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Welcome! Our blog focuses on environmental conservation, education, green living & wildlife rescue! We have put together links to resources, books and information to help you and your children learn more about these topics. Please feel free to comment on any items posted. Rate or review us on NetworkedBlogs (Facebook app) & Blogged. Tell your friends about us. Follow us on Twitter and other sites listed on this page. There's a banner & widget if you would like to include us on your webpage. All we ask is that you please keep any comments here G-rated for the kids!

NOTE: The birds & squirrel pictured at the top of this page and in the slideshow below are just a few that I have helped rehabilitate.
WARNING: Please do not touch a wild animal, especially the young ones. If you remove a baby from it's home, sometimes the mother is just off getting it's baby food and will be back.

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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Houseplants Help to Heal

Living plants add natural beauty to our homes and workplaces. Among the wide variety of leaf shapes and growth habits, there are plants to enhance almost any decor. But in addition to their beauty, houseplants are also a valuable weapon against indoor air pollution. They can absorb harmful chemicals and improve air quality, making your home or office a more pleasant place to live or work. Even NASA has found this to be true! Above is one of my own indoor plants that is kept in a self-watering window box that I've placed on the top counter next to my kitchen sink (If you carefully count, you'll see that my peace lily has SEVEN blossoms right now! Maybe that is some type of karma!)

The most common harmful airborne chemicals found in the average home or office are formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethylene, and carbon monoxide. Even in low concentrations, these chemicals can cause a variety of health problems. Formaldehyde is found in virtually all indoor environments. It is used in particle board or pressed wood products to make office or household furniture, in many consumer paper products, in carpets, permanent-pressed clothes, water repellents, and fire retardants. Other sources of formaldehyde include natural gas, kerosene, and cigarette smoke. Formaldehyde irritates the membranes of the eyes, nose, and throat and can cause headaches and allergic dermatitis. It is suspected of causing a rare type of lung cancer in cases of long-term exposure. Benzene is present in inks, oils, paints, plastics, and rubber. It is also used in the manufacturing of detergents, dyes, and some pharmaceuticals. In addition to irritation of the eyes and skin, chronic exposure to even low levels of benzene causes headaches, loss of appetite, drowsiness, psychological disturbances, and disease of the blood system, including anemia. Trichloroethylene is used by the dry cleaning industry and in printing inks, paints, varnishes, and adhesives. This chemical is considered to be a potent liver carcinogen. Carbon monoxide is found in cigarette smoke and is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuel. Exposure to low levels can cause drowsiness and headaches.

Researchers have identified several varieties of houseplants that excel in removing these chemical pollutants from the air. The most effective in removing formaldehyde were philodendron, spider plant, and golden pothos. Since all plants utilize carbon in the process of producing new growth, all these varieties are effective in removing low levels of carbon monoxide. Other varieties found to be especially effective in cleaning the air were English ivy, Chinese evergreen, bamboo palm, snake plant (mother-in-law’s tongue), and several other types.

All plants produce oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. Thus any plants you choose, in addition to the varieties named here, will increase the concentration of oxygen in their immediate surroundings. In general, one large plant per 100 square feet of space is sufficient to clean the air in an average home or office. A more heavily polluted environment would require a greater concentration of plants.

Most of these houseplants are relatively easy to grow in moderate to bright indirect sunlight or under florescent lighting. Avoid windows or glass doors where sunlight shines directly on the plants, except for flowering mums and gerbera daisy, which thrive in sunlight. Ivy, palm, philodendron, spider plant, and dracaena are all susceptible to spider mites. To prevent infestations, mist often and avoid hot, dry air. The pots may be set in trays of pebbles in water to provide moisture around the plants. Make sure the bottoms of the pots are above the level of the water. Beware of overwatering any plant, the most common cause of houseplant deaths. Golden pothos, Chinese evergreen, and snake plant should not be misted and should be allowed to dry out between watering to keep the roots healthy.

How often you feed your plants depends on the type of food you use. Follow directions on the plant food container. Always water your plants with tepid water. If you use chlorinated water, allow it to sit for at least 24 hours so the chlorine can evaporate. If possible use rainwater or bottled (not demineralized) water.

To beautify your surroundings, and breathe a little easier, add several of these living air cleaners to your home and work spaces. You will feel better and make your indoor environments more pleasant for living and working... which is what I found with my planter over the sink in my kitchen =)

Happy Wednesday! -BA

Monday, September 28, 2009

The remains after the pruning

It happens in the fall. Our schools are still on the old-fashioned agrarian calendar, so I start teaching in September. My garden gets neglected during the week. Somehow, it survives - some days, barely survives. I had some powder mildew in the squash plants, so I trimmed the infected leaves and set them aside to dry. They won't be composted, for fear of the mildew not getting fully destroyed. But thanks to my teaching schedule and evening workload, I didn't get to the pruning until a large number of leaves and stems were infected. After I finished, this was all that was left.
Not to worry, though. That meager collection of vines has at least four of these still growing. In fact, after I put away the clippers and cleaned up the icky leaves, I harvested a zucchini to cook with supper.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Enjoy the Classroom Outdoors

As I sit here in a classroom, festering away in a concrete block encased sarcophagus, listening to a boring lecture, I long to be outdoors. That said, maybe this is an alternative learning style that many of our kids, students, peers (and ourselves!) might also enjoy for many reasons. Here's a few tips of how we can do this courtesy of Outdoor Biology Instructional Strategies (OBIS):

1. Establish ground rules and outdoor routines- Make sure to prep students days before to be dressed for staying outside. Have a routine for gathering equipment, line up, exit and return
Go out a different door than you use for recess. Establish outdoor boundaries, and remind students to stay in first circle. Circle up with class at beginning and end of time outside. Identify an outdoor gathering cue (whistle, countdown to circle up.) Save the time for a closing circle before heading back inside.

2. Plan a “sacrificial” lesson- Just like starting the school year indoors, spend the time to practicing how to work outdoors as a class. At first this can seem a bit out of control, but trust that they will become focused and productive with time. Be prepared to take the privilege of learning away from the class if they misbehave. (They won't next time.) For younger students, be prepared to sacrifice the first lesson and take the class back inside if you have behavior problems. For older students, plan an option (asst principal is best) so you can send poorly behaved students back inside or an alternative for them the next time you go outside. You will find that it takes very little example for even your most challenging students (indoors) to become angels outside.

3. Get to know your schoolyard- Take several sessions outside to explore your site before diving into an activity. Note: Mapping a Study Site is a great activity for middle school students, and needs scaffolding for younger children. Let younger students poke around, have unstructured exploration time, “play” with the outdoor materials before focused study.

4. Be clear about the purpose of going outside-Clear expectations and conveying your intent of the activity is powerful when teaching science anywhere. It is particularly important to determine which experiences enhance learning occurring in the classroom, stimulate a child’s personal connection to nature, and allow children to reflect and be inspired by their connection. Give students concrete tasks to help focus their observations and thinking. With older students you can allow these tasks to become more open and abstract over time.

5. Every student should have something to carry- A notebook or tool in-hand helps students remember why they’re outside. Clipboards, measuring instruments, journals can be crucial in keeping younger students on-task. Always bring extra pencils and writing materials. Even older students can be forgetful or careless (sometimes conveniently if they are less inclined to write!)

These were useful in many ways for classes at every eductional level (e.g. like the one that I guest lecture in (which is a public speaking class.)) I also found a great handout here that can be passed along to others with a few tips/strategies for taking any type/age level of students outdoors to experience a different type of learning environment.

So these are my thoughts. I'll leave you all with a little tidbit from a piece that I wrote concerning eco-literacy and nature writing that will hopefully resonate for everyone out there that might be also enduring the pain of sitting in a tiny little desk inside a dark classroom:

"There are many things to be learned when considering nature writing. We begin to look outside ourselves, focusing on more complex notions rather than money or our own success. And if we actually do the learning for ourselves, immersing our minds into ecocriticism and the contemplation of our surroundings, we won’t hinge our knowledge on what others tell us or what they’ve seen. Emerson wrote, 'Stay at home in your mind. Don’t recite other people’s opinions. I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.' So by putting all of these authors’ citations aside, don’t we truly know what we know because of what we survey? I realize that I’m more knowledgeable when presented with information from the outside. Regardless of what was written decades ago about the environment by already mindful authors, what I know is that writing this essay would be more educational for me if I was outdoors observing the subject matter by which I am centering this argument. This is perfect evidence of how ecocriticism can influence one’s outlook on the world-- I long to be outside right now."

On a cheerful note I'd like to say: Happy Wednesday! - BA

Monday, September 21, 2009

What does it mean when broccoli flowers?

I couldn't find broccoli seedlings anywhere, so I planted it from seed - much too late. A few plants are doing well -- at least I think they're doing well. What does it mean when broccoli develops flowers? Is it overripe? Is it ripening? I haven't had much success with broccoli (or cauliflower, either) in the past, so this is all new.

It's a lovely sunny day, and it was hard to isolate the broccoli in a decent picture. Later tonight I'll get at the squash plants (powder mildew, must prune), and I'll stare at the broccoli and wonder what on earth happened here - or if perhaps it's just growing the way it's supposed to grow. Gardening, after all, is a learning process.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Happy Wheatland!

The 36th annual Wheatland Music Festival took place this weekend in Remus, MI from 9/11-9/13. Man, did we have a great time! I was very happy to attend with one of my best friends Joy (whom also happens to be one of the originators of this blog) because she has been going for around 20 years now with family and has a lot of memories to share with someone like me. Compared to my measly two visits, I can say that Joy is well-versed in the art of a wonderful Wheatland experience.

So what is this all about? Wheatland Music Organization, Inc., founded in 1974, is a charitable and educational organization that has grown from offering a single event, to offering activities year-round, to meet its mission of preserving and presenting the traditional arts. Traditional arts are considered those learned person to person, passed from generation to the next, and influenced by culture, family, ethnicity, and era. Over 200 traditional artists from across the nation are contracted each year to present at the annual festival, traditional arts weekend and many community education outreach programs. Their yearly highlight is is the Wheatland Music Festival.

The annual Wheatland Music Festival is held the first weekend after Labor day in September. Each year at the festival thousands of people converge on a 160-acre festival site to enjoy a wide variety of activities, as well as the star-studded lineup on the main stage. There is a juried arts and crafts show, a raffle, children’s activities, teen and young adult activities, instrument and dance workshops, music, food, fellowship, and fun. Impromptu jam sessions can be found throughout the campgrounds all weekend long.

After arriving to the festival grounds on Friday, Joy and I set up our campsite and began enjoying ourselves. We learned a lot about the music, experienced the social aspects, ate some great food, and witnessed some very interesting prospects for the blog, the community, involving children, and green-living in general. A list of the performers can be found here. Also, here are a few of the photos that I shot (the others can be found in my FB album entitled Wheatland 2009):

On a side note, we would also like to showcase some of the information that we garnered from a booth at Wheatland that was dedicated to the Mount Pleasant Discovery Museum (there is a photo of their Wheatland Returnables Initiative in the slideshow above.) Suprisingly, this is a new opportunity in the Central Michigan area that is dedicated to developing a children's museum for the greater Mt Pleasant, Michigan community. Joy and I were extremely excited about this for many reasons... the main one being that there is no such environment like this in the area. It would be wonderful to establish a museum of this type for the community.

The mission of the Mount Pleasant Discovery Museum is to spark creativity, nourish learning, and inspire the curiosity of children through self-directed discovery in an engaging, hands-on environment. Core values include the following:

• All children deserve respect.

• Families are important as children’s first teachers.
• Learning occurs in different ways.
• Stewardship of the Earth is everyone’s responsibility.

• Communities are diverse and connected.

Below is a good taste of what they're all about. If you're in the area and are an advocate for developing a learning environment for the area's kids, we suggest at least checking out the website.

So as you can see, we had a great weekend and hope that our readers can also check out these green gatherings.

Happy Wednesday! Cheers- BA

Monday, September 14, 2009

Let the kids in the garden, too!

When my daughter was young, she would help me pick tomatoes. She made it harder than it needed to be; she'd come out with a tiny basket and a stuffed animal to keep her company. One tomato would fit in the basket, and then the stuffed dog would go into it, too. I didn't mind; she enjoyed the process and actually ate the tomatoes later. She learned to love fresh green beans, too, but to this day prefers them fresh off the vine and uncooked.

At age three she described a tiny bug to me and asked if I knew what it was. I thought it was a slug and said so. She came in a few minutes later with it cupped in her hands: "Look, Mommy, isn't it cute?" Well, in her eyes, it was. She cared enough to bring it back outside and into its habitat, and then washed her hands well before supper (I reminded her, believe me).

Now she's in college, age 22, and still enjoys being outside and seeing the garden grow. She's more skilled in choosing and growing flowers than she is vegetables, so I let her take over the deck and the south side of the house. Occasionally she chases a slug away from the leaves, but she won't kill it; she still thinks slugs are cute.

She also has an eye for beauty that goes beyond cute crawling creatures. The photo at the top is one of hers. I encourage parents to keep bringing their children outside and let them explore - even the creatures we might think aren't so cute. It can expand their views and stretch their horizons in ways we can't fully predict.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Stuff, Stuff, Stuff, Buy, Buy, Buy

Welcome Wednesday! For everyone that is interested and/or concerned with the rate at which we are purchasing new things, please watch this mini-movie by Annie Leonard:

The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns, with a special focus on the United States. All the stuff in our lives, beginning from the extraction of the resources to make it, through its production, sale, use and disposal, affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues and calls for all of us to create a more sustainable and just world. It'll teach you something. It'll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever. Written by Leonard, the film was produced by Free Range Studios the makers of other socially-minded, web-based films such as “The Meatrix” and “Grocery Store Wars.” Funding for the project came from The Sustainability Funders and Tides Foundation.

I found this to be a very informative and influential look at US culture and capitalism in general. It might be a good teaching tool and great resource to pass on to our kids concerning how we can begin to conceptualize other alternatives besides buying, buying, and more buying.

Stay tuned for next week's entry when we return from Wheatland!

Until Next Week! Cheers- BA

Monday, September 7, 2009

Mystery Squash: the sequel

After the first week of teaching, a week in which I was too busy to water, pick, or weed, I found these monster zucchini hiding under the large leaves of their lovely vines.

On the other end of the size spectrum, I saw these tiny yellow babies. This is not a problem. However, it is a surprise: I haven't planted yellow squash in two years or more. Where did these come from?

Remember the mystery plants that resemble white pumpkins? They've invited a cousin to come and stay for a while. Under the banana pepper plants lies this little beauty.

I almost don't dare say it, but I have to wonder what's next. I don't know how these other seeds got here, but they're growing and thriving. What else came in on the wind or with a stray woodchuck or rabbit or bird?

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

How Can We Love Our Indoor Pets and Our Environments?

Sticking with the established theme on Wednesdays, today I'd like to address another issue that I've been pondering that relates to my own experiences with striving to live a "greener" life. I recently lost one of my cats (RIP Bruce (that's a picture of him sunning himself to the left)) and have been spending a lot of extra time with my remaining domestic long-hair Gremlin (below.) She's been very needy lately... I'm actually sitting with her right now as she sleeps =)

It's been hard while I'm traveling to leave her home alone due to my own fear of what may happen to her while I'm gone and also because it is difficult to acclimate her to my reappearance after a few days. Needless to say, it's a good couple of hours of "Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow" from little Gremmers (and chasing me all over the apartment) when I get back. I've been considering getting another little friend for her, but haven't made a concrete decision yet if that's the best idea.

One thing that has also been weighing on my mind concerns our pets' impact on the environment. Our feline friends use a lot of products that can harm the planet. How can we be more eco-conscious with our pet purchases? For instance, Gremlin may be unaware about her impact on the environment, but I definitely am! Our cats leave more of a footprint behind than many of their owners know. Just think of all the plastics – cat food bowls, litter boxes, toys, etc. that we purchase and eventually throw away. Even the containers kitty products come in are typically plastic. And where does all that clay cat litter go? It doesn’t just go away!

With most families having more than one cat and the litter box rule being “have one litter box for every cat plus one,” creates a lot of kitty litter. Unfortunately, clay litters are the least expensive and the hardest on our environment. There are, however, a wide variety of environmentally friendly kitty litters on the market. Check out Feline Pine, Swheat Scoop, the World’s Best Cat Litter, and Yesterday’s News. Not only are they organic, but several of these litters can also be reused as mulch in your garden. Talk about a bargain! Most of these litters come in a bag rather than the big, plastic tubs, too. If you do use the plastic tub, simply recycle.

Lately I've also been considering buying a CatGenie even though they're quite expensive. This automatic self-washing litter box is the best in terms of green litter alternatives. It uses permanent washable granules that never need changing which are clean/dry (and also satisfy your cat’s need to dig and cover), it takes cat litter out of your life for good, and is tested/recommended by veterinarians.

Consequently, this may be an issue that most people don't enjoy addressing, but I thought this was the perfect medium for it. How can we love our indoor pets and love our environments at the same time?

Until next week! Cheers- BA

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Outcome of Rehabbing

So, the 4 squirrels I had are doing well ;) One of my friends has taken in 2 of them to divide up the work between the two of us. This is really late in the year to have as many squirrel calls, as we have been getting. Normally, spring time is squirrel time for us. We are working on figuring out a way to be able to do more rehabbing since there are limited amount of rehabbers in Isabella County.

Hopefully, over time, my two friends and I will be able to open our own rehab facility. It will take some time, some grant writing, and money.
But, with luck we will be able to eventually get something going more full-time.

One issue that we have had is, people who call us for rehab, seem to think that it is a paid position and that we should be able to transport and do anything at a drop of a hat.

Unfortunately, rehabbing has to come 2nd. We have jobs and families, so the rehabbing is done more on a volunteer basis. We put our own personal time into it as well as resources (funds, supplies, etc.)

So, if you ever find an animal and call a rehabber - remember they are doing it for the animals, not the money!

JRouse @ GreenSpot-On
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