Saturday, March 19, 2011

I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees....

When I was a child in elementary school I remember carefully creating a poster to celebrate Arbor Day, but for the life of me I don’t know what it is. This time of year I always get the Arbor Day Foundation’s mailings. I appreciate the free address labels, this year appropriately adorned with nuts, but I never make a donation. I read the information. I even filled out the paper work like I was going to finally pay for all those free address labels, but then I thought – I don’t want to plant all those silly decorative trees. I want to plant real trees. From what I can tell the Arbor Day Foundation’s whole purpose is to get people to plant trees. And I plan on planting 20 of them this April! I would have given them a donation anyway, except they never got around to telling me exactly what “Arbor Day” is and how it came to be. I did look it up on the internet, but I won’t bore you with the story (it’s no where near as exciting as Johnny Appleseed). Arbor Day is April 29 this year, in case you’re wondering.

Have you ever planted a tree? Planting a tree, especially a real tree (as opposed to a decorative tree or a fruit tree) is an act of hope and faith. It’s an investment in the future. Most of us don’t stay in the same place long enough to see an Oak Tree or a Hickory Tree grow to it’s full height. You don’t plant a tree like that for your own satisfaction. It’s an act of altruism.

I grew up in the woods. The trees surrounding my childhood home were enormous hundred+ year old trees. You could barely see the tops. The woods were so dense we were never able to grow grass although my father sure tried. He finally gave up and turned the front “lawn” in to a circle driveway around the trees. When my children grumble about helping me with some outside chore, I regale them with the tale of being forced to pick up sticks and/or rake leaves for hours every Saturday as a child. I loved those trees though, even if they did spoil plenty a play date for me. When you looked up, the canopy was so dense the sunlight sparkled like photo flashes between the leaves. When the wind was really strong those mighty trunks would sway ferosciously, and I was certain they were coming down momentarily. Trees like that speak to your soul. To my young heart, those trees were a thousand years old and I wondered what stories they could tell.

Planting a tree with your kids is a must-do parenthood moment that I haven’t had yet. We had great intentions of planting a tree when each child was born and then taking their picture next to it every year of their life. We did plant a tree for our first-born, but we pretty much forgot about it and it withered to a sad brown stick. Then there was the problem of moving around too much, so it seemed silly to invest in a tree I wouldn’t see grow. Thankfully, my mindset has evolved. I understand more fully that we are all on the same boat. (A fact Japan’s nuclear disaster is bringing home clearly).

I don’t know whether we will be here pushing a grandchild-filled stroller up this god-forsaken hill someday, but either way I’m ready to build some forest. This spring we are planting “real” trees – 10 white oaks and 10 Shellbark Hickories to be exact. We’re purchasing them through the Seedling Sale sponsored by the York County Conservation District. If you don’t live in York County, you should look up your own Conservation District because you have one. There are 3000 of them spread out across this country. You can find yours at http://www.nacdnet.org./

These nonprofit Conservation Districts were created in 1946 to protect the health of the land and the welfare of future generations. They sponsor all kinds of important projects (and are always looking for volunteers – another great thing to do with your kids!). Their projects involve protecting and conserving wetlands and wildlife. They also assist communities in planting trees and other land covers so that our soil is held in place, our air is cleaned, and wildlife have a place to safely co-exist.

Because Conservation Districts are non-profits they sell seedlings for cheap and offer advice for free. If you’re ready to order your trees you better get a move on, because our sale, at least, is ending March 28th, with pick up on April 15th. April is the perfect time to plant some trees and here are a whole lot of reasons to plant them. Share this information with your kids!

Trees:

• filter pollution from the air (by absorbing carbon at a rate of 13 pounds per tree per year! They do the most good at about 10 years.)

• help recycle water

• prevent soil erosion/loss

• give shelter from wind and rain

• provide homes for animals/birds

• make food for humans and wildlife

• provide fuel for stoves and fireplaces

• provide lumber, plywood and other building materials

• reduce utility bills (by providing windbreaks which shield against wind and snow, reducing heating costs by as much as 30%)

• provide shade to cools hot streets and parking lots

• add beauty and grace to our lives

• provide ingredients for pharmaceutical and other medicinal purposes

• help reduce stress (research backs this up!)

• help us connect with nature

And without them there would be no life on this planet!!

I hope you’ll go outside today and consider where you could plant a tree (of any size, I was just kidding about that “real” label). Order yours now, April is a great time to plant and it’s just around the corner. Get your whole family involved. You could even plan a party around it. If you haven’t got land to plant a tree, consider volunteering with the Conservation District to plant trees somewhere else.

“I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues."
- Dr. Suess

"Suburbia is where the developer bulldozes out the trees, then names the streets after them."
- Bill Vaughan

"Someone's sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago."
- Warren Buffett

"The wonder is that we can see these trees and not wonder more."
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

"He who plants a tree, plants hope."
- Lucy Larcom, Plant a Tree

"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."
- Greek Proverb

"A man does not plant a tree for himself, he plants it for posterity."
- Alexander Smith

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Are You Getting Your Fair Share of Animal?

Most everybody I know thinks factory farming is horrible. And most everybody I know likes to eat at fast food restaurants. Is this just the cumulative effect of little white lies? Or did we not understand the unit on cause and effect in middle school science class?
 

I’ve been reading a great book called, Food Matters by Mark Bittman. He writes about the fact that we are an unhealthy people on an unhealthy planet and we are headed for disaster (or at least the really poor people are) if nothing is done to change our ways. He says it much nicer and with a lot more graphs and charts, but his point is true. Here’s a few of his facts that stood out for me:
 
60 billion animals are raised each year for food – 10 animals for every human on earth. Now I’m fairly certain that there are a lot of people out there who aren’t getting their share of animals. And I’m guessing it’s not because they don’t want them. It’s most likely because somebody else is eating them.

  
1 billion people in the world are chronically hungry; 1 billion people are overweight. Hmmm….


 When you take in to account the fuels needed to feed a cow (including planting, applying pesticides and fertilizing, and then harvesting and transporting the feed) and then you take in to account the life in the feedlot, butchering, packaging, and transporting; the average steer raised in the US consumes about 135 gallons of gasoline in its lifetime. Doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that if we eat less meat, we’re going to have significantly less impact. As Bittman puts it, “If we each ate the equivalent of three fewer cheeseburgers a week, we’d cancel out the effects of all the SUVs in the country.”
 

 Eating less meat isn’t only a good idea from an environmental and global perspective; it’s also a good idea for your health. A National Cancer Institute study of 550,000 people found that those who ate 4 ounces of red meat daily (and how many ounces would there be in a quarter pounder? C’mon dust off those math skills), were 30% more likely to die of any cause (any cause) over ten years than those who consumed less. Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you can start shooting darts in my data, but this was 550,000 people so that birdie won’t fly. The average person in a developing country eats a ½ pound of meat daily – that’s twice what a body needs. And we wonder why we’re obese?
 

 According to the Mayo Clinic, eating less meat (red meat and processed meats) not only lowers your fat and calorie intake, it also generally lowers your cholesterol. And eating less meat saves you money. Beans, cheese, eggs, and veggies are much cheaper than meat. 
 

 Bittman does not propose that we all become vegetarians. Heck no, he even has some nice meat recipes in his book. What he does propose is that we eat less meat. In my reading I came across the term “flexitarian” several times. It’s a term referring to people who eat mostly plant-based foods, with occasional helpings of meat, poultry, and fish.
  
Eating less meat is a goal I have for my family. And the meat we do it should be meat that was raised humanely, without unnecessary antibiotics, hormones, and junk food. So eat less meat, but eat better meat. Figuring out what to eat when there isn’t meat involved isn’t really as hard as you think. Here are a few ideas: 
  • pasta of any kind – tortellini, ravioli, spaghetti, fettuccini, veggie lasagna, stuff shells, mac & cheese,
  •  soups (having a soup night each week is good for you- body and soul)
  •  Mexican food (substituting beans for meat) – burritos, quesadillas, enchiladas, nachos
  •  Vegetable egg rolls and veggie fried rice (Trader Joes has excellent egg rolls and veggie fried rice is way easy to make)
  • Pizza (establish a pizza night and nix the pepperoni)
  • Eggs – scrambled, quiche, fried, hard-boiled (so much you can do with an egg! And if you need some fresh, free range eggs, give me a call. We’re overloaded right now- $3/dozen)
  • Salad bar (my kids love this one. We include leftovers on the side. Be sure to offer nuts, craisins, hard-boiled eggs, and cheese to get some protein in there)
  • Breakfast for dinner (always a winner)
  • Meatless Chili (crock pot time)
  • Seafood (who doesn't need an excuse to eat more seafood?)
 Together corn and soy account for 50% of the harvest in the US. And most of that harvest is used to feed animals that we plan to eat. Maybe if demand for those animals wasn’t so high, that food could be used for people. There is more than enough food to feed this planet. It’s just not being evenly distributed. If we reduce the demand for meat, factory farms wouldn’t be necessary and food manufacturers might need to find something else to do with all that soy and corn. Little changes in every household will add up.

 
But here’s the crux of it, according to Bittman, if we currently raise 60 billion animals for meat, ten animals for each person; we will need to raise 120 billion animals by 2050 to sustain that level. We don’t have the space, energy, atmosphere, or water supply to meet that demand. Can’t happen. So something has to give. Our ancestors lived on much less meat, but somewhere along the line we began to believe that we needed more. We don’t.

 

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Surprise!

I love surprises. Well, maybe I should clarify that – I love good surprises. No one likes to be surprised by bad stuff. I once had a bad surprise that was actually a great surprise for my kids. We had recently moved in to the house we are in now and I was sorting through our accumulated life in boxes upstairs, when my oldest son suddenly burst out of the basement door yelling, “I need my bathing suit!” This alarmed me only slightly because my kids were big in to dress up at that time. As I continued sorting, curiosity got the better of me. It was early spring and definitely not bathing suit weather on our chilly hill.

Opening the basement door, I heard delighted squeals from my then 3 year-old daughter. Descending the stairs I got my awful surprise – the basement was under six inches of water. My daughter was happily splashing and the cat was floating on a “raft” made of the foam carpet squares we had just put down so the kids could play. An example of how one surprise can be good for one person and bad for another. (turns out the sump-pump was jammed, easily fixed and it helped us part with the ruined contents of too many boxes)

My husband and I love to surprise our kids. Christmas morning is always filled with its share of surprises, but there are lots of other holiday and non-holiday surprises too. St. Patrick’s Day is fast approaching and my kids are already talking about the tiny leprechaun hats they discovered last year that contained clues leading them to more hats and eventually a “pot of gold” (chocolate coins).

A few summers ago, we woke them up at 6am and said, “Get your suits on, we’re going to the beach!” and we fed them breakfast in the car as we drove to the beach for the day. Never mind the fortunes we have spent renting beach houses, that day remains their favorite beach memory.

The cruise we went on a few weeks ago was our greatest surprise yet. We planned and prepared for it for six months without the kids knowing. On the day of the cruise, we waited for each one to get up and get dressed for school. When they found us in our room packing suitcases, they scratched their heads sleepily and then we said, “How about instead of going to school today, we go to Florida?!!” Oh – that was the best moment of the entire vacation! (the picture above is of my youngest realizing we’re weren’t kidding)

What makes surprises so special is they are proof positive that someone was thinking about you. Which feels pretty good. I think surprising your kids is one of the greatest joys you can get as a parent. They don’t have to be huge surprises. And they don’t have to be that often. In fact, it’s best to spread them out otherwise they cease being surprises and become expected. Need some ideas?

• Pick your child up at the bus stop for an impromptu movie date (the movies are cheaper before 5pm!)

• Show up at school at lunchtime to pick up your child for an “appointment” which is lunch with you at a favorite restaurant or a picnic at the park

• Leave a small gift on their pillow

• Write a note in their planner or leave one in the pocket of their jeans.

• Bring home a new outfit or a book for them “just because”.

• Do a chore for them (mine love when I do their kitchen chore for them)

• Leave a love note on the bathroom mirror or the inside of the closet.

• Serve breakfast for dinner

• Make a special dessert or hand out fortune cookies

• Bring home a new pet (hermit crabs and betta fish count!)

These things don’t have to cost a fortune either. I find all kinds of treasures at the Goodwill and love to surprise the kids with them.

I think I picked up this habit from my husband. He surprises me regularly with small gifts or gestures. Sometimes it’s messages in unexpected places (my to-do list, my calendar). Sometimes it’s doing a chore for me, filling up my car with gas, or fixing something that’s broken that I never mentioned to him. Every once in a while, it’s even flowers. Little stuff, but it makes the ride more interesting. I just never know what might happen on a given day.

I hope my kids are developing this same belief. The belief that anything could happen today. Life is full of surprises. Sure, some of them stink. But you never know, the one after that might be amazing. You might wake up thinking you have a science test and a few hours later find yourself on an airplane bound for warmer places. So much of the time I’m nagging my kids, driving them, reminding them, disciplining them, lecturing them, but every now and then I surprise them. And that makes up for a lot of grumbling. It tells them that I love them so much I’m always thinking up ways to make them smile. They just never know what I might be planning. So they better be nice to me!