Climate Change Conspiracy??

I feel a little like we should all be singing "'tis the season to be leaking incriminating documents..."

Fa La La La La

Yesterday, an internal email from Fox News was released.  In the email, the corporations Washington Bureau Chief instructed staff that any mention of climate change should be IMMEDIATELY followed by statements of skepticism about its scientific existence. (Read the original news article here.)

Those of you who know me personally, know that I tend to be "left-of-center" on most issues.  Oh, and also?  I'm an environmental scientist.  You can imagine my reaction.  (Suffice it to say, it wasn't all that different from the reaction of virtually every environmental group in the country.)

As the serendipity of the Internets would have it, another blogger published a great comic on climate change earlier this week.  It gets a little finger-pointy in the middle, but is, overall, very well done.

Go read it.

Fa La La La La.


Sustainable Seafood

Now, I've said before, I'm not out to make this a "food" blog.  But we all eat.  And how and what we eat can make a pretty big impact on our world.  So it's important.
Now, I've never been a huge fan of eating things that swim -or generally live in water at all- though I've often wished that I were.  For those of you who do eat seafood, are you aware of all the Ethical Eating issues associated with it?

Via: Roots Restaurant

Many of our favorite species of fish are being harvested at unsustainable rates, and some fish communities are in serious danger of collapse.  Today, a full 75% of major fisheries are overfished.  The top predators in the food-chain are often the most popular eats, so they're the first to go.  When fishing these species becomes too difficult, fishers move down the food chain, eliminating essential prey for those large predators.  It's a vicious cycle.  Farmed fish generally tend to be a better choice than wild-caught, in terms of overfishing.

How some of these fish are being harvested often ends up also harvesting "innocent by-swimmers".  This bycatch is typical of large net and longline styles of fishing.  Hook and line fishing is the least likely to produce bycatch, as unwanted species can be quickly released, unharmed.  Shrimp, one of our favorite eats, is one of the largest producers of bycatch. (The best types of shrimp to buy/eat, can be found here.)

Then there's the matter of what else is lurking in that tasty fish your eating.  Mercury.  Many of our waterways and fisheries are contaminated with this heavy metal.  Mercury is released into the air through industrial pollution.  It eventually "falls" into the water, where it becomes methyl mercury.  This substance is easily absorbed by the fish, as they feed, and by humans, as we feed on fish.  Nearly ALL fish have some level of mercury.  Children and pregnant women are cited by the EPA and FDA as the most vulnerable populations, but there is a faction of the medical (western and alternative) community that believes that mercury and other heavy metals in our bodies can lead to everything from fibromyalgia to autism.  Generally speaking, the higher you go up the fishy foodchain, the higher the mercury levels of that fish.

Via: TN State Dept of Health
Species generally considered to be low in mercury (by the FDA and EPA) are shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish.

So what's a seafood lover to do?

The Monterey Bay Aquarium has a host of resources to educate yourself, including a pocket guide to sustainable seafood species, as well as an iphone app!

Consider joining The Daily Green in their boycott of Bluefin Tuna.  This popular sushi species is consistently listed as one of the eco-worst!

Most importantly, don't dispair.  As with most of our choices, a healthy dollop of informed consumerism can lead to a greener, more sustainable lifestyle.


Saner Gift Giving (Part 3) - Useful and Green Gifts

For those of us who like to give tangible, un-wrapable gifts, "Saner" gifting is a particular challenge.  But you can present your petty pretty package (stay tuned for more on that!), and still feel good about what's inside.  To me, the most wasteful and least "sane" gifts are the baubles and tchotchkes that have no particular use or purpose.
So this year, I challenge you - whether for a family member, friend, "secret santa", or host/ess - give a useful and/or green gift.  Here are a few ideas and resources to get you started:

If you don't know your giftee very well - in a secret santa or host/ess - situation, I like giving food gifts - a plate of homemade cookies, a jar of yummy trailmix, a bottle of wine, a box of organic, free trade chocolate, even a fruit basket!  (Outpost, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe's are my favorite places to find good, and out-of-the-ordinary food gifts.  There's also Alterra and Anodyne for locally roasted coffee, and Rishi for amazing teas.) Even if you end up giving them something that they don't personally enjoy, chances are that they'll have some sort of event during the holidays where they can put it out to share.  And wine is one of the most re-giftable items out there!  (Just make sure you dust off the bottle before you slap on that bow and take it to your next cocktail party.)

For Milwaukeeans who love to dine out, City Tins could be a great option! For a mere $25, you get a set of 20+ $10 gift cards to great local restaurants.  (Maybe your giftee will even take you out to dinner!)

Ideas and resources for green gifts are all over the web.  Check out:
- etsy.com - for anything and everything vintage and handmade
- Viva Terra - for design-y, gorgeous, and ethically sourced finds
- Branch Home - for more beautiful, unusual and green items for the home
- Reuseit.com - for thermoses, water bottles, and reusable lunch kits


World Toilet Day

Did you know that 2.6 Billion people in the world don't have access to adequate sanitation?  It's such a simple thing, that so many of us take for granted.  Seriously, when was the last time you were thankful to flush a toilet?

To raise awareness of this issue, which claims the lives of an estimated 5,000 children a day, today is World Toilet Day.

Go to WorldToilet.org to learn more about the worldwide sanitation crisis.  Spread your knowledge, and be thankful for the basic necessities that so many go without.  Because, after all, everyone poops.


Apple Baked Oatmeal

Ok, I know this isn't really a food blog, but I love to cook (and to eat!)... so a bit of food blog-ery is inevitable.

The other day, our office had "Apple Day".  We have a Wellness Committee that does healthy, educational activities every quarter or so.  Anyway, we were all encouraged to bring a tasty apple dish to share.  I'm a big fan of big breakfasts, so I decided to make Apple Baked Oatmeal.

I'd never made baked oatmeal before.  I only knew that I loved the oatmeal from Alterra, and that I could probably recreate something akin to it.  40 minutes of internet trolling later, I had a few recipes to cull from.  From there, as is my standard practice in the kitchen,  I winged it.

Here's what happened:

The house smelled amazing.  Despite having had a large dinner, my mouth was watering.  Did I really have to share??  But I did share.  And it was a huge hit.  And now, I share it with you:

Apple Baked Oatmeal
2 c  Rolled oats
1 1/2 c  Steel Cut Oats
5 1/2 c  Water
1/2 c Apple Cider
2 medium Apples, diced (I used Fuji, for their texture and tang)
2  Eggs, beaten
1/2 c Brown Sugar
2 teas. Cinnamon
1/2 teas. Ground Nutmeg
1/2 teas. Salt
1 teas. Vanilla Extract
1 tbsp. Melted Butter
1/3 c Dried Cranberries
1/3 c Chopped Pecans

Mix all ingredients in a greased 9 x 13" baking dish.  Bake, Covered at 350 for 40 minutes.  Stir well.  Bake uncovered another 30 mins, or until set and slightly browned on top.
*This recipe is very forgiving.  Take this as a starting point, and modify to your own taste/ dietary needs.

You can bet I'll be keeping this one in the quiver for the next time I need to feed brunch to a crowd!


Saner Gift Giving (Part 2) - Charity

Every Christmas for the past 5+ years, it's been the same story.  I call home and ask my parents what they want for a gift.  They respond: "For God's sakes!  Don't get us any more STUFF!  We've got too much STUFF already!!"

Since I'm one of those people who truly loves giving gifts, and am always looking for ways to show my parents how much I appreciate all the things they've done for me over the years, their response presented a conundrum.  Until, that is, I began the tradition of making a donation to a charity in their honor.

For my parents, I chose to start making annual donations to Heifer International.  This well established organization provides livestock to poor families all over the world, thereby increasing the family's food security and allowing them to begin a family business to pull themselves out of poverty.

Under the tree goes a card telling my parents what sort of animal we've gifted in their name, and a small ornament depicting that animal.  As the years go by, when they trim the tree with their Christmas menagerie, they'll remember all the good that has come from their gifts.

And that's the real beauty of charity gifts:  They're truly the gift that keeps on giving.  Plus, there's a charity for nearly every interest or hobby!

Got an animal lover?  How about the Wisconsin Humane Society (or your local shelter).  A boater or fisherman? Try Alliance for the Great Lakes or River Revitalization Foundation.  An avid reader? Donate books to your local library!  Trust in the power of the internet, folks.  Just type your recipient's hobby or interest into google and add "charity" to the end.  You'll come up with something!
(A word of caution: be sure to thoroughly research your charity of choice, especially if they're non-local. You can check with the Better Business Bureau for peace of mind.)

The other great thing about giving to charities in lieu of gifts, is that it translates to any occasion throughout the year! For their kids' birthdays, my friends Heather and Tracie ask the kiddos to bring an item to donate to their chosen charity, instead of more unnecessary toys for the birthday boy or girl.  I love how they instill the spirit of philanthropy in their little ones.  Way to go, gals!

image courtesy tsj photography

If you don't think that a charity gift is quite right for you or your loved-one, stay tuned!  There are still two more parts to this Saner Gift Giving season!


Milwaukee Treasures

Yesterday was a beautiful day here in our fair city.  Cream City Pooch and I took the opportunity to hike the East Bank and Beerline trails along the Milwaukee River.  The Milwaukee River Revitalization Foundation  has done amazing work to bring this amazing resource to us all.  Thanks to them.
Now, get out and enjoy some late-fall goodness!

Trail entrance at Gordon Park

Guerrilla knitwear

Winter's Harbinger

Feeling a million miles from the City


Saner Gift Giving (part 1)

The holidays are right around the corner.  The stores are already packing their shelves with more red and green merchandise than the GDP of a small nation.  It's easy to get caught up in consumerism this time of year. (Lets be honest, China is churning out some seriously cute plastic trinkets these days!)  But how do we stay true to our mission of creating a simpler, greener, kinder, saner life while still expressing our love and appreciation for the people in our lives, and not being a total scrooge??

Here are a few of the options I've come up with:

- Shop Local
- Donate to charity
- Give useful gifts
- Gift an Experience

(image via)

Part 1 - Shopping Local

As the great folks at Our Milwaukee will tell you, shopping local carries a host of benefits.  One of the most important (given the current economic climate) is that buying local keeps more money in the local economy.  One study found that of every $1 spent in a locally owned business, $0.68 remains in the local economy (compared to only $0.43 of every dollar spent at a big box chain store).

Shopping local also helps to keep our community vibrant and unique.  It encourages further growth by creating an hospitable environment for other entrepreneurs.  Plus, local businesses give, on average, 250% more to non-profit organizations!

With the "one stop shopping" convenience of malls and big box stores, the idea of buying all your gifts from local businesses can seem daunting.  Here's a few ideas to help you out:

- Get ideas from Our Milwaukee.  Their Local Business Directory will help remind you of just how many local options we have, and just how cool they are!

- Check out a craft/gift fair, or two!  There are lots of them coming up:
                     Art vs. Craft is Nov. 27th
                     The Holiday Art, Craft and Gift Expo at State Fair Park is Nov. 26 - 28
                     Outpost's Alternative Gift Fair is Dec. 5th
                     The Holiday Artisan Market at Discovery World is Dec. 4-5
Lots of churches, schools and ethnic centers have craft fairs this time of year, too.  There's way too many of those to list!

Craft fairs can be a great way to spend an afternoon with the kids, or a girlfriend.  And you're guaranteed to find a unique gift!

emilee rose designs

- Consider homemade.  It doesn't get much more local than your own kitchen or living room.  Do you bake? Knit? Crochet? Draw? Paint? Scrapbook? Decoupage?   Homemade gifts are always some of my favorites - you can feel the love that went into making them.  And an added bonus? A homemade Christmas can save you beaucoup bucks!
(Just be sure to be conscientious about your crafting supplies!)

image via

Next time we'll explore the world of Saner Gift Giving through donations to charities.

Happy Gifting!


The Hidden Costs of Consumption

Now that Halloween has come and gone, it's officially the Holiday Season.  A season full of conspicuous consumption.  A season where we all fall victim to "needing" to buy things - as gifts for others, as decor for our homes, as wardrobe for a fancy party, and the list goes on.

So much of what we buy these days comes from overseas.  These products are generally significantly cheaper than items made here in the U.S. of A.  Many of these companies aren't restricted by minimum wage and worker's rights laws, and environmental protection often doesn't even exist.

I came across this pictorial the other day, and really wanted to share it with you.  Photos like these rarely make it into the mainstream news-cycle.  But they should.

Please, take a few minutes to view these beautifully powerful photos.  And next time you're at your Big Box Store of choice, about to throw another disposable plastic whosit, whatsit, or bauble into your cart, remember these photos.


Green your Halloween

It seems holidays in this country are marked by conspicuous consumption.  There's always an endless supply of trinkets and baubles and disposables - and Halloween is no exception! So today I thought I'd put together a few tips on Greening your Halloween this year.

Here we Go!

1.  Don't buy cheap, disposable costumes.  Hit up your local Goodwill or thrift store and let your creativity and imagination run wild!  Kids will love the "treasure hunt" for their costume, and it's often cheaper than "store bought".  These sturdy items also lend themselves better for reuse.

2.  Reuse your costume.  Ok, so most kids won't want to have the same costume two years in a row, but if you have multiple kids, consider the hand-me-down option! (Toddlers and babies don't know the difference anyway.)  For bigger kids and grownups, consider a costume swap!  Get some friends together and "shop" eachother's closets.

3. Repurpose costume parts.  This works especially well for costume accessories.  That feather boa for this year's fairy princess?  It could be part of next year's baby duck costume!

4. Consider Candy Alternatives. All those individual Fun Size candy bars come with lots of extra packaging.  Plus, they're usually full of High Fructose Corn Syrup and tons of other chemical additives.  (Full disclosure: I've been sneaking into the basket of mini Snickers in my cabinet for a week now!)

If you live in a neighborhood where homemade treats are acceptable, try going that route.  There's always the mini-boxes of dried fruit (but none of the kids like the "raisin house").

Or how about a trinket this year?  Pencils, temporary tattoos (maybe earth-themed?), and stickers are always solid choices.  Be careful when choosing plastic trinkets, as these cheaply-made items may contain lead, cadmium, BPA, and a host of other nasty chemicals.

5. Pick Face Paint with Care.  While we're talking about nasty chemicals hidden in cheap products from overseas, consider the face paint kit.  Even regular cosmetics sold in the U.S. can contain lead, nickel, cobalt and chromium (among plenty of other scary stuff).  Halloween face paints are no exception.  Kids are more sensitive to these heavy metals (which act as neurotoxins) than adults.  What to do?  If you use safer cosmetics for yourself, raid your own makeup bag.  Consider not using facepaint at all (though be aware, plastic face masks can have their own set of concerns).  At very least, be sure to keep paints and makeup away from little mouths and hands to avoid accidental ingestion.

I'm off to the most sincere pumpkin patch to await the arrival of The Great Pumpkin.  Here's hoping your Halloween is spooky only in the good way!


Save Money while Saving Energy

I wrote the other day about all of the energy saving measures we're taking before Winter hits. (Although, I must say, I've been rather impressed with how much of this crazy wind has not been infiltrating the house!)  Today I wanted to focus on another great resource for saving some money (in addition to this year's federal tax credit) on all of those energy efficiency upgrades you've been thinking about.

Focus on Energy is a Wisconsin-wide organization that works with eligible Wisconsin residents and businesses to install cost effective energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
In addition to their website providing a host of information about all things energy efficiency and renewable energy, the organization provides a variety of financial incentives and cash back rewards to consumers wanting to implement these measures.

Most of the residential financial incentives available fall under the Home Improvement category.  Here's how it works (in a nutshell):  

- The homeowner selects an Energy Audit contractor from their list (outside Southeast WI, go here)
- In order to be eligible for rewards, the homeowner must first have a Home Energy Audit.  This service typically costs about $300 - $350 (in the MKE area).  During the test, the Audit Contractor performs a variety of tests (including using thermal imaging cameras, and specialized equipment to check for air leaks), and asks the homeowner a series of questions.  On completion of the audit, the contractor will provide a list of recommended improvements. (Some contractors will refer you to other contractors to do the work, if you can't or don't want to do it yourself)
- Then, the homeowner makes the recommended repairs/improvements.  You don't have to do everything on the list, so don't be overwhelmed!  
- When the improvements are complete, the Audit Contractor comes back and tests your home again, so that you can see the difference you've made!  He then helps you fill out the paperwork required to apply for your rewards!

You can see the list of the rewards available here.

image via
For us, right now, it didn't make financial sense to spend the money on the energy audit, as we would barely be able to recoup the costs with the improvements we plan to make in the near future.  Instead, we're using our own detective skills and know how, and performing a DIY Home Energy Audit!

Regardless of whether you plan to take advantage of this program, I think you'll agree that it's a great asset to our state, and certainly a move in the right direction - making it financially prudent to be green.


Buttoning Up for Winter

Last Spring, I bought my first house.  This little 1900-built bungalow is a fixer-upper, to be sure!  Still, I love it.
The past few weeks, I (as many of you, I'm sure) have been tackling weatherization projects to prepare for the big W (that's Winter, of course!).

Lucky for us, this year the federal government is helping us out!  If you're a homeowner, you need to know about the Energy Efficiency Federal Tax Credit program.  You can get back 30% of the purchase price of energy efficient items, up to $1,500.  The credit covers everything from insulation and weatherstripping, to new windows and doors, to tankless water heaters and renewable energy systems.  You can find a full list of what products qualify at energystar.gov.

Here at Cream City Green, we've been doing all the easy stuff for a long time: we use CFL bulbs, we unplug vampire electronics, we turn off lights and appliances, we open window shades in winter and close them in summer...  But now that we own our home, we're making investments to save on our energy bills, and to stay green.  We're:

- Insulating the water heater and hot water pipes

- Caulking storm windows to prevent leaks

- Installing a ceiling fan in the living room to circulate warm air
(This project hit a bit of a hiccup when a large chunk of plaster gave way and created a sizable hole in our ceiling.  Mad spackling skillz, to the rescue!)

- Replacing the back door and storm door

- Installing a programmable thermostat

- Insulating the sidewalls and attic.  This poor old house of ours has virtually NO insulation in any of the exterior walls, and very little in the attic.  This situation would make for a very cold and very expensive winter!  We've decided to tackle this large project ourselves, as we'll be able to do most of the work from the attic itself.  We're using blown in cellulose insulation for the walls, and fiberglass batting for most of the attic.  I'll try to post pictures as we go!

Because the tax credit only goes through the end of 2010, it looks like we won't be able to cash in on installing replacement windows/storms, or installing house wrap under new siding.   ....These projects will have to wait for next year.

What kinds of projects do you have planned for this Fall?


Milwaukee goes Gulfing

It's been six months since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and oil began spewing into the Gulf of Mexico.  For 110 agonizing days, America stood powerless against the black tide.  While scientists may never know for sure just how much oil was lost, we know that the number is astronomical. Hundreds of miles of shoreline and sensitive marshland have been fouled, thousands of sea creatures and birds have died, nearly one quarter of the Gulf's Federal Waters were closed to commercial fishing, and the full effects of underwater oil and the millions of gallons of potentially toxic dispersants is still not fully known.

In the wake of this disaster, a group of Milwaukeeans got together to make a difference. Thus, The Gumbo Git Down, was born.  The event raised funds for the Gulf Restoration Network.

Since 1994, the Gulf Restoration Network has been committed to uniting and empowering people to protect and restore the natural resources of the Gulf of Mexico region for future generations. They have taken a leadership role in holding BP and the federal government responsible for the destruction of so much environmentally and economically important habitat.

Our event was a swimming success!  We had over 200 attendees, and raised over $1400 for the Gulf Restoration Network.  Plus, we had a really great time!  

There's lots more great photos here.  Check them out!

If you missed the event, but still want to make a difference, you can donate to the Gulf Restoration Network on their website.

And another BIG thanks to Lo and Peef over at Burp! Blog for making this happen with me!


Local Firms honored for being Green

On Monday, Newsweek published it's Green Rankings 2010 listing the 100 Greenest Companies in America.  Many of the top firms on this list are in the technology sector, including Dell (no. 1),  Hewlett Packard (no. 2), and Yahoo! (no. 9).

The rankings begin with the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the country.  Each company is ranked according to its Environmental Impact Score (including metrics like greenhouse-gas emissions and water use), Green Politics Score (an assessment of a company's environmental policies and initiatives), and the Reputation Score (based on the opinion of folks in the eco world).

Two local companies are furthering Milwaukee's reputation for sustainability by their impressive placements on the list.

Johnson Controls, based in downtown Milwaukee, ranked no. 14 on the overall Green Score.  Impressively, they garnered the number one ranking in the Consumer Products industry for their Green Policies and Performance. More information about environmental sustainability at Johnson Controls is here.

Retail chain Kohl's nipped right at the heels of Johnson Controls with a number 3 ranking in their Green Policies and Performance within the Retail sector, and a number 3 ranking in overall Green Score for the Retail sector.  You can learn more about Kohl's environmental commitment at http://www.kohlsgreenscene.com/

Welcome to Cream City Green!

There are BIG things happening in our little city.  So many companies, individuals, and NGOs are making waves and making Milwaukee a little greener, a little kinder, a little saner.  With SO many great things happening, it can be hard to keep track, let alone try to figure out where you fit in to the big picture!  

Here at Cream City Green, we'll discuss some of the BIG things happening here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and our world.  

(image via)

We all want to lead a greener, simpler, kinder, saner life, and to make our mark on the world.  We're envious of those people who can do the BIG things: buy and run an organic farm... join the peace corps... adopt a child from a third world country... quit the corporate world for a non-profit job, or to stay home with the kids... live off the grid... donate half their salary to charity... live in a 500 square foot eco-home... backpack through Mongolia... there are people out there doing such amazing and big things, its easy to feel inadequate.

Instead of being intimidated by the BIG things others are doing, let's strive toward accomplishing the daily little things.  Like the butterfly effect, if we each flap our wings, however small, that breeze can turn into the winds of change and purpose.
In coming posts, I'll be writing about some of these little things that we can all do to lead us toward a life of purpose.  I'll share personal struggles (and accomplishments!).  I'll discuss the ideas of others, and some of the BIG things going on right here in Milwaukee.  Most of all, with you, we'll create a community to support each other on our journey... to lead a greener, simpler, kinder, saner life with meaning.