Painting in progress, 5.25.08

Painting in progress, Desserts First 08

This Thursday evening the 24th at the Marriott Louisville Downtown, Girl Scouts of Kentuckiana will be exploiting your weakness for sweets to raise money to continue to serve over 22,00 girls in Kentucky.   As if the actual Girl Scout cookies weren’t tempting enough, Louisville finest chefs will be whipping up new gourmet creations using the tasty treats as a base ingredient.

For $50/person you can meander a ballroom filled with the most incredible culinary delights.   New Year’s resolution-ers beware.   I covered last year’s Desserts First and definitely left in a sugar coma, yet blissfully content.

Further information for tickets and online registration are available here.

Underwater farm producing energy for NYC

24″ x 66″ oil on canvas
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New York City, flexing its strength by size and density, often boasts status of “first,” “best,” and “biggest” in an expansive list of areas. Most of our financial investments oscillate on charts on Wall Street, and many items in our closets mimic fashions first seen on New York runways. Much of our American culture, history, politics and economy are tied to beginnings and development in the Big Apple.

A downside for New York, also owning the title of second most densely populated American city, is the lack of physical space for innovation that requires expansive room. Case in point, we’re not going to find wind farms in Manhattan. But ah! there is a place in the city where no New Yorker will set foot. This quiet, empty space is vast and available. No investment bankers will ever have an office here, nor will any gallery, penthouse, or corner shop reside. Buildings, walkways, and taxis push to the very edge of this space, yet not encroaching, like fighting siblings in the backside of the car not to cross the seam of the seat onto the other’s side. This space is the East River between Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Below the surface of the East River is a “tidal energy farm” that uses Verdant Power’s underwater turbines to harvest free power from the river’s current, alleviating some pressure on New York’s unsustainable annual $13 billion energy bill.

No one can complain about zoning restrictions or a visual blight. The greatest concern these turbines pose is for the well-being of the river’s primary residents: fish (for which several million dollars is being spent on fish monitoring). The seemingly benign machinery will be connected to the city’s energy grid to provide an equally benign form of power.

Mountaintop removal coal mining move over!

I’m thankful for terrestrial carbon sequestration

4″ x 6″ watercolor
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Those beautiful and vibrantly painted trees setting the scene for your Thanksgiving are doing far more than visually entertaining you during the drive to grandma’s house. They’re also enormous vacuums sucking up gaseous pollutants spilling out of your tailpipe. In technical terms, they are performing “terrestrial carbon sequestration.” This is,

“the process through which carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere is absorbed by trees, plants and crops through photosynthesis, and stored as carbon in biomass (tree trunks, branches, foliage and roots) and soils. The term ‘sinks’ is also used to refer to forests, croplands, and grazing lands, and their ability to sequester carbon…A carbon sink occurs when carbon sequestration is greater than carbon releases over some time period.” – US EPA

What is most alarming is the disparity between the rise of total CO2 emissions and diminishing landscapes left intact to absorb it.

Yes, I am thankful for the many wonderful people in my life such as my grandfather who still calls me “Ashley Kay” (even though my middle name is Michelle), my dad who has lovingly referred to me as “moose” ever since my height became awkwardly obvious as a kid, and my mom who tells me my driving makes her nauseous and will forever try to get me to wear pink. It’s incredibly easy to take for granted (and abuse) the many sources of our happiness. Sometimes we forget to thank a friend or family member, but few of us have ever felt appreciation for the hard working array of plants that forgive and balance our toxic output.

Times are a changin’. Many of us are beginning to acknowledge the life-supporting functions of nature, which soon may not be around to continue on going unnoticed and unappreciated. Here is a short list of ways for you to express your gratitude for your planet:

Add a few more check boxes to this year’s to-be-thankful-for list and have a happy Turkey Day!
Click here for a direct link to watch this painting being painted.

FareStart serving up delectable dishes with a side of hope

5″ x 7″ watercolor in 12″ x 15″ frame, $220 ($10 donated to FareStart)

At the intersection of the demand for great food and people in need of job training and employment is an organization I toured while visiting Seattle: FareStart. In the midst of the hustle and bustle of downtown, FareStart hosts hungry customers in a sophisticated and swank interior with culinary presentation and flavors that match in quality. What’s unique about FareStart is a kitchen swarming not with well recognized foreign chefs, but rather Seattle residents who are homeless or otherwise disadvantaged.

FareStart offers a free 16 week job training program to prepare students for careers in the food service industry. During that period, case managers and FareStart staff address the needs of each individual, such as housing, transportation, crisis management and employment services. The boarder objective is to create a sustainable lives and eliminate poverty from the equation for each participant.

Monday through Friday, 11-2, FareStart is building the confidence and skills of the staff-in-training as they please the palates of Seattle residents with upscale dishes including “toasted hazelnut field roast.” Additionally, every Thursday night a premier guest chef works with the students on a new and exciting three course meal. This week’s chef is Adam Stevenson of Earth and Ocean, featuring the following tempting menu:


grilled octopus and adam’s hand crafted salami

grilled red potatoes, cilantro pesto, crisp pears

vegetarian: pear and grilled red potato salad


grilled all natural lamb sirloin

foie gras creamed spinach, smoked goat cheese, red wine reduction

vegetarian: arancine, heirloom tomato, fennel confit



warm, wild and wicked cake

If you live in the area, or plan to visit, I highly recommend you experience the fruits of this amazing organization with your own mouth. They are located at 7th and Virginia and take reservations (206-267-7601) for the Thursday night dinners. They also do catering, private parties and offer a conference room for lunch meetings. So dine for the greater good! Cheers!

July’s Kentucky Humane Society story

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to the Kentucky Humane Society)

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Another sad story in search of a happy ending…

In early June, “Bippity,” “Boppity,” and “Boo,” three six-week-old Siamese kittens in poor health, were abandoned at the KHS main campus. Upon evaluation, it was discovered that all three kittens suffered from malnourishment, upper respiratory infections, eye infections and worms. Bippity, Boppity and Boo were all placed in foster care where they could receive daily medication for their infections, as well as proper nutrition and care.

Visit or call (502) 366-3355 to inquire about these and other adoptable pets.

With 12 million refugees worldwide, there’s plenty you can do

7″ x 9″ watercolor
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Per a request from a dear friend who works with refugees in Columbus, Ohio, I finished an earlier sketch of this image for World Refugee Day. But instead of reiterating what I had previously said, I asked her to share something with you about the clients she works closely with:

“Of the roughly 12 million refugees and asylees worldwide, less than 1% will ever be resettled to a permanent home outside of the refugee camp. Of those lucky few, the struggle changes from waiting in line for grain and water to waiting in line to enroll in ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) and apply for Social Security cards.

Successful acculturation training for new comers is vital to starting their new life in the US. From teaching which household cleaners are for dishes and which are for the floors, to demonstrating the use of a vacuum cleaner: dedicated volunteers are needed to help welcome and educate America’s newest immigrants. See Church World Service for ides of how you can help! (

For those left behind, safety and security are of utmost concern. One concern of refugee women is the unsafe land just beyond the camp perimeter. While collecting firewood, young girls are vulnerable to soldiers and locals who take the opportunity to rape those who are unaccompanied. In response to this issue of security, Solar Cookers International ( has sought a unique solution to reduce the time spent searching for fuel.”

Colleen Rosshirt
Community Refugee and Immigration Services

Tree Nation bringing green back to the Sahara

7″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to Tree Nation)
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I received an email recently from Jeremiah at Tree Nation that sparked the inspiration for this painting. At first, I was a little skeptical of a project (albeit backed by the United Nations Environmental Program) that was set out to plant 8 million trees in the unlikely location of the Sahara Desert. I don’t really equate a healthy, hardy forest with an arid desert, but the project location (a park in Niger) is apparently experiencing desertification; meaning it naturally isn’t meant to be so barren. This phenomenon is the result of climate change and other human related factors which has induced dwindling wildlife and compromised the wellbeing of many communities (think farming and commerce).

I posed my concern about planting trees in such harsh conditions to Jeremiah, who promptly responded with:

The trees we plant at the border of the Sahara Desert first spend their first months in a nursery growing strong . If they reach a certain age, the trees are brought to the spot in the desert where they are put in to the ground in a hole which is deep enough for them to reach the water sources beneath the desert, within a certain amount of time. Within the first months in the desert the trees are checked for their growth. It’s not easy, and there are definitely trees which fail to grow and which need replanting, but the value of trees fighting desertification and reproducing fruits and other benefits in one of the poorest countries of the world is well worth the trouble.

The Tree Nation website really lets you virtually get your hands dirty with a map, reminiscent of the old school video game Zelda, that allows you to see where your tree of choice has been planted, how it’s doing, and browse the profiles/progress of trees/tree owners around you.

This is a great gift idea for a techy friend who love social networks and environmental sustainability. Definitely check it out.

June’s Kentucky Humane Society rescue story

7″ x 9″ watercolor
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Here’s a real heart-breaker of a rescue story from the Ky Humane Society:

“In late May, a five-month old American bulldog (I think he looks like a boxer) named “Dexter” was surrendered to the Kentucky Humane Society with a broken jaw. Drooling and unable to close his mouth, Dexter’s lower jaw was hanging at an unnatural angle. The KHS veterinary team immediately performed a medical evaluation and obtained X-rays to determine the severity of Dexter’s injury. Upon review, it was apparent that the young canine suffered from a bilateral compound mandibular fracture, most likely caused by blunt trauma. With this type of injury, where both sides of his lower jaw were broken, the veterinarians predicted that Dexter’s injury may have resulted from abuse, such as a swift kick or strike by a baseball bat. After placing Dexter on antibiotics to avoid the spread of infection, the KHS veterinary team decided to perform surgery using interfragmentary wires to correct the fracture. Fragments of both fractures were wired together, which should hopefully allow proper healing.”

Lets hope Dexter makes a full recovery and finds a home where a broken jaw isn’t used as a means of discipline.

Suzuki Assoc giving music to youth

7″ x 9″ watercolor
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I played the cello as a child and was having a flashback yesterday as I watched a slightly confused, wee little cellist with an open mouth and bangs in her eyes try to follow along with the other 100+ young musicians on stage. Her eyes were doing far more moving than her fingers, which I found easy to remember, incredibly endearing, and admittedly amusing.

Yesterday’s orchestral performance was thanks to a local chapter of the Suzuki Association of the Americas which, “is a coalition of teachers, parents, educators, and others who are interested in making music education available (throughout North and South America) to all children.” The music-making nonprofit was certainly exhibiting success in numbers as I’ve never seen so many mini crocs and missing baby teeth.

The entire performance offered an entertaining mix of music, comical instruction from the adults, and unusual uses for a bow (such as poking your neighbor). Clearly the Suzuki Association offers an introduction into the world of string instruments for youth that may not otherwise have had the opportunity.

Click here for a direct link to watch this painting being painted.

100 mile diet

6″ x 6″ watercolor
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No, don’t worry, I’m not going to preach about the health benefits of running 100 miles to lose weight (I’m still working on finishing a 5k myself). This diet, unlike Atkins or South Beach, is most likely not on your radar. But first, let me preface the description with a little oration.

The commercial food industry has placed a vast distance between the origin of the food we eat and our plates. The greater that distance and disconnect, the less likely we are to be inquisitive about how corn is turned into Doritos. Since we trust food manufacturers’ production methods, as evidenced by an enormous majority of real estate in a grocery stores being occupied by processed foods, we end up naively believing “enriched ____” is a good thing.

Truth be told, food manufacturers want things this way so money-saving-corners can be cut and physically addictive “tastes” can be engineered in laboratories to make that “home-style” flavor prominent in your boxed dinner via a slew of ingredient you can’t pronounce.

Proactively becoming aware and engaged in reacting to this realization certainly takes time and effort. Although the imperative demand of our attention is inevitable if we hope for optimal health and an ablution of our insides from high-fructose corn syrup and synthetic hormones.

Eating foods separated from you by one minuscule degree, a farmer, is a foreign concept to many. I found a website,, that takes this concept to the max: exclusively eating foods grown within a 100 mile radius of your home. The website states that,

“When the average North American sits down to eat, each ingredient has typically traveled at least 1,500 miles—call it ‘the SUV diet.'”

Clearly, this also has tremendous environmental implications as well. That’s a high CO2 price tag (not to mention a high $ price tag) to bring your out-of-season berries from down south.

Farmers markets are an excellent way to reestablish what “food” truly means, support local growers, and encourage environmentally sustainable agriculture and business practices. Your kids will also likely develop an interest in what they eat and prefer playing in the dirt from their own mini vegetable garden to digging wash-off tattoos out of frosty-o’s cereal boxes.

Here are some resources to get started:

Locally for Louisvillans:

Love and best wishes to Tina Vogel

6″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to Tina Vogel‘s upcoming benefit)
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If you’re having one of those days that has you feeling sorry for yourself, let me help you snap out of it. Recently, an acquaintance of mine fell out of a two story window in a truly bizarre accident, landed on her neck, and is now in a coma and paralyzed. Tina Vogel is 25 years old, was incredibly active, and now has yet to wake up to face a devastating reality. The details of the story aired on a local TV station, which you can watch by clicking here.

I met Tina through my mountain biking friends and saw her on the trails just a month or two ago. She’s one of the most cheerful people I’ve ever met. I can’t imagine what her family and boyfriend are going through right now. I was running at the park the day after I got the news and thought about how I take even putting one foot in front of the other for granted. It must be especially hard for someone so physically active to adjust to the confinement of a wheelchair.

Luckily, Tina did have health insurance, but it’s not covering everything. As you can imagine, the bills are stacking up, so many of her friends are coordinating benefit events to raise money for her medical expenses. I know there will be a bike ride for Tina soon and possible other events that you can track on the blog her boyfriend has started to document her recovery.

I asked a good of friend of Tina’s to tell me something about her that I could work into a painting. Since she was an avid outdoor athlete, I could have done any number of landscapes. But I decided on these flowers because, apparently, Tina loves pink.

Get well soon Tina!

Vibrant coral reefs becoming a thing of the past

6″ x 9″ watercolor, $70 ($10 donated to the Coral Reef Alliance)
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I had to revisit yesterday’s post since what remains of healthy coral reefs is an inspiring visual worth saving in a painting. The donation from the sale of this painting will go to the Coral Reef Alliance, which is “dedicated to keeping coral reefs alive by integrating ecosystem management, sustainable tourism, and community partnerships.”

Since very few of us land dwelling mammals have a clear understanding of what’s going horribly wrong underwater, it’s even more difficult to grasp what it means above the surface. Multiple factors such as warming ocean temperatures and over fishing is causing a ripple effect fatal to reefs. Take that one step further, and soon the world is faced with a global food security crisis because of the underwater graveyard.

Since the damages are approaching “beyond repair,” it’s hard to imagine how we will compensate for the 30 million people who depend entirely on coral reefs for their income and for their food.* It would take an additional area of tropical coral four times the size of the Great Barrier Reef – the biggest reef system in the world – to sustain current fishing levels.*

*Information taken from, “Loss of Coral May Cause Food Supply Crisis”

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.

“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 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?