Monday, July 30, 2012

Green Getaways–The New Bedford Whaling Museum

DSC_0045If you’re headed to New England this summer and you’d like to learn a little something about sustainable fisheries and whales, a visit to the New Bedford Whaling Museum is definitely in order!  I know, when you're thinking green getaways, whaling doesn't often come to mind, but this museum is very informative and really tells a very honest story of the history and impacts of whaling.  The museum, which is over 100 years old, sits next to the New Bedfordnewengland22 Whaling National Historic Park.  It’s filled with many exhibits on the local area and the history of whaling in the area.  The museum also includes fascinating displays giving information on various whale species (I especially like the comparison between a t-rex tooth and a whale tooth) and the impacts of overfishing and depletion of natural resources.  The museum has the world’s largest library of whaling logbooks, the world’s largest collection of scrimshaw (unbelievably detailed work!), and the world’s largest model ship, the Lagoda, a half-scale whale ship built in 1916.  Many of the exhibits are hands-on, which always makes a museum visit more fun.  A fascinating and honest look at the whaling industry, the New Bedford Whaling Museum is worth a visit!

Saturday, July 28, 2012

No Frackin’ Way!

frack5Well, it was toasty out there on the Capitol lawn and large protests are not this greenmomster’s favorite way of voicing my opinion, but joining the crowd at the anti-fracking rally (sponsored by environmental groups like the Sierra Club, frack12the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, and the Natural Resources Defense Council), was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon.  If you want to know why our family joined the cause, check out the Stop the Frack Attack post; we felt that, despite the fact that we’re not a family that loves to chant in the streets (OK, maybe sometimes…), some causes are important enough to get out of your comfort zone.  The rally followed several days of lobbying on Capitol Hill, and included speakers from around the country, representing activist groups large and small.  After the rally, the crowd of several thousand marched into town to gather in front of the offices of the America’s Natural Gas Alliance and the American Petroleum Institute.   Let’s hope our voices were heard!  I’ve included a few photos from the day – as you can see, the greenmomsters were well represented!









Friday, July 27, 2012

Meat Free Friday–Corn Dogs!

This week just a quick plug for a product we love.  In the summer, one of my favorite things to do is go to the fair – next week is our county’s annual 4H fair.  A guilty pleasure is the not-healthy fair food!  But when you really want corn dogs and don’t eat meat, what’s a greenmomster to do?  Try Morningstar Farms corn dogs (photo from – always a hit, and very easy to make if you’ve had a busy day of summertime activities and are a little too tired to cook.  I wasn’t paid for this post – just thought I’d share a great find!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Feathered Friends Can Help You Sell Your House!

In a 2011 article in the journal Urban Ecosystems, researchers reported that there may be a link between a slight increase in house values and robust bird species diversity.  In the article, authors compared homes that were similar in sale price, size, lotDSC_0046 size, and age in 17 neighborhoods in Lubbock TX.  After surveying for various bird species, the authors found that homes surrounded by areas where less common birds are found sold for about $30,000 more than homes without these types of birds.  I found this study to be fascinating and a great demonstration of something most of us greenmomsters already know – it’s pleasant to live in areas with lots of green spaces and wildlife.  I’d love to see the same question asked regarding butterflies – would there be a correlation between less common butterflies and housing prices?  My one question for the authors is (it’s a question that probably crossed the minds of other greenmomsters), did you consider school districts when comparing various homes?

To read this article, see:  Farmer, M.C., M.C. Wallace, and M. Shiroya.  2011.  Bird diversity indicates ecological value in urban home prices.  Urban Ecosystems doi:  10.1007/s11252-011-0209-0.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Kauai Cave Spider–Endangered Species of the Week

The Kauai Cave wolf spider (Adelocosa anops), also known as pe’e pe’e maka ‘ole in Hawaiian (from Earth’s Endangered Creatures) is found in only three caves on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.   Like other wolf spiders, the Kauai Cave wolf spider doesn’t build a web to capture prey; it relies on speed and chases down its prey.  Like all other spiders, it is venomous; it has three teeth for biting it’s prey.  What’s really amazing about this hunting style is the fact that these spiders don’t have eyes (from Animal Aqua)!  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Species Action Plan, the main threats to the spider are alteration of the caves and surrounding vegetation, non-native predators, and pesticide run-off. 

So really, who cares?  It’s just one little spider in a few caves in Hawaii.  The answer is:   when we protect these little spiders, we help ourselves.  If pesticides from agriculture are bringing these spiders near extinction, there’s a pretty good chance those pesticides in water run-off are also affecting human populations.  It’s in our best interest to clean up the water – the spiders win and humans win!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Planning a beach vacation?

Before your kids dive into that ocean surf, check out this very helpful report from the NRDC regarding the health of beaches nationwide.  You can find out whether your favorite beach has posted warnings, frequently exceeded safety standards for bacteria levels, or received a 5-star rating last year.edisto13   I already checked out our favorite beach!

Friday, July 20, 2012

Meat-Free Friday -- Buffalo Mac!

This dish is a HUGE hit at our house!  We now have to double the recipe to have enough for everyone.  It's adapted from a recipe in Family Circle Magazine.


1 lb rotini
1 package Quorn chick'n tenders
1 tsp celery seed
2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp salt
2 tblsp olive oil
2 celery ribs, sliced
3 tsp jar garlic
4 tblsp butter
3 tblsp all-purpose flour
2 tsp dry mustard
2 1/2 cups skim milk
1/2 cup buffalo wing sauce (I like Wing-Time Medium Buffalo Wing Sauce)
8 oz. sharp cheddar, shredded
3/4 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I like Progresso Italian Style Bread Crumbs)


1)  Cook pasta to al dente.
2)  Defrost chick'n tenders and season with celery seed, 1 tsp paprika, and salt.
3)  Heat oil over medium heat in a skillet and brown chick'n tenders.  Add celery and saute for about 4 minutes.  Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes.  Remove chick'n from skillet.
4)  In a saucepan, melt 3 tblsp of butter and sprinkle in flour and mustard powder, whisking for 2 minutes.  Add milk and buffalo wing sauce, stirring constantly until the mixture boils.  Reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in cheddar and remaining tsp of paprika.
5)  Add pasta, celery, garlic and chicken to the milk mixture and put in a square 9x9 pan.
6)  Heat broiler to 450 degrees.  Melt the remaining tblsp of butter and stir in bread crumbs.  Sprinkle over dish and broil 2-3 minutes, until browned.
7)  Serve with blue cheese as a garnish.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I like to move it, move it!

This week’s endangered species is actually a whole group of species – the lemur.  Last summer, my kids and I visited the Duke Lemur Center in Durham NC – what a great place!  We saw many different types of lemurs (even the nocturnal ones), and learned about their habitat in Madagascar.  DSC_0014According to the National Zoo’s fact sheet on lemurs and the Arkive website, there are 103 species of lemurs on Madagascar, ranging in size from 1 oz. to 15 pounds and 4 feet tall!  Like all primates, lemurs have hands that can grasp and binocular vision, but their sense of smell is much stronger than most primates.  Lemurs do have tails, but they’re used for balancing, rather than grasping (the tails are not prehensile).  Fascinating research is currently being conducted at Duke University to see how these primates think – can they count?  can they work with abstract mathematical concepts? do they like to gamble?  Watch the video below to see what research is being done.

Unfortunately, these fascinating creatures are severely endangered.  The IUCN/SSC Primate Specialist Group lists 5 lemur species in its report of the 25 of the most endangered primates in the world – Greater Bamboo Lemur (Prolemur simus), the Gray-Headed Lemur (Eulemur cinereiceps), the Sclater’s Lemur (Eulemur flavifrons), the Northern Sportive Lemur (Lepilemur septentrionalis), and the Silky Sifaka (Propithecus candidus).  91% of all lemur species are listed as endangered by the IUCN.  The primary threats to lemurs are habitat loss and hunting.  Additionally, Madagascar has been politically unstable since a coup in March 2009, which leads to a lack of enforcement of wildlife laws.  According to Russell Mittermeier of Conservation International, the new government of Madagascar is not recognized by any other government and much international aid has been pulled from the country.  USAID currently provides only humanitarian aid.

It wouldn’t just be lemurs benefitting from protection of their habitat.  As stated by Mittermeier, protected areas or “reserves are important not just for Madagascar’s biodiversity; they are essential for the long-term well-being of its people. The vast majority of the ecosystem services benefiting Madagascar’s human population derive from these protected areas. These services include water from forested watersheds, pollination, maintenance of productive soils, fibers, building materials, plant foods from the forest and carbon sequestration.”

So what’s a greenmomster to do, in order to help the lemurs?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Fish Tales

During our recent visit to Block Island, RI, our friend Thom took us clamming!  No one in the family had ever tried this activity before, so we really enjoyed the adventure.  First step, was getting a license to gather clams.  We paid our money and received small metalnewengland59 rectangles with which we had to measure our clams.  If the clam fit through, we had to bury it back in the sand; if it didn’t fit, we could keep it.  We explained to the kids how this was a way to ensure that there would be clams in Block Island the next time we visited.

When it comes to fishing, sustainability is an important topic.   You’ve probably read about many depleted fisheries and types of fish that you shouldn’t order at a restaurant.  Scientists spend much time trying to calculate the number of fish that can be taken from a population without causing the population to decline or crash.  Managers also work to decrease bycatch (non-target species inadvertently caught) and to forge international agreements (think Tragedy of the Commons by Garrett Hardin). 

But if you’re a greenmomster who’s not out clamming, how can you help these fisheries scientists and managers?  You can help by carefully researching your fish purchases.  Each time you avoid purchasing fish from non-sustainable fisheries, you’re helping the environment.  Check out the Monterey Bay Aquarium website or NOAA’s FishWatch website.  Both websites have background information on sustainable fisheries and instructions on how you can make eco-friendly fish choices.  Next time your family is hankerin’ for a fish fry or a little pasta with clam sauce, you’ll know you made a sustainable choice! 

Want to learn more about the impact of sustainable fisheries?  Check out this informative video on coral reefs from World Resources Institute:

Friday, July 13, 2012

Meat Free Friday–a new twist on tabouleh!

This week’s recipe is a new twist on an old favorite from my neighbor Abby, scientist extraordinaire and new mom!  As any green momster (or soccer mom or hockey mom) knows, meal prep time is of the essence.  Abby shows us a way to jazz up the old box-mix tabouleh into a heftier dish that canpanthersmay19photo26 serve as a main dish.  Thanks Abby!

1 box of your favorite tabouleh dry mix
2 tblsp olive oil
1 to 2 tsp maple syrup (to taste)
1 cup shredded carrot
1 cup fine chopped tomato
1 15 oz can of white navy beans
juice from 2 small lemons
salt and pepper to taste

1)  Prepare the tabouleh as instructed
2)  Add all remaining ingredients to the mix

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

5 Reasons to save the Delmarva Fox Squirrel

This week’s endangered species is the Delmarva Fox Squirrel (Sciurus niger cinereus)(photo from  For those folks not in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, “Delmarva” is the peninsula that runs along the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay;  the Delmarva fox squirrel was historically found all along the Delmarva peninsula.  According to the species recovery plan, it’s now down to just 10% of its historical population (it was listed as federally endangered in 1967).  It is currently found in eight counties on the Eastern Shore of Maryland (all but Cecil) and Sussex County, Delaware and Accomack County, Virginia (from U.S. FWS Species Profile).  What’s causing the decline of this species?  I know I’m sounding like a broken record in these endangered species posts, but once again, the main culprit seems to be habitat fragmentation and loss. 

DFS vs. Grey Quirrel.  USFWS photo.According to the Chesapeake Bay Field Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the fox squirrel likes to live in old growth hardwood and pine forests, eating nuts or mature green pine cones.  During the spring, these squirrels add a little variety to their diets in the form of buds, flowers, fungi, seeds, and even insects.  Delmarva fox squirrels prefer to live in dens in hollowed-out trees, but will build nests in the branches of trees, much like the more familiar gray squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis).   Delmarva fox squirrels breed in the late winter and early spring; after a 44 day gestation, they give birth to a litter of up to 6 squirrels between February and April.

Here are 5 reasons to save the Delmarva Fox Squirrel:

1)  By preserving the forests on which these squirrels depend, we’re also helping many other, less charismatic but equally important, species

2)  The Delmarva fox squirrel population seems to be responding positively to reintroduction attempts (see MD DNR update) – there’s hope!

3)  Species such as the Delmarva fox squirrel, that move and eat seeds and nuts, help to maintain forest ecosystem health and reproduction

4)  Research indicates that these squirrels can survive in a landscape managed for agriculture and sustainable timber harvest

5)  Oh my gosh, how cute are these little guys?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

5 Reasons to Love Hemlock Overlook

On the last day of school, my son’s fifth grade class visited Hemlock Overlook Regional Center (aka Camp Hemlock), a Northern Virginia Regional Park with a unique program.  The park is an outdoor education center that teaches about the ecosystems found inDSC_0027 northern VA, but it adds a little adventure into the experience.  Kids begin their visit with team building exercises (like trying to get an entire team of people across the imaginary swamp, as seen in the photo at right), or walking a team across a series of low wires.  They walk through the woods (something some of the kids rarely, if ever, get to do), learning not to purposely snap tree branches or squish bugs (again, new info for some of the kids).  They reach the “peanut-butter pit”, where they learn a little Civil War history and swing across a mud-pit.  Our group topped off the day with an exciting tight-rope walk and zip line that challenged even the most fearless in our group.
DSC_0053This park’s unique combination of challenges, sports, and nature was especially effective in reaching ALL the kids, not just those predisposed to interest in nature.  Even an accidental run-in with a wasp’s nest that got the two chaperones (yes, the greenmomster was one of them) and one unfortunate student couldn’t dampen our spirits!  What a great idea for environmental education!
So here are my five reasons to love Hemlock Overlook:
1)  Combining physical and mental learning for a memorable experience (and zip lines!)
2) A beautiful forest setting in busy northern Virginia (and zip lines!)
3) Very patient and experienced adult guides (and zip lines!)
4) Watching even the most timid kids swing over the mud pit (and zip lines!)
5)  Getting the kids away from the classroom and into nature for a day (did I mention the zip lines?)

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Join the Frack Attack Rally

On July 28, 2012, I’m going to be joining many other concerned citizens (as well as leaders from the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council) to march on Washington, D.C., at the Stop the Frack Attack Rally.  I hope that if you’re in the area you’ll also considerStop the Frack Attack lending your voice to this important cause.  Here’s some information about the rally and the underlying issue – you’ll want to do a little homework before deciding whether or not to participate.

What is “fracking"?  Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is a means of removing natural gas deposits from underground.  According to the BBC, fracking is “[t]he process of drilling down and creating tiny explosions to shatter and crack hard shale rocks to release the gas inside. Water, sand and chemicals are injected into the rock at high pressure which allows the gas to flow out to the head of the well. The process is carried out vertically or, more commonly, by drilling horizontally to the rock layer. The process can create new pathways to release gas or can be used to extend existing channels.”

Why is fracking controversial?   Fracking is controversial for a few reasons: 

  • First, after a well is fracked, the “flow back water”, or wastewater that returns to the surface is often contaminated with various chemicals, some are known carcinogens.  Treatment and storage of this water is of concern to people involved in water protection; they want to ensure proper treatment and no accidental releases to surface water. 
  • Second, there is some controversy regarding the cement casings that line the wells; safety standards must be set to prevent contamination of groundwater (see Wilderness Society for more information regarding this practice on public lands). 
  • Finally, many citizens are concerned about the lack of regulatory oversight of hydraulic fracturing.  The Energy Policy Act of 2005 (Pub.L 109-58) includes a loophole, often called the Haliburton loophole (section 322 of the act), which removes EPA’s oversight under the Safe Drinking Water Act of this industry’s underground reinjection of water used in hydraulic fracturing.   As requested by Congress, U.S. EPA is currently studying the effects of fracking on drinking water resources (the report is due in late 2012).  Other federal environmental laws that include some exemptions for the oil and gas industry (most were passed long before 2012), as outlined by the Environmental Working Group, include the Clean Air Act, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA).

If you have a little time, be sure to watch the Academy award nominated documentary on this topic, Gasland (I found it on Netflix).  The information comes quickly, and some of it is controversial, but the movie will give you a good overview of one side of the issue.  After you’ve viewed the documentary, be sure to read America’s Natural Gas Alliance’s (ANGA) rebuttal to the film.  Then follow up with Fox’s rebuttal to ANGA’s response.   And if all this he-said/she-said is getting to you, read the New York Times groundtruthing article of the Gasland film.

My expertise is not in energy production, rather it’s in natural resource issues, but I’ve read enough about the issue to decide that it’s time to get involved.  Here’s why I’m going to the rally:  I believe the old adage about the uselessness of closing the barn door after the horse is gone.  Hydraulic fracturing has the potential to do irreversible damage to our water supply.  I believe that the research regarding all the impacts of this industry should be done BEFORE drilling starts.  I believe that this industry should be subject to ALL of our environmental laws and regulations – those laws and regulations were put in place to protect the public.  And finally, I believe the U.S. should be looking for new, innovative, and clean energy sources.

Anyone planning to join me at the rally?

Friday, July 6, 2012

A Block Island Endangered Species

Since I just returned from a fun-filled vacation to MA and Block Island, RI, this week’s endangered species is the American Burying Beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) (photo from the SD Field Office of the FWS).  This nocturnal, orange and black beetle is the largest of the 32 species of burying beetles found in North America, usually 1 to 1.5 inches.  Talk about a unique lifestyle!  Here’s how the Center for Biological Diversity describes how the beetles mate and protect their young (activities that occur from April to September, but mostly in June and July, according to the NY Department of Environmental Conservation):  The American burying beetle is “uniquely dependant upon quail-size carrion weighing 100-200 grams [1, 15]. Males smell freshly dead mammals and birds (and occasionally even fish) within an hour of death and up to two miles away. Females arrive shortly thereafter, attracted by male pheromones. A competition ensues and is typically won by the largest male and female. Lying on their backs, the winning couple inches into an excavated burial chamber. During this time, orange phoretic mites borne by the beetles leap to the carcass, cleaning it of fly eggs and microbes. The buried carcass is relieved of its feathers, feet, tail, ears and/or fur. Now known as a "brood ball," it is coated with oral and anal embalming secretions to retard fungal and bacterial growth. The beetles then mate and within 24 hours lay eggs in the soil near the carcass. White grubs emerge three or four days later and are carried to the carcass. The parents also defend the grubs from predators and feed them regurgitated food. The American burying beetle is one of the few non-colonial insects in the world to practice dual parenting. In approximately a week, the grubs leave the chamber and pupate into adults.”  So cool!

The American burying beetle used to be found from Nova Scotia, through the midwest, and down to Florida and Texas.   Unfortunately, the population has declined by 90% from its historical distribution.  Scientists hypothesize that species decline is due to habitat loss and fragmentation, leading to a decline of the beetle’s carrion source. 

So what does this have to do with Block Island, RI?  Well it turns out that Block Island is the home to the only population of American burying beetles east of the Mississippi river.  These beetles can be found at Block Island National Wildlife Refuge, along with other endangered species, such as the piping plover, and the largest gull colony in Rhode Island.  We didn’t see any of the beetles while we visited the island, but maybe we’ll see them next time!


[1] U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 1991. American burying beetle (Nicrophorus americanus) recovery plan. Newton Corner, MA.

[15] Stevens, J. 2005. Conservation of the American burying beetle. CommuniQue, September, 2005:9-10.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Meat Free Friday–Flag Cake

Meat Free Friday is coming a couple days early this week, just in case you’d like to make this flag cake for July 4th (the recipe is adapted from one found in the Kraft Kitchens cookbook).  Quick note:  this recipe is not 100% vegetarian, since it uses Jello.

1 qt strawberries (3 cups cut in half, 1 cup sliced)
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 6 oz. package and 1 3 oz. package of red flavor Jello (strawberry, cherry, etc)
ice cubes
1 cup cold water
1 pound cake, cut into 10 slices
1 1/3 cup blueberries
whipped cream (you can use homemade or frozen)

1)  Stir the boiling water into Jello in a large bowl for at least two minutes, until completely dissolved.  Add enough ice cubes to cold water to measure 2 cups.  Add this cold water to the Jello and stir until ice is melted.  Refrigerate until slightly thickened (about 5 minutes, until the liquid is the consistency of egg whites)
2)  Line the bottom of a 13x9 inch pan with cake slices.  Add sliced strawberries and 1 cup of the blueberries to the thickened Jello and stir gently.  Spoon over the cake slices.
3)  Refrigerate for 4 hours or until firm.  Spread the whipped cream over the Jello/cake mixture.  Arrange the strawberry halves like stripes on the flag, and the blueberries like stars.  Let the kids help – it doesn’t have to be perfect!

Happy 4th of July!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Book Review–Unbowed by Wangari Maathai

I just got back from a vacation up to New England (it was great!), and my “vacation book” was Unbowed, by Wangari Maathai.  Not your usual light summer read, but definitely a book worth reading.  Wangari Maathai was born in Kenya in 1940, founded the Green BeltUnbowed: A Memoir Movement, and, in 2004, became the first African woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.  This memoir recounts her early childhood in Kenya during colonial times, her studies in the U.S., and her return to Kenya.  We learn how Maathai started and developed the Green Belt Movement, which was a network of rural women who grew and planted trees throughout Kenya (over 40 million trees according to the book).  The reader also follows her journey through the political landscape of Kenya as democracy developed.  Written in a very matter-of-fact tone, this memoir is not exactly an edge-of-your-seat thriller, but the reader’s  patience pays off.  As Maathai calmly describes the many ups and downs of her personal journey, the reader gets a detailed look at the sacrifices this remarkable woman made for the country and environment she loved.