Stephen Ritz: A teacher growing green in the South Bronx | Video on


Stephen Ritz: A teacher growing green in the South Bronx | Video on

“A parent and teacher in the South Bronx, Ritz has noticed his students getting larger and more sickly over the years, not to mention the fact that they’re parsing fewer options for earning a living. So Ritz began working with his students to grow “indoor edible walls,” beautiful living murals, full of greenery. Not only does food from the walls get served in the school cafeteria as well as in local shelters — creating the walls has become a full-scale business for Ritz’s students. The project has snowballed into designing an office wall in Boston, building green roofs in South Hampton, making gardens for 100 other New York City schools and even installing a large wall in Rockefeller Center.”

So, how do we get more projects like this in schools? They are perfect for challenge/problem/project based learning and they teach kids better ways of interacting with the world around them. I would like to do some of these at home and in my classroom. And ordered a small one today. 

But people do things in unorganized fashions all the time. I informally taught the kids in my neighborhood about the chickens and the garden I planted. After reading Erin’s post the other day about day camps I am thinking of having a little neighborhood kid’s garden next summer. The kids can help build a frame, build the sheet mulch, plant the seeds or starts, and tend the garden. We could even have a little vegetable stand and the kids could split the proceeds at the end of the season.

What do you do to influence the next generation, outside of your immediate family?


Savings plan for kids


One time I abandoned an entire cart of groceries because my then three year-old threw a fit over a toy. I regularly avoided roads that would take us by a toy store (or even a landmark that would mean a toy store was nearby) and certain grocery stores with large toy sections. My older son, now seven, was like a drug addict, always looking for his next fix in a cheap toy. Our house slowly filled with cheap junk purchased for $1 – probably we’ve spent $1,000 in $1 junk.

We’d try to get him to save his money, save our money, but we aren’t really the best models of saving ourselves and so eventually we’d give in. It weighs on you though: that you’re not teaching your kids how to be responsible, that you’re supporting a terrible economy of “quick fixes” and imported junk, that you have an Hawaiian vacation worth of toys your kids don’t touch again after they get out of the car.

Then we heard a little blurb on NPR’s Marketplace about how parents regulate allowances. Most people spoke about giving an amount equivalent to the child’s age per week. $7 a week! Amazing! And then a listener (see the embedded link above) said that they matched their daughter’s allowance once she’d saved $100. Commentator Dan Zevin remarked on what his kids would save for.

We were transfixed. And started talking about what Cormac’s “rules” of saving would be. After consulting with Daddy, this is what we put in place.

1) $7 a week – must help around the house (with pets, brother, general picking up and fetching for lazy parents)

2) opportunities to earn up to $3 for working hard at soccer, picking up dog poop, etc.

3) can’t spend anything until he reaches $100

4) once $100 has been saved parents will match it (this is a stretch for us so we are saving up to help him save – it is a BIG incentive for him)

5) 20% of that $200 must then go into a savings account and stay there until he’s 16 (he thinks he wants to save up for his own car)

6) then the saving starts up again from scratch, even if he chooses not to spend all (or any) of the $160 he has

7) he can window shop and Mom or Dad will take pictures of the things he thinks he wants at the store

We had to really go into a big toy store/department in order for him to understand what $160 would buy. Three big Lego sets, a scooter and some Lego sets, 640 gumballs…

And we’ve done well! He should have $100 this coming weekend. He’s so close that he can taste it. We went to Toys R Us on Friday and he was desperate, DESPERATE for something new. Anything. I needed a birthday present for a friend’s son and while I shopped for it, Cormac tried to work deals out of me. Finally I told him I would buy him a present if he could find something for $10 or less. I refuses Bey Blades that were $10.49. He didn’t need any of the ones that cost $8.99.

Then I got him interested in picking out a $1.50 Matchbox car. We got in line. I handed Cormac $2 and told him he could keep the change. The line was slow, really slow. I put down the birthday present and told Cormac he could keep the $2 of he put down the car and we left the store. He refused. A few minutes later I offered again. He put down the car. We walked out of the store.

And then, on a whim, I gave him another $2 because he was willing to save instead of spend. It was awesome to see his already proud and excited face filled with absolute joy because he was saving money. It is one of my most proud moments.


Free Play & Summer Camps

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When I was a kid we spent the summers outside playing with the neighborhood kids. We climbed trees, built forts, had picnics, and organized group games such as kick the can and capture the flag. While I’m sure our parents were around somewhere, we were pretty much left to play and explore the neighborhood on our own. Our play was imaginative kid-directed play–our parents weren’t out there directing us, entertaining us, or hovering over us making sure we were constantly safe. We were also left to work out our own problems on our own–an effective way to learn social skills!

With the summer almost half-way over we’ve done quite a bit of hiking, camping, and playing outside (not as much as we’d like–the local heat wave and drought have put a damper on things). Unfortunately, my kids have not had the same opportunities for free play outside with the neighborhood kids. For one, our neighborhood doesn’t have too many kids their age. Second, many of the kids their age are spending their summers in various summer camps and aren’t around during the day. While I’m all for an occasional camp, what I find sad is how more and more kids are being shuffled from one camp to the next, continuously moving from one adult-directed activity to the next. There’s no time for free play and self-discovery (how can a kid discover what they really love to do with no time to explore and play on their own?).

There’s a ton of research out there on the importance of free play, especially in nature. (The Children and Nature Network is a great place to start if you’re interested in more information). And while I’m fortunate that my kids play pretty well together, I would still like them to have other kids to play with on a regular basis. Thus, I’d like to introduce an idea that has been bouncing around in my head for quite some time. I would like to create an outdoor playscape for the kids in our area (see the link to the article below of an example of a natural playscape that opened in Ohio). I can’t decide if it would be more of a park where parents could bring their kids to play for the afternoon, or more of a summer camp or after school program (or perhaps a natural preschool?). Besides providing a place for kids to play outside building forts, climbing trees, and getting dirty, I could also hold sessions on everything from baby wearing to camping with babies and young children.

What are your thoughts?  Would you send your kids to outdoor play camp? Or would you prefer a park to take your kids for the day?

A PLACE TO PLAY: A Pioneering Design for Future Play Spaces : The New Nature Movement.

via A PLACE TO PLAY: A Pioneering Design for Future Play Spaces : The New Nature Movement.

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The Snail of Happiness

I read an interesting post the other day about chickens as protein harvesters and then my attention was drawn to another post about reducing the amount of brought-in feed for chickens, and yet another about creating a chicken foraging system. All of which set me thinking about my own hens and their inputs and outputs.

Now, I’m quite clear about the outputs: eggs for us to eat and barter, fertiliser and compost activator, entertainment, pest control (slugs and snails), weed control, cultivation (particularly useful for incorporating new material into the “rubbish” beds) and consumers of left-overs (although few and far-between in reality). There are also a few minor things like feathers for craft projects. So, we get a great deal out of them Even if I just consider the saving on the cost of nematodes to control the slug population and the number of eggs now available to us…

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dip net fishing


Our tents were just to the right of that big white “hospitality” tent run by a Baptist mission. They had a warming tent, free food and drinks, and crafts for kids.

The Phoenix Earthship had a tilapia pond in the greenhouse. We don’t have that, but we do have dip net fishing and it’s pretty easy. Amazingly, in 18 years of living here this weekend was the first time I’d been dip netting. Alaskan residents can add a little card to their sport fishing license and go to a river during a heavy salmon run, dip a giant net into the river while wading into the water (in chest waders) and pull up a whole lotta fish. Our family of four has a limit of 55 salmon. I caught two. But, my excuse is that it was pouring rain and my two year-old was not a happy camper. Oh, and you tent camp on the beach. It’s like a big, mellow, stinky party. I liked it!

These photos were taken at an off time – when I was in the river people were standing shoulder-to-shoulder, “combat” fishing style.


You can’t park here so you drop your gear off, park your car a mile or so away, and then set up camp on the beach.


These pictures were all taken from an overlook in a nearby park. My little camera has a great zoom lens for pictures of the beach, but here you can see much of the scene on the north shore of the Kenai.


Hello, fireweed. People fishing on the other side of the river too. There was a seal floating around in the middle of the river that I wish I’d gotten a photo of.


They love each other, even on cold and rainy days.

My kids did okay but couldn’t just stand in the rain or wait for hours and hours in a small tent. We were soaked. So we drove into town and played.


That’s me in the left corner while the boys hang out on the beach.


The big kid loved everything, the whole time!


The little kid really needed Mommy and lots of reassurance. We did lots of stuff to make him happy and assured.


Kevin sliced the salmon into steaks.


Salmon steaks, waiting to be wrapped and frozen.


When you are a good kitty you get the royal treatment.

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math | Politics News | Rolling Stone


Global warming’s terrifying new math: To keep the world below 2 degrees Celsius warming – the last possible safe threshold – we can only burn 565 more gigatons of carbon. The fossil fuel industry has 5 times that on the books, ready to burn.

That means we’re at a reckoning. It’s either the planet, or the industry’s bottom line that goes.

Read the article here:

via Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math | Politics News | Rolling Stone.

Warmth in cool colors

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I gotta tell ya, being in Anchorage during the coldest summer on record, still gives me the urge to plant beds and container gardens. These house flowers, and the thermometer gauge says 155 (in the compost). I just built the last bed of the season. I am still not sure whether to let it sit and wait for spring planting of veggies or to go with flowers and perennials. It is the biggest yet and I did it all by myself using up all of the compost piles (3) from early, mid and late this summer, it is all kinda stinky right now but the chix are loving the wonderful worms and bugs that thrive inside. The coolest temp in all the heaps was 90 degrees. I did the lasagne bedding method.

People make Earthships…


I’ve been posting about the Earthship being built in Vermont on my/our Facebook page lately. Well, one of their volunteers wrote a great blog post about what the experience was like. I greatly desire living in an Earthship but the thought of building my own terrifies me. Reading about her reality on the project makes it seem both terrifying and doable. Maybe for our next girls only vacation, Erin & Laura?