runoff into local water sources. The result of this runoff can be eutrophication and dead zones where there isn’t enough oxygen for fish and other aquatic life to survive (check out how this happens in the Chesapeake Bay).

To make 1 cotton t-shirt, it takes roughly 1/3 of a pound of insecticides and fertilizers.  Wow, read that again.  So what’s a consumer to do?   Organic cotton is one option.  It’s more expensive than regular cotton, because it costs more to make sure growing cotton doesn’t have so many environmental “side-effects.”  One disadvantage of organic cotton is the increased area needed for cultivation (some of the crop will be lost to insects).  But the advantages greatly outweigh the disadvantages – less pesticide exposure, cleaner water, and better working conditions for farm laborers.  And if you’re into “buying American,” the U.S. is the 6th largest producer of organic cotton.  For more information on organic cotton (how it’s grown, the producers, etc.), check out Organic Cotton.

Coming down the pipe are some selective breeding programs to develop naturally insect-resistant cotton crops, as well as colored cotton, which reduce the need for pesticides and dyes.  Sally Fox is the innovator of this new type of organically grown cotton.

Sally Fox–organic, colored cotton
Let’s say organic cotton isn’t an option for you.  Another way to lessen the impact of the cotton you buy, is by buying locally grown and produced cotton product.  Often, cotton grown in the U.S. is shipped overseas to be made into t-shirts and jeans.  The fossil fuels used to ship cotton around the world for production adds greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  Are there any locally produced options (organic or conventionally grown)?  In North Carolina, there’s a cotton production system that ships less than 700 miles from field to t-shirt.  Check out the information on Cotton of the Carolinas.

Cotton of the Carolinas
Living on the west coast of the U.S.?  Check out what’s going on with the Sustainable Cotton Project.

So now you’re saying, “But it’s too expensive and difficult to buy organic or locally produced t-shirts every time my child needs new clothes.”  Fair enough.  Then consider every frugal green momster’s favorite option – check out second-hand stores for kids’ clothes, so that those cotton products get one more chance and new clothes don’t have to be produced.

So here’s my plan:  I’m going to hold on to my old t-shirts, jeans, and cotton blankets, but when it’s time to replace them, I’m going to search out the organic or locally grown option.  Will I be able to afford to go organic every time?  Probably not.  But every little bit helps (be the hummingbird!)  I already bought an organic cotton blanket from Pottery Barn, and I was very pleased with the product.  Patagonia, a major sportswear producer, has pledged to only use organic cotton in its products.

Oh, and if you’re wondering how to work your old jeans into the “reduce, reuse, recycle” ethic and you thought Daisy Dukes were your only option, check this out: – recycled cotton insulation!

Anybody else have ideas for low-impact cotton?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Meat-free Friday–Spicy Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew

This recipe comes from Thom Mistele (see his interview in Treehouse Chats), who got it from Cooking Light, May 2010. (photo from Cooking Light)
Spicy Ethiopian Red Lentil Stew
Berbere spice can be ordered online from MySpiceSage. (Thom got his order in under 48 hours.)
Ingredients:2 tsp canola oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 Tbsp minced ginger
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 Tbsp tomato paste
1 ½ Tbsp Berbere spice
3 cups organic vegetable broth
1 cup red lentils, dried
¼ tsp salt

Directions:1. Heat oil in large Dutch oven or stock pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook 15 minutes until tender, stirring occasionally.
2. Add ginger and garlic; cook 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
3. Stir in tomato paste and Berbere spice; cook 1 minute, stirring to combine.
4. Gradually add broth, stirring with a whisk until blended. Bring to a simmer.
5. Rinse lentils under cold water and drain. Add lentils to the broth mixture and simmer, partially covered, until lentils are tender, about 35 minutes. Stir occasionally. Stir in salt and remove from heat.
6. Serve over basmati rice and sprinkle with chopped fresh cilantro.

Yield: 4 servings (1 cup per serving).

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Happy Valentines Day!

It’s almost time for Valentines Day, and for many of us, that means flowers and chocolate.  I love having flowers brighten my mid-winter house, but I’ve been wondering whether there’s an eco-friendly flower option for my husband as he shops (not so subtle hint, hint).   I came across an excellent article on thethirsty rose topic in a 2009 issue of  Scientific American.  To summarize, don’t assume that all imported flowers are less “green” than other flowers; sometimes the lighting and heating required in the greenhouses in more northern climates easily outweighs the shipping necessary from more tropical flower fields.  A few other tips from the writers of the article (and me):
  • check out organically grown flowers
  • look into other sustainable growers, such as Florverde
  • try locally grown flowers; here in northern VA, I often buy locally grown tulips from Whole Foods.
  • roses are very difficult to ship; think about selecting heartier breeds that are easier (less energy demanding) to ship, like bird of paradise, ginger, or lilies
  • try field-grown flowers in season, like dahlia, sunflower, or larkspur
  • try something totally different and give a plant that can be replanted in the garden.  If you’re in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, try native plants that look great in winter.
If you’re really interested in the topic of flowers, a good read that’s on my future reading list is Flower Confidential: The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful in the Business of Flowers by Amy Stewart. 
Just a few ideas to make Valentines Day green – all of the romance, none of the guilt!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Treehouse Chats

Thom Mistele (back left) w/ greenmomster's gang
Actors have The Actor’s Studio, the Redskins have the Redskins Report, and politicians have Meet the Press.  Now the greenmomster’s got Treehouse Chats, a once-a-month introduction to someone working or volunteering in the environmental field.  First up, my good friend Thom Mistele!  Thom and I went to college (College of William and Mary, where he got a BS in Biology) and grad school together (Master of Environmental Management).  Then Thom decided to get an additional MBA at UNC-Chapel Hill.  He’s been teaching people about the environment since our school days, and I think you’ll find his ideas and attitude as inspiring as I do!
What is your current job and what do you like best about it?
I am a science teacher at a large, regional (i.e. rural) public high school in western New Jersey. I teach biology (all levels except A.P.) and A.P. Environmental Science.
I do not have one thing about the job that I like; I have several. Here's the list that comes to mind today:
  • I love the energy that the kids have and the humor that they bring to school every day. They may not bring their homework, and they can be frustrating at times, but the kids here make me laugh every day. One day, I was laughing so hard that I could not speak, and tears were running down my face. Those kids still remind me that they made a teacher cry - and it was five years ago!
  • I love knowing that I have a job that makes a difference in the lives of my students. My students don't have to like biology, and several arrive specifically not liking it. But by the end of the course, I count as victories the feedback I get, such as "This didn't suck" or "I never thought about ___ like that before." At the A.P. level, I try to get feedback from former students after one and two years of college. Most appreciate the vast scope of our A.P. curriculum (after the fact) and rattle off how many of their college courses, both science and easy (i.e. contain references to materials we studied together in high school.
  • I love that I have a job that allows me to continually learn new things. The field of biology changes all the time, so I get to try to keep on top of all the changes. Emphasis is on "try."
What is your favorite activity outside of work? (green or not green)
My favorite activity outside of work is birding, as it affords me plenty of time outdoors and involves other passions, like hiking and photography.  My county's Parks & Recreation Department has a very active birding program with monthly trips to NJ/NY/PA bird hotspots.   I can spend hours at home watching the feeders in my backyard, especially during and after a snow storm. 
Do you do any environmental volunteering outside of work?
I help the county maintain/monitor bluebird nesting boxes by doing an annual winter clean-out of the boxes, recording of species using the boxes by nest type, and minor maintenance.  
Favorite environmental book?
I hate picking favorites.  Here are a few I have enjoyed in recent years and assigned to my A.P. students:
  • Hot, Flat, and Crowded by Thomas Friedman
  • Unbowed by Wangari Maathai
  • The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba
  • The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan
What place most inspires you to keep working for the environment?
I love our National Park system, and my goal is to visit each of the "major" parks (50+) and many of the National Monuments (some of which are huge).  When I am in these parks, I am inspired by the work being done by the rangers, educators, and other professionals to teach people about our natural heritage.   Last summer, I spent three weeks in Alaska, my jaw dropping many times at the sheer scope and beauty of that state and its amazing wildlife.  I have similar feelings for Grand Teton National Park  and the Colorado National Monument. 
One green tip for blog readers?
My students sometimes get down about all the negative case studies, news articles, and problems associated with environmental science that I teach them.  So I tell them what I am going to tell you - don't lose heart.  The news media bombard us with stories of environmental disasters, "environment-last" politics and  legislation, vanishing black rhinos, and gender-bending fish and amphibians.  But there are success stories out there, waiting to be written by people like us (like the Green Momster!).  So don't lose heart.  Speak your mind, vote your conscience, make a difference in countless small ways.  Help that turtle across the road, teach your kids about the amazing migration of monarch butterflies, buy something locally-produced or certified as fair-trade, ride your bike, recycle, pick up litter -- all these things are important, even more so when you do them with a friend or your family. 

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Vroom! Vroom! What’s new and green at the auto show?

a truly zero emission vehicle
I spent Friday afternoon at the Washington Auto Show.  Not exactly the native habitat for the green momster, but my oldest son got straight As this quarter, so a celebratory afternoon of playing hooky and checking out cars (pure joy for a 13-year old boy) was definitely in order!
The beloved landship (from
We spent the afternoon inspecting concept cars, sitting in the latest models, drinking smoothies, talking to abnormally good-looking salespeople, and learning about all the latest technology.  Unfortunately, the car companies haven’t done much in the way of gas mileage.  Most of the regular cars still have gas mileage rivaling that of the ‘71 Pontiac Catalina landship that I learned to drive on.  

The greenest thing you can do as a car-owner is to continue driving your well-maintained old car, as opposed to getting a new car, because of the many resources needed to build a new car.  But if you’re in the market for a new car, here are a few of the greener technologies we saw:
  • The old standby, the diesel engine.  Much better mileage than a gasoline-powered engine, but increased particulate emissions.
  • Plug-in, battery-powered cars.  It takes between 4 and 8 hours to charge the car (depending on the source of the charge) and a fully charged car can run for about 100 miles.  Some of the models include the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, and anything by the Coda car company.  Not the most practical car for the green momster, who can easily cover 100 miles between hockey practice, 4H dog training, work, and grocery shopping, but these cars may be good options for folks with less driving to do.  Also a great option if your home’s energy is produced using renewable sources, rather than coal.
  • Hybrid plug-ins that allow you to use the plug-in battery or gasoline – extending the distance that can be travelled on a charge and a tank of gas for some cars to nearly 500 miles.  Again, a great option if your home’s energy is produced from renewable sources.  The Chevy Volt is one of these cars.
  • Hybrid electrics that have been around for a while, like the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, Ford Fusion, and Hyundai Sonata.  Several of my neighbors have these cars, and they really like them.  Frankly, I was surprised at the gas mileage listed for many of these models – I thought they’d all be well over 40 mpg on the highway.
Many of these cars are more expensive than the traditional models, but federal and state rebates can help to lower the cost.

Some of our favorite cars at the car show included the Rolls Royce (no hybrid option available), the Dodge Charger Super Bee (with the “Fuel Saver Technology” this model shuts down to a 4 cylinder, giving you a whopping 23 miles per gallon highway!), the mini-coopers (not my favorite, but my 6’2” husband likes them for some reason), and anything with pretty, sparkly green paint, a huge sun roof, and a conveniently placed cup holder for my ever-present can of Coke  (those would be my favorites, not my son’s).

It seems that the car companies are eager to sell the green label.  Everyone is claiming to make a green product that’s going to be the car of the future.  Some companies are planting trees, others are developing lower emission cars.  Buyers need to examine the options and determine which is the greenest, most practical option for their lifestyles.  The trend seems to be in the right direction, but we’ve still got a long way to go.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Meat-free Friday -- Cauliflower and Cheese Soup

This one's a perfect soup for snowy February -- cheesy, warm, and filling!

1 cup chopped scallions
2 tbsp olive oil
6 cups vegetable broth
1/4 cup flour
one medium head of cauliflower (broken into small, bite-size pieces)
1 1/2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
1/4 cup roasted red peppers
1/4 tsp red pepper

1.  Heat the oil in a saucepan and saute the onion about 3 minutes until tender
2.  Add 5 cups vegetable broth and bring to boiling.  Lower the heat, add the cauliflower, and cook until cauliflower is tender.
3.  Whisk together 1 cup vegetable broth and flour.  Add to saucepan.
4.  Stir in remaining ingredients and cook until cheese is melted.

Recipe makes just enough for our family of 5, served with bread and two vegetable sides.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Happy World Wetlands Day!

biking through the wetlands in Chincoteague VA
Biking through the wetlands in Chincoteague VA
February 2nd is World Wetlands Day!  And you just thought it was Groundhog Day.  Well, although the wetlands folks aren't quite as famous as the Punxsatawney gang, they're just as enthusiastic!  On February 2, 1971, countries from around the world signed the International Convention on Wetlands, the mission of which was “the conservation and wise use of all wetlands through local, regional and national actions and international cooperation, as a contribution towards achieving sustainable development throughout the world."  A wetland is a transitional zone between shallow water and upland habitats.  Wetlands can be tidal or non-tidal, and they can be emergent (picture a wetland near a beach), shrub (picture Huntley Meadows here in northern VA), or forested (picture that plot of forest that lies pretty low and frequently has muddy areas).  Land managers use three different indicators to figure out if an area is a wetland.  First they look for signs of “hydrology,” or signs that water has gone through the area – things like streams or creeks, trees with buttressed trunks, or debris in low-hanging branches.  Second, they look for specific types of soil that tell them that the soil is often flooded.  And finally, they look for plants that like to have “wet feet.”
Cattails at Huntley Meadows
So why do we care about wetlands?  Wetlands provide an incredibly important ecosystem service – they clean water!  After water has run through a wetland, cleaner water is delivered downstream.  Thus, if the rain that hit your local street and mixed with all of the oil and other schmutz found on the road, wetlands will help clean the water before it continues downstream.  Reason #2, wetlands act like giant sponges, absorbing water after rainfall, to prevent flooding downstream.  And besides pollution and flood control, wetlands are rich in biodiversity.  They provide spawning areas and nurseries for fish, flyways for migrating birds, and food and cover for mammals such as muskrats (and groundhogs too, for those die-hard Punxsatawney fans).
Happy World Wetlands Day -- let’s appreciate our wetlands and strive to protect this valuable natural resource!