Tag Archives: Sustainability

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Butterfly Girl Dolls

I adore these Butterfly Girl Dolls from the Canadian company, Little Humbugs. Each of the cute 12″ plush dolls comes snuggled inside a chrysalis, the way a real butterfly is. It’s a great idea — The chrysalis provides further play, teaches about nature, and doubles as the dolls’ packaging as a way to cut down on waste. Each doll is cutely designed in a color-coordinated outfit and bright wings, and each has a nature-inspired story, whether the doll be a protector of nature, a bird keeper, or a planter of seeds.

One of the dolls includes an added benefit: For every doll purchased a tree will be planted in the Monarch butterfly conservation area, to help save that endangered butterfly.

Little Humbugs also offers Butterfly Girl ebooks, party invitations, sleepover kits, and other items. There’s even an eco superhero for boys, Flint the Dragonfly Boy.

Little Humbugs is the creation of children’s book author and illustrator, Marghanita Hughes. Marghanita is passionate about connecting children to nature and encouraging them to enjoy and steward the Earth. She notes on her web site that she hopes her work can help influence children to care for the environment in a fun and gentle way. I think the Butterfly and Dragonfly dolls would do just that and, best, they are just fun to play with, without all the consumerist trappings that similar plush dolls include.

Photo: Little Humbugs

My criteria for a green holiday gift? Items meet all or most of the following: Promotes nature play or care of the earth, Uses all or mostly natural ingredients, Fosters hours of open-ended creative play,  Doesn’t use extraneous plastic or other wrapping, Doesn’t break the bank to buy it.

12 Days of Green Holiday Gifts: Root Viewer Garden

I recently saw this wonderful toy and immediately got very excited about it. The Root Viewer Garden, from Toysmith, allows you to see what’s happening underground when you grow root vegetables like carrots, onions, radishes, and beets. And, best, it contains everything you need to grow your own root veggies and watch the show: a wooden tube holder; three 5 1/2” plastic tubes; growing medium; carrots, onion and radish seeds; instructions; and a journal for recording their progress from sprouting to harvest.

I’ve forced flower bulbs before, by growing bulbs in a water-filled bulb-forcing vase, but I think growing root vegetables in the Root Viewer’s tubes is far more visual, and therefore rewarding, for kids. With root vegetables, all the action is normally underground! Plus, there’s something about growing a food and learning about that process that is educational and stays with one for life.

I happened to see the Root Viewer Garden at a store called Farmer’s Friend in Columbia State Park, in California’s Gold Rush Country, which I highly recommend as a fun, colorful place where a lively chapter of California’s history comes to life.

If you’re not planning a visit to Columbia, the Root Viewer Garden can be found online at Kiddly Winks, Toy Blaster, and Amazon.

I plan to feature 12 green holiday gifts, be they toys, objects, activities, or contributions to others. If you have any ideas, send them my way!

Let Nature Decorate your Holiday Table

Nature often makes the best decoration. Especially in Fall, leaves, fruits and nuts are readily available in public spaces, in addition to being eye-catching, pretty, and free or nearly so.

Of course, the hunt is a highlight of the pre-planning. It provides a fun family tradition, and a way to enjoy nature together in the beautiful Fall, before bringing some of it inside for lovely — and free — table decor. My favorite tabletop finds include buckeyes, chestnuts, multi-colored leaves, ivy, pine boughs, pine cones, branches with berries and, from the store, mini pumpkins, persimmons, apples, mandarin oranges, and pears.

Above are fall tables from two different years. Both feature collected items from nature and inexpensive store-bought fall flowers that my family and I arranged in a shallow bowl, using a “frog” to hold the stems in place. All of our glassware and china has been handed down, including the festive red glasses. I layered inexpensive tablecloths and fabric runners.

One Thanksgiving morning, our cousins gathered branches and boughs for their table and made cute homemade placecards for each guest.

Another guest provided this very festive and yummy cake. I made the Cranberry Crunch squares from Susan Simon’s The Nantucket Holiday Table. They’re very good, and a great use for cranberries.

If you’re fortunate to be able to collect buckeyes, chestnuts or acorns in your area, they can make an inexpensive, natural, interesting filler for a large vase of flowers.

Friend Mary Mauro cleverly filled a very tall vase with mini pumpkins for a gathering. (She is also a gifted flower arranger.)

I hope you have an inspired, happy Thanksgiving.

Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Quince Dubbed “Poster Child of Slowness”

quince by 4028mdk09

Folks in various Slow Food circles are suddenly rallying around the quince, which I featured on my site just a week ago.

Possibly with us since Biblical times, the quince was traded at middle eastern crossroads before making its way around the Mediterranean and across the Atlantic to Thomas Jefferson’s garden, only to become relatively neglected in more recent eras.

That seems to have changed, as the somewhat homely fruit has recently become the improbable star of cookbooks, restaurants, and home cooks.

Ben Watson, an author and food activist with Slow Food USA, proclaimed, “The quince is the poster child of Slowness. It’s lovely and fragrant but pretty much inedible unless transformed by peeling, coring and cooking. I think it is poised for a comeback.”

Watson has been involved with Slow Food’s Ark of Taste project, which is an extremely exciting effort to catalog and promote all kinds of delicious foods that are in danger of extinction as we move toward mass production of fewer varieties of foods. I urge you to visit the Ark of Taste web site to see tantalizing photos and learn about wonderful heirloom fruits and other foods, and where to find them.

More on quince’s comeback, history and harvesting can be found in this delightful Los Angeles Times piece.

Also just in, courtesy of Food News Journal: “French foodie Stevie Parle turns to Provence for a perfect quince crumble.” This from the Guardian. (His crumble actually looks and sounds to me like a crisp, which coincidentally is my favorite dessert. I’ll have to try to make some!)

Quinces Ag Research

No Impact Week Starts Today

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The Huffington Post and Colin Beavan, No Impact Man, have announced a No Impact Week, starting today. A lot of folks are taking a pledge to go on a week-long “carbon cleanse” in order to reduce our individual impacts on the planet, both for its sake and for ours. According to the HuffPo:

The week is not about strict rules or precisely replicating No Impact Man (unless you want to!) it’s about thinking about your environmental impact in a new way and picking the goals that are right for you.

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You can download a terrific guide to No Impact Week, or any week. It’s packed with simple suggestions that will really get you thinking about small changes you can make immediately to lower your impact on our planet’s store of natural resources and help your own budget and health in the process.

Ideas include: Making your own cleaning products to cut down on toxins and packaging waste, kicking bottled water and getting involved with the Take Back the Tap campaign, driving less and also differently with the Hypermilers to reduce fuel consumption, and following specific ideas to help you shop less and eat sustainably and locally, including ways to make the food you do buy last longer.

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To that last point, the processing and transporting of food around the globe uses tremendous amounts of water, energy and chemicals. By eating organically and locally, when we can, we each can shrink our own carbon footprint in this area, and probably eat more healthfully (and support local farmers) in the process.

The National Resources Defense Council has created a terrific and fun-to-use site that lets you plug in your state and one of 24 times of the year to find out what you can eat that’s relatively local. Some cold-weather states offer a surprising amount of food choices for year-round eating. In other cases, there’s not as much grown locally, but there are fresh offerings in neighboring states.

This Planet Green site on 50 Ways to Reduce Food Waste is another practical site that will not only get you thinking, but offers ways to change your habits today.

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I signed up for the No Impact Project. I didn’t sign a big, intense pledge. I just volunteered to give it a go and receive updates about the project. I committed to myself that I would follow the guide for the week, which will take me through gradually making some changes — perhaps strengthening or deepening practices I already have. If you’re inclined, join me, and we’ll talk about how it’s going.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman: Pedal-powered smoothies at the Mill Valley Eat In for healthy school lunches, Rainwater harvesting at Fairfax EcoFest and Parade, salad at M.V. Eat In, sign at San Francisco Ferry Building, composting and plastic waste display at Fairfax EcoFest and Parade, produce at City Market in Portland.

Huffington Post’s First Book Club Pick: In Praise of Slowness

Ariana Huffington, publisher of the impressive Huffington Post online news source, has announced the first book for her new book club: Carl Honore’s In Praise of Slowness: Challenging the Cult of Speed.

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I initially wrote about this very important book when I was creating my blog. Written in 2004, it has taken an even speedier world and a new level of introspection — perhaps spurred by the soured economy, the dwindling of natural resources — for some of us to catch on to Honore’s terrific disease-and-prescription work. I wrote about my own experiences reading the book and beginning to seek a balanced family and community life, and about the rise of the entire Slow Movement, from Slow Food to Slow Cities. My growing resource page reflects the many people and groups attempting to slow life down to a moderate and meaningful speed.

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I recommend taking a look at Carl Honore’s own writing about In Praise of Slowness. You also won’t want to miss this terrific newer piece from Honore about the Slow Movement today and his response to having his book chosen for the HuffPo Book Club.

Ariana Huffington nails why In Praise of Slowness is so vital. She writes:

One of the things I especially love about In Praise of Slowness is Honore’s tone throughout. Far from a lifestyle guru who’s preaching his enlightenment from on high, Honore himself is a pilgrim, trying to learn how to slow down and enjoy the journey.

She also notes that Honore is no extremist Luddite. He, in fact, seeks a middle ground, writing:

I love speed. Going fast can be fun, liberating and productive. The problem is that our hunger for speed, for cramming more and more into less and less time, has gone too far.

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Huffington writes movingly about her own conversion to relative slowness and mindfulness. She also gets macro, and I love the parallels she draws between the cults of capitalism and of speed — what is lost in the process when greed overtakes peoples desires to behave humanely, and what can be gained in our economy, as well as our culture, from a general slowing. To that point Honore wrote (in 2004!):

Modern capitalism generates extraordinary wealth, but at the cost of devouring natural resources faster than Mother Nature can replace them. Capitalism is getting too fast even for its own good, as the pressure to finish first leaves too little time for quality control.

Honore calls this phenomenon “turbo capitalism,” in which people exist “to serve the economy, rather than the other way around.”

I think the choice of book for the HuffPo Book Club will bring these thoughts into greater prominence. I hope a lot of you will participate in the ongoing Slow dialog — here and elsewhere — and that some of the book’s ideas will enrich your own fulfilling lives.

Slow News Day: Front Yard Gardening in Benicia and Beyond

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While wandering around the town of Benicia, CA, one late summer day, I encountered this exuberant example of front yard gardening. This person is really making the most of every square inch. It was a treat to see, especially after posting about the trend of front yard gardening earlier this summer.

I’ve been following some fun and inspiring blogs about front yard and even balcony gardening. (As a longtime deck gardener, in the deer-populated (read: lettuce munching) woods as well as in Manhattan, I’ve always been interested in doing the most with the smallest plot of dirt. Good small-space gardening and urban homesteading blogs include Beyond the Lawn, Leda’s Urban Homestead, Balcony Gardener, Life on the Balcony, Free Range Living, and Path to Freedom.

The last is an especially exciting farmsteading site that I just learned about this weekend when I saw an independent movie called HomeGrown. HomeGrown features a family of four living by the freeway in Pasadena, CA, raising all their own food and completely sustaining themselves and others on a small residential plot of land. The family is very winning and passionate, and they really make a go of urban homesteading, practicing extreme simplicity, conservation, community and resourcefulness — They use a hand washer, make their own biofuel, sell their produce to some of the area’s high-end (and appreciative) restaurants, and often do without. Learn more about them at Path to Freedom.

Still curious about Benicia? In addition to having great sun and soil, I learned that the bayside town was California’s first capitol, predating Sacramento and California’s gold rush. After going inside the old building (now part of a CA state park)  and pretending to legislate, we got to lock the old capitol’s giant door for the weekend with an outsized, cartoon-like key. Benicia also has a charming main street for shopping, antiquing, and taking a self-guided historic walking tour featuring old homes and businesses. I will post a travelogue soon.

In the meantime, like me, you can enjoy looking at this special, bountiful yard and wondering if its owners are still harvesting yummy corn into the fall.

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

October is International Walk to School Month

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October 7 is International Walk to School Day, and the whole month of October has been designated Walk to School Month. Schoolchildren are encouraged to walk, bike, skateboard, scooter, bus, or carpool to school — anything that is different from the one child-one car system. And they’re encouraged to keep doing so, when and if they can. The beauty of the program, which was expanded from a day to a month in 2006, is that a month is long enough for something like walking to become a routine and a habit.

The International Walk to School-USA site has a lot of wonderful information about the benefits of walking. The site’s  Frequently Asked Questions page has a great checklist to help parents determine the walking and biking safety of their own neighborhoods, as well as suggestions for customizing a walk if the school is too far away for walking or biking.

My community has been participating in International Walk to School Day, through our local Safe Routes to Schools program, for years. I have witnessed first-hand the increase in regular walkers and bikers to school since the program started. More people, of all ages, out on the streets make them safer for the next group of schoolchildren who comes along. Communities also benefit from getting to know one another better, as they get into the healthy walking habit together.

The number of participating schools goes up each year — perhaps yours has already planned some events, assemblies or rewards. Enjoy International Walk to School Month!

(This link will get you to Marin Safe Routes to Schools.)

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

Sonoma County Farm Trails Weekend

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As if we needed another excuse to get out and enjoy early Fall, September 26-27 is Weekend Along Farm Trails in Sonoma.

Sonoma County Farm Trails is a wonderful group. For 36 years, it has supported sustainable agriculture and provided education and tons of fun, with maps to and information about participating farms that are open to visitors. My family has visited farms for years, in all seasons — picking berries, apples, pumpkins, and zinnias; buying fresh vegetables, honey and eggs; feeding llamas, rabbits, chickens and cows; even making butter and milking cows, the last of which visitors can do at McClelland’s Dairy in Petaluma. Wineries, plant nurseries and restaurants are also on the tour.

We saw this newborn calf on one of our farm visits:

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It’s just enjoyable to drive along the farm roads from one farm to another. Often, farms are closed to visitors during a typical day, or are only open by appointment. So it’s especially fun when they throw the gates open on Farm Trails Weekend, and you can really go into the many different farms and experience feeding animals, learning about the harvest, meeting farmers, participating in chores, and otherwise enjoying a taste of farm life. You can even get a jump on selecting a pumpkin. Some farms offer hay rides and other activities.

See the Weekend Along Farm Trails site to map your route and plan your visit. You’ll probably want to visit farms that are clustered in one or two areas and plan about an hour per farm visit, or 3-5 farms in a day. Have fun!

(If your area has a similar farm day, let us know.)

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Photos by Susan Sachs Lipman

Why Can’t She Walk to School? in Today’s New York Times

Another disturbing sign of the times: This article in today’s Times about parents who are so afraid of stranger abduction that they drive a child 5 houses down (yes, you read that correctly) rather than let them walk, or even walk them themselves. Also in the article, a town in which people called 911 at the sight of a 10-year-old walking alone, resulting in a police reprimanding of the parent.

Something is extremely wrong with this picture! The areas of bizarreness and loss include: the dominance of an extreme and unfounded culture of fear, the complete absence of community, and the loss of independence for young people.

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I wrote a comment on the New York Times site, which I’ll repost here. It goes to the heart of what Slow Family Online is really about:

“This article both saddened and outraged me. Something is deeply wrong with a society in which children walking or biking short distances to school and to play is not only not the norm, but is actively frowned upon and even criminalized. There are so many things wrong with this picture: Parents are living basically alone, completely car-dependent, with largely unfounded fears and guilt that they are passing on to their children. What is going to become of this generation of children when they go off to college and to jobs and are unable to navigate their surroundings or do anything for themselves?

Children should be given reasonable increments of responsibility, and adults should be there to participate with them and teach them. We biked with our child and taught her road safety. We walked with her to elementary school and taught her how to be aware, use her good judgment, and which neighbors and shopkeepers to call on for help if needed. She is now a relatively independent teen who can navigate our town, call on her own sense of self-reliance, and have a little well-earned space away from hovering parents.

I live in a very safe small town, as I suspect do most of the people quoted in the article. I think that speeding cars pose a much greater hazard than stranger abductions. To that end, our town has a very active Safe Routes to Schools program, which is a model for others, with bike lanes, crossing guards at hazardous intersections during school hours, community involvement and interest, and continuing efforts to make the roads safer for walking and biking. Each year, for the last several years, the amount of children walking or riding to schools here has risen, and many children do this in groups. (Perhaps some parents can channel the energy they spend fretting into organizing walking groups.)

When adults and older children are out on and using our streets, they also become safer for younger children, and we all reap the benefits that come with slowing down, spending quality time together, observing things, greeting neighbors, having fun, gaining independence, being outside, getting exercise, learning about our surroundings, and getting from place to place without a car, when possible.”

This page about Slow Family Online illustrates more of my family and scout troop’s adventures in walking and challenges getting people out of their cars.

Photo by Susan Sachs Lipman

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