Sunday, September 30, 2012

Going Nutty for National Public Lands Day

IMG_0015Yesterday was a gorgeous fall day in northern Virginia!  Since it was National Public Lands Day (NPLD), my family joined 170,000 other nationwide volunteers and headed out to do our part.  We volunteered at Sky Meadows State Park in DelapIMG_0005lane VA.  When we arrived at the park, we were greeted by the ever cheerful Christa Kermode, Volunteer and Special Events Coordinator Extraordinaire, who gave us our instructions – we would be makin’ like squirrels, collecting nuts and acorns!  We wouldn’t be storing the nuts for the winter; rather, the nuts and acorns are grown into seedlings and then distributed for planting throughout Virginia.  Christa gave us a descriptive sheet which showed the different types of trees, nuts, and acorns for which we should look.  Off we went!  The hike through forest, under the canopy of orange and green leaves, was relaxing and fun – just what we needed after a full week of school, work, and extracurricular activities.  Nothing wrong with an active life, but sometimes it’s nice to just stop and smell the flowers, or should I say, collect the nuts. 

The forest was generous and we collected bags full of black walnuts and acorns from chestnut oaks and pin oaks.  Soon, these little seeds will help to reforest areas of Virginia.  When we look at a seedling in the next couple of IMG_0016years, we’ll be wondering if it came from one of our little acorns!IMG_0014

Friday, September 28, 2012

Meat-free Friday–Jaska's Gazpacho!

What to do with those last tomatoes in your garden?  Here’s a great gazpacho recipe from my mother-in-law, perfect for a September Friday – enjoy!

2 stale rolls or 3 pieces or bread pre-cooked in a little water
1 thick slice onion
1/2 green pepper
1/2 cucumber, peeled
1 clove garlic
3 or 4 peeled red tomatoes or canned tomatoes
2 tblsp wine vinegar
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

1)  Put first 5 ingredients in a blender and add tomatoes to the top.  Add remaining ingredients and blend until smooth.
2)  Chill in refrigerator several hours, until icy cold.
3)  Serve topped with croutons, chopped tomatoes, cucumber, and onion.  You can also add a dash of curry or chili powder to vary the flavor.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Regal Monarchs!

So you planted your milkweed in the spring and waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Well it’s finally here – it’s monarch migration time!  All those monarch butterflies who benefitted from your milkweed planting (they’re the only plants on which mosammybutterflynarchs lay eggs, and the cardiac glycosides in the plants are what make monarchs poisonous to birds) are now headed south. (Photo credit Jorja Feldman)

The monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus) is a fascinating creature.  In the eastern half of the U.S. (there’s also a western population) we watch all summer as the monarch leaves its wintering grounds in the Mexican mountains and begins a migration north to the Great Lakes and New England and then south again toward Mexico.  What makes this migration especially fascinating is the fact that it isn’t just one individual doing the migrating – it’s a series of 4 to 5 adult butterflies conducting a relay! 

Monarchs are currently threatened in several ways:   development both in the U.S. and in their wintering grounds in Mexico; GMO crops that could affect the butterflies; roadside management using herbicides which kill plants including those needed by the monarchs.  There are several ways you can learn more about monarchs and help them on their journey:

  • Create a Monarch Waystation!  Plant LOTS of milkweed and nectar plants in your yard.  It’ll provide habitat where female monarchs can lay eggs.
  • Try tagging monarchs!  It’s a fun way to learn more about the monarchs and their migration.
  • Read about the migration!  Four Wings and a Prayer, by Sue Halpern is a great book about the migration.
  • Support Monarch Watch!  This organization helps to educate the public, support research, and protect the habitat of monarch butterflies.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Answer your stinging questions about West Nile virus and mosquitos!

We hear about West Nile virus a lot in the news lately, because early fall is when infection is most common.  West Nile is a virus carried by mosquitos – the mosquito bites an infected bird and then, when it bites a human, the disease is spread.  The disease was first Crows are one of the birds in whom West Nile virus replicates very quickly; researchers think if people can introduce more birds who don't foster the disease in that way, it wouldn't spread as effectively.identified in 1937 in Uganda, and was first noticed in the U.S. in New York in 1999.  While you might think the spread of West Nile virus is purely a public health issue, it also has implications for our environment.  Many jurisdictions are beginning to spray for mosquitos in order to prevent the spread of West Nile virus.  A few interesting facts about mosquitos and West Nile disease:
  • Mosquitos are actually nectar-feeders; only females feed on blood to support reproduction.
  • Adult female mosquitos usually live 2 weeks to 1 month; males last about a week.
  • Mosquitos have been known to fly up to 3 miles, with the help of the wind.
  • Several different species of mosquito can carry West Nile virus.
  • 4 out of 5 people infected with West Nile virus will show no symptoms; 1 out of every 150 infected people will develop severe infection which is sometimes deadly.
So how do we prevent West Nile?  We’ve got options.  Some aren’t so eco-friendly: 
  • Spray Baby Spray! Permethrin is a common pesticide (alters nerve function by changing the nerve membrane sodium channels) sprayed to kill adult mosquitos. It is also highly toxic to bees.
Some are eco-friendly:
  • Dump that water!  One of the best ways to prevent West Nile infection is to eliminate mosquito breeding areas.  From the CDC:  “Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water from flower pots, buckets and barrels. Change the water in pet dishes and replace the water in bird baths weekly. Drill holes in tire swings so water drains out. Keep children's wading pools empty and on their sides when they aren't being used.”  Remember, mosquitos only need about 1 tablespoon of water to breed.
  • Fashion-forward!  Long sleeves and long pants help to reduce mosquito bites, as does bug repellent.  It used to be that you could avoid being outside during dawn and dusk and you’d avoid mosquitos, but many of the mosquitos that carry West Nile fly during the day
  • Increase bird biodiversity!  A recent study, reported on NPR, has shown that increased bird biodiversity can actually decrease the occurrence of the disease.  So keep planting those native plants and welcoming birds to your yard!
Anyone else have eco-friendly suggestions for avoiding mosquitos and West Nile?
CDC Webpage, Division of Vector Born Diseases.  West Nile Virus.  2012.  Last updated 9/18/2012.  Accessed 9/24/2012.
EPA Website.  Permethrin RED Fact Sheet.  Last Updated June 2006.  Accessed 9/24/12.
National Center for Biotechnology Information website.  2012.  Pubmed Health.  Accessed 9/24/12.
New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.  West Nile virus webpage.  2012.  Accessed 9/24/12.
WAMU 88.5 Website.  2012.  Bird biodiversity could be key to stopping West Nile.  Accessed 9/24/12. (photo is also from this website)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

God Loves Elephants

A few weeks ago, our endangered species of the week was the African Elephant.  As a follow-up to that post, I’d like to point you in the direction of the latest issue of National Geographic magazine.  In the October 2012 issue of National Geographic, Bryan Christy (with photos from Brent Stirton) has written a fascinating and depressing article about the international market for ivory.  He helps us to see the link between religion (both Buddhist and Christian) and the killing of endangered elephants for their ivory.  Over two years, he travelled to the Philippines, Thailand, and China to unearth an international smuggling problem where people demonstrate their devotion to God by slaughtering one of His most fascinating and complex creatures for their body parts.  Definitely a must read for anyone interested in elephant protection and preservation. 

A few interesting facts from the article:

  • Poachers have been known to kill 50 to 300 elephants at once.
  • Of the elephants that died in the region in 2011, 84% of the deaths in western Africa were due to poaching.  In central Africa, poaching accounted for 90% of elephant deaths in 2011; in eastern Africa, the figure was 59% in the same time period.  A region’s elephant population is most likely in decline if this fraction is greater than 50%.
  • In 1989, President George H.W. Bush led the U.S. to a unilateral ban of ivory imports.  If you see ivory, don’t buy it.
  • It’s not just elephants who are dying – in the first half of 2012, 6 park rangers in Kenya died while protecting elephants; 23 poachers also died in the same time period.

Want to support elephants?  Never buy ivory or ivory products.  Check out the Save the Elephants button in the left column of this post.

If you’re interested in other types of international wildlife smuggling, check out these two books: 



Source:  Christy, B.  2012.  Ivory Worship in National Geographic Magazine.  October 2012.  pp. 28-61.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Cat Eco-Warrior!

Earlier this summer, I wrote about the importance of buying fish from sustainably managed fisheries.  Well, it turns out that a grocery store chain in Canada is joining the party!  Check out its hilarious cat eco-warrior commercial and be sure to keep those kitties indoors!

Meat-free Friday–Mushroom Risotto!

I just tried this recipe last night, and it was a winner with the entire family!  The original recipe came from the October 2012 issue of Family Circle Magazine (photo from Home Décor Trend), but I’ve made several changes.  Enjoy!

Green Mushroom Lamp
4 cups or 32 oz vegetable broth
4 tblsp olive oil
1 tblsp white truffel oil (optional)
1 onion, chopped
1 package Smart Sausage Italian style soysage, chopped into small pieces
3/4 lb mixed mushrooms, sliced
2 1/2 cups arborio rice
1 cup red wine (I used Merlot)
28 oz can diced tomatoes, drained
1 tsp black pepper (more if you like spicier)
1 5 oz bag baby spinach
shredded Italian blend or Parmesan cheese

1)  In a large bowl, combine vegetable broth and 2 cups water
2)  Heat the oil in a large pot.  Add onion and cook for about 3 minutes.  Add soysage and mushrooms and cook for another 3 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3)  Stir in rice and cook for about 1 minute.  Add wine and cook until the liquid has evaporated.
4)  Add about 1 cup of the broth/water mixture.  Stir until the liquid is gone.  Add another cup of broth/water.  Stir until liquid is gone.  Repeat until all liquid is gone and the rice is tender. (Takes about 1/2 hour)
5)  Stir in tomatoes and pepper to taste.  Add spinach and stir until it has wilted.
6)  Serve risotto with cheese garnish.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something!

In case you haven’t yet “liked” us on facebook (  here’s the latest issue of “Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something!”  This week, Joylette Portlock is debunking 5 common myths related to climate change.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

To fleece or not to fleece!

I found this discussion on the pros and cons of fleece in the September/October 2012 issue of Sierra.   It’s a terrific example of the trade-offs and choices we need to make daily.  Remembering that the results of all of our actions flow outward like water rings in a pond, Greenmomsters have to decide what works for them and then make decisions based on the available scientific information.  The process can be frustrating at times, but it’s our responsibility to think about our impact on the environment.  There won’t always be clear-cut answers, but if you’re giving these issues some thought, you’re part of the solution!  To fleece or not to fleece, that’s the question for you to answer!

The following article and image are from Sierra (September/October 2012, p. 20, article by Dashka Slater):


Ah, fleece--it's insulating, it's quick drying, and it can be made of recycled materials, plus it gives even prickly environmentalists a soft, pettable exterior. Vegans like it because it doesn't come from animals, backpackers like it because it can weigh less than wool, and tree huggers like it because it gives old pop bottles something to do. Patagonia, which began making polyester fleece garments from recycled plastic soda bottles in 1993, estimates that in its first 13 years of turning garbage into garments, it diverted 86 million soda bottles from landfills.


Every time you wash that cuddly fleece jacket, tiny plastic particles trickle down the drain and into the ocean. A study published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology found that a single polyester garment can shed more than 1,900 fibers on its trip through the washing machine. Those fibers sail through sewage treatment plants and settle along coastlines. When researchers sifted through sand collected from 18 beaches on six continents, they found acrylic and polyester fibers in every sample. The fibers get eaten by mollusks and then move up the food chain with potentially toxic results.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Defending the Dhole!

The Greenmomster loves dogs, so this week’s endangered species is a favorite -- the dhole (Cuon alpinus), a species of wild dog found in Southeast Asia.  These small (about the size of a border collie), endangered dogs live in large social packs.  Because they hunt in packs, they can eat large prey, such as dholesambars,  a species of deer (Rusa unicolor), or even wild boar!   The dhole is an unusual dog for several reasons – it has unique vocalizations, including whistling (which it uses to reassemble the pack) and clucking; it can leap vertically in the air up to 7.5 feet; it has one less molar on its lower jaw than other dogs.   The dhole is usually found in forested areas, but can also be found in the steppes. 

The main threat to this species’ survival is habitat loss.  Scientists are working hard to figure out which areas are suitable for dhole survival and may be eligible for preservation.  A team of Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute researchers recently completed a 2 year camera tracking study of the dholes, as well as a study of 4 years of data to determine which areas suit the dholes best.  It turns out, dholes don’t like to live above 1,650 feet and they also like to be near those sambars.

Sources:  Dhole Home Page, produced by Leon S. Durbin (accessed 9/12) and “Dhole Discovery” in Smithsonian Zoogoer, July/August 2012 (photo from Smithsonian).

Friday, September 14, 2012

Meat-free Friday–Gangnam style!

OK, I’m taking a break from my new favorite dance to share the meat-free Friday recipe.  In honor of the newest dance craze, today I’m sharing a Korean dish – Kimchi!  This recipe comes 100% from Cooking Light magazine, March 2003, via

  • 14 cups coarsely chopped napa cabbage (about 2 pounds)
  • 3 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons sambal oelek or Thai chile paste
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic $
  • 2 teaspoons dark sesame oil
  1. Place cabbage and salt in a large bowl, tossing gently to combine. Weigh down cabbage with another bowl. Let stand at room temperature 3 hours, tossing occasionally. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain and squeeze dry.
  2. Combine cabbage, sesame seeds, and remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.

Back to dancing!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

We adopted a stream–the continuing story!

As reported earlier this summer, we got our stream!  It’s a pretty part of Eudora Park in Fairfax County, VA.  Our stream is a section of the headwaters of Difficult Run, which eventually makes its way into the Potomac River and even farther downstream, the foskmarch20124Chesapeake Bay.  The summer count had to be completed in June, July, or August, so off we headed on August 31 to make our first count!  We walked down the W&O bike path to an opening in the woods where we could approach the stream.  Things looked good – the water was flowing, the plants looked healthy, not a lot of litter.  Unfortunately, things aren’t always as they seem.  We dipped our net and did the little mud dance 4 times and only found 21 invertebrates!  Wow!  The stream monitoring guidelines say you’re supposed to find at least 200 invertebrates.  It turns out, our section of the stream is near the headwaters, which are areas that are very easy to develop around and OVER!  It’s more difficult to bury the middle of a stream, but the very beginnings of a stream can be affected and destroyed by development of homes and offices in the surrounding area. 

Many of us have moved to the suburbs because they’re pleasant places to live.  It’s important to remember that greenmomsters in the suburbs need to be just as vigilant about environmental damage as our compatriots in the rural and urban areas.  The types of homes we buy and build, the type of transportation we use, and what we put on our lawns really matters.  Did you know that the average Chesapeake Bay home owner uses more insecticide and fertilizer on his or her lawn, acre for acre, than an average Chesapeake Bay farmer?  Standing in our lifeless little stream, these facts ran through my head and became things that make you go “hmmmm.”

My family will head back out to our stream in November, hoping that this month was just a fluke.  Keep your fingers crossed, and we’ll report back soon!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Thinking about our energy!

Here’s the latest “Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something” video.  This week’s topic:  subsidies!  Enjoy!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Greenmomster at the movies–The Big Year

While on vacation, we rented The Big Year  – what a great surprise!  “The Big Year” is a birding term – birders spend an entire year trying to see as many different species of bird as they can in North America (excluding Mexico) in one year.  This movie is about two birding enthusiasts (Steve Martin and Jack Black) trying to beat the current record holder (Owen Wilson).  Not only did my family and I learn a little something about the birding world (I’m more of a butterfly wackadoo myself), but we were thoroughly entertained, wondering how the year would end!  Both Steve Martin and Jack Black’s characters are more subdued than you’re probably used to seeing from these two actors, but in this case change was good!  Rating this movie on entertainment value (high) and the greenmomster’s other two criteria (a movie should never be more than 90 minutes, and talking animals are always a plus), this movie scored big!  At only 1 hour and 40 minutes they kept it pithy.  No talking animals, but hey, the entire movie centered around birds.  Appropriate for the entire family, The Big Year is definitely worth a rental!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Fun in Vienna VA Next Weekend!

If you ‘re going to be in Vienna VA next weekend, be sure to check out the Native Plant Sale and Vienna Home and Garden Tour – Focus on Sustainabilityimage

The plant sale will be held in the Community Center parking lot (120 Cherry St SE) on Saturday, 9/15 – rain or shine.  There will be a large selection of native plants for the fall planting season at great prices! Native plants are easy to care for, consume less water, and many are deer resistant. Fall is a great time to plant, as there is less heat stress for your new plants. To protect your trunk and to reduce the use of new plastic, please bring bags or boxes to carry your plants home.

On Sunday, be sure to check out the Vienna Home and Garden Tour -- Focus on Sustainability (from noon to 4pm).  Parking and maps will be available at the Vienna Community Center.  Visitors are encouraged to bike or walk the tour!  Your neighbors are opening their homes and gardens to you to show and discuss modifications that they have made to make Vienna a more sustainable community. Visit all or some of them to learn more about solar power generation, energy efficiency, geothermal heating and cooling,native plants and gardening with deer.  For an online list of the homes go to:

Friday, September 7, 2012

What’s better than pizza on Friday night?

This week’s meat-free Friday recipe comes to us from Barbara Kingsolver in her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: a Year of Food Life.    If you haven’t yet read this book, I highly recommend it.  Barbara Kingsolver is one of my favorite authors, and in this book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Book Covershe investigates the practicality of eating entirely local food for one year.  Her family agrees to try to eat locally (from local farmers, as well as their own garden produce and meat) for one year, with the exception of one or two items that each person can choose at the beginning of the year (coffee was the big exception for Kingsolver’s family; my choice would have been my BIG glass of o.j. that gets the day started).  Kingsolver is very honest about what works and what doesn’t, and she includes helpful recipes that include seasonal ingredients.  Today, we’ll be using Ms. Kingsolver’s recipe for pizza crust – top it with whatever floats your boat, bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes, and enjoy!

Friday Night Pizza

(Makes two 12-inch pizzas)

1)  Dissolve the yeast into the warm water.  Add oil and salt to the mixture.

2)  Mix the flours and knead them into the liquid mixture.

3)  Let dough rise for 30 to 40 minutes.

4)  Once the dough has risen, divide it in half and roll out two
round 12 inch pizza crusts.  Using a spatula, slide the crusts onto well-
floured pans or baking stones and spread toppings.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Carrion–it’s not just for breakfast anymore

Since September 1, 2012, was International Vulture Awareness Day, this week’s endangered species is a group of animals – the vulture!  While some species populations, like the King Vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) pictured here, DSC_0006are doing well, other species populations, like the California Condor (Gymnogyps californianus) and the Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus) are less secure.  These massive birds are nature’s waste management experts, cleaning areas of dead and rotting carcasses.  Their bodies are specially adapted for this task with their bare heads and strong beaks. 

California condors are one of the best known survival stories in conservation biology.  These spectacular birds, with wingspans of up to 10 feet, can soar as high as 15,000 feet!  In the 1970s, the population dwindled to only 2 or 3 dozen birds, and then dropped to only 10 birds in 1987.  Since the birds don’t reach sexual maturity until 6 to 8 years of age, and then they breed slowly, recovery of the species was difficult at best.  Through the persistent work of endangered species biologists, reintroduction of the birds began in 1992 and now 127 individuals live in the wild.  The Andean condor population is doing better than its California cousin, with a few thousand individuals found in the wild.  Like the California condor, it’s a slow breeder and a vital link in the food chain (info from National Geographic).  It’s probably the vulture with which you’re most familiar, because it’s the one that looks like it has a white, fur collar around its neck.

So get out there and celebrate Vulture Awareness Day – without scavengers our world would be A LOT messier!

This image shows a Parsi Tower of Silence, circa 1955, near Mumbai, India. The bodies of the dead are left here to be disposed of by vultures.Want to learn more about the role of vultures in humans’ lives?  Check out this fascinating NPR story about India’s vanishing vultures and India’s Parsis.  (photo from, showing a Parsi Tower of Silence, circa 1955, near Mumbai, India)

Fun with Fuel Efficiency!

It’s time again for Joylette Portlock’s next installment of “Don’t Just Sit There, Do Something!” This week she talks about the proposed fuel efficiency standards for cars (yay!) If you’d like to do a little background reading on why we should care about these standards, check out my post on our Apollo Moment.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

A green hint from Heloise!

I was reading the paper the other day and happened upon a terrific “hint from Heloise” – your kids’ old crayons (made of petroleum-based wax) can be recycled!  Rather than letting tons of crayons end up in landfills, there’s a cool company called Crazy Crayons that recycles your old crayons and re-sells them.  Just send your old crayons, wrappers on and not enclosed in a plastic bag, to the company (Crayon Recycle Program, 2464 Unit No. 3, Steamboat Springs CO 80477) and they’ll make new crayons.  The only crayons they can’t use are the ones manufactured outside the U.S.  The company has already recycled over 81,000 lbs of crayons!  I see a great project here for classrooms, Sunday schools, or greenmomsters trying to teach about the value of recycling!

Don’t just sit there, do something–part 2

Here’s the latest video from Joylette Portlock regarding climate change facts and what you can do to address the issue:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Gifts from my brother

Throughout the years, my brother has given me many terrific and interesting gifts.  I still wear the freshwater pearl earrings proudly on special occasions.  The “Dr. Des” hat, which I received at graduation isn’t worn quite as frequently, and my “this is most certainly true” Lutheran sweatshirt is really only appropriate in South Dakota.  The Nude Beaches of the World travel guide hasn’t come in handy……yet. 

My brother surprised me with a great gift the other day – the NRSV Green Bible!  It’s a standard Bible, plus a little more.  For those of you familiar with the “red-letter edition” of the Bible, this version is a “green letter edition”.  As explained in the preface, the greenThe Green Bible letter edition is meant to “highlight the rich and varied ways the books of the Bible speak directly to how we should think and act as we confront the environmental crisis facing our planet.”  As the reader moves through the chapters, they see passages that speak directly about four main themes:

  • “how God and Jesus interact with, care for, and are intimately involved with all of creation
  • how all the elements of creation – land, water, air, plants, animals, humans – are interdependent
  • how nature responds to God
  • how we are called to care for creation”

The Bible includes essays by several faith and environmental leaders (including Desmond Tutu), and it also includes nice “Bibles hikes” or Bible studies focusing on specific themes.  The kids and I have been taking these “hikes” through the Bible, and they’re great little devotionals for starting our day.

For anyone interested in how the Bible and environmentalism fit together, or interested in “greening” his or her church, the Green Bible is definitely worth studying. 

Thanks Den-Bob!