Thursday, April 23, 2009

A New Release and A Free Video!

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has just sent out the notification that the Media Education Foundation has published a video titled, "Consuming Kids: The Commercialism of Childhood".  This video looks at how our children have been the targets of marketing tactics from birth on for decades.  It runs through how advertising in the past included children, but in a much more docile way.  Today's children are basically pelted with ads throughout even educational television to such as extent that many young ones aren't quite sure where the show takes a break and the ads begin.  This film is an attempt to bring our attention to the repetitive opportunities marketers make to 'teach' our children which products to purchase, or have us purchase.  Much as the dairy council will have us think that we need milk to build strong bones, or the beef industry, who makes us think we need to know 'where's the beef?', the commercials geared toward children blur the lines between safe, conscious, nutritious choices and garbage.

From the website:

Consuming Kids
The Commercialization of Childhood

Consuming Kids throws desperately needed light on the practices of a relentless multi-billion dollar marketing machine that now sells kids and their parents everything from junk food and violent video games to bogus educational products and the family car. Drawing on the insights of health care professionals, children's advocates, and industry insiders, the film focuses on the explosive growth of child marketing in the wake of deregulation, showing how youth marketers have used the latest advances in psychology, anthropology, and neuroscience to transform American children into one of the most powerful and profitable consumer demographics in the world. Consuming Kids pushes back against the wholesale commercialization of childhood, raising urgent questions about the ethics of children's marketing and its impact on the health and well-being of kids. 

The Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood folks are working to have folks sponsor a public screening of this important film, with a gift of your very own video to keep as a thank you for your efforts.  Make sure you contact them right away, as this offer is limited.  If you miss the offer, don't worry.  You can still purchase the video for $24.99 from Media Education Foundation.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Conundrum of Earth Day Celebrations, and How Green is Your Wallet?

Since I have been away on a family trip for a few days, I am launching into a more in depth post that covers two separate, but related issues.  Once I get the time to download photos of our trip, I will post more on that.

The Conundrum of EARTH DAY Celebrations:

Earth day is fast approaching - this Saturday, to be exact.  Do you have your day of celebrating all planned out yet?  Do you have particular rituals to ring in another year of 'trying' to be grateful for our earth?  Or do you let things roll, participating in random activities that suit you?  Or beyond that, do you let Earth Day come and go without really acknowledging it at all? 
I have to admit, I was shocked when I recently read that Earth Day has been around since 1970. According to Wikipedia:

Earth Day, celebrated April 22, is a day designed to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth's environment. It was founded by U.S. Senator Gaylord Nelson as an environmental teach-in in 1970 and is celebrated in many countries every year. This date is Spring in the Northern Hemisphere and Autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

It was not until we moved to the Boston area about 10 years ago that we became aware of various activities to celebrate the Earth, and began to take more responsibility for our environmental actions.  Although there are many different activities here in our area to participate, the one which works for my family is the Charles River Cleanup.  We spend half of Earth Day walking down by the river, picking up an enormous amount of trash.  My husband loves this day, as he gets to wade into the river to capture discarded bottles, balls, and the many odd items (one year he found a tent!).  I found him wading boots on Freecycle just for this day every year - I'll post photos next week!.  My kids love that the Cleanup organizers hand out munchies and serve hotdogs at the end - and everyone gets a free t-shirt as well.  I love that we are out doing something physical in the fresh air, enjoying friends who do the same thing every year, and beautifying our community.  None of this costs us any money, and no one is trying to sell us anything as we do it.  
But not all 'Green', Earth Day activities are like this.  I'm sure if you are breathing, you have heard, watched, become aware of the scads of advertisements for 'green' this or that out in consumerville.  I have noticed that as more businesses are jumping on the 'green' wagon, consumers get the sense that by buying their products, we are doing something wonderful for the earth.  When in reality, we are still consuming, still moving away from recycling, and still keeping big business in business.  I came across good information at the Huffington Post.  Susan Linn talks about the marketing that is sent out to children regarding being green, and referring to Earth Day.  It always makes my blood boil to read how folks are targeting kids with advertising.  But it seems ludicrous that they think kids, who understand global warming so much better that some adults, would fall for their tactics.  Unfortunately, they use so many chemicals in their foods that they are hard for a child to resist, and they end up succumbing to the ridiculous feast.  I have actually read that participating in the fast food frenzy is much like being addicted to drugs.  Ok.  That's really scary.

How Green is Your Wallet?

As I said above, we just returned from our recent family trip.  Actually, we finish our trip tomorrow as we stopped off in Baltimore to visit family overnight, so we can cut the last leg of our trip into 2 more manageable pieces.  We went down to Williamsburg, Virginia, to check out the colonial community they have there.  It was a really beautiful area, and the weather, though rainy for much of the time we spent there, was much warmer than up north.  The people were fantastic - what they say about southern hospitality is really true.  We had so many people interested in who we were, why we had come down, how our drive was, etc.  But what we noticed right away was the lack of 'green' initiatives with the Colonial Williamsburg complex.  The place is HUGE with at least 5 hotels under the Williamsburg name.  There is the actual colony and shops, numerous restaurants, and museums as well.  Now, I have had the opportunity to stay in a few hotels lately, though I would not call myself much of a traveler. However, in my experiences, there has definitely been in shift toward more thoughtful, resource-saving activities such as re-using towels, recycling bins, glasses in the rooms, and a move away from styrofoam containers.  Well, I am sad to say that where we stayed, we had quite a bit of plastic/styrofoam dishes and cups for meals, plastic cups for drinking in the rooms (which split open within the first using, and so had to be tossed (in the recycle bag to bring home)).  I was shocked that it was not until we walked all the way through the colony (about a 30 minute walk) that we saw our first (and turns out only) recycling bin for glass, cans or plastic - none for paper, outside a sandwich shop in the merchant's center - not even the colonial part.  

I was really surprised to see that here we were in this preserved colonial community, and yet no one was working to preserve the present, so we could have it in the future!!

Is this a southern thing?  A Virginia thing?  I started thinking... it really pays it forward to research how your hotel recycles and reuses resources before you make the reservation.  And of course, I will be sending a letter to the corporate offices to share my opinion, with the hopes that they will begin to think about how to better use their products and processes in order to contain some of the resources we have left.  
But do you think about this before you travel?  Do you think about what mode of transportation gives you not only the best price but the best use of mileage as well?  Do you think about bringing your own food for some/all of the trip to minimize your own cost?  Do you think about camping versus hotels?  Do you have some secrets about how to be resourceful where others (hotels, restaurants, etc) fall short?  Definitely share them here!  And don't be shy - many of you readers are from other countries/regions and we could all learn from what you have to say!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

I Have a New Reason to Purge My Drawers!

You know all that mindless junk lying around in your 'junk' drawers?  How about that box of doo-dads you have stashed away in some closet to go through 'later on'?  Do you have any pile of 'have to get to that's' anywhere?  Well...
I found a new website, courtesy of Family Circle Magazine, that not only recycles your old electronics, but may pay you for them as well.  How cool is that??  Not only do you clean out that drawer full of old cell phones, but you get paid for it as well.  And the shipping is free. The program is Gazelle.  They take the following items - so go clean out your closets:

  • Cell Phones
  • Digital Cameras
  • MP3 Players
  • PDAs
  • Laptops
  • Gaming Consoles
  • GPS Devices
  • Camcorders
  • Satellite Radios
  • External Hard Drives
  • Video Games
  • Movies
  • LCD Monitors
  • Blu-Ray Players
  • Calculators
  • Desktops
  • Wow.  It is great to know one can actually profit from recycling their odds and ends.  I received an offer for a camera ($28), playstation ($11 - though my kids would kill me), 2 cell phones ($8 each) and an old non-working laptop ($0) for a total of $55.  Not too shabby for junk lying around.  I get to clean out the cupboards, and the stuff gets recycled, then I get to stash the cash.  Now, that's what I call being mindfully resourceful!

    Check out the website.  Once you add up what they offer you, post it back here.  

    Sunday, April 12, 2009

    My New Favorite Drink

    I have been incorporating new, healthier foods into my diet lately.  Well, not really 'new' foods, but new to my diet foods, such as kale, chard, fruits, really green salads, etc.  I bought jicama at the store on friday with the hopes that I will put it in my salads this week - should be crunchy and interesting.  Every morning, as I have posted here, I start my day with a green drink using kale, chard, pineapple, tomato and agave nectar (sweetener).  I do however, sneak in a sweeter smoothie when I can.  I came up with my new favorite smoothie just a couple of weeks ago, and have now successfully kept all the ingredients in the house at all times, so I can make it any time I want.  It's really a Pina Colada, but I just call it heaven...

    Mindful Mama's Smooth Smoothie

    1 Cup coconut milk
    1 Cup pineapple, cubed
    1/2 cup frozen strawberries
    1 T agave nectar
    1t vanilla
    1 large glass full of ice cubes

    Put all in blender and blend until smooth.  Absolutely delicious!  

    They say eating more raw foods is better on the budget.  I haven't found this to be the case just yet.  So far, I have spent much more than I typically budget for weekly groceries as I bulk up on nuts and organic fruits.  I am not so good at choosing foods that will make more than one meal possible, but I'm working on it.  I have been acquiring more raw 'cook' books, so I assume things will get easier as time moves on.
    After drinking this smoothie at least 3 times a week, I have noticed my hair is silkier, my nails are much stronger and my skin is smooth and clear of any blemishes.  

    The coconut milk in it is a terrific source of fats for your body - one that has received a very bad rap for too long.  The thing about fat is that we truly need it for survival.  Fats tell our bodies when we are satiated, give texture and flavor to foods, and provide us with necessary lubrication for our joints.  Fats make our skin glow and hair shine, and give us general health support.
    Other great health benefits of coconut include:

    1. goiter control (enlarged non-toxic thyroid) because of its organic iodine content.
    2. Good body builder, so it is a food recommended for building up the body muscles of thin and emaciated individuals.
    3. Constipation and for any build-up of gas in the stomach and intestinal tract.
    4. Coconut milk has been found to help cases of sore throat as well as relieving stomach ulcers.
    5. Coconut oil has been found to heal cuts, scratches, burns and sunburns.
    6. The oil has also been recommended for facial massage and is reported to be good as a wrinkle remover.
    7. Coconut oil is also good for the scalp and hair and makes hair dressing unnecessary.
    Intake of at least 2 Tbsp. of Virgin coconut oil per day can lessen your Vitamin E requirement.
    8. Coconut water is good for kidney and urinary bladder problems.

    Pineapple is another thing altogether.  Apart from being amazingly sweet, one of the benefits of pineapple is that it helps to build healthy bones. Pineapples are rich in manganese, a trace mineral that is needed for your body to build bone and connective tissues. Just one cup of pineapple provides 73% of the daily recommended amount of manganese. The benefits of pineapple can effect the growth of bones in young people and the strengthening of bones in older people.   While many people often take extra vitamin C or drink extra orange juice when they have a cold, few consider eating pineapple. The benefits of pineapple when you have a cold or cough are the same as the benefits of orange juice, but there is an additional benefit of pineapple. Bromelain, which is found in pineapples, has been found to help suppress coughs and loosen mucus.

    Strawberries contain a range of nutrients, with vitamin C heading the group. They also contain significant levels of phytonutrients and antioxidants, which fight free radicals. These antioxidant properties are believed to be linked to what makes the strawberry bright red.  So what are these weird free radicals? Free radicals are elements that can damage cells, and they are thought to contribute to the formation of many kinds of cancer.  In addition to vitamin C, strawberries also provide an excellent source of vitamin K and manganese, as well as folic acid, potassium, riboflavin, vitamin B5, vitamin B6, copper, magnesium, and omega-3 fatty acids.
    I really don't feel bad about splurging on my new favorite drink - turns out it's really GOOD for me!!  Try it - let me know what you think!

    Thursday, April 9, 2009

    Hippity Hop Easter's On It's Way...

    How Are You Celebrating the Holidays?

    We celebrate Easter in my family. But what does it really mean – to celebrate Easter? We are not a particularly religious family, my husband has been known to attend church every now and then, but not the rest of us for a variety of reasons. Somehow, though, I turn inward at this time of year and try to get in touch with what Easter, and the sense of renewal, means. As I have raised my children, I have tried very hard to bring about some sort of meaning of Easter for them – so that it means more than the Easter bunny, eggs and candy. Yet I worry that we missed the boat. My sons look forward to Easter baskets – even now at ages 11 and 13. Back when I was a consumer-aholic, I fell into the trap of ‘gifting’ at any opportunity. Even if it was only a few treats and a stuffed animal when they were younger, the pattern became set: Easter means gifts. My younger son even talked about an ‘Easter list’ last week. Yikes. I told him quite quickly that there would not be any lists generated. He seemed crushed. Oh, what have I done??
    I really like the idea of Passover, where you have particular traditions for very important reasons. I suppose Easter has it’s own traditions and rituals for some folks, perhaps just not for me. If you always have ham at Easter, I guess you could call that a tradition – but not the type I am looking for. Do holidays become less holy if you do not have traditions that carry over? Is it acceptable to celebrate Easter (or Christmas for that matter) when you do not consider yourself to be particularly religious? That it has become another consumer-friendly occasion to pour out love and affection in the form of fluffy bunnies and stale marshmallow chickens makes me sad and frustrated.
    So how do you undo something like training your children to be consumer-aholics around the holidays? How do you bring them a sense of understanding that at this time of year, we consider the renewal of life, rather than the renewal of credit balances?
    The answer I have is to create a sense of peace at home, including nearby family members, good food and (cheap) fun. This Easter, we will spend time with my inlaws here in Massachusetts. We will have a meal, cooked by all of us – pot luck style – and enjoy each others’ company. Prior to that, I will make a special breakfast for everyone in my household – strawberry crepes was the routine when I was growing up – and we will hang around in our pajamas as long as possible. Someone will read the paper, someone will read a book, and others may make or listen to music – a wonderful laid-back Sunday. My boys insist they want to dye eggs and have a hunt in the yard, but I would love to let go of this tradition. We don’t eat too many eggs to begin with, and especially not hard boiled. I don’t mind the coloring of them, but the eating – they just rot in the fridge. I will have to see if I can get around this one.

    So how do you celebrate Easter/Passover?

    Sunday, April 5, 2009

    Memories Do Last a Lifetime

    Today we spent the day with family to honor a family member who passed away a year ago. I was unsure how we would spend our time together, but very motivated to get together with others to celebrate this occasion. As I often do before a family gathering, I got myself extra busy before leaving for the 1/2 hour drive. I notice that I tend to busy myself in the effort to move away from the anxiety that often comes from anticipating family gatherings. It's not that I do not look forward to these events, I do, and I typically enjoy them once we get going. But my mind seems to go on auto pilot, "Will the boys misbehave?" "Will we get into uncomfortable discussions?" "Will I say something I shouldn't?" Worry worry worry. And when I get ultra busy, I suppose I feel a little less conscious anxiety and more overwhelmed from all I am trying to accomplish before we leave. Ridiculous, I know.
    Today was no different, having the need to go to the Asian grocery to find an obscure ingredient that I needed for a raw dish I was trying to make, and to get some fish to bring along. I love that store, but my time crunch this morning made it harder for me to enjoy the trip over there. Then I had to take my youngest son shopping for something he had saved up for and just HAD to have today. And then, being that the Asian store did not have what I needed, I had to traipse over to our favorite health foods store (after calling to be sure I wasn't wasting a trip) which was in the same town that we were traveling to.
    Once we were on our way, I was fine. And I began thinking about this family member who passed last year. He taught me so much over the course of 15 years that I knew him. Our relationship was not always joyful, but there was a mutual respect that I will carry with me forever.
    When we were all gathered around a beautiful feast, complete with gluten free offerings, thanks to my mother in law, we each spoke out about this family member: our memories, funny stories, things we want to remember, things from a very long time ago, and things from just before he died. Everyone contributed - even my boys who scrunched up their noses when the idea for sharing was announced. But they had ideas in their heads already - they too were touched gently by this family member, and wanted to share. It was a wonderful and touching display of love and tenderness that I had not experienced from our family before. I commented on how this death has brought us all closer, and I think our dear departed member would think kindly of that - that he had brought us all closer in the end, to carry on, sadly, without him, but carry on to bring peace to each other and demonstrate that devotion to the younger generation in our family.

    Friday, April 3, 2009

    The Importance of Setting Goals

    I have been working toward improvement in several areas of my life: losing weight, gaining health, keeping a cleaner house, paying bills on time, etc.  But when I tackle all of these growth areas at once, especially without a plan, I get easily overwhelmed, and pretty much nothing gets done.  What seems to help is setting goals.  In my work with young children with special needs, we set goals annually that we work toward on a daily basis.  Quarterly reports state how close to the goal we have come, and all the wonderful things the child has learned to do in the process.  In my own goal plan, or Individualized Life Plan (ILP), I have addressed the areas needing growth as stated above, but planned small steps.  I want to continue progressing in the area of cleaning the house while I'm losing weight, so my expectations have to be somewhat low.  In this way, I am successful with little accomplishments, and can find the motivation to keep going to the next goal level.
    Some people find that rewards help them stay focused.  I have found this helpful, but not for the tiny steps (losing 5 pounds, for example).  What I have done in the past is reward myself with purchased things: a new bathing suit for losing weight, a night out for keeping the house clean and tidy, etc.  However, my new mindful attitude changes all that, and I need to incorporate new ways to celebrate victories.  Here's my list:

    • Music night at home with friends (playing instruments is one of our favorite things to do but doesn't get done enough)
    • Trip to the western part of the state (2 hour drive) to check out the mountains, the museums or the towns
    • Hike by the river
    • Family bike ride
    • Girl time with my friends over a cup of tea
    • Visit to Boston to see a show or museum (with a pass)
    Setting goals cuts work into small, manageable pieces, where looking at the whole experience would be challenging and less attainable.  We do it all the time at work without thinking about it, and we teach our children how to do it as well.  So it makes sense to incorporate it for our own ILP's.
    What would you put on your ILP?  And what would your rewards be?

    Wednesday, April 1, 2009

    Do You Know Where Your Food is Coming From?

    It used to be that you could feel good about purchasing fruit and vegetables that were conventional (not organic) if they had a peel to remove.  We were always told that as long as you removed the peel, the insides were pretty comparable to an organic product.  So when money was tight, I felt ok about purchasing non-organic foods such as cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, etc.  Then along came the GM farmers.  I read a fascinating article about GM (Genetically modified) foods recently.  It talked about where this all started (in 1996, farmers planted the first GM seeds which were engineered to withstand the harsh treatment of herbicides), and how they effect our bodies and ultimately the entire food chain.  I often wonder myself about the foods on the grocery shelves.  Do we really know that the produce labeled 'Organic', with the higher price tag, is really without any chemicals or residues?  How can we be sure that the packaged product listed as organic is really that?  And for those favorite corn chips, how long ago was the corn actually grown and picked to end up in those chips?
    If I could, I would follow the food chain from seed to plant to factory to product to store shelf.  I would love to know how long this whole process took, and what nutritional value the food actually had by the time it reached the store - especially in comparison to the original nutritional profile of the raw food.
    The FDA states that there is no proof that GM foods cause any harm to our bodies.  However, other statements suggest that they are to blame for allergies, fertility issues and super weeds.  In fact, scientists in Japan, Italy and France among other countries feel so strongly against the harmful effects of GM foods that they have banned them completely from their foods.  Makes you stop and think, doesn't it?  
    And let's go back to one of my first questions: How do you know if the foods listed on any given product as organic are really that?  Especially when cross-pollination occurs readily with most crops.  Wind (or sadly, bees) carry the pollen from GM foods over to the nearby crop, which could be and in many cases is organic, pollinating it with GM pollen, spreading it's genes around willy nilly.  
    The scary part is that there have been no independent studies on the effects of GM foods on our bodies or our environment.  All of the studies thus far have been done by the produce companies themselves and submitted to the government.  It's high time we get someone else in there to do some research.
    So how do you get a better idea of what is in your food?  One thought is - grow your own.  However, if you live with a shady, dime-sized backyard such as mine, the growing part is a bit challenging.  Another thought is to invest in community supported agriculture.  There are always farmers markets in towns in my area - and probably in yours, unless you live in a rural area.  And lastly, buy only organic where possible.  The government says that certified organic foods must be 95% organic and GM free.
    Bottom line?  Know where your food comes from.  There are several small organic farms spread throughout the world, just begging to be supported by the everyday family in some way.  Whether you join a CSA or just make it to the grocery store to pick up some organic apples, you can trust that if it is certified as organic, your food is just exactly what it says it is, with no mofdification whatsoever.