Green Rascal Design




I am a catalyst! Rock on. I just discovered this today, and while it's yet another example of a test telling me about my own personality, I think it's probably true. I've got lots of great ideas and the ability to communicate with enthusiasm. But I'm short on power, consistency and strategy. Everybody in the business world has always asked who my ideal client is, what is my strategy and what makes me an authority. And ya know what? Despite all my recent efforts to "improve" myself in these areas, I still don't know who my ideal client is, what exactly I'm trying to do in business or what I have the gall to think I have authority in. (can I get an eye-roll now?)

And then this thing today says, "heloooo, you're a catalyst." I'm not sure why, but I felt like it made a difference in my perception or something. Finally all that other advice that said, "focus on your strengths..." clicked.

So, what else is going on?

Last Thursday and Friday I was fortunate enough to attend PennDesign's Make -ing Space Symposium. It was excellent. a catalyst of sorts in it's own right.

There was discussion on top-down vs bottom-up design interventions and their relative success/reach with respect to provoking, engaging, advocating, working in new ways and with new expertise.

The symposium got me thinking about Green Rascal in terms of what it could become, and it got me thinking about what else I could do if I were to start something new. Of course, nothing has been decided yet. These were just thoughts stemming from those great conversations situated in really uncomfortable chairs.

What I am sure about is that we will now be describing ourselves here at the Green Rascal Roost as something like non-disciplinarians. I have yet to really come up with a catchy new title for my business cards.

What has got you going recently?
In the last approximately 2.5 years a lot has grown here at our little patch of heaven. I wanted to show a comparison of exactly how much.
I hope this visual helps you understand what it means when I say that last year we grew 50lbs of tomatoes and canned $200 worth of strawberry and raspberry jam. Numbers are convincing, but these pictures really tell the story.

We'll be having people over occasionally to see the garden in person, and hopefully I'll also have a couple videos sometime. So if you'd like to talk about how we did it, and how you can do it too, send me an email!
yesterday's strawberries
We're pretty lazy. Well, we're not super duper lazy, I mean we did go out and pick these strawberries, put them in a bowl and take a couple photographs of them. But compared to the amount of work you think it takes to get this many strawberries we are really lazy. Why does this work for us? We work with nature instead of against it. Nature wants to be a forest? Well we'll give it a forest. The strawberry patch certainly meets the criteria of a strawberry forest. It's thick/dense. We planted the little plants 2 years ago with only about a foot between each plant - probably much closer than the "recommended" spacing. In fact, I'd say the recommended spacing is almost always wrong unless you're a real farmer. In that case you're not reading this blog, haha. No, if you're just trying to grow a couple hundred dollars of strawberries go ahead and plant them real close. The plants will help each other out - strength in numbers and moisture control. Do we have bugs? Heck yeah we have bugs. But there are soooooooo many strawberries that the bugs can't eat them all. And we do try to keep the bug population down by piling grass on the side of the gardens for the slugs/ground snails to eat instead of our precious plants... but we're not out there killing ourselves over the bugs and weeds.

red currants
We're patient. This currant bush was planted 2 years ago also, and we haven't put a bunch of fertilizer on it to make it grow real fast and produce fruit the first year. It's still very small, but it's totally natural. The only thing that might be of concern to me is it's proximity to our neighbors and their questionable lawn-care practices. (their weed killer might run into our yard in a heavy rain) Some things we planted our first year here are still not bearing any fruit. And that's okay. Surprisingly many of our other new tiny bushes are bearing fruit in the same year. True, it's only a couple berries here and there, but it's still amazing how rewarding patience can be.

our first kiwis?
our first lingonberries!
our first blueberries?
rose hips this year?
amazing mulberries!
And that's just the berries! Never mind the leafy greens, herbs and vegetables.

Ok, it's true that we did dig the holes and put the plants in, and put some mulch around most of them. But is that really so much work for years of free, virtually organically grown berries?

You can do it!
"365 Days with Nest. Meet the only thermostat that improves with time The Nest Learning Thermostat programs itself in a week and turns itself down when you’re away. Nest helps you understand how your home uses energy so you can save more." -
image from
I dig smart thermostats. And I dig clean looking home technologies. This Nest thermostat is affordable and sexy. (Yes, I said it's sexy.) It reminds me of the first iPod...

Now, I spent a short amount of time [6 months] recently, and then a semester back in grad school focusing on home technologies and what they can do. So I know a little bit about this stuff. There are lots of programmable thermostats... some learn, some you can control with your computer, etc.  and some do both... They're not affordable and sexy. Not in my opinion at least.
This IS. I mean, just look at it!
All these images are from their website, by the way.... which I've pinned on pinterest - and others have re-pinned! So I think they'll be successful.
Some specs: 3.20 inches in diameter, projection 1.44 inches from face of wall.
24 bit color display. WiFi connectivity!!! 5 year warranty. compatible with most HVAC systems - this is important. link multiple thermostats together for zoning. made of green stuff! (PVC free) rechargeable lithium ion battery.
They didn't pay me for being excited and posting this about them, and I haven't gotten any gifts. (though I wouldn't turn one down) I just wanted to be a little bit more well-rounded (no pun intended) than simply pinning on pinterest. Hopefully lots of people will consider changing to smarter home technologies if I keep sharing them!

as you were.
This outline was the basis of my webinar with Ladies Going Green on Vokle yesterday, 4-17-12... and I'm sharing it here because I wanted there to be a text to go with the video. Also, I'm not sure if the audio on the video was working...
Why is it important to improve the indoor environment?
  • Indoor air can often be more polluted than outdoors with things like pollen, mold, dust, dirt and chemical scents and cleaners. Typically air changes don't eliminate these things enough.

  • The things that make up our homes emit gasses from surface finishes like paints and sealants and glues that bond materials and pieces together.

  • We typically spend most of our time indoors, and so we're constantly being exposed to these gasses and microbes.
What can you do now to green your kitchen?

Faucet aerators reduce your water usage immediately for a few dollars
  1. screw on main faucet aerator is $2
  2. spray hose reduces water usage and increases pressure which cleans faster

Water filters provide cleaner, safer drinking water at a fraction of bottled cost
  1. pitcher types are very inexpensive, however try to find a glass one as plastics offgass
  2. 10 stage filters are best, $100 for countertop model or more for under-counter mount

Drain strainers prevent clogs, and associated harsh chemical use
  1. straining the food out of the water that goes down your drain keeps drains clean
  2. that stuff that gets stuck in your drain can attract molds and pollute your air
  3. the food you strain out can be put to good use, which will be covered later

Greener cleaning products and detergents reduce household chemicals
  1. 90% of the cleaning products in your house contain formaldehyde, which causes cancer
  2. products based on natural ingredients such as tea tree oil are just as effective and cheaper


Garden Resources


We're making a small addition to the Green Rascal Design list of services. Over the weekend we went around our little borough and plastered some fliers on power poles - strategically placed where 1) lots of people pass by or 2) some edible plants would be a nice addition to a yard. Yes, we're on a mission to help people in our neighborhood grow their own food.

Everyone always says they don't have time to garden and it's so much work. Even after we've gone through the calculations to show how worthwhile it is from a financial standpoint to garden, I still get this complaint. So today I'll try and provide some resources...



I went to go see the Canstruction projects in Philly today. They will be taken down tomorrow, and a dear friend was involved with one this year. The event supports a good cause, and it's always nice to see what people can make with everyday items. In this case, cans of food are used to build whatever - kinda like a sand sculpting competition - then they are donated to Philabundance, "the region's major food bank."
Here's a picture from the second floor there. My friend's project is the camera on the left hand side.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to next year's Canstruction event. Who knows, maybe we'll get involved!

ice ice, baby


Winter is wreaking havoc on us! I've seen countless people loading multiple bags of ice melt/salt/calcium chloride or whatever on their walks and drives, and I wonder how bad is this for the environment.

Without doing any research on this in particular, I can recall previous readings describing the massive problem of ground water and soil salinization. Salt kills things. You can use salt and water to sanitize your cutting board. Salt drives away pigments in watercolor painting. So what does it do in the ground after it melts our ice and washes away?

Lots of people are turning to calcium chloride. It is supposed to be better for your concrete walkways. It works faster, and at lower temperatures. But I wonder what calcium ions do in the ground and to vegetation.

This, plus the giant ice dam above my office, makes me think about proper design to protect against water. First off, if your sidewalk wasn't installed properly it has probably settled unevenly. Flat sidewalks require less ice melt as the precipitation disperses more evenly. My sidewalk is a disaster! Then there are stairs. We have old fashioned brick steps in the front, and they have a slight projection at each tread. I noticed that very little salt is required to make these steps safe. It could also be that they are not hollow. The thermal mass seems to help melt precipitation better than the hollow steps out back. If you're in the market for a new sidewalk or set of stairs in the future, keep these things in mind.

The opposite is true for my ice dam. The roof is a fairly low pitch, and I bet there is no insulation in this ceiling. A lot of buildings in the area seem to be under-insulated. You can tell after a snowfall because well-insulated homes will have more snow on the roof. Uninsulated roofs/attics let the heat from your home up, and that melts the snow, but only over your heated spaces. The two feet of roof overhang is still cold so it refreezes the water, which then starts to build up. In my case it is painfully obvious because the addition was not well designed. The roof is sagging under the weight of the ice dam, and since there is a very short header over the door, the screen door is now hitting the bottom of the gutter. Try getting your groceries in when the door won't open more than half way!

Someday we will have to rebuild this addition properly. Again, if you ever have work done on your home or office, periodically take a minute to think about winter. We don't all keep snow and ice in mind during a spring or summer remodeling project.

Take care, and stay dry.

buildin' stuff


I'm planning on building something like these shelves from the Brick House. My version is going to be somewhat less interesting, and much more utilitarian, but I'm still really excited. They're going in the kitchen, which is a huge mess right now. I'll be very happy to get some of the junk up off the floor/table/counter top and onto some real storage. It's going to be tight, and I'll have to clip off one corner of all the shelves on the west side of the room to minimize the risk of getting bruises by the door.

At the same time I'm building my network this week. I was sad that the AEC meetup scheduled for last night was postponed for 2 weeks. However, other things continue. My friend started his teaching career at Philly U this week - all because I needed a guest critic for my class's final presentations. I'm also rockin' the Power Lunch Project this week. I got all kinds of pointers and ideas for business resources today, too!

What are you building right now?

Lets build up the end of January and keep the momentum going!

random sharing


This blog article about Potential Futures for Design Practice has been sitting open in my firefox since yesterday... BLDG BLOG featured it some days ago, and while I was attempting to cull through my backlog of reading something about it piqued my interest. This merits saving and sharing with students at some point, and I figured I'd also post a link here for anybody like myself, who has been living under a rock during the holidays. Enjoy.