Posts tagged Environment

Picture Day

This is a school picture of me at age 7. Every time I looked at this picture over the years I asked myself the same question: Did the photographer not notice the hair? Could she not have at least drawn my attention to the fact that I looked like I’d just had an encounter with a bear? Check out the dress, folks. Obviously I was prepared for picture day. The hair was the result of recess, and I would have appreciated the opportunity to set it right before it was captured in all its disheveled glory for posterity.

I know how painful a bad school picture can be, especially to the perfectionist control freak. It was with great shock and horror, therefore, that it dawned on me in the middle of the morning while shopping for shirts for our oldest son in Once Upon A Child, that today was Picture Re-take Day, that merciful accommodation of school photographers for those children who a) forgot about Picture Day, b) were absent, c) were cross-eyed in the picture or d) were caught on film picking their nose.

I racked my brain trying to remember what Teddy looked like when I sent him off this morning. I remembered an epic bed-head. I desperately tried to bring to mind what he was wearing, but it just wouldn’t come. Experience has taught me that he gives about as much thought to his clothing as he does to girls, so this could be a disastrous picture. (Note: this is not my kid, but you get the idea)

Thankfully I had four really nice shirts in my hand, so I quickly paid for my purchases, grabbed our youngest son and ran out of the store on my mission to save Teddy’s grade 3 picture. As I raced across town (for yes, I was on the other end of the city) I hoped against hope that his class had not yet been called down to the gym. “At an average of 3 kids per class needing re-takes,” I reasoned, “if they start at Junior Kindergarten, what is the chance that the Grade 3s have not yet been called down by 10:15?” Clearly the odds were stacked against us.

The thought occurred to me that we should have just gone with the original picture. It wasn’t so bad, really, just severe. He was looking at the camera as if to say, “our landfills are filling up, folks, and I don’t see you doing anything about it.” (He is the official garbage sorter of their class – by his own choice. Today he “gets to” stay in at recess to remove the recyclables from the trash and put them in their correct receptacles. Where does he get this stuff?) Still, the severe picture in a nice shirt would have been better than the bed-head and who-knows-what ghastly T-shirt and track pant combo.

I roared into the parking lot, grabbed two sweaters and my now sleeping 36 lb three-year-old and made my way into the school. (By the way, 36 pounds of dead-weight is a lot heavier when you’re in a hurry than when you can take your sweet time). I got to the office, which was empty. I checked in the Principal’s office, which was also empty. The Caretaker is next, a former classmate from high school. “Luke,” I said. “I’ve got a problem. I forgot about Re-take Day, I haven’t brushed Teddy’s hair since the original Picture Day, and his outfit is probably a disaster. Can you help me?”

At this point the music teacher came by, who offered to get Teddy out of class. As she was off getting Teddy, the Secretary came back from the photocopy room and I filled her in on the reason for my visit. Together we figured out that one grade 3 class was already in the gym, but not his. I breathed a sigh of relief. And then they came around the corner: the music teacher and my sweet, smiling boy dressed in a faded grey camouflage T-shirt, poppy-red track pants, and a bed-head that hadn’t settled in the course of the morning. In that moment I knew we had avoided a painful school picture for the next perfectionist control freak in our family.

Together we used water from the fountain to try to tame the unruly hair, and I requested the photographer to crop the bright red pants out of the picture. “Teddy,” I informed my now smartly-dressed son with only mildly unruly hair, “you just pose with your arms crossed and the photographer will take off your pants.” As soon as the words came out I realized that the true meaning had been lost, and the caretaker, secretary, music teacher, and another waiting mother were all in stitches at my slip of the tongue.

Truth be told, of course, we all know that this was about me, the Mom. We Moms care about these things. It’s the reason we show up at school with hairspray and a comb on picture day just to ensure that our offspring will look good in the picture that will grace our mantle for the coming year. We pay attention to the details in our kids’ lives. If we didn’t, who would remember the little things, like bringing cupcakes for the Halloween party or 20 little Candy-grams for all their little friends on Valentines Day?

Actually, I’m not that detail person. I’m quite the opposite. So while other moms made Zombie eye-balls using Oreo Cookie crumbs and cream cheese for their classroom party, I remembered that morning about the party and sent along a bag of chips for one (from Daddy’s secret stash) and a package of store-bought chocolate chip cookies for the other. “Better than nothing,” I assured myself. “I’m doing my part to keep up with the other Moms.”

Apparently not. On the day after Halloween when I picked up our third son from pre-school, I marveled at his large paper bag filled with candy. Upon closer inspection I realized that Caleb was apparently the only child who had not brought little Halloween treat baggies for all his “friends”. Every Mother with a child in that school had assembled little treat baggies for all the other children, stuffing them with erasers, pencils, play dough and sweets, tying them up with a ribbon and name tag, and finally somehow distributing them to all the other children in the class. My only comfort is that some of the bags were anonymous, so they can just assume that one of those was from their “good friend” Caleb.

I have to say though, that the pay-off this morning was the actual picture. The photographer allowed me to stand beside her, and I watched as she tilted his head and adjusted his arms to make the picture just right. His smile wouldn’t really come, so I just reminded him that the photographer was going to take off his pants. Beautiful.

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Saving the Oregon Spotted Frog

“We are going to save The Frogs!” Teddy announced yesterday as he arrived home from school. What I heard was, “Mom, I need 20 bucks!” He proudly presented a round, pink paper-maché pig, which, in his little mind, made perfect sense in connection with saving The Frogs. Although the details were sparse, the connection in my mind was clear: Teddy’s school needs more money.

Let’s just say I wasn’t too enthusiastic about throwing money at frogs. The kids’ pizza order forms are still lying around on my desk, waiting to be filled. Our friends are going to Thailand and are asking for our support. The Kidney Foundation wants our money, as does the Humane Society. Our el Cheapo BBQ needs to be replaced, Caleb has no summer shoes, and some months our grocery bills are dangerously close to the four-figure mark. I don’t need another thing to throw money at. (Did anyone notice that I stifled the urge to include rising gas prices in my list?)

At supper, Teddy finally filled us in on the details, which were surprising to say the least. Apparently the Northern Leopard Frog and the Oregon Spotted Frog are both endangered in North America. The fact that the kids are learning about endangered species is not surprising to me. What is surprising, is that the kids are supposed to fill that pig with money raised by the sweat of their brow. In other words, they’re supposed to work for mom and dad’s support! I have decided that his teacher is a genius.

What makes her even more of a genius is that she’s asking every child to raise – get this – one dollar. Not $20. One dollar. I had to read that several times to be sure I hadn’t misplaced the decimal in my mind. Given that Teddy and his classmates have been primed to seek work vacuuming, clearing the table and drying the dishes, I can get a lot of mileage out of this buck. He received a quarter for clearing the table after supper yesterday. This morning he helped Sam clean out the dishwasher (Sam’s morning chore) in hopes that it would garner him a dime. All of this from a kid who, together with his brother, earned almost $10 picking up sticks from the lawn during March Break. To be specific, Teddy and Sammy picked up 960 sticks, which, at a penny per stick, added up to a handsome $9.60. Teddy was already earning $1.00 picking up sticks when he was five or six years old, so this assignment seems almost too easy.

I suppose his teacher has to consider the lowest common denominator though. Our children learn to work almost from the time they can walk upright, whereas some of the 7 and 8-year-olds in his class have probably never made the acquaintance of a kitchen towel. Kudos to the grade 2 teachers at Teddy’s school for reintroducing the long-forgotten idea that kids can do real useful work to raise money for a cause they believe in.

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The War Is On (Part 3)

Douglas and his cake

We’ve baked cookies. We’ve decorated cookies. We’ve baked more cookies. We’ve celebrated a stuffed dog’s birthday with real cheesecake. (Our media-free Christmas is turning into a cholesterol-laden shock to the system.) I decided it was time for a new activity to ring in the festive season. I settled on painting.

   In my mind’s eye I can see a few of my readers shaking their heads. Painting at your dining room table with a 2, 4 and 6 year old? Are you nuts? By some definitions I probably am, considering I’ve voluntarily turned off the electronic babysitter for at least a month. I guess decorating Christmas cookies has awakened in me a dormant desire to create, and lately I’ve been dreaming of a colourful Christmas, complete with hand-painted plaster ornaments and home-made wrapping paper.

I spent the afternoon preparing the after-school craft, which is to say that I indulged my inner artiste and sat there painting a plaster ornament from the set I had purchased that morning. This will be perfect for Teddy, I thought. A quick search through my old craft supplies yielded more painting supplies than I remembered having. Apparently there was a time in my life when I had time to sit and paint plaster ornaments.

It quickly became clear though that there was no way Sammy – who is just learning how to grip a pencil properly – could manage the ornaments, so I also tried out the stencils I had bought at the craft store earlier in the week on some blank newsprint that has been accumulating in my desk for months. This brilliant idea came to me this week and I thought it too good not share it here.

For months our weekly advertising package arrives with an extra sheet of blank recycled newsprint. I’ve been saving these pieces thinking that they’d be great for crafts. Now that Christmas has arrived I am faced with the same conundrum I struggle with every year: finding an alternative to non-recyclable, high-gloss Christmas wrapping paper. For our own family I’ve sewn simple cloth bags from some flannel I once fell in love with at the fabric store. We use them year after year, but I don’t feel like giving them away with cousins’ and friends’ gifts.

Sammy's work of art

Today I discovered that a 4-year-old can – with some assistance – use a stencil, some acrylic craft paint and a large toddler paint brush to turn boring, recycled newsprint into an impressively festive and environmentally-friendly gift wrap.

I’ve also discovered that spending an afternoon supervising two separate painting projects while attempting to re-connect with a spouse after work and simultaneously whipping up homemade pizza (so the child whose pizza order was misplaced will at least have leftovers in his lunch tomorrow) basically amounts to stress. So here I am (alone!) at Starbucks, sipping a Peppermint Hot Chocolate (thanks Kim) and de-fragmenting after a day of hearing my name taken in vain one too many times. Ahhhhh

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The Prodigal Returns

He found him while mowing the lawn. When Oliver told me that he had found toad #3 in the grass, I immediately feared the worst. When you’re a ground-dwelling animal so small that you can have a picnic on a postage stamp, and you’re found by a person mowing the lawn, this usually means that you’re either squished or shredded, depending on the path of the mower. Evidently though, my husband has the eyes of a hawk, because he carefully returned our prodigal little amphibian runaway back to his terrarium-dwelling brethren, much to the delight of the family.

What is not so delightful – disturbing, in fact – is that our wandering friend is now almost twice the size of the other boys on the team. While we have been diligent about feeding the little buggers, it is apparent that we cannot keep up with the demand of these bug-eating machines. I am now a woman on a mission: let the poor frogs go so they can fatten up before they have to hibernate for the winter. The problem is convincing their “owner” of that.

For the first day Teddy was in denial: no, the vagrant frog had always been the fattest, he insisted, and the others weren’t that much smaller anyway. By pure chance, the toads all assembled for a little frog huddle as I broached the subject of their release from captivity this morning. Seeing them next to eachother it became clear even to Teddy that yes, the Prodigal is definitely fatter and bigger, and the others need to be released as well.

As we were talking about an exit strategy for the frogs yesterday, Daddy suggested making one of our clay “stepping stones” (an upside-down flower pot-saucer) available as a toad house. It’s crawling with living things on the underside, has a convenient toad-sized hole on top, keeps the tenants safe and warm, and will hopefully keep our much-loved toads “at home” and eating insects in our vegetable patch.

At the outset of this experiment in pet care I was sure we would all learn something. And so it is that our family has learned the following things about toads:

  1. Pets need food. Toads need more than we thought.
  2. Toads eat only live food, and it’s really cool to watch. I must say, though, that I have trouble with the spiders. Seeing wiggly spider legs protruding from hungry toad lips is disturbing. Seeing a toad spit out an unpalatable spider is even worse.
  3. Toads hibernate
  4. Toads need to be fat to hibernate.
  5. Wild animals should be free to be just that: wild.

 Hopefully our toads will like their new toad house and make themselves at home in our vegetable garden. I hope they have a restful winter sleep burrowed snugly under the soil of our lettuce patch. And I do hope they stay off the grass. Oliver’s eyes may not always be so keen.

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Teaching Conservation at the Bottom End

“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I blurted out as I saw the pile of toilet paper on the bathroom floor. “Please don’t tell me you use this much every time you wipe!”

I know, I know. Not exactly a good way to start an open and honest conversation about conservation with my son. Let’s just say I was surprised since I’m pretty sure we’d had the conversation about how many squares will do for a poo. Apparently I was mistaken, in which case the teachable moment had arrived.

Perhaps some background is in order before I continue. I grew up with a father who puts the conservation efforts of most of us to shame. He still keeps the sleeping quarters a chilly 17 C in the winter, since “we’re not up there during the day. Why should we heat it?” (They live in their rec room where there is a wood-burning stove.) So when I was a child growing up, I remember mom explaining to me that 2 squares are all you needed for a pee and 4 for most poo’s.

This probably sounds ridiculous to most readers. I remember thinking that we were the only family to ration toilet paper. (I’d love to hear from others who did the same!) Now that I am grown up and buying my own toilet paper, I understand why it made sense for a family of six with four children in private school.

I realize that for most people, toilet paper does not constitute a big slice of the family budget, but consider the environmental cost of toilet paper production:

  • Each day, 27,000 trees are razed to keep up with the global demand for clean bums. This number is increasing as sanitation improves in developing countries.
  • The global average per capita use of toilet paper is 3.8 kg per year. That’s about 76 2-ply rolls per person. The American average (as if you didn’t see this one coming) is 23 kg per person per year.[1]

Translation: the average American bum (let’s include our own rear ends here) requires 460 rolls of toilet paper each year to feel clean, while Mr. Joe Global can get by with 76 rolls. Either we are just “letting it roll” like I witnessed my 6-year-old doing the other day, or we’re very busy making toilet-paper flowers for wedding cars.

As with many things in life, our attitudes are shaped while we are young. Gone are the days when we can just do (and let our kids do) whatever comes naturally and pretend that our actions have no consequences. Yes, kids will waste water when they wash their hands because it’s just so fun to play with running water. Yes, our kids will thoughtlessly unravel yards of toilet paper and flush it down the toilet. Kids are not responsible adults, and that’s OK. It’s our job though to train them up to be responsible adults, and that always starts by being that responsible adult ourselves. Once we are leading by example we can set the bar higher and expect a little bit more from our children as well.

Just in case this still isn’t making any sense, allow me to explain it like I did to my son the other day. Imagine the world and its resources are like a bowl of Jell-o. You know how much you love Jell-o and how much your brothers love Jell-o. How would you feel if Sammy ate most of the Jell-o and only left a little bit for you and Caleb? If everyone takes their fair share of the Jell-o, then there will be enough to go around.

Let’s think twice before we stuff our collective faces with Jell-o today.


[1] Source: http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6403 AccessedJuly 13, 2011

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Go Paperless?

The message reaches our ears almost daily: Go paperless! Sign up for e-billing, save the environment , and blah blah blah… Honestly, while I love the idea of going paperless, I just know I’d be forgetting to pay 75% of my bills on time. The only reason I remember is because there they are, cluttering up my kitchen counter. I look at them every day until one day I snap, and in a mad cleaning frenzy, pay all the bills. Discreetly send me my bills via e-mail and they won’t get paid. Marking messages as “unread” doesn’t clutter up my kitchen counter.

 There are many cases, though, where I would wholeheartedly support going paperless:

”   CanadaPost-delivered high-gloss junk mail: Go paperless.

”    Offers to bundle my phone, internet and cable: Definitely go paperless.

”    Rate change notifications from my insurance company: Please go paperless.

I realize that by going paperless these companies will not get my attention. That’s the point.

 The last one in my list sounds like a perilous notice to ignore, but I disagree. To be accurate, it’s not really the notice I’m opposed to – it’s the ridiculously small amounts they change my rates by that irks me. Some clock-watcher at head office charges me a $0.75 service charge to raise my rates by $0.79, and then mails an 8.5 x 14 sheet of paper at a cost of $0.59 explaining everything in painful detail. Really?

 With all the cash this company is forcibly seizing from their cliens’ collective bank accounts, they cannot afford to absorb a $0.79 rate hike until December 31? It’s no wonder the company’s costs (and my premiums) are going up when it costs more for them to prepare and mail out a piece of correspondence than they stand to recover in premiums.

 As it is, it seems my insurance company is still stuck in the stone-age when it comes to effective use of resources – paper being one of them. For crying out loud, I’m kept busy trying to wade through the deluge of papers the school sends home; I don’t need this nonsense.

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Teachable Moments on Two Wheels

Does anyone else out there wish they could use their car less? I have a feeling that given the choice, many of us wouldn’t mind parking the car and saving some cash. For those of us living in suburban North America, however, that is easier said than done. According to a 2005 Statistics Canada report, the average Canadian spends 63 minutes (roundtrip) commuting to work every day. Few of us live within walking distance of a grocery store, and quite frankly, our kids’ activities keep us on the go as we shuttle them to and from swimming/music/dance lessons.

Contrary to what we might think, however, we do have a measure of control over our use of the car, especially in the summer months. During these precious snow-free months, I want to put out the challenge to get creative about how we chose to get around with our families. Walking is an obvious choice (at least for our family…), but how about that ca. 1984 Supercycle in the garage? ‘Tis the season to park the minivan and get the family saddled up on bikes! With a few accessories and a bit of creative planning we can promote the bike from simply being a leisure activity to a feasible mode of transportation from point A to point B for the whole family. All it takes is a bit of thinking outside the car-shaped box.

Our three children range in age from 2 to 6, and only the 6-year-old can ride a bike. A few years ago we invested in a two-kid bike trailer which cost about $120 and has more than paid for itself in gas savings as we have biked hither and yon with our younger children inside. The great thing about the trailer is that it continues to be useful even as the children grow out of it, because it can haul a load of groceries!

As the children grew old enough to sit on a two-wheeler (but not yet accomplished enough to keep up), we attached their little bikes to one of our adult bikes via a bar called the “Trail-Gator” (handed down to us, but available at Walmart for around $85). The great thing about this bar is that it attaches the child’s regular bike to an adult bike quickly and easily, and can just as easily be removed again.

The final accessory I find useful as I do errands on muscle-power is a good-quality bike lock, available for $20 – $30. This past week I have locked up my bike at Shopper’s Drug Mart to buy toilet paper, the Medical Lab to take care of blood work, and Happy Rolph’s Bird Sanctuary on a picnic with the family.

The total price tag of about $225 for all of the above may seem a like a lot, but consider how much it costs to fill up the gas tank on most minivans ($60 at least). By the end of the summer you will have easily spent $225 on gas alone. Compare this to the number of years you will be using your bike and your accessories, and you may find it worth your while. My bike, for instance, is over 15 years old and hasn’t needed a single repair or drop of gas. I’d like to hear anybody say that about their car.

When it comes down to it, choosing the bike over the car, for most of us, is a matter of convenience. We would rather drive to the gym and work out than hop on our bikes to go buy milk at the Avondale. If we are serious about calling on big industry and government to cut emissions, then we must be willing to change our own attitudes about the things that are in our power to change.

I’m not sure how much money I saved on gas this week, nor how many emissions were not emitted from our van’s muffler. I don’t know how many calories I burned riding my bike to places I would normally drive to. What I do know is that our kids are learning something as they see our family choosing the bike over the car whenever possible.  As we sat on the picnic blanket at Happy Rolph’s we couldn’t help but notice the canopy of beautiful trees overhead. We began explaining to the children how God made trees, animals, and humans to co-exist in a beautiful balance – how we are dependent on one another in so many ways. We found ourselves explaining to them how the destruction of global forests is affecting our climate, which caused some obvious distress. The teachable moment was right; our kids are beginning to understand the significance of small choices like walking to school or riding their bikes. Let us be intentional about instilling these common sense attitudes in our little ones while they are still under our influence.

*Note: To read a related article I published in the St. Catharines Standard on September 9, 2008, please follow this link.

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