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Month: February 2010 (page 2 of 3)

a delicious sticky mess

Today we spent the better part of the morning at Pilcher Park in Joliet, IL learning about how maple syrup is made. This is a popular seasonal program at the park where they actually tap their sugar maples and produce the syrup on site. It was good fun. As I understand it, the whole process begins in early to mid February when the trees are tapped. The tree has to be at least 12 inches in diameter before it is mature enough to tap. That’s about 30 years old. Larger trees can take more taps. When done properly, the tree is not harmed. Once tapped about three inches deep, a spile (or spout) is attached and a five gallon bucket is hung from it to catch the sap as it drips out. As long as temperatures are above freezing, the sap will drip anywhere from a half gallon to five gallons a day from each spile. That sounds like a lot, but keep in mind it takes about 40 gallons of sugar maple sap to make one gallon of syrup. (The sap is about 95% water.)

As the sap is collected at the park, it’s poured into a larger tank just outside the “sugar shack.” Going into the tank it’s filtered and then flows into the “sugar shack” itself where it finds its way to the evaporator. As we opened the door to enter the sugar shack, it was like walking into a dream. We could barely see as the room was filed with sweet smelling steam of the water boiling off the sap. The kids all gathered around to learn about the process of reducing the sap down to syrup and even got to sample a bit right there.

After checking out the sugar shack, we went for fun winter hike to work up our appetites for what was to come after that–a delicious pancake breakfast with 100% maple syrup of course. As if all that wasn’t enough, after breakfast the tour continued. This time, we learned about the animals of the park’s nature center–focusing mostly on turtles, tortoises, snakes, and the center’s prized red-tail hawk Nemo.

We had such a good time, when the tour was over, Chris, Aidan, and I decided to do some more hiking. You can’t beat 39 degrees and sunny in February. It was a great morning. Time well spent. Check out the photos above if you haven’t already.

i will not see an enemy

I recently started following “The Natural Life Magazine” Twitter stream and this came to me–a video clip of Julia “Butterfly” Hill talking about the importance of not letting what we are against define us. If you don’t remember Hill, she is an American environmentalist who spent over 700 days–from December 1997 to December 1999–sitting and living 180 feet above the forest floor in a Sequoia Redwood she named “Luna.” Luna is estimated to be nearly 1000 years old. She sat as an act of civil disobedience to stop the clear cutting of the Redwoods at that time by Pacific Lumber Company.

In this clip Hill talks about the importance of working for what is good, as opposed to complaining about what is bad. She warns us of the chainsaws in our voices. She reminds us to see and call out the humanity in everyone.

budding social activist

I’m totally psyched up for our new unit in Earth Scouts, the youth group that I lead along with my friend Heidi. At first when Heidi and I decided it was time to move away from our safety net of concentrating on nature and decided to attempt this new unit of “economic justice,” I felt a little overwhelmed with the idea of trying to teach this topic to the kids. But now I’m jazzed! So far Heidi and I have come up with some good ideas on how to convey certain injustices that are found throughout this world, and I really feel that the kids are understanding how some things are not fair, but we can work together to try to make some differences. I feel the social activist in me raising up ready for action!

60% of the world’s population is always hungry yet there is enough food in the world to feed everyone. There is no shortage; there is a failure to share.

During the first meeting of this unit, we talked with the kids about the difference between needs and wants and how everyone should have the right to basic needs–yet not everyone does. We did some hands-on demonstration of this to get our point across. Some of the statistics we shared are things that I knew already–things that I present in my college-level classes–yet somehow when we were going through this with the kids it really opened my eyes. One example is that most people think there is not enough food in this world for everyone and that is why there are so many who go hungry. In reality, though, there is NO shortage of food–if the food were divided equally everyone would have enough to eat. However, as we all know, dividing things equally does not happen. So instead, 60% of the world’s population is always hungry. 60%! This is crazy! And of this 60% about 43% are severely undernourished! This was just one of the statistics that we shared with the kids. (These figures come from the research of a book entitled If the World Were a Village by David Smith. It’s a children’s book, but a good one with eye-opening information for everyone.)

During our second meeting, we introduced our long-term project for the group. We decided to collect money to donate to Heifer International as a way to help in the fight to end hunger and poverty. The Heifer Project is a neat idea in that the money goes to buying an animal for a needy family and teaching the family how to care for the animal. The family, in turn, gets to benefit from that animal. For example, receiving a goat or a cow can provide the family with milk for both nourishment for themselves and to sell for income. An alpaca can provide fleece to make clothes and blankets. An aspect of the project that I especially like is the idea of “paying it forward”–meaning that once that family’s animal gives birth to offspring, the family agrees to give an offspring to another family within their village and also agrees to teach that new family all about taking care of that animal. This approach not only helps provide better nourishment for the families but also helps generate income in sustainable ways.

As a way to collect donations for Heifer, Heidi and I decided to have the kids participate in a “Read to Feed” program in which the kids will seek out family and friends to sponsor them in their reading over the next several months. Aidan is completely excited about this and is already tracking his reading time and is searching for sponsors (watch out grandma and auntie)! :-)

My hope (and plan) is for me and my family to continue taking steps in making a positive difference in the world and for the world’s people.

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