Monday, June 30, 2014

Caddisfly, oh my!

This winter’s cold temps and the spring’s rain prevented us from monitoring our stream over the past few months.  As June was winding down, it was time for our family to monitor our assigned stream, Difficult Run in northern VA, for invertebrates.  We danced20140622145412  ; we searched. 20140622145626 As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, our stream is still alive, but not exactly healthy.  Thanks to sedimentation and suburban runoff, the results were the same this time (officially, “unacceptable ecological condition.” ) 

One creature we did see a lot of was the caddisfly, so let’s take a closer look at these little creatures.  There are over 300 species of caddisfly in Virginia alone (Flint et al 2009), with over 1200 species in North America north of Mexico (Virginia Tech 2014)!   During our stream searches, we’re just looking for caddisfly larvae that live in streams; these particular invertebrates are not highly tolerant of polluted or impaired water, so it’s a good sign that we found several.  Caddisflies in this area lay their eggs on the surface of the water, and overwinter as larvae – the form for which we were looking.  They go through an entire metamorphosis (egg, larval, pupal, and adult stages) during their life cycles (this type of life-cycle is called “holometabolous”, just in case you’re ever on Jeopardy)

When they grow up, they’ll look very similar to moths, with membranous wings:  Trichoptera (Caddisflies) (photo credit:  Brigham Young/VPI & SU PCD0330076).  One of the interesting habits of caddisflies is for the larvae to build protective cases around themselves out of silk and either organic (sticks, grass, leaves) or inorganic (pebbles, sand) materials.  

Caddisflies play an important role in their environments.  Some caddisfly larvae are grazers, while others are predators that feed on smaller invertebrates.  Caddisflies also serve as an important food source for larger animals like fish.  Thus, a healthy stream environment often includes many caddisflies in all stages of development!  Want to learn more about caddisflies and stream ecology?  Be sure to check out this informative page by Jeff Shearer.


Flint, O., Hoffman, R, and C. Parker.  2009.  An Annotated List of the Caddisflies (Trichoptera) of Virginia: Part III. Emendations and Biogeography.  Banisteria, no. 4, pp. 3-16.

Shearer, J.  n.d. Caddisflies.  South Dakota Game, Fish, and Parks website.  Website accessed online:

Virginia Tech, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.  2014.  Identification of Insects and Mites, Trichoptera (caddisflies).  Website accessed online:

Friday, June 27, 2014

Spicy Vegetarian Peanut Soup

This one’s a winner!  I found it in the Washington Post Food section.  The recipe was developed by Mark Furstenberg for his bakery, Bread Furst.  I doubled the recipe (this version makes 5 1/2 cups) and didn’t puree the entire thing – I left some tomatoes, peanuts, celery, etc for a little crunch.  Also, if you’re not a fan of heat, be sure to cut the cayenne pepper.  Enjoy! (photo credit:  Deb Lindsey for Washington Post)


  • 2 tblsp butter
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1/2 cup chopped celery
  • 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper (I used plain old red pepper)
  • 1 tblsp peeled, chopped ginger (I used about 2 tsp of the prepared ginger from a jar)
  • 2 tblsp curry powder
  • 3 medium cloves garlic, chopped (I used about 3 tblsp of the chopped garlic from a jar)
  • 1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes
  • 4 cups veg broth
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup sour cream, plus more  for garnish
  • 1/2 cup coconut milk
  • peanuts and cilantro for garnish


  1. Melt the butter in a large pot and add onion and celery.  Cook until softened (about 10 minutes)
  2. Stir in cayenne pepper, ginger, curry and garlic; cook for an additional 5 minutes
  3. Add in tomatoes, veg broth, and salt and cook for about 30 minutes.
  4. In a blender, blend peanut butter and sour cream.  Slowly add ladles of the warm soup and puree (leave the center off the lid of the blender and cover with a towel instead).  Blend the mixture and repeat until the soup is the consistency you like.
  5. Serve with sour cream, peanuts, and cilantro.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Fool’s Gold

I know it’s not April Fools Day, but for Throwback Thursday, I decided to repost an article that brings a smile to my face – I hope it makes you smile too!

Be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook!

It’s April Fools Day and here’s a look back at some of the really foolish, yet very earnest, things I’ve tried in the name of planet protection.  This list is by no means complete, and I’m sure I’ll have some new items for 2013!

Earth shoes -- OK, they’re not really an environmental item, but this is where it all started for me in the ‘70s.  That “negative heel” was supposed to make me feel close to the earth, but it just gave me muscle strain.  If you really want to wear ugly shoes that scream “I’m crunchy!” just wear Birkenstocks like all of the other greenmomsters out there.

woodsyowl_desireeEnvironmental mascot – this is foolish, yet fun!  During all of my years of dancing, I was always a good technician, yet a lackluster performer.  This situation was due to the fact that I found being in front of an audience to be a little embarrassing.  A good mascot costume solves that problem – all of the fun of performing, with absolutely none of the recognition!  When I was asked to be the EPA “water drop” during 25th anniversary Earth Day celebrations on the Washington DC mall, I couldn’t turn them down.  Then came the pinnacle of my mascot career – Woodsy Owl!  So foolish, yet so much fun!  As Woodsy, I spread the environmental message AND joined in an aerobics demonstration, entertained little kids and the Secretary of Transportation, and danced with abandon in my yellow birdy feet at yet another Earth Day celebration.  To prove my mascot-prowess, I have an official photo of myself (Woodsy).

Coconut oil – I decided to decrease my body’s exposure to harmful chemicals found in cosmetics by substituting coconut oil for my usual face cream.  I looked absolutely fabulous, until every pore on my face became clogged, leaving me looking significantly younger.  And by significantly younger I mean I looked like the acne-plagued teenager I once was. 

Natural deodorant – Again, trying to lessen my chemical load.  Been there, done that, got the pit-stained t-shirt.

Visiting the Dismal Swamp after a major flood in August – I’m often referred to as the Julie McCoy of our family, planning all sorts of activities and trips.  One type of trip I love planning is the outdoorsy, environmentally-educational trip.  But there was one time when I ran the family’s Love Boat aground.  I read that the Dismal Swamp in southern Virginia was an absolutely beautiful place – I’ve seen pictures since our fateful trip, and indeed, it is a memorable spot.  But timing is everything in life.  I ignored our friends who mentioned that maybe “dismal” wasn’t a good name for a family vacation spot, maybe right after a major flood wasn’t the right timing, and maybe the mosquito population would be booming in the middle of August.  “Pshaw!” I said.  This was a natural area just waiting to be discovered by me and my family!  We loaded up my then 2 year old son in the hiking backpack and headed into the swamp!  Approximately 30 minutes later, we emerged with our tails between our legs, sweaty and swollen from mosquito bites.  Fortunately, we didn’t catch malaria, I didn’t turn our Love Boat excursion into Gilligan’s 3-hour tour, and there was a nearby reggae festival to help us forget our swamp sorrows. 

Vegetarian dog food – Although eating lower on the food chain is better for the environment, my dogs do not care.  They were willing to starve themselves rather than help the environment.  They told me that it’s ok to eat meat for every meal, that we should always DRIVE to the dog park, and that climate change is a totally natural phenomenon.

Using a first-generation recycled plastic garbage bag – OK, the technology has gotten much better, and I do use these bags regularly now.  But sometimes it’s best not to be an “early adopter.”  I learned this lesson when the bag I was using while changing the guinea pig cage exploded all over the rec room.

Indoor composting – Need I say more?  Just because it says it’s a good idea on the internet, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.  I bought my composting bin, filled it with newspaper shreds and my worms that I’d bought off the internet, filled the compost bin with scraps and waited for my worms to work their magic!  Well, the magic was the appearance of hundreds of fruit flies filling my entire basement in a blinding cloud.  Just say no to indoor composting.

I just saw a combination bicycle/push mower that’s definitely going to be on someone’s foolish list next year. 

Anyone else have any foolish green adventures you’d like to share?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Carpets, dogs, and recycling

This greenmomster is updating her living room this summer – yippee!  One of the items we’ll be updating is the rug – thanks to three dogs and three kids, it’s a little (ok, a lot) worn.  Here’s one of my dogs showing off the hole one of the other dogs (as she explained it….) dug in the carpet under the couch.  20140529155853 I thought about throwing the carpet out (since that’s not the only hole in the rug…..), but according to the May/June 2014 issue of Sierra magazine, rugs can and should be recycled.  According to “Ask Mr. Green”, Americans annually dump 11 million tons of textiles (15% is carpet) into landfills.  A better way of disposing of old rugs (if they can’t go to a local thrift shop or Goodwill) is recycling.  Check out to find a recycler near you.  Your recycled carpet could find a new life as resins for plastics (such as the plastics used in autos), fiber, backing, and cushions for new carpets.  Reduce, reuse, recycle!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Veggie Quesadillas!

20140611195909This week’s meat-free Friday dish is an easy go-to for greenmomsters with busy Friday nights – veggie quesadillas!  You can mix and match the ingredients you like, but here are the basics:


  • tortillas (corn or flour, depending on your preference)
  • 0live oil to cover the bottom of a pan (use cooking spray for a low-cal option)
  • shredded cheese – I like the “taco mix”, but you can use cheddar, mozzarella, pepper jack, whatever you like!
  • chopped veggies – green, red, and yellow peppers, tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, spinach, cilantro, etc
  • sour cream
  • salsa – green or red
  • guacamole


  1. Heat oil to medium heat in a pan
  2. Add tortilla and place cheese and veggies on half the tortilla
  3. Fold tortilla in half and flip when the underside is golden
  4. Serve quesadillas hot with toppings of sour cream, salsa, and guacamole

It doesn’t get much easier than that!  Serve with corn, black beans, and a salad for a full meal.  And be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Dump the Pump!

NoahintoycarToday is National Dump the Pump Day!  The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) encourages you to ride public transportation today and try to make it a part of daily life.  A few interesting facts from the APTA fact sheet:

  • a two-person household can save, on average, over $10,000 per year by downsizing to one car
  • the U.S. reduces its dependence on foreign oil by 4.2 billion gallons of gas a year by using public transportation AND we save 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions annually
  • you save time and money -- U.S. riders of public transportation saved 856 million hours in travel time, 450 million gallons of fuel, and $21 billion in congestion costs in 498 urban areas

Public transportation is great for the economy ($57 billion industry that employs over 400,000 folks!), your wallet, your schedule, and the environment!  Why not hop on your local public transportation today and celebrate Dump the Pump Day – it may just become a habit!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

What’s going on in those boxes?

Last week, I posted about what’s happening in those squirrel nests this time of year – this week, let’s look at bluebird boxes.  This is the time of year when life for cavity nesting birds gets exciting!  I recently had the pleasure of spending a morning with a local expert on bluebirds – my fellow Sky Meadows State Park volunteer, Margaret.  She showed me who’s living in those bluebird boxes we often see on the sides of fields and explained the various survival strategies of these fascinating birds.  You’ll often see bluebird boxes that folks have set up along the edges of fields and forests.  bluebird1  Bluebirds use these boxes for nesting in the spring and summer (they can raise several clutches of young each year), but they also use the boxes in the winter to group together with other adults to keep warm.  Bluebird nests are tidy and feather-free bluebird24, and the adults create a little cup in the nest to hold the eggs bluebird25.  Bluebird diets are also fascinating – they’re omnivorous, but the ratio of meat to veggies changes by the season.  During the winter, bluebirds survive on vegetation (berries, etc) with a lesser proportion of insects.  During the spring and summer, when the young need lots of protein, the proportions flip-flop – the bluebirds chow on LOTS of insects (at least 70% of their diet).

When you look at rows of bluebird boxes, you might notice that the boxes are grouped in pairs with substantial space between the pairs.  That’s because bluebirds are territorial; they won’t tolerate having another breeding pair close to their box.  But they will tolerate tree swallows as next door neighbors – thus the pairing of the boxes.  Tree swallows, a migratory species, also like to use these nesting boxes in spring and summer.  bluebird27  Tree swallows raise only one clutch each season.  It’s easy to tell tree swallow nests from bluebird nests, because tree swallows place feathers in their nests.  bluebird21

When these little guys first hatch, they’re helpless and blind.    bluebird16After care from the parents, they mature until they’re ready to fledge!  bluebird6

Margaret also taught me that sometimes the nest boxes receive unwanted visitors – house sparrows, which are an invasive non-native species.  Their nests are distinctly different from bluebirds and tree swallows – note the height and use of grasses with seed heads.  bluebird10  The eggs also look a little different  bluebird12  So what do the bluebird enthusiasts do when sparrows invade?  They simply remove the eggs and replace them with fake eggs – that way, the sparrows just keep putting their energy into raising the “eggs” and don’t bother any other bluebird boxes.  A creative solution!

So much going on in those nest boxes you see as you’re driving down the road!  For more information, be sure to check out the North American Bluebird Society or the Audobon Society.

Be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook!

Friday, June 13, 2014

A little light reading for meat-free Friday!

This week’s meat-free Friday is a little different.  I’m providing you with two links that I thought are great reminders of why and how we can go veg.  First is my explanation of why we should eat low on the food chain.  It’s an oldy, but a goody!  Second, I want to point you to a recent post from Climate Mama blog.  Here’s a great post about going veg for a month and a fun trip to India!  The writer, Lauri Kraft, has some interesting information about the carbon footprint of different types of foods (cheese, who knew?) and some helpful tips for trying to make your diet more plant-based.  Enjoy!

Next week – quesadillas!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

TBT–The secret life of squirrels!

This week’s throwback Thursday is about squirrels, since many squirrels will be nesting with young in June and July – here’s what’s happening up in those nests!  Be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook!

Like most folks, I’ve had plenty of experience with squirrels – watching them frolic in the yard, steal birdseed from my birdfeeders, avoid cars in street.  The one thing I always wondered was, what’s going on up in those nests in the trees?  Well, this past Saturday, I learned the answer to that question.  I spent Saturday morning at a training class for volunteer interpreters (for nature and history programs) at my favorite state park, Sky Meadows.  One of the other volunteers at the program works with a wildlife rescue group, and she was taking care of three baby squirrels – what a treat toIMG_20130223_110548_095 be able to see these little guys up close!  I learned a few new things about squirrels and the happenings in the nest this time of year:

  • at 1-5 days old, baby squirrels are about the size of a woman’s thumb, from knuckle to tip.  They have no hair and are totally pink.
  • at about 2-3 weeks, they begin to have more visible grayish purple hair
  • at about 3 weeks, the lower front teeth begin to emerge, while the upper front teeth don’t emerge until about 5-6 weeks
  • at about 5 weeks, the squirrels’ eyes open and their tails begin to curl over their backs
  • at about 6-7 weeks, the squirrels are fully furred and a week later, they get their fluffy tails!
  • squirrel mothers actually have to help the baby squirrels urinate by licking the babies’ genitals – the babies are so helpless they can’t do it on their own (makes this greenmomster think the diapers weren’t so bad after all….)
  • the genus name for squirrel is “Sciurius”, which is a combination of the root words “skia” for shadow and “oura” for tail, since they sit in the shadows of their tails wrapped over and around their backs and heads

IMG_20130223_132607_599These cute little guys were picked up by the wildlife rescue league when their nest tree was cut down.  So, other than the fact that these squirrels are so cute and the rescuers have big hearts, why go to all the trouble to save them?  Squirrels are an important part of their ecosystems, providing seed dispersal, food, and predation within the ecosystem.  And in rural areas, like Delaplane VA, squirrels aren’t nearly as numerous as they are in urban and suburban areas (think fewer predators in the latter areas). 

If you need to remove a tree in your area, be sure to consider the squirrels.  In the mid-Atlantic, squirrel babies are born in February and March, and then again in June and July.  Thus, avoiding tree felling within about 3 months of that time will give enough time for the squirrels to mature and leave the nest.  If you need to remove a tree – think November!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

What ever happened after that oil spill?

bullisland8Did you know that over 1.3 million metric tons of petroleum enters the sea worldwide each year?  What’s the impact of these oil spills?  I wonder, after a year or two, what really happened?  The Xerces Society recently published a report that tries to answer that question with regard to marine invertebrates (including sea stars, mussels, oysters, snails, coral, crabs, lobsters, and shrimp).  Impacts to invertebrates are especially critical, because invertebrates make up the vast majority of marine biodiversity, and they form the base of the various food chains in marine ecosystems.  The report, Oil in Our Oceans, A Review of the Impacts of Oil Spills on Marine Invertebrates, by Michele Blackburn, Celeste Mazzacano, Candace Fallon, and Scott Hoffman Black, is available for download

Friday, June 6, 2014

Campanelle with walnuts, ricotta, and lemon!

This week’s recipe comes from Martha Stewart Living – it’s a good thing.

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 pound campanelle pasta
  • 1 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, divided, plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley stems (from 1 small bunch)
  • 2 heaping tablespoons finely grated lemon zest (from 3 large lemons)
  • 4 ounces walnuts, toasted well and roughly chopped (1 1/4 cups)
  • 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese
  1. Heat oil in a medium pan over medium heat until shimmering. Meanwhile, very thinly slice garlic with a mandoline (you should have 1/4 cup). Add to oil, and cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is pale golden brown and crisp, about 3 minutes. Drain garlic chips in a sieve set over a large bowl (reserve oil). Spread garlic chips on paper towels; season with salt.
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until just barely al dente. Drain. Add pasta to oil, and toss. Partially cover, and let cool at least 20 minutes and up to 1 1/2 hours.
  3. Roughly chop 3/4 cup parsley leaves, and add them with parsley stems, lemon zest, and walnuts to pasta. Toss to combine. Dot with cheese, and season with salt and pepper. Toss gently to combine, being careful not to fully incorporate cheese. Garnish with remaining parsley leaves, and serve with garlic chips.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

TBT–Happy National Pollinators Week!

Since June 16 – 23, 2014 is National Pollinators Week, this week’s Throwback Thursday re-post is all about pollinators.

As we all learned in elementary school, plants are fertilized through pollination.  Pollmonarch caterpillarination either occurs via wind or various types of animal vectors, like butterflies, bees, flies, and even bats.   Pollinators are important to the natural ecosystem, as well as to our tables and our economy.  According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, bees pollinate more than $15 billion per year in U.S. crops, including apples, almonds, berries, cantaloupes, and cucumbers.  They also estimate that honeybees produce over $150 million in honey each year.  A recent United Nations Report  stated that, of the 100 plant species that provide 90% of the world’s food, over 70 are pollinated by bees!

LasertagSo how can the greenmomsters celebrate National Pollinators Week?

  • Plant a butterfly or pollinator garden (they’re friendly areas for kids with squirt guns too)!  It’s easy and relatively low maintenance.  We have butterfly gardens all around our yard, and as you can see from the photo at left, they don’t get in the way of other backyard uses, including laser tag parties!  For more info on planting a butterfly garden see the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s instructions.  Maybe visit a local FWS pollinator garden, just to see what it will look like in your yard.
  • Avoid or limit pesticide use.  Remember, most pesticides kill lots of insects (even the beneficial ones), not just the ones that are bugging you.
  • Work to change your community to more sustainable energy sources.  Climate change can have severe impacts on pollinators, since it affects both the pollinators and the plants with which they’ve evolved.
  • Join the Xerces Society, an international non-profit working to protect pollinators and other invertebrate species.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

LEAPing into the future of energy conservation!

We’ve often written about climate change on this page, and many greenmomsters want to take concrete steps to decrease our carbon footprint.  One of the easiest and most effective ways an individual can change his or her carbon footprint is to try to conserve energy in the home. 

Since our house was built in the 1950s, my husband and I often wondered what updates might be useful in making our home more energy efficient.  We wanted to know what to do, as well as how to prioritize these activities – obviously, we want to address the low-hanging fruit first.  Lucky for us, there’s a community-based non-profit organization in our area that helps to answer those questions.  LEAP (the Local Energy Alliance Program) conducts home energy checkups that help to point out areas where improvements might be beneficial.  This evaluation doesn’t include blower door tests or safety evaluations, but after working with our LEAP representative for about 1 1/2 hours, we felt like we had a “road-map” for future home improvements.  Here’s how it worked:

  1. Our LEAP representative, Corey, arrived on-time and explained how the check-up would work.  He explained the goals of the check-up and what would be covered.
  2. We began looking around the house at common areas where folks tend to waste energy.  Our first stop was the fireplace.  20140520141853  Although we had tried to insulate the fireplace during past winters, Corey suggested using a “chimney balloon,” which is a highly effective way to prevent cold air from entering via the chimney – and you can remove it whenever you want to use the fireplace (pretty much never in our case…)
  3. Next, we moved on to the kitchen.  Our refrigerator is new, but proper settings for temperature always help to maximize efficiency.  20140520143704  Unfortunately, magnets don’t add to your refrigerator’s insulation Smile
  4. We then moved to the area of the house that should be a priority – the attic.  20140520142157  Corey advised that the r-value of our insulation should be R49.  Fortunately, we have some insulation in the attic and only need a couple more inches for maximum efficiency.  The area where we could decrease heat loss is in all of the air spaces around ducts and wires in the attic.  Sealing these air spaces could significantly decrease our heat loss, since heat rises through the house and escapes at the highest point.  Additionally, some polystyrene sheets on the attic doors could help decrease heat loss.
  5. Our final stop was the basement.  As with the attic, sealing various leaky areas, such as the crawl space, should be a priority in an older house.  Additionally, Corey showed us an easy fix to prevent leakage around our furnace – sealing tape.  20140520154608

All in all, we found that this energy check-up was a good use of our time, giving us a list of priorities as we try to make our home more energy efficient.  If you’d like to schedule a LEAP check-up and you live in northern VA, visit for more information.