Wednesday, June 29, 2011

CHOOSE WHOLE-FAMILY ACTIVITIES FOR AN ENJOYABLE AND EARTH-FRIENDLY SUMMER

During the cold months, it’s hard to think of fun family activities that don’t involve major energy usage. Everyone wants to be inside in a warm house, hurrying home in a gas-guzzling (some more, some less) bus or car, having a dinner, and getting into a comfy bed early. But, come summer, we can opt for other entertainment and at a lower energy cost. Some warm-weather vacation activities don’t call for any extra spending – just making a choice to expand your leisure horizons. Here are five whole-family activities that will can make your carbon footprint and your heart lighter this summer.

1. At home, outdoor get-together.
Plan for an earth-friendly, outdoor dinner with family and friends rather than going out to a restaurant. (You might want to announce your reasons for the dinner beforehand.) Serve a veggie-fest instead of the usual meat-heavy picnic fare. Your vegetables can be summer favorites such as corn on the cob, baked potatoes, eggplant, etc, grilled at the time or pre-prepared. Accompany the veggies with baked beans, whole-grain dinner rolls, and a curried egg-salad or pimento cheese. Use your ceramic dinner wear, regular utensils, and cloth napkins – no plastic or paper throwaways. And be sure to buy the beer in glass bottles - instead of aluminum cans - and serve iced tea, lemonade or fruit punch (no High Fructose Corn Syrup, please) in regular glasses - instead of soda pop in plastic or aluminum. Your earth-friendly choice of food and beverages will more than half the carbon usage of your meal. Also, skip those greasy commercial snacks and set out bowls of healthier munchies, such as popcorn, whole-grain crackers, and celery, carrots, and radishes with a tasty dip.

2. Reuse yard event
Remember the "three R's" of earth-friendliness -- reduce, reuse, and recycle. While most of us are reducing (our purchases) and recycling (our trash), not so many people are looking for reuses for no-longer wanted items. Here’s a way to highlight reuse among your family and friends. Plan a reuse yard event. Instead of selling or giving away stuff that’s not being used, host a neighborhood or church-based reuse event. Think of all the time people spend watching do-it-yourself programs where they see ingenious and stylish reuses. Your goal is to bring out that creative knowledge and spirit in the group. All the participants bring a small collection of things in good condition that they no longer use. When the group is gathered, each item is held up, one-at-a-time, and everyone is asked to tell how they would use it or reuse it. Sometimes, the best use would be its original function but not always. Brainstorming is encouraged. It's likely that people will come up with some interesting new reuses that the group would like to hear - or at least be amused by. Then have a vote on who came up with the most original or the most worthy reuse. That person “wins” the item and decides its fate – to be kept for personal use, given to someone else who wants or needs it, or put in a pile to be donated to a local charity.

3. Backyard overnight for your children.
A backyard overnight is a perfect, low-carbon vacation experience for young children and their friends. (Clearly, one or more watchful adults should always be present for the duration of the event. Grandparents can be encouraged to participate or even organize this kind of activity for grandchildren.) First, plan how you are going to sleep - in a tent, under a tarp lean-to, under the stars, on a porch, or in a breezeway. Then, arrange the outdoor evening meal as an adult-supervised grill-out, or easier yet, just open a large picnic basket filled with sandwiches and goodies. Check the weather the day before and have some anti-bug lotion ready. Think of an alternate area for "camping" if rain comes up.  Breakfast can be made of finger-foods and set out on a buffet, indoors or out, to be served after all the "mess" is cleaned up in the sleeping area.

Plan some outdoor games (no electronics) for entertainment before and after dinner. Among the games could be a group painted mural (crayons and colored pens are cleanest) on an old bed sheet or paper fastened or taped to a wall. The children should choose the theme for their mural. Another great backyard activity is a  scavenger hunt for things likely to be found in your yard or “planted” there especially for the event. Adults and kids would enjoy running an obstacle course. One obstacle "station" would be running, zigzag style around a course made up of a collection of large objects. Another could be a jumping station where players must jump over a rope 20 times. The same rope, when lowered a foot off the ground can be a crawl-through station. There could also be a penny tossing station where the targets are different sized cans or plastic bowls. The child who sets the "record" time finishing the obstacle course gets a prize.

4. Visit to the farmers' market
If yours isn't a farm or garden-raising family (where everyone knows a lot about producing and processing fresh stuff), you can still reap some seasonal benefits by visiting a large farmers' market. At the market, spend time observing and identifying what's in the produce stands and chatting with vendors about the products. Take your own large, reusable shopping bags for your purchases and have a camera ready to take pictures of the outing. Have each family member  choose and purchase at least one item that they like (that moment would surely make for a good picture). Later the same day, everyone in the family, including children, can look for recipes and help prepare a dinner based on market purchases.

5. Local volunteer work
Spend some of your summer mornings or afternoons volunteering. Through local volunteer work, the entire family can take part in healthy, socially conscious activitites. Where possible, choose active, body-moving activities over seated, in-office kinds of service. Volunteer ideas include stuffing boxes at a local food bank, cleaning trash from the side of a road, serving food at a local drop-in center, and taking newspapers and magazines and offering to read them to people in a nursing home. Another idea is to help your children and their friends canvass the neighborhood for items to be sold in a weekend yard sale (should be the same week, if possible) on behalf of a local charity. Be sure to let the neighbors know that you'll report back on the results of the sale and that everyone, children and adults alike, will sign the donation letter that accompanies the check.

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Preparing vegetarian meals.

 








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