National Bike to Work Day and a Little Speech I Gave

Friday was National Bike to Work Day, and Pittsburgh was a major participant, thanks to our local advocacy group, Bike Pittsburgh.   I biked often when I first moved to back to Pittsburgh in ’08, before I owned my scooter (have I mentioned I love my scooter?), and now a car.  Though my riding has lessened over the past two years or so, I am pretty outspoken about the importance of good bike/ped infrastructure, and was asked to say a few words on the topic at a community “visioning” meeting the day after BTWD.  So on Friday, I took the inaugural ride to my current job, and here’s how I told my story the next day: 

“During the past four years that I’ve been living in East Liberty, I’ve seen so much development in bringing people to the neighborhoods and getting folks out exploring the streets by foot and bike. As we all know biking and walking not only provides alternative ways of getting around, saves money, and reduces pollution, but really connects neighbors.  By providing safe paths for walking (through wide, well-lit, inviting sidewalks), and safe lanes for riding, our communities will become better connected, stronger, and more vibrant. And while Pittsburgh has seen much growth in this area in the last several years, with trail development, bike lanes and sharrows, and awareness efforts, we still have a lot of progress to make.

Don’t even ask…

Though I’m a pretty avid pedestrian, I consider myself a wannabe biker. I have always been comfortable on a bike, and confident in my right to the road. I grew up riding hundreds of miles of trails a year, but urban biking was new to me when I came to Pittsburgh. For many months, I didnt own a car and my bike was my primary mode of transit. I would ride to my jobs in Squirrel Hill and East Liberty, to run errands, etc.  I got all of the usual hoots and hollers from drivers (and I don’t mean the flattering kind), found myself dodging (not always successfully) one pothole or patch of uneven pavement after another, and keeping that eye out for car doors. When an angry driver would yell, I would mentally assert my right to the road…. and I kept hoping those repaving trucks would soon come through on my favorite routes.  But regardless of the challenges, biking really was the most efficient way of getting myself around, and I really enjoyed it!

However, my vehicle choices have since evolved  I am now part of the majority of the population that does have a choice, and while I so badly want to be a biker, it’s just doesn’t always seem like the easiest or safest option. While Bike Pittsburgh continues to do a great job of advocating for bikers, getting lanes and sharrows on our streets, and encouraging people to get out of their cars, biking was a much easier choice for me four years ago when I didn’t own a car. Those potholes, cardoors, and angry drivers all seem a lot more intimidating now.  Not to mention my commute to work is now farther than it’s ever been. For the last two years my bike has been barely used… In other words, I now understand how the majority of people feel about biking in Pittsburgh.

Taking a break in Lawrenceville

About a year ago I had a conversation that offered a mini-cross section of what I perceive to be people’s attitudes toward biking. Last summer, there were four of us in my office who all lived within a few blocks of each other. We carpooled often, and were all in favor of alternative forms of transportation. So, wanting to motivate myself to try out this new ride, I said to them “We should all try biking together sometime!”  These were the reactions: one woman was even more enthusiastic than I was, having also been a former bike-commuter… and the other two rambled off the following: “no way, it’s too dangerous! Pittsburgh’s not really biker friendly. I’d be terrified the whole time!”  And that is a conversation that I then started having with other people I knew, with similar reactions. There are a few types of people – those who will get bike or walk no matter what, those who never will, and those who would only with the right circumstances, and my coworkers, as many other Pittsburghers do, fell into the latter.  And me..without that extra dose of motivation, I never did take that leap back into bike commuting last summer.

But thanks again to Bike Pittsburgh, the state’s and city’s bike/ped plans, and the simple fact that more people are leaving their cars behind, we’re seeing changes. Now, a year after I had that conversation with my coworkers, and I’m proud to say I finally took that ride to work yesterday for National Bike to Work Day! And even more impressively, one of the women who was terrified a year ago is now shopping for a bike and ready to give the Pittsburgh streets a try… I felt great after my commute yesterday, and am re-invigorated to bike more…but I still ran into those same old challenges, and in many ways, it seemed little had really changed in my time off.

So, what I envision for the future is to see our streets become “complete” – supportive of pedestrians, bikers and then cars.  If you feel the same I encourage you to be a voice for safe and inviting streets, and to keep this topic in the forefront of our leaders’ minds. Sometimes it seems like we have a long way to go still, but we are getting there, and hopefully one day soon, we’ll have streets that are comfortable and convenient enough for everyone!”

A “Roundup” of Monsanto

You may have recently seen a petition making the rounds calling out President Obama’s re-appointment of Michael Taylor to the FDA.  Taylor is one of many former-Monsanto employees or consultants to conveniently end up working for the FDA or USDA, and has has been jockeying between government and Monsanto since the early ’90s.

Monsanto is the brains – and brawn – behind genetically modified soybean crops, bovine growth hormone, and the ubiquitous herbicide Roundup (for which many of their seeds are engineered for compatibility).  If you visit their website, you’d be dazzled by images of rolling green fields and probably leave fairly convinced that Monsanto is committed to the utmost environmental and human rights while saving the planet with it’s technological innovation. But that’s unfortunately the mask of a corporation that has undermined nature, human health, and environmental stewardship for over a century.

From Agent Orange to Alfalfa

Monsanto is not historically an agricultural company. It was founded in the early 20th century as a chemical company, and has produced such gems as DDT, Agent Orange, and saccharin.  Today it’s heralded by many as one of the most evil companies on the planet, and yet by others as a company with the key to ending starvation through GMO technology.

In its efforts to transform from a chemical company to an “agricultural” monolith, Monsanto has bought up seed companies that were already controlling huge portions of the seed industry, making it the world’s largest seed company. It’s said that 90 percent of soybeans in the US belong to the giant, and if they have their way, that reach will expand even further.  To date, Monsanto has claimed reign over soy, corn, canola, rice, alfalfa, and other major crops.

I don’t think many people today  need convincing that the extremely toxic chemicals like Agent Orange should be kept as far away from living things as possible,  but the widely-used Roundup herbicide that everyone from big-ag to “Joe Homeowner” uses is finally making headlines itself.  See, the jury is still out on GMO products, with many working hard to convince the public that they are the wave of the food-future.  But with Monsanto’s Roundup Ready GMO crops, acre upon acre is being doused with this chemical. The herbicide itself has been demonstrated as a toxic, endocrine-distrupting, genetically-damaging substance, and a recent study in Germany (referenced in this article), proves that what we put in the air and our crops does end up in our drinking water and food sources when they found every single urine sample tested to have traces of the primary chemical found in Roundup.

Forcing out Traditions

Since the beginning of vegetative growth, plants have thrived and multiplied by dropping their seeds to be borne into new trees, flowers, and vegetables.  And for thousands of years, farmers have used this biological concept to turn this year’s crop into next year’s harvest by washing and saving their seeds from season to season.  It’s practical, economical, and seemingly harmless. Unless you are a giant bio-tech-chem-agri-business that can at once turn a pretty penny and take over the world acre by acre.

What Monsanto has managed to do in the last 30 years is to patent genetically modified seeds and crops, which has in turn led to many… you guessed it… lawsuits… against hard-working people in small towns carrying on the farming traditions of generations. Okay, sorry to get sappy here, but really, some of these stories are truly heartbreaking.  In a great 2008 article in Vanity Fair, one such story was introduced with this paragraph:

“Pilot Grove, Missouri, population 750, sits in rolling farmland 150 miles west of St. Louis. The town has a grocery store, a bank, a bar, a nursing home, a funeral parlor, and a few other small businesses. There are no stoplights, but the town doesn’t need any. The little traffic it has comes from trucks on their way to and from the grain elevator on the edge of town. The elevator is owned by a local co-op, the Pilot Grove Cooperative Elevator, which buys soybeans and corn from farmers in the fall, then ships out the grain over the winter. The co-op has seven full-time employees and four computers.”

The story goes on to illustrate this little 7-person co-op being accosted by Monsanto, turning over all records of it’s partnering farmers, and thrusting this small town into a massive legal battle.  According to Monsanto itself, they have “only filed suit against farmers 145 times in the United States” and actually admit/claim that many of their suits come from farmers tattling on others in their community. What they fail to mention is the cohort of investigators who pressure those farmers into turning in their friends and neighbors.

To Label or to Label Not

Now that “genetically modified organism” (GMO) and “bovine growth hormone” (rBGH/rBST) are pretty well ingrained in the English language, people are calling for the labeling of these terms on the food products that we consume and feed to our children and pets everyday.  But thanks in part to Monsanto’s huge lobbying force and it’s history of strong ties to the very government agencies that make such labeling and regulation decisions, consumer concerns are being fought and squelched at every turn.  The best we’ve managed so far is to – barely – have non-GMO and non-rBST products labeled, and even that came with a fight.  Again, to the Vanity Fair article:

“Critics of the artificial hormone have pushed for mandatory labeling on all milk products, but the F.D.A. has resisted and even taken action against some dairies that labeled their milk “BST-free.” Since BST is a natural hormone found in all cows, including those not injected with Monsanto’s artificial version, the F.D.A. argued that no dairy could claim that its milk is BST-free. The F.D.A. later issued guidelines allowing dairies to use labels saying their milk comes from “non-supplemented cows,” as long as the carton has a disclaimer saying that the artificial supplement does not in any way change the milk. So the milk cartons from Kleinpeter Dairy, for example, carry a label on the front stating that the milk is from cows not treated with rBGH, and the rear panel says, “Government studies have shown no significant difference between milk derived from rBGH-treated and non-rBGH-treated cows.” That’s not good enough for Monsanto.”

So far, we’ve failed to convince government that we deserve to know when our food contains potentially harmful artificial genes and hormones, which just may be able to be traced to this public-private partnership that’s been cultivated over the years.

What we eat, what we know, and how we even understand the use of GMOs in our food and products has all been greatly influenced by the company behind it all.  This is not news; all industries lobby government, spin the media, and PR the heck out of all of us.  But to me, Monsanto is a perfect illustration of this tug of war between the public, the corporations, and our government.  In the last few months alone, a handful of large organizations have been swayed by consumers to reverse decisions, but for some reason the issue of GMOs, growth hormones, herbicide, and the seemingly exponential trend of our food systems being captured under a handful of multinationals is slower to gain traction.   Though it may be at a lower pitch and a slower evolution than the media blasts that swayed Bank of America, Verizon, and Komen, what I do find hopeful is that this conversation about where our food comes from and how it affects us does seem to be reaching a steady tempo.  

So while ties between corporations and government won’t be severed tomorrow or next year or even anytime in the next several decades, the public’s knowledge of these connections is vital to understanding and evaluating our access to information and choice.  You may not pick up a box of cereal or a block of cheese and see a bright red Monsanto sticker on it, but letting the powers-to-be know that you’re aware and that you’re not okay with it is a small step in what could be a big change for taking control over our consumer choices.

For more information… 

Read the Vanity Fair article. It’s worth the 6 pages.

Watch The Future of Food, free on Netflix and also here.

Check out this OrganicConsumers page.

Wikipedia, obviously.

Conscious Consumerism – Clothing Challenge Wrap-up

You may remember that back in August I swore off *new* clothing purchases for three months.  Well, last week marked the end of this little challenge. “Challenge” may be misleading, however, as the word generally denotes that something will be difficult and take a great amount of work and focus.  In my case, the only time I even needed a reminder of my goal was when I really wanted to buy a T-shirt from my yoga studio!  Otherwise, this no-new-clothing thing was FUN!  Here’s the round-up:

Total amount of new items: 23. Mostly tops, 2 pants, 2 scarves, 2 dresses.  I feel like I should say first that almost never in my life have I purchased over 20 items of clothing within a three month time period!  In fact, last year I might have purchased 30 items in an entire year.  But this “binge” made barely a dent in my wallet nor did it support an endless production line somewhere across the world.

Total amount spent: $36.  Yes, you read that correctly. Thirty-six big ones for 23 items!  That’s about $1.50 an item, but the truth is that most of what you see was 100% free. The majority of those dollars were spent at Avalon Exchange, and in the interest of full disclosure, that was $31 for about $75 worth of clothes, thanks to their exchange program.  But even 80 bucks for 23 items is a steal!

Give-and-Take Swap in Braddock

Where the clothes came from: second-hand shops and clothing swaps.  Remember that list I posted a while back of local thrift stores?  The only one I ended up visiting during this period was Avalon. These three months happened to be full of clothing swaps – four, to be exact. Two were run by friends, one was a post-30-day-challenge celebration at the yoga studio (I finished the challenge, yay!), and one was a big public swap held by Give-and-Take.

What now?  This was probably the easiest of my multiple “challenges” over the past three months (30 day yoga challenge, and two-month vegan challenge!).  Now that it’s technically over and I realize how simple it was, there’s little chance that I’ll go back to buying new clothes. Sure, a few pairs of new underwear are called for every now and then, and there are other things that I prefer to buy unused (workout clothes, socks), but those purchases will remain few and far between.

How anyone can do this: I know multiple people who rarely, if ever, buy new articles of clothing.  Not only is it cheaper, it’s also more fun, and extremely easy!

1. You know that bag of clothes you drop off at a donation center every few months?  Put a notice out to your pals to save your bags for a swap party!  Make some food, maybe some mimosas, toss your clothes onto a table and start grabbing.  Whatever’s left can be saved for another swap, or go to the local Goodwill, OWS camp, or other donation center.

2. Find your favorite local thrifts.  Each thrift store has it’s own personality and uniqueness, so find a few that suit you and visit often!

3. Yard sales! Yard sale season is pretty much over here in PA, but neighborhood sales are great places to find cool clothes once the weather warms up.

4. Craigslist, Freecycle, and http://www.swapstyle.com.  I haven’t tried the latter since I tend to avoid sending things through the mail (no good reason other than it seems like sort of a hassle), but swapstyle allows you to exchange clothes with people from all over the world, so if you’re not afraid of post offices, it’s worth checking out!

So there it is – the clothing challenge wrap-up! As for my other challenges, there may an update or two about those in the near future. For now, though, I am focused on “No-Buy-November,” an effort to redirect the holiday binge-buying toward more sustainable gifting ideas like making, reusing, and repurposing!  This won’t be too difficult for me, since I’ve never participated in the Black Friday phenomenon and have already decided not to do typical gifts this year. However, I do hope that it gets others thinking about how to save some money and resources this holiday season.

What are your favorite places to find used clothes?  Where does your donation bag go? 

Friday Faves – Sept 30

Technically I have two weeks worth of faves to report, since I opted for dinner out with friends last Friday instead of posting (still working my blog time management…)  Turns out it’s been an exciting couple of weeks!

Reuniting with friends.

YERT: Your Environmental Road Trip feature film.  In 2007, three friends began a year-long road trip that would cover all fifty states and explore environmental innovation around the country.  Yes, innovation. Though it doesn’t gloss over the very real need for environmental champions, this is no doom and gloom film.  YERT features passionate people around the country who are facilitating change in their own communities and nationwide.  There is, however, one scene that has brought me to tears all three times I’ve seen it (you’ll know it when you get to it).  Hundreds of hours of film was taken on this journey, and the feature film is two solid hours of inspiration, education, and reflection.  Check out their YERTpods online then get yourself to a screening ASAP!

Forks Over Knives movie.  This movie is getting tons of buzz recently.  I first watched it at a Whole Foods-sponsored pre-release screening almost a year ago, and it recently made its way to Netflix streaming.  After a few weeks of urging the bf to watch it with me, I finally just turned it on one night and hoped he would pay attention.  Well, he did, and at the end turned to me and said, “so do you want to go vegan for two months?”   If you haven’t seen yet, it’s offers a truly compelling look at the benefits of a plant-based diet, and is related to the clip I posted about a few weeks ago.

Being vegan.  I’ve been “vegetarian” for about 15 months, so thought that going plant-strong vegan would be a cinche. I never quite realized, however, just how many animal products were in my diet until I made a conscious effort to take them all out.  A quick slice of veggie pizza at lunch, curries at a favorite Thai restaurant that have fish oil in them, pastries, cookies, cheese and crackers, Sunday brunch at local restaurants, even vitamins and supplements.  It’s been a real learning experience so far. I love looking up delicious vegan meals to make and experimenting with ingredients I’ve always wanted to try (nutritional yeast=new favorite seasoning!).  The bf has always been the primary chef in this house, but I’m determined that over the next two months, I’ll become a vegan cooking queen!


Reuniting with craft group.

Playing real games in real life.  Friend: “Have you ever played Bananagrams?” Me: “No, what is it?” Friend: “It’s a real, in person game.” Me: “You mean on an iPhone?” Friend: eye roll.  It’s not that I’ve forgotten about real-life games, I just haven’t played any in ages!  In an era of online chess, scrabble, hangman, you name it, I do wonder if fewer people sit around a table with dice and a board and snacks and friends or family.  But in the past couple of weeks, I’ve engaged in TWO whole game nights that didn’t involve a handheld electronic device…except when the device was used as a timer, a dictionary, and entertainment for people waiting to take their turns. But anyway, it’s a start!

Discovering OpenCourseWare.  Huge thanks to A for sending me the link to FREE college courses through Johns Hopkins. And not just any old mundane courses, but the most popular ones offered through Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health. OpenCourseWare is not new, nor is it limited to a handful of universities.  Apparently MIT was the first to offer these free-to-the-public classes and now you can study “at” Tufts, University of Michigan, Duke, UMass, and many others.  In an era of soaring tuition costs that take decades to pay off, I believe open courses like the ones already being offered will open doors for people to explore career changes, develop in their current professions, and become recreational students all without paying a dime!

30 Day Yoga Challenge- starting tomorrow.  The place I like to refer to as “my neighborhood yoga studio” opened one year ago, and to celebrate they’re inviting their yogis to practice every single day for the month of October.  Successful participants receive gift cards and discounts to area businesses, but most of all, they build a daily practice, something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time! Since this particular studio opened, I’ve been practicing at minimum twice a week – way more consistently than any other time in my life.  I feel like it’s only fitting, then, that I celebrate my one-year yoga-versary by reaching this daily practice milestone that I hope to keep up for years to come.

What are your favorites of the week?  And I’d love to hear your feedback if you’ve seen either of the films mentioned!

Why I Love my Scooter and Think Everyone Should Have One

This Friday Fave focuses on my fave of all faves… my scooter… affectionately dubbed “tuk-tuk” after the three-wheeled motorized rickshaws of Thailand.

I was going to title this post “Why I Love my Scooter…Let me Count the Ways,” but decided that was way too cliche, and I’m also not really counting. I’m simply listing the top reasons I think we should and will see more of these small, adorable, two-wheeled vehicles on the streets! Aside from their generally acknowledged cool-ness, there are other very tangible benefits to owning of these alternatives to a car.

Fun. Seriously fun. My 50cc maxes out at about 37 mph, but that doesn’t stop me from grinning through a swooping turn and getting a kick out of myself putt-putting up Pittsburgh’s hills (sorry if you’ve ever been stuck behind me on South Negley!).  But you get to look at the world (and feel it!) without a sheet of glass shielding your view.

Eco friendly.  I live about 1 mile or less from 4 grocery stores, a Target, my yoga studio, the place I volunteer every Friday, and dozens of restaurants. Driving my car to these places elicits a fair amount of guilt. Biking isn’t always practical. But taking my scooter is a sound choice most of the year. It’s quick, I can fit bags on/in it, and it gets…wait for it… 100 miles per gallon.  Some get close to 150, and you can find a bunch of electric models around now!

Park anywhere. In this city at least, we haven’t quite caught on to the just-park-on-the-sidewalk mentality of many countries, but regardless of that, you never have to worry about parking. Don’t want to take up a full spot in a crowded parking lot? Park next to a pole, next to the bike racks, share a space with another motorcycle, or pull up at the end of a row. (So far, I’ve never been ticketed, towed, or otherwise reprimanded for any of these things…) On the street, find a space between a pair of cars that are far enough apart to not run into you when they pull out, but too close to allow another car to squeeze in. You may even find that your city has designated motorcycle parking spots, or that you can park in lots for cheap or free. The handful of times I’ve had to park downtown, I’ve found whichever lots where closest my destination and have never had to pay full price to park in any of them!

Community. On any given week, I have approximately 4 interactions that are a direct result of me being on a scooter. These range from the “Hey, can I get a ride” jokes, to head nods from dudes on Harleys, to the more earnest questions about where I got it, how much it was, and how many miles I get to the gallon. Sitting in downtown traffic a few weeks, I had a full five-minute conversation with a woman waiting for a bus who was sincerely trying to figure out if she should get one.  Then there was the fireman I chatted with while he stood in the middle of the road during the local  boot drive. And the bouquet I was handed last week by the flower vendors who frequent the 16th Street Bridge!  These little interactions are the biggest reason I love being out in the open instead of closed up in a box of glass and steel and have given me many different perspectives of my community.

And lastly…

Low cost. This could actually be broken out into multiple points, since these things are cheap on so many levels – gas, insurance, purchase price, maintenance.  So cheap, in fact, that to operate my scooter for one season (April through early November) it costsless than half of what it takes to own my car for one month.  Part of the difference comes from my hefty car payment at the moment, whereas my scooter is owned outright. Take away that monthly payment, though, and it costs the same for one year of the scooter as it does for one month of the car!  (So why do you own a car? you may be asking… Well, I ask myself that all the time…)

So there they are, the reasons you should own a scooter.  Maybe you have one already, but if you don’t, I expect to see you zipping around town by next June!  🙂

Friday Faves – Sept 2

September already!  I’m not ready for this, for two reasons:

1. School starts, weather gets cooler, people come back from vacations – basically, it’s the end of summer, and even though I no longer get “summer vacation,” I still like the vibe of the world and of my city during those few months more than any other time.  But I also like my fleece jackets, so I won’t really complain until I’m pulling out the hats and gloves.

2. I turn 29.  I’ve noticed a sort of annoying habit among bloggers to philosophically  talk about their birthdays, so all I will say about mine is that time is simply going by too fast!

To be honest, I think my favorite thing about this week is the pending three day weekend, and since I’m heading on a 5 hour drive in a matter of minutes, this post is going to be mighty short.  I’m looking forward to a relaxing weekend at my parents’ house, and celebrating the marriage of a good high-school friend!

In the meantime, check out my last post on stormwater and greenery.  And this green roof photo was taken from the stairs leading to my office. (Photo taken with my new phone, so pardon the quality.

If you look really hard, you can see it, I promise.

My office is in the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh – for more info on how this building uses green roofs, check out http://www.greenroofs.com/projects/pview.php?id=72.

Until next time… think about your favorite moments of the week!

Reducing Stormwater Runoff with Rain Gardens, Green Roofs, and Living Walls

About a week ago, Pittsburgh experienced a flash flood that took four lives in a matter of minutes. This came after a quick, hard downpour days before Irene was even making her way up the coast. While Pittsburgh is surrounded by rivers, our floods are rarely caused by breaches of those banks.  Rather, they are the result of a sewer system that’s unable to accomodate a large deluge of water in the combination of heavy rainfall, weak pipes, and runoff from pavement and yards.  As one eyewitness put it, the manholes seemed to explode out of the ground that day.

There are two kinds of sewer systems. Separate systems have, as you’ve probably guessed, two different sets of pipes for waste water and stormwater (systems built after 1940). However, in Pittsburgh and many other communities, we have a combined system – one network transporting both waste and stormwater (systems built before 1940). You can probably imagine that’s it’s not very difficult for this system to be overworked. In fact, just 1/10 of an inch of rain is enough to push them into overload! When an influx of stormwater hits the pipes, two major issues can occur: the overflowing pipes will leak sewage straight past the treatment plants and into the rivers where we kayak, boat, and fish, and/or we find our streets, driveways, and basements buried in water.

Fixing systems like this is costly and cumbersome. According to 3 Rivers Wet Weather, it could cost up to $3 billion! Fortunately, there are some solutions that don’t necessitate a costly overhaul of entire sewer systems, and in combination can significantly reduce the amount of water flowing through those pipes.

Rain Gardens

It sounds almost majestic, doesn’t it? Rain gardens…. And they can be!  But anyway, what on earth is a rain garden, you ask. It’s simply a garden (generally with native plants) that is designed to absorb lots of water, filtering it into the ground instead of our pipes!  So what makes it different than any other garden?  In many parts of the US, we have dense clay soil that can only accept so a little bit of water before refusing the rest and sending it back out into the streets to end up in the you-know-what. So if you dug your garden just to fit the roots of your plants in, or even just buried some seeds in the ground, chances are you’re still battling that solid clay in your yard. For rain gardens, the goal is to make the soil as amenable as possible to large quantities of water. In many cases, this means removing the entire layer of topsoil (clay!), and replacing it with a mixture of loamy-sandy-composty soil. During heavy rains, when water is pouring through your downspouts, overrunning your gutters, and seeping into your walls (or is that last one just my house?), it ends up watering the beautiful native plants in your rain garden instead of pushing our sewer pipes to the point of exploding manholes.

Green Roofs

Green roofs have been in the news for awhile now, and probably aren’t new to anyone reading this. Not only do they capture, filter, and drain water, reducing the amount of swift stormwater runoff, they also help control the climate of their buildings.  Chicago currently has the most green roofs of any U.S. city, and this is a pretty strong selling point for other metro areas to follow suit:

“In August of [2001], researchers recorded a rooftop temperature of 119 degrees in the planted area, compared with a blistering 169 degrees on an adjoining black tar roof. Since then, the green roof has saved the city an estimated $3,600 in annual cooling and heating costs. If all Chicago roofs were similarly clad, city officials believe peak energy demand could be cut by 720 megawatts, or enough electricity for 750,000 consumers. Similarly, the load on the city’s storm sewer system could be slashed by roughly 70 percent.” – From this article 

Living Walls

Living walls like this one on PNC Bank building in downtown Pittsburgh are similar to their rooftop counterparts. They collect and absorb rainwater, help regulate temperatures, and may also break up heavy winds.  Artsy, practical, and can even be enjoyed from the sidewalk!

Personally, one of my life goals is to someday have a green roof AND a rain garden!  I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  And for a few moments of awe, do a quick google image search on green roofs… you won’t regret it.

Friday Faves – August 26

Is it just me, or has this summer flown by like no other?  It’s hard to believe that one of my top moments this week was welcoming kids back to school! Between that and the chilly northern evenings, fall is upon us and it won’t be long before I’m longing for the days of sweat-dripping humidity.  Here they are, the faves of this week:

“Dinner Sometimes” Greek night.  I can’t quite recall how our dinner club came to be named “Dinner Sometimes,” but our motto could be (as put by one member), “people who eat dinner all the time, but only with us sometimes.” It’s nonsense, really. But our meals are totally fabulous, and last week’s was no exception. Each month, the person or couple hosting dinner chooses a theme (so far – Mexican, Southern American, and Greek) and designs a menu. Hosts are responsible for entrees and drinks (kebabs and wine), and the rest gets divvied up (grape leaves, salad, hummus and baba, baklava). Each cook gets to exercise their creativity over the dish, so if you pick grape leaves, you get to make any sort of grape leaves you want!  In the end, everyone is surprised, and no one is left with the stress of cooking a 5 course meal for 10 people…

Photo courtesy EBC 🙂

A post-work 6-miler along the river.  My goal was 10 miles, but what do ya know, the trail ended.  On a normal night I would have simply turned around and ridden beyond my starting point to up the mileage, but on this night it would have put me smack dab in the middle of Pirates game foot traffic, and I was not willing to dodge that many yinzers…

Switching to CREDO Mobile. Hopefully this one remains a fave, and doesn’t turn into a regret (switching carriers was more stressful for me than I’d like to admit…what if the coverage is bad, what if something goes wrong and I can’t get a person on the phone, etc). But for the last two years, I’d been getting letters from CREDO telling me that my cell phone company funds political candidates and organizations I’d rather not support. While they also funded initiatives I do support, like educational resources and local volunteer efforts, there seem to be a few major differences. CREDO donates 1% of each member’s phone bill to a set of predetermined non-profits like Rainforest Action Network, Planned Parenthood, and Human Rights Watch. Members also vote annually on who they want to see supported by the company, and apparently (though I obviously haven’t gotten this far) have a say in how much goes to each organization. Meanwhile, the other company never asked for my opinion on where their money went, and I had to dig around a bit to find that info. As someone who generally doesn’t have much extra cash for donations, it’s nice to think I can financially support organizations like these just by paying my phone bill each month.

Admittedly, the first screen shot I took included a tab with the search term "how to screen shot on safari"....

Welcoming kindergartners to their first day of school with Ready Freddy. Did you know that Pennsylvania and a number of other states don’t require children to attend kindergarten?  In fact, kids don’t have to go to school until age 8!  Think of a child entering school in 1st grade, while his or her peers have a full academic year in them already. The University of Pittsburgh’s Ready Freddy Kindergarten Transition program has been partnering with Pittsburgh Public Schools to raise awareness about the importance of this early grade, and better prepare children for that first walk into the classroom. For the last three years, I’ve cheered alongside dozens of other community members and teachers at one local public school. Most kids love the attention, while some bury their faces into their parents’ legs. But at least they all know this is a day to celebrate.  Click here for local news coverage (I’m in this video somewhere!)

Now take a moment to think of your faves of the week! 

Buy Used – Clothing Challenge Shopping Spree #1

On the inaugural weekend of my used-only clothing challenge a few weeks ago, my pal Melissa and I decided on a little shopping day trip.

We started out by exploring Rossi’s Pop-up Marketplace, a weekend flea market housed in an old Loews movie theather! Believe me, exploring is the right word…you never know what you’ll find at the end of those ubiquitous theater hallways. Everything from fresh produce to Steelers gear to carpets and vintage clothes has a place at Rossi’s.

Now although Rossi’s holds many a treasure, the clothing hunt was unsuccessful. However, Melissa came away with some great artwork, and I found my new favorite ring. A word of advice to anyone venturing in, though – be prepared to scavenge, and watch your step!


After getting fairly lost in Rossi’s, yet managing not to send any shoes, toys, or vintage video games careening down the theater steps, we headed to Avalon Exchange, a safe bet when looking for good secondhand items. Avalon employs strict policy on what they will sell in their stores, so you can rest assured that you’ll find decent quality stuff. And the best part is the instant gratification you get from exchanging your clothes there. This isn’t a wait-till-it-sells consignment. If they like what you have in that big ol’ garbage bag, you get an immediate choice of retail credit or cash. Now, as you know the pickings in my closet are slim to begin with but I still managed to exchange a few things (it didn’t hurt that one of the dresses still had an Avalon tag on it from a year ago!)

Number of clothing items purchased: 7

Total amount: $74

Final amount after exchange credit: $31

Do you have any recent favorite thrifty finds? 

 

Friday Faves – August 19

Yikes, it’s been a whole week since I posted!  So rather than any enlightening thoughts on sustainability, you get two Friday Faves posts in a row.  Here are this week’s:

This video on plant-strong diets. In case you missed it (or the many links to it on Facebook and other media), Wolf Blitzer’s interview with doctors Caldwell Esselstyn and Dean Ornish uses Bill Clinton’s transition to a plant based diet as a way to address diet’s affect and influence on heart disease.  One thing that’s noticeably missing from the interview is the word “vegan.” (At least I didn’t hear it!) Dr. Esselstyn’s son, Rip, a fireman who has his whole engine house eating this way, made an interesting distinction in a recent interview with Vegan Mainstream:

VM: Why do you differentiate between vegan and plant-based?

RE: If I were going to use that term in a firehouse, the other firefighters would hang me by my firefighting boots! A lot of it is about salesmanship. “Plant strong” is something they can get their head around. Vegan or vegetarian? They can’t, since they all think they’re macho men. They now know real men eat plants, but before that, they thought real men ate meat. The terms vegan and vegetarian are such pregnant words; sometimes they have baggage. Veganism is an ideology where some are ethical, some are dietary [vegans]. With “plant-strong,” the foundation of it is for health reasons.  

(I happen to have a signed copy of Rip’s book, the Engine 2 Diet, from to his visit to Pittsburgh last year!)  And if this is of any interest to you whatsoever, I very highly recommend the amazing Happy Health Long Life blog and the movie Forks Over Knives (just released on DVD last week).

My strong side planks in yoga this week.  After almost a full year of a (mostly) consistent practice, and a few months with one of my all-time favorite teachers, I was strong and steady in my side planks on Thursday!  All 6 of them!  Unfortunately I didn’t have the foresight to take a picture of myself to post, so here’s a figure for your amusement:

So I used to look like the one on the left, and this week I looked like the one on the right, and soon I'll look like the one on the bottom! (Yes, I did those little stick drawings all on my own..)

Okay, I’m still laughing from my drawings, but my next fave of the week was bouldering at the climbing wall.  The bf and I got month-long passes, so after all that bicep building this month, I’ll be doing side planks left, right, and upside down.  Now if only we could keep ourselves from visiting the East End Food Coop every time we go to the wall…

Drinking my homemade kombucha.  Last week’s list included my first attempt at brewing kombucha, and the outcome was delicious. I left one bottle plain and flavored another with chopped ginger, which gives it a nice zing. My next batch is brewing on the shelf now, so I’m excited to experiment with fresh fruit and juice flavors!

Planting some fall greens.  I’m hoping for lots more swiss chard, some hearty romaine, and a fresh batch of kale in the next few months. That is, if my little seedlings didn’t all get washed away in the “isolated thunderstorm” today. The one that blew open my window at work, giving me and my computer a good soaking before I could figure out how to climb up and close it. But my poor tomatoes sure needed the rain, so I can’t complain!

Tell me your favorites of the week!

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