Monday, September 29, 2014

Got Talent?

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I just finished watching this fascinating video about a “frog photographer” (a guy who photographs frogs, not a talented little froggy). 

The Frog Photographer - BBC Earth from Thaddeus D. Matula on Vimeo.

This video got me thinking about all of the great ways we can use our various talents to help the conservation effort.  I’m an avid amateur photographer, and I found out that our local state park really needed someone who was willing to take pictures.  It’s a win-win!  They get publicity and education shots, and I get to improve my photography. 

What types of talents could you lend to the conservation effort?  Are you a good teacher?  Parks, schools, and conservation organizations are always looking for help in educating the public.  Great with social media or computers?  Organizations are always looking for folks with these skills.  Got great organization skills?  Organize an event for your town (I know our town of Vienna VA requires skilled organizers for our annual sustainability tour, native plant sale, and green expo).  Got a good, strong back?  Help with invasive plant removal or a local stream cleanup.

Every little bit helps!  How have you used your talents to help the environment?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tell me again–why Meat-Free Friday?


Here’s your annual reminder on why we do Meat Free Friday – it’s not just tasty, it’s good for the environment!

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A great environmental goal is to “eat lower on the food chain.” What exactly does this mean? Well, let’s start at the beginning. When we talk about a food chain, we’re talking about a series of plants and animals that are related to one another through predation. Food chains always start with a plant (an autotroph, in ecological terms) which converts sunlight energy into energy that can be used by plants and animals. Plants are the source of energy and nutrients for all animals. As we move up the food chain, we’re looking at animals (heterotrophs) that eat certain plants. Moving further up the food chain, we’d see animals that eat the animals that ate the plants. A sample food chain would be:

Grass ---> grasshopper ---> bird ---> hawk 

So why do we want to “eat lower on the food chain”, that is, eat more plants and less meat? The way that our food is produced in our industrialized society, much energy goes into the production of food. The higher one eats on the food chain (meat, that is), the more energy that must go into producing that meat. So, if you eat a 2,000 calorie per day diet, a diet of vegetables will require much less energy input, than a 2,000 calorie diet that contains substantial amounts of meat. Another way of thinking about it -- for the same energy input, much more plant-based food can be produced. Eating lower on the food chain can also help to reduce greenhouse gases – the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimated that meat production is responsible for 1/5 of global greenhouse gases! 

Unless you live in an area with a very short growing season, a plant-based diet is a realistic goal. But many folks say they can’t or don’t want to go totally vegetarian. How about 1 night per week? The Utah State University Cooperative Extension website states that if “1000 people replaced one meat meal per week with a vegetarian option, it would save 70,000 lbs of grain per year!” That amount of grain would really feed a lot of people, with much lower environmental impact. Our family eats meat-free in our home.  Outside of the house, the kids and my husband eat whatever they want. Why not give it a try? Once a week, I will post a recipe that has been a success at our house. I’ll also include meatless products that I like, because people often ask me which products I like best, but you can substitute any brand that you like. Good luck, and I hope you enjoy “Meat-free Friday!”

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Powerful Poetry


The following is 26 year old poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner’s poem which she used to address the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit this week.  Ms. Jetnil-Kijiner is from the Marshall Islands. She was selected from among over 500 civil society candidates in an open, global nomination process conducted by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Last chance tomatoes

One last hurrah for your summertime tomatoes! Here’s a great gazpacho recipe from my mother-in-law, perfect for a September Friday – enjoy!  Be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook for all your Friday recipes.
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.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Open Letter to PepsiCo

pcmparentsAs we move closer to the September 21 People’s Climate March in NYC, I was asked to share an open letter to the CEO of PepsiCo regarding palm oil production and use – it’s a major source of greenhouse gases.

Open Letter to Indra Nooyi: Mom to Mom – NO more Conflict Palm Oil

“Tell the truth, actions speak louder then words, and don’t be afraid.” Our mantra and words we live by. Over this past year, we have been thrilled to be part of the Rainforest Action Network (RAN) Snack Food 20 Campaign; a campaign targeted at the world’s largest snack food companies that demands the truth, uses strong actions and shows us that we needn’t be afraid!

Our ask, in fact our demand, is that these companies stop using Conflict Palm Oil; and many of these companies have listened, and are doing just that. One company that hasn’t seemed to be listening closely though, is PepsiCo.

So together with two of our favorite Climate Mamas, Debra and Susan we are calling on another very powerful Mama, Indra Nooyi, CEO of Pepsico, to use her influence “to tell the truth, to use her actions to make positive change, and to show others that we needn’t be afraid to make the changes we have to, to ensure a sustainable and livable future for us all.”

Dear Ms. Nooyi, CEO of PepsiCo,

Our names are Harriet, Susan and Debra. We are three mothers who live in your community, in the tri-state area of Connecticut, New York and New Jersey. We are witnesses, first hand and in our own communities, to the impacts of climate change. Our thoughts, concerns, fears and hopes - are for our children, for their future and their now. We are reaching out to you in regards to the historic leadership opportunity you face right now on the issue of climate change and palm oil. We are writing as fellow mothers, daughters, and working women. We are representatives of and speak for thousands of mothers around the country - neighbors, friends, relatives, as well as Rainforest Action Network members, who share our concerns that climate change is a direct threat to our children’s future.

As part of the launch of Showtime's groundbreaking series Years of Living Dangerously in April, we and tens of thousands of concerned people signed onto a public petition asking you a question that remains unanswered: “Given that palm oil is known to be a major cause of carbon pollution causing climate change, and that you have spoken out that this is an issue that is important to you and that PepsiCo is a major global user of palm oil, how can you guarantee to your customers that the products PepsiCo produces are not contributing to climate change?”

PepsiCo is the largest globally distributed snack food company in the world. PepsiCo uses enough palm oil every single year to fill Pepsi cans full of palm oil that would stretch around the earth at the equator 4 times. Palm oil may seem to many like a minor issue, but in fact it is among the world's leading causes of deforestation, which in turn is responsible for nearly 20% of all carbon emissions. And, its found in the homes of nearly every American family, giving us the power to push for the changes that are so desperately needed.

As the leader of this incredibly influential company which has yet to take the necessary steps to address its Conflict Palm Oil problem, we urge you to answer this question publicly and take immediate action to ensure that PepsiCo adopts a truly responsible palm oil policy.

On September 21 the whole world will be watching leaders as the largest ever People's Climate March descends on New York City. We will march with thousands of families to shine a light on the companies, policies and practices that are slowing progress, and in fact accelerating climate change.

We are appealing to you to ask that PepsiCo announce the revisions to its currently inadequate policy in advance of the Climate March so that PepsiCo can be a company used to highlight leadership in implementing climate solutions, instead of an example of the problem. Specifically PepsiCo needs to adopt a time bound action plan to remove Conflict Palm Oil from its supply chain, make a commitment to trace its palm oil back to the plantation where it was grown and verify that its suppliers operations are free of the clearance of rainforest and peatlands and the violation of human rights including the use of forced and child labor.

As the head of a large corporation your voice is extremely powerful. We know that ensuring a secure supply line is critical for PepsiCo and that addressing climate change is part of your corporate social responsibility agenda. On a personal level, as a mother who wants every opportunity open to her children, we are sure that like us, climate change also weighs on your conscience; we urge you to answer this question and take action for your children’s hopes and future.

Sincerely,20140824_081035 (1)

Debra Mahony
Susan Rubin
Harriet Shugarman

Friday, September 12, 2014

Breakfast for dinner!

On meat-free Fridays, my family has proven it’s got some pretty good cooks (Phil’s cornbread and Jaska’s Gazpacho), and now cousin Fran Auferio is adding to our list of family favorites!  Sometimes it’s fun and tasty to have breakfast for dinner, so this indulgent recipe is definitely one I can’t wait to try!

For all your meat-free Friday recipes, be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook.

Photo: French Toast casserole came out yummy

Make Ahead French Toast


  • 16 oz loaf French or Italian bread sliced 1/2 inch thick (I use semolina bread) 8 large eggs
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups half and half
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • Topping: 12 tbsp unsalted butter softened (1 1/2 sticks)
  • 1 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp corn syrup
  • 5 oz pecans chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  2. Arrange bread on a single layer on two baking sheets. Bake until dry and lightly golden about 25 minutes. Rotate the baking sheets halfway through baking time. Allow the bread to cool.
  3. Grease the bottom and sides of a 9 x 13" baking dish with butter.
  4. Layer the baked bread tightly in the prepared dish -- you should have two layers.
  5. Whisk together the eggs, milk, half and half, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg and pour evenly over the bread. Press lightly on the bread to submerge.
  6. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 8 to 24 hours.
  7. When ready to bake, adjust the oven rack to middle position and heat the oven to 350°.
  8. For the topping, mix the butter, brown sugar, and corn syrup together until smooth, then stir in the pecans.
  9. Take the casserole out of the refrigerator and unwrap. Spoon the topping over the casserole, then spread it in an even layer.
  10. Place the dish on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until puffed and golden about 60 minutes. Cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

TBT–Bear Creek Lake!

As we head into Fall (some of us kicking and screaming – that would be me), I thought it might be fun to suggest one more green getaway – Bear Creek Lake State Park.  If you don’t live near this park, try out a state park in your local area – they’re a great, cost-effective getaway!  For more getaways, be sure to “Like” greenmomster on Facebook.
For my birthday back in February, my family gave me something I’ve been wanting for several years – a new BIG tent with 5 comfortable cots.  Yes, greenmomster is no longer camping; it’s “glamping” for me!  So I decided to take my beautiful new tentBearCreek15out for her maiden voyage to Bear Creek Lake State Park in Cumberland VA, about an hour west of Richmond.  What a pleasant surprise this park is!   This 326 acre park includes a 40 acre lake and is surrounded by the 16,000 acre Cumberland State Forest.  Our campsite sat right next to the lake, so we woke up to million-dollar views of the lake out our tent window!   We tried a little archery and took a canoe tour led by the very friendly park staff and interpreters (can you believe that $5 paid for a 1 1/2 hour archery lesson?)  Of course, we went fishing, hiking, and swimming at the lake beach.  And what camping trip would be complete without a campfire and s’mores?  But our campfire had an international flare, as we shared s’mores with our camping “neighbors” from down-under!  Now we know a little more about camping in Australia!
Definitely a park to visit, Bear Creek Lake will certainly be on our “to do” list again next year!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Basketball and Elephants

In previous posts here and on Facebook, we’ve talked about U.S. federal and New Jersey state efforts to protect elephants, the illegal elephant poaching trade, and elephant emotions. We’ve even shared a quiz to test your elephant IQ! Now there’s even “bigger” news on the elephant protection front.  A recent article in the Washington Post described how Yao Ming, former Houston Rockets star, has teamed up with WildAid to try to decrease the Chinese demand for elephant ivory.  The basketball star has had success in the past trying to decrease the demand for shark fins in his country; hopefully he can have the same influence when it comes to elephants. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Burrito casserole

This recipe is adapted from a recipe I found in Family Circle Magazine.  Feel free to play with the amounts of rice, corn, or even spices – I’ve had to alter amounts when I didn’t have enough of an ingredient, and everything turned out A- OK.  When you make it, be sure to double the recipe and freeze a pan for another quick meal!

Burrito CasseroleBurrito Casserole (photo credit:  Ann Stratton, Family Circle Magazine)

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.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

A letter from college!

A friend of mine from back in my days at William and Mary recently dropped me a line about a very green (in more than one way) university – the University of Vermont.  Marna Ashburn provided guest posts (reuseable fruit bags and 3 for 1 meat-free Friday)  here in the past, and she now updates us on how green our students can be!  Be sure to check out her blog too!

Dear Desiree,

LakeChamplainAs my son, Steve, heads off to his sophomore year at the University of Vermont (UVM), I wanted to share with you some of the inspiring environmental initiatives I saw when I visited the campus last year. (After all, the “Ver” in Vermont means “green.”)

You look through life with the lens of a scientist, while I look through the lens of a writer, so it’s only appropriate that I start by talking about the use of strategic language at the university. In the large tent where we ate our meals, they had three receptacles for clean up. “Compost” was where we placed our leftover food, cups, and plates (we used compostable plates and cups rather than Styrofoam). The second was “Recycle” where the plastic flatware and napkins went. The third one, interestingly, was not labeled “Trash” but “Landfill,” an in-your-face reminder of the end state of its contents. Needless to say, we were loathe to put anything in there. Landfill

The academic buildings and residence halls have a similar three-tier waste system. On every floor-- usually in just one location to manage critters--they have a compost container. The food scraps then get turned into compost at Green Mountain Compost facility and distributed to local farms, many of whom provide food to the university, so it's a nice circle of sustainability. I also noticed many Tech Dropoff locations where you can recycle items like burned-out light bulbs, dead batteries, and CDs. It’s nice to have them so accessible because I often carry a bag of “tech trash” in my car for weeks until I find an appropriate transfer point.

Dining Services at UVM offer only “trayless dining.” The students carry a plate in one hand and a drink in the other to their tables. This technique reduces food waste by over 40% and eliminates the need to clean trays in the dishwasher, saving water. If, like my son, you're still hungry after the first plateful, you can always go back for seconds or thirds.

Every week, the dining halls feature Meatless Mondays where they offer a vegetarian entree at a reduced price to encourage students to eat meat-free. The university has also signed on to the Real Food Challenge which is designed to increase the procurement of food that is local, ecologically sound, fair trade, or humane. To this end, they have partnerships with many of the local farms, producers, and orchards.

Bottled water is verboten at UVM, so none of the vending machines or retail outlets sell it. Instead, they offer refilling stations at water fountains and encourage students and faculty to bring their own reusable bottles. This change was introduced by students who advocated for a more sustainable beverage system on campus. (Read the full story here refillStation

UVM is definitely bike-friendly and prominent bike racks are part of the infrastructure. There's also a bike share program where you can borrow designated bikes at the bright yellow hubs around campus. The program is free for the first four hours, with a minimal fee after that. All you have to do is register and sign a waiver. Also, to encourage bicycle commuting, there are showers conveniently located in the student union. BikeShare

While there’s a bus system powered by natural gas, it’s definitely a walking campus. As Steve says, “Everywhere you look, there’s a beautiful view—mountains, valley, lake. Why would you want to miss it?”

I’m so happy that the habits he learned while growing up are reinforced on a macro-scale now. His education includes daily reminders to tread lightly on the earth, and I’m certain these lessons will be second nature to him beyond the college years.

My Best,


Marna Ashburn is the author of three books about military family life, available at She also blogs about language and culture at