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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Green Festival Coming to Pier 94 in NYC on April 26th

600x250_NYC-BannerOn Saturday, April 26th, and Sunday April 27th, thousands of New Yorkers are expected to attend Green Festival New York at Pier 94. Green Festival will bring together the most trusted companies, innovative brands, national and local NYC businesses, pioneering thinkers, and conscious consumers to Pier 94 to promote the best in sustainability and green living.

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Green Festival offers something for everyone, with the widest selection of products and services to work green, play green and live green – from food, fashion, pets, kids, yoga and health, to energy, construction and design. People can shop and enjoy vegan, vegetarian, organic foods, hands-on demos, educational activities and learn from inspirational speakers.

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There will be speakers and performers throughout the day, including following. More speakers will be announced as we get closer to the event dates.

  • Matthew Dillon, Agricultural Policy & Programs Manager at Clif Bar & Company
  • Erin Schrode, Millennial Inspiration
  • JustFood.org Executive Director Jacquie Berger
  • NYCVegFoodFest.com founders Sarah Gross and Nira Paliwoda
  • Holistic Moms network President Nancy Peplinsky Massotto
  • Performances from DJ NappyG

And this year, Green Festival will introduce the new “Green Festival Award,” which will recognize the achievements of companies and brands that are transforming the way we live with innovative green solutions.

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The Green Festival will be held on Saturday, April 26, 2014 & Sunday, April 27, 2014 10:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. at Pier 94 in midtown Manhattan at 55th Street and the West Side Highway. The best subway stop is the 59th Street, Columbus Circle.

For more information about Green Festivals, visit http://www.greenfestivals.org. You can also follow them on Twitter at @GreenFestival.

Green Festivals, Inc. organizes Green Festival®, America’s largest and longest-running sustainability and green living event. Green Festival is a vibrant, dynamic marketplace where companies and organizations come to showcase their green products, services and programs, and where people go to learn how to live healthier, more sustainable lives. Green Festival is inspiring and empowering consumers, communities and businesses to work green, play green and live green. Based in Asheville, North Carolina, the organization produces Green Festival events in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C.

It’s Park(ing) Day! Come sit down!

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

“Hey, would you like to come sit in the Park?”

“Excuse me?!”, I responded, “What is this?”

I stared, completely baffled at the guy sitting on a park bench surrounded by green grass. It was not that the question itself that was odd, the cause of my bewilderment was in the “park.” I was in Mid-town Manhattan, right across from MoMA in a traffic-cone-demarcated parking space in the street. And while I was perplexed, the offer was greatly appreciated since I had been desperately looking for a place to sit that hot September day as I killed time after a job interview before meeting up with a friend.

“It’s Park(ing) Day! Come sit down!”

So I did. I pulled off my sandals and sat in the cool grass in a “park-ing” spot. I ended up sitting there for hours, watching and observing the many people walking down this busy New York street during lunch rush. Many stopped in their tracks to ask, “What’s going on?”, “What is this?”, and to say “Err..yeah…Happy Park(ing) Day to you too, ah…right”.

In those few hours I learned that Park(ing) Day started in 2005 in San Francisco when one metered parking space was converted into the first pocket park (much like the one I found in 2007), the space covered with grass, a lone park bench and a tree. The idea was to create awareness of ways the public could use the space cars and trucks take up in a city where green space is lacking. In 2005, the first pocket park was created by the design firm, Rebar, a photo was snapped, that photo went viral on the Internet, and a global movement was created. Quick side note: In 2009, Manhattan closed off Broadway around Times Square to traffic and opened it up for the public to walk the once busy streets or sit and have lunch on the cafe tables. It is my personal theory that Park(ing) Day may have influenced this decision.

With each year, more and more parks are converted into pocket parks inspiring people to not only take a little time to enjoy some public green space, but also be creative. Pocket parks have progressed into pocket smoothie bars (complete with a bicycle powered blender), pocket yoga studio, pocket coffee house, pocket art installation, pocket you-get-the-picture. In 2007, when I found my park in front of MoMA, there were 200 parks created in 50 cities in 9 countries on 4 continents. And Park(ing) Day’s popularity has climbed each year. In 2010, I volunteered to spend the whole day in a parking space in Baltimore to wish everyone a very happy Park(ing) Day and raise awareness to the importance of public green urban spaces. That year there were 800 parks worldwide in 183 cities, 30 countries on 6 continents. Last year those numbers grew to 975 parks in 35 countries!

Park(ing) Day 2012 will be held on Friday, September 21. I will again be volunteering in a parking space, this time in Phoenix, starting at 6 am and wrapping up at about 10 am, so that I do not fry like a crispy critter (one of my mother’s favorite sayings). I hope you’ll join the movement! Checkout parkingday.org to find out where you can par-take in the nearest celebration of Park(ing) Day. Better yet, grab some friends and make it a tour!

Park(ing) Day NYC 2008

George Nakashima: The Art of Gaman and Beyond

Office showroom at Nakashima Woodworker, New Hope, PA. Image copyright George Nakashima Woodworker, SA

In February, my in-laws took us to see an incredible museum and woodworking shop in New Hope, PA. Among the large, wooded residential plots of land sits the homestead of George Nakashima (1905-1990), who is considered to be one of the world’s greatest woodworkers. During his lifetime, Nakashima came to be known as the “Elder Statesman of the American Craft Movement.”

During our visit, we had the great pleasure of speaking with Kevin Nakashima, George’s son, about his father’s work. We found that not only was George Nakashima a master woodworker, he had started out as an architect and was sought after for his talent in integrating building design into the aesthetics of the natural surroundings. Kevin showed us photographs of the construction of a Benedictine Abbey, called Christ in the Desert, for which his father was the original architect in the 1960s. Last month, I had an opportunity to visit the abbey while on a trip to Santa Fe. More on that in another post…

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We were given tours of most of the buildings on the homestead. Nakashima’s love for nature was evident in the structures, which were all built to take advantage of natural light and passive heating and cooling. And his furniture is all built from fallen wood – no trees are cut to make his pieces. I found out that George Nakashima Woodworker, SA is a member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC). Members of the SFC pledge to: eliminate unrecyclable content and primary materials from unsustainable sources; endorse Life Cycle Assessment as the best method for analyzing the environmental impact of their products, and a verifiable chain of custody as the only acceptable method for tracking wood flow; and support the trip bottom line of People-Planet-Profits and promote awareness of best practices throughout supply chains.

Inside the Nakashima Showroom. Image copyright Apartment Therapy.

What Kevin didn’t tell us was that his father had learned the art of traditional Japanese woodworking and the use of found materials while interned at Camp Minidoka in Hunt, Idaho during World War II. It was not surprising that Kevin did not want to talk about this painful period in his father’s life. It was also not surprising that Nakashima had developed a new level of artistic skill while in the camp. In 2010, I was able to view an exhibit at the Renwich Gallery entitled The Art of Gaman.

Gaman means to bear the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity,” “to grin and bear it,” accoriding to Delphine Hirasuna who curated the exhibit. (Actor George Takei defines gaman as, “To endure with fortitude and dignity,” and he is currently working on creating a Broadway musical, Allegiance, based on his experience in an interment camp as a child). It was during this time that Nakashima perfected the discipline of patiently working with the natural grain and contours of the materials to achieve perfection in form.

While in the camp, Nakashima learned woodworking from Gentaro Hikogawa using found materials (since they were not allowed to bring anything with them, the detainees used materials that came from garbage found in the camps as well as from the natural environment). Hikogawa taught him how to use traditional Japanese hand tools and joinery techniques.

In 1943, Antonin Raymond, an American architect who had collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright on the Imperial Hotel (and with whom Nakashima had worked before his internment) sponsored Nakashima’s release from the internment camp and invited him to stay at his farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania. In 1973, Nelson Rockefeller commissioned Nakashima to design and build 200 pieces for his house in Pocantico Hills, New York. Nakashima went on to build a reputation as one of the best 20th century American Art furniture designers.

Image copyright George Nakashima Woodworker, SA

He also went on to become a dedicated advocate for peace. As part of his Foundation for Peace, Nakashima’s magnificent Peace Tables, made from huge slabs of wood, reside in Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, Russian Academy of Art in Moscow, Unity Pavilion in India, and one is being created for the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Capetown. On June 3, at 3:00pm, they are holding a concert, “Mostly Motets for Peace” to benefit the Nakashima Peace Foundation.

Nakashima peace table in India, image copyright PhillyBurbs.com

George Nakashima Woodworker, SA is open to the public on Saturdays from 1:00p to 4:30pm, and is located at 1847 Aquetong Road, New Hope, PA 18938.

And for an album of gorgeous photos of George Nakashima Woodworker, SA as well as several of his signature pieces, I highly recommend this wonderful feature article on  his daughter, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, in Apartment Therapy.

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.

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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.

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.

photos of a taco bed

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.

The Thrifty HoG: A Golden Find in the Flat Iron District

On a recent business trip to New York City, I was wandering through the Flat Iron District, making my way to Penn Station. I turned down 25th street onto the block behind the office where I used to work, and made a wonderful find. The Thrify HoG’s bright and cheerful window display caught my eye, and welcomed me to enter the store. Once inside, I beheld an airy and beautifully colorful boutique, which belied the fact that it was a “thrift shop.”

There was a huge array of chic, gently-used men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and accessories, as well as books, home décor, and small home furnishings. Each and every item was obviously very carefully chosen since they were all in impeccable condition. And by the cash register sat a big golden piggy bank along with brochures and cards for Hearts of Gold, a non-profit that was benefitted by the sales from The Thrifty HoG. I asked the woman who was tending the store to tell me a bit more about the relationship between the two.

As it turned out, the woman with whom I was speaking was Deb Koenigsberger, founder of Hearts of Gold and creator of The Thrifty HoG shop. Deb had founded Hearts of Gold in 1996 to help homeless mothers develop sustainable change in their lives. In addition to providing many programs and services through Hearts of Gold, she had opened The Thrifty HoG in May 2010 to provide job opportunities and job training to the moms. Net proceeds from the shop go to support Hearts of Gold programs. What a wonderful concept!

In reading through their brochure, and their website, I saw that there are many ways to support this great organization. They hold fundraisers throughout the year, and you can shop guilt-free at their store at 11 West 25th Street. For those of you who don’t live in the New York City area, they have an online shop. To learn more about Hearts of Gold and The Thrifty HoG, check out their website.

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