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My Constant Battle With Plastic

Everyone has their demons.  Mine seems to be plastic.

No, not credit cards.  Although I’ve had my share of issues with those in my younger days.  I mean the actual material, plastic.  It seems to be a running theme through some of my daily struggles – physical and ethical.

For example, JavaGirl and JavaBoy have a lot of toys.  And though I try to do a good job of culling through them seasonally and donating or consigning them as they outgrown them, it always seems like there are more toys than any of us have patience or space to manage.  Especially right around, oh, 5 pm.  So, I’ve been working on surreptitiously going through and boxing up some toys with the idea that if those toys aren’t noticed as “missing” in the next few months, they are GONE.  (I would like to note here, that my children actually ENJOY all their toys and will happily play with all of them and actually take pretty good care of all of them and do try to help put them away, but it is overwhelming even to me to put them away, so I can see why it gets to be overwhelming to them.)

So good-quality toys I’ve been putting into a large storage bin to go into the basement, some smaller toys that a lady in my church can use for Operation Shoebox at Christmas-time I set aside in a bag for her, but some things are so small or so junky (i.e. pinata toys, or maybe party favor toys, etc.) that eventually it’s time for them to be tossed and I was merrily doing so.

But THEN along will come something to guilt me out of my purging — like this video which was floating around Twitter last night.  And now I feel guilty for every piece of plastic that I may ever consider tossing (I recycle what is recyclable).   The video is from a great sharing site called Ted.com and it is called  The Seas of Plastic by Captain Charles Moore of the Algalita Marine Research Foundation.

Wow.

So, I did finally remember to bring my reusable grocery bag into the store today.  AND I learned how to actually get my five cents credit per bag in the self-checkout lane at Giant.

But I cringe now as I try to purge the toys.   And I’m kind of mad, actually, as part of what I am purging is excess packaging — stupid packaging that makes it hard to store toys in a reasonable manner, or really, really dumb toys that come with kids meals at fast food restaurants.   Well, of course, the best choice is not to go to fast food restaurants, but let’s face it, sometimes that’s just what happens.  And often I choose not to get the full kids meal so I can avoid the toy, but the JavaKids are getting wise to that trick — almighty Marketing has started to reach them.  But I have to say that of all the restaurants, Chik-fil-A is the one who seems to have it the most figured out.  Often their giveaways are books or CDs — things the kids will actually use and keep around a while — and (something I didn’t know until another mom told me) — you can choose to exchange your unopened toy for an ice cream cone while you are there if you prefer.  Now, an ice cream cone doesn’t do much in terms of nutrition, but it does mean no more junky plastic at home.  I like that! 

I’m struggling with my purging, and noting the irony that I bought, yes, PLASTIC bins, to store a lot of the toys in to make it easier to keep things orderly.  But I can’t drown in the small plastic things at home, either, so I will continue to purge.   I do try to help by often buying used (a form of recycling) and passing on or selling items when we are done (another form of recycling), and recycling any packaging of new items.  We do use our plastic grocery bags for many things in the house and I’m trying to do a better job of remembering to bring in the reusable shopping bags.  I often will tell stores not to bag things when I have just one or two items — which still raises an eyebrow now and then, and THAT surprises me because I thought we were all in this “use fewer plastic bags” thing together?!

My other demon?  Paper.  And JavaBoy’s current obsession with construction paper love notes and “No Bears!” signs.  But that’s a post for another day.

Top Chef – JavaFamily-style

green-bean-cookoffjavagirlAs a little girl, some of my favorite memories with my mother are of spending time with her in our big kitchen. We had a large center island with stools you could pull up to it and I would talk to her as she cooked, and sometimes she’d let me help out. I always felt so grown-up whenever she let me help.

So I’ve made a point of letting the JavaKids help me out with cooking from a very early age. There are actually studies that say that children who have access to the kitchen do better in school — they learn a lot of math, problem-solving, and social skills in the kitchen. They often tend to learn better nutritional habits as well.

JavaBoy used to call it our Cooking Show whenever we would cook something together and would narrate, as if we had an invisible audience. I don’t actually get many opportunities to watch cooking shows, so I am not sure where he picked up the concept, but perhaps he caught me watching Top Chef in the evenings.

The kids have a very elaborate wooden kitchen with quite a bit of cookware and wooden playfood — the kitchen was a real find at a consignment sale, having come from a Montessori school, and I’ve carefully acquired the playfood to avoid so many of the sets that contain fast food fare, instead buying the types of foods I would like the children to eat in real life.

I think because of all of this, JavaGirl has recently become more interested in my kitchen activity and every night, as dinner preparations begin, she’ll run over to her play kitchen, grab one of the aprons and tie it on, and sometimes even add the chef’s hat and proclaim, “Here I am!” and immediately want to join in!

greenbeans-javadadTonight, she saw her father preparing the green beans they picked at the farm this weekend and she asked if she could help. Seeing that he was cutting the ends off the beans, she said, “Mommy, get my knife!” I thought it was so adorable, that I went ahead and got her child-safe knife and a cutting board and set aside some beans for her and even got one of her little stainless steel pots for her to put some beans into just like Daddy. Although we ended up finding the scissors more effective than the knife for her, you could tell that she felt all grown-up helping out (although she ended up eating the beans raw!) and it was a priceless moment — for her but for me, as well.

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Here are some interesting links about the benefits of cooking with your kids:

Stalking the Veggie Van…

2008-06-04_csa-first-box_0001The  JavaKids love vegetables.

I don’t know how I ended up so lucky… whether it was following my sister’s advice to feed them green beans as their first baby food after rice cereal, some sort of divine intervention, or winning some sort of genetic lottery… but many times, given the choice between some sort of junk food or raw veggies, my kids will pick the veggies.  I have to pre-wash all vegetables before storing them in the fridge because JavaGirl will break into sealed packages of mushrooms and start munching on them when I’m not looking.  JavaBoy can clear out a crudites platter at any party.

So when I first learned about community-supported agriculture (CSA) programs, it didn’t take long to convince me of the benefits.  We ended up going with a very popular local one, Great Country Farms, which delivers the produce right to your door, but also allows you to go to the farm to pick additional bonus items.

We split a share with another family, which means two crates get dropped off at one house each week.  Last year the deliveries went to their house, so we never saw the delivery vehicle.  But yesterday, I happened to be behind a green van on the highway with a sticker that said GCF and the license plate “VggieVan” (or something like that) and I suddenly realized, we had spotted an honest-to-goodness Great Country Farms delivery van.  “Hey kids, look, it’s a Great Country Farms van!  They must be making deliveries!”  It was the first week of CSA deliveries and the kids were excited to see a veggie van — I suspect that their little minds were trying to figure out a way to hijack the van and get all the veggies — without earning a time-out from Mommy.

So perhaps I should not have been too surprised when I woke up this morning to a little boy jumping excitedly next to my bed at an ungodly hour…

“Mommy!  Mommy!”

“What time is it?”

“Mommy! Mommy!”

<JavaDad, standing there, looking slightly guilty, with a Diet Coke for me in his hands, knowing that this is way too early an hour to wake me up.>

“Sorry honey, I tried to hide it.”

“Mommy!  Guess what!  The veggie van came!  Our farm vegetables are here!”

Oh my!  You would have thought Santa Claus had come the way he was carrying on.  About kale, asparagus, spring onions, and strawberries.

And so begins our second CSA summer — we will pick strawberries, blueberries, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, and beans.  We’ll dig up peanuts (THAT was an adventure last year!)  We’ll ride the hay ride.  We’ll talk about all the varieties of fruits and vegetables.

And we’ll stalk the veggie van — hoping to get a glimpse of it like some kids listen for the ice cream truck.  Ah, summer.

I’m always looking for recipes for the fruits and veggies that come from the CSA and I know lots of people in the area belong to the same one — please share your favorite recipes here!  If we get enough of them, I’ll start a separate page for them.  This week I have kale, asparagus and spring onions… and not from the CSA but from my own garden I have lots and lots of basil (purple basil) to use up!

Guest blogger: Louie’s Kids — Fighting Childhood Obesity

Today I’m pleased to have my first guest blogger, Louis Yuhasz, founder of Louie’s Kids.  I met Louis only a week ago when he spoke at the Junior League Mid-Atlantic Conference and his speech about watching his morbidly obese father’s decline after having a stroke, and then how he and his organization work with kids and their families today to change not only the numbers on the scale, but their attitudes toward food, toward exercises, and toward themselves through nutritional counseling, exercise programs, mental counseling and mentoring, was inspiring and life-changing.  He’s a man on a mission and you can’t help but get swept away when you listen to him.  Today, DC Metro Moms is having a special “Topic Tuesday” about Children of the Recession, and you will find my own post listed there.  I’ve asked Louis to write about his organization and about the challenges the kids he work with face during the recession.
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louies-kidsRunning a non-profit organization that works with kids struggling with obesity is certainly not easy, but there are many instances when it comes with rewards.
Louieskids.org is in it’s 9th year. We have been identifying treatment programs for low-income children and their families from all over the country these past many years. The idea was always to create a sustainable program that could be replicated again and again. Finally with Fit Club, an after-school program for Title I school children (a Title I school is one that 90% or more of its population are on free or reduced lunch) we have developed such a program — and it’s working. National statistics tell us that 50% of kids in Title I schools across the nation are overweight or obese. These are our kids, the ones our organization reaches out to time and again. 
 
Our home base is in Charleston, SC and the obesity epidemic is clearly evident here in Title I schools. So with the help of a pretty fantastic staff we’re in our first year and the results have been pretty amazing. Combining fitness inspired to get kids interested in fitness at all, having real conversations about nutrition and lastly, and most importantly, using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (group therapy) to identify behaviors around food we are getting kids empowered and giving them a new lease on their lives. Auja Ravenel certainly knows it works. Introduced to us as a 288 lb. 6th grader, Auja lived the program withus for the past 8 months and has lost an unbelievable 46 lbs. Her Mom, desperate for help and willing to do anything, also began to live the lifestyle recommended in our program and she, too, lost weight — to the tune of 35 lbs. It gets better …not only are both Auja and her Mom relearning the way they eat, move and talk, but Auja’s test scores have improved. Her Measure of Academic Preparedness exams revealed a 50% improvement from last year to this year. Her principal’s convinced it’s her new self-assuredness and we’re pretty convinced too that her having spent this time learning that she’s no different from many other kids around her, making some friends and relearning how she eats as well as how she handles stress in general, will help her succeed in the long term.
 
It’s been great for this one child and on average 70% of the kids from the program, but I’m reminded, sometimes daily, that these kids we’re talking about, the ones from the Title I school districts, many with one parent homes, with Medicaid as their only insurance option, we’re reminded that many of them have a big road to travel. Just this past Saturday when out with a group of kids on a walking and swimming exercise regimen, I mentioned to another of our kids how it looks as though she’s lost more weight. I was surprised by her response and am still reeling a bit from it; she said “yeah my Mom’s struggling to pay for groceries right now (her Mom’s a single Mom, a nurse’s assistant in a local hospital with one other teen child about to enter college) and we all have to eat smaller portions.” 

Hearing from any of our kids that smaller portions are what’s being served is typically music to my ears, but I also know that when the economy tanks as it is and continues to that our kids and their parents are often left to make poor food choices. and not by choice. This statement from an 11 year old kid struggling to not only lose some weight but make some friends and not “stand out” has been with me every since she said it. We can certainly make a lot of inroads with these kids and kids like them all over the country but we can’t change the fate of their parents’ financial situation and continue to keep our fingers crossed that they, their parents, and their communities around them will support the lessons their learning that will ultimately change the course of their lives. These are the kids of the recession and were just hoping to continue to live and work out mission …fighting obesity one child at a time!
 
Louis Yuhasz is Founder of  Louie’s Kids a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization that raises funds to help treat childhood obesity, which afflicts 25 million American children today. For more information about Louie’s Kids, go to www.louies.kids.org.

Children of the Recession: We Have to Act NOW to Save a Generation

I wept.

After not allowing myself, a former television reporter, to watch the news for weeks because I found the doom and gloom about the economy too stressful, I watched several CBS news clips from the Children of the Recession series online, and when I watched as an emergency room pediatric nurse practitioner showed the x-rays clearly depicting the multiple injuries of a young child — TWO broken arms, TWO fractured legs, I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer.  And neither could the reporter on the story. 

There is a marked rise in child abuse in the country and it is being attributed to the stresses related to the economy.  But that is only one of the many ways that our most precious resource in this country is being harmed.   As you can see in other segments in the network-wide series by CBS, children are being harmed psychologically, they are not receiving the medical care they need, they are ending up homeless or separated from families.  This is not the life any of us dreamed of for our children, or for anyone’s children.

What are we going to do about it?

Yes, I said we.

Your children and my children may be in their warm beds tonight with healthy food in their bellies, but they are going to school with children who are not.  What are we going to do about it?

With one out of ten children not being able to get the medical care they need or delaying routine visits, a child near ours is sick and getting sicker.  What are we going to do about it?

With jobless rates around the country anywhere from 7% and higher, a child near ours has one, maybe two parents unemployed and is living in a house full of stress, worry, and maybe worse — violence.  What are we going to do about it?

Families are spread further apart, governmental support systems such as social workers, homeless shelters and state- or county-funded counseling programs have all suffered cutbacks — there are more problems and fewer safety nets.

Non-profit organizations, often dependent upon grants, individual donations and corporate sponsorships are all scrambling to survive as well.  They, too, are trying to help more, but with fewer resources.

As a society we have the ability to more connected than ever with every form of technology imaginable.  But are we using it to help this youngest generation through this tough time?  Are we using it to match needs with solutions?  All it takes is the right person at the right moment and you can change a child’s life.  Do it often enough, and you just may change an entire generation.

At a conference this weekend, I heard that my generation, Generation X, is characterized by a “belief in survival” and jaded by growing up in the shadow of nuclear weapons, divorce, AIDS, and crack cocaine.  What a legacy.  Let’s try to create something better for this generation.  Let’s not let their young lives be forever shaped by the economy, but rather teach them the lessons of compassion and community and doing the right thing.

Through my affiliation with the Silicon Valley Moms/DC Metro Moms, I was able to participate on a conference call with Katie Couric, senior producer Katie Boyle, producer Tony Maciulis, and Sonya McNair, VP of Communications.  During this call, she let us know CBS News (The Early Show, Evening, and Face the Nation) is shining a light on the issues, through a network-wide look at Children of the Recession this week as well as through weekly segments over the next several weeks.  When one blogger asked if she found the task depressing, she said, ”I feel it is really important work and I feel there is not enough of this kind of journalism going on…  and I feel it is  higher calling for all of us and yes it is very upsetting and heart-breaking and depressing but the only way that we are going to get these families help is to expose the problem and so I think we feel like there is a higher purpose here and that is why I think we feel really motivated and excited.  I haven’t felt this proud of my work in a long time because we can have an impact.  And that is why we need your help — we can’t do it alone in this fragmented media culture, like my colon cancer work, it can’t be a one-shot deal, we have to keep pounding away at it and be committed to it and keep reminding people.  We’re doing something that ultimately will be impactful and hopefully, really helpful to people.”

I’m no longer a television reporter, and I’m certainly not as powerful as a national network, but what I, a mom and a blogger, can do is this, I will tell you of programs and initiatives as I know of them and either highlight them myself, or invite them to guest blog here.  You are also always free to post comments or email me about groups/initiatives/ideas you think should be put out there.   Will you join me, in looking for ways to help — small or large?   Will you help get out the word on the GOOD things that can happen in these turbulent times?

I hope so.  Because the next time I weep, I hope it is with joy.

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  • I know of two programs that are packing non-perishable “weekend lunches” for children who are on the free hot lunch program at school in Fairfax County — because these kids may not get lunches on weekends otherwise.  These two groups are working “under the radar” right now.  If you are interested in helping them, email me or post here telling me you are interested and I will contact you.
  • Louie’s Kids, which helps fight childhood obesity, is just $10,000 short of its goal to bring it’s successful Fit Club Program to a school in Alexandria.  Read about their compelling program and success and see if you know someone who can help them in the final stretch.  Duke University reports that with parents having to buy lower-cost foods, we may see a huge increase in childhood obesity.
  • The Junior League of Northern Virginia (of which I am a member and a leader, in the interest of full disclosure) focuses on helping children in Northern Virginia succeed.  We have many programs, including Back-to-School Health Fairs (immunizations, physicals and backpacks jam-packed with school supplies), an innovative My Life photography program and Kids Can character-based program in local homeless shelters, and the Kids in the Kitchen nutrition program to help fight childhood obesity.  We’re always looking for new members, community partners, sponsors, and donors.
  • Katherine K. Hanley Family Shelter (of which I am on the Community Advisory Board), a Fairfax County shelter run by Shelter House, Inc. is always looking for volunteers, community partners, sponsors and donors.  This shelter has done amazing work in “rapid rehousing” for homeless families, but the need continues to grow in these tough economic times.
  • The faith-based community is “filling in the gaps” — look to your own faith home (church, temple, mosque, etc.) to see what they are doing and how you can get involved.

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Silicon Valley Moms Post and Round Up: http://www.svmoms.com/2009/05/silicon-valley-moms-group-katie-couric-children-recession.html