Monday, January 29, 2018

Mammal Monday -- red fox

Red foxes, Vulpes vulpes, are non-native species in Virginia (where I live), and they are much more common than our native grey fox, Urocyon cinereoargenteus.  The habits of the two species are very different, and grey foxes can even climb trees!  Here are the IUCN listings for red fox and grey fox.

But what really interested me this morning was a Discovery video about foxes catching prey under feet of snow.  I always heard about it, but the videos of the actual hunting are fascinating!

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Polar Plunge 2018!

It wasn't as cold as last year, but it was plenty cold enough for me (I'm the wimpy looking person in the polar bear hat, who has already turned around and headed for the shore).  We had a great day for the Chesapeake Climate Action Network's annual "Keep Winter Cold" Polar Plunge!  This group of hardy volunteers raised money to help with local efforts to slow and stop the causes of climate change, such as offshore drilling and fracking pipelines.  The funds also go to support efforts to develop sustainable technologies such as wind and solar.  Great causes all around, but it's also a great chance for creative folks to show off a little:

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Dry cleaners go green

I just read some fascinating news about Minneapolis -- it's the first major city to have no perc-based dry cleaners!  The city financially supported businesses as they eliminated this possible carcinogen from their cleaning processes.  So in recognition of Minneapolis' accomplishment, here's a re-post of a dry-cleaning article I wrote back in 2013 -- enjoy!

Yesterday, I was “flipping” my closet – in a hopeful nod to spring, I was taking out my warm weather clothes and getting ready to store the sweaters.  But before the sweaters are put away, I always like to get them cleaned.  As a college professor and greenmomster, I’m not exactly Beau Brummel.  IMG_20130406_203613_320Most of my clothes are relatively casual and machine- or hand-washable.   But those sweaters and some of my fancier clothes get sent to the dry cleaners for a good scrub.  So that got me thinking, what are the environmental effects of dry cleaning and how can I “green” my dry cleaning?

Dry cleaning is not actually dry, and the traditional method is far from green.  The clothes are often cleaned in a solvent called perchloroethylene (or “perc” for short).  Perc is some pretty nasty stuff – EPA lists possible effects of short-term exposure to be “irritation of the upper respiratory tract and eyes, kidney dysfunction, and neurological effects such as reversible mood and behavioral changes, impairment of coordination, dizziness, headache, sleepiness, and unconsciousness.” (U.S. EPA 2013) Long-term breathing of the chemical can lead to “ neurological, including impaired cognitive and motor neurobehavioral performance.  Tetrachloroethylene exposure may also cause adverse effects in the kidney, liver, immune system and hematologic system, and on development and reproduction.” (U.S. EPA 2013).  Perc is also listed as likely to be carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans. (U.S. EPA 2013)

So when I do want to dry clean my clothes, how can I limit my environmental footprint?  Here are a couple of tips:
  • Choose a local dry cleaner that uses one of the two EPA-recommended methods:  wet-cleaning or CO2 cleaning.  Your dry cleaner should tell you whether they use perc, or one of the more eco-friendly methods.  My dry cleaner was very proud to tell me she doesn’t use perc!
Other ways to green your dry cleaning:
  • Hand wash your items when you can.  Here are some tips for cleaning wool, silk, and rayon.
  • Ask the dry cleaner to put your clothes in your garment bag, rather than wrapping in plastic
  • Always recycle hangers by returning them to the dry cleaner
  • Reuse tissue paper inserts in gift bags or other wrapping.
Here’s to being green AND clean!

Monday, January 22, 2018

Mammal Monday -- squirrels!

We just celebrated National Squirrel Appreciation Day (you did celebrate, right?), so here’s a list of 10 fun facts about squirrels!  In honor of this wonderful day, I’m re-running a post I wrote previously about squirrels and what’s happening inside those nests – enjoy!

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!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Meat-Free Friday -- veg pot pie!

This week’s recipe comes from Food Network; it’s Trisha Yearwood’s Chickless Pot Pie!  It won rave reviews from the entire family!  Here’s the recipe, with a few changes that I made.
  • 1 cup thinly sliced carrots
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 1 cup small diced potatoes (I used yukon golds)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced celery
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped onion (I’d say mine were coarsely chopped…)
  • 1/2 cup butter (Trisha used butter substitute)
  • 1/3 cup unbleached, all-purpose dlour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp pepper (I used more)
  • 1/4 tsp celery seed (I used probably 1/2 tsp at least)
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder (I left out)
  • 1 3/4 cups vegetable broth
  • 2/3 cup skim milk (Trisha used almond milk)
  • 2 9 inch unbaked pie crusts (Trisha’s were lard free, but I don’t mind a little fat)
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F
  2. In a medium pot, combine the carrots, peas, potatoes, and celery.  Cover with water and boil until potatoes are tender.  Drain.
  3. In a large skillet, cook the onions in butter until they are soft.  Stir in flour, salt, pepper, and celery seed (and garlic powder if you used it).  Cook for about 2 minutes.  Slowly add broth and milk.  Allow to simmer until thick.  Remove from heat and stir in the veggies.  (I actually messed up this step, and cooked all of the veggies, including the onions, first.  Then I mixed in the spices and liquids.  It worked just fine and saves cleaning a pot!)
  4. Line a pie plate with one of the pie crusts.  Pour in the veggie mixture.  Top with the other pie crust (cut a few slits to let the steam out).  Don’t overfill the pie crusts, or your top pie crust will split.
  5. Place the pie pan on a baking sheet and bake for about 35 minutes or until crusts are golden brown and the middle is bubbly.  If the pie crusts get to dark, just cover them with aluminum foil for the remaining baking time.
Enjoy!  And just in case you need a little Trisha Yearwood playing while you cook (am I wrong, or is that Matthew McConaughey?)

Monday, January 15, 2018

Mammal Monday -- Canada Lynx

Since it looks like the current administration plans to delist the Canada Lynx from the Endangered Species Act list of protected species, let's take a look at these mammals with 5 lynx facts:

  1. They've got a huge range -- The U.S. makes up the southern portion of the lynx's range.  Populations are found in MN, ME, MT, CO, and WA, but they've been found as far south as NM!
  2. They help control populations of small mammals -- The main prey of lynx are small mammals that reproduce quickly -- think rabbits and snowshoe hare.
  3. When it comes to nurseries, they keep it simple -- Lynx mate in the winter and give birth 60 to 70 days later.  They don't dig dens; they usually make a nest in an existing depression that's covered with vegetation or an old log.
  4. They're a great example of population cycling and co-evolution -- Although lynx don't just eat snowshoe hares (as was believed several decades ago), hares make up a large part of their diet.  Lynx and hare populations actually cycle together -- when there are lots of hares, the lynx population increases.  This increase in lynx causes a decrease in hare numbers, which then leads to a decrease in lynx, and so on. See the IUCN listing for more info.
  5. There's some debate regarding how best to protect lynx --  Lynx are currently listed as threatened under the U.S. ESA and "least concern" by the IUCN.  Population size can change drastically year to year and populations are larger and more robust in northern areas in Canada.  U.S. ESA protections are thought to be helpful to the populations because help to provide habitat on Federal lands (under section 7 of the ESA) and may provide connectivity between southern and northern populations.
It turns out, there's a lynx named Max who's an animal ambassador -- don't try this at home:

Friday, January 12, 2018

Green Chile Stew!

Time for the annual re-post of this perfect winter stew recipe!

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


  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 jar tomatillo salsa (I like Frontera)
  • 1 large green pepper, diced
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil3 heaping tablespoons of minced garlic
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 3, 4 oz. cans of hot diced green chilis (I like Hatch)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 12 oz. packages of Quorn Chick’n Tenders
  • 2 15.5 oz cans of butter beans, drained and rinsed (use 3 cans if you want really thick stew, rather than soup)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • sour cream, scallions

  1. In a large pot, saute onion, green pepper, and garlic in olive oil to slightly soften the peppers -- don't let the onions become transparent.  Add veggie broth, salsa, cumin, chilis, and salt. Add in quorn nuggets and simmer on low heat for at least 1/2 hour.
  2. Stir in beans and cilantro.
  3. Garnish with sour cream and scallions, if desired.  Serve with Phil's corn bread 69790001

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Can trees grow in Iceland?

I visited Iceland last summer (see my post about the trip) and couldn't help but notice how barren the landscape is.  Several exhibits we visited explained that Iceland used to have forests, but that seemed a bit far-fetched as we looked around the lava fields and glaciers.  Well, it turns out that this barren landscape isn't 100% natural -- humans caused much of the deforestation.  Now Icelanders are trying to bring back their forests. 

This project brings up many questions -- will it work? how will native species interact with the non-native tree species? how will climate change affect the forests? are the forests designed to enhance natural areas or are they more of an agricultural product? how will forests affect the microclimates in Iceland? how much fossil fuel will be saved from not transporting wood to Iceland from abroad?  I'm eagerly following this story!