Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Too Much Plastic: 3 easy ways to reduce your plastic right now

I just read - (or more appropriately watched) - an article on 'Distractify' with 27 images of plastic in our lives and in our world. Powerful.

If you haven't traveled the world or traveled the ocean, you may not have seen images like this before.

Yamuna River in New Delhi - source article on Distractify

However, the article left out something very important - hope.

So here are 3 things you can do right now to reduce a big part of your plastic consumption:

Yes, you've heard this before, but have you done it? Cloth bags, baskets, etc. aren't just for the grocery store. Oh - did you forget yours in your car? Everyplace has bags for sale, so consider that your bag tax or if you have only an item or two, forgo the bag all together. Make it a HABIT!

My favorite Glass Bottle made from recycled glass

2) GET A REUSABLE BOTTLE - Maybe even two or three.
There's nothing like drinking water from a glass. If you need something more portable get a stainless steel water bottle, like Kleen Kanteen. I got the above glass bottle from Peaceful Parlour 3 years ago - still my favorite way to drink water when I leave home.

The other day I was out with my 3 kids who are well versed in plastic consumption and reusable products. "I'm thirsty!" Meaning buy me some water. I pointed out the drinking fountain. What a concept!

Most of the time you aren't hiking for 36 hours in extreme need of water for fear of dehydration. Relax. It's not that hard to find some water.

Glass Dharma straws for smoothies or shakes

I could live the rest of my life without straws, but apparently my kids can't, along with a lot of other people.

The easiest thing to do is avoid straws altogether. You can also buy the unbreakable glass straws from  Glass Dharma. Not only do they come in all shapes and sizes, they have convenient carriers so you can take your straw with you - a perfect going away to college gift!

Not into glass? Get bamboo straws, pretty cool.

You can make a difference right now - yes you can!

What do you do to reduce your plastic impact?

Alexandra Gnoske is a nature lover, writer, and environmental expert.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Simple Way to Make a Difference: one pair of shoes

I believe some of the most powerful actions are simple.

In May 2013 I traveled with Soles for Jesus to Mozambique to help distribute shoes to Villagers living in poverty. The hope is to transform lives with a pair of shoes - shoes can prevent disease, allow school attendance, help people travel and work and support their families.

We visited people from several villages over a 5 day period. I personally washed hundreds of pairs of feet. But the journey started with donating one pair of shoes.

It is simple: donate a pair of shoes.

It makes sense: what to do with shoes your kids outgrow? Donate.

It's easy: find a collection, start a collection, or ship your pair to Soles for Jesus.

It's green: extending the life of shoes.

It's meaningful: giving health, education, work, hope.

There are many simple actions you can take that are powerful. Some every day, some every month, some once a year.

I hope the next time something simple catches your eye you will stop and think about it and take that simple but powerful action.


The Villagers were overwhelmed with joy knowing that people from the other side of the world cared about them so much they sent their shoes and even sent people to bring the shoes to them directly. We were overwhelmed by their gratitude and hospitality. It seemed to me however that it was more than shoes being exchanged - there was a lot of love, hope, and faith being distributed both ways as well.

That's why when I find an organization like Soles for Jesus that is doing something so simple yet so meaningful I participate.

Alexandra Gnoske is a nature lover, writer, and environmental expert.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Baby Squirrel Rescue: Weathering the Storm

Friday night, August 30th, in Chicago we had a big storm. The wind was blowing so hard the rain was coming across side-ways and not only were branches broken, in several places whole trees were knocked down, even uprooted!

fallen tree blocking bridge walk way

In front of my house we had a different problem. Our friend came to pick up her son from our house and pointed out there was a dead squirrel on my front step. I looked and saw it was twitching - not good. It looked like it had been dumped in a bucket of water and slammed onto the front step. It was a bit overwhelming so I didn't notice much about it - like the fact that it was a baby.

I asked my husband to go collect it as I thought it was near death. The neighbors silver maple tree has a nice hole in it that hangs over out property and squirrels live there. My husband calls to me, he says it's alive, really alive, not full grown, and trying to move. I'll tell you with my degree in Wildlife Biology we never learned wild-animal rescue. I couldn't leave it outside though suffering, it was soaking wet and I had no idea the extent of it's injuries.

how we like to think squirrels handle a thunderstorm

And let me just say now - although I have a degree in Wildlife Biology and have always loved wildlife and the outdoors, I am not a caretaker. I take care of my children because they came out of me. I was looking for a rescue center, someone else to take care of the squirrels. On another note I can't handle animal suffering...especially baby animals.

I called my nephew Louie who lives across the street to see if he wanted to take the squirrel (this is the Louie that 'Loui Saves the Earth' is based on). He said, "of course! I'll be right over." He came with a towel and picked it up. Then my husband noticed a second baby squirrel on the cement by our steps. 'I'll be right back with another towel and a box," I said.

When I returned they had three babies (the third had landed in the garden) in one towel. We snuggled them into the box together. I asked my nephew to look on his phone for a place that would take injured squirrels. He said we need a heating pad and a box with a cover. "Wait, you didn't find a place to take them?" "I'm going out, I'll be back later. I wish I could take them but I can't with my two big dogs." Oh boy. I'm not really a care-taker type. I mean, I have three kids, a dog, a husband, sure...but I'm not looking for more.

We got them inside our house and my husband was wise enough to put them into the dog carrier. We put the heating pad underneath their box and I looked up places that take squirrels. I also posted that we found three baby squirrels on Facebook. I found Flint Creek Wildlife Rehabilitation center online and my friend from Now Studio recommended contacting 2nd Hand Ranch & Rescue. I put in calls to both places and as it was after 7pm they were both closed. I also texted 2ndHRR. They both stated on their messages and websites not to feed or give water to any injured animal and how to keep it warm and safe until it could be transported.

I read on Facebook from someone who had taken care of a baby squirrel that if you put them in a basket under the tree the mom will come get them. Then one baby squirrel started chirping it up - my little Yorkie was going crazy. I was too - knowing the baby was stressed. This one was definitely alive and well. It was trying to chew it's way out of the carrier. So my husband took the carrier outside (by now it's completely dark) and opened the door. It just clung to the carrier door. He put on gloves and put the baby at the bottom of the tree - NO! I didn't think that was a good idea. He went inside. The baby didn't chirp anymore. I didn't see the mom come out. It was dark and hard to see and I didn't want to get close. I could tell the baby wasn't moving anymore.

(CLICK HERE FOR: How to take care of a squirrel)
baby squirrel trying to free itself around 8pm - I was too busy with the crisis to think about pictures earlier

I had to leave to pick up my daughter from her friends house and walked by the tree and could see the baby just laying there, it's eyes half opened. I texted my husband and told him he needed to get that squirrel back in the box with the other two and I wouldn't be home until I knew it was safe and warm. I wasn't coming home to a dead baby squirrel outside, under the tree.

He put it back.

I came home.

We had three baby squirrels for the night.

Needless to say I didn't sleep much. I didn't hear any chirping but I really wanted it to be morning so I could try and get the baby squirrels back to their mom.

I didn't want to wake up my husband too early. I waited until 6:15am and then asked him to take the carrier out to the front. He did. And when he opened the door the lively baby ran out, ran around, ended up going to the street - CRAP! After all that this baby is going to get lost or hit by a car. GREAT. I could see that one other baby squirrel was moving, but I didn't know if it was okay. I didn't want to pull the towel all the way back and see if the third one was dead - yeah, I don't really want to see dead baby animals.

My husband went back to bed. I hid under my other neighbors tree to be a safe distance, but close enough to warn anyone walking a dog to keep away from the box. I was cognizant enough to have my camera with me.

I waited.

I heard chirping. I saw the mom come down. She went under a car and well, if you watch the first video here you will see she got the lively little baby and ran her up the tree and shoved her in the hole. WOW - one of them made it.

PLEASE NOTE: I'm am not a professional videographer. And this first video has the squirrels hidden under the car for 30 seconds.

I was happy...for about 30 seconds. Then it started to rain. Then it started to pour.

I waited a few minutes. I was okay under the pine tree. The box was semi protected under the maple. CRAP! She's not coming out. They will get wet again. I brought the box to my porch and waited inside for a really loooooooong 12 minutes. The rain stopped. I put the box at the base of the tree. I pulled the towel back more.

I thought I would have to wait a while but I guess mom had it all figured out now. She jumped right into the box and got the second baby squirrel. This time it was a little harder to get a good grip. Mom also had a harder time getting the second baby into the hole.

I thought, this is it. Two babies rescued. That's great. But she jumped in the box again - she's not going to take a dead baby up to her nest is she? Well, this was the biggest challenge for her, but she got the third baby into her mouth and to the hole. I could see it was still alive. Less cooperative, but still alive. She really struggled to get this last one in and at one point I thought she would drop him. But she shoved 'em in at the last minute and all three baby squirrels were safe and sound.


I got a call and a text from the rescue centers later in the day. Wonderful people, very helpful. They even explained why you shouldn't feed or give water to injured or rescued animals. Many times this causes more damage and can even result in a death that could have been prevented.

Sometimes this is due to the way the animal is being fed, sometimes it's what the animal is being fed, sometimes it's a factor of development, and other times it's due to an existing injury.  Flint Creek Wildlife Rehab has great diagrams that tell you what to do if you can't get a hold of a facility in a number of different situation for many different kinds of animals.

In the end somehow everyone survived and was safe at home with loved ones...thanks to many, many people for help, advice, and patience.

Alexandra Gnoske is a Nature Lover, Writer, and Environmental Expert.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

After the Storm: Images from my Neighborhood

There was a huge storm Friday night in Chicago that took out power, blew whole trees over and I'm sure at some point caused some injuries. I hope everyone is OK.

This tree came right out of the ground and landed on two cars in Albany Park

I took a walk going west around my neighborhood the next morning - this included parts of North Park, Mayfair, and Albany Park - after the major thunderstorm (and downpour this morning) to see what things looked like.

North Branch of the Chicago River where Mayfair, Albany, and North Park meet
drain at above river location

I found damage throughout the neighborhoods and parks including Eugene Field and Little Gompers. I also found lots of wildlife and took some images of the native wildflowers.

Bernard Street Bridge and N. Branch Chicago River

I decided to go out walking for two reasons: one, I heard a tree fell over our bridge a half block away (picture above); two, I was involved in storm recovery last night and this morning due to 3 baby squirrels I found laying soaked and stunned in front of my house (story and video forthcoming in my next blog post).

Milkweed variety at Little Gompers

I had to find out what else was going on before the day got away. I hope you enjoy the images, especially if you live in the neighborhood!

Lightning McQueen backpack in N.B.C.River by Eugene Field

Beer can at Little Gompers by waterfall

Large branch broken of an Ohio Buckeye at Eugene Field

Ohio Buckeye fruit at Eugene Field

grasshopper at Little Gompers

Mallard at Little Gompers Pond

Mallard hiding at Little Gompers

hard to see and capture an image - mink at Little Gompers Pond

Alexandra Gnoske is a Nature Lover, Writer, and Environmental Expert.

Monday, August 26, 2013

City Gardening (part four): From Seed to Plate - The Harvest Begins

The food is starting to come in here in my little Chicago backyard. Lots of tomatoes, green beans, jalapeños, yellow squash, and the second harvest of raspberries. I also have basil and mint for my herbs. And I've got some funny little cucumbers growing - this is my first year trying cucumbers - it says 'Sweet Marketmore' and on the package they look nice and big and long - but I'm not sure these will turn out like the picture.

my first ever cucumber, rather small still

However, I am enjoying what has come in. I love to know that a little seed can create so much. Outside of the perennial food growing in my back yard, everything else has come from seed. The food has inspired some yummy meals and I really like cooking this time of year, when I can get my food fresh from my yard.

The 1st green bean of the season gets the thumbs up

I also discovered that my kids would rather eat the green beans fresh and raw than eat them cooked - so on Friday (school started last week for us) they got raw, fresh picked green beans for a snack, they got them today (Monday) too. As long as they keep coming in, fresh green beans will be picked in the morning and put into their lunches.

cooked green beans/fresh guacamole
harvest/jalapeno not shown

Early last week I made fresh guacamole with three different kinds of tomatoes, and added some fresh jalapeños. This whole meal (pictured above) was inspired by the fresh guacamole.

Tomatoes and jalapenos added to Saturday's egg salad

On Saturday my kids helped me cut up ingredients for egg salad - I didn't need anything from the yard for my regular recipe, but decided it would be fun to add tomatoes and jalapeños. Personally I liked it, but my kids didn't want the 'new' recipe. Luckily I separated the egg salad into two different bowls so they didn't suffer.

harvest that became Sunday's dinner
Sunday's salad with cherrie tomatoes

Pasta with tomatoes, yellow squash and fresh basil from the back yard

Sunday night it was pasta with fresh basil, a variety of tomatoes, and yellow squash with a butter sauce. I added the cherry tomatoes to the salad. Two out of three kids ate it all up, even second helpings. My picky third child remained my picky third child. But the real success was that it ended up as lunch today for one of my children, by request.

Monday mornings harvest

This morning I gathered the green beans, some mint, and the first few raspberries of the second harvest. The mint and raspberries went into my 40 ounce water bottle that I take to work, for a nice little fresh change to my regular plain old H2O.


Finally, I did something I've never done before - planted seeds in August. I've been told you can keep growing/planting certain foods throughout the growing season. So I planted some lettuce on Saturday. I'm curious to see what happens. It would be great to have a few more salads that came directly from the backyard before the growing season is over.

grasshopper hiding behind raspberry stem

grasshopper jumping onto fence while I watered

Of course, as the flowers continue to bloom and the animals come, I will continue to take pictures of them too. Sunday I found several grasshoppers - they always seem to show up around this time of year. Fortunately I get to see lots of bees buzzing around the yard every day. They aren't just on the wildflowers, they are on the food too.

Bumble-bee pollenating my green beans

What is your back yard inspiring your plate to look like this year?

Alexandra Gnoske is a Nature Lover, Writer, and Environmental Expert.