Overrun with Plastic Bags
Published on April 3, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley ponders how to reduce her use of plastic bags in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"Trying to reduce the amount of plastic we use is a constant theme at my house, but every time I think I’m making progress, I’m reminded of how far I have to go.

Last week I filled my shopping cart with fresh fruits and produce at a discount grocery store, filling two big reusable shopping bags. That probably saved six or seven plastic shopping bags.

But so what? Just about everything in my bag was wrapped in its own little plastic bag — red peppers and lettuce, avocados and onions, oranges and apples. The seltzer comes in plastic bottles, strawberries come in plastic boxes, each block of cheese is separately wrapped in its own plastic covering.

It’s bad enough that this is the time of year that makes me feel most dependent on petroleum — from the fertilizers that grow all this discount produce to the fuel that ships it to me from Florida and California, or Chile. Add to that the plastic bags made of petroleum, the gas I used to drive to the store, the fact that we’ve had another cold snap and the oil heat’s running again at my house . . ."

Click here to read more.

Early Spring
Published on March 26, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about the ugliness of early spring, and how it gives way to growth.

Here's an excerpt:

"'Are you going a different way?' my daughter asked as I drove the usual back roads to her friend’s house about two weeks ago.

'No,' I said. 'It’s just a very ugly time of year. Everything looks like mud.'

She looked more closely, and began to recognize landmarks. 'You’re right,' she said. 'It’s hideous.'

People wax poetic about the beauty of spring but the start of the season, pre-spring you might call it, is nothing but ugly. The snow and ice — yes, we still have some up north where I live — have turned brown. The exposed earth is the same color. Driveways are deep trenches of mud and the yards smell like dog turds.

Even the houses look like they’ve been coated in grime, dingy and dull, surrounded by mud in a barren landscape of sticks.

But it doesn’t last long. Soon the dun-colored world starts greening up and the fresh smells of spring cover up the musty old smells that emerged from under the ice."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Everything is Bad For You
Published on March 19, 2012 by Sara Foss

In her weekly environmental column over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about how almost everything we use is bad for us.

Here's an excerpt:

"As I suspected, everything is bad for you. Washing, eating, cleaning, the sun, sunscreen — everything.

Makes you want to just curl up and go back to bed. Except that your bed is probably bad for you too.

The more we read labels to avoid ingredients that are known to be bad for us, the longer that list grows. Now a new study says we have to watch out for all those things that aren’t even listed on labels.

The Silent Spring Institute, a Massachusetts-based nonprofit that researches links between chemical exposure and health problems, just released a report about hormone-disrupting chemicals in consumer products.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Health Perspectives, looked at more than 200 common consumer products, from cat litter and diapers to a wide variety of cleaning products. Researchers found 55 chemicals that are known hormone disrupters (linked to breast cancer among other diseases and conditions) or asthma triggers in the products they tested."

Click here to read the whole thing.


Fertile Ground
Published on March 12, 2012 by Sara Foss

Want to learn how to compost?

My colleague Margaret Hartley explains how in her weekly column Greenpoint over at the DG.

Here's an excerpt:

"Before you plant anything, it’s a good idea to think about your soil. The best thing you can do for your soil is to add organic matter, and the best way to do that is to compost.

If you’re a composter, you know what I mean. Kitchen scraps and yard waste, animal manure if you have animals — all get mixed together with a little rain, sun, heat and time. When it’s all finished, you end up with rich, black earth, full of earthworms and ready to produce beautiful plants, flowers and vegetables."

Click here to read more.


Time To Think About Gardening
Published on March 5, 2012 by Sara Foss

Tonight feels really cold to me, and we had our first big snowfall of the year last week but, according to my colleague Margaret Hartley, it is time to think about planting the garden.

Click here to read what she has to say in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Snow, Finally
Published on March 1, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I offer some thoughts on our long-awaited snowstorm.

Click here to read them.

Driverless Cars?
Published on February 28, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about whether we really need driverless cars, a topic I've written about myself.

Here's an excerpt:

"There’s been a lot of talk lately about the development of autonomous cars, cars that could be programmed to essentially drive themselves to wherever it is that we’re going.

These cars use multiple sensors, radars and video cameras to note the distance from other vehicles, local traffic and road patterns, stop signs and traffic lights. They are programmed with maps and speed limits, and use artificial intelligence to detect and react to unusual situations.

Robotic cars could drive closer together, getting more vehicles onto existing roads. By all accounts, such cars would be safer because robots don’t react emotionally, or get drunk or distracted, or fall asleep at the wheel.

Remote cars could free drivers to read, nap or, more likely, to engage in the electronic stuff that people endlessly engage in. Former drivers could eat breakfast, or use their laptops, or talk and text on their phones — without being distracted by the task of driving.

I would love not to be distracted by the task of driving. I spend way too much time in my car — my commute is almost 40 miles and it gets even longer when I have to drive a passel of high school kids to the community college, something I do almost every weekday morning."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Cool Pictures of Icebergs
Published on February 20, 2012 by Sara Foss

Want to see some cool pictures of icebergs?

Click here.

A Very Small Chameleon
Published on February 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

The world's tiniest chameleon has been discovered in Madagascar.

Click here to learn more.

This Winter Blows
Published on February 13, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about why this winter blows in her weekly column Greenpoint.

Here's an excerpt:

"Last week I gave up on winter. It seems like it’s never going to snow, the lakes are never going to freeze, so why hold out hope?

I stopped wearing my winter jacket, and stopped complaining about my son hijacking my boots every morning. He can have them. I’m not going to hunt down my cross-country ski poles, or finish knitting my husband’s extra warm ice-fishing hat, or my new mittens. I started wearing whatever mismatched, too-small gloves I could locate — a green one on the right hand and a black one on the left. That will do.

The neighbor kid I drive to school said I’m wrong, that there’s plenty of cold and snow coming. But the birds say I’m right.

On an early morning early last week, I heard a phoebe singing, something I don’t generally hear until mid-March. The sun was shining and it wasn’t that cold. But still, shouldn’t she be in Mexico this time of year?"

Click here to read more.

A World Without Cats
Published on February 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

Being a cat owner, I was eager to read this article, which poses the question: What If All the Cats in the World Suddenly Died?

I know what would happen if my cats died: I would sleep better, because nobody would be batting me in the face with their paw, or meowing by the door at 6 a.m. Based on my experience, a world without cats doesn't necessarily sound like a terrible thing.

But according to the article, the disappearance of all the cats on earth would be a catastrophe.

"By killing mice and rats in barns and grain storage areas, cats are vital for keeping those pests in check. In India, Beck said, cats are believed to play a significant role in lessening the amount of grain loss caused by consumption or contamination by rodents. In other words, it may be true that humans feed cats, but without cats, humans would have less food in the first place. [Why Do Cats Bury Their Poop?]

So, how dramatically would the rodent population increase if cats suddenly vanished? It just so happens that several scientific studies have been conducted that paint a vivid picture. A 1997 study in Great Britain found that the average house cat brought home more than 11 dead animals (including mice, birds, frogs and more) in the course of six months. That meant the 9 million cats of Britain were collectively killing close to 200 million wild specimens per year — not including all those they did not offer up to their owners. A study in New Zealand in 1979 found that, when cats were nearly eradicated from a small island, the local rat population quickly quadrupled."


I don't know about you, but I'd rather have a couple of pesky cats than an army of rodents roaming the streets.

For a different perspective, visit this Mother Jones piece, which suggests that cats are bad for the environment, at least in the U.S., because they kill millions of birds each year.


Greener Cities
Published on February 7, 2012 by Sara Foss

In her weekly column Greenpoint, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about how cities are getting greener - how they have more parks and natural spaces for residents and visitors to explore.

Here's an excerpt:

"When my daughter was little, she worried about people who lived in big cities. She thought they had no grass or trees, no woods to play in or fields to run through. Mostly she worried about their farm animals.

I explained that city people generally don’t have animals because they live in apartment buildings, and she thought about that for a while. 'So, they all keep their animals in the barns?' she asked, and then wanted to go poke around the alleys behind the buildings to find the barns. It made sense to her that if so many people lived in one building they would keep all their chickens and goats together in one barn.

That daughter’s a teenager now and has been dragging us to New York City a lot lately, auditioning for dance programs. Our friends have been hosting us on our visits and while they have no chickens or barns, they have a lot more green space than they used to."

Click here to read the rest.

Weather, As Weird As Usual
Published on January 31, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about this weird winter we're having.

Here's an excerpt:

"Since it’s winter, everyone is complaining about the weather.

Last year, the problem was too much snow. 'When will it stop?' neighbors, friends, relatives squawked. 'I’m tired of shoveling!'

This year, the complaints are more muted, as if whining too loudly will bring on a certain blizzard. 'Where is winter — not that I’m complaining.' That’s usually followed by: 'This is just weird,' and a whisper of 'I wish I could go skiing.'

We finally got a little snow, and my neighbor called me up to say that if I wasn’t too picky, the trails in his woods were good enough for some cross-country skiing. But I had to go away for the weekend and by the time I got back it was warm and rainy. Well, not that warm. Just warm enough to turn the snow-covered driveway and paths into a skating rink.

Which reminds me that I haven’t been skating yet. Or skiing. Although I have hiked a couple of times up an icy mountain."

Click here to read the whole thing.

Winter Preserves
Published on January 23, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, my colleague Margaret Hartley writes about her winter canning season.

Here's an excerpt:

"At the end of the summer, when produce is flying in from the gardens and the farm markets are overflowing with fruits and vegetables, there’s always something boiling in the house.

Tomato sauce, salsa, ketchup, jams and sauces are simmering, the big canner is full of boiling water and jars being sterilized. Vegetables are washed and blanched for the freezer, or chopped and brined in bowls and ceramic pots for relishes and pickles.

At a certain point, I can’t keep up with the canning. Or it just gets too hot for all that boiling water, and I start throwing things into the freezer to deal with later.

Later is now. It’s the dead of winter, and it’s preserving season, part two.

It makes sense. Our wood stove, which is a cooking stove, is running all day and most of the night, so why not have some sort of fruit butter slowly cooking down on it?"

Click here to read the whole thing.

Out in the Cold
Published on January 22, 2012 by Sara Foss

Over at the DG, I write about cold weather, geocaching and how being outdoors during the winter is refreshing, but also exhausting.

Here's an excerpt:

"Every once in a while, I check in on Facebook to see what the theme of the day is.

Last Sunday, the theme was 'cold.'

When I stepped outside to walk to a nearby coffee shop, I pulled my hat over my ears and scrunched my face up into my warm winter coat. The wind seemed to pick up as I rounded the corner, and when I stepped inside the coffee shop my glasses immediately fogged up and I had to remove them in order to see. Also, it felt like it was about 95 degrees in there, and my face felt really hot. In other words, a good day to minimize my outdoor activity . . . right?

Well, not necessarily.

That afternoon, I had plans to go geocaching.

Geocaching is a nerd hobby in which participants use Global Positioning System technology to find hidden containers filled with trinkets, usually in the woods. Last Christmas my sister got me a geocaching device, and I’ve used it some, but not a lot, mainly because I don’t have any friends who geocache.

Until now, that is."

Click here to read the whole thing.

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