Here comes the sun

As children we were used to hearing our parents say “turn that light off, electricity costs money”.  As a parent I hear myself repeating those words.  But I am hopeful that this trend will stop with our generation thanks to solar power.

For those who’ve grown up constantly plugged into the power grid, it’s almost impossible to think of life without an endless supply of outlets, power cords, and technology. But for an estimated 1.5 billion people around the world, power—from cutting and burning firewood to lighting kerosene lamps, paraffin, and candles—doesn’t come easy.

If you still think of solar power as some kind of hippie fantasy, think again!  Solar power is growing fast, finally.. and not just in a neighbourhood near you.  One of my favourite websites, has numerous articles revealing the fabulous work of social entrepreneurs around the world, who have dedicated their talents and efforts to creating a better future for us all.

Below is a selection of great articles from the GOOD website, that highlight the progress being made in solar technology and the great causes being furthered by each invention.  Click on any image to go to the original article.

The solar charging kit for Africa that you’ll want to take camping

About 1/6 of the world’s population lives without access to electricity. That’s 1.5 billion people. And cell phones are spreading faster than plug-in power. There are about 600 million people who own mobile phones, but don’t have anywhere to charge them.

Mike Lin and Brian Warshawsky find themselves in the unusual but enviable position of having stumbled on an unexpected business hit. The pair set out with a social goal and built a product for poor Ugandans. But the gadget the pair built to help poor Africans without electricity start micro businesses has proven popular with American customers. Their power system for rural Africa makes for a pretty handy camping tool as it turns out.

SolarKiosk: Mobile Modular Power for Really Remote Areas

In an effort to tackle health and development-related obstacles in developing countries, a company based in Germany and Ethiopia is bringing clean energy to “off-grid areas” around the world. Housed in a metal hut topped with a solar panel-filled roof, the designers have named their creation a “SolarKiosk,” a small-scale power source for communities without electricity.

Each SolarKiosk is expected to provide enough power for villagers to charge their mobile phones and car batteries, run a computer, or power up a solar fridge. Goods sold from the Kiosk include solar lanterns, mobile phones, and cards to top-up cellular devices. Considering that the Kiosk’s fridge may be the community’s only one, it could be used to house everything from medication to chilled drinks.

An Affordable, Solar-Powered Lantern Beams in Off-Grid Communities

The aptly named “Little Sun” is a lantern powered by the sun’s natural light designed to fight unequal energy distribution around the world. Part artwork, part social project tackling energy poverty, the bright yellow orb, complete with wavy rays radiating out from the center, looks remarkably like its namesake. Thanks to its small size, the functions are manifold: use it as anything from a table lamp to a bike light. The Little Sun website declares it “a work of art that works in life. It transforms the light that is for all of us into a light that is for each of us.”

Little Sun also provides an alternative to the health risks associated with kerosene lamps. According to UNEP, kerosene lamps used with cow dung release toxic emissions that are directly tied to eye infections, respiratory infections, and lung cancer. Inhaling these emissions is equivalent to smoking two packs of cigarettes a day—and a single lamp can emit one ton of carbon dioxide over the course of five years.

Solar Grill Stores Latent Heat for 25-Hour Cook Time at 450F

This story actually comes from but of course it is relevant and just as GOOD!

We’ve seen a DIY solar cooker built from old CDs, and there are already several commerically available solar ovens too. Apparently there is even one solar-powered grill. But we haven’t seen many solar cooking options that can store heat for longer cooking times or hotter temperatures.  Until now.

Derek Ham writes over at Barbeque Lovers about a solar-powered grill project he has been working on that uses latent heat storage to both extend cooking times, create hotter temperatures, and reduce the problem of intermittent sun. Based on technology developed by MIT professor David Wilson, the concept is expected to generate cooking temperatures of 450F, and offer up to 25 hours of cooking time.

Fruit and Vegetable Prescriptions

Can an apple a day really keep the doctor away?

Jane Black from The Washington Post shares the details of a new program that offers fruit and vegetable prescriptions to low income families.

The initiative, which launches at several community health centers in Massachusetts this week, will offer families with obese children “fruit and veggie prescriptions,” each of which is good for $2.50 worth of produce purchased at local farmers markets. A family of four will get about 10 prescriptions each week of the farmers market season. In exchange, doctors will chart patients’ body mass index (BMI), a measure used to estimate healthy body weight, and blood pressure levels in an effort to determine whether healthful eating can help fight obesity in underserved communities.

“There is a lot of data that shows when a personal physician tells someone that they are overweight, they are more likely to act,” said Shikha Anand, a doctor and the medical director of the nonprofit Ceiling and Visibility Unlimited’s (CAVU) Healthy Weight Initiative in Boston. “Our goal is to see if there is a measurable effect on obesity when people eat more fruits and vegetables.”

The program is starting small. This summer, three Massachusetts health centers will prescribe about $20,000 of vouchers to about 50 families. Doctors in Portland and Skowhegan, Maine, will soon begin to write prescriptions. Each family member will receive $1 per day or $28 per week for a family of four. That is the estimated amount required to purchase one additional serving of fruits and vegetables per person per day.

Funders such as Wholesome Wave, a foundation that aims to bring healthful, fresh food into underserved neighborhoods, are optimistic the idea will catch on. The nonprofit has a successful record of creating innovative healthful eating programs: Its hallmark initiative is its Double Value Coupon program, which motivates shoppers on food assistance, such as food stamps and WIC, to spend their money at farmers markets. Launched in 2008 at five pilot locations, Wholesome Wave funds double-voucher coupons at 160 farmers markets in 18 states and the District of Columbia.

“Each dollar put into the Fruit and Veggie Prescription Program does more than just reinforce healthy, proactive eating habits,” said Michel Nischan, founder and chief executive of Wholesome Wave. “These prescriptions have the power to directly benefit small- and medium-scale farmers and to bring additional resources into the local economies of underserved urban and rural communities.”

In addition to aiding low-income families, the program hopes to collect scientifically significant data about how and whether increasing fruit-and-vegetable intake affects human health. The data will grow richer as more doctors join the program. But Anand said she is hopeful that she will have a picture of whether the program is working by the end of the East Coast growing season.

Follow this link to the earlier article written on June 19th.

Is this what is missing from our lives?

“The things we need most are the things we have become most afraid of, such as adventure, intimacy, and authentic communication. We avert our eyes and stick to comfortable topics. We hold it as a virtue to be private, to be discreet, so that no one sees our dirty laundry. We are uncomfortable with intimacy and connection, which are among the greatest of our unmet needs today. To be truly seen and heard, to be truly known, is a deep human need. Our hunger for it is so omnipresent, so much apart of our life experience, that we no more know what it is missing than a fish knows it is wet. We need more intimacy than nearly anyone considers normal. Always hungry for it, we seek solace and sustenance in the closest available substitutes: television, shopping, pornography, conspicuous consumption — anything to ease the hurt, to feel connected, or to project an image by which we might be seen or known, or at least see and know ourselves.”

Charles Eistenstein

I have been following a blog called Higher Existence for a while, but recently came across a three part post that has inspired me to share it with you.  I will surely be spending the rest of the day, week or maybe longer contemplating Jordan Lejuwaan’s words and revisiting the ideas of community/communal living.  It was only a few years ago that I would spend hours a day trying to persuade my husband that we should move into a co-housing project with his sister and their family.. but circumstances changed and we found a pretty fantastic niche for ourselves in a fabulous neighbourhood instead, not communal living but definitely the makings of a great community (we’re having our first block party in a few weeks).

If you haven’t read Charles Eisenstein’s book, Sacred Economics you can read it online for free here.

Anyway, take a look at Jordan’s website and the project he is involved with and let me know your thoughts.  Even if we don’t all rush up to Montreal for this particular project, there are plenty of ideas to think about.


Small Investors Could Earn Returns Funding Solar

Photo via (cc) Flickr user sonshine90

More than four hundred people invested in Solar Mosaic’s first round of crowdsourced solar projects. A stake in one of the five projects required an investment of at least $100, to be paid back in full, and funded community solar projects that would have otherwise had a hard time putting together the capital needed to install solar panels. Solar Mosaic community members told the company that, while they enjoyed the impact their money was having, they viewed these investments as they would a donation—a nice way to put money to use helping others out.

Now Solar Mosaic is moving into a new phase. By the end of the summer, the startup hopes to be working not just in California and in Arizona, but in Colorado, Nevada, New York, Oregon and Washington. And soon investors won’t just get back the money they invested in the startup’s solar projects; they could earn a return on their investment, too.

Solar Mosaic began with the idea that a group of people could come together to fund a solar project that wouldn’t exist without that funding. The first five projects, in which community members supported solar power for community centers and nonprofits, served as proof-of-concept for the company. Crowdfunded projects often offer a reward for investors, but in the beginning all Solar Mosaic could offer was the knowledge that investors’ money was going to a good cause. The success of these projects showed that “people do want to put their money into solar projects that benefit communities,” says Lisa Curtis, the company’s communications manager. But those initial investors also told Solar Mosaic that they’d want to put even more of their resources—as much as $5,000—into these projects if they could make a little money in the process.

The first round of Solar Mosaic projects cost between $17,700 and $98,000, so even a few thousand dollars won’t fund a solar installation of the size the company’s been working on. But larger investments will mean that the company can support more and larger projects. The five new states that Solar Mosaic is expanding to this summer are only the first that the company’s eyeing for new projects.

Offering a return on investments has been part of Solar Mosaic’s longer term vision from the start, and the company has planned on attracting both small donors and larger investments vehicles, like endowments and private equity funds. The company just announced that it’s raised $2.5 million in venture capital funding to support this round of expansion.

See original article at

Biking Saves Americans $4.6 Billion Each Year







In New York City recently, when the government announced the details of its bike share plan, the city collectively whined. An annual membership, which will cost $95, was too expensive. The fees for trips that ran over 45 minutes were too expensive. The whole idea was too expensive.

True, New York’s bike share is more expensive than other systems like it. But it’s cheaper than owning a bike, which costs just over $300 in annual upkeep, according to the Transportation Research Board. And it is nothing compared to the $7,000 or so that a car sucks up each year. Because cars are so pricey, Americans who are choosing to bike instead of driving are saving huge amounts of money—$4.6 billion, according to the calculations [PDF] of bike-friendly groups.

The Sierra Club, the League of American Bicyclists and the National of Council of La Raza took a look at the costs of each ride in a car and the cost of each ride on a bike. While a ride in a car costs about six times the amount a ride on a bike does, the actual dollar amounts attached to each individual decision are tiny: about sixty cents per mile for a car ride and about ten cents per mile for a bike ride.

But even in this bike-skeptical country, people are taking more than four billion bike rides each year. Since those trips average a little more than two miles, a bike rider only saves a dollar or so for each individual trip. But over time, those savings add up—like brewing coffee at home instead of buying a venti latte from Starbucks every day.

Right now, avid bikers are the ones who are saving the most. But as the groups’ report points out, if all drivers took just one round-trip per week by bike the savings on gas alone would be enormous—more than $7 billion. That’s money we could be spending on vegetables from a farmer’s market, a visit to the doctor, or tickets to the zoo.

And families could use those extra dollars. The New America Foundation has shown how burdensome car ownership has become even for middle class families. And for low-income families, car-related costs can eat up half of the money they take in. Many don’t have a choice about car ownership: This country’s infrastructure has been built up around the dream of the hot-rod automobile. While building bike infrastructure is relatively cheap and most Americans support at least maintaining funding for walking and biking, the government has shown its dedication to car culture. Those decisions are costing would-be bikers money every time they get in the car.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user Benson Kua

Read the original article here:

How Sugar Reduces Brainpower

Eating too much sugar can eat away at your brainpower, according to US scientists who published a study Tuesday showing how a steady diet of high-fructose corn syrup sapped lab rats’ memories.

Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) fed two groups of rats a solution containing high-fructose corn syrup — a common ingredient in processed foods — as drinking water for six weeks.

One group of rats was supplemented with brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids in the form of flaxseed oil and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), while the other group was not.

Before the sugar drinks began, the rats were enrolled in a five-day training session in a complicated maze. After six weeks on the sweet solution, the rats were then placed back in the maze to see how they fared.

“The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity,” said Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

“Their brain cells had trouble signaling each other, disrupting the rats’ ability to think clearly and recall the route they’d learned six weeks earlier.”

A closer look at the rat brains revealed that those who were not fed DHA supplements had also developed signs of resistance to insulin, a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates brain function.

“Because insulin can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss,” Gomez-Pinilla said.

In other words, eating too much fructose could interfere with insulin’s ability to regulate how cells use and store sugar, which is necessary for processing thoughts and emotions.

“Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning,” Gomez-Pinilla said.

“Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body. This is something new.”

High-fructose corn syrup is commonly found in soda, condiments, applesauce, baby food and other processed snacks.

The average American consumes more than 40 pounds (18 kilograms) of high-fructose corn syrup per year, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

While the study did not say what the equivalent might be for a human to consume as much high-fructose corn syrup as the rats did, researchers said it provides some evidence that metabolic syndrome can affect the mind as well as the body.

“Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think,” said Gomez-Pinilla.

“Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain’s ability to learn and remember information. But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimize the damage.”

The study appeared in the Journal of Physiology.

Foods that look like body parts

I read this article a few days ago and yesterday realised that I could remember almost all the foods that were listed and what body parts the nutrients are particularly good for.  That was reason enough for me to re-post the article..

It’s a great way to teach kids a few basic nutritional ideas about which foods are packed with goodness for their growing bodies.





Slice a carrot in half crosswise and it’s easy to see that the veggie resembles  an eye—look closely and you’ll even notice a pattern of radiating lines that  mimic the pupil and iris. And the old wives’ tale is true: Munching on carrots  will actually promote healthy eyes. “Carrots are filled with vitamins and  antioxidants, like beta-carotene, that decrease the chance of macular  degeneration, the leading cause of vision loss in older people,” says Sasson  Moulavi, MD, medical director of Smart for Life Weight Management Centers in  Boca Raton, Florida.




Slice open a tomato and you’ll notice the red veggie has multiple chambers that  resemble the structure of a heart. “Studies have found that because of the  lycopene in tomatoes, there is a reduced risk for heart disease in men and women  who eat them,” says Somer. And, she adds, if you mix them with a little fat,  like olive oil or avocado, it will boost your body’s lycopene absorption nearly  tenfold.

Photos by iStockphoto

Read more: Food Nutrition Facts – Healthy Living Tips at – Woman’s Day

Does cholesterol cause heart disease?

The idea that high cholesterol causes heart disease is based on the premise that cholesterol is found in the plaque of people with coronary artery disease. But does that automatically mean that cholesterol itself is the root cause, and must be kept at a minimum to prevent plaque formation?

The answer is “no.”

Missing from this hypothesis is the holistic understanding of how cholesterol operates inside your body, and why arterial plaques form in the first place.

Cholesterol is actually a critical part of your body’s foundational building materials and is absolutely essential for optimal health.

In an interview with Dr. Mercola, Dr. Robert Rowen points out that it is so important that your body produces it both in your liver and in your brain. Cholesterol is also the raw material for all of your steroid hormones and vitamin D. There’s no doubt that you need it.

“Think about this for a second. Your neurons are making it for a reason,” Dr. Rowen says. “Just logically speaking, if you take a statin drug, which poisons the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase… Hello? Your brain is not going to make the cholesterol that it needs, so you can expect – you can predict –that there’s going to be a problems, years down the line, and we’re seeing it now with statin drugs affecting the brain.”

So what’s the connection between cholesterol and heart disease?

If your body needs so much of it, what causes it to clog your arteries? The devil is in the details, as they say, and this is definitely true when it comes to cholesterol, because as Dr. Rowen explains, the cholesterol found in arterial plaque is not just any cholesterol, but oxidized, damaged cholesterol.

“There is an excellent research on animals where they fed animals plenty of cholesterol in their diet and they did just fine. But when they gave them even small amounts of tainted cholesterol, meaning oxidized cholesterol, within weeks it showed up in fatty streaks in their arteries,” Dr. Rowen says.

“We know why now. There are receptors in the endothelial cells that are the lining of your arteries. There are receptors there for oxidized cholesterol. It picks it up, and it goes into the endothelial cells. The problem is that oxidized cholesterol does not look native to your macrophages, your immune system. It actually looks like bacteria. The macrophages move in to try and clean up what it thinks is bacteria, which is nothing more than oxidized cholesterol, and it creates a whole bunch of inflammation inside your arterial wall. The real culprit is oxidized cholesterol.”

Where Does Oxidized Cholesterol Come From?

Oxidized cholesterol is introduced into your system every time you eat something cooked in vegetable oil. As soon as the oil is heated and mixes with oxygen, it goes rancid. Rancid oil is oxidized oil, and should not be consumed. This is why I constantly recommend avoiding all vegetable cooking oils, such as canola-, corn-, or soy oil, and replacing them with organic coconut oil, which remains stable and does not oxidize at higher temperatures.

“I am a proponent of eating far more uncooked food and certainly, zero foods cooked in oil,” Dr. Rowen says. “I strongly urge [my patients] to eat more raw uncooked foods, because heat is damaging the oils, which in turn is going to damage the cholesterol and lead to vascular disease problem.”

Another reason for avoiding vegetable cooking oils is that the majority of them (at least in the US) are made from genetically engineered crops; plus they’re heavily processed on top of that. So not only do you have the issue of the polyunsaturated fats being oxidized, you also have these other toxic variables, such as glyphosate and Bt toxin found in genetically engineered corn and soy. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the broad-spectrum herbicide Roundup, which is used in very large amounts on all of these crops. So there are a number of reasons for avoiding vegetable oils, but the fact that they’re oxidized is clearly a high-priority one.

Dr. Robert Rowen is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the prestigious Johns Hopkins University. He also attended the University of California in San Francisco. He was originally board certified in both family practice and emergency medicine, as well as the American Board of Clinical Metal Toxicology. (After being recertified, he later allowed those certifications to lapse, as he doesn’t believe they’re pertinent to his current work.)

Dr. Rowen has been involved in complementary or integrative medicine since 1983, and was instrumental in creating the first statutory protection for natural medicine in the United States in the state of Alaska, in 1990.  He’s presently the editor-in-chief of Second Opinion, which is a printed national newsletter, and he’s also still seeing patients in Santa Rosa, California.

First City to Mandate Green Roof Tops

I don’t watch the news because the token good news story after all the horror stories is just not enough optimism for me.  So I love it when I find a good story, especially one about the environment, which is often subject to a lot of doom and gloom!  It often occurs to me that building legislators and local government could be doing a lot more to improve the planet by incentivising and encouraging eco-friendly practices in building.  How many new hospitals, schools and office building do you see with solar panels on the roof?  Not too many.  But this article warms my heart and these green roof tops should help to cool the residents and office dwellers beneath!

Summer is just around the corner, and for those who live in big cities, that means spring warmth will soon give way to searing heat. Green roofs can help regulate city temperatures, giving people, and the electrical grid, a much needed break. Toronto is the first city in North America with a bylaw that requires roofs to be green. And we’re not talking about paint. A green roof, also known as a living roof, uses various hardy plants to create a barrier between the sun’s rays and the tiles or shingles of the roof. The plants love the sun, and the building (and its inhabitants) enjoy more comfortable indoor temperatures as a result. Toronto’s new legislation will require all residential, commercial and institutional buildings over 2,000 square meters to have between 20 and 60 percent living roofs. Although it’s been in place since early 2010, the bylaw will apply to new industrial development as of April 30, 2012. While this is the first city-wide mandate involving green roofs, Toronto’s decision follow’s in the footsteps of other cities, like Chicago and New York. Under the direction of Mayor Richard Daley the city of Chicago put a 38,800 square foot green roof on a 12 story skyscraper in 2000. Twelve years later, that building now saves $5000 annually on utility bills, and Chicago boasts 7 million square feet of green roof space. New York has followed suit, and since planting a green roof on the Con Edison Learning Centre in Queens, the buildings managers have seen a 34 percent reduction of heat loss in winter, and reduced summer heat gain by 84 percent. But lower utility bills aren’t the only benefit of planting a living roof. In addition to cooling down the city, green roofs create cleaner air, cleaner water, and provide a peaceful oasis for people, birds and insects in an otherwise polluted, concrete and asphalt-covered environment.

The original article can be read here.

Growing vegetables in the shade

I am way behind the power curve when it comes to gardening – both in terms of planting seeds this spring and in terms of my life experience of growing food, but that makes me even more determined to get on with it!

I have already put a few strawberry transplants in a little window box on my deck and can do no more than wait for the rain and sun to do their thing and wait for a harvest of juicy berries.. fingers crossed we will have a tasty crop for my kids to devour, they do love their strawberries.

Our garden doesn’t get too much sun thanks to our position amongst some very tall trees.  A beautiful canopy is sprouting to life, which is ideal for a shade-lover like myself, but doesn’t help much when it comes to the vegetable patch.

So I have been looking for advice online and thought I would share some of the wisdom I found online about growing vegetables in the shade.

Whilst it seems as though few things will grow very well in complete shade, if you have at least a few hours of sunshine a day, then you should be able to produce a decent harvest.

Mother Earth News provided me with a great rule of thumb; think in terms of leaves and roots.  In other words, crops which we grow for their leaves (kale, lettuce, spinach) and those we grow for their roots (beets, carrots, turnips) will apparently do fairly well in partially shady conditions.  So those crops that we grow for their fruits — such as  eggplants, peppers and tomatoes — really do need at least six hours of full  sun per day.

Six hours is definitely more sun that we will get in our back yard, so I have a plan to exchange seeds and produce with family members who have more direct sunshine.  We will produce the leafy greens and hopefully they will grow some tomatoes!  It remains to be seen whether my strawberries will be a success.

This link will take you to a fairly comprehensive list of shade tolerant vegetables for reference.

Another article I found on Mother Earth News gives more detail about the different kinds of shade you might experience in your garden and what steps you can take to increase the light (for example using reflective mulch or painting a nearby wall white).

We plan to use raise beds, which is recommended by many gardeners as it provides space to use additional high quality potting soil, as well as helping to avoid some of those nearby tree roots which will steal water away from your crops.  You can even line the bottom of the beds with carpet or something similar, to further prevent the roots from invading.

My organic seeds should be arriving in the mail any day now and I will be germinating them in a seed tray before planting them out.  I will endeavour to post pictures of my garden as it comes to fruition and welcome your comments about your own gardening efforts!  Growing your own organic vegetables and fruit is a fantastic way to avoid genetically modified food and pesticides from your diet!