Friday, December 10, 2010

Furoshiki: The Gift Wrap that Keeps on Giving

Every fall my children’s school sells wrapping paper as a fundraiser. In past years I’d buy yards and yards of dancing reindeer, glittery snowflakes, and other festive patterns, complete with matching ribbons, bows, and name tags. When the holidays arrived, I loved placing perfectly coordinated and accessorized packages beneath my tree.

My conscious always nagged me a bit Christmas morning, after the flurry of opening, when I collected the remains of my gift-wrapping handiwork. I hated adding mounds of cardboard, crumpled paper, and curly ribbon to my garbage can and recycling bins. Still, creating beautiful Christmas packages was a holiday tradition. It was only once a year, I told myself. To make myself feel a bit greener, I started buying gift wrap made from recycled paper. But the post-Christmas paper carnage still tugged at my environmental sensibilities.

Then last Christmas, my sister-in-law gave me a gift wrapped in a beautiful silk scarf tied in a clever knot. “It’s furoshiki,” she explained, “a traditional Japanese wrapping cloth.” In Japan, people use furoshiki to package and transport everything from lunches to birthday presents. Similar to origami, the cloths can be folded several different ways to produce a variety of looks. No throwing out shredded scrapes once the party is over. Furoshiki can be used over and over. Simple. Elegant. Environmental. My present-wrapping problems were solved.

This year, I did not buy a single inch of wrapping paper. (I’ll find another way to support my children’s school.) Instead, I’ve purchased some festive fabrics and I’m practicing my knots. When my family unwraps their gifts Christmas morning, no need for that extra garbage bin. In fact, if every family wrapped just three gifts this way, it would save enough paper to cover 45,000 football fields. (Sierra Club) Try using furoshiki yourself this holdiay season; it's the gift wrap that keeps on giving.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Green Guest of the Month: Tim Magner, Growing Green Minds at Green Sugar Press.

Last week I caught up with Tim Magner, creator of Green Sugar Press, a Chicago-based publisher of eco-conscious children’s books. This week Tim shares some ideas on how schools and parents can help children “grow green minds.”

1.) In addition to offering engaging eco-themed books, how else does Green Sugar Press spread its environmental message to the community?

The Chicago-area is fantastic. There are thousands of organizations working to do good things for kids. Everyday there are groups meeting and functions happening. Things are getting done. I’m only one tiny piece.

At the same time, environmental education, or as I call it “inspiring kids to understand where they live, who lives with them and how the world works”, is still at the fringe. If you’re not in a well-to-do school, teachers are squeezed for time, focusing on test prep. And in the affluent communities, with enrichment activities galore, kids face mounting pressures to do “well.” This means tests and extra-curricular activities so they can get into the “best schools.” Too often, rote memorization is rewarded at the expense of digging deep and learning critical thinking.

2.) So how should schools approach environmental education?

I don’t blame individual teachers and schools for the movement to a factory model of school. Politicians who pass laws like “No Child Left Behind” and “Race to the Top” mean well. They think business leaders want kids that can read and write and do math. That’s true, but, more importantly, businesses need graduates that know what it means to remain creative, work on a team and problem solve. What politicians don’t understand is schools are not producing cars. Each child is different. And that’s what we want, and need. Too often, restless and curious kids are penalized.

A lot of schools do a little recycling or have a school garden, but, too often, even early teens at these schools can’t explain why they recycle or what impact it makes. I’m not against celebrating Earth Day, but why not consider the whole child? We know kids benefit from immersion in nature nearby. We know kids learn better with hands-on learning that’s relevant to their world. So, why not weave in reading, writing, math, science, history, PE and the arts using the surrounding environment?

This means no more cookie-cutter Amazon rainforest lessons to 2nd graders. This does mean teaching creatively, leaving the confines of the four walls of the classroom. This means connecting with the community you’re in. Invite local community members to visit your class. Bring in the town engineer. Yes, students have to learn state standards, but there are no laws which say how to teach them.

3.) You’ve said that the best way to encourage kids to care about nature is for them to “get outside and get dirty.” What are some suggestions you have for parents and teachers to help kids connect with nature?

It totally depends on the age of the children. For a two-year-old, an army of ants roaming around with a scrap of food twelve-feet from the back door may be their Serengeti. For a couple of seven-year-olds, the equivalent might be exploring a new park you bike to a mile from home. For a twelve-year-old, it may be their first overnight camping trip, sleeping under the stars.

The benefits of being outside, preferably with some unstructured, child-driven activity, are substantial. And this goes adults also. While I didn’t know Rich Louv two years ago, I reached out to him and he offered suggestions to me on our book, “An Environmental Guide from A to Z.” I mention Louv because of his idea of the Family Nature Clubs. It helps overcome a bunch of the obstacles associated with spending time in nature. A free downloadable PDF guide is available at their children and nature network site.

4.) When you’re not busy as a writer, editor, and environmental educator, what are your favorite ways to “get outside and get dirty?”

I love great tasting food, so have spent some time at local community gardens and rediscovered how great it is to pull weeds. It sounds silly, but there is something to getting your hands dirty- even if you’re an adult. No, it’s not something I need to do for twelve hours a day . What’s crazy is how easy it is to not get outside ourselves, but how much better we feel even with a little time in our semi-wild region! That being said, even when I get out for a run, I have to remind myself to forget the day-to-day grind stuff and to pay attention to what’s around me. When I’m lucky enough to be with kids outside, however, its’ far easier to stay in the present and take everything in.

Check out Green Sugar Press’s great books on nature and the environment at:

Then go outside and get dirty!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Green Guest of the Month: Tim Magner, Growing Green Minds at Green Sugar Press

Environmental educator and writer Tim Magner knows everything in nature is connected. To help kids discover these amazing connections, Tim created Green Sugar Press, an independent, Chicago-based publishing company committed to producing quality, eco-conscious children’s books. I recently chatted with Tim to learn more about this green company and its mission to hooks kids on nature.

What inspired you to start Green Sugar Press?
If, after a few years of doing something, I stop learning, it’s time to move on. About ten years ago, I was stuck in the rat race, working to make money. Luckily, I was in a position to be able to transition towards something that made more sense- to follow a passion and fill a need.
That, and I like being with kids. They are more fun than adults, and are great learners. I’ve never met a six-year-olds that isn’t curious. The trick is to keep them that way ‘til they’re sixteen and twenty-six and help develop their creativity.

What are some of the challenges Green Sugar Press has faced as a small start-up publishing company?
Too often, we describe work as the opposite of play, but if you can model work like play, it’s fun and it breeds success. By that I mean, watch toddlers play. As they try to climb onto things and move things, they are exploring and being creative. Through trial and error, and failing along the way, they are also solving problems. As long as we keep some of that type of work in our work, it’s never becomes work as we normally associate it. Does that make sense?

Apply that to publishing: we’re in a perfect storm. The existing structure works poorly and the business is changing. Why should a children’s picture book sell for $16-$20 with the author taking home 5%? And, yet, more often than not, the publisher puts up a great deal of capital and still loses money? Distribution and marketing look different today than they did ten years ago, and, in five years, they’ll be vastly different than today. Fewer hard cover picture books are being sold, and the e-book, in all its forms, is adding to the landscape. Hard covers aren’t going away, but there’s a chance a decade from now more kids will be reading more than today. The publisher’s challenge is how to better engage the reader and add to the experience.

The slogan of Green Sugar Press is “growing green minds.” What does it mean?

It’s about getting kids outside and giving them opportunities to be kids- to wonder, to wander, to explore and to investigate. It means kids learning about connections, first-hand.
I want kids to grow up smarter than us, so, as they mature and learn critical thinking skills, they become systems thinkers, understanding you can’t have a conversation about the local watershed, for example, unless you talk about a lot of different factors, including farming, transportation, public policy and who influences it.
Not all kids are going to grow up to become activists or conservationists, but all kids ought to have a chance to play outdoors, to bond with the natural world and to become ecologically literate.

Currently Green Sugar Press has three titles on its list: “N is for Nature”, “An Environmental Guide from A to Z”, and “Earl the Earthworm Digs for His Life.” Any new projects in the works?
Plans on seeking new talent?

Yes, everyone likes new projects. I’m in a much better position than eighteen months ago and have a few things cooking. Unfortunately, I seem to have issues with focus and following through.
I’d like to expand our influence and am conducting due diligence on starting a 501c3. The focus is largely the same, but we’d be more innovative- both on content and distribution. For example, we’d like to inspire youth to create work and then use the online community to be the judges. And we’ll focus on reaching the underserved communities, for example selling books at, say $1.00 each, and then giving the proceeds for development, perhaps to start a community learning garden.

At the end of the day, I’m only as smart as the average bear. I need creative people to help me.

Thanks, Tim, for giving us a glimpse at the exciting, green-minding thinking of Green Sugar Press. Check back next week for part two of this interview and learn how Green Sugar Press connects with schools and the community to spread its environmental message.

In the mean time, learn more about Tim Magner and Green Sugar Press at:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Eat Green...Tomatoes, That Is
If you planted a garden this year, then, like me, you’re probably left with an overabundance of green tomatoes now that the weather has cooled. In the past, the only benefit I saw to these late bloomers was their potential to become compost surprise. (You know, those random veggies tossed in your compost bin that sprout mysteriously in the spring.) The idea of actually consuming under-ripe tomatoes left me feeling a bit, well... green.

This fall I’ve had a change of heart. For one, I’ve redoubled my efforts to eat locally. With over 200 green tomatoes clinging to my withering vines, it seemed a shame to throw away such a bountiful and local source of produce. (As my son once said, “The only way it could be more local is if we grew it inside our house!”) For another, I’ve learned that the Whistlestop CafĂ© did not corner the market on green tomatoes recipes. The other day my mother-in-law brought over a delicious Halloween cake called “Boogers and Slugs.” Raisins served as the slugs, and the slimy boogers? You guessed it: green tomatoes. Nose pickings your mom actually wants you to eat? My kids gobbled them up.

Here are some other dishes that cleverly disguise green tomatoes in tasty ways:

Paula Deen's Green Tomato Pie:

Mario Batali's Green Tomato Spaghetti:

Not only do green tomatoes taste good in recipes, they're also good for you. Although they don't have the lycopene benefits of their red-blooded relatives, green tomatoes are high in Vitamins A and C and potassium. So go ahead, gather up those lonely tomatoes left on your vines. While you're at it, pick up a copy of Fannie Flag's Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe and enjoy a "green" read along with your green feast.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Ripe and Ready Apple Picking Picture Books…

After you’ve visited that orchard and picked a peck or two, sink your teeth into these fresh titles celebrating the apple harvest…

Applesauce Season, by Eden Ross Lipson. “My grandmother says there’s no reason to start eating apples when peaches are perfect. Applesauce season starts just about the time school opens.” Take a step by step journey through the joys of making applesauce. You’ll almost taste the simmering, cinnamon-kissed, applesauce and feel the warmth of family in this book that celebrates seasonal eating, farmer’s markets, and family traditions.

Bring Me Some Apples and I’ll make you a Pie, a Story about Edna Lewis, by Robbin Gourley. “ Time to get up! I hear the whippoorwill. That means it's gathering time." Thus begins the celebration of one family’s year of harvesting and enjoying local produce. Wild strawberries in springtime, garden-warmed tomatoes midsummer, crisp apples when school bells ring, these are the childhood memories that inspired famous New York chef Edna Lewis and her field-to-table cooking philosophy.

One Red Apple, by Harriet Ziefert. With folk-art style paintings and simple, but lyrical text, this book follows an apple on its journey from tree to market to mouth, exploring the amazing way that nature produces food.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Wednesday, October 6th is International Walk Your Kids to School Day!
Wake up a few minutes early tomorrow morning, grab your sneakers, and take a nice stroll with your kids in the fresh autumn air. You'll be joining millions of parents, students and community members around the world who are trying to promote more walkable communities.

The concept of an official "Walk to School Day" was started in 1997 by the Partnership for a Walkable America. By 2002 over 3 million participants from all 50 states joined in the effort. Today, parents, kids, and communities members from over 40 countries stretch their walking legs on this special day.

When you walk to school, good things happen:

1.) Air quality improves. A four-mile trip by car adds 15 pounds of pollution to the air. That same trip by sneaker: no fumes.

2.) Hearts start pumping. Walking helps promote a healthy lifestyle, especially important with the growing concerns over childhood obesity.

3.) Conversations spark. The walk to or from school can be a great time to catch up with your kids.

4.) Awareness increases. Your actions may inspire others to dig out their sneakers and walk as well.

Reading this after October 6th? Don't worry. The entire month of October has been designated as International Walk to School Month. You have plenty of opportunities to stretch your legs, join the effort, and reap the benefits of walking to school.

For more information, or to get your school involved in an official walk, visit:

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Don't Judge an Apple by Its Worm Hole...
On one special day each fall, my family packs into the car and drives west to go apple picking. After miles and miles of cornfields, we finally reach the big red barn and tidy rows of trees marking the entrance to Honey Hill Orchard. This year, we decided to go early to beat the rush. Instead, we nearly missed apple-picking season all together.

“Where are all the apples?” my middle son wondered as we pulled up to the barn. The trees seemed empty. “Orchard clean-up day,” a farmer explained. “Anything you can find-half price.” It turns out an overabundance of rain and hail early in the season did a number on this year’s apple crop. Still, we hadn’t driven nearly an hour to turn back empty-handed. We marched over to the first row of trees, determined to fill our reusable Trader Joes bags with those last, perfect Jonagolds, Goldens, and Cortlands clinging to hidden branches. As a bonus, we had the orchard nearly to ourselves.

“Got one!” my youngest son yelled, holding up a Red Delicious riddled with black spots. “Hmm,” I said. “Let’s keep looking.” After searching a few more rows, we realized that every apple left on the trees was damaged in some way. A bruise here. A bug bite there. I quickly lost my picky air. If the skin wasn’t too badly pierced and the texture still firm, the apple passed inspection. Before long, our bags were filled.

This year, the apples we brought home weren’t perfect-looking, but once we peeled the skins, cut off a few brown spots, and cooked them with a little cinnamon, they sure made some perfect apple sauce- for half the usual price. Orchard clean-up day may be our new family tradition!

If you live in the Chicago area, check out Honey Hill Orchard:

Otherwise, to find an orchard near you, visit:

Coming soon: A review of some perfect apple-picking picture books!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Farmer's Market Treasure: The Pawpaw

Some people rummage for treasures at antique stores. Others comb beaches with metal detectors. My family's favorite treasure-hunting haunt? The local farmer's market. Each week during the summer and fall, we visit different local markets, searching for new and unusual produce. Our favorite markets are green markets, like the Geneva Greenmarket on Thursday mornings in Geneva, Illinois, and the Green City Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays in downtown Chicago, across from Lincoln Park Zoo. Green markets require vendors to be local (usually within 100-200 miles) and use sustainable growing practices. At green markets, your more likely to find heirloom and little-known varieties of fruits and vegetables, most of them grown organically. A basket of golden raspberries, a bunch of cosmic carrots with purple skin, orange pulp and yellow core, a sticky slab of honeycomb- you never know what booty you'll plunder at the market.

Recently, on a trip to the Green City Market, my kids and I discovered a rare jewel. We nearly marched past the elderly lady waiting behind her simple card table. Her stand was wedged between a fruit grower and heirloom tomato farmer, both with impressive spreads. All the lady had were a few paper plates holding what looked like elongated, misshapen, and badly bruised pears. "Try this pawpaw," she said, cutting one of the "pears" and offering us a slippery slice. Intrigued, I tasted the fruit. Immediately, I felt transported to someplace tropical- the creamy flavor of banana, mango and vanilla filling my mouth. I'd never tasted something so exotic produced in the Midwest. We bought half the lady's supply, feeling giddy with our new find.

Back home, I did a little research on pawpaw. It turns out the pawpaw is hardly "new." It's the largest fruit native to North America and is a distant cousin to the cherimoya, a fruit you’d encounter while exploring a farmer’s market in Hawaii, or maybe Ecuador. Pawpaw was cultivated by Native Americans and enjoyed by early settlers. Chilled pawpaw fruit was even a favorite dessert of George Washington. But you won’t find pawpaw in the produce aisle of your favorite grocery store. Its splotchy appearance and extremely short shelf life have shunned pawpaw from commercial favor. Don’t be fooled by pawpaw’s deceptive looks. This fruit is a prize worth finding. But you better hurry; this gem is only in season for a short period between mid August and October. Happy hunting!

For more information on a greenmarkets, visit:

To learn more about pawpaw fruit, visit:

Friday, September 17, 2010

School Bells and Butterfly Wings, Part II: Good Reads

Check out the following books to learn more about butterflies and starting a butterfly garden:

The Butterfly Book: a kid's guide to attracting, raising, and keeping butterflies, by Kersten Hamilton. Packed with facts about butterflies! Learn about butterfly life stages, body structures, and habits, as well as the best plants to add to a garden to attract these winged jewels. As a bonus, the book includes a field guide for 20 common North American butterflies.

A Place for Butterflies, by Melissa Stewart. From the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail to the Oregon Silverspot, this picture book highlights twelve North American butterflies and their habitats. With an emphasis on conservation, the author suggest specific actions people can take to help these insects “live and grow.” Richly detailed paintings show close-up portraits of each butterfly against their specific habitats. A great book to introduce children to the concept of habitat protection.

Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly, by Alan Madison. With two “practically perfect” older sisters, Velma can’t help but feel a bit overshadowed. When she starts first grade, Velma struggles to find a way to become as memorable as her sisters. At first she misbehaves, but then she becomes fascinated with butterflies in science class. Velma pours over library books to learn fabulous facts about these way cool insects. A trip to the butterfly conservation gives Velma the chance to prove she is way cool too. Factual information is woven into this delightful story, making it a nice companion to a unit on butterflies.
Visit the Good Green Read page of this blog for more books on butterflies!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Recess Bells and Butterfly Wings- Supporting Natural Habitats at School

There’s a new splash of color outside of my children’s school. Where once only a plain patch of green grass grew, now bright fronds of goldenrod and purple spikes of Blazingstar sway in the breeze. Look closely, and you’ll even spot a flash of orange as a Monarch flits between the flowers. Both insect and human visitors are enjoying the new butterfly garden.

Plans for the garden began last spring, when a PTA committee contacted the Conservation Foundation, a local not-for-profit environmental protection organization, and asked for help converting an area of the school grounds into a natural habitat. The Conservation Foundation designed the garden, suggesting the best types of native plants to include to attract butterflies. They also helped us selected the best spot for the garden- a sunny area where students often gathered.

Before digging in, the area had to be cleared of grass. Time to call in the eager grade-school troops! Armed with piles of old newspaper, shovels, and mulch, the students went to work. They spread newspaper 6-7 layers thick over the grassy area designated for the garden. Atop the newspaper, they piled mulch 3-4 inches of mulch. The smothered grass died, leaving plenty of space for a new garden.

After a few weeks, the troops were summoned again, this time to plant. A local organic gardeners club donated native plants, including milkweed, liatris, and black-eyed Susans. On planting day, students had a wonderful time digging holes, planting, sprinkling compost, and even adding a few wriggling guests to the garden to help aerate the soil. When the school year ended, families signed up for weekly summer shifts to water and weed the young plants. All of the hard work paid off. By September, students were welcomed back to school by a garden bursting with cheerful blooms.

As time passes not only will the garden grow more colorful, but it will be easy to maintain. Native plants can withstand drought, so they don’t need extra watering. The garden will also do the important work of helping butterflies. Many types of butterflies are disappearing because of loss of habitat. This natural habitat garden will supply food and shelter butterflies need to survive and reproduce. Our school hopes to expand its garden as time goes on, not only to nurture butterflies, but also kids who care about and help protect nature.

To learn more about how to start your own butterfly garden or other natural wildlife habitat visit:
Illinois residents can get started by contacting the Conservation Foundation:

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Hooray for CSA's Part 2: Growing Little Locavores

The following is an article I recently wrote for the Green Earth Institute, the Community Supported Agriculture program of which I have been a member the past 8 years...

When I first discovered the Green Earth Institute’s CSA program in 2002, I thought it would be a great way to expand the limited, and somewhat picky palates of my two young children. Each Tuesday night venture to the farm that first season became a lesson in new and unique produce, items not normally found on my grocery list. “No that’s not a leafy octopus. It’s a kohlrabi.” “You’re right fennel does look like feathers and taste like licorice.” Thanks to the CSA, my kids soon learned to enjoy snacks such as kale chips and hakurei turnips, where once only peeled and sliced apples would suffice.

As our family expanded to include a third child the lessons my children gleaned from the CSA expanded as well. Through the farm’s camps and u-pick days my children came to appreciate the hard work hidden behind the peas and carrots dished onto their dinner plates. They learned how organic farming helps keep the earth and people healthy. They also discovered the rhythm of the growing season. They began to anticipate the treasures waiting in the pick-up bins from week to week: lettuce first, tomatoes later, and the coveted watermelon just in time for school to roll around. After a long winter of bland supermarket veggies, my youngest would jump for joy when he spied French breakfast radishes in our CSA order. He’d crunch into the radishes with a huge grin, understanding with each bite that in-season produce simply tastes better.

This season, my children have been learning something new from our CSA involvement: how to cook. On Tuesdays, my oldest daughter surveys the week’s bounty and peruses the newsletter for enticing recipes. Then she plans and prepares a meal, challenging herself to use as many local ingredients as possible. She enlists her younger brothers as sous chefs, and soon everyone is measuring, mincing, and mixing, turning my kitchen into a disaster zone. But the mayhem is worth it when the three young chefs serve up their creations with huge I-made-it-myself smiles. Recently, after a successful meal of fennel apple soup and eggplant dip on crackers, my daughter declared “I’m going to open a restaurant someday and grow all my own ingredients so everyone can enjoy fresh and healthy foods.”

I joined the CSA hoping to teach my children not to grimace at green veggies. I never imagined they’d receive such an education in eating healthy and caring for the earth. Thanks to the Green Earth Institute, I know my families’ enthusiasm for fresh, local produce will continue to grow in the seasons to come.

Check out the Green Earth Institute's website for more information and some great recipes using fresh, local produce:

Friday, August 27, 2010

Hooray for CSA's!

Did you know that bunch of carrots you recently grabbed from the grocery store bin probably traveled thousands of miles to reach your hands? Produce starts to loose nutrients the minute it is picked. No wonder those roots look a bit weary! Want a great way to get fresh-picked, vitamin-packed produce that doesn't need a travel passport? Join a CSA!

CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a special agreement between families and farmers. Families pledge to cover the cost of seeds, equipment, and other supplies needed to run a farm. Farmers can then focus on growing peas and carrots instead of worrying about nickels and dimes. In return, families receive weekly baskets bursting with fresh produce for an entire growing season.

My family has been part of The Green Earth Institute, a CSA in Naperville, for the past 8 years. We've become spoiled by super-crisp, height of the season produce that was usually picked hours- not days- ago and only had to travel a few mile to reach our mouths. I feel great about being part of a CSA. It boosts the health of my family, small farms, and the earth!

To find a CSA near you, visit:

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Roll Out the Barrel Part 2: Good Reads on the Water Cycle

Want to learn more about that precious water you're saving when you use reclaimed water from a rain barrel? Check out these books:

Did A Dinosaur Drink This Water? By Robert E. Wells. With simple text and lively comic-book illustrations, Wells explores the important work of water on our planet. Young readers learn about the three state of water, the water cycle and why all living things need water to survive. Readers discover that the water we drink today isn’t new. It’s the same water that dinosaurs once lapped up at watering holes billions of years ago. Wells ends by encouraging readers to protect our precious resource so that there will always be water to drink- even if a dinosaur drank it first!

Water Dance by Thomas Locker. From rain to river to sea to clouds and around again, water dances through its cycle in Thomas Locker’s free verse picture book. Blending poetry, Locker’s stunning landscape paintings, and science, Water Dance reveals the beauty and power of the most common substance on earth. The final pages include miniature reproductions of each painting in the book accompanied by a paragraph of factual information explaining a particular phase of the water cycle.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Roll Out the Barrel…
My husband and children gave me the best surprise for mother’s day this year. No, not breakfast in bed with a little blue box from Tiffany’s balanced on the tray. Instead, I received a giant terra-cotta barrel waiting to be filled with something even more precious: rain. I’m excited about my new rain barrel for two reasons. For one, it’s a great way to conserve water. One rain barrel can save about 1,300 gallons of water during peak summer months. That’s enough to satisfy my thirsty vegetable garden without ever turning on the hose! For another, rain barrels help reduce flooding problems and pollution from water run-off. Whenever it storms, the end of our backyard turns into a muddy lagoon. My rain barrel will help divert the run-off so that area doesn’t get as swamped. Rain barrels have become a staple item at most hardware and garden supply stores, so they are easy to come by. Some villages even sell barrels at a discount as part of storm water management programs. Plus, rain barrels are easy to install. My husband had ours fully functional in less than an hour. A gift that saves water, money, and the habitat of nearby creeks and rivers- what a great surprise!

For More information on rain barrels visit:

Coming Soon: A review of some great picture books on the water cycle and water conservation.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Veggie Vibe, Part 2: Books to Help Cultivate Little Green Thumbs

Blue Potatoes, Orange Tomatoes by Rosalind Creasy.
Wait a second- aren’t potatoes brown and tomatoes red? Not if you’re planting a rainbow garden. Creasy’s gardening guide in picture book format offers step-by-step instructions for planting heirloom and little-know variety of produce. From ordering seeds to soil preparations to weeding and harvesting, Creasy provides easy to follow advice for gardeners of any age. With bright illustrations, clever descriptions, and simple recipes, this book will inspire readers to grow a whole rainbow of unique fruits and veggies.

Kids’ Container Gardening, Year-Round Projects for Inside and Out, Cindy Kretzel.
Are your children gung-ho to test their green thumbs, but you don’t have the space, time, know-how, or patience for a huge garden? This book provides clever ideas for “contained” garden projects. From butterfly gardens, to father’s day fountains, to Venus flytrap hothouses, readers will find a garden to grow for every season of the year.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Green Guest of the Month:
Gail Green, “From Trash to Treasure”

As an artist and illustrator, Gail Green takes her last name to heart as she creates environmentally-responsible artwork. This month Gail will be sharing her eco-conscious craft ideas in two workshops she will be teaching at the Craft Consumer SuperShow held July 30th and 31st at the Rosemont Convention Center in Rosemont, IL. Here’s a look at Gail’s “green” approach to art.

Gail, one of the workshops you'll be teaching at the Super Show is called "From Trash to Treasure", which focuses on repurposing items normally thrown away. What inspired you to create this class?

One of my functions in the craft/hobby industry is to do project design. That involves creating projects and writing instructions that are subsequently published in books or magazines, used for manufacturers’ product packaging, catalogs, trade show displays, etc. So I keep a “stash” of different items to use for various project needs, including lots of items I’d normally just toss. I transform these items and turn them into published projects. We had also recently done a thorough “spring cleaning” in an attempt to un-clutter our home by turning our unwanted items into garage sale finds for someone else. And some cash for us! That’s when the idea hit me….and I wondered how many other people out there in this economy are thinking the same thing.

Also, I was raised in a household that did not have a lot of extras because we simply didn’t have the money for them. I was taught to recycle, re-use and re-purpose from a very young age. It’s proven very helpful in this economy because it is more natural for me to NOT throw out items that might have some purpose other than just be wasteful. I’m not a hoarder or live in a messy home….I was just taught the “waste not, want not” philosophy.

What favorite items of rubbish will you be reusing for the workshop? How did you decide on these items?

I already had a bunch of empty metal containers (Altoids), empty prescripton medicine bottles, glass jars and some other items. And then I started just looking around as we were doing our spring cleaning effort. I started seeing normal, everyday “throw-away” items in a WHOLE new way! For example, egg cartons. The paper ones are more environmentally friendly than the Styrofoam ones to begin with. And, when I painted items, I needed to elevate them so they could dry without sticking to the table. I thought of cutting the egg carton sections out, flipped them over and used them as my elevators! Voile! It worked! It has proven to be a great system…and a way to re-purpose something normally just discarded!

What other ways are you trying to "go green" as an artist?

I’m chemically sensitive to many things, including some art materials. Solvents or items with irritants are not only bad for the environment, they are also dangerous for people like me. With this in mind, I tend to use more chemically safe materials and have recently been exploring some wonderful low and no-VOC paints and varnishes by Earth Safe Finishes, along with some other chemically safer materials like non-solvent Tombow Brush markers and Glue Dots adhesives.

In addition to using environmentally safer products, I am VERY conscious of how I dispose of art materials. For example, just tossing old paint bottles into the garbage is not the best choice. It’s worth the trip to take them to the village recycling center so they can be disposed of properly.

Now, about those treasures…Can we have a sneak peak at how the trash will be transformed?

Of course! The photos show some of the projects, which include a faux marble finished glass jar and a transformed plastic photo frame.

What other earth-friendly techniques will be revealed at your Workshops?

Actually, the environmentally responsible concept has also segued into my Rubber Stamping Workshop, as well. I’ve developed an interesting effect mixing “green” household cleaning sprays with ink. Combined with Earth Safe finishes, the results are a luxurious, fine art look! I’ve even managed to incorporate cardstock made from sustainable materials—Strathmore Artist Papers’ new Bamboo and Hemp note cards.

Can you offer other environmentally-responsible advice for those planning kids’ craft projects at home?

Use everyday items or shop garage sales. Make a game out of discovering unusual uses for common, everyday items—especially those that normally are just thrown away. Other tips include….Read labels when purchasing arts & craft materials. Be conscious of the choices you make. Choose cardstock and other paper products made from sustainable sources such as bamboo, hemp or recycled when possible, as well as low/no VOC paints. If you must use products that require ventilation, make sure you do so. And dispose of questionable materials properly.

Thanks, Gail, for all of your green-minded art ideas!
Remember, anyone can attend the upcoming Craft Consumer Supershow to see Gail in action.

Information is at or you can visit her blog at

Saturday, July 3, 2010

UnCONTAINable Veggie Vibe

“They’re ready, they’re ready!” My youngest son shouted as he burst through the front door waving a fistful of purple and red radishes, dirt still clinging to their stringy roots. “Can I have them as my snack?” How could I argue with such an enthusiastic plea for veggies? And how did I arrive at this green-star parenting moment?

It started a few years ago when my daughter brought a bean sprout home from school. Having never planted a vegetable before in my life, I had slim hope for this scrawny specimen. Still, I stuck it in a container with my pansies, and like magic, it grew. Not as tall as Jack’s beanstalk, but tall enough to produce several handfuls of beans. The beans must have been magic as well because my kids gobbled them up. The next spring, I decided to expand my container garden repertoire and see if I could re-create the wonder of kids wanting to eat vegetables. I let my kids pick the seeds they would plant. Day after day my kids tended their containers: watering, watching, waiting. Sure enough, each time a radish, tomato, or snap pea ripened, my kids would pop it in their mouths and declare it the best they’d ever tasted.

Planting vegetables might not transform children into picture-perfect healthy eaters (my kids still wrinkle their noses at brussel sprouts) , but they’ll be a lot more interested in trying that carrot or pepper when they had a hand in helping it grow. Growing veggies in pots is a simple and easy way to start cultivating those little green thumbs. Container gardening doesn’t require hours of weeding or watering and is great for small spaces or yards with limited sun. The best veggies to plant in containers are those that take up little space, such as carrots, radishes, lettuce, peppers, or bush tomatoes. (My favorite are radishes. They’re great for impatient gardeners… less than a month from planting to harvest.) All you need is a pot, some planting soil and a packet of seeds, and soon you’ll be hearing those magic words: “Mom, can I pick just one more pepper.. please.”

To find out more about container gardening visit:

Coming Soon: More ways to cultivate those little green thumbs: Read my reviews of books on gardening with children!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Weight of This Blog: Nothing Next to Nothing…

The idea for this blog came to me as I was walking my three children to school. This daily, and usually pleasant, routine is one of the small habits our family has adopted to help the earth. On this particular morning my middle child was in a stormy mood, his temper matching the dark clouds brewing outside. After grumping over his oatmeal and refusing to wear his “babyish” rain boots, my son groaned, “What difference does it make if we walk to school when everyone else is driving?” As my son squished to school in soggy gym shoes, I tried to answer his question by sharing one of my favorite fables:

Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a coal mouse asked a wild dove.
“Nothing more than nothing,” the dove answered.
“In that case I must tell you a marvelous story,” the coal mouse said. “I sat on a fir branch close to the trunk when it began to snow… Since I didn’t have anything better to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and needles of my branch. Their number was exactly 3,471,952. When the next snowflake dropped onto the branch–nothing more than nothing — as you say — the branch broke off.” (author unknown)

My family’s commitment to walk to school might seem insignificant, but even the smallest action can inspire others to join the flurry. Sure enough, the following morning we noticed a new set of walkers on our route. As we approached, the mom said, “We figured if you could walk when it was pouring rain, then we could get out and walk some of the time too.” Another snowflake on the branch…

As a reader, writer, teacher and parent, I’m always looking for those “snowflakes”, the small actions that seem like nothing next to nothing, but when counted as a whole, can make a big difference for the earth. Through this blog I plan to share my little flecks of earth-friendly information with others. I’ll review eco-conscious books, post my own nature-inspired writing, and offer kid-friendly ideas for going green. I hope my ideas inspire you to read green, write green, and live green as well.

Coming soon: Growing little green thumbs... adventures in gardening with kids