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Archive for the 'Environment' Category

Recommended: Pacem in Terris


Pretty unique and rewarding Father’s Day for me this year, and something I’d recommend.

We shelved the idea of a cookout or a ballgame this time out, and instead headed upstate to Warwick to visit Pacem in Terris — six acres of sculpture and meditation gardens along the Wawayanda River.

The gardens are the life work of Frederick Franck, a Dutch-born sculptor and author who spent nearly half a century adorning the land around his home with sculptures, artwork and meditation spaces. The NY Times did a nice piece on it three years ago.

Pacem in Terris essentially translates from Latin to mean Peace on Earth, and it’s in keeping with Franck’s spiritual outlook on life. Franck, who wrote more than 30 books on Buddhism and other subjects, died in 2006 at the age of 97, and the property is now maintained by his son, Lukas, as a nonprofit corporation.

Pacem is laced with Franck’s message, and immediately alerts visitors that it is “neither church, nor chapel, nor temple.” He cites his associations with Albert Schweitzer, Pope John XXIII and Buddhist scholar Daisetz Suzuki with helping shape his world view — and homages to them abound throughout.

Franck, a dental surgeon-turned artist, also has his work on display at the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Tokyo National Museum and St. John the Divine Church.

My girlfriend turned us on to the place, which she frequented in past during times when she sought solace and tranquility. It was also a hit for my son, who is 11.

I would note that younger children may not be as enthralled — the place is not a playground. But for older kids, it’s a worthwhile experience. My son was very taken by it and was very vocal about appreciating that he and I shared it on Father’s Day.

Anyway, Pacem in Terris is at 96 Covered Bridge Road in Warwick, and, while it’s a tad out of the way, it’s worth a trip. Most of it is literally in Franck’s back yard, so visitors are asked to be respectful.

However, it is also free, and opens to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Follow me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/jfitzgibbon

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, June 22nd, 2009 at 10:30 am |

My son and the icy little “planet”


I remember one of my son’s first trips to the Museum of Natural History years ago. He was at the height of his interest in astronomy — one of those rites of passage evey kid seems to go through. It’s like the interest all kids develop at one time or another in dinosaurs.

So there we were in the parking garage entrance area, where the ticket booths are. Along the far wall are models of the planets, and we followed them from the start: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, and so on. We followed the line down until we hit Neptune, then kept walking and wound up inside an adjacent gift shop.

“May I help you?” the woman asked.

“Yes, we’re looking for Pluto,” I said.

“It’s not a planet,” she said.

My son and I were greatly disappointed, to say the least.

Little did I realize at the time that we were at the height of controversy surrounding Pluto, which has since been officially demoted from planet status.

I’m actually in the midst of finishing a book about it all, titled the Pluto Files by Neil deGrasse Tyson, head man at the museum’s Haydn Planetarium. Turns out the museum started an uproar when it refurbished the planetarium without Pluto among the planets.

Anyway, it’s a story that, as they say in my business, has legs. Just last week, our neighbors had a dinner party which they dubbed “astronomy night” for all the kids, and we pulled out a couple of telescopes to see Saturn in the southern sky.

In the middle of it all, my son decided to poll everyone at the party on whether Pluto really was a planet. Needless to say, the results were inconclusive. But I couldn’t help but sense that a lot of the kids really miss Pluto as a full-fledged planet. My son certainly does.

The experience heightened my realization that our kids are growing up with some different realities than we had as kids.

These aren’t necessarily life-changing situations or ideals. It’s just different. When I was a kid T. Rex was supposed to have been a slow, lumbering creature that walked like Godzilla in the Japanese monster flicks, and there were a few less elements in the periodic table that I had to memorize.

But I’ve come to see it as a positive thing. Parents are traditionally supposed to help educate kids on the world around them. Now it seems my son and I are learning a thing or two together. And that’s kinda cool.

Even if I had one more planet than him.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, May 18th, 2009 at 12:05 pm |

PB&J your way to a better planet


Who knew that by making Pumpkin a delicious peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I’m not just feeding her a protein-packed lunch but helping the planet?

That’s the message of the <a href=”http://www.pbjcampaign.org” target=”_blank”>PB&J Campaign</a>, which exhorts the environmentally minded among us to pass up the chicken salad: “You recycle. You choose organic. You conserve energy. Now take at-home environmentalism to the next level.”

The idea, of course, is that plants like peanuts and strawberries and wheat take less energy, water and land to turn into food compared to livestock like cows and pigs.

It turns out that every day you eat a PB&J for lunch instead of a hamburger or grilled cheese, you save the same amount of carbon dioxide — about 2.5 pounds worth — that you would if you drove a Prius, according to the campaign. Eating just five PB&J sandwiches a month saves so much water that it’s like installing a low-flow showerhead.

The goal of the campaign is to get people to eat lunches that don’t include meat, fish, eggs or dairy products. Of course, that means any plant-based meal would work the same way as a PB&J. That makes it work even for those families who have a child with a food allergy. In my household, we particularly like humus with cucumber slices as well as tabouli. (As well as PB, of course, as you can see by this snapshot of Pumpkin gobbling a slice of whole wheat smeared with the sticky stuff.)


For those of us who can eat nuts without any side effects except too many calories, PB&J does seem like a friendly food to market as an alternative to the meat-based lunch. If you’re looking for a fun alternative to the traditional PJ&B, you can get some inspiration from the folks at <a href=”http://www.ilovepeanutbutter.com/” target=”_blank”>Peanut Butter & Co.</a> in Manhattan. When my husband and I visited their restaurant in Greenwich Village (at 240 Sullivan St.), several years back, we had a lot of fun trying unusual sandwich combinations with peanut butter. Since then, the company has started marketing jars of its peanut butter in stores, so you can try flavors like Mighty Maple, Dark Chocolate Dreams or Cinammon Raisin at home.

What do you think: Are you ready to sink your teeth into gooey goodness to help the Earth?

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 at 3:45 pm |


Do you pay more to go ‘Green’?


I’m doing a report in time for Earth Day on the cost of going “Green.” I’m hoping to explore the choices consumers make to spend more money on environmentally friendly products even though there are cheaper conventional alternatives. This can include everything from organic milk to CFLs to chlorine-free bathtub cleaner to the Toyota Prius.

As a mom, I find myself thinking a lot about this issue because I worry about the cumulative exposure to toxins, pesticides and chemicals I can help Pumpkin avoid by doing my part to shop Green. But, there is no way around it, some of these options are pricier. I wonder if the cost is enough to limit the spread of this trend to people with more disposable income. (I know I find myself shying away from buying all organic produce because of the cost.)

Give me a call at 914-666-6189 if you want to be interviewed for my story. (I’d love your thoughts on this!) You can also e-mail me at jalterio@lohud.com. I need to hear from you this week to make my deadline.

Also, in my research on this topic, I came across this <a href=”http://www.youtube.com/WholeFoodsMarket” target=”_blank”>neat contest</a> that Whole Foods is running. They are urging young people to create a video about making the planet “a greener place.” So, if you have a preteen or teenage videophile, this might be a fun way to channel his or her energy.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Monday, March 17th, 2008 at 2:39 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

American-grown apple juice is hard to find


One day I am at the grocery store picking up a bottle of apple juice (very popular with the Pumpkin), and my usual brand-name juice is sold out. I look at the store brand and read the label more carefully than usual to make sure it doesn’t have added sugar, etc. I quickly notice a stamp that says the juice was made from concentrate from China. I am not too thrilled about that — not because of a kneejerk bias toward all Chinese products, but because I worry about what kind of pesticides are in use in foreign countries that have been outlawed in the United States. So, I keep looking, and wow, I soon discover that almost every apple juice bottle contains juice concentrate from China, regardless of brand name. And, if it’s not China, it’s another country — even an organic juice contains concentrate from Turkey. The only juice I can find that promises 100 percent U.S. apples is <a href=”http://www.motts.com/product_info/apple_juice_family.asp” target=”_blank”>Mott’s Natural Apple Juice</a>.

I learned last year when researching an article on the farm bill that New York is the No. 2 state in the country for apples. Apple growing is a $185 million business here in New York. Yet, here I am, a suburban New York mother, living in a state positively teeming with apples — and I almost can’t find juice made with U.S. apples, let alone local apples.

Finding the healthiest food for your child — that is, food with lots of nutrients but without harmful ingredients — can be a real challenge at the grocery store. I have pretty much rooted out everything with high-fructose corn syrup (with the exception of ketchup, without which Pumpkin would never eat eggs). I buy organic milk. We serve meals made with fresh vegetables every day. (Today’s dinner: a cup of red lentil soup with escarole and a slice of homemade whole-wheat cheese pizza.) And yet, I can’t help but feel frustrated when I think about having filled Pumpkin’s sippy cup with apple juice from China for nearly two years now.

This summer, we’re planning to join a local farm’s community-based agriculture program, which will give us a weekly share of the harvest. We do what we can. But when I think back to the recent slew of recalls from China, I think about all the dead animals who ate the tainted pet food. I plan to do more research on food safety. I want to find out how vulnerable we are to tainted food. Maybe the apple juice from China is perfectly fine. The <a href=”http://www.usapple.org/consumers/juice_safety.cfm” target=”_blank”>U.S. Apple Association</a> says it is. I’d love to hear from other parents about your own feelings on this. Do you check labels? How do you feel about your kids eating food made in China?

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Friday, March 14th, 2008 at 10:02 pm |

How ‘Green’ is your holiday?


As a reporter, I get to meet a lot of interesting people. Often their perspectives can get me thinking about my own views and habits. That happened this month when I talked to local folks about the ways they are making sure their holiday celebrations aren’t an environmental burden on the Earth.

I talked to people who are buying outdoor lights powered by the Sun, people who are making their own wrapping paper, even people who are giving away renewable energy credits as gifts. Here is a <a href=”http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071209/BUSINESS01/712090341/1066″ target=”_blank”>link to the main story</a> on making your holiday “Green.” Here is a <a href=”http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071209/BUSINESS01/712090338/1066″ target=”_blank”>link to a sidebar full of tips</a>. (My favorite: Save this year’s holiday cards to make tags for next year’s presents.) And <a href=”http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071209/BUSINESS01/712090340/1066″ target=”_blank”>here is a link</a> to a story on the lead risks of plastic holiday decor, such as lights, and the popularity of real Christmas trees among the environmentally savvy.

Doing this package made me think a little guiltily about my own environmental footprint during the holidays. I get a lot of catalogs. A LOT. I tend to burn my Christmas tree lights all day long when I’m home. Worst of all: I am a glutton when it comes to giving presents and wrapping them in fancy paper. This photo from last year’s Christmas kind of tells the whole story of my environmentally un-friendly habits:

And yet, if you asked me about other ways I try and do my part, I’d point to my (mostly) diligent recycling, my effort to turn off lights when I’m not in the room, my habit of combining errands in one trip, etc. I think the holidays can make us all go nuts in the consumption department. Last year was Pumpkin’s second Christmas — and the first she really was able to participate in by unwrapping her own gifts, eating cookies, etc. So, I went crazy. So crazy, in fact, that we were still unwrapping after dinner. That’s how long it took to get through the presents!

I was inspired this year to change some of my ways by the stories I heard from local parents. We bought some Philips outdoor lights with light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. They use just a tiny fraction of the electricity of incandescent bulbs. I bought some environmentally friendly gifts. I shopped locally when I could. Next year, with more time to plan, we’ll do more. I love the Pratt family’s wrapping solution. Randy Pratt, who runs the Wilkens Fruit & Fir Farm in Yorktown Heights, told me the family shops after the holiday for discount Christmas fabric and makes their own long-lasting gift bags. What a great idea!

1211-paper.jpgI was also inspired by Laura Barkat of Ossining. Here, at right, is some really cute homemade holiday paper created last year by her girls, who are now 10 and 8. Laura gives the girls just three gifts between the two of them, one shared and one each. Last year, the eldest mended her younger sister’s favorite pajamas as a holiday gift. “She saw that her sister was about to lose her favorite pajamas. They were unwearable. She put patches on the knees and mended them and there they were Christmas morning,” Laura told me. When I asked Laura to sum up her feelings on the topic, she sent me an e-mail. Here is what she wrote:

“First, I wanted to say that being green is sometimes framed as a list of do’s and don’ts. But in our family it’s more about restoring our lives and the life of our community and world. By ‘restoring,’ I mean ‘refilling’ or ‘restocking.’ So, being green is about what we add to our lives that makes them more precious and less full of negative impact. On this note, being green is also about ‘re-storying’ our lives. Picking a different life narrative than the Climb to Success, finding a different identity or character than Consumer. We choose, instead, to weave a narrative of Love, to discover and encourage our ingenuity and intense potential for human creativity. On a practical level, this means we focus on meaningful ritual, tradition, sharing, and memory-making, rather than on ‘stuff’ (the consuming of stuff, the provision of stuff by others, and the pursuit of stuff as a ‘right’ to the exclusion of the health of family, community and environment). This is a year-round goal, to change our focus from buying stuff to ritual, but at Christmas it takes a particular shape.”

Like Laura, I feel it’s important for my holiday habits to reflect our own values. And I’ll admit my habits need a bit of a makeover. But I plan to do it because I want Pumpkin to share in the awe and wonder of the holiday’s true message rather than the message I might inadvertently send by spoiling her with too many presents and not eliminating my own wasteful ways. What do the rest of you parents think? Are you feeling the urge to go “Green” this holiday? What lessons do you try and teach your kids about the environment through your habits — in December and all year long?

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Tuesday, December 11th, 2007 at 12:01 am |
| | 1 Comment »


Now Mother Nature has an issue too


Turns out divorce is bad for the environment.

Well, at least that’s what researchers at Michigan State University are saying “in a new study”:http://www.nsf.gov/news/news_summ.jsp?cntn_id=110798&org=NSF&from=news published this week in The Proceedings of the National Academies of Science.

The study, which was funded in part by the National Science Foundation, argues that divorce and separation creates two homes, which in turn increases the amount of resources used — everything from electricity to water, not to mention the land necessary to construct additional homes.

I suppose there’s nothing wrong with an additional incentive to keep a marriage together. But do we really have to shoulder the extra guilt when it doesn’t pan out? As if we didn’t have enough on our plates already.

Anyway, there’s a lot of press out there on this. But here’s a good piece from “The L.A. Times”:http://www.latimes.com that does a good job of summarizing the report. Let me know what you think.

Get a Divorce, Warm the Globe
By Alan Zarembo

(c) 2007, Los Angeles Times

If you thought divorce was bad for the kids, you should see what it does to the environment.
A study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that the inefficiency of divorced households resulted in an extra 73 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity use in the United States in 2005, about 7 percent of total home use.
“Turning on the light uses the same energy whether there are two people or four people in the room,� said lead author Jianguo Liu, an ecologist at Michigan State University.
The extra electricity generation spews more carbon dioxide into the air, exacerbating global warming.
“If you don’t want to get remarried, maybe move in with somebody you like,� said Liu, who just celebrated his 20th wedding anniversary.
Other obvious solutions include polygamy, commune living or roommates.
“I’m just a scientist trying to present the facts,� Liu said. “I’m not promoting one way or another.�
Liu used demographic data to estimate that divorced households, which account for about 15 percent of the 110 million U.S. households, used 3.7 rooms per person, compared with 2.5 for married households.
Looking at energy statistics, he calculated that divorced households spent 46 percent more per person on electricity than married households in 2005. They spent 56 percent more on water, according to the study, which also looked at the environmental effect of divorce in 11 other countries.
Jim Jewell, the chief operating officer of the Evangelical Environmental Network, a Christian conservation group based in Suwanee, Ga., said the study’s revelations, while interesting, will have no effect on the way he advises couples.
“When we sit down and counsel somebody not to get divorced, the fact that they would need two refrigerators would be so far down the line that it wouldn’t even register,� he said.
Environmentalists, however, said divorcees might look at their situation as a chance to lessen their environmental impact by moving in with family, getting a roommate or renting an apartment in the city.
“Think of divorce as an opportunity to scale back on the stuff you surround yourself with,� said Lisa Wise, executive director of the Center for a New American Dream, a nonprofit environmental organization in Takoma Park, Md.
But she added: “We clearly wouldn’t say, ‘Stay in an unhappy relationship because it’s better for the environment.’ �

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Tuesday, December 4th, 2007 at 4:41 pm |

Hunting out Lead in the Home


Lead contamination seems to be a problem that just doesn’t go away. The 1970s saw lead removed from home paints, its elimination from gasoline, and its banning from paint used on children’s toys.

 But the series of recalled toys and other products in recent months shows that lead remains a issue for just about everyone with children, who are most susceptible to this toxic metal.

Until recently, the biggest worry with lead was for those young children living in older homes who might be exposed to old, chipping paint containing lead. As usual, those most affected are the children of the poor living in substandard housing.

Learning and behavioral problems are the biggest concerns connected to lead exposure in kids followed by possible damage to brains, kidneys, and other organs.

 Even though our children are exposed to lower levels of lead than in the 1960s, what’s considered safe levels of lead also is dropping.  The safey standard is one-sixth what it was in the 1960s, and a further strengthening of the standard is considered.

 There are some things you can do to reduce your children’s lead exposure and that of all children. Here are a few websites that can help you get a better grip on the problem:

*Get a good overview on lead from the New York State Health Department.

*This webpage from Consumer Reports looks at the latest lead scare and includes an asessment of home testing kits for lead.

*Track down recalled toys from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Posted by Len Maniace on Wednesday, November 21st, 2007 at 6:00 am |
| | 1 Comment »

Did she just say @#*$&#?


My son knows every four-letter word under the sun. He hears them on TV, around town, and around school from time to time. There are older kids at his after-school program who let one fly now and again. I’m not naive enough to think you can protect a child from foul language. My rule has been simple: I don’t want to hear them. I try not to curse around him, and he dare not do so around me.

To me, it’s a respect thing for kids. I use “colorful” language in my adult life, whether it be with friends or colleagues. But I draw the line around children, and certainly around my son. It makes me wonder how other parents handle the issue.

I bring this up because of an experience I had this weekend at a shopping center. I saw a woman fly into a rage over a parking space. She got out of her SUV and hurled a profanity-laced verbal assault on another woman. It was one of those “road-rage” type of situations, where the woman felt personally offended. She quickly won the argument, but continued her foul-mouthed rant as she got back in her vehicle, closed the door, and parked. Then she got out and began getting her two young children out of the car, even while she was still going on about the “slight” she was just subjected to.

Now, I’ve let the occasional curse slip in traffic or some other frustrating situation. I’m human. But I quickly apologize to my son if he’s within earshot and reinforce that it is wrong. He knows dad’s not perfect. I simply believe good manners, including proper language, feed directly to how you present yourself and how you are perceived as an older child and as an adult.

So this situation in the parking lot astounded me, in large part because it wasn’t the first time I’ve witnessed something like it. It makes me wonder if I make too much of a big deal out of it, and if I’m just out of step with parents in general. It makes me wonder how some other parents handle this issue.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, October 22nd, 2007 at 10:21 am |


A working mom to remember


0912-anita.jpgAnita Roddick, the founder of <a href=” http://www.thebodyshop.com ” target=”_blank”>The Body Shop</a>, died on Monday at age 64. A working mother of two daughters, Samantha and Justine, Anita opened the first Body Shop in 1976. At the time, the idea of making beauty products from natural ingredients like fruits and vegetables — and not testing them on animals — was radical. In the following decades, Anita became one of the most successful businesswomen in Britain, but never seemed to lose sight of her values or her devotion to all children, not just her own. She reportedly gave most of her fortune — tens of millions — to charities. She founded <a href=”http://www.childrenontheedge.org/” target=”_blank”>Children on the Edge</a> in 1990 to help desperately needy children in Romanian orphanages. Here is one of her many wise quotes that I think is a worthwhile mantra for all parents: “I hope to leave my children a sense of empathy and pity and a will to right social wrongs.â€?

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Wednesday, September 12th, 2007 at 2:15 pm |
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What kids learn from you: environment


We’re on vacation now, but I’ve been thinking about the values that we pass on to our kids. Values covers a lot of ground and what I’ve been thinking about lately is environmental values. 

I hope my kids are learning from some of the things we do in our house. Starting at the end of last year we’ve replaced all of our standard incandescent lights with those mini-spiral fluorescent bulbs, all of them: the bulbs in lamps and ceiling fixtures, spot lights and outdoor floodlights. We picked the soft-white bulbs because the color and tone of the light is hard to distinguish from standard light bulbs – especially if you have shades or glass fixtures over them. 

We also compost. We have a big old-style cookie jar where we toss all fruit and veggie scraps. With all the fresh fruit and vegetables during the summer we’re filling it almost every day. I’m the only one in my house, however, who empties the container into our compost bin.

Ever since we bought our first mini-van in 2000 I felt guilty about driving that gas guzzler every day to work. Still I needed a car big enough to haul the family, plus friends, relatives and luggage, tents, etc. Late last year we sold our old mini-van for a new mini-mini van. These are relatively new on the market in the US, although they are popular in Europe where gas prices have long been much higher. The new car gets about 26 mpg (combined driving), has six seats and a very small trunk, compare with 20 mpg, seven seats and reasonable storage. Using Consumer Reports guidance I was able to bargain down a 2007 Mazda 5 to $18,000 – about $3,000 to $,6000 less than other mini-vans.

The true test was a weekend trip with my parents and the four in my family, as well as our luggage. A roof rack and luggage container which cost a combined $700 provided the storage we needed. And with its stream-lined shape, the roof rack didn’t seem to hurt highway mileage much. And we use mass transit when we head into Manhattan. 

I’m hoping that this stuff will become part of the kids’ values, if not now,  as they reach adulthood. All we can do is plant the seed, cultivate, and hope it grows.

Posted by Len Maniace on Tuesday, August 28th, 2007 at 10:00 am |
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About this blog
Parents’ Place is a hangout for openly discussing the A’s to Z’s of raising a child in the Lower Hudson Valley. From deciding when to stop using a binky to when to let your teenager take driving lessons, Parents’ Place is here to let us all vent, share, and most of all, learn from each other.
Leading the conversation are Julie Moran Alterio, a business reporter and mom of a toddler, Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, a reporter and single father with joint custody of a 9-year-old son, and Len Maniace, a reporter and father of two sons.


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About the authors
Julie Moran AlterioJulie Moran AlterioJulie Moran Alterio, her husband and baby girl — “Pumpkin” — share their Northern Westchester home with three iPods and more colorful plastic toys than seems necessary to entertain one tiny human. READ MORE
Jorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-Gibbon has been a journalist for more than 20 years and a father for nine. READ MORE
Jane LernerJane LernerJane Lerner covers health and hospitals for The Journal News in Rockland, where she lives with her husband and two children. READ MORE
Len Maniace.jpgLen ManiaceLen Maniace is a reporter and father of two sons. READ MORE