Archive for January, 2010

why are costa ricans smiling?

January 29, 2010

From what I’ve read and heard from friends who’ve visited Costa Rica, it is the happiest nation on the planet. Why is this?

According to the New Economics Foundation’s Happy Planet Index, Costa Rica ranked #1 out of 143 countries across the globe. The NEF measured national happiness based on the ecological footprint and the health and happiness of a nation’s citizens. Perhaps not surprisingly, the US ranked #114.

Yes! Magazine reported on the happiness of Costa Rica last year, pointing out that the nation dissolved its military in 1948 to focus their spending on health and education.

The focus on education is not just about academic achievement. From the Yes! article:

Central to Costa Rica’s promotion of peace is the Rasur Foundation, which organized the summit and lobbied for the creation of the Ministry of Justice and Peace. Rasur is a teacher in a Costa Rican poem who tells a group of children, “Before directing the lightning in the sky, we must first harness the storms in our own hearts.” Through its Peace Academy, the Rasur Foundation works with the Costa Rican Ministry of Education to introduce techniques of conflict resolution and “being peace” in Costa Rican schools.

Read more…

Considering the emotional wealth of the country, it seems this major shift towards health, education, peace and environmental stewardship has paid off.

And I’m about to find out firsthand. This here blog is going to be quiet for the next week – I’m heading to Costa Rica!

Stay tuned for my observations and photos, and in the meantime, check out these videos about environmental education and stewardship in Costa Rica from

will barter for skills

January 28, 2010

This post is also featured on Greenopolis.

Skillsharing is hot right now. Maybe it’s because most everyone is on a budget or perhaps there’s been a great awakening where people feel compelled to share resources, time, and abilities.

If you’ve never been to a skillshare, here’s the gist: A group of people with various skills come together in the spirit of sharing. The skilled people teach a group of eager learners who either pay a small fee (like $10) to learn new skills or barter with their own skills or services.

Back in October, I attended the Brooklyn Skillshare and learned some great skills which I’ve since applied at home: upcycling glass bottles into vases, drinking glasses (and more) and making butter and ricotta. (You can check out the results here.)

Learning how to cast silver jewelry at the Brooklyn Skillshare.

If you’re interested in trying out one of these skillshares and you live in NYC, you’re in for a treat. From now until February 28 at Grand Opening (139 Norfolk St), you can learn a new skill every night at Trade School – as long as you’re able to give (barter) in return. There are some really cool skills being offered up, including foraging and preserving foods, fabric-making, community engagement, and composting.

Once you’re bitten by the skillsharing bug, it’s hard to quit. In fact, last year, after learning how to make soap, I felt compelled to teach others at a soap-making party. You can read more about my case of soap fever on the Handmade Soap Coach blog.



upcoming events at 388 atlantic

January 25, 2010

There’s a budding new meeting space in Brooklyn. It’s at 388 Atlantic Avenue (between Hoyt & Bond) and there are some great events happening that I thought you should know about…

388 Atlantic Ave – Brooklyn – closest to A, C & G, but near the B, M, Q, R, 2, 3, 4, 5, and F

Andrew Faust Ecological Literacy vs. Environmental Education
Tuesday, January 26 (tomorrow!)
7-9 pm
Suggested donation: $10

We need to embrace our responsibility for the well-being of each other and the entire web of life. This new worldview requires a whole new philosophy of education.

Beekeeping: Find out how to get ready for spring; making it legal
Saturday, January 30
1:30-3:30 pm
Suggested donation: $10

John Howe, founder of the Brooklyn Bee, lives in Fort Greene where he has three beehives on his roof. The bees make honey that John sells; he also makes soap, lip balm and candles from beeswax. Come learn how to keep bees. Plus, this is the week that the City Council holds hearings to legalize beekeeping in NYC (Wednesday, Feb 3). Just Food will speak briefly about the legislation and what we can do to make sure it passes.

Staying Healthy through the Seasons: Thriving in Winter Workshop
Sunday, January 31
3-5pm *optional potluck after
“recommended exchange”: $10-15

Curious about staying healthy this winter? Come learn tips for how to live in balance during the cold winter days with food, yoga, and herbs!
In this workshop we will discuss natural cold and flu prevention and care, eating in balance with the seasons and with your Ayurvedic constitution. Learn cheap recipes and how to eat well, fresh and local during the dreary winter months. Abby will teach you some great yoga poses to keep your energy up and blood flowing and Liz will enliven your spirits with great herbal teas and foods.
Come join Abby Paloma and Liz Blake for an educational and fun gathering!
bring a mug for tea!

Also, mark your calendar for the New York premiere of an inspiring new film:

The Turning Point: a film about the importance of local networks and connections
Friday, February 19
7-9 pm (film is 45 minutes; discussion afterwards)
Suggested donation: $10

From Findhorn, Scotland, a positive and inspiring film about our transition to a low carbon future. Featuring visionary leaders and pioneers in the fields of Human Ecology and Global Transition, this film takes an inspiring look at our potential to create a life-sustaining society as we face the twin challenges of Peak Oil and Climate Change. “The combination of serious, funny and beautiful was perfect!”

the seemingly benign white vinegar

January 24, 2010

I think it was my dad who said if you shop on the outer edges of the supermarket, instead of going up and down the aisles, you’re more apt to eat healthier. When you think of the way a supermarket is laid out, this makes sense. All of the whole foods – fresh fruit and veggies, meats, dairy – are on the perimeter of the store, as opposed to the processed foods stacked on shelves in the aisles.

But that simple rule doesn’t seem so simple anymore. It’s easy to become neurotic over food choices these days. Even Michael Pollan’s tome, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” deserves some caveats.

With genetically engineered and/or modified, chemically treated, and irradiated foods going unlabeled on supermarket shelves, and with all of the strange industrial food additives in packaged foods, it can be difficult to figure out which foods may have unintended long-term consequences on our bodies and on the planet.

One way to overcome this decision-making hurdle is to know the source of your food. I’m fortunate enough to live a couple of blocks away from one of NYC’s best greenmarkets, and so we buy most of our food there. But there are certain items that cannot be purchased at the greenmarket.

One food item that I like to buy at the supermarket is white vinegar. I don’t use it for cooking however. I use it to clean surfaces in our home. Vinegar has so many household uses (which I wrote about a while back). I got to thinking about how white vinegar was made when reading the label:

Heinz® All Natural Distilled White Vinegar is Always:

Sourced from sun-ripened corn.

Ultra-filtered to guarantee sparkling clarity.

Diluted to 5% acidity and bottled at peak freshness.

Naturally Good Since 1869!

Seems pretty wholesome and benign, right? Not when you know that at least 60% of corn grown in the US is genetically engineered (Source: USDA). Currently, it is up to the manufacturer to disclose whether their products contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). The only labeling you’re likely to see is a product label touting that it is non-GMO and not the other way around (no one seems to want to brag about their GMOs).

Why am I so anti-GMO? The answer is, we don’t really know enough about the consequences of GMOs to have unleashed them wholesale onto our complex ecosystems, our complex bodies.

And this recent study has just begun to unveil the potential outcome of the introduction of GMOs into the food web.

So what to do? I may have to splurge and buy organic white vinegar or use the pricier organic apple cider vinegar in lieu of the cheaper GMO variety. It’ll still be cheaper than buying chemically based cleaning solutions (which I wouldn’t do anyway) and I’ll be supporting agriculture that is less likely to have damaging effects on the planet or my body.

More info about GMOs in vinegar and other everyday products:

my dad’s (local & upcycled) handiwork

January 20, 2010

For the last few Christmases, we’ve been taking advantage of my dad’s penchant for woodworking. The first year, he made us filing cabinets. The next, a TV stand. And then the following, a curio cabinet. While all of the pieces thus far have been beautiful and much appreciated, this year, he outdid himself.

Using locally grown and milled quartersawn white oak from Woodman’s Sawmill & Cabinetry in Long Valley, NJ, he built us a hall tree (kind of a funny name, but I guess it’s appropriate).

The lovely hall tree.

The back is even beautifully finished to conceal the mirror backs and hardware.

In addition to building us this great piece of furniture, my dad rescued a chifferobe from the neighbor’s trash. It turns out it was solid cedar, but whoever owned it before had painted it (!). My dad stripped it using a non-toxic soy-based solvent. And then he completely rebuilt it into this new cedar chest of drawers for my auntie.

He even fashioned the keyhole out of recycled tin.

Not bad, eh?

We’re a luckily lot to not have to depend on mass-manufactured furniture. On top of that, these pieces are instant family heirlooms, hand-crafted by my dad. (And I get to brag about it!)

cupcakes & clothes for haiti

January 16, 2010

Just got this special message from Kaight, eco-conscious fashion shop that I wanted to share:

Dear Friends,

By now, we are all well aware of the tragedy that has struck Haiti. We know everyone is doing their best to help, and we would like to make donating as easy on you as possible. On Monday, Jan., 18, we encourage you to bring in any clothes that you would like to donate to the residents of Haiti. We will ensure that they get donated through “Fashion Delivers“. As a thank you for your participation, we will be serving cupcakes by Rabbit Mafia, and offering 10% OFF on any purchase that day. We will be operating at regular store hours and will open from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. We look forward to seeing you on Monday.

Thank you for your support!

Kaight is located at:
83 Orchard Street, NYC
(212) 680-5630

the story of blair mountain

January 15, 2010

Reminiscent of a particular Hollywood film you may have seen recently…


The battle to protect the historic battlefield on Blair Mountain has been waging for the past two decades. In March of 2009, dedicated local activists were rewarded when Blair Mountain was named as a Historic Place.

However, last week we learned that, after heavy lobbying by the coal industry and their allies, Chief of the National Register for the National Park Service Carol Schull took the unprecedented step of actually delisting Blair Mountain, paving the way for coal companies to pursue permits for mountaintop removal mining on the mountain.

Blair Mountain is a sacred place, and we believe that we can provide for a better future for Appalachia by honoring our past. But Blair, and other Appalachian mountains, will be destroyed if we do not spread the word about the injustice that is happening today in Appalachia with mountaintop removal mining.

Read more about Blair Mountain:

from one product, many

January 14, 2010

When I set out today to disassemble our holiday wreath, I was only thinking of the beautiful dried flowers and how I could put them in a jar or vase as decoration. But as I tackled the job to take apart this one product, I discovered a vast array of possibilities.

In order to take something apart, it helps to understand how it was put together. Turning the wreath around, I saw this one was constructed over a round metal frame with wire attaching the bows of pine. I grabbed a wire cutter and started unraveling the wire.

As I made my way around the circle, I could see the arrangement was a series of sprays or bouquets with a range of botanicals. Some kind of magenta thistle-like flower, eucalyptus, a white star-like flower, wheat, pine, and some other plants I can’t identify (Leda, if you’re reading, I hope you’ll enlighten me!).

I started imagining all of the uses of these goods. Here are the elements of the wreath and a few ideas I came up with:

This one was easy. Mulch. I’ll take the small pine branches down to the street trees for a nice covering. Or we can take them out to my bf’s sister & brother-in-law’s place to please the blueberries.

eucalyptus & other dried flowers & plants
I separated out all of the various plants into piles. Collating them this way, I thought of the person who gathered these plants and strung them together to make a lovely holiday wreath. I was undoing their work, but giving it new life. Now they’re in vases and various other vessels around the apartment.

One could always use a bundle of wire. Crafts, jewelry, impromptu home repairs, tying up sagging houseplants, or maybe making a wreath of my own. How about a mobile?

Alexander Calder's handiwork

metal ring
A lamp or chandelier. An art project. Part of a plant stand. A tie or belt rack. A giant halo for a Halloween costume. Any other ideas?

evidence of action: check out my fellow permies!

January 13, 2010

Hey everybody!

Want to learn a little bit more about what this permaculture thing is all about? Check out the presentations put on by my classmates in last year’s permaculture design certification course with Andrew Faust.

You can see my presentation about 1/3 of the way down the post.


Me and my ‘assistants’ holding up my permaculture site design.

blogging for greenopolis

January 11, 2010

I am tickled and honored to be blogging for Greenopolis. My first post may look familiar – it’s a rehash of the original Library of Trash post from early November. But just in case you missed it, or you wanted to see it in a new venue, here it is…