“Restore your sanity and save our planet”

My boyfriend is probably sick of my repetitive response to the junk mail he hands me everyday; “This is such a waste of trees!” Today I found a solution that is right up my tree-hugger alley. For $36 a year (or a dime a day) Green Dimes will stop the junk mail you don’t want, and plant one tree a month on your behalf. Top that!

Green Dimes says we “chop down 100,000,000 trees and waste 28 billion gallons of water EVERY YEAR producing this stuff.” Yikes! And for what? high interest rate credit card applications and coupons for obesity inducing pizza?

I bet you’re skeptical. Here are their answers to your burning questions.
Ps-Keep this in mind for the hard-to-shop-for person in your life.

New life sprouting at Blackacre

24″ x 30″ oil on canvas
Click here to order a print.
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At long last, I think we have passed the point that necessitates keeping our winter coats on hand. Watching trees grow lime-green buds expanding to crowd my view of neighbors’ homes is encouraging as I kiss winter goodbye. Now we can begin to enjoy the outdoors and take advantage of nature preserves such as Blackacre.

I visited a Blackacre for a retreat several weeks ago and got a tour from the foundation’s executive director, Katie Greene. I learned about some exciting things under way, such as plans for building new a visitors center. Also, 2 1/2 new residents recently moved in: two horses, one of which is due to foal any day now. So go stroll, hike, learn, and feed horses.

Beyond welcoming visitors, Blackacre is always looking for volunteers who love playing in the dirt. If gardening is your forte, they would love to hear from you. Although, I’m sure there is work for everyone, even if you prefer to be behind a desk.

Anxious to lace up your hiking boots, but not in Louisville? Find a nature preserve in your backyard at The Nature Conservatory, otherwise, here are directions to Blackacre. They have slightly odd “hours of operation,” so be sure they’re open before you head out to hike.

Steps to making your home more environmentally friendly

11″ x 14″ watercolor
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Maybe like me, you’re not in the market for a new LEED certified eco-savvy home. There are still a multitude of ways you can reduce the amount of energy your house consumes and wastes. With a little research I found a broad list of renovations, repairs, upgrades, and projects you can take on to strengthen your green-home-owner muscles.

  1. Swap your inefficient incandescent light bulbs for fluorescent ones that last up to 10 times longer and uses 2/3 less energy, saving you money.
  2. Install a recirculating pump under your sink.
  3. Replace weatherstripping seals around your windows and doors that are either letting your heat or air-conditioning out, and the undesirable outside air in.
  4. Planting trees around your house provides shade that will significantly cut your utility costs, eat the carbon in the air, and add value to your home.
  5. If you’re in need of new appliances, paying the extra price for an energy efficient model will more than pay for itself in what you will save on your utility bills.
  6. If you can’t pronounce what’s in the bottles under your sink, it shouldn’t be there. They’re not good for you, your family, or the environment. Here’s a link for those who want to go the home-made route. For the rest of us, try products by Seven Generation or Simple Green.
  7. Install a programmable thermostat that knows your schedule so you’re not paying to heat or cool your home while your not around, or when it’s otherwise not needed. Why pay to heat or cool your empty house?
  8. What better way to engage your kids in this process than to build a compost pile? They’ll gain a clear understanding that trash has to go somewhere, how much we create, how long it takes to decompose. Maybe now they’ll start taking out the trash on the lookout for worms.

This is truly a short order, but if you’re interested in digging deeper, this is the complete list of “15 Green Projects for Under $500” from which I pulled most of these suggestions. And finally, this is slide show of 25 home products, such as artsy “storage boxes salvaged South African railroad ties,” that will surely get you excited about going green in your home.


Happy Earth Day!

16″ x 20″ oil on canvas
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I was planning to post my Earth Day painting on the 22nd after mulling over whether the 20th or the 22nd was the official date. Wikipedia claims US Senator, Gaylord Nelson, declared the 22nd of April as the day of environmental awareness, but after Good Morning America celebrated Earth Day this morning, I decided it’s best to be early rather than late.

This painting, of The Conservatory of Flowers in San Francisco, is a natural fit to remind you of the healthy type of landscape we are all striving to preserve. I’m encouraged by the huge amount of attention climate change has been getting from a combination of factors such as political campaigning, to incentives for saving money with energy efficient innovations.

The simplest first step in playing your part is calculating your own contributions to global warming/carbon emissions by heading over to climatecrisis.net and adding it all up. The website walks you through various actions you can take from there, including the option to pay to offset your carbon emissions.

Happy Earth Day!

“National Hanging Out Day” is not about kicking back beers with your buds

6″ x 9″ watercolor in an 11″ x 14″ frame, $170
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Tomorrow is “National Hanging Out Day,” an initiative to encourage greater awareness of our energy consumption. It’s not about hanging out with friends, or a reason to bum around instead of going to work. It’s a day aimed at demonstrating how effective one tactic, such as using a clothesline, can be in cutting back our contribution to global warming.

I think the last time I had an experience using a clothesline was as a child when I got distracted by trying to make earrings out of the clothespins on my dog. Poor Teddy.

Having a dyer is luxury in many place I’ve traveled outside of the US, even in very wealthy nations. We are spoiled and often take for granted all of the energy we suck up with our everyday gadgets. Lloyd Alter at treehugger.com claims “there are 88 million dryers in America, and if everyone converted to lines it could reduce residential output of CO2 by 3.3%.”

Weather permitting, why pay for the “spring fresh” scent in your dryer sheets when you can get the real thing?


G is for giving more, green ties, and good times

6″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to Brightside)
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As a result of the massive number of fundraisers I’ve attended, I have developed a very critical eye for these social events. Of course, I keep my mouth shut because what arrogant know-it-all would be so pompous as to critique a party benefiting a worthwhile organization?

Fortunately for me, and vicariously fortunate for you, not all fundraiser are one size fits all. This weekend I had the pleasure of going to the Young Professional Assoc of Louisville’s Green Tie Bash to bring you this painting. First of all, let me say that I LOVE theme parties! Ethnically themed potlucks to my latest Havana Nights Rumba; give me a reason to dress up or cook, and I’m there.

This event benefited Louisville’s Brightside city beautification projects, so green was the theme. The venue was a stunning, newly renovated building downtown, the Henry Clay. A live band drew people from their candle lit tables adorned with white orchids, funky finger foods floated from one cluster of guests to the next on silver platters, a photographer positioned at the entrance took glam-shots of the guests in their creative uses of green garments, and my favorite part, Henna tattoo artists decorated guests with earthy red body art. I even spied a politician or two, such as congressman John Yarmuth, socializing the younger professionals.

To point out the obvious, the fuss with all the green was a tie-in to Brightside’s mission to make Louisville a cleaner, greener city. The work is done by volunteers, and I know they have a pre-Derby clean up event in the works if you’re interested. Hey, I’d rather clean before Derby than after!

How will you be involved in tomorrow’s National Day of Climate Action?

14″ x 17″ oil on canvas
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Much to Al Gore’s relief, climate change is becoming a political hot topic comparable in prominence to national security and health care. Many who have jumped on the bandwagon blame all environmental ills on our contribution to the demise of our planet with unwavering assertion. Folks in the middle full-heartedly welcome the issue to the discussion table with open ears, and a sincere willingness to act once shown the sound, unequivocal evidence. And like any heavy issue, in the other corner are those who think the entire claim is a scam founded on ultra liberal interests in finding something to save, fix, and advocate for.

Personally, I’m attentive and listening, but not yet willing to stop flying or ask my landlord if I can plant more trees on his property. In spite of my moderate stance, the freakish storm I drove through on Wednesday had me second guessing my POV. I flinched from pounding hail and blinding rain, intermittently exchanging with glaring sunshine on this unusually cold day in April. I got in my car while the sun was out, experienced the entire mess within a 10 mile drive, and somehow got out of my traumatized, weather-beaten Nissan without any need for an umbrella. Although the skies were relatively clear by the time I arrived at my destination (surprisingly in one piece), I was then worried I might be struck my lighting on my way to the door.

Just in time to sway any doubt in my mind, I turned on NPR to hear that tomorrow is the National Day of Climate Action. Once upon a time, only those on the far left acted to change mounting evidence that our planet was becoming a sticky, hot garbage bag we play in. Now, everyday people are giving the evil eye to folks fueling up their Escalade.

I know my death defying story of survival with my sharp driving skills in the face of chaos from the sky above has compelled you to take action. Great! So go here, and find out what’s going on in your community tomorrow for National Day of Climate Change. 1367 events are planned in 50 states.   So don’t fret, there’s something for everyone!


Everyday inspirations: birds and berries

6″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to the National Audubon Society)
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This painting doesn’t come with the usual glamorous story detailing a glittering black tie gala or triumphs of a struggling family. Inspiration for this piece fell in my lap from a rather unexpected place, the parking lot of my bank.

I’ve hardly been able to keep my head above water these past few weeks with keeping appointments to gather material for this blog, and the addition of several other ancillary projects. But in the midst of the mad rush that is my life, I recently stopped before heading inside my bank to take pictures of what looked like robins playing in a bucket of bright red paint dropped from a barren tree. The birds were making furious and quick dashes for red berries in between the interruptions of bank customers coming and going. It was one of those Zen moments when you forget that your phone is ringing, you’re late to your next appointment, and deadlines are getting closer so you can simply enjoy watching birds carefully pick the best berry.

Lets not forget though, this blog is to meant to raise awareness and action around social activism. So, the donation made from the sale of the above painting will go to the National Audubon Society. “Audubon’s mission is to conserve and restore natural ecosystems, focusing on birds, other wildlife, and their habitats for the benefit of humanity and the earth’s biological diversity” (which helps to ensure photo ops like the one above continue to happen).

Urban Harvest brings colorful gardens to unexpected places in Houston

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to Urban Harvest)
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This post was supported by Serenata Flowers. Have flowers delivered to your loved ones for any occasion.

You might have imagined this citrus tree on a farm surrounded by a lush green landscape, when actually in its backdrop were towering Houston skyscrapers just a mile away. Thanks to Urban Harvest, this tree gets to inhale an abundance of air pollution in an much needed area.

The organization is “dedicated to strengthening communities through gardening…launched as an effort to ease urban hunger, but now also addresses,

  • neighborhood revitalization
  • environmental education for the young and old
  • supplemental income for low-income residents
  • farmers’ markets
  • horticulture therapy and
  • organic horticulture business partnerships”

You can find Urban Harvest gardens in schools, parks, housing projects, religious institutions, vacant lots, and therapy centers. Believe me, in a city that seems to have enough asphalt and concrete to blanket the earth, colorful and nutritious gardens freckling the landscape are welcomed by all.

To accommodate a variety of needs to ensure that as many gardens are erected as possible, Urban Harvest delves into grade school education, adult gardening classes, nutrition and exercise, growing food for donations, selling produce for income, gardening as therapy, and community development. I never realized what a diverse tool gardening could be in an urban setting. It’s also very fitting in a time when illnesses, such as type 2 diabetes, run rampant due to poor eating habits, and our environment is in such desperate need of nature’s touch.

Arbor Day in Houston

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to the National Arbor Day Foundation)

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I’m sorry to tell you that this post has not at all turned out as I expected, but noteworthy nonetheless. On Saturday I had planned to witness approximately 2,000 volunteers plant 20,000 trees at Will Clayton Parkway here in Houston in observance of Arbor Day. I was disappointed to find that A) pouring rain clouds decided to hover over the area during the scheduled time and kept me inside, and B) Arbor Day is in April! The Houston parks department explain that “while Arbor Day is celebrated in northern regions in April, the climate of Houston is better suited to planting trees during our fairly balmy winter. Saturday, January 27, has been set aside as our local observance of Arbor Day.” Hey, if the parks department is willing to coordinate 20,000 trees to be planted, they can call any day Arbor Day they like!

Ironically, the rain subsided shortly after lunchtime, precisely when the event was scheduled to end! Then the sun promptly showed its late face and a big blue Texas sky mocked the soaked volunteer tree-planters. Ok, so I chickened-out and stayed indoors. Although I decided to honor the parks department’s efforts by painting these young locally notorious “live Oaks” planted behind a mall parking lot in a sprawling urban area. As petite as these trees seem juxtaposed next to the massive retail space, their presence stills plays a vital part in the environment’s well-being. On that note, here is some food for thought:

  • “The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.”—U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • “One acre of forest absorbs six tons of carbon dioxide and puts out four tons of oxygen. This is enough to meet the annual needs of 18 people.”—U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • “Trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20 – 50 percent in energy used for heating.”—USDA Forest Service

Everything is bigger in Texas, including air pollution

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $80 ($10 donated to GHASP)
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Although Texans take pride in being known for larger everything, lets remember that bigger is not always better. I’m currently in Houston “painting” about several great organizations for you, one of which is GHASP (Galveston-Houston Association for Smog Prevention). I was graciously given an extensive tour of nearby oil refineries this week by the communications directo . The expansiveness of these ship channels is hard to put to words. After exiting the Houston city limits, we quickly entered a vast land of towering metal, concrete, steam, smoke, and lights. Much of Houston’s air pollution is due to these neighboring industrial areas. Visit GHASP’s website to see a striking unedited image of the smog hovering over the city skyline from such contributories. This is where GHASP steps in. Sabrina Strawn, GHASP’s executive director, had several insightful statements to share with us:

The largest source of air pollution in the Houston region is our petrochemical industry. For many years, our state leaders have protected industry’s right to pollute instead of the public’s right to breathe clean air. But that is changing, and we’ve seen that when government requires better pollution control technology and practices, it can result in dramatic air quality improvements for our communities. Reducing air pollution is technically and economically feasible, and it is essential for the health of our residents and our economy.
Sabrina’s elevator pitch on the organization goes like this:
GHASP works to persuade government and corporate leaders to reduce smog in the Houston region. Our leaders have the knowledge and the technology to solve our air pollution problems, and we must insist that they apply it. Preventing air pollution will protect the health of our residents, bolster long-term economic growth and improve quality of life in our communities.

Since its inception in 1992, tangible envirnomental change has come about, partly due to GHASP’s involvement.

Air quality in Houston has improved over the past decade, especially with regard to ozone. GHASP is a part of that success story, because we have ensured that the pubic interest is represented in regulatory and legislative proceedings. Industry’s special interests often dominate that arena, and we help counter that influence.

GHASP is also on the cutting edge, utilizing a blog to bolster education and raise awareness.

GHASP’s blog has provided us with a very timely means of communication with our members and with others who are interested in Houston’s air quality. We do e-mail alerts about once a month, but they are necessarily short and to the point. In our blog, we can cover more ground, in more depth, and we can express our opinions more freely.

Thank goodness for those advocating for a clean air, a basic human need often taken for granted.

Sandals and budding blossoms in January is a red flag pointing to global warming

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to “Stop Global Warming“)
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It’s January here along the 38th line of latitude, and yesterday temperatures reached 67 degrees. For some of you, the 38th line is distant enough that you have no idea if 67 degrees is normal this time of year; I assure you, it is not. Although I detest cold weather, there is something instinctually wrong about spotting cherry trees blooming in the winter. I took the picture used to create this painting a few weeks ago at Cherokee Golf Course; it looks almost like spring, doesn’t it?

Global warming, once only of concern to “granola tree-huggers,” is now as familiar a phrase as “weapons of mass destruction” and “TomKat.” If you’re only now tuning into the issue, it is morally imperative that you see Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” The film is a real eye-opener that even made the paper tub my popcorn occupied feel gluttonously wasteful. Gore has done a highly commendable job of diligently bringing to light what has been swept under the rug by politicians and corporate big-wigs. It’s absolutely dumbfounding what most people are willing to overlook, as well as how much lobbying it takes to initiate change in policy and behavior.

Hopefully a few of the following estimates from www.climatecrisis.org will compel you to act.

  • The Arctic Ocean could be ice free in summer by 2050
  • Global sea levels could rise by more than 20 feet with the loss of shelf ice in Greenland and Antarctica, devastating coastal areas worldwide
  • More than a million species worldwide could be driven to extinction by 2050

A first step in the right direction would be to head to www.nativeenergy.com, where you can calculate your own carbon emissions, and then pay to offset your contribution to greenhouse gases for a surprisingly low monthly or one-time charge. The website lays out the details in a very user-friendly, hand-holding way. You should at least be aware of what you’re contributing to the problem and how to offset it.

Colors of Christmas at Bernheim Forest

6″ x 8″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to Bernheim Forest)
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Snow is nowhere is sight at Bernheim Forest this Christmas. Nonetheless, the abundance of red berries is a telltale sign of Mother Nature’s festive spirit. With the largest North American collection of American hollies, it hard to overlook the dusting of red (as well as other unexpected colors) throughout the arboretum.

Maybe you don’t like hollies, or perhaps the color red. Don’t fret. Bernheim has much more to offer than a place to admire live holiday decorations. Those looking for recreational indulgences can hike the 25 miles of trails at your adventurous feet. For those wanting to dig deeper into environmental education, Bernheim can host an informative, hands-on day for a class of students, or advise an urbanite on what trees are best suited for their yard (or lack thereof).

Of most interest to yours truly is Bernheim’s involvement in the arts. Multiple opportunities are available to 2D artists, 3D artists, and writers to develop their skill while living at Bernheim funded by grants and fellowships. Artists from around the global have traveled to the hidden get-away to be inspired by what is unfortunately absent from many familiar landscapes, nature. The organization’s founder, Isaac Wolfe Bernheim, craved a collaboration of the arts and nature that is well represented in each building on the grounds (including the buildings themselves). Another effort indicative of the founder’s desire to embrace the arts is Bernheim’s offer to host the 2007 NCECA conference. That’s broken down to, the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (thank goodness for acronyms). I would certainly call that slightly more involved than your typical state park!

Colorful landscapes still in view at Bernheim Forest

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $60 ($10 donated to Bernheim Forest)
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A rainy day in December is not enticing to an artist planning to visit an arboretum hoping to collect photos for a painting. I almost postponed my private tour this week of Bernheim Forest since I was sure, that on such a gloomy day, I would not find scenes worthy of a painting. Not only was I wrong, I collected enough images to start a small series of paintings.

The nature conservatory was beaming with colors that only surface in the dreary months of winter. Most notable of the off season palette were from the warm colors of berries popping off bleak, gray branches (keep an eye out for this painting). The staff at Bernheim is eager to tell visitors, in detail, about the vegetation flourishing in the arboretum. School groups and adults alike come to the center to learn about nature, horticulture, and environmentally sustainable practices. Bernheim also offers information about flora on their grounds that can be incorporated into your own yard.

Since I will be revisiting Bernheim for later posts, I will save more about their work and history for the corresponding paintings. I will say that Bernheim is a well-rounded private nonprofit that has its hand in multiple efforts such as environmentally responsible architecture/building and the arts. So stay tuned for more surprisingly vivid winter colors from Bernheim Forest!

Bourbon put to good use by supporting nature preserve

10″ x 10″ oil on wood panel, $200 ($50 donated to the Blackacre Foundation).
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“Green rolling hills and lush forests” – a description you would not find out of the ordinary when used to describe Kentucky. The majority of residents living in the state’s city centers, however, face a different landscape. “Urbanite” is being used in the bluegrass vernacular more and more as skyrises and contemporary condos sprinkle the cityscapes.

Amidst this growth, nonprofits such as the Blackacre Foundation are ensuring that the wellbeing and history of a piece of Kentucky’s pristine countryside, hugging Louisville’s boundaries, is preserved. The foundation places emphasis on environmental education and the heritage of its 271 acres. School kids are nearly as common as squirrels and robins since field trips are the focal point of its educational efforts.

The foundation was rewarded in ticket sales from a classy bourbon tasting at an appropriate venue, Bourbons Bistro. A bourbon expert/historian led a group of approximately 70 guests through a sampling of 6 high end bourbons, followed by a four course, bourbon based meal. Needless to say, the chic bistro was full of happy campers filled with warm spirits (both the emotional and liquid type).