October 29, 2009

Gift for Good

Holiday shopping. I know, right- but the holidays are less than 2 months away. Less than 2 months. Here is my round-up of socially conscious gifting suggestions:

Donations: I put this first, because the absolute best gift you can give is to your community. Nonprofit organizations have been hit hard by the recession- many states have cut nonprofit services from their budgets and organizations are scrambling to make ends meet. Organizations have also seen their endowments suddenly shrink drastically, and large corporate donations dry up. Domestic Violence shelters are closing all over California and one local museum has recently shut its doors. Many small organizations are one payroll away from closing. We depend so much on these organizations; they are the backbone of American society and losing them is devastating.
What I love about giving donations as gifts, is that you can make it extremely personal to the recipient by donating to a cause which has touched their lives. From breast cancer, to domestic violence, to youth sports, to girl scouts, and so on. Does your recipient love animals? Give to a local shelter. Do they get angry about trash on the beach? Etc. This also goes both ways- find an organization you care about and ask that in lieu of gifts, you want donations. Send your holiday cards out early and specify, or send a mass email. You can avoid the unfortunate trinket and make a real difference. It is also a huge relief for people who might stress over finding the perfect gift, plus they can give one gift donation as a family gift* and feel good about themselves in the process.
Many charities will send out holiday cards announcing the gift to the recipient [less work for you!]- check the website or call for more information. A great place to source out different charities is on Guidestar. Though I would recommend going directly to the organization’s website to donate. Also, most donations are 100% tax deductable for the purchaser.

Memberships*: Museums, zoos, botanical gardens, aquariums, public radio, etc. These are donations with benefits. Not only can you donate to the organization, but the recipient can benefit for the entire year. Many membership driven organizations have holiday specials with gift-boxes that come with the membership. Double check that the organization is a 501(c)(3) [licensed nonprofit through the federal government] to ensure that your member fees go back to the organization. You can do this through Guidestar or call directly and ask. Again, most memberships are 75-100% tax deductable.

Gifts with a purpose: Many organizations have great online shops with merchandise that supports the cause. A lot of these stores carry more than just promotional totebags- Unicef has a great store as does the National Organization for Women. Heifer allows you to purchase an animal for a family in need, who will provide long term sustenance, and sustainability. They will also send a card to whom the gift is in honor of. If you are in the UK, Oxfam has a wonderful store. Find a cause you care about, and search their website for the “Shop” button.
I am extremely wary of any shopping sites that donate a percentage of your purchase to a cause of your choice, along with “Shop [insert colour here]” promotions since these often only donate a percentage of a penny on the dollar and have low to zero accountability. These tend to be marketing tools, rather that organizational support- see Think Before You Pink for more information on "pink-washing". You are better off making a direct donation.

Museum Shops**: Not only will you be supporting art in your community, but you can find great gifts by local artists, fair trade goods, collectable books, and eclectic knick knacks. They also have the best card selections. 100% of the proceeds of each sale goes back to the museum. [full disclosure- I run a museum store].

Locally owned businesses**: Small businesses can do 50-75% of their sales during the 4th quarter. If they have slow sales during the holidays, it can be financially disastrous to someone who has dedicated themselves to their store. By shopping at local businesses, you not only support the store, but the community benefits. “For every $100 spent in locally owned independent stores, $68 returns to the community…in a national chain store, only $43 stays here” Visit 3/50 Project for more information on why you should support local businesses.

Gifts of service: Can you babysit? Can you make an amazing dinner? Carwash? Massage? Closet organization? Remodeling? House painting? Etc. Do you have time or a skill you can offer? For my baby shower, my best friend’s mom, who is a lactation consultant, gave me a free session. It was something I didn’t know I needed [it’s just breastfeeding- how hard can it be? Yeah right.], and made such a huge difference when it came to nursing my child. My daughter & I got a perfect latch immediately, and she had regained her birth weight less than 5 days after birth. I contribute my ease in nursing almost completely to that consultation. Of any gift, that had the biggest impact.
Print up a coupon or certificate and you might change someone’s life, or at least give them a much needed break.

Buying Handmade: Shop etsy. Or a favourite BigCartel shop. Or Supermarket. And in DaWanda in Europe. In November & early December there are usually a ton of craft shows & trunk shows. If you like a local artist, sign up for their mailing list to see any upcoming events. If you live near a Renegrade Craft Fair, go! And if you are in LA, shop at Unique LA. You directly support the artist who loves doing what they do and you show, with your dollars, how important art and crafts are to you.

DIY: Made with love by you. What can be better? With so much commercialization and cheap production, a hand knitted hat carries that much more meaning. Do what you know, or learn a new skill. Whipup.net has fantastic roundups of online tutorials. Work from your stash, or reuse materials to make your items as green as possible. If you plan to make your gifts, start now [2 months- remember!]. If you run out of steam, gift a card with a sample [piece of yarn, drawing of final project, etc.] and an IOU.

So this holiday season please gift with love and with responsibility to your community, the planet, and your wallet.

Please share other gift ideas or stories in the comments!

*These make great whole family gifts too. Read more ideas on family gifts over at Ohdeedoh.

**When buying from a locally owned or museum shop, you have the luxury of dealing with a knowledgeable sales staff [most likely the owner!] and are able to ask: Who made this item? Where was it made? How was it made? Who profits from the sale? Most sales staff are extremely proud of the items they sell and will gladly answer these questions- allowing you, the consumer, to make a socially conscious purchase. Also, do be afraid to ask for any sort of documentation on your purchase so you can pass that information on to the gift recipient!
All images are stock photos of the museum store.

October 20, 2009

Solar Decathlon


One of the holy grails for a green building is achieving a net-zero existence. A couple of weeks ago I visited the bi-annual exhibit featuring the future of net-zero residences as sponsored by the Department of Energy on the national mall-The Solar Decathlon. The department describes the event as a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house.





This is the fourth event since 2002. The 10 finalists set up on the national mall in the form of a village on a main street (of sorts)and education centers at the center of the solar village. The contest lasts a little over a week and the contestants are judged on the following categories:

Market Viability
Lighting Design
Comfort Zone
Hot Water
Home Entertainment
Net Metering


During 9 days of the contest, visitors can line up and meander through each house. The design team of students and professors are on hand to answer any questions. Select team members spend the night at their temporary home on the national mall, so someone is living in the building for the entirety of the contest.


These houses are machines for living. It would require more that your standard afternoon to really understand the complex workings of the systems involved in regulating energy usage. In order to compete, these houses had to be theoretically net-zero. I was most interested in the day-to-day living one could expect to have in a net zero house. How livable was it?.


Bugheart and I had time to tour most of the houses. This event was very well attended and the average wait just to get into a house was 45 minutes!


The most successful houses created an efficient floor plan that tied into the greater landscape. These houses integrated the solar technology into the building form. The floor plans were open with non-specialized rooms. Gone are the days of grand foyers and seasonal dining rooms in the new green home. The future of energy efficient design requires a new approach to the floorplan in which rooms serve many purposes. The multi-use room echoes the floorplans of vernacular houses of early America. Due to energy constraints of the time (fireplaces , coal, & wood), the same rooms were often used for dining, dancing, sleeping. In both the homes designed by Germany and Ontario, the beds were retractable. This reinforced the idea that a bed is not used all day long, so that space should be used as a general living space during the day. Kitchens were small for the most part, so chefs of the future will have to be efficient as well.


Our favorite buildings had integrated the solar gathering technology into the siding so it became part of the building rather than an accessory. The everyday interaction with the system was also integrated into the interiors. Many of the systems were automated and could be controlled by a mere app on your iphone.


My job is to design dream houses. Our clients’ dreams involve a lifestyle they never had- space for all the luxuries of life. They always want one more room- a room for crafts, storage, etc. My visit to the Solar Village made me realize that with current technology we must strive to use less. Less space. Less stuff. The village on the mall represents a change in the way we live and view living- the complete opposite of what I or my clients want.


Space is one of those guilty pleasures. An extra room gets filled with massive amounts of embodied energy- the energy it takes to build and maintain it. It is a professional conundrum. Do I give the client what they want or do I use my skills guide the client to getting what they want in a more responsible way? I envision the next time a client asks for a craft room or a large master bathroom that I should take a serious look at the design plan and ask, Do you really need that? Let’s find a way to work with what you have…


Germany, one of our favorites, was declared the winner.


October 11, 2009

crafty bastards in DC

crafty bastards

welcome to
crafty bastards
the 6th
annual indie craft fair
that took place
in DC
last weekend...

DC has a active
indie craft community
and this is
evident in both
the hoards
of vendors
and visitors
to crafty bastards
each year.

a little tour
of crafters
that caught
my eye
at the show:

crafty bastards: make something awesome

first and foremost,
green craft
i discovered
an amazing
site that brings
green crafters together
cosa verde
here's how they
describe themselves:
is an online marketplace connecting independent artists
with eco-conscious shoppers.

i met
two crafters
who specifically
on eco-friendly crafts:
tlane: functional items for the green-minded person on the go
craftgasm: all items made from recycled paper

. . . . .

but when it
gets down to it
any crafter
that makes
handmade items
is better
than buying
mass-produced items.

megan auman: "modern, graphic" pieces made from metal or felt.
figs & ginger: i love their bird & fawn rings and necklaces
beth pohlman jewelry
amy klainer: bold organic pieces made out of wood or metal.
swearjar design

paper & posters

your secret admiral: i was smitten with her journals and day-planners. beautifully made.
strawberry luna
ryan berkley illustration
dirty pictures
something's hiding in here: if you haven't heard of this design duo, then you must check them out.
see photo of them

crafty bastards: somethingshidinginthe

maryink: a tee shirt design co. out of nashville, tn. some of the coolest designs i have seen. see the one i bought here.
allison rose

home sweet

bunny butt apothecary: i am always looking for animal-friendly deodorant and products that actually work. bunnybutt saves the day!

please do check out
crafty bastards'
the online vendor gallery!
all of these crafters
have online stores-
a great place
to do your shopping
for the holidays.

crafty bastards: hopscotch

October 8, 2009

keeping the harvest


Fall harvest time is just about here! The nip in the morning air, and the new crop of greens, lettuces, sweet potatoes and cruciferous vegetables at the farmer's market and in our garden get me thinking about all the good things I want to cook this fall. I'm also getting a bit wistful already thinking about how much I will miss the fresh veggies this winter, and scheming about how to put some veggies up for those thin months.

Last week we got an inspiring email from the wonderful farmer who runs our CSA, Wild Onion Farms, about easy ways to save some of the harvest for winter. Here's what she said:

"Here's a few tips on how to easily put away some real fall food for later, without any special equipment or a lot of long sweaty hours in the kitchen:
  • I've cured the sweet potatoes and butternut squash for storage already. If you want to stock up on these, the squash will last another 1-2 months, the potatoes will last 'til spring. Store them in a cool, dry, dark place (50-60 degrees is ideal). A chilly basement or garage is good. If you want to extend the butternut squash, go ahead and bake up a huge batch, put it in freezer bags, and stash it away in your freezer.
  • Basil can easily be frozen: chop it up in a food processor and throw in little bags in the freezer, or go ahead and make a big batch of pesto and freeze that in individual portions (omit the cheese, it doesn't freeze well).
  • Peppers, hot or sweet, can be chopped up, tossed in freezer bags, and chucked in the freezer. Nothing more. They won't retain their texture, but it won't matter if you're adding them to winter soups, stews, or sauces.
  • Okra can be stashed away by cutting it up into slices, dip it into boiling water for a minute, drain, pat dry, and pack into freezer bags or containers.
  • Cooking greens of any sort are really easy to freeze as well. Wash, chop, blanch in boiling water for a minute. Drain them, squeeze any excess water out, and pack away into the freezer.
  • You can also cook up large batches of any of your favorite dishes, from garlicky greens to grilled eggplant, and tuck extra portions away in the deep freeze to enjoy months from now.
  • Most root vegetables (beets, carrots, radishes, turnips), once you've removed the tops and placed them in plastic bags in the fridge, will last for months."
- Elizabeth Haarer, Wild Onion Farm (shared with permission)

I've been working on some of these easy harvest-extenders, and thought I'd share some of my favorite recipes, too.

Last week I made up a batch of Vietnamese-style hot chili sauce with the hot peppers in our garden, using this recipe. I had plenty to make a jar for us and share a big jar with my sister. This would make a great gift for someone who likes to cook and loves hot food.

Here's a link to my method for making big batches of savory vegetable stock - it's a great way to use up your veggie odds and ends, and makes a delicious, hearty, nutritious broth for winter recipes.

Elizabeth mentioned garlicky greens in her email, and it got me thinking about this wonderful recipe from my dear friend Anne, who loves to have cooking (and eating) parties with friends. If you're not from the Southern U.S., you might not know how wonderful collards can be -- and even if you are from the south, you might have only had them cooked to death with a hamhock. This is a great way to find a new (and vegetarian) appreciation for a humble green leaf:

Sauteed Collards (or any other hearty green you like)

Ingredients: 1 bunch of collards for 2-3 people
4-6 garlic cloves
1/4 cup olive oil

Rinse collards and remove the ribs from the middle of the leaves. Then stack the leaves in a pile and roll them up like a cigar. Then thinly slice them.

Peel the garlic and slice each clove in half long-ways unless really large, then slice into thirds.

Heat the oil over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and cook until just getting golden, and remove. Do not let them get brown or they will make the oil a bad (burnt) flavor. Now turn up the heat to medium high and add the collards with whatever liquid clings to the leaves. Stir them with a wooden spoon or tongs, being sure to bring up the ones from the bottom so everything gets cooked. I like them crunchy, but you can cook them to your liking. Just before serving, add the garlic back in and stir them up.

I like to serve these with plenty of freshly ground black pepper, and some apple cider vinegar on the side for purists. Have fun cooking up your harvest this fall!