Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween Candy Overload

Two of my three kids went trick-or-treating for Halloween this year (the little one was sick). Now we are facing a mountain of candy, despite my best efforts.

I took the leftover candy that we had been passing out and put it out on the step after our neighborhood had settled down for the night. What do you know? Magically, some little gremlins spirited away our candy!

As for the kids' stash, my husband and I graciously ate every little bar that may have ever come into contact with a peanut. With a child with a severe peanut allergy, it's the least that we could do. (Actual peanut-containing foods are banned from our house. Our neighbor happily traded our kids' peanut-laden treats for fruity candy.)

Yet, despite this, and even after a family-wide pig-out, we still have a mound of candy left. What should we do with the leftovers? If you're facing a similar dilemma, here are some suggestions:
  • Donate your candy to the troops.
MoverMoms is organizing a candy collection in the greater Washington D.C. area. You can also mail your candy directly to Treats for Troops, based in Florida. The Treats for Troops website states that they collect left-over individually wrapped Halloween candy to use as filler in care packages for our military men and women overseas. On their website, they write, "Candy tastes better than packing 'peanuts' and is environmentally friendlier." I couldn't agree more!
  • Use candy on cookies and gingerbread houses.
The holidays are just around the corner and you know what that means - holiday baking! This year, try baking some Halloween candy cookies. Small candies work great for decorations on a gingerbread house; blocks of chocolate make good beams, logs and posts. You can even use gingerbread houses to teach kids about science!
  • Reuse your wrappers.
Terracycle® collects and reuses individual candy wrappers, large candy bags, and multi-pack candy bags from Mars®, Wrigley®, and Cadbury® through their Candy Wrapper Brigade® program. Look for this program at schools and businesses in your area or start a group of your own!
I first encountered this fun group at last year's USA Science & Engineering Festival Expo. Did you know that you can create a density rainbow using Skittles? Float the letter "m" off of your M&Ms? Make Life Savers flash in the dark? Neither did I! (And be sure to mark your calendar - the 2nd USA Science & Engineering Festival is planned for April 28-29, 2012.)

  • Spread the joy - share your candy!
My friends at Celebrate Green!® have even more ideas for re-purposing your candy, including taking your candy to work, nursing homes, and fire stations.

Do you have a creative use for leftover Halloween candy? Share your idea in the comments!

Photo credit: normanack, via flickr (cropped from the original) // CC BY 2.0

Friday, October 14, 2011

Outdoors & Oceans in October Contest

Dhana, an environmentally-friendly clothing line, is hosting a fall contest for kids ages 5 to 12. To enter, kids create artwork celebrating the theme of "Outdoors and Oceans in October"; parents post a photo of their child's art to Dhana's Facebook page. Contest entries should be created using pastels, oil, water color, crayons or mixed media (which includes just about everything other art supply that you can think of!).

The deadline for entries was just extended to Monday, October 17th, so you know what that means -- your odds are good for winning a prize! You could win a T-shirt from Dhana, a bag of treats & toys from my friends at Green Halloween®, or a mystery prize.

Good luck!

Where we live, October always includes a visit to a local farm.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Freebies for Science Teachers

The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) has put together Freebies for Science Teachers, a list of links to online reference material and other goodies like these:
According to the NSTA website, the National Science Teachers Association "is the largest organization in the world committed to promoting excellence and innovation in science teaching and learning for all."

If you are a second or third year secondary science teacher in the United States, now is the time to apply for NSTA's New Science Teacher Academy, a program providing free professional development and mentoring. Two hundred teachers will be accepted as new Fellows for the 2011 Academy. The application deadline is August 1, 2011. Good luck!

Photo credit: Wm Chamberlain, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Get Ready for National Trails Day®!

June 4 is American Hiking Society's National Trails Day® here in the United States. Search for an event near you and make plans to take a hike or explore a trail! This year's theme is "Made With All Natural Ingredients." This year marks the 19th annual celebration of the event.

Kids 12 and under are invited to participate in a coloring contest sponsored by the American Hiking Society. Winners will receive a prize pack. The deadline for entry is August 1, 2011. Good luck!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Learning from the fire ant

I saw this great article yesterday with wonderful visuals about fire ants working together cooperatively to avoid drowning - they link together and form living rafts that are remarkably hydrophobic. Engineers are looking to the ants for new ideas in waterproof materials. It was too fascinating not to share with you!

Friday, April 8, 2011

An Analysis of John McPhee's The Pine Barrens (Part 3 of 4)

[Note: I recently took an environmental literature class. As part of the coursework, I had to read two books that have influenced the American environmental movement and prepare a report on each. One of the books that I chose was John McPhee's The Pine Barrens.]

Who is John McPhee? A Hard-Working Journalist and Teacher

John McPhee was born in Princeton, New Jersey in 1931. Following his education at Princeton and Cambridge Universities, he started to write magazine articles, first with Time magazine and later with The New Yorker. He’s been a staff writer for The New Yorker since 1965. McPhee has also worked extensively as a nonfiction writing instructor. As recently as 2009, McPhee was still teaching at Princeton University.

The Pine Barrens, published in 1968, was one of McPhee’s earlier books. Personally, I thought he rambled in places and could have used more editing. While my husband assures me that this is simply McPhee’s style, I am interested in reading McPhee’s later works to see if he tightened up his writing over the years.

Part of Itinerant Cryptographer's John McPhee collection

To date, John McPhee has published 30 books on wide-ranging topics that tend to examine the intersection of humans, history, and ecology. John McPhee won the Pulitzer Prize in 1999 for his essays on geology which he threaded into a book called Annals of the Former World.

McPhee’s tremendous output of work coupled with an ability to take complex ideas and break them down into enjoyable prose are surely his greatest gifts as a writer. He has been called the most gifted non-fiction writer working today and he is certainly one of the hardest working. At the age of 80, he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down.


If you like this post, be sure to read:

Part 1: Background: What are the Pine Barrens?
Part 2: What Makes the Pine Barrens So Special?
Part 4: What Type of Writer is McPhee? Why Was His Book Effective?

Monday, April 4, 2011

An Analysis of John McPhee's The Pine Barrens (Part 2 of 4)

[Note: I recently took an environmental literature class. As part of the coursework, I had to read two books that have influenced the American environmental movement and prepare a report on each. One of the books that I chose was John McPhee's The Pine Barrens.]

An area of New Jersey's Pinelands that was recently
affected by a forest fire.
Photo credit: Matt Swern, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

What Makes the Pine Barrens So Special?

The sheer size of unbroken forest in the Pinelands is unparalleled along the eastern seaboard. The region is underlain by a massive aquifer. John McPhee wrote of the groundwater:
“The water of the Pine Barrens is soft and pure, and there is so much of it that, like the forest above it, it is an incongruity in time and place.”

The sandy soils of the Pinelands, while great for purifying groundwater, make for lousy farmland. Early U.S. pioneers generally avoided the Pinelands unless they were hiding from someone or something. Their ancestors living in the region have retained that reticent, self-reliant nature. Despite some past development for iron smelting and charcoal production, the Pinelands are markedly absent of industry. Folks that lived there when McPhee was writing his book, in the late 1960’s, tended to be self-reliant. Most were not wealthy in material possessions but enjoyed their solitude, making a living by collecting and selling moss and pinecones or tending blueberry bushes and cranberry bogs.

The ecology of the pine barrens relies upon fire. Some of the pine species in the barrens won’t reproduce without fire – they need the heat to open their pine cones and release the seeds. McPhee describes this process in Chapter 7:

“It is because of fire that pines are predominant in the Pine Barrens. There is thought to be a progression in development of any forest from pioneer species to climax trees. Most ecologists agree that if fire were kept out of the Pine Barrens altogether, the woods would be eventually dominated by a climax of black oaks, white oaks, chestnut oaks, scarlet oaks, and a lesser proportion of hickories and red maples. In some areas, oaks dominate now. Fire, however, has generally stopped the march of natural progression, and the resulting situation is one that might be called biological inertia – apparently endless cycles of fire and sprouting.”

If you like this post, be sure to read:

Part 1: Background: What are the Pine Barrens?
Part 3: Who is John McPhee? A Hard-Working Journalist and Teacher
Part 4: What Type of Writer is McPhee? Why Was His Book Effective?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

An Analysis of John McPhee's The Pine Barrens (Part 1 of 4)

[Note: I recently took an environmental literature class. As part of the coursework, I had to read two books that have influenced the American environmental movement and prepare a report on each. One of the books that I chose was John McPhee's The Pine Barrens.]

Abandoned train tracks running through
the pine barrens of New Jersey.
Photo credit: Matt Swern, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Background: What are the Pine Barrens?

The pine barrens, or Pinelands, of New Jersey are an ecologically unique area in the center of the state dominated by various species of pine growing in nutrient-poor soils. Despite New Jersey’s reputation as a cheek-by-jowl urban area, over one million acres of land – nearly one-quarter of the state – is Pinelands. According to the New Jersey Pinelands Commission, "It is the largest body of open space on the Mid-Atlantic seaboard between Richmond and Boston and is underlain by aquifers containing 17 trillion gallons of some of the purest water in the land.”

At the time John McPhee published The Pine Barrens in 1968, people were considering building a large interstate through this natural area, complete with a supersonic jetport and a city of 250,000 people. The jetport alone would have been massive in scale. McPhee described the proposed airport as “the largest airport on earth – four times as large as Newark Airport, LaGuardia, and Kennedy put together.”

McPhee devoted the last chapter of his book about the Pinelands to describing the proposed development. In these affecting passages, he juxtaposed the developer’s dreams against the current condition of the undeveloped natural area, driving home the urgent need to protect the pinelands:

"We moved on to see the site of the jetport, which would cover thirty-two thousand five hundred acres and would eliminate virtually all of the Upper and Lower Plains, several ponds, a lake, an entire state forest, and Bear Swamp Hill … We were standing on the observation platform of the fire tower on Bear Swamp Hill. The ranger, in the cabin above us, was listening to rock ‘n’ roll. Looking out over the immense forest, Smith [the developer] went on to say, ‘One of our great problems is that you can’t get people to believe that this area is as big as this. They can’t believe that you could come down here and build a fifty-one-square mile airport and not have a structure problem – not even one building visible from here to the horizon. Bear Swamp Hill is in the terminal-service area, where the planes would come in and unload. I can just see those supersonic transports coming in here now. Gorgeous!’..."

The New Jersey Pinelands Commission states on their website that publication of McPhee’s book “spur[red] tremendous public outcry to protect the Pinelands natural and cultural resources.” In 1978, the Pinelands National Reserve – the first national reserve of its kind – was established in the United States. In 1983, the Pinelands were designated as a U.S. Biosphere Reserve; by 1988, this land was also considered an International Biosphere Reserve.


If you like this post, be sure to read:

Part 2: What Makes the Pine Barrens So Special?
Part 3: Who is John McPhee? A Hard-Working Journalist and Teacher
Part 4: What Type of Writer is McPhee? Why Was His Book Effective?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Super Bug!

Little Brother finished his bug project for school today. Can you tell which insect this is?

Like all insects, it has a segmented body (3 styrofoam balls), six legs (3 McDonald's straws, rinsed and cut in half), two antennae (black pipe cleaners), and two compound eyes (pink foam circles with a checkerboard pattern drawn on them). This particular insect also has two wooden chopsticks holding its body together.

Little Brother painted it red because it's a red ant. Did you guess correctly?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Recipe for an Insect

Not to be outdone by big brother Kerm's butterfly sculpture last year, Little Brother is taking his recent assignment seriously. He has to create a three-dimensional insect for a kindergarten class project. I told him to write up a "bug plan" with a shopping list for us to take to Michael's craft store.

Here's his list:

In case you have trouble reading the printing of a 5-year-old, let me translate:

Insect Materials
Balls of [styro]foam (3 x)
Pipe cleaners (8 x)
Googly eyes (5 x)

I can't wait to see the finished product!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Take the Hexapod Haiku Challenge!

Do you like writing poems about insects? The North Carolina State University Insect Museum wants to hear them!

The Hexapod Haiku Challenge runs through March 20. The contest judges are looking for short poems that celebrate insect life:

"We would love to have haiku, senryƫ, haiga, and pseudohaiku that feature any familiar arthropod associated with the field of entomology ..."

Visit the contest website for more details. There's a special category for poets under the age of 13. I especially enjoyed looking at this poem about a bee from an eight-year-old runner-up in last year's contest.

Good luck!

Photo credit: carol2chat, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Plant a Flower Day

Today was Plant a Flower Day. Did you get outside to work in your garden? Or maybe it's still too cold where you live and, like my mom, you are germinating your seeds inside. I'm sorry to say that I didn't make it outside today despite the lovely weather.

But though I've been too busy lately to tend to my yard, I can tell that winter is ending. New leaves are pushing through the soft earth in my front garden bed. I wonder what is growing there? I don't remember the names of the different bulbs that my older son and I planted these past two years. Maybe some daffodils or crocuses. We'll have to wait and see. And now that the snow has turned to rain, the trees are starting to bud and grasses are coming to life, my children are tracking mud all over my house. Whether I am ready or not, spring is here!

If, like me, you are too busy right now to start your spring gardening, maybe you'd like to stop to smell the virtual roses. Do you know your state flower? How about your national flower? The National Gardening Association has a nice selection of resources online, including a section for children and teachers.

Even when things are crazy hectic, don't forget to enjoy the natural beauty around you.

Photo credit: EvelynGiggles, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Saturday, March 5, 2011

It's Time to Adopt-a-Physicist!

I received this information yesterday from Kendra Redmond, Program Coordinator of the Society of Physics Students at the American Institute of Physics:

"Registration is open for spring Adopt-a-Physicist!

Spring 2011 Schedule
*Teacher Registration: Now - March 8 (or until full)
*Physicist Registration: March 9 - March 14 (or until full)
*Teachers adopt physicists: March 15 - March 25
*Discussion forums open: March 29 - April 18

Adopt-a-Physicist connects high school physics students to real physics graduates who are eager to share their stories. Working in areas ranging from particle physics research to freelance writing, the participating physicists embody a huge range of careers, backgrounds, interests, and educational levels. Adopt-a-Physicist connects classes with the physicists of their choice through online discussion forums that are active for a set three-week period. Each physicist can only be "adopted" by up to three classes, making lively, in-depth discussions possible. Learn more at Adopt-a-Physicist."

Image credit: Image Editor, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kemp's Ridley Sea Turtles

Photo credit: USFWS Endangered Species Program, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

I am currently taking a nature literature course. As part of my class, I'm reading The Windward Road by Archie Carr. Originally published in 1956, this engaging, scientific travelogue follows Dr. Carr as he wanders through the Caribbean islands studying sea turtles. This book drew attention to the plight of the sea turtles and their need for conservation. Today's Sea Turtle Conservancy has its origins in this book.

At the time of the book's publication, no one knew where the Kemp's Ridley sea turtle nested. People speculated that babies were born in the sea or even that it was a cross between a loggerhead and a green. Carr was puzzled by this turtle.

Reading his words, I could relate to Carr's confusion. I've always heard that the Kemp's Ridley is the rarest of all sea turtles, but I never knew why.

After publication of the book, the primary Kemp's Ridley nesting ground was finally identified by scientists - on a ten mile stretch of Mexican beach. Even today, 95% of females still nest on this beach. Imagine! No wonder they are so rare.

According to NOAA, the population of Kemp's Ridley has fluctuated but it is generally in decline. In 1947, a video recording showed 40,000 nesting females. By the mid-1980's, this number was down to 700. Thanks to conservation efforts, things were looking up for the Kemp's Ridley in the early 2000's, with almost 7,000 nests in 2003. Unfortunately, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill has further decimated the numbers of this critically endangered species. If you look at the range of where they live, you can see why. I hope and pray for their recovery.

Unlike in Carr's day, when turtles were banded with metal tags, today's turtles are monitored using satellite tracking. You can even "adopt" sea turtles! And care of injured and wounded sea turtles has greatly improved. So there is hope! Maybe I will have to take a trip over to the National Aquarium and see if I can meet some Kemp's Ridleys ...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Get Ready for the Great Backyard Bird Count!

This week-end, Friday through Monday, marks the annual Great Backyard Bird Count, sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society. You can contribute by watching birds in your backyard for as little as 15 minutes during one day of the count.

Last year, birdwatchers in Canada and the United States submitted more than 97,200 checklists and saw more than 602 different species of birds. The collected data is used by scientists to track migration patterns and spot trends in bird populations. In 2010, the American Robin was the bird most commonly sighted; the Red-billed Tropicbird made it onto the list for the first time.

Here's everything you need to know about how to participate. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has an online bird guide with descriptions of 585 birds - including pictures and bird calls. If you are new to birding, you might want to start with the 51 most common bird species sighted in North America. You can also search for a birding walk or workshop in your area.

Happy birdwatching!

Saturday, February 5, 2011


One of my dearest friends and I don't exactly see eye to eye. In fact, we have opposing opinions on a number of topics. We have a running joke that if it was up to her the world would be encased in concrete whereas if it was up to me, we'd all be living in mud huts wishing for fire. Suffice to say, our views on environmental topics differ greatly.

I am an unabashed tree-hugger. I get worked up at the thought of trees being cut down, at the wanton and often unchallenged assumption that natural habitat is only here to serve mankind, that land only has value if man can use it for something. The idea of imprisoning an ecosystem behind a chain-link fence can move me to tears.

However, I have to accept that my view isn't quite standard, that most folks don't feel so quite passionately about the topic of habitat destruction (or, as others might say, land use changes). Despite my fervent feelings, life is about compromise.

The Serenity Prayer, so often evoked as a 12-step maxim, applies here: "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

My passion to educate others about green topics ends when they understand my viewpoint. I have to accept that what they do with that information is up to them.

Which is as it should be. Otherwise, I would be very cold in my mud hut.

Photo credit: Rachel Davies, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Saturday, January 29, 2011

National Seed Swap Day

Thanks to my friends at Celebrate Green!®, I learned that the last Saturday in January is known as National Seed Swap Day. The event started in 2006 in the Washington, D.C. area, but has quickly spread across the country to become a national event.

  • What is a seed swap?

Simply put, you trade seeds with someone else. Why? You can share extra seeds that you don't need and they won't go to waste. It's a fun way to gain seeds for your garden inexpensively. You might even obtain rare varieties that you can't find in local stores.

  • How do you save seeds?

Jack Rowe has posted a marvelous free Vegetable Seed Saving Handbook to get you started. Some seeds are harder to save than others. Modern-day carrots, for example, can be cross-pollinated by the wild carrot, or Queen Anne's Lace. The seeds you'd wind up with from this cross would not produce tasty carrots.

  • How long do seeds last?

It depends upon the seed. Even the experts disagree, as explored in this post by A Way to

When I was studying wetlands in graduate school, we talked about the government's idea of letting folks drain a wetland as long as they created one somewhere else. This was part of the No Net Loss wetlands policy first touted in the late 1980's.

This line of thinking fails to consider the functionality of wetlands. Wetland soil contains important seeds - a "bank" of future plants. Just adding water to an upland area doesn't turn it into a wetland. Conversely, some industrial areas built on drained wetlands have been successfully converted back to wetlands.

Seeds, when properly cared for, can last a long time.

  • How important is it to save seeds?

One of the problems with modern agriculture is that we tend to fixate on certain types of plants at the expense of others. Let's say we have grown the perfect tomato. Other tomato varieties might be discounted because their fruits are too small, too squishy, maybe a funny color. If no one saves these seeds, we are in for a big problem when later, our perfect tomato falls prey to an insect or disease. Some of these lesser varieties might be resistant, but if we don't save the seeds, we don't have a way to deal with the problem.

This is the rationale behind seedbanks - we want to save the seeds for posterity. You never know when we might need them.

  • How can I swap seeds?

Ask your friends and neighbors to swap seeds with you. The advantage of swapping seeds locally is that you know they are likely to grow in your climate and they won't harm your local ecosystem.

The National Gardening Association has set up this page to help you swap seeds online. is an international seed swapping site. But be careful when sending seeds long distances - a seed that is welcome in your area might be considered an invasive somewhere else.

Happy swapping!

Photo credit: Kirsty Hall, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dear McDonald's:

I went to the drive-through yesterday with my three kids and bought them Happy Meals. (I'll leave the discussion of the nutritional value / addictive nature of these meals to others.)

My complaint is this. I was asked whether each meal was for a boy or a girl and I answered honestly. So I wound up with two so-called "boy toys" - trucks - and one "girl toy" - a pink pony. Would you like to be the one to explain to a screaming not quite two-year-old why she doesn't get a "twuck" like her brothers?

So, McDonald's, here's a clue. It is 2011. Boys play with dolls. Girls play with trucks. Get over it.

It's time to change the language used by your employees. Instead of asking if the toy is for a boy or a girl, ask your customers if they would like toy A or toy B. It's really not hard.

I thank you in advance from my daughter and all of the other children who don't conform to your stereotypes.

Annoyed Mother

Photo credit: Keo 101, via flickr // CC BY 2.0

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Anatomy of the Cockroach

I received a rather unusual email today from Steve Clark which read, in part:
"I wanted to notify you about an educational resource developed by my company Orkin Pest Control. It is a fully interactive virtual cockroach designed to be an instructional tool about insect anatomy."
I visited the website and found it to be rather detailed, including micrographs of every imaginable slice of cockroach. I have to say, it was more than I ever wanted to know about cockroach innards!

And it never before occurred to me that the cockroach might make a useful tool for the study of insects because, as the Orkin Virtual Roach page points out, the cockroach is both a familiar insect and readily available. Think of how cheaply students could acquire supplies for lab class. Folks might even be willing to pay students to collect their roaches. Now that's a win-win solution!

I like the idea of taking this "useless" pest and finding a purpose for it. Good luck, Orkin! I hope that your virtual cockroach has a long and happy life.

Photo credit: Anil Jadhav, via flickr // CC BY 2.0