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31 posts from December 2011

December 26, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Earthy Christmas



The Green Life is taking a holiday break, but we'll be back with new blog posts on Tuesday, January 3. Until then, please enjoy our archives and peruse them for green tips and reviews.

Craft Alert: How to Make a Cassette-Tape Purse

Cassette tape purse

Embarrassed by your obsolete musical collection? Let it sing a new tune as a clever purse. CONSTRUCTION TIME: 2 hours

Recently, a woman was arrested for keeping 95 cats in her house. It may seem incomprehensible until we each consider our own hoarding streak: Many of us have hundreds of cassette tapes packed up in boxes. OK, so maybe the neighbors aren’t complaining about the smell, but the detritus of our earlier musical phases is a nuisance in its own way, taking up space, perhaps, in your closet and psyche. You probably don’t even own a cassette player anymore.

If this sounds like you, consider making a cool cassette-tape purse using little more than glue and some felt. It may not make much of a dent in your collection, but it'll be liberating to stop revering the tapes as tokens of the past and see them instead as materials for reinvention. The hardest part will be sorting through them and deciding which to use.

What you'll need: Materials for cassette tape purse
° 12 cassette tapes
° A flush saw 
° A file or sanding block
° Quick-acting craft glue
° Felt or other fabric (a ½ yard is plenty)
° Belt, rope, or strong ribbon 
° Two small screws and corresponding acorn nuts
° Scissors
° Fabric chalk
° A tape measure or ruler

Use the cartridges as they are to show off your sophisticated taste in '80s music. Or if you prefer not to advertise how uncool you were as a teenager (Amy Grant’s Christmas album?), you can cover them with stickers and decals.

If you’ve never known a world sans CDs and iPods (or if you jettisoned your cassettes long ago) but still want to try your hand at making this hipster accessory, don’t fret: Cassette tapes are easy to come by. Just ask around. Diving into your aunt’s trove might tell you a lot about her younger days —  and, just maybe, why she became a crazy cat lady.

Click below for step-by-step instructions: 

--Wendy Becktold / based on a project by Tami A. Walker on instructables.com.

December 23, 2011

Mr. Green Helps a Reader Get Clear on Windows

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green,

We replaced our old windows with double-glazed ones, but now we seem to use more energy for heat because we've lost the nice warmth in our front room on sunny winter days. What's going on?

--Barbara in Lafayette, California

Double-glazed windows provide terrific insulation, but many of them are not designed for insolation — that is, letting the sun's heat in. So it turns out that some people who replace south-facing, single-pane windows with double-glazed ones end up running their heater more often than they used to.

The problem lies in air-conditioning. The window industry and the EPA seem to have decided that it's more important to block solar heat in summer — thus cutting A/C use — than to exploit the sun for heat in winter. The result is a one-size-fits-all approach that can disregard local climates and site-specific features.

I learned this when I got into a wrangle with a window salesman who was clueless about the benefits of solar heat gain. A single-glazed window lets in about 85% of solar heat, which explains your once-cozy daytime situation.

Some double-glazed windows admit lots of solar energy (up to 70%) and others very little (perhaps only 20%); this varying heat is expressed as the solar heat gain coefficient. You'll want the highest gain if you stand to benefit more from heat gain than from the cooling effect.

But even where air-conditioning is common — and solar blockage desirable — the devil's in the details. If you've got large overhangs (or shade trees or functioning shutters) that block the summer sun, you might save more energy by installing windows that admit more solar heat during cloudless cold snaps. 

Wherever you live, it's a good idea to figure out what's best for your site. For help with this, consult the Efficient Windows Collaborative.

Got a question for Mr. Green? Submit it here.

December 22, 2011

Grain Trust: Experts Recommend Their Eco-Favorites

Grain is as American as apple pie. So it's only natural that farmers who want to protect this land — and its amber waves — are growing it sustainably. Here are some of the best starchy staples, chosen by experts in the field. 

ANA SORTUN is the chef at Oleana, a Turkish restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The James Beard Foundation named her the Northeast's best chef in 2005, and her cookbook, Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, remains a best seller on Amazon.

"CAYUGA PURE ORGANICS grows and sells an amazing product called freekeh, which is roasted unripe spelt berries. The roasting of the grain brings a level of complexity to the slightly smoky pistachio flavor. It has an earthy color and is delicious in many salads and soups. Besides following organic standards, Cayuga employs no-till farming, crop rotation, and on-farm composting. All these efforts show in the flavor of their grains." $5.95 for 16 ounces

CYNTHIA HARRIMAN is the director of food and nutrition strategies at Boston's Whole Grains Council and Oldways, a nonprofit that promotes traditional diets. She helped create the Whole Grain Stamp, a label that identifies whole-grain products.

"I'm intrigued by GOOSE VALLEY's Rice and Bean Fusion, a blend of basmati brown rice, heirloom red rice, wild rice, and black and red beans. Blends like these, which are getting more common, rock people off their assumptions, showing them how delicious whole grains and beans can be, especially together. I like that Goose Valley has its own hydroelectric plant and natural methods of weed control and fertilization." $5 for 8 ounces

LEE RICHARDSON was recently named by Food & Wine magazine as one of the Midwest's best new chefs for his work at Ashley's in Little Rock, Arkansas. (Try his steel-cut oatmeal recipe.)

"My first choice for grain is WAR EAGLE MILL, a historic stone mill in War Eagle, Arkansas, that's been restored four times since 1832 and is still powered by a waterwheel. They're also committed to working with organic farms. My favorite is their steel-cut oats — I've been getting rave reviews about the oatmeal I make from them." $2.05 for 16 ounces

JESSICA LUNDBERG chairs the board of directors of Northern California's Lundberg Family Farms, which produces more organic rice than any other U.S. company. She also manages the company's renewable-energy initiatives and helped it become 100% renewable-energy powered. 

"The organic yellow popcorn from EDEN satisfies my craving for something crunchy. Pop the kernels plain or with a drizzle of organic butter and a sprinkle of salt. Organic popcorn is important to me because of the impact of chemicals used to grow conventional corn. Eden also certifies that their products are not genetically modified." $3.05 for a 20-ounce bag

MARIA SPECK is the author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals, which the New York Times named one of 2011's best summer cookbooks. She teaches grain-specific cooking classes in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

"I love brown rice, but I love variety even more. So when I discovered Organic Forbidden Rice, a mesmerizing Chinese black rice from LOTUS FOODS, it became a keeper. It's a uniquely flavorful heirloom grain with a delicate, sweet roastiness and an appealing soft-textured chew. It's rich in iron and antioxidants and cooks in just 30 minutes. I like it as a savory pilaf, but it's also great for sweet rice pudding. The company supports sustainable rice-growing methods in Africa and Southeast Asia." $5.49 for 15 ounces

BARBARA KAFKA is a James Beard Lifetime Achievement Award recipient who has also won the Julia Child Cookbook Award. Kafka's latest book is The Intolerant Gourmet: Glorious Food Without Gluten and Lactose. She lives in New York City.

"Searching for alternatives to wheat, oats, and barley, I found organic quinoa. It's a nutty-tasting, grainlike seed that maintains its structure during cooking. I love that it's rich in nutrients, loaded with calcium, and has the same protein profile as milk. People don't realize that it makes a hot cereal that's as good as any on the market. I prefer quinoa from BOB'S RED MILL because of the company's emphasis on organic whole grains and because it's very clear about which products are gluten-free." $10.29 for 26 ounces

--compiled by Avital Binshtock

Green Holiday Gatherings: Get Online

Video chat is green.'Tis the season for calendars filled with parties. This week, we're showing you how to green your holiday gatherings. 

Tip #4: Share green greetings online.

Video chat, email, and social networks make it easier than ever to reach out to far-flung relatives and online pals. If your holiday "gathering" is online, we've got seasonal offerings for you to share: You could send pals a Sierra Club e-card, give a virtual wild-place sponsorship, or post our festive green-tip infographic on Facebook.

Tell us: How will you be celebrating the holidays online?

December 21, 2011

Hey Mr. Green, How Should I Give Old Shoes the Boot?

Bob Schildgen is Mr GreenHey Mr. Green, 

Where can I recycle shoes that are no longer wearable? I can only find places that take gently used pairs.

--Astrid in Gloucester, Massachusetts

There are plenty of recyclers of new or gently worn shoes, like Soles4Souls, that donate the pairs they collect to folks in need.

But since yours are beyond that blessed condition, you have two options: Be a cheapskate like me and push the boundary between "unwearable" and "repairable" by fixing shoes with glue, or even resorting to extremist tactics like sewing sandals back together with used dental floss.

For a saner solution, imitate folks who creatively reuse shoes by resurrecting them as pincushions, bookends, or doorstops. And why not? Shoes can contain profound meaning, as they do in Van Gogh's famous paintings — although running shoes that memorialize shin splints and podiatrists may be more post-traumatic than artistic. 

As for thoroughly thrashed running shoes, check out RecycledRunners.com. And keep in mind that Nike is repenting for its widely known environmental sins with a shoe-recycling service. Go to NikeReuseAShoe.com to find out where to take old pairs; you can drop off shoes of any brand, but they have to be sporty (no sandals or heels, please). The company grinds them up and turns them into squishy surfaces like athletic tracks or materials for new shoes. Nike says that it's recycled 25 million pairs since 1993.

But with U.S. running-shoe sales now totaling almost 40 million per year, it's obvious that millions more could be reused or recycled. 

Got a question for Mr. Green? Submit it here.

Green Holiday Gatherings: Bright Ideas

Lighting menorah'Tis the season for calendars filled with parties. This week, we're showing you how to green your holiday gatherings. 

Tip #3: Choose greener candles.

If you're gathering with family to celebrate Hanukkah tonight, light the menorah with soy or beeswax candles, which aren't made from petroleum. You might also share the story of the solar-powered menorah in Woodstock, New York, to illustrate how one community's modern twist on a traditional ceremony shows their commitment to a greener future. Local rabbi Yitzchok Hecht told reporters, "the concept of taking the energy of the sun and using it to bring light into the darkness of night is a beautiful complement to the miracle and story of Chanukah."

Tell us: What do you use to light up the holidays?

December 20, 2011

More Than a Desperate Housewife, Eva Longoria Talks Activism

Eva LongoriaEVA LONGORIA, who plays the self-involved Gabrielle Solis on ABC's Desperate Housewives, takes on extracurricular projects that set her far apart from her shallow onscreen persona. Longoria is the executive producer of The Harvest, a new documentary film which tells the stories of three of the 400,000 children who work as migrant laborers on America's farms. She's also a restaurateur, an entrepreneur, and an advocate for an array of organizations, including United Farm Workers. We wanted to know what inspires her to be so involved.

Q: Why did you want to produce The Harvest?

A: I've been a longtime advocate of farmworker rights. Shine Global, which makes films about the exploitation of children around the world, came to me and said, "We're doing a project about child farmworkers in America." I was pretty well versed in this world, but even I didn't realize how many kids are in our fields: 400,000. That blew me away.

They asked if I would help them raise money for the film, and I said absolutely. So that was my part, I just raised the funds and made sure the film got shot and edited and finished, and then, of course, the promotion.

Q: What do you hope to achieve with the film?

A: We want to humanize the kids and the issue. People associate farmworkers with illegal immigrants, and that's really not the case: The majority of these kids are American-born. They're stuck in a cycle of poverty. They can't go to school, they get to school late, they have to leave school early, and they're always migrating.

We want to use the film as a political tool to change policies regarding child farm labor in America. The best-case scenario is that we get the CARE Act passed, which would limit the age that children can work in the field — a type of law which every industry has except agriculture. 

Q: What did you learn about how pesticides affect these kids?

A: I always knew pesticides affected farmworkers. That’s why I always tell people, “eat organic.” Not just because it’s better for you but because you know the people who picked your food weren’t in a toxic environment. But what I really didn’t realize was that the EPA regulations for what's considered a safe dose to spray on workers in the field are based on the weight of a 160-pound man. The dosage these children are getting is usually three to four times the amount that their little bodies can take.

Q: Did you get to talk to the kids? 

A: Yeah. The biggest challenge is the dropout rate. Because they migrate so often, there are social issues that they face with a new location, new friends, new house, living out of a car, all the psychological effects of all that. We asked the kids in the film, “What’s your dream? What do you want to be when you grow up?” And one, a girl, said, “I don’t have a dream.”

This kid doesn’t even have the capacity to dream about her future. All she’s been presented with is generation after generation in the field, and she feels that her only destiny is being a farmworker. That’s powerless. That really affected me. 

Q: You grew up on a ranch, right? 

A: I grew up on a ranch, yeah. I was not a farmworker. People think I have a correlation because I was one, and I was not. I have a passion to do this work because I consume food. If you eat food or produce, you should take into account where that food comes from. 

Q: Why should someone like you get so involved in these issues? Why not just sit back and enjoy fame? 

A: [Laughs.] I grew up with the word “volunteer” as a very powerful word in my family. I was inspired by my mother and by how selfless our family was toward others who didn't have enough. I grew up with a sister with special needs, so I was always in this community of people who had less. Or people who were told they were lesser than the average human. I always found that to be problematic because I’d see my sister accomplish things that “normal” kids couldn’t accomplish. So I was an activist long before I was famous.

Continue reading "More Than a Desperate Housewife, Eva Longoria Talks Activism" »

Green Holiday Gatherings: Drink Wisely

Holiday party with friends'Tis the season for calendars filled with parties. This week, we're showing you how to green your holiday gatherings. 

Tip #2: Party green with friends.

Whether you're dressed for a Santa Pub Crawl or an ugly-Christmas-sweater party, toast the season with a green brew in hand. Sierra magazine has recommendations for the best beer to order at the bar, the eco-friendliest wine to bring to your hosts, and the most sustainable spirits to mix into your favorite cocktail.

Tell us: What are your favorite holiday drink recipes?

December 19, 2011

Update: Hermit Crabs Move Into New Manmade Homes

Project ShellterProject Shellter has successfully created a shell that hermit crabs want to cozy into.

About two months ago, we reported on the initiative to get more hermit crabs into homes by printing plastic 3D shells. But there was a big hurdle: Nobody knew what kind of shell would attract the crabs.

In recent weeks, though, two crabs in the Los Angeles "crabitat" have relocated to plastic replicas of the Oxystele sinensis, a.k.a. the pink-lipped topshell. Kendall Kashellian was the first crab to make the move. Her sister, Kylie, soon followed suit.

According to Miles Lightwood, a software engineer who watches over the L.A. crabitat, a month went by before a crab even acknowledged one of the 3D creations. “We’ve been talking to people in the hermit-crab community. The first step is for them to see these things as shells,” he says. Lightwood suspects that the need for the crabs to grow out of their old shells before seeking out a new one might be the reason for the month-long wait.

Five crabs live in the L.A. crabitat, and a Brooklyn terrarium houses three more. Project Shellter hopes the other crabs will take to the new digs. But, as Lightwood says, “It’s up to the crabs.”

Click here to watch a nighttime video of Kendall moving into her new shell.

--Jake Abrahamson/ image courtesy of Project Shellter

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