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.

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Join us at Crafty Bastards on 10/1!

For the past few weeks, I’ve been busy gearing up for this year’s Crafty Bastards Arts & Crafts Show in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of DC. In its 8th year, it’s one of the biggest craft shows in the country drawing an estimated 30,000 attendees. I am super honored to have been chosen to be a vendor. And it’s not only a great place to be a vendor, it’s also a dream-come-true for the shopper looking for unique, high-quality handcrafted gifts.

fuzzy soap display at Crafty Bastards 2010

It’s a huge show, with tons of great stuff to see and do – besides all the amazing crafts, there will also be DIY demos, food vendors, as well as the new Young & Crafty (featuring the wares of crafty kids 18 and under) and Crafty Food vendors (featuring home brew, preserves and pickles!). So, in order to maximize your time there, you can take a look at the vendor page to get a preview of the who will be selling what, then download the official Crafty Bastards vendor map so you can make sure you find all your favorites.

If you are in DC that day, please stop by Booth #88 and say, “Hi!” (If you are in the market for fuzzy soap, try to get there early, since we sold out of all 100 before the end of the day last year!) I hope to see you there!

Our New Brick and Mortar Friend: CARBON, DC

image copyright Examiner

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate. We are kicking off a new blog series that focuses on the cool, sustainable shops that carry the Herban Lifestyle line.

CARBON, located locally in Washington DC across from the Woodley Park-Zoo/ Adams Morgan metro, starts off the series after our line debuted there with a day of demos on August 6th. I first visited CARBON in April for an SBNOW event. I was so impressed that I later mentioned it in our Mother’s Day blog post featuring places to buy cool sustainable gifts for mom.

CARBON opened its doors in 2004, offering comfortable and chic shoes. In March 2011, CARBON expanded its offerings to include eco-chic clothing, jewelry, handbags and more thanks to the new owner Katherine Limon. Apart from being a fashionista’s paradise, what excites me the most about CARBON is its environmental commitment, especially the fact that it is 100% wind powered.

Recycled silver cherry blossom necklace by Melissa Lew. Image copyright Melissa Lew.

Other sustainable aspects of the store include a commitment to showcasing the work of local artists and artisans. Recently, the photography of Max Landerman adorned the walls of CARBON, an exhibition that will continue through this month. And the jewelry of Melissa Lew really caught my eye with her Asian influence and spectacular cherry blossom designs. Katherine is gearing up for the fall so there was a huge sale for her spring and summer items including a 40% off sale on the shoes with the exception of the new inventory. There are many temptations in the store such as their handbags, jewelry, and restyled vintage clothing.

image copyright The Fashion Brewery

Be sure to stop by CARBON for local and sustainable fashion offerings and be sure to check out the Herban Lifestyle products when you are there! CARBON is located at 2643 Connecticut Ave., NW, Washington DC 20008.

Avocado Banana Chaat


I have wanted to try Rasika, an Indian restaurant in DC, for a while now. Friend after friend has told me how exquisite the food is, but it seemed that the timing was never right and somehow five years had flown by. So, for Mother’s Day I chose to have dinner there with my family and a dear friend.

We ordered several dishes to share, marveling at each one. One of our favorites was one of the appetizers, the avocado banana chaat, which had an incredible blend of sweet, sour, spicy, and cool tastes. I swore that I would go home and try to replicate it.

After a couple of tries, here is my take on the delightfully different dish. I added some crumbled tangy tomato banana chips that we found at our local Indian grocery store.

Ingredients:

  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 1 banana
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon tamarind chutney
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • tangy tomato banana chips for garnish (optional)
  • paprika (optional)

In a medium bowl, mash the banana with a fork and squeeze the juice from half the lemon over it. In a smaller bowl, mix the tamarind chutney, cumin and cayenne pepper until well blended. Stir the tamarind chutney blend into the mashed banana. Cut the avocado into 1/2″ cubes and squeeze the juice from the remaining half lemon over it to preserve the color. Add the avocado to the banana-chutney mixture, tossing gently, making sure not to squish the avocado. Chill.

To serve, dish onto a plate and crumble some banana chips to give it crunch. You can also sprinkle some cayenne pepper or paprika on an around the chaat for color. Bon appetit!

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Nusta Spa: A Green Urban Oasis

image copyright GoingGreenDC

I first learned about Nusta Spa in downtown DC two years ago when I read an article in the Washington Post about the state of spas in the wake of the economic downturn. I found owner Elizabeth Snowdon’s perspective interesting in that she viewed her competitive set as not merely other local spas, but rather the larger luxury market (e.g., vacations and other high ticket items). In viewing it this way, she was optimistic that people who might normally spend thousands of dollars to treat themselves would find a day at her spa a legitimate and enjoyable cost-saving alternative. It turns out that she was correct in her prediction, in that Nusta Spa is still here, and it’s thriving. When I visited on a recent Friday morning for interpretive massage and pumpkin facial, the lounge area was filled with people waiting for their treatments. And in a recent thread on a local listserv, a request for referrals to local spas resulted in 10 recommendations, 5 of which were enthusiastic votes for Nusta.

After going way too long without a full day off, I decided to finally use two gift certificates I had purchased through Live Green‘s Greenback program (a socially responsible group buying program featuring only vetted truly green companies). I was pleased upon my arrival to see a decal on the door indicating that Nusta is a Live Green Spot, like Herban Lifestyle!

image copyright DiscoverSpas.com

And it’s no surprise that Nusta would be among the vetted truly green businesses in DC. The facilities are housed in a LEED Gold certified commercial interior. On their website, they state that “impact on the environment has been an important factor in every decision we’ve made. From the choice of product lines and packaging to the paper and ink used for printed materials, an all-encompassing approach to eco-friendliness is a top priority at Nusta Spa.” They use LED lighting, Energy Star appliances, furniture and other decor made from recycled materials or renewable resources, like bamboo.

Image copyright Anakiri

And, nearest and dearest to my heart, they are committed to using only natural and organic products. I loved inhaling the scent of the massage oils and facial treatments, which smelled of pure essential oils, not fragrances.

Another thing I loved about Nusta was that it feels as if you are at a retreat, rather than just a day spa. There was a peacefulness to the place, and everyone there gave the impression that they had all the time in the world for you. It was so relaxing!

Nusta offers a full menu of treatments, including body scrubs, dry brushing, full body detox, sunless tanning, microdermabrasion, skin peel, manicures, pedicures, waxing, threading and electrolysis. They also offer bridal services.

So, if you are looking for a retreat in town, I highly recommend that you check out Nusta Spa, located at 1129 20th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036.

Miss Wonderful and Other Finds at Ginger Root Design

stylish vintage black patent pumps

On a recent shopping trip, I discovered a shop that I hadn’t noticed before. Ginger Root Design, at 1530 U Street, NW has a small, but excellent selection of vintage clothing. They also carry eco-friendly clothing and accessories by ReVamp for men and women that have been fashioned out of repurposed fabrics and notions. The owners of Ginger Root design, Erin Derge and Kristen Swenson, have a passion for sewing, so they offer tailoring and sewing classes. On my recent visit they showed me a cute little bow accessory made from repurposed men’s ties.

best shoe brand name ever!

The first thing that caught my eye was a pair of cute black patent leather pumps with a bow and interesting cut-out design. Because my feet are petite, I don’t easily find shoes that fit (which is a good thing as far as keeping a shoe addiction at bay), so I was thrilled when they turned out to be my size. The owners scored the shoes at an estate sale in Minnesota, from whence they hail. The shoes were unworn and in the original (awesome) box.

image copyright ReadysetDC

While I didn’t have time to thoroughly peruse their store, I did spot several cute women’s items that were fashioned out of a variety of great fabrics, and I plan to go back there soon for a real visit.

For more information on their hours and contact info, or for news on their classes and latest items, you can visit the ReVamp Facebook page or follow them on Twitter.

My Day at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear

My "Less Rhetoric, More Cowbell" sign for the Rally to Restore Sanity, ©me

In an interview last week with Michel Martin on “Tell Me More,” Sheryl Crowe said that she was tired of people in the media and politics being “mean.” She said she has no desire to listen to people using degrading, hateful, intolerant language about those whose ideas are different form their own. I agree. I have no patience for the many attack ads that have been floating around this election season, and I get very annoyed at people of any political or religious view who bolster their arguments by dehumanizing or belittling the other side. It moves us away from real, nuanced dialogue into a simplistic, dangerous place where things are reduced to being labeled as “this or that,” “good or bad,” “right or wrong.” It prevents us from trying to understand our commonalities, in addition to our differences, and moves us away from a place of mutual respect, “let’s agree to disagree,” into a frightened, myopic place of “us versus them.”

And that is why I was so thrilled to have an opportunity to attend Jon Stewart’s Rally to Restore Sanity, balanced out, of course, by Stephen Colbert’s March to Keep Fear Alive. The 24-hour news cycle, competition for ratings, and tough economic times, have created a media climate where Americans are being portrayed as existing on one or the other end of the political spectrum. I was really eager to be part of an event that represented those of us who don’t hold such extreme views.

a view from somewhere in the middle

The prevailing attitude at the Rally was happy, laid back, let’s all have a fun time together. Despite the huge crowd, it was polite, pleasant, and peaceful. I saw no incidents, no arguments, no drinking or use of illegal substances. Mild chaos only ensued after the Rally ended as the crowds tried to move off of the Mall and disperse throughout DC. Clearly, they hadn’t prepared for such a large attendance, as roads that weren’t officially closed became clogged with pedestrians. Police cars moved through, trying in vain to get people out of the street. There simply wasn’t enough room on any of the sidewalks to accommodate the throngs. We walked seven blocks to our favorite, small, out-of-the-way restaurant in DC, which rarely has a wait, only to find a line of people out the door and down the block! The situation was the same in all our fail-safe eateries. Clearly lots of revenue was being pumped into the DC economy yesterday.

throngs leaving the rally

While the crowd was primarily white, that is unsurprising given the demographic makeup of this country. Just in my area of the crowd, I saw people representing every ethnic group. I was also impressed at the great diversity of age among attendees. Many older people were there with their children, as well as every age in between. Some very elderly were in wheelchairs being pushed through the crowds, like the 94-year-old veteran shown on CSPAN’s coverage of the Rally.

this group traveled a long way to express their views

the family that rallies together

There were a vast number of creative, witty and poignant signs that the Rally attendants had created. I wish I could have photographed them all, but there were far too many, and given the size of the crowd, I was only able to see a small portion of them. Many people have uploaded their images to the Rally for Sanity website, and you can see photos of them here.

fun group of signs

loved this one and (not pictured) "It's the End of the month as we know it"

The programming, like the Daily Show and Colbert Report, was an eclectic mixture of entertainment, silliness and poignant social commentary. (You can read a blow-by-blow recap of the program on the Comedy Central website, or read a great description and see video clips on the MTV website). Jon Stewart ended with a short eloquent, optimistic closing statement (you can see the video here). Throughout the speech, he stopped short of being too moving or preachy by interjecting something silly, resulting in an almost, but not quite, rousing oratory promoting civility, understanding, and moderation. His point of avoiding looking at others as one-dimensional caricatures, as we are so often portrayed by the 24-hour news channels, and realizing that despite our differences we must all work together, was nicely delivered and well received.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty

I came away from the Rally feeling as if I had been a part of something, and that, in the true American spirit, I had been given an opportunity to express my views. It would take a while for me to explain exactly what my views are, since they cannot be packaged into neat little sound bites (well, except for those that I put on my signs), and that’s what the Rally was all about.

Margaret Barry, in her eloquent comment on the NPR blog post on the Rally said, “I was reassured by the large numbers that wanted to express what Jon Stewart finally got to at the end of the rally: we should not be dragged around by the media and its reporters/pundits – the line is eroding daily; when we step away from political parties and the interest groups that influence them, we can connect with each other, share ideas, respectfully differ, seek leaders who call on us to do what we have taken the time to understand is right, and get things done.”