‘Tis the Season for Creative Arborescent Decision-Making

photo credit: Carol Fernandez

photo credit: Carol Fernandez

Real Vs. Fake Trees – Which is Better for the Environment?

Tis the season for an age-old question: Which kind of Christmas tree – real or fake – is better for the environment?

We love this question, because it’s an example of a simple choice that anyone and everyone can make that can reduce our impacts on the environment.

We also love this question because, like many environmental issues, the answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Our #1 recommendation? Buy a real tree. Read on for more details on the impacts of both real and fake Christmas trees, and then make the choice that’s right for you. And check out our 12 Tree Tips for other earth-friendly holiday decoration tips.


In 2015, 26.9 million trees were purchased from live Christmas tree farms – more than twice the number of fake trees purchased (12 million).   Continue reading

Centennial Portraiture

Painted Desert by Cody Brothers

Since August this year a multitude of events have occurred to honor the 100th birthday of the U.S. National Park Service. Aside from the obviously wonderful wilderness experiences available in the country’s 58 parks, as well as our own National Park of the Week series on this site, there are cultural events that highlight the beauty and history of the amazing achievement that is the preservation of our national patrimony for future generations.

Photographers have documented the landscapes of our national parks from the moment the technology made it possible, and the haunting beauty of the panoramas draw artists, explorers and dreamers still.

National Endowment for the Arts grant recipient Cody Brothers is all three. Continue reading

Fiber Fashion

PiñatexTM production will bring new income opportunities for pineapple harvest farmers in developing countries, with the initial development stage taking place in the Philippines

We’re not insensitive to the frequent commentary on both news and social media by animal rights activists against viewing animals as commodities. With those feelings in mind, this discovery of Ananas Anam, a not for profit organization that is developing leather-like textiles using natural fibers that are the by-product of the pineapple harvest, is an exciting one.

I’ll definitely be on the look out for Pinatex products and hope our readers will as well!

ananas- anam – new materials for a new world


Ananas Anam supports pineapple-farming communities in the Philippines. We are developing a new industry that will enhance the social network in rural areas as farmers will be able to sell fibres as a commercial and viable proposition.

Furthermore, the farming communities will benefit from the potential output of natural fertilizer/biogas which is the by-product of fibre extraction.

Other pineapple-growing developing countries will join the Philippines in the production of Piñatex, which will support local economies and strengthen their exports. Continue reading

Library Luxury of a Different Sort

The exterior of the Fort Washington library the year it opened, 1914. The top floor windows are for the apartment. (Photo: New York Public Library/Public Domain)

The beautiful Beaux-Arts design of many of the buildings in the New York Public Library system represent only one definition of luxury. The idea of children growing up playing and reading in the stacks at night produces the colorful imaginings of literature where children spend nights in museums, or ramble about in the “tippy-top floor of the Plaza Hotel”.

I’m sure most of us haven’t heard of the custodian apartments that used to grace New York City’s branch libraries, and I for one, am grateful to Atlas Obscura for sharing this curious history.

Inside the New York Public Library’s Last, Secret Apartments

There are just 13 left.

There used to be parties in the apartments on the top floors of New York City’s branch libraries. On other nights, when the libraries were closed, the kids who lived there might sit reading alone among the books or roll around on the wooden library carts—if they weren’t dusting the shelves or shoveling coal. Their hopscotch courts were on the roof. A cat might sneak down the stairs to investigate the library patrons.

When these libraries were built, about a century ago, they needed people to take care of them. Andrew Carnegie had given New York $5.2 million, worth well over $100 million today, to create a city-wide system of library branches, and these buildings, the Carnegie libraries, were heated by coal. Each had a custodian, who was tasked with keeping those fires burning and who lived in the library, often with his family. “The family mantra was: Don’t let that furnace go out,” one woman who grew up in a library told the New York Times. Continue reading

A Stay in History

The Cooke House in Virginia Beach, Va., built in 1959. Credit Dave Chance Photography

Earlier this year when I wrote about the Art Institute of Chicago’s Airbnb listing of their reproduction of Vincent Van Gogh’s famous Arles bedroom I thought that was the pinnacle of Airbnb cool.

Staying at a home designed by famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright seems equally as fun but far more expansive then the 19th century artist’s exuberantly painted bedroom – taking in the view for starters.

The Cooke House in Virginia Beach, Va., built in 1959, is one of Wright’s last commissioned works. It’s a hemicycle-shaped dwelling made of brick with a vast windowed living area overlooking a lake. Continue reading

Amboli’s Abundant Birdlife

We wouldn’t be true to one of our core interests if we didn’t take birding into account while doing our reconnaissance of the natural and cultural activities surrounding Aarvli.

Crist’s trip to the Amboli Reserve earlier in the week was one such visit. A quick search of eBird hotspots turned up Amboli Village (with a count of 116 species) and  Amboli Forest (with a count of 65 species). The map above gives a brief sense of the multiple look out points that could prove to be excellent birding opportunities.  Continue reading

Mango Dreaming

Crist’s visit to small farms as part of our work on a new project serves as a reminder of the amazing diversity and abundance of fruits and vegetables growing in many fertile parts of this country. In Kerala it seems that any seed or stick placed into the rich soil will sprout, and even in the sandy or red clay soil of Maharashtra he found vegetables with explosive flavor.  He described the mango trees that surrounded the farm – not only was he in “mango headquarters”, as he put it – he was likely surrounded by the one of the most prized of this “king of fruit” – the Alphonso.

Note to self: visit during mango season. Continue reading

2016 Cornell Council for the Arts Biennial: Abject/Object Empathies

With fewer than 90 days to go until the 3rd edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale we admittedly have biennales on our mind. We thank one of our 2012 design interns, Chi-Chi Lin, for bringing this one to our attention.

The Cornell Council for the Arts (CCA) is a campus wide organization that promotes collaboration and artistic experimentation to inspire innovative and challenging projects by students, faculty, departments and programs from all disciplines. The focus of the 2016 CCA Biennial 

is on the cultural production of empathyThe upcoming biennial will address the ways in which feeling is form and explore how the objects, buildings, clothing, machines, languages, and images we construct are shaped by our intentional or implicit emotional, interdependent relationship to others. Whether by framing a connection that already exists or by providing the condition for new connections, what we create can either merely extend our own personal desires, goals, and directives, or can alternatively function as a bridge between who I am and who you are so that aesthetic experiences are interdependent, collaboratively generated and inherently reciprocal. Continue reading

Keeping Shakespeare in Mind

Illustration by Mathew McFarren

Illustration by Mathew McFarren

Quite a few of our team can attest to the power of a liberal arts education, especially when put in such a joyful context.

Scott L. Newstok’s convocation speech to the Rhodes College class of 2020 embraces this joy, adding the cheeky tweak of asking the incoming class to approach their college experience in the “spirit of the 16th century”.

Building a bridge to the 16th century must seem like a perverse prescription for today’s ills. I’m the first to admit that English Renaissance pedagogy was rigid and rightly mocked for its domineering pedants. Few of you would be eager to wake up before 6 a.m. to say mandatory prayers, or to be lashed for tardiness, much less translate Latin for hours on end every day of the week. Could there be a system more antithetical to our own contemporary ideals of student-centered, present-focused, and career-oriented education?

Yet this system somehow managed to nurture world-shifting thinkers, including those who launched the Scientific Revolution. This education fostered some of the very habits of mind endorsed by both the National Education Association and the Partnership for 21st Century Learning: critical thinking; clear communication; collaboration; and creativity. (To these “4Cs,” I would add “curiosity.”) Given that your own education has fallen far short of those laudable goals, I urge you to reconsider Shakespeare’s intellectual formation: that is, not what he purportedly thought — about law or love or leadership — but how he thought. An apparently rigid educational system could, paradoxically, induce liberated thinking.

“Take advantage of the autonomy and opportunities that college permits by approaching it in the spirit of the 16th century. You’ll become capable of a level of precision, inventiveness, and empathy worthy to be called Shakespearean.”
So how can you think like Shakespeare?

Continue reading

Of Salt and Stories

“Salt Crystal Bridal Gown III” (left) and “Salt Crystal Bridal Gown VI,” both 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Contemporary

“Salt Crystal Bridal Gown III” (left) and “Salt Crystal Bridal Gown VI,” both 2014.
Courtesy of the artist and Marlborough Contemporary

It starts with a story. Written by Russian playwright S. Ansky in the early 20th century, The Dybbuk is an expressionistic drama about a young bride possessed by the malicious spirit of a dead suitor, and subsequently exorcised.

Jerusalem-born artist Sigalit Landau took inspiration from the story and her powerful connection to the Dead Sea, an otherworldly place she grew up visiting frequently with her family, and that she has incorporated into her art for years. Her “Salt Bride” installation at London’s Malborough Contemporary, enlists the work of the sea itself, in which a traditional black Hasidic gown (a replica of the costume worn by the bride in The Dybbuk, as portrayed by legendary actress Hanna Rovina) is submerged into the sea’s hypersaline waters. The salt crystals accumulated naturally over the net-like weave of the dress, left submerged over a period of 3 months, during which the process was photographed as an organic time-lapse. “Over time, the sea’s alchemy transforms the plain garment from a symbol associated with death and madness into the wedding dress it was always intended to be.” Continue reading

The Chan Chich Lodge Night Sky

Night Sky by Chan Chich Lodge guest Phillip Witt

Night Sky by Chan Chich Lodge guest Philip Witt

A ping from my electronic calendar recently reminded me of the upcoming appex of the Perseid Meteor Shower between August 11th and 12th. I’d specifically marked it because this will be one of the first times I’ll be in a location so beautifully free of light pollution.

Although we do much of our work in remote locations, it’s surely a matter of luck to be in one of them at just this moment and this year,  when scientists say the meteor fall will be of the greatest density in 20 years. Chan Chich Lodge is located in the midst of 33,000 acres of private land, with the only infrastructure other than the lodge itself being a small village and the farming operations of Gallon Jug. 9-plus miles of trails branch off from the lodge, as well as simple gravel access roads. Continue reading

Corpse Flower Diaries

Photograph by Kathy Willens/AP

I first became aware of the amazing Amorphophallus titanum 4 years ago during a “bloom watch” of a Kenneth Post Lab Greenhouses specimen at Cornell University.  At the time the concept of a “Greenhouse Cam” was completely new to me, and I followed it, and the science behind the study of the plant, with fascination. Despite the rarity of the flower, a handful have bloomed within the past several years, the most recent being at the New York Botanical Garden.

All that said, the Corpse Flower by nature is the botanical version of a “comedic straight man” in the set up of story-based jokes. (For example, the scientific name means “giant misshapen phallus”.) Continue reading

A Tiger’s Tale Redux

Photo credit: Sudhir Shivaram

Photo credit: Sudhir Shivaram

International Tiger Day is my excuse to remember this post from three years ago, as a continued reminder of the importance of doing whatever we can to save these amazing creatures in the wild.  Meeting wildlife photographer Sudhir Shivaram, and some talented participants of his master bird photography workshop, (many of whom now contribute to this site), has consistently given all of us a window into wildlife viewing that few of us have the privilege to enjoy.

I actually write this from Chan Chich Lodge in Belize, a location that offers the amazing opportunity to be in the habitat of “new world” cats such as jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi. We’ll write about what we’ve seen so far and what the fantastic staff has shared with us in separate posts – as here we want to honor the tiger. Continue reading

Connecting the Dots

In our business we often use words like synchronicity and synergy to illustrate the amazing frequency of “right time-right place” meetings and connections. In the summer of 2011 one of the original interns (and creators of this site) came to work with us in Kerala. In search of a project, we introduced him to Diwia Thomas to brainstorm a social entrepreneurship collaboration. That process led to an amazing joint venture paperbag making workshop with the Kerala Forestry Department.

The very first post I wrote on this site was about Diwia Thomas and her company Papertrails. It just so happens it was published exactly 5 years ago. It also just so happened that this morning my Facebook feed included the news that Diwia had been honored with the Unique Times’ Young Women Business Excellence Award 2016. Continue reading

If You Happen To Be In Atlanta

Vik Muniz Double Mona Lisa (Peanut Butter and Jelly), from the After Warhol series, 1999 Chromogenic print Galerie Xippas, Paris Art © Vik Muniz/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

It’s easy to be a fan of Vik Muniz’s work on so many levels: his visual wit redefining materials as medium for art; his entrepreneurial use of art to bring attention to disenfranchised communities; the collaborative spirit clearly evident in so many of his works… I, personally, love his cheeky reproductions of the world’s iconic artworks, rendered in the most banal of mediums.

A mid-career retrospective, currently mounted at the High Museum of Art Atlanta covers the full range of his work from grand to microscopic scale, using diverse media—including food, dust, string, sugar, magazine clippings, and literal junk.

On view through August 21, 2016.

All the Ducks in a Row…

Of the many volumes in our family bookcase, Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings and Blueberries for Sal always held pride of place. The stories, the charm and personality of the illustrations, made them family favorites to be read over and over at story time.

It’s not surprising to read that the artist took his work so seriously as to fill his Greenwich Village apartment with a clutch of ducklings for inspiration.  Continue reading



Welcome! Walk barefoot in the sand…you know you want to!

Stroll through the meandering pathways and wander past curated views of trees rustling in the wind.

Fundamentally, Xandari Pearl is an invitation to relax and rest, pearl-like, in the arms of curved walls, to the lullaby of the sea.

Come see for yourself…



The ocean stirs the imagination and inspires the heart. In its frolicking waves and every grain of sand is a story of the earth. And the beautifully timed crash of the waves whisper about nature’s simple treasures. For the sea and its tales along the land are a continual miracle. – Rosanna Abrachan

The tale we hear is thrilling – of knowledge passed down for generations, of artisanal fishing practices that grace us with sustenance from the Arabian Sea without depleting her waters.

Come sea!