Green Tips, travel

Travel to Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan with Harvard

Now here’s an unusual travel itinerary: venture over to Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan — and Iran — with Harvard Museum of Natural History guides.  Keep an eye on this page for upcoming trips, but the current one caught my eye:

Once Forbidden Lands of Central Asia: Uzbekistan & Turkmenistan

April 11 – April 23, 2012 (13 days)

Double occupancy: $4,325 per person
Single supplement: $745
HMNH Leader: Dr. Mark and Mrs. Louisa Van Baalen

IranApril 21 – May 1, 2012 (12 days)

Double occupancy: $4,690 per person
Single supplement: $945
HMNH Leader: Dr. Mark and Mrs. Louisa Van Baalen

Combination Program

April 11 – May 1, 2012 (12 Days)

Double occupancy: $7,945 per person
Single supplement: $1,345
HMNH Leader: Dr. Mark and Mrs. Louisa Van Baalen

Green Reviews, Green Tips, Maybe Saving the World, Nature, New Green Economy, Saving the World

Green Cleaning Products That Work

So which green cleaning products actually work?  Straight from a friend in San Francisco, who’s had a housecleaning business for over 10 years and has extensively field-tested them all, here are the best green cleaning products for cleaning your house, toxic-chemical-free:

Mrs. Meyers' dishwashing detergent

Method shower cleaner

Mrs Meyers basil all purpose

Bona hardwood floor cleaner & mop

Hope’s perfect glass

I found most of these at the local supermarket.

I bought Mrs. Meyer’s countertop cleaner (lavendar) and it works great.  Also bought the dish washing liquid (basil), it also works great.

But the real revelation was Mrs. Meyer’s dishwasher detergent.

Mrs. Meyer’s automatic dishwasher detergent consists of little packets the size of two thumbs, full of white powder.  (They look illegal.)  You put one in the dishwasher compartment.  It works as well as — if not better than — Cascade with all the rinse chemical-fixins.

I did not expect that:  never thought something “green” could actually work.  It’s brilliant.  It’s all I use now.

More choices for green cleaning products For other green cleaning products, here’s a great link from outside of Seattle containing a list of non-toxic versions of everything from air fresheners to upholstery cleaners to pipe-unclogger to slug stopper (?! really).  Only thing is, “non-toxic” doesn’t necessarily mean chemical-free, so while these lists are helpful, they don’t absolve any of us from research and label-reading.

Still, a helpful place to start:

Non-toxic alternatives (City of Tacoma, Washington)

If you have favorite ‘greeners’ that are time tested and you really believe in them, please post them below.  I’ll try anything, especially if it won’t kill my new, young, growing ash tree that lives near the “outgoing” drainage pipe at my place.  (Also, my dog eats things off surfaces she shouldn’t, so I’d like to keep it real for her too.)  Green cheers to all.

Environmental Regulations, EPA, FEMA, Green Tips, Health, New England

10 Myths About FEMA Aid for Vermonters

Went to Vermont for a long weekend — just one week after Hurricane Irene.   If you ever want to spend some wonderful days on a motorcycle, Vermont is a great place to go because the land is so unusual:  a forever-series of great rounded heights followed by low, river-spun valleys to glide along.  But beyond the ordinary extraordinary-ness of Vermont, we were amazed by what we saw.

Riding through Vermont after Irene
Riding through Vermont after Irene

Like a hurricane

Irene was no longer technically a hurricane when it hit Vermont, but you wouldn’t know that looking at the aftermath.  We saw towns with water marks two feet up the sides of buildings all the way down Main Street.  We saw bridges so washed out that the earth below the deepest footing was gone and the bridge hung in mid-air, twisted like rope candy, like a Twizzler.  We saw people selling muddy furniture in their front yards — people who looked very, very tired.

Vermont is mostly a series of vertical peaks and drops, with brooks that are barely rivers that crawl between the steep slopes of wooded mountains, the water pushing itself either east towards the Connecticut River or west to the top of the Hudson.

When it rains in this landscape, all rainwater rolls directly down the inevitable, often vertical, flanks of mountain and drops into those thin, vegan rivers.

As above, so below

The more water above, the more water below, it’s a direct equation.  The only variables have to do with how wet the ground is when the rain comes.  And this year — the year of Irene — the ground was already saturated from a few wet weeks preceding.  That variable increases the probability of flooding.

Almost a foot of rain fell from the sky in one day in parts of Vermont; the other parts got a half-foot.  Together across acreage, that’s many feet, that’s actually a lake.  The lake slid down mountainsides and into slender streams that swelled and surged into small towns that appear in Vermont in the only place they can: at the base of the steep slopes, next to the rivers.

As for us, we drifted in on motorcycles not as inquisitive storm chasers but because we’d planned the getaway months in advance.  We became witnesses of the storm’s effects by happening to be there.  We witnessed the water.  We witnessed the damage.  We ate in restaurants with people who were kind even though their eyes were pale because they had just lost everything: entire organic farms, homes, barns, ski lodges… a way of life… a retirement… an idea about how life is or should be….

On the journey home we got tangled up in road closures and detours and impassible routes — a 3 hour ride took 8 hours.  We would dismount and witness one wash-out after another, get back on our bikes, turn around, and head back the way we came.  Our inconvenience so tiny compared to theirs.

Our salute is to perhaps write a little bit about it later.

FEMA: “it’s your money, take it”

For days after we returned home to safety in eastern New Hampshire, the Federal Emergency Management Agency or FEMA was still setting up relief shelters in the area of Vermont we’d just navigated.  Berkshires, Bennington, Barre.  We had just seen it, we were glad to see FEMA arriving to help.

As such, we thought we’d run this information about what it takes to qualify for FEMA aid.  Some of this surprised us, it may surprise you too.   It turns out that some Vermonters who were affected by Tropical Storm Irene may have not registered with FEMA for assistance — because of misconceptions or lack of accurate information.

Here are ten myths around whether or not you qualify for FEMA aid.

Top ten myths and facts about qualifying for FEMA aid

Beautiful even in disaster
Vermont is beautiful even in disaster

MYTH 1: I thought my income was too high for me to qualify.
FACT: There is no income cutoff for FEMA aid. Anyone with disaster damage or loss in the declared counties may be eligible for help. FEMA grants may cover under insured or uninsured losses.

MYTH 2: My insurance agent told me I wouldn’t be able to get help from FEMA because I have flood insurance.
FACT: Everyone with flood insurance should register. FEMA may be able to help with uninsured costs.

MYTH 3: I don’t want FEMA assistance because it will affect my Social Security benefits, taxes, food stamps or Medicaid.
FACT: FEMA assistance does not affect benefits from other federal programs and it is not reportable as taxable income.

MYTH 4: I’ve already cleaned up and made the repairs. Isn’t it too late?
FACT: You may be eligible for reimbursement of your clean up and repair expenses.

MYTH 5: I thought FEMA only gave loans. I don’t want a loan.
FACT: FEMA only provides grants that do not have to be repaid. FEMA’s individual assistance program covers expenses for temporary housing, home repairs, replacement of damaged personal property and other disaster-related needs, such as medical, dental or transportation costs not covered by insurance or other programs.

The U.S. Small Business Administration provides low-interest loans to renters, homeowners and businesses of all sizes. Some applicants may receive an SBA loan application after registering with FEMA. No one is obligated to take out a loan. But if they don’t complete the application, they may not be considered for other federal grants.

Vermont still looks like Vermont
FEMA helps Vermont regrow

MYTH 6: I’m a renter. I thought FEMA aid was only for homeowners to repair their homes.
FACT: FEMA may provide grants to help renters who lost personal property or were displaced.

MYTH 7: I heard there’s too much red tape and paperwork to register.
FACT: There is no paperwork to register with FEMA. You can do it with one phone call that takes a short while, by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362). Those with a speech disability or hearing loss who use a TTY can call 800-462-7585; or 800-621-3362 if using 711 or Video Relay Service. You can also register online at or via a web-enabled mobile device at The website helps reduce the number of forms to be filled out and shortens the time it takes to apply.

MYTH 8: I received disaster assistance last year. I thought I couldn’t get it again this year.
FACT: If you had damage from another federally declared disaster you may register for new assistance.

MYTH 9: Isn’t FEMA broke? Other people need the help more than I do.
FACT: FEMA has enough funding to assist all eligible survivors with immediate needs. You will not be taking from others if you register for aid yourself.

Disaster recovery assistance is available without regard to race, color, religion, nationality, sex, age, disability, English proficiency or economic status. If you or someone you know has been discriminated against, call FEMA toll-free at 800-621-FEMA (3362). For TTY call 800-462-7585; or call 800-621-3362 if using 711 or Video Relay Service (VRS).

FEMA’s temporary housing assistance and grants for public transportation expenses, medical and dental expenses, and funeral and burial expenses do not require individuals to apply for an SBA loan. However, applicants who receive SBA loan applications must submit them to SBA loan officers to be eligible for assistance that covers personal property, vehicle repair or replacement, and moving and storage expenses.

SBA disaster loan information and application forms may be obtained by calling the SBA’s Customer Service Center at 800-659-2955 (800-877-8339 for people with speech or hearing disabilities) Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET or by sending an e-mail to Applications can also be downloaded from or completed on-line at

FEMA’ mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.

MYTH 10: No one cares, Vermonters have to do it themselves, there is no help.

FACT:  There is help, the rest of us do care.  There is unemployment compensation, there are shelters and provisions, there is money.  Take the money!!

Good luck with the recovery effort, Vermont.  We know you can do it.

After Irene Bennington, Vermont
From the Bennington Monument, one week after Irene, you can see more rain approaching

photo credits:  images by kmhurley  at http: //

Environmental Regulations, Green Tips, Health, Nature, New Green Economy, Saving the World

Trespassing Gas: Courts Say Pesticide Drift Is “Trespassing”

“I’m a farm girl,” says one Minnesota-based woman regarding this week’s hottest environmental story.  “And I understand the importance of producing a decent crop.  But nothing chaps my butt more than watching the choppers and planes spray the edges of my woods when they are working on the corn and potato fields.  Pine trees should not be brown.”

Farmer on beach
Farmers' properties border water bodies, forests and your kids' play area

Courts in the American Midwest ruled last week that if your chemical spray gets on my property, it’s considered trespassing.

The landmark ruling has potentially huge ramifications in terms of regulating chemical use in farming.  The ruling sets a precedent, giving the public another way for inter-property chemical waft to be discouraged via enforcement — beyond pollution laws such as the Clean Air Act.

Many Americans may not understand or appreciate the ins and outs of the Clean Air Act, but No Trespassing is a concept that almost all Americans can agree on.

The chemical drift problem

Historic!  The ruling has the attention of anyone concerned with regulatory compliance.

The debate about drifting chemical spray has been going on forever it seems. Namely: if an organic farm sits in close proximity to a non-organic farm, and the latter sprays chemicals that become traceable in the organic food, who’s responsible?

“If I stand by the fence separating your property and mine, and I spray DDT on my apple trees, how can I help it if the breeze blows a bunch of it over into your garden?”  That’s essentially what the defense says.

Courts say, “Nope, it’s trespassing, your stuff is treading upon and interfering with their private property.”  And, well, that’s true.

It isn’t just the organic farming versus non-organic farming issue that’s at stake here. There are many health concerns for people and pets and plants and wildlife associated with pesticides and herbicides.

In simple terms:  if your chemical spray collects in significant amounts in my food or drinking water, then you and I have a very big problem.

Pesticide drift: let’s take this outside

If you have a bonfire, I may well get some smelly, unhealthy smoke in my property lines.  Fair enough.  Handling moderate amounts of other people’s stink is simply part of the human experience.

The buck stops when one tribe significantly messes with another. In pesticides and spray chemicals, the buck stops when the concentration of chemicals drifting into your household or property boundary becomes either excessively toxic or otherwise measurably taints your ability to function in society (i.e., have trees that are not brown, trust that your water supply is clean, or make a living selling a product you choose — such as organic products).

On a more personal note, I’m not always convinced about the organic food industry and the hype around it — but I would say this: if you farm near me and if I find significant toxic chemicals from your chemical spray in my garden produce or in my kids’ swimming hole, I hope you’ll excuse my return chemical spray in the direction of where your kids play and drink and picnic.

And those side effects you won’t appreciate?  Well, touche.

Fair ruling

Chemicals crossing boundaries as trespassing is a fair ruling.

The legal system being what it is, the ruling will be appealed, so keep your eye on the story and use your voice. Even if you just comment on blog articles, use your voice. Pesticide-drift-as-trespassing is a new, hot topic and everyone is looking for everyone else’s opinion – so now is the time to have one.

Environmental Regulations, Green Reviews, Green Tips, Health, Nature, New England, New Green Economy, Saving the World, travel

Jen White, Kathleen Hurley join Mountain Spirit Institute as advisors

Jennifer White of New London, NH and Kathleen Hurley of Portsmouth, NH, have been recently named “Advisors” to Mountain Spirit Institute (MSI).  MSI is a non-profit educational organization based in Sunapee, NH.

Mount Washington, White Mountains, New Hampshire, USA

MSI programs have been compared to Outward Bound ventures insofar as both strive to engender self reliance, compassion, service, centeredness, physical fitness and interpersonal community-building while developing sensibilities towards stewardship and understanding of the natural environment.  MSI programs aim to endow participants of all ages with a greater appreciation and understanding of their own resources and of the people around them — as well as a better sense of their place in the world.

MSI is based in New England.  Summer 2011 programs cater to New Englanders or people prepared to visit the New Hampshire / Vermont region.

Hurley and White as MSI advisors

In the newly created advisory role, both Hurley and White will contribute expertise and advice to the organization based on their respective fields of experience.

Mountain Spirit Institute, founded in 1998, runs wilderness based programs both domestically and internationally, as well as a wide variety of workshops and retreats. The newly created advisory role broadens the scope of the institute while providing support to the board of directors. The role also engages those individuals in the community who are interested in, and have strong skill-sets and knowledge related to, MSI’s mission.


Kathleen Hurley brings a wealth of corporate and online communications skills plus enthusiasm, writing and publishing acumen and keen business management experience to MSI’s advisory board. Kathleen has been a contributing writer to various New England magazines, and a director-level Marketing and Communications executive for almost a decade. Hurley was also a founding member of the steering committee for the successful Sunapee SunFest, a holistic health, alternative energy, music, arts, and sustainability festival which Mountain Spirit Institute created and ran for a number of years in mid 2000’s.  Hurley currently serves as the Director of Corporate Communications for Actio Corp, Boston, MA.


Jennifer White brings a purpose-driven, holistic approach to sustainability education at MSI. White has been an educator for over fifteen years in a wide variety of academic and community settings, and has a multidisciplinary background in physics, psychology, systems science, permaculture design, and sustainability. She served as the Executive Director of a national nonprofit called the Simplicity Forum, and was the Co-Founder and Director of Education for the Green Heart Institute which was created to help people “understand the global impact of their choices, connect with their values and live sustainably from the heart.”

White has a long history of dedicated volunteerism, but she is perhaps best known for appearing on A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor.   However, her extensive volunteering with community based organizations includes being a founding member of the Rocky Mountain Earth Institute and Transition Town Lyons, both in Colorado.   She is currently the Sustainability Coordinator and an Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Colby-Sawyer College, New London, NH.

Fun, educational ways to get involved

If you or someone you know might benefit from travel (some local travel, some international) with intent to heal – please see MSI’s Programs Page or contact Randy Richards at the email provided below.

In June 2011, a MSI group will be going to Vermont for a weekend for an in-depth retreat centered around wilderness and sustainable gardening.  Check it out here:  Spots are limited so MSI advises interested parties to contact MSI as soon as possible to express interest.

Release date: April 16, 2011
Contact: Randy Richards TEL: (603) 763-2668,

This post may serve as a news release; content may be redistributed without consent of the author.  Happy blogging everyone!

Green Reviews, Green Tips, Health, Science

Chemicals and Food Dyes

Lately some big stories about chemicals in food coloring have been published.  “Nobody ever said that chemicals that bring the Pow Orange to spray cheese were a health food,” said Environmental Leader.

The Chicago Tribune noted studies indicating that some chemical compounds in food colorings cause hyperactivity and allergy symptoms in children.

Adding Food Coloring to Children may cause ADHD
Children and chemicals in cake frosting: can they mix?

Warning: the color additives in foods containing the following dyes may cause hyperactivity and behavior problems in some children.
•    Blue 1
•    Blue 2
•    Green 3
•    Orange B
•    Red 3
•    Red 40
•    Yellow 5
•    Yellow 6

For instance, check out this profile of blue food coloring, from

For a backgrounder of food dyes in the U.S. (historically), it does not get much better than this FDA treatise.  For a good list of food additive chemicals to avoid, complete with explanation, see this food dyes page from CSPI.   And, lastly, here is everything the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) knows about chemicals in food & packaging.

Green dye in guacamole, blue dye in blueberries

The Daily Green, a consumer site out of Maryland, reported the following: “European regulation, according to CSPI, are already more strict: ‘For instance, the syrup in a strawberry sundae from a McDonald’s in the U.K. gets its red color from strawberries; in the U.S., the red color comes from synthetic Red 40.

Synthetic food dyes are common in “fun”-colored foods popular with children:  breakfast cereals, candies, snack foods and soft drinks.

But it may be surprising to some that synthetic colors are also used to make fruits or vegetables more appealing.  Kraft’s “Guacamole Dip” gets its green color not from avocados but from Yellow 5, Yellow 6, and Blue 1.  CSPI notes that the “artificially flavored blueberry bits” in Aunt Jemima Blueberry Waffles are blue thanks to Red 40 and Blue 2, not blueberries.

Be wily: just because it says “strawberry ice cream” in big letters does not mean the food is actually colored with red strawberry juice.  Read the small print.  Of all the major brands, typically Breyers ice cream is the most natural one.  But always read the labels to check for yourself.

From saffron to spray cheese: intelligent life or…?

This quote is irresistible and sums up the food coloring situation, from Environmental Leader:

Using additives to make food more appealing goes back to ancient times when people would salt meat to preserve it. Later, herbs like saffron were added to rice to make it, besides more nutritious, a pleasing shade of yellow.

Many believe that from an evolutionary perspective it was just a matter of time before someone created bright orange spray cheese. – EL

If the food is packaged — from unholy guacamole, easy-cheesy pizza topping to bright blue lollipops — we should think before putting in our mouths or giving it to our children.  Hopefully this article provides good tips and good reference for you to find out more.

The upshot is: keep it natural.

Green Tips, New England, Science, Snow, Winter

Chemicals for Snow Removal

Salting the roads or the walkways for snow removal is illegal in California.  If you’re driving in the mountains in California, say to Tahoe for a ski vacation, you carry chains.  There are turnouts on all the highways, like rest areas, for you to stop and hook the chains onto all four wheels of your car.  They’ll plow, but they won’t salt.

Removing  snow and ice in New England is a little different. Making driveways and walkways passable and safe requires some kick-ass chemicals.  At least, we believe so.

Winter in New England brings unique snow removal challenges.
What chemicals are you using?

Winter ice bonds with pavement and other surfaces.  Ice is like paint – it’s not just a layer sitting on top but is a layer actually knitted to the surface.  What chemical de-icers do is either break that bond or prevent the bond from happening.  A de-icer, of course, is a chemical agent that is spread on snow or ice.

Let’s look at the usual chemical suspects.

Chemicals for snow removal

Snow removal chemicals are either acetates or chlorides.  Acetate chemicals are biodegradable and are believed to have low impact on the ecosystem after being washed off the parking lot and into streams, soil, gardens. Chlorides are salt-based and are more “corrosive,” as chemists like to say.  This means “toxic” to organic life and means “eats away” at inorganic life, such as cement, wood, and the underside of the car.

Chlorides first:

Chlorides for Snow Removal

Rock Salt and Sodium Chloride
> Rock salt and sodium chloride is the most common chemical used in snow removal compounds, but only effective above 20 F.  Rock salt can be corrosive to rebar and steel but has relatively low impact on concrete.  It’s not health food for the ecosystem, significant concentrations can mal-affect flora, fauna and ground water.  Problems, according to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), include salt toxicity to plants and fish, groundwater contamination, and human health interactions, particularly salt intake and hypertension.

Urea and Potassium Chloride
> Potassium chloride is a fertilizer.   It’s also effective for melting ice. The chemical is said to be safe for plants at low doses, though in high concentrations it may prove deadly to the same plants.  Urea does not contain chloride, so it does not carry the corrosive risk to steel and rebar as other chloride-based snow removal chemicals.

Calcium Chloride
> Calcium chloride is a liquid.  It absorbs moisture from the air, thus essentially “dehydrating” the ice so it dissolves. As a snow removal chemical, it is effective in very cold temperatures – colder than Boston, closer to Fargo or Quebec City type temperatures.  Calcium chloride does not require heat to work and is the less-corrosive of the chlorides.

Magnesium Chloride
> Magnesium chloride is considered less corrosive and kinder, gentler to plants and animals than many other snow removal chemicals. The problem with magnesium chloride is that it’s not as concentrated as other chemicals, so more is used; more chemicals is good for the manufacturer, not always good for the ecosystem.

Acetates for Snow Removal

Sodium Acetate and Calcium Magnesium Acetate  are non-liquid, non-corrosive and by most accounts biodegradable chemical substances for snow dissipation. Downside: these chemicals change snow into slush, making it less than ideal for walkways and other high traffic areas.  Makes a mess of nice shoes.

Potassium Acetate
> Acetate potassium
Used in liquid form and good in cold temperatures, like Montreal.  The chemical-substance sticks, so over the winter less is needed – the stuff already on the ground acts as an anti-icer, or “snow melter on contact.”  Cleaning it up in spring can be a problem.

New England snow

Anyone who’s ever skied Tahoe then skied in New England knows the difference: the snow here in New England is more ice-crystals than the slushier. more forgiving type of snow in the Sierras.  (As a native New Hampshirian, I ski like a pro out west, when in the east, at Mount Sunapee say, I’m just shy of completely out of control.)

For more on the potassium chemicals, go to this excellent site on fertilizer chemicals.  Site is  With New England this year being the snow removal capital of the universe (it seems), then with planting season coming along, we should get to know our chemicals.

I mean, can’t we all just get along…?