River to Skate Away On

Becky at 5 with new skates
Becky at 5 Years with New Skates

Like most children growing up in Northern Michigan in the Fifties and Sixties, I learned to ice skate. I wasn’t talented, since my ankles were rather weak, but I enjoyed the activity. The holiday season transports me back through the years to the ice ponds of my youth. The current temperatures here in Texas have even stayed low enough to help the temporary rink at the corner stay frozen, and I enjoy watching the skaters from my second-floor perch.

In childhood, we often skated to music at the large ice rink in a neighboring town. Memories of frozen toes and the song “Sugar Shack” surface when I think of those years. Before the climate started to change (and before we knew it would turn into a crisis), a winter recreational area called Silver Valley, in the Huron National Forest situated near my hometown, offered toboggan runs, skiing, and frozen ponds for skaters. Being a cautious child, skating was the only thing I wanted to try, and I remember the rinks being much too crowded for my taste.

Log Warming Shelter at Silver Valley

Even closer to home, we had several other options. My clearest recollection is the time my dad shoveled the snow off a large area of ice on the creek behind our house. My mother was prone to worry, so the creek was a place she often warned her children to avoid during the other seasons, for fear we would slip into the water. With that same fear in the back of my mind, the idea of skating on that frozen version still seemed scary to me. I imagined the snapping turtles, snakes and minnows underneath the crust just waiting for me to fall through. My brother and sister agreed to try nature’s ice, along with a group of neighbor kids. Who was I to chicken out, so I finally agreed and followed my father toward the creek.

The surface was a bit bumpy, but I was just hitting my stride when I heard Dad yelp in surprise. My worst fear had come true, and he’d fallen through the ice! With a pounding heart I skated his direction, near the bank. As it turned out, his one leg had gone through just to the knee. He said it was a mushy spot in the ice caused by some running water entering the creek. Not sure if it was from a natural spring or some type of city pipe. That was all I needed, and I hung up my skates for the day!

One year, my dad made an ice rink right in our back yard. Just as he would come home from work in the warm seasons and turn on the hose to water the flowers, that winter, my father often got out the hose to add more water to form a new layer on our rink. That was also a little bumpy, I remember, but it was fun to skate in our yard and quite a novelty to share with our neighbors. I asked him about that, years later, and he admitted it was a lot of extra work, but he knew we liked it, and he hated to give it up once he got started.

1961 – Big Sister, Terri, and Becky  Skating in Yard

I couldn’t possibly write about ice skating without including one of my favorite songs, “River,” by Joni Mitchell. Sad but lovely.

Don’t Get Tricked into Passing Out Palm Oil This Halloween – from ‘Sierra Magazine”

What was one of the scariest stories of 2019? The massive wildfires that were visible from space as they raged across the vast Amazon rainforest, spreading from Brazil into Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru. The crisis followed the election of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing ideologue who swiftly weakened environmental protections and encouraged deforestation of the Amazon.

Beyond being the world’s largest carbon sink, the region is home to one in 10 species on Earth. When tropical rainforests burn down, or are destroyed to develop industrial plantations for palm oil—which is added to chocolate and baked goods, turned into fry oil, and added to all manner of snacks, cosmetics, and soaps—these tropical creatures are pushed from their habitats and driven closer to the brink of extinction. The equivalent of 300 football fields of rainforest is destroyed every hour to make way for palm oil plantations, according to the World Wide Fund for Nature—and in the African and Southeast Asian rainforests, this has decimated the populations of vulnerable creatures including tigers, elephants, and rhinos. Orangutans and other primates are particularly besieged, as studies suggest that most areas suitable for growing palm oil overlap with their habitats. Palm oil production impacts humans, too—Indigenous people have been forced from their lands, and plantation workers sickened by pesticides and contaminated water.

According to the Rainforest Action Network (RAN), palm oil appears in roughly half of packaged grocery store foods. (US Food manufacturers increased their use of the world’s cheapest vegetable oil after the FDA started enforcing limits on trans fats in 2005.) The good news is that consumer purchasing power can play a major role in rainforest health.

One step you can take to curb deforestation is to get wise to the details on product packaging. Fewer ingredients mean you’ll have less of a chance of a palm oil encounter, which has dozens of ingredient list aliases—vegetable oil, palmate, cocoa butter equivalent, glyceryl stearate, sodium lauryl sulfate, and glyceryl stearate, to name a few. Of course, you can always demand that your favorite food companies clean up their acts by either finding alternatives to the stuff, or sourcing their palm oil responsibly. (Check out RANs handy scorecard, which keeps track of product manufacturers that have pledged to limit deforestation,—and contributions to the climate and humanitarian crises—by switching to more sustainable forms of palm and other oils.)

Thanks to consumer action and grassroots activism, the candy industry has made some strides in recent years, with major corporations including Nestle and Hershey removing palm oil from many beloved Halloween staples. How can you help keep Big Candy accountable? Here’s a handy list of classic candies that are nostalgic and easy to pass out but that do not contain palm oil, compiled with help from Products Without Palm Oil( which provides fantastic free resources for consumers). Remember to stay vigilant for labels’ hocus pocus, as ingredients can vary within a single brand’s offerings (looking at you, M&M’s and Reese’s), and don’t be tricked by those discount bags of mixed candy: Stick to one type (or make your own mix), and it’s easier to shirk the dreaded industrial palm oil.

Safe* Trick-or-Treat Classics

Atomic Fireballs

Boston Baked Beans

Black Forest Organic Fruit Flavored Snacks

Brach’s Candy Corn (including all Candy Corn varieties, and Mellowcreme Pumpkins)

Dots

Dove Milk and Dark Chocolate Promises

Dum Dums

Endangered Species chocolate bars

Ghirardelli chocolates

Goobers

Good ‘n Plenty

Haribo gummy candy

Hershey’s Kisses, Bars, and Nuggets (Milk Chocolate, Skor, and Special Dark are safe, but keep on eye on slick Mr. Goodbar; versions with and without palm oil are both in stores. And don’t buy bags of mixed nuggets—the assortment contains a flavor with palm oil.)

Jolly Ranchers

Justin’s Peanut Butter Cups

Kirkland Signature Organic Fruity Snacks

Lindt truffles and chocolate bars

M&M’s (Plain, Dark, Almond, and Pretzel varieties are safe for the moment, but last year, Mars changed the Peanut M&Ms recipe, which now includes palm oil, as does Dark Chocolate Peanut.)

Nerds

Nelly’s Organics (all chocolate bars)

Nuubia Chocolate

Raisinets

Red Hots

Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups (Read labels to be sure, but bagged, individually wrapped snack size, and standard-sized cups and generally palm oil-free.)

Ring Pops

Tony’s Chocolonely (all chocolate bars)

Saf-T-Pops

Sno Caps

Wholesome Organic Lollipops

Yum Earth Candy (including Organic Pops, Organic Candy Corn, Organic Hard Candy, Gummy Bears, Gummy Worms, Organic Sour Beans, and Gummy Fruits)

York Peppermint Patties

*For the purposes of this story we mean “safe” in the context of palm oil. Many of the candy options on this list are high in sugar and use plastic packaging. For a healthier, less cavity-inducing Halloween, seek out dye-free, low-sugar options that are free of corn syrup

Talking with Kids about Severe Weather and other Disasters

After a long night of weather warnings and a tornado ripping through nearby Dallas, I’m reminded that some children (and adults!) have an overwhelming fear of extreme weather and other types of disasters. Although many aspects of these scary occurrences are out of our control, as adults, we can stay well-informed and plan ahead as much as possible to help alleviate part of the worry. Kids have the additional challenges of not fully understanding the various situations and not knowing how to prepare for or deal with these events. Maybe you’d like a great book written with children in mind to get an open and informative discussion started!

The ALSC (Association for Library Service to Children), a division of the  American Library Association (ALA), has compiled the Get Ready Get Safe Book List, with titles about preparing for emergencies, monitoring weather or other types of disasters, and overcoming fears in general. A short description of each book is provided, along with the recommended ages. Many topics are addressed, including blizzard, fire, hurricane, tornado, tsunami, earthquake, hailstorm, flood, and blackout. Parents, teachers, and grandparents can surely find a book here that could help.

On a bit of a lighter note, I love sharing the book, Thunder Cake, by Patricia Polacco, with kids. It’s set in my home state of Michigan and tells how a very smart grandmother keeps her worried granddaughter’s mind off an impending thunderstorm. The book includes themes of empowerment and personal strength.

I hope you find something here to share with your favorite youngsters!

 

Meatless Monday: Flavorful Fall Recipes

FROM MEATLESS MONDAY: “It’s officially fall! And the perfect time for apple picking, visiting the pumpkin patch and exploring the local farmers’ markets for seasonal vegetables, like broccoli and eggplant. Trying new meatless recipes is a great way to utilize all of the ripe fruits and vegetables coming into season. We’ve gathered delicious plant-based recipes from our Meatless Monday bloggers and influencers featuring fall produce. Enjoy the hearty tastes of fall!”

Hope you find something here that appeals, even if it’s not autumn where you live!                  ~Becky

In My Blood

A Spring Favorite: Pulmonaria (Lungwort)

Gardening can be a pleasant diversion, economic necessity, motivating challenge, or even somewhat of an addiction. As mentioned in a previous post, my childhood was surrounded by lovely gardens that produced both beauty and bounty. In adulthood, I slowly grew into my own on the gardening front.

My Small Vegetable Garden in Michigan

All of this stopped short when I moved from my home in Michigan and chose a “temporary” Texas apartment with no personal outdoor space. I hoped to get more creative with indoor gardening and had no idea to what extent I would miss having a garden area beyond my windows. After about three years, my plans and hopes to change all of this have finally come together!

Indoor Plants in Current Place

A move just one floor down in my apartment building offers me the balcony of my dreams. I’ll miss the direct view of sunrise and many moons rising, as well, but by moving to the other side, I’ll have sunsets and a lovely view of the Square. On the second floor, I’ll also be closer to tree level and sounds of birdsong. What will I grow in my balcony garden?

View of Square from Balcony

My gardening experience in Texas is limited, so research is in order. To further complicate matters, I move in mid-November, which isn’t peak season. As we all know, climate is quite unpredictable these days, but I’m gathering resources about year ’round container gardening in Texas. I’d like to have something that flowers (pansies?) and herbs or other types of plants that might come in handy for cooking. I’d love to try leaf lettuce in the spring! Covering plants during the winter for protection during frost or even bringing pots inside shouldn’t be too much of a problem. I’m excited! Looks like my hardiness zone is listed as 8a. I’d love to read ideas in comments if you live in a similar area and have container planting ideas to share!

Pansies

This new activity will certainly be a pleasant diversion to get me away from the computer on occasion. This could even save me money that might otherwise be spent on fresh herbs, which can be pricey. I’m definitely motivated and intrigued by this new challenge. As for the addictive part, only time will tell. Gardening is, after all, in my blood. That phrase reminds me of a  song I love, “You’re in My Veins,” by Andrew Belle. Hope you like it, too, and will give it a listen!

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