5 Outdoor Activities to Beat Holiday Stress

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, November 27, 2013

5 Outdoor Activities to Beat Holiday Stress

The holidays often bring families together, which can be both a wonderful and an extremely stressful thing. If you’re anticipating a full house of stir-crazy relatives this Thanksgiving, plan a moment to give everyone some much-needed breathing room and get outdoors. Younger family members can run off some energy and adults can work up an appetite with these outdoor activities perfect for your holiday celebration. However you celebrate, take a minute to step outside this Thanksgiving (if only to avoid your grandmother asking for the fifth time why you aren’t married yet). 

“Turkey Trot”: Many cities host annual Thanksgiving walks or runs to benefit charity. These events are a perfect opportunity to get outdoors and give to others. Most have kids’ races as well, so the whole family is welcome. 

Take a hiking scavenger hunt: If organized group exercise isn’t your thing, gather the family and head up the mountain. While many Americans post up on the couch for the day, enjoy having the run of your local hiking or biking trails. More active members of your group can work up a sweat in preparation of the feast to come, while others have the option of enjoying the sights and sounds of fall. And though hiking scavenger hunts are technically intended for children, you could totally find six different trees before your little cousin. 

Make a centerpiece: Though this activity is generally geared toward younger participants, holidaymakers of all ages can enjoy the search for the perfect table topper. Scour the backyard for leaves, branches, and pine cones — anything clean is fair game!

Visit a national park: Though many parks are closed for the holidays, some will stay open and welcome holiday visitors. In Florida, rangers at the Everglades National Park will be hosting guided programs to celebrate the holiday weekend, and others are even open to campers. Find an open park near you

Check out fall foliage: Go see the colors of fall before they disappear! We’re headed toward bare branches, and Thanksgiving is a great time to take a walk or drive to see the changing leaves in your area. Bonus points if you collect leaves for your centerpiece while you’re at it.

Read online at SierraClub.org

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5 Tips for a Low-Carbon Thanksgiving

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, November 21, 2013

5 Tips for a Low-Carbon Thanksgiving

Most of us are aware of that Thanksgiving can take a toll. Between the hours spent cooking and decorating, then arguing with your crazy uncle about politics, and pretending to like your little sister’s new boyfriend, it can be an exhausting holiday. For many, the meal makes it worth the stress. But don’t take too much comfort in your holiday feast. A University of Manchester study has shown that the dinner itself has a significant impact on the environment. The report finds that a turkey-n-trimmings feast for eight produces approximately 44 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions, 60% from the life cycle of the turkey alone. Here are a few tips for reducing the carbon footprint of your favorite dishes, and keeping your Thanksgiving meal green: 

1. Shop Local: Thanksgiving is a seasonal meal, which means you should find all of the fruits and veggies you need at your local farmer’s market. The farm-fresh goods should be pretty guilt-free purchases, as they’ve traveled little and bypassed refrigeration and storage. The trip may mean planning slightly further ahead than is convenient, but it’ll be worth the fresh flavor added to the meal. 

2. Buy Ingredients, Not Dishes: The Center for Food Safety recommends skipping pre-packaged and processed foods in favor of side dishes made from scratch with fresh, bulk ingredients. While more time consuming, this extra step eliminates or reduces the need for machinery and packaging, which have significant climate impacts. 

3. Eat Your Veggies: Since your turkey probably takes the most energy to produce, consider either going meatless or serving a smaller bird and increasing the number of side dishes you serve. You might also reduce the impact on your waistband and wallet as an added bonus.

4. Cook Just Enough: Thanksgiving has earned a reputation for excess. Most of us take our seat at the table planning to eat ’til it hurts, followed closely by a tryptophan-induced nap. But this expectation of overindulgence usually results in a lot of leftovers, and a lot of good food wasted. Make your food miles count by buying just enough to feed everyone comfortably, or inviting others to join in the feast. 

5. Consider Your Turkey Purchase: Avoid factory-farmed poultry and instead seek out a local, heritage, or organic bird. Localharvest has great tools for finding turkey farmers in your area, and learning more about heritage breeds.

Read online at SierraClub.org

5 Healthy Takes on Classic Comfort Foods

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, November 8, 2013

5 Healthy Takes on Classic Comfort Foods

Whether it’s the changing weather, a hard day at work, or the approaching holidays, around this time of year many of us find ourselves reaching for comfort foods — the saltier, crunchier, greasier, or sugarier, the better. For those without iron willpower, fall is often a season of cheesy, fried, baked, deliciously unhealthy meals and snacks, sometimes from unknown or unsavory sources. However, there is hope, for your cravings, arteries, and food ethics: there are delicious and healthy comfort foods out there. We’ve collected a few of the easiest and most satisfying healthy comfort food favorites for you to try. Next time you feel tempted to turn into a drive-through or reach for boxed mac ‘n cheese, try one of these eco-recipes to sate your appetite: 

For Dinners and Snacks: 

1. The classic grilled cheese is not itself unhealthy — it’s when we get generous with the cheese, butter, and white bread that things start getting bad. There are a few quick variations, however, that can make this go-to comfort food less of a hit to your healthy diet, but still the cheesy, crispy treat you’re craving. Ditch white sandwich bread in favor of a whole grain or country loaf, and lose the mounds of mild cheese in favor of something stronger, like a sharp cheddar or mozzarella. You’ll end up with just as much salty flavor, but far less fat and calories. Or skip the cheese entirely and opt for one of these vegan sandwiches. Finally, some grilled cheese aficionados swear by a pan lightly coated in olive oil over the classic buttered bread to achieve a perfect, crispy gold crust.

2. In cold weather, a cup of hot chili can warm you up from the inside in the most wonderfully salty, hearty way. And thankfully, homemade chili is most often pretty good for you. Meat eaters have the option of choosing to avoid factory farmed beef or turkey, and buying lean meat to keep it healthy. One of the great things about chili, however, is that it sticks to your ribs with or without meat. Great vegetarian recipes aren’t hard to find — check out this easy one from the blogging chefs at Two Peas & Their Pod. 

3. Artichokes are the vegetarian’s ribs — a meaty finger food you really dig into, with all the fun of dipping sauces. And, even better, they’re incredibly easy to make. While the traditionalmayo and butter dipping sauces contribute much to the comfort of this food, there are healthier (and equally delicious) alternatives. Try substituting some or all of the mayonnaise in your dip for yogurt, and add herbs and olive oil. 

For Dessert: 

1. Holidays wouldn’t be the same without hot chocolate, which is generally pretty good for you. But the individual packets of coco sold in grocery stores are frighteningly full of unnecessary ingredients, including palm oil, corn syrup, gelatin, and a whole host of others that sound like they belong in a lab, not your food. This year, choose unsweetened cacao and add natural sweeteners and warm spices. If you’re going dairy-free, nut milks will add even more flavor to your cup. 

2. For a delicious and healthy indulgence, sweet cornbread drizzled with honey will fill you up and hit the spot, without saddling you with post-meal guilt. Better yet, if you have half an hour and a handful or basic ingredients, you’re all set. Try a basic recipe for a simple treat, or get adventurous with healthful alternatives like this recipe for sweet yogurt cornbread from Happy Wife Healthy Life.

Read online at SierraClub.org

6 Exercises for an Injury-Free Ski Trip

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, November 5, 2013

6 Exercises for an Injury-Free Ski Trip

As winter approaches, ski bums are checking off tasks on their ski season prep list: choose your resort, make green travel plans, choose sustainable equipment. But no matter how early you bought your lift ticket or gear, a pulled muscle or injured knee can still ruin your trip (or season). In Washington, The Inner Circle Gym’s Adam Vognild teaches ski conditioning classes to help participants get their muscles ready for the backcountry skiing, downhill skiing, and snowshoeing season ahead. “People don’t get hurt on the first day of their ski trip,” says Vognild. “They typically get hurt on the third or fourth day, when they don’t have the endurance to keep going.”

If you’re serious about getting in shape, working with an instructor or trainer is key, Vognild said. It may be hard to believe, but there is a wrong way to do squats, and “you only get so many bad repetitions before you hurt yourself.” Check out gyms in your area to see if they offer dry land training courses, or discuss your needs with a trainer who can give you tips for safe and productive exercise.  

Vognild shared with us six important components of dry land ski training, and recommended a few basic exercises to get started: 

1. Strength: To prepare your leg muscles for the slopes, Vognild recommends a simple classic: the squat, or the single-leg squat. “A strength set of any exercise routine [should be] loaded to the point where you can’t complete more than six repetitions at a time while maintaining proper form. This repetition structure will increase muscle strength and is usually done with a two-to-five minute rests between three-to-five sets of repetitions.” 

2. Strength-Endurance: Strength-endurance exercises should focus on beginning to utilize the cardiovascular system, rather than building muscle. Exercises include lunges, sit-ups, and push-ups in sets of 12 or more reps over roughly 45-150 seconds. 

3. Endurance: “Making sure you have a reasonable amount of cardiovascular training is important,” says Vognild. Running, biking, swimming at a low enough intensity to be maintained for hours can help to build endurance and get you ready for the season. For those starting from square one, Vognild recommends starting with a brisk walk several days a week, and slowly adding volume.   

4. Power: In Vognild’s class, participants do squat jumps and split jumps to increase power. You can also try short sprints at maximum effort, hill sprints, and stair climb sprints, all “explosive movements utilizing fast-twitch muscle fibers often throughout the entire body.”5. Balance: “Balance is key,” says Vognild. Improve balance by repeating movement that will require stabilization. Jumping, landing, standing, and squatting on one leg can all help to improve balance.

6. Mobility and Flexibility: “Become more mobile and flexible so that you can maximize your range of motion.” To increase flexibility, stretch quads, hamstrings, wrists, and try the downward dog yoga position. 

“You should make a point to include every component of conditioning into your workouts throughout the week,” says Vognild. “The goal for all of these workouts is to be consistent and, over time, to add volume and increase resistance.” 

For more exercises and tips, see Vognild’s more detailed description of The Inner Circle Gym’s dry land training program.

Read online at SierraClub.org

The Internet’s Best Live Animal Cams

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, November 4, 2013

The Internet’s Best Live Animal Cams

Every good internet procrastinator has explored the live puppy and kitten cams the web has to offer. Hours intended for studying or working can easily and happily be spent watching fluffy baby animals play on your computer screen. But it doesn’t stop there — there are more wildlife cameras broadcasting online than any one person could hope to view, from cockroach cams to bear live feeds. Viewers can observe animalsthey might never safely have the chance to safely approach the wild, and explore new places otherwise inaccessible to them, all from their laptops. We’ve collected a few of the more unique animal adventures you can explore right now online. Watch the live video feeds below. 

On the farm: Country kids who’ve moved to the big city can get their farm fix watching thecalves of South Mountain Creamery on the Animal Planet Live! channel. There is no bad time to watch baby animals play, but if you happen to be up early, there’s nothing to get you going quite like watching these little guys romp around, ready to start their day. For a little more variety, visit MareStare.com and peruse their extensive list of live feeds from numerous farms and stables, including the Pelican Acres’ Nigerian dwarf goats as well as the horses, donkeys, and sheep of many rescue organizations.

Read the full post online at SierraClub.org

6 Haunted Hiking Trails

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, October 30, 2013

6 Haunted Hiking Trails

What better way to celebrate Halloween (and work those old trick-or-treating muscles) than to set out on a haunted hike? Many of the country’s trails have rich and creepy histories, and you’d be surprised at just how many ghosts have apparently chosen to spend the afterlife spooking unsuspecting hikers. This year, celebrate the holiday on one of these six trails, then share its spooky story around the campfire. 

1. Norton Creek Trail, Great Smoky Mountains, NC: Some claim the Great Smoky Mountains are home to more ghosts than any other national park on the map, and the Norton Creek Trail hosts one of the more terrifying. Utlanta, or “Spearfinger,” an ogress of Cherokee legend, is said to roam the area, appearing as a harmless old woman and tricking unsuspecting children out of their livers. As the story goes, she was ultimately defeated by the Cherokee, but hikers who are particularly attached to their internal organs might get a chill from this creepy tale.

The easily frightened can take comfort in knowing the trail is also stomping grounds of a friendly specter. The ghost of a murdered settler is said to lead lost hikers to safety with his lantern. Even if you don’t encounter ghosts, the trail winds past several old cemeteries, and you can even pitch your tent in one of the official backcountry campsites — among the crumbling ruins of an old town.

2. Batona Trail, New Jersey Pinelands, NJ: The marshes of Southern New Jersey are said to be home to the Jersey Devil, a kangaroo-like creature with the yellow eyes, the head of a dog, bat-like wings, horns, and a forked tail. If that sounds like your kind of beast, then the 49-mile Batona trail is for you. Since the 1700s, thousands have reported seeing the Jersey Devil, and those who live near the Pinelands claim to hear the creature’s screams late into the night.

3. Transept Trail, Grand Canyon, AZ: The ghost of a bereaved wife and mother mourns the loss of her husband and son at the Grand Canyon’s North Rim. Both visitors and rangers report having seen the Wailing Woman, who appears dressed in a white dress with blue flowers and (as her name suggests) floats along the Transept Trail crying. This ghost story also serves as a sobering cautionary tale; the Wailing Woman of the Grand Canyon is said to have lost her family to the canyon in a fatal hiking accident

4. Spruce Railroad Trail, Olympic National Park, WA: The depths of Lake Crescent are home to many secrets, and are rumored to be the watery tomb of many lost travelers. And like any good lake, it has a Lady. The Lady of Crescent Lake is said to be ghost of a murdered woman whose body washed up on shore several years after her disappearance. This particular woman caught the public’s attention because her remains had undergone the entirely natural but creepy-looking process of saponification, giving her a mummy-like appearance. The 8-mile Spruce Railroad Trail follows the water, giving you ample opportunity to spot the apparition. 

5. Grouse Lake, Yosemite National Park, CA: Visitors to Yosemite’s Grouse Lake often report hearing wailing as they approach the water. Some point to Native American folklore, claiming the cries are those of a young indigenous boy who drowned in the lake. But don’t be a hero; as any good horror movie fan knows, you should resist the urge to investigate the sound, as those who dive in apparently don’t make it out.  

6. Mammoth Cave National Park, KY: With more than 400 miles explored and “no end in sight,” Mammoth Cave boasts the country’s longest cave system, and an impressively haunted history. The cave system has seen more than 150 documented paranormal events, and is home to several ghosts. Rangers having reported seeing the ghosts of guides past, including frequent apparition Stephen Bishop. Bishop was among the slaves who were the first cave guides, and the National Parks Service credits him as “unquestionably one of the greatest explorers Mammoth Cave has ever known.” Visitors also claim to have heard the coughing of the long-dead patients who met their end in the cave when Mammoth served briefly as a tuberculosis hospital in the 1800s. Visit Corpse Rock and listen closely to hear their death rattles yourself. 

Read online at SierraClub.org

5 Dangerous Hiking Mistakes

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Explore blog, October 14, 2013

5 Dangerous Hiking Mistakes

Standing atop a hill after a long and grueling hike, it’s easy to feel invincible. You’ve pushed yourself to your limits, survived nature’s sometimes unpredictable conditions — what could stop you now? 

Turns out, it could be a number of simple beginner mistakes or time-saving shortcuts that even experienced hikers are guilty of taking. Even the most trail-hardened can be caught unprepared. Lisa Hendy, Yosemite National Park emergency services program manager, and Todd Duncan, Sierra Club program safety manager, share some of the most frequent and preventable mistakes hikers make on the trail — and some tips for staying safe: 

1. Underestimating the trail: This one is more common among beginners but can have disastrous consequences for anyone. Be honest with yourself. Think about how often you hit the gym and choose a trail that is realistic for your party’s ability level. There’s no shame in starting out easy and working your way up to more difficult hikes, but there may be a bit of embarrassment in turning around when you hit a wall on the first hill. So do your research: Many national park websites include handy guides to their trails that provide length, elevation, and difficulty ratings, and there are more hiking handbooks available for all skill levels than can be named in this blog post. 

2. Failing to prepare: Both Hendy and Duncan agree, being unprepared is one of the most common missteps made by hikers of all skill levels. “One mistake can change the face of everything,” says Hendy. “For example, this time of year, heading out for a day hike with only a light jacket and a headlamp could be fine provided everything goes well. However, if you twist your ankle and are out overnight, that could be a miserable mistake.” Gather the 10 essentials, anticipate changes in weather or emergencies that might delay your trip, and pack accordingly

3. Going alone: While a solo hike in itself isn’t automatically dangerous, Hendy says the most common mistake made by experienced hikers is taking off alone without notifying anyone. Be sure to tell someone where you are going and when you plan to be back. Many experienced hikers recommend investing in or renting a personal locator beacon (PLB), which can help rescuers locate you in an emergency. But remember, just because you’re easier to find doesn’t necessarily mean you’re safer. Hikers carrying PLBs should still trek carefully and tell someone ahead of time where they’re going. 

4. Traveling off-trail: Even if you have hiked these woods a thousand times, are a licensed cartographer, and were born on this very trail, a hiking trip is one time when it might be best to take the road more-traveled. Though many hikers safely practice off-trail hiking, most acknowledge the added dangers that come with it, as well as the specific preparation required to stray from the beaten path. Unless you’re prepared to hike off-trail, it can be a pretty reliable way to get lost or injured (or both).

5. Abandoning the plan: While turning back before you reach the end of the trail can be frustrating, it beats having to make camp unexpectedly. Hikers set turnaround times for a reason, and you don’t want to be caught unprepared as the sun goes down. Keep an eye on your watch, and determine when you’ll need to begin heading back to safely reach your car or campsite. 

How can hikers of all skill levels ensure they’re taking all of the precautions necessary for their trip? Hendy has a few hard and fast rules for a safe hike: “Plan ahead and tell a friend the plan. Tell your friend who to call if you do not return on time. Plan for something to go wrong and delay you. Always bring a headlamp, an extra small snack, and a layer of clothing that can keep you warm if you are delayed.”

Read online at SierraClub.org

5 Terrifying Food Additives

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, October 14, 2013

5 Terrifying Food Additives

You probably remember the horror of pink slime, the ammonia-laced beef “filler” used in school lunches and Happy Meals until many food manufacturers retired the product after the loud and angry public outcry last year. But pink slime is creeping backinto our burgers and tacos, joining a whole host of ingredients and additives you may not know you’re eating. In the Halloween spirit, we’ve collected a few of the most frightening, guaranteed to give you a chill: 

1. Shellac, or “Confectioner’s Glaze”: Derived from the secretions of the Kerria lacca bug, shellac coats many of the hard candies we know and love, especially Halloween treats like candy corn. The resinous material makes sweets like jelly beans look bright and shiny. 

2. Castoreum: Next time you’re having a hard day and are tempted to down a tub of vanilla ice cream, think about this; castoreum, a flavoring extracted from glands near a beaver’s anus, may be the secret ingredient that gives your sweet treat its satisfying flavor. Castoreum has been used in foods and perfumes for years, in some cases listed simply and vaguely as a “natural ingredient.” The good news: most industry experts agree that today worldwide castoreum consumption is very low due to the difficult process of milking a beaver’s glands. Yum. 

3. Gelatin: The realization that swearing off gelatin doesn’t just mean ditching Jell-O can be a hard one for new vegetarians, and a test of will. Gelatin is a binding and stabilizing agent in many processed food products, and regardless of your opinion on meat-eating, a rundown of the additive’s components may give you pause. Gelatin is derived from collagen found in various animal by-products, including connective tissues. 

4. Carmine: Depending on your opinion of eating bugs, the origins of natural food dye carmine may or may not gross you out. The coloring agent is made from the processed bodies of Coccus cacti bugs. At one time the insects lent their vivid hue to coffee drinks, fruit juices, yogurts, and a number of other food products. 

5. L-Cysteine: L-cys for short, the food additive is a common dough conditioner and flavor enhancer used in human and pet foods. And it can be made from human hair, duck feathers, or hog bristles. Food manufacturers who will admit to using the hair-derived additive are few and far between, but some (like Safeway) don’t hesitate to own up to using duck feathers as a conditioning agent in baked goods.

Read online at SierraClub.org

5 Eco-Inspired Halloween Costume Ideas

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, October 9, 2013 

5 Eco-Inspired Halloween Costume Ideas

We’ve covered alternatives to the cheap, plastic costumes that line the shelves this time of year. You know all about going vintage, handmade, and hand-me-down to reduce yourHalloween waste. But when October 30 rolls around and plans for an elaborate costume based on your favorite literary character have fallen through, your options may seem limited: a bed sheet ghost or a quick trip to the nearest grocery store for a “Sexy [Whatever they have left]” costume? Put down the plastic, and make one of these easy, eco-inspired costumes that let you send a message (and still get the respectful “ah, you are very smart” head nod that your Holden Caulfield costume would’ve prompted) without too much effort or waste. 

Energy Vampire: Remind your fellow partygoers about the waste of standby power from unused but plugged in appliances. A large box can easily be turned into a computer with fangs, or a suit and black bed-sheet cape can be decorated with large paper power outlets to show the terrifying danger of wasting energy. 

Endangered Species: Spread the word about your favorite furry (or scaly, slimy, or feathered) friends who face extinction. A grey tracksuit with a paper-cone horn and ears becomes a message of solidarity for endangered rhinos, and animal costumes are cute on everyone. Search the endangered species list for your favorite animal, or search online for detailed DIYs, like this caribou costume tutorial from YouTube user BouTheCaribou.

Mother Earth: There are a lot of Mother Earth costume interpretations out there, so go with what feels right (or whatever is handy). Forgot to rake the yard? Glue a bunch of leaves to a dress and wear green tights. A great Mother Nature costume can also rely largely on pretty, ethereal makeup. It’s quick, easy, and spreads the word for a good cause, so if your friends try to guilt trip you about not putting effort into your costume, you can give it right back with a lecture about their unnecessary SUV.

Global Warming: Grab a fan or a spray bottle and a blue shirt, add green construction paper continents, and voila! You have a terrifyingly serious threat to our health and safety. Go scare Al Gore.

FrankenFood: Are your friends appropriately frightened about GMOs on their dinner tables? Scare them with monster fruit! A homemade fruit costume easily turns into its creepy counterpart with the addition of some zombie makeup and a few large bolts to the neck. 

Now that you have your costume, go forth and frighten (and educate!). But don’t be get preachy. Nothing ruins Halloween like a preachy genetically modified apple. 

Read online at SierraClub.org

Junk Drawer Recycling Challenge

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, October 9, 2013

Junk Drawer Recycling Challenge

Everybody has a junk drawer. When we move, the junk drawer becomes a surprisingly large junk box of items that don’t really belong anywhere — the contents don’t go in the kitchen, but not necessarily in the living room, and definitely not in the bathroom. What do you do with the accumulated knick-knacks and not-quite-trash of years past? Avoid adding to our ever-growing landfills and recycle your leftover junk with these programs.

ReCORK America collects wine corksat grocery and liquor stores throughout the U.S. Deposit your collection during your weekly shopping trip, or look up the location of the nearest collection bin. These souvenirs of happy nights with friends can be recycled into soles for shoes and fund the effort to plant trees.

Broken crayons see new life with the National Crayon Recycle program, whose representatives estimate they’ve diverted more than 92,000 pounds of unwanted crayons from landfills. With crayon production in the U.S. around 12 million per a day, they can use all of the help they can get. Parents can box up the stragglers and send them off to be given a second chance at coloring within the lines. 

Keys are the ultimate junk drawer menace. It’s like they multiply in there, and you don’t know what any of them actually unlock. So into the junk drawer they go, where they produce mysterious key friends and gather dust. Instead, try boxing them up and putting them to good use raising money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Keys for Kindness is a family-run organization that recycles keys in hopes of finding a cure, and that old key to the back door of the basement of your old apartment building can help.

Yes, your 4th grade spelling bee trophies are an important part of your history, but it is time to let go. Every child outgrows her trophy collection at some point, but the mementos of hard-earned recognition can be difficult to part with. The little gold soccer players can go on to do good, however, as programs throughout the country collect and recycle old trophiesTotal Rewards and Promotions, Inc uses discarded trophies for parts, re-engraves them to sell online, and donates them to charities that can’t afford to buy them new. 

And for everything else, TerraCycle collects junk of all kinds, from empty Scotch tape dispensers to used highlighters. The company offers free shipping for most items it collects, and awards you a monetary credit for each item recieved, which it will donate to the cause of your choice. Check out its website to see what it’s collecting now. 

When in doubt about what to recycle where, check out Earth911‘s quick-search tool to find recycling locations near you. 

Read online at SierraClub.org

6 Unique Sharing Services to Cut Your Consumption

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, October 8, 2013

6 Unique Sharing Services to Cut Your Consumption

Some life lessons learned in kindergarten stick: don’t eat glue, don’t run with scissors, friends don’t hit one another. For some of us, the importance of sharing was a hard one to learn — what kid wants to give away half of their cookie? Fortunately, we’ve warmed up to sharing, and learned to harness the power of lending, borrowing, giving, and renting to care for the environment. We’ve collected some of the greenest of what the sharing economy has to offer — from rental chickens to leftover Chinese food, here’s a small sampling of ways you can depend on the kindness of strangers to reduce your consumption and waste: 

1. To eat: Whether you have too much or too little, when it comes to sharing food, you have options. If you’re not afraid to get your hands dirty, start or join a community garden. If you have lots of leftovers or made too much for dinner, services like Eat With Me andLeftoverSwap let you share your bounty with others, instead of tossing it in the trash. 

2. To farm: Interested in learning more about what urban homesteading has to offer your pantry? Give it a test run. A surprising number of groups and individuals throughout the nation rent out egg-laying chickens along with coops, bedding, and feed, at surprisingly affordable prices. Many of these groups hope to help decrease the number of abandoned chickens flooding animal shelters, which some attribute to the ever-increasing popularity of urban farming. If it doesn’t work out, simply send the rented chickens back, guilt-free. Do a quick search for chicken rentals in your state, and get farming.

3. To get around: Car sharing is nothing new — from Getaround to RelayRides, there are lots of easy options that make it easy to abstain from car ownership. But bike-share programs are also cropping up all over the U.S., making green transportation easy and accessible for all. Have a bike you seldom use? Put it to work for our environment with peer-to-peer sharing organizations like Splinster.  

4. For household goods: In this day and age, borrowing a cup of sugar isn’t as simple as knocking on a neighbor’s door. But that doesn’t mean you should forgo borrowing the Jones’ stepladder in favor of buying your own and adding to the dusty pile of seldom-used goods in the garage. Websites like NeighborGoods and The Freecycle Network allow users to post and search for items in their community — everything from video games to bike helmets. Give it a shot, and help keep reusable items out of landfills. 

Can’t find the tool you need on your block? Check online to see if your community has a localtool lending library, and if not, consider starting your own

5. For outdoor adventures: We know that ski resorts and campsites aren’t always as eco-friendly as we’d like them to be. Fortunately, you can take a few more steps to green your trip. Websites like GearCommons and Backcountry Ride let you connect with others who have gear and rides to rent or share. 

6. For the kids: Healthy kids grow like weeds, which means clothes and toys are outgrown quicker than parents can replace them. Instead of tossing out things that have fallen out of favor, search for toy libraries and co-ops in your area, or check out websites like thredUP and reCrib, which resell gently-used clothing and kids’ gear online.

Read online at SierraClub.org

You’ll Smell Better: 7 Unusual Reasons to Go Veg

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, October 7, 2013

You’ll Smell Better: 7 Unusual Reasons to Go Veg

By now, most of us are aware of the environmental, health-related, and ethical reasons to cut back on meat consumption. And what better time to evaluate your own meat-eating habits than October, which is Vegetarian Awareness Month? If you’re looking for extra motivation to take the vegetarian plunge, we’ve compiled a list of unexpected reasons to put down that hot dog and pick up a carrot. 

1. You’ll smell better. Is your B.O. holding you back with the ladies? Slowly step away from the hamburger. A 2006 study by Czech researchersfound women judge the body odor of vegetarian men to be “significantly more attractive, more pleasant, and less intense,” than that of their carnivorous friends. So, cut out the meat and go in for the cuddle: Your armpits smell “significantly less intense” than that dude’s. 

2. Even Ronald McDonald is a vegetarian. The actor Geoffrey Giuliano, who famously portrayed the cartoon clown in the ’80s in publicity appearances for the “Ronald McDonald Safety Show,” has since publicly apologized for encouraging children to eat the fast food chain’s offerings (and to believe that hamburgers grow in pleasant garden patches). A converted Hindu, Giuliano now encourages parents to raise their children on a meatless diet.  

3. You’ll be better in bed. Well, probably. Primate research suggests soy and soy-based foods might influence hormone levels and increase sexual activity in humans, and veggie advocates have long held that cholesterol from meat and dairy products can clog arteries and inhibit blood flow to our (ahem) vital organs. At the very least, it’s a safe bet that cutting back on meat might give you a little extra energy in the bedroom. 

4. You’ll be an upstanding citizen, according to Russian author Leo Tolstoy. In his 1891 essay “The First Step,” the Anna Karenina author condemned meat eating as serving only “to develop animal feelings, to excite lust, and to promote fornication and drunkenness.” So while you’ll be a pro in the sack (according to the monkeys), you’ll also be super sober and suave about it (according to Tolstoy). 

5. Veggies make you happy. A recent study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found a strong correlation between eating your vegetables and a positive mood. Almost 300 participants kept food journals over several weeks, charting their moods as well as their diets. On days they ate lots of fruits and vegetables, participants reported feeling “calmer, happier and more energetic” than they normally did. The researchers recommend eating at least seven servings to brighten your day. 

6. The ladies love it. Surveys consistently find female vegetarians outnumber their male counterparts. If you have any interest in romancing, befriending, or simply dining with the fairer sex, try whipping up a veggie-based meal for two

7. It’s a smart decision. A British study of more than 8,000 participants over 20 years found that people with higher IQs as children were more likely to be vegetarians as adults. They were also more likely to be working for charities, local government, or in education.

Read online at SierraClub.org

Backyard Beekeeping 101

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, September 16, 2013

Backyard Beekeeping 101

There are a number of reasons Americans are taking up beekeeping — a backyard colony can help your garden produce more fruits and veggies, harvesting your own honey cuts down on your grocery bill, and honey bees continue to be threatened by colony collapse disorder. Take your pick, and join the growing ranks of urban apiarists.

Keepers of rooftop and backyard hives extol the spiritual benefits of beekeeping, as well as the tasty ones.

“It is a joy to have them around and observe their intricate dance with life,” says Ruby Blume, a Bay Area beekeeper who teaches courses on the subject at The Institute of Urban Homesteading in Oakland. “When the bees come out in spring there’s a huge uplifting feeling in my spirit, and I know it’s time to start gardening and engaging with the outside world again.” 

A single hive in an urban setting can produce as much as 60 pounds of honey, requires less management than a cat or dog, and has relatively low start-up costs, making it an appealing way for city folk to connect with their country roots. Here are a few things to consider when contemplating a hive of your very own:

You will need to do your research. “The more you know, the better beekeeper you’ll be,” advises Blume. There is a wealth of resources out there for aspiring beekeepers, frombooks to classes. Take several classes, says Blume, or find a mentor. Most cities have beekeepers associations full of enthusiasts who would be happy to help. 

But first, investigate your city’s laws — you don’t want to unintentionally become a fugitive while pursuing your apiarist dreams.

Consider the financial investment. While the initial cost is not outlandish, beekeeping will require some funds. A beginner kit can cost anywhere between $150-$400, and doesn’t include bees. But don’t lose heart just yet; some beekeeping organizations have resources to mitigate the financial burden of classes and equipment, and catching your own swarm will alleviate the cost of the insects themselves. 

Will your yard or rooftop make a good home? Bees thrive in many conditions, but your neighbors may not be as adaptable. Your bees will travel up to 5 miles away from the hive to forage, so be respectful and do your best to keep your bees safe and out of others’ way. Provide them water, flowers, and an unobstructed flight path. Most colonies will stick to one route as they travel to and from the hive to forage, and humans routinely walking through the colony’s flight path can upset both the bees and the pedestrians. In Keeping Bees, author Ashley English advises constructing a high hedge or tall fence to encourage bees to fly up and over the heads of passersby. 

When it comes to weather, bees like morning sun, afternoon shade, and very little wind or fog, says Blume, so choose a spot for their hive carefully. 

Procuring your bees. A starter colony can be ordered from a supplier and will set you back $60 – $150, but be careful to consider your environment  — bees shipped from warm weather won’t do well in cold climes. Catching your own swarm solves this problem, as does finding an established beekeeper who will split their colony for you. 

Do you have time? Most likely, yes. “Being a good beekeeper is mostly about observing and only intervening when you can see something is wrong,” says Blume. Depending on the system you choose (Top Bar vs. Langstroth hive), you’ll only need to visit your hive weekly, monthly, or even yearly, depending on the season. When your bees start producing honey, expect to set aside a few hours for extraction. Otherwise, according to Blume, most people interfere too much. “Bees are incredibly developed creatures,” she says. “They do what they do very well without help from us.” 

Read online at SierraClub.org

How to Cook a Feast Without a Kitchen

Published online on Sierra magazine’s Green Life blog, September 11, 2013

How to Cook a Feast Without a Kitchen

New freshmen and recent grads are learning one of life’s hard lessons right about now: a full kitchen is a privilege, not a right. Cooking green and eating well in an efficiency studio is a challenge, and dining hall food can be questionable at best. Fortunately, being without a stove isn’t a culinary death sentence. Many who have gone without kitchen have found you can eat pretty well with simply a microwave, hot plate, toaster oven, or slow cooker. So fear not: frozen taquitos are not the only cuisine in your future. Brave pioneers of microwave cooking have discovered you can nuke artichokes and even polenta with surprisingly tasty results. They’ve also found it a greener way to cook, as microwaves use less energy than stove tops to heat small servings.

To guide you on your voyage to preparing your own healthy, green, and convenient food, we’ve rounded up a few authors who specialize in convenience cooking to share their favorite recipes that can be made without a stove.

Cold cereal is the obvious no-bake breakfast of champions, but if you’re craving something warm, try this hot plate recipe for Two Bean Confetti Hash from Melisser Elliott, author ofThe Vegan Girl’s Guide to Life.

 “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but who has all morning to make a feast?” says Elliot. “This hash is easy, uses ingredients available at any grocery store, and is super stick-to-your-ribs hearty to get you through the morning. If you don’t eat it all in one sitting, the leftovers reheat well in a skillet on low heat with the lid on. Start your morning right!”…

Read the full post online at SierraClub.org