Artist of the Month: Michelle Sasscer, Babus Toys

IMG_8997The following post is by Michelle Sasscer, owner of Babus Toys, Herban Lifestyle’s April 2014 Artist of the Month.

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Women have traditionally learned their crafts from their mothers and other family elders, and Michelle Sasscer is no exception – her mother taught her how to knit, albeit over the phone, 3,000 miles away, while Michelle was laid up with a broken leg in a 3rd floor flat in San Francisco.  It was very slow going at first, and she timidly moved from basic stitch swatches to washcloths to eventually scarves.  After a multi-year hiatus, she returned to the craft in earnest in 2011, relishing the opportunity to nestle into an easy chair with gorgeous yarns and new patterns.

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But it wasn’t until 2006 that she learned about felting, and when she finally started to experiment with the technique, she was immediately, completely hooked.  Something about the smooth, fuzzy, warm wool texture and apparent magic of all of those stitches melding into one thick solid material, was irresistible.  And not coincidentally, this all came about while she was making toys and decorations for her newborn son, Nicholas (who was nicknamed “The Babus”, in utero, just like his daddy had been).  The moment she saw Nicky’s reaction to his first set of felted wool teething rings, Babus Toys was born, at least in her mind.  Many years later, Michelle has created toys and treasures for babies as well as children of all ages.  Using choice, sustainably produced yarns from Michigan and Peru, as well as an organic line from Australia/US, Michelle makes every piece by her own design and with her own hands, from that original Gnot teething ring to nesting finger puppet sets, to mermaid dolls, even ornaments (once she even made a bride and groom squid couple as a wedding cake topper). Oh, and her mom Ruth is still helping her out, doing yeoman’s work as a supplemental knitter.  Michelle works out of her home in downtown Silver Spring, MD.

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Babus Toys can also be found in Michelle’s Etsy store, on Facebook, and at Eastern Market in Washington DC.logo

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The Benefits of a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag) Habit

bagmonsterThe following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate.

You are sitting in a park enjoying a lovely picnic. You are taking in the peaceful moment: the birds are chirping, children are playing on the nearby swings, a butterfly flitters by, and then you look up and your stomach lurches. It’s the lurch you feel when you see a plastic bag stuck amongst the highest branches of the maple you are sitting under. You start thinking about the birds that could get tangled in the plastic, the turtle that thinks he is about to chow down on a jelly fish, and your mind starts flashing images you have seen of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and all you have your mind set on is how long it would take for that bag to eventually break down and where can you find the nearest ladder.

Plastic bag pollution is a serious problem the world over. It is estimated that 1 million plastic bags are used every minute of every day worldwide. Plastics in the ocean is a terrifying situation as today there are more pieces of ocean plastic than plankton (you know the little guys who are responsible for our every other breath). Of the 100 million tons of plastic that are manufactured each year, ten percent finds its way to the ocean, and only 20 percent by means of ships and platforms. That means that 80 percent of the plastic in the ocean comes from the land. With all of this plastic floating in the ocean that does not go away but rather break up into smaller bits (46,000 pieces per every square mile according to the United Nations Environment Program), it is no wonder that a million sea birds and 100,000 sea mammals and turtles die each year from plastic bags and other plastic pollution.

Some quick facts about plastic bags and the environment

Some quick facts about plastic bags and the environment

So what can you do and what should be done? The first thing you should do is bring your own bag to the store. It is estimated that one reusable bag can replace 1,000 plastic bags in the reusable bag’s lifetime. Keep a small foldable bag with you in your purse or on a keychain, so if you are out and about and decide to do some impromptu shopping, you are prepared. ChicoBags makes some really cute ones that fold up super small. Next, keep a stack of bags in the trunk of your car so you have them with you when you head to the grocery store or any other store where you would need more than one bag.  For the non-car owners keeping a stack by the door is a helpful reminder as well. For the ladies, you can get a little drastic and stuff them in your bra, however, I am not exactly sure what the most lady like method of removing the bags would be when you actually need them. Once you have the BYOB habit down, start bugging your friends to remind them as well, you have a vast, powerful network, use it to help the planet out (and while you are at it, get your friends to start a campaign to ban plastic bags in your city!).

If you have a ton of plastic bags under your sink, try to reuse them as trash liners or packaging material. And if you have a desire to get creative, check out these crafts that all use plastic bags! You can also take them to most grocery stores and Staples to recycle them.

Just remember, for every bag you refuse to take you are taking a direct action to help stop the plastic pollution problem and subsequently saving resources, animal lives, and keeping those plastic bags out of our trees and waterways!

Editor’s Note: For more information on the issue of plastic bags, presented in a fun, entertaining way, we highly recommend Bag It!, the movie.

A globe made of plastic bags, as seen at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

A globe made of plastic bags, as seen at the 2012 Smithsonian Folklife Festival

CARBON Hosts Eco-style Event to Benefit Fairfax Non-profit

On Saturday, November 19 CARBON, DC’s eco-boutique, will host a fun event to help raise money and awareness for FACETS, a Fairfax-based non-profit serving homeless families and individuals. We will be collecting toiletries and food for the families – bring a donation and receive a coupon good for 10% off at Carbon. There will be food, drinks, giveaways, and a portion of proceeds from the sale of both Herban Lifestyle products and Melissa Lew will go to FACETS.

image copyright Melissa Lew

On the 19th, I will be offering a special day of pampering, with free demos of my line of natural and organic certified cruelty-free bath and body products for men and women. The day will also feature a special collection by eco-friendly jewelry designer, Melissa Lew.  The Virginia-based designer combines elements of nature and architecture to inform her collection of refined recycled silver necklaces, bracelets, earrings, and Vitality, a unisex series of necklaces featuring Chinese symbols such as Peace, Trust, and Happiness.

November 19, 2011

Noon to 6 p.m.

CARBON

2643 Connecticut Ave., NW

Washington, DC  20008

(Woodley Park-Zoo Metro Station)

CARBON is committed to reducing your carbon-footprint by offering fashion-forward sustainable clothing, shoes, accessories, and handbags.  We carry small, independent designers and companies both locally and internationally who operate from a corporate social responsibility mission.  Several of our designers create hand-crafted and fair trade products.  CARBON is generated by 100% local wind turbines, implements the 3 Rs religiously – reduce, reuse, recycle – and supports local environmental and human rights initiatives.  CARBON also offers wardrobe consultation and personal shopping.

Meet One Well, Our New Eco-Chic Brick and Mortar Friend

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The One Well opened its doors in Brooklyn last month. It is a home and body boutique featuring the work of local and global eco-friendly artisans along with carefully selected vintage pieces. The One Well was created by owner Kerry Jones as a place where people can find beautiful, environmentally responsible items to help beautify their homes and treat their bodies.

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The One Well offers artisanal foods (like a yummy-sounding authentic Mexican caramel made with goat milk), hand casted beeswax candles, quilted bedding, gorgeous paper goods, unique jewelry and much more.

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I met Kerry when she visited my booth at this year’s Renegade Craft Fair in Brooklyn, NY. As she described her vision for One Well, it sounded like the perfect place for my products and a place where I would love to shop. Along with the work of a variety of artisans, the One Well will carry a special line of my fuzzy soaps in earth tones, with earthy scents, as well as my MAN grooming products.

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You can read more about them and see more photos of their gorgeous offerings on their Facebook page.

Their grand opening celebration is being held on the very auspicious date of 11.11.11. One Well is located at 165 Greenpoint Avenue (between Manhattan and Guiness), Brooklyn, NY.

Getting my Green Geek on at the Solar Decathlon

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate

This year Washington, DC hosted the Solar Decathlon for the fifth time since its inaugural competition in 2002. Since then, the competition has been held every two years, allowing students two years to take their proposed ideas and turn them into reality. Twenty college teams compete at the Solar Decathlon where have the opportunity to win several different contests including Most Affordable, Best Architecture, Best Engineering, and Best Communications. Teams ultimately compete for the top honor of winning the solar decathlon, which is determined by the team with the most overall points determined by diverse criteria. There is also the coveted People’s Choice Awards, which adds an additional layer of fun and really makes the students shine when they are giving the public tours.

I originally planned to hit the whole competition in a day but gave myself the backup day of Sunday just in case I could not get to it all. I am so glad I did. Saturday was a mad house and the lines were quite long, so after about two hours I only saw about four houses and I was starving (the venue ran out of food) so I decided to return the next day.

I am so glad I came back. I was determined to see all of the nineteen homes, an endeavor that took me about six hours over the two days. After six hours and two days the houses start to blur in your mind and it is hard to remember which awesome detail or technology went with which house. After a bit of review thanks to the handy dandy information the teams handed out, my people’s choice award went to Maryland.

Image source Treehugger.com

Rather than basing my choice on the engineering, I to admit that I picked my favorites based on which ones I could see myself moving into the next day. Maryland won hands down for my People’s Choice Award vote, mainly because I am from Maryland and have a serious affection for anything that promotes the health of the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland’s house, dubbed Watershed, not only produces all of its energy but also has an impressive water management design complete with a green roof. Instead of all the water going down the drain and eventually to the sewers, the greywater (wastewater that does not contain biosolids such as feces or food) gets diverted to the greywater treatment wetlands where the plants break down the nutrients and remove pathogens allowing the now clean water to be used for plants elsewhere around the house. There are countless reasons why I love this house, there are so many cool features such as their interior design (complete with the taco bed/table) and amazing engineering features such as the Liquid Desiccant Waterfall system which absorbs humidity from the air. I highly suggest checking out 2011.solarteam.org to check out all the amazing features of Watershed.

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There are several design features I would like to highlight briefly for the other homes. I really enjoyed the small spaces and was inspired by how comfortable these small houses were. I was especially fascinated by the ways teams hid the beds (Murphy beds, taco bed/table/, giant drawer).  I loved Middlebury’s house and was very impressed since they do not have a school of architecture. All of their furniture was made from locally harvested Vermont wood or reused pieces such as a really cool old trunk that they were using as a coffee table. One of my favorite highlights from this house was the idea of having a greenhouse in your kitchen, so if you needed basil, for example, you could just turn around and pick some and throw it into your simmering pot. Appalachian State, the Solar Homestead, was stunning as well. It seemed to have the most space and felt very homey. My favorite part was the kitchen/living room area due to their clever way to cover up the kitchen. If you have guests over for movie night, just cover it up with a movie screen!

Greenhouse in the Middlebury kitchen

New Zealand’s house was drop dead gorgeous. The house is called First Light because New Zealand is the first country to greet the new day sun. One of my favorite features of this house is the use of recycled sheep’s wool (an abundant renewable resource for New Zealand) as insulation. Tidewater Virginia’s Unit 6, was super fun and well decorated. I loved the sliding bookcase that doubled as a bedroom door, and the students played it up pretending there was a special book you had to pull to reveal the secret chamber. Interestingly, Tennessee’s team used Solyndra’s solar tubes that collect light from every angel instead of the sun shinning directly onto a panel, pretty sweet technology, too bad Solyndra is now in the headlines for a scandal.

After spending two days at the Solar Decathlon, I was sad to leave – there was still so much left to learn! I was so jealous of these students, and it made me miss school terribly. By the way, I went to Arizona State University, and I was shocked that there was not one school represented from the sunny dessert areas such as Arizona or New Mexico. I am just going to cross my fingers that Arizona State will be at the next Solar Decathlon; I know I will be, I would not miss it for the world.

Growing My Own Mushrooms

Day 2

I first heard of Back to the Roots‘ mushroom growing kit on The EcoMaker blog (where my shampoo bar, soap and solid lotion were recently reviewed). My family loves mushrooms (we are very much like Hobbits in that sense), so I thought it would be fun to grow our own.

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I ordered two kits from Back to the Roots, and they arrived in less than a week. They offer free shipping if you buy two or more sets. I have since seen the kits in my local Whole Foods. However, I will probably just order refills (the kits cost $19.95 each, and the refills are less than half that).

Day 8

It took a few days before the little buds appeared, but by Day 7, they were looking like mushrooms. We were all amazed at how quickly they grew, and how, even over the course of a few hours, they had mushroomed in size. Miraculous!

The “soil” in which the mushrooms grow is actually recycled coffee grounds, which can be used as mulch for one’s garden after the mushrooms have been harvested. They come in a compostable cardboard box. Very earth-friendly!.

Day 10

I sautéed them and we ate them as a side dish. However, it occurred to me that these meaty, nutty oyster mushrooms would be perfect for my vegan mushroom stroganoff recipe. I will definitely grow more of my own mushrooms. Next, I think I will try growing my own shiitakes

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Clare and Don’s Beach Shack: Good Food, Gators and Going Green in Falls Church City

Recently, when I was feeling under the weather and craving some homestyle soup, I headed over Clare and Don’s Beach Shack in Falls Church City. I have ordered lunch there a few times, and their nice selection of from-scratch comfort food was perfect for my mood.

When I arrived, I found out that the soup of the day was a homemade chicken noodle, brimming with big chunks of fresh celery and carrot. Just what the doctor ordered!

The restaurant has a Florida beach shack theme, which is colorfully carried throughout the décor and menu selection, which even includes fried alligator tail (really!). In the summer, my family and I often head over there for an early dinner on the outdoor patio, where live music plays in a fun, lively environment that really makes you feel as if you are at the beach. And their location next to The State Theatre, makes them a great pre- or post-concert restaurant.

Besides being a great place for good food and entertainment, Clare and Don’s Beach Shack is doing a lot to be a sustainable business. While I was waiting for my soup, I spoke to Dave Tax (who co-owns the restaurant with his sister, Rebecca), about their green initiatives. He told me that they had installed solar panels on the roof of their restaurant to generate 15% of their power usage.

solar panels on the roof of Clare and Don's

Their used cooking oil is saved then collected by Free State Biofuels, who then turn it into biodiesel. And, according to their website, their recycling far out weighs their solid waste! This is extra impressive given that Falls Church City does not have a mandatory business recycling program, so Clare and Don’s has to pay to have their recycling collected.

mural inside Clare and Don's

They also have a nice-sized vegetarian menu, many items of which are vegan. Manager Susan Anderson told me, “People love our vegetarian selection. Even non-vegetarians like our buffalo tofu and other non-meat items.” Their offerings including Phish and Chips, Uncrabcakes and Tofu Sandwiches. My favorite vegetarian items are the Cluckless Tacos, and Tofu and Grits.

When I received my order, I was delighted to see that it was in a compostable container. Apparently all of their “To-Go” containers are made from recycled materials. Yay, no styrofoam!

Clare and Don’s was established in May 2005 in the Clarendon neighborhood of Arlington (the inspiration for the restaurant’s clever name!), then moved to Falls Church City in 2007.  I remember being thrilled to find that they offered whole belly clams, a rarity in the DC area, and a dish that has been part of my spring dining ritual for as long as I can remember. They are my go-to restaurant whenever I am in the mood for any kind of seafood.

Or, if you’re in the mood for homemade ice cream, or a New York style deli sandwich (with a Dr. Brown’s to wash it down and black and white cookie for dessert), check out Mike’s Deli/Lazy Sundae, their sister business.

As you can probably tell by now, I highly recommend Clare and Don’s for good seafood in a fun, casual setting. And, if you’re brave enough to try the fried ‘gator tail, let me know how it is!

Clare and Don’s Beach Shack is located at 130 North Washington Street, Falls Church, VA 22046

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