5 Ways to Save Our Planet, Today!

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The very first time that I heard the term “carbon footprint”, my thought was “that would be a great name for a hard rock band”. You know a group of high school kids that have decided to make a run at Metallica fame by practicing in the garage and hoping to get a chance to play at the dance.

Little did I know what life with kids would do to change my tongue and cheek approach to saving our planet.

While my wife was pregnant with our first child, we happened across the documentary “Forks Over Knives” and our minds were peeled back. Like any good glutton, I devoured media in an effort to learn more about extending my time on the planet by preserving my body and the ground we were walking on. Enter the term “carbon footprint”.

The best part about a term so ominous and daunting was that with simple steps, anybody’s carbon footprint is reversible, or at least able to be less impressionable. For most, including myself, starting out is the hardest part. Once I decided to minimize my carbon footprint I wanted to walk out my front door to a lush garden full of my food for the week, get into my Prius and drive to my job saving the whales, but finding my starting point was elusive.

Here then are 5 practical ways that you can make simple adjustments to your daily routine that will feed your desire to preserve our habitat, without having to move to Alaska and homestead, although I reserve the right to do that later.

Don’t Rinse

This one is tough for people to wrap their mind around, only because we have been doing it this way for so long. Keep in mind the adage that 28 consistent days of anything builds a habit. For goodness sake, let the dishwasher do the job it was invented for. How often do we get wrapped up in the process and load dishes into the dishwasher that are spotless? Scrape and load. You will save up to 20 gallons of water on each load, not to mention the energy used for heating.

Be a Vegetarian on Mondays

This is a really good suggestion for two reasons. First of all the science: It takes 2,500 gallons of water for every pound of beef produced…YIKES and 55 square feet of land is cleared (deforested) for each burger that you eat. Secondly, you are going to love the way that eating veggie makes you feel, I guarantee it. After one month you may decide to add a day, then another, and then who knows, I might be asking you over for dinner one night.

Turn Off the Faucet When Brushing

I had a girlfriend once that told her young kids that every time you leave the water running when you brush, it makes a penguin cry. I thought this was a little harsh at first, but they never ran the water and now, long after the memory of her has faded, I still think about the penguins when my kids are brushing their teeth. If you cut the run, you will save 5 gallons of water a day! If everybody did it, we could conserve 1.5 billion gallons in the US alone daily! Stop making penguins cry you, heartless creature.

Buy Local

In order to make a change, we have to change ourselves. This should include going for that easy brand name item on the shelf every time you need something from bananas to car parts. Next time you are in big name grocery store, drive around back and look at the oil stains in the truck delivery pit. DISGUSTING! Now imagine all the exhaust and energy consumption to bring those products to the shelf. When possible, you should be walking and buying directly from the people that create the product. Check out farmers markets near you and do your weekly shopping there. You will feel wonderful making a difference.

Close Your Damper

We seldom think about the things we don’t see, so it helps to reimagine the truth. Leaving your damper open in the winter is like leaving a living room window open 24/7. No, the damper is not as large but heat rises and constantly looks for ways to escape. Your chimney flu is the highest point on your house, so plenty of opportunity to pour heat (money) out of your chimney. Close it!

 

So there you have it, 5 ways to begin your quest to a better and greener tomorrow. As you begin to harvest the good feelings associated with being positively proactive, research other ways to make a difference. Before you know it, you will be dancing at Earth Day celebrations and kissing your great grand babies!

How Long Is a Minute?

 

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I never really took the time to think about “time” quite the way I do now that I am a parent, but I wish I had. I really do believe that an elaborate dissertation could be crafted around the interpretation of a “minute”. The bottom line is that it is the exact amount of time that it takes to change the world on a scale from a personal to global. Let’s take it down a peg first.

Here is how my mind operates. I get a moment of peace and calm in my day where my mind has not quite stopped firing and something seeps in that sets fire to my creative side. Here is that moment that led to this blog. When I am putting my kids down, I have figured out that after their little bodies have stopped moving and the eyes are closed (sometimes assumed closed), I have three minutes until deep sleep sets in, or at least deep enough for me to execute the ninja moves that it takes to get out of a dark room, riddled with obstacles, undetected. There is seldom a clock nearby that allows me to cheat the process so I count (in my head) three 60-second sets. Those 60 seconds are an eternity when the adult’s only portion of my day lay on the other side. Seriously, do it now. Stop reading and count 1-60 Mississippi. You had no idea did you?

But there is no other measurement of time quite like the minute. A “second” is far too fast to encompass total power and an “hour” is an eternity no matter where your vantage point lies, but “the minute” can mean so many things to so many people.

There is the “teenager on the phone minute” when they are being called to by a parent in the home…”I’LL BE THERE IN A MINUTE!” That is really like saying “you are number four on the priority list for the day”.

OR there is the “I’ll be there in a minute” when a girlfriend calls and says she thinks she hears somebody downstairs. You can’t possibly move faster than that.

There is the “they were just babies a minute ago” when you turn around and are celebrating your child’s 10th birthday.

OR there is the “they just started sleeping through the night this minute” which took a total of one thousand years to reach.

The reality is that everything…EVERYTHING boils down to one minute or the time that it truly takes to make life changing decisions or reactions. We arrive at the monumental minutes by stringing together many of them as a path, but ultimately the trigger time is a minute.

In our world of what we do, the minute is no different. We can choose to throw away that crayon or we can choose to figure out how to breathe new life into it. Think about the difference of those two minutes, because we have. On one hand, you can pitch the crayon into the trash and never see it, or think of it again, but that crayon will go on to rue your decision. It will go to a landfill and try to blend in for the next one hundred plus years ultimately unchanged, OR, you can locate the nearest Crayon Initiative box and drop it in there. Here you not only get the chance to possibly see that crayon again but certainly the opportunity to think about what your decision meant to a child in a hospital bed just trying to get well. Going back to our friend “the minute”, this is the exact amount of time it takes for a little body to turn the tables on its illness. In one minute, the internal fight is a losing one, then in the next, systems have been boosted, spirits have been raised and outlooks have improved. The possibility of creating that minute through art has been medically proven and all we aim to do is load the toolbox.

Think about “the minute” the next time the word crosses your lips and realize that 60 seconds is a very powerful amount of time. Worlds have crumbled and futures have been made possible all inside that tiny, seemingly insignificant amount of time.

 

Do You Want To Love Fireworks Again?

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The smoke is beginning to clear from our recent explosive holiday and as you head over to your social medias to unload the barrage of red, white and blue family pictures, you find solace in the fact that you will go another six months before New Years Eve rolls around and the next obligatory round of pyrotechnics start all over again.

Ok, so I am a little bit of a curmudgeon when it comes to fireworks. The crowds, the cold and the boredom fought with clinched fists only to gaze star-ward at something that you have seen a hundred times and has never changed. Can’t we just stay home and set fire to some stuff around the house? But wait…there is hope. A friend of mine suggested that I look at the marvel of fireworks from a scientific perspective. What a novel concept. So I will share with you exactly how I breathed a little life back into my fading interest in our pyrotechnic holidays by doing a little research.

According to John Conckling chemistry professor at Washington College in Chestertown, Md., and past executive director of the American Pyrotechnics Association all fireworks have two essential ingredients.

  1. A chemical that’s rich in oxygen (this is where the color comes from)
  2. A chemical that serves as the fuel and results in when detonation occurs

The actual makeup of a firework contains five parts to pull off the ooh and aah factor!

  1. Stick (“tail”): A long wooden or plastic stick protruding from the bottom that ensures the firework shoots in a straight line.
  2. Fuse: This is the part that starts the main part of the firework (the charge) burning and ignites other, smaller fuses that make the interesting, colorful parts of the firework (the effects) explode some time later.
  3. Charge (“motor”): The charge is a relatively crude explosive designed to blast a firework up into the sky, sometimes a distance of 1000 feet at a speed of up to several hundred miles per hour It’s usually made up of tightly packed, coarse explosive gunpowder (also known as black powder).
  4. Effect: This is the part of the firework that makes the amazing display once the firework is safely high in the air. A single firework will have either one effect or multiple effects, packed into separate compartments, firing off in sequence, ignited by a relatively slow-burning, time-delay fuse working its way upward and ignited by the main fuse.
  5. Head: This is the general name for the top part of the firework containing the effect or effects collectively known as the payload

Well, then how do we get those amazing colors?

According to Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D. and Chemistry Expert “There are two main mechanisms of color production in fireworks, incandescence, and luminescence”. “Incandescence is light produced from heat. Heat causes a substance to become hot and glow, initially emitting infrared, then red, orange, yellow, and white light as it becomes increasingly hotter and luminescence is light produced using energy sources other than heat. Sometimes luminescence is called ‘cold light’ because it can occur at room temperature and cooler temperatures. To produce luminescence, energy is absorbed by an electron of an atom or molecule, causing it to become excited, but unstable. When the electron returns to a lower energy state the energy is released in the form of a photon (light). The energy of the photon determines its wavelength or color.”

Thanks to our friends at about.com, here is a list of the chemical compounds inside fireworks that give us that dazzling effect!

 

Color Compound
Red strontium salts, lithium salts
lithium carbonate, Li2CO3 = red
strontium carbonate, SrCO3 = bright red
Orange calcium salts
calcium chloride, CaCl2
calcium sulfate, CaSO4·xH2O, where x = 0,2,3,5
Gold incandescence of iron (with carbon), charcoal, or lampblack
Yellow sodium compounds
sodium nitrate, NaNO3
cryolite, Na3AlF6
Electric White white-hot metal, such as magnesium or aluminum
barium oxide, BaO
Green barium compounds + chlorine producer
barium chloride, BaCl+ = bright green
Blue copper compounds + chlorine producer
copper acetoarsenite (Paris Green), Cu3As2O3Cu(C2H3O2)2 = blue
copper (I) chloride, CuCl = turquoise blue
Purple mixture of strontium (red) and copper (blue) compounds
Silver burning aluminum, titanium, or magnesium powder or flakes

So in six months when the next round of fireworks appear and the greater group is against you sitting at home and setting stuff around the house on fire, just go and view the spectacular with a scientist’s eye. Sure you will still have to fight the boredom of the before, the possible cold, the crowds and the fact that tomorrow is a work day, but the show itself will hold all of your attention and more.

[BLANK] As ART #1

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Admittedly, Googling “what is art” was an exciting venture for me. At first I thought the simple script would cause smoke to begin pouring from my hard-drive. I imagined that this is the type of question you would use against a cyborg to cause it to self-destruct, but then again, I am an artist. What exactly does that mean? I am the type of person that sees art in almost anything without having to cram the square peg into a round hole. I was prepared for even Google to fall short of my own personal definition of “what is art”, but then, like a fortune cookie, Google nails it with a broad net. For just a minute the cynic in me was screaming for them to BRING IT ON, then they disarmed my internal time bomb with two words: “emotional power”. This is exactly what I think “art” is, and why I truly believe that art can be found in the most unsuspecting of places.

 

If you recall, we recently posted an “ongoing” exposé of music as art, and began with Flowers Are Red by Harry Chapin. After careful consideration, we (as a committee) became convinced that the greater picture was being ignored and that a great injustice was inadvertently being done to every finger of creation and happenings that fit into the art category by definition of things that hold “emotional power”.

 

I have been an artist all of my life. So much so that when I “grew up” I was convinced that I was supposed to do something else because it was never work to me until I realized that there is a way. However, I first became aware of the emotional power of art in my early 20’s. Here is that story.

 

I was lucky enough to be in the Guggenheim in New York. My friend and I were on a cross-country tryst. This was a last minute adventure to really get to know each other by escaping the ills and obligations of west coast life. While there, we decided to fit as much “New York” into our short time as humanly possible. The itinerary was ridiculous, even by a youthful standard. In a 48 hour period we went to Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, ate at Jerry’s Famous, saw a taping of the David Letterman Show and Kelly and Regis, picnicked in Central Park, took the subway (at midnight), walked to the middle of the Brooklyn Bridge and went to the Guggenheim. It was here at our last stop that I entered the stark white hallway displaying multiple artists and their masterpieces. From a hundred yards away I could see that the end of the hall ended in an abstract two-tone piece with a bench in front of it. I didn’t really care about the bright orange and deep blue painted boxes on the wall; it was the bench in front of it I needed. I just wanted to sit down as the weekend was catching up to me. I made it to the bench, sat and began to look at this painting. My mind was blank, which in hindsight served me well. The painting was by Mark Rothko and as I began to stare at it, something inside me stirred. It started in my belly then slowly moved in both directions towards my toes then my head, leaving that “prickly skin” feeling in its path as it traversed my insides. As I got lost in the deep blue and contrasting orange, and without any warning, I began to cry. Not sob, but simply allow my tears to free fall in homage to this work of art against all of my better judgment, and I did not care, this moment was out of my control and was the true essence of “emotional power” of art!

 

This day taught me more about art than my previous 22 years on the planet. I became aware that art is anything that takes over your momentary perception and makes emotional decisions on your behalf, with or without your approval. That “art” can be music, nature, children, or anything else that moves you without the necessity of a paintbrush or crayon. Our only duty then is to recognize that moment and properly label it as “art”.

 

We are going to attempt to share with all of you the things that we see as art on a monthly basis, and really open up the discussion. We employ you to go to our Facebook Page and post your own thoughts on art. Where were you when art got redefined? What then is your new definition of “art”? Are you listening to what you see?

 

Hold onto you hats and glasses, this could get emotional because it should!

Art Does Heal

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The process of gathering crayons and recycling them is a multi-tiered process with truly measurable positive outcomes. On this blog, we have explored how we keep them out of our landfills and save the planet one colorful paraffin stick at a time, but the driving force is the medical miracles that can happen when a brand new, shiny crayon is in the hands of those that need them most.

Once our crayons have been gathered, sorted, melted, strained, molded and boxed, they go directly into the hands of the patients in Children’s Hospitals around the country. This is more than a “nice-to-have” for these kids that need the power of the rainbow so badly. We give them the tools to create that rainbow, and art has been proven to heal scientifically. Here is how:

Structure

Nurses and Doctors all over the country have been interviewed about their experience with inner hospital art programs and the effects they have had with their patients. The majority of personnel have reported that the structure being taught through art has helped the patients with their medication regimen as well as given them something to look forward to on a daily basis. The simple structure of art-time gives the child a sense of schedule and anticipation. The eagerness to create has dulled the edge of getting them to take their medications as the creative side and medical side get fed simultaneously. Nurses have also noted the depletion of stress in an art heavy department and Doctors site a lower readmission rate of patients involved in art programs.

Escape

Whether the child artist is sitting at home on their bed drawing, at a desk in school painting or in the oncology ward in their local hospital coloring, they are all united in a world far away when they get to open up their imagination. This escape is especially important to the child who is in a hospital setting. The desire to leave a confined area is never greater than when you know you can’t, but the imagination of a child is a powerful thing. When a child gets drawn into the world they are creating through art they come back feeling like they have been on a small trip. They had a reprieve, if only for a moment, from the realities of being in the hospital. They got to see magical things that exist only on their own personal canvas, and they did it without changing their gowns and often refreshed enough to face the next challenge. This alone is the magic of art.

Many hospitals have formal art programs, where actual professionals come in direct the children. Many of these directors are actually therapists that use art to allow hidden fears, anxieties, and trepidation to come to the surface so that they can be dealt with. The message that these patients receive before the crayon even hits the paper is that they are not alone and that there are people that care about their emotional well-being, and are available to help when they are ready.

Iva Fattorini, chair of the Cleveland Clinic’s Global Arts and Medicine Institute, says, “The arts create this communication channel. The hospital becomes home to some people. What do we actually do to address the emotional needs of people living in that hospital? How do we change their state of mind and perception of the hospital?” She continues “What we know is that art is not a commodity; it’s really a necessity,” she continues. “It’s really about infusing some beauty and spiritual values in the arts to people whose spirits needs to be uplifted. If good emotions and energy are transmitted through good art, it doesn’t matter where (patients) are, or who they are. It does help.”

When the thought of The Crayon Initiative came into our mind, we were flooded with directions that we could take it. The possibilities of positivity were endless and still are, but as the model began to take focus we realized that the people that needed to prosper the most from this endeavor are the very users of these waxy tools, and there are no better builders than those that are attempting to re-build themselves. Our hope is that one of our crayons will create the rainbow unicorn that will keep a child smiling tomorrow through the challenges they face today.