Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Erik Jensen Art: Computer Keyboard Artist

Art is a great place to repurpose materials.

Erik Jensen, who's medium is computer keys popped of a keyboard has shown just that! Keyboards often are a commodity that lands in landfills. So Erik salvages the keyboard keys, dyes them, then lays and glues them into designs that become art!

Reminds me of Lego Artist Nathan Sawaya and the maker movement!!

You definitely need to check out his website to see the breadth of his work. A mosaic in keyboard keys (some of which you might recognize.) Cheers to Erik & his upcycled art!

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Recycling Conundrums: The Silver Lining

"Boy oh boy, you sure know how to bring someone down!"

I'm sure that was the general sentiment after reading my last post: Recycling Conundrums: The Dark Part. Reading and writing it, I was feeling it in the pit of my stomach (so I know you were too). But, it was all news that needed to be known. Cower away from it might have been what we wanted to do, but knowledge is power. We needed to become experts on what's going on in the recycling world so that we can make sense of it, and shape the system to serve us.

The good news is this is the Part 2--the bright side--where we can make actionable pieces to go forth and "clean up" our recycling routine to make sure we can get better at doing what we're doing with all the "stuff" that comes in and out of our house.

Here's a little laundry list of pro-active steps we all should take. The first 4 come from's 1/18/2019 post "How to Make Sure Your Recycling Gets Recycled." Then I added some more to the list. Knowledge is indeed power!

1. Learn Your Local Rules.
Not all programs are created equally. Know what you need to know for where you live.
"I had always figured that if I didn’t know whether a thing was recyclable, I was better off putting it in recycling than in the trash. But the phrase you’ll hear from recycling experts is now 'when in doubt, throw it out.' "

2. Clean Off The Food.
Waste of water? Maybe... but it might be worth the collateral loss of water to save the waste from the landfill. Cans, jugs, bottles, tubs. All of it. Crystal clear isn't necessary, but a rinse for sure. The last thing you want to do is get food scraps from your containers onto the paper products, contaminating those, making them harder--if not impossible--to recycle.

3. Break Down Your Boxes.
All those Amazon boxes (and other home deliveries) have upped cardboard's usage/creation rate 8% over the past 5 years, however recycled cardboard rates haven't kept up. Likewise, that includes taking off the tape, throwing out portions with labels, and even box-cutting them down to regular paper size. That feels like a lot of work that a lot of people won't do, but it'll get things more recycled, less-landfilled, than not.

4. Consume Less.
The no-brainer here. Less consumption means less is wasted. However, in our over-packaged world of sometimes plastic-wrapped apples, that does become harder and harder to do. The word "Reduce" purposely comes first in the "Reduce-Reuse-Recycle" trilogy. Actually, maybe "Refuse" should be the first word in a four-word mantra!

5.  Check out Waste Management's Recycle Often Recycle Right Myth Page.
The Recycle Often Recycle Right Myths Page is a clickable list of major things to consider when it comes to recycling. Perfect for the hands-on and visual learners out there! Additionally, there are videos, printable, school curriculums, and other resources on their website that will help you navigate "what goes where."

6.  Look into WasteDive.
WasteDive's "How Recycling is Changing in All 50 States" page invites you to search for your state and see what's changed. From their reports, the effects of the changes are "heavy" in 13 states, "noticeable" in 28 states (and DC), and "minimal" in 9. Where are things in your neck of the woods? There you will see not only the negative "side effects" of the changes, but also the "changes & solutions" per state.

7. Visit Insider's "Don't Recycle" List
Insider's article "17 Things You Should Never Recycle — Even If You Think You Can" is a great place to get a quick run down of those things that you should automatically trash.  I definitely saw a few things that I need to re-train my family on--paper towels being one of them!

8. Earth911's Recycling Guide
Earth911 has been a great go-to for years to learn where to recycling things--whether it's household or specialty items. Their clickable Recycling Guide will help set the record straight on how and where certain items can be recycled.

9. Investigate Terracycle
Terracycle has turned specialized recycling into an art. Look into their recycled waste streams and see what you want to invest your time in with them. I love their innovation to keep waste out of the landfill!!

It may be a little more effort, and a little more work, but if the goal is a cleaner, more protected planet, it seems like a small price to pay forward!

Images from and and

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Recycling Conundrums: The Dark Part

Over Christmas when I was home (as in, "my childhood home") visiting my family, we got into a quandary conversation about "where does 'this' go?" The 'this' in question was one of many things--a bottle, the pizza box, name it. The "where" in question was either "trash" or "recycling." We've all been recycling for years, but it seems as if the rules are always fluid, always shifting as to what "can" and "cannot" be recycled.

Is it a municipality thing?
Is it a real thing?
Is it a "we feel vindicated because we're recycling" thing, but really a "we're being snowed" thing?
Are we making our recycling unrecyclable because we're not putting enough effort into the act (and perhaps "art") of recycling?

At one point years ago, our local recycling was pitching the motto: "when in doubt, recycle it out." (Well, give or take--I added the rhyme.) They wanted to encourage over-recycling, saying they'd sort it out. Having just gone online and checked out their website, they've since come to change their view.

Recycling just doesn't seem easy nor intuitive anymore!

As part of my quest to re-figure out this recycling thing, I checked out a few articles.'s 1/10/2019 article "The Era Of Easy Recycling May Be Coming To An End" reiterated the point that recycling has changed. Single-stream recycling (where we put them all into one bin and let the recycling center sift & sort it out) has made recycling efforts grow from 29% to 80% in the 9 years between 2005 and 2014. However, single-stream is not as cost-effective as it once was. Add in the fact that the mixed mess we are throwing out in that recycling bin can cross contaminate other recyclables, making our recycled items UNrecyclable! We're essentially shooting ourselves in the foot (about 25% of the time), BUT feeling good while we do it, because we wrongly think we are doing something for our planet!

Put plainer: we ultimately have higher rates of recycling happening when it's single-stream, but higher contamination rates too. Which means higher rates of recycling landing in the landfill.

This line struck me;
"There are also electronics and batteries, plastic grocery bags and Christmas lights — all of which can be recycled, but only through specialty drop-off programs, not the curbside bin. There are perfectly recyclable cans and paper coated in food, grease or cleaning fluids that render them unrecyclable. There are plastic bottles full of glass syringe needles that break open at the sorting facilities like a piƱata from hell."
Additionally, glass bottles break, water bottles flatten, tin cans get smushed and misread by the machines. Shards of glass wind up enmeshed in cardboard boxes. Even some of the glues, inks and or packing tape wind up fouling up the machines. All of these cause problems, making single-stream more expensive and lowering recycling rates. It's not surprise that communities are starting to move away from one-stop-shopping recycling.
"Even the seven most common types of plastic used in consumer manufacturing–stamped on the bottom with a number inside a triangle–are replete with inconsistent resin composition, color, transparency, weight, shape, and size that complicate and often rule out recycling. For example, a #1 soda bottle has different melt properties than a #1 lettuce container, making the lettuce container a contaminant for the soda bottle. Colored soda bottles cannot mix with clear soda bottles. Yogurt containers cannot mix with milk jugs, even though both are white. Filmy cling wrap can be recycled in theory, but is too often contaminated by food. The limitations are too many to count."
If that didn't make your heads spin right there... just wait. There's more. National Geographic's article China's Ban on Trash Imports Shifts Waste Crisis to Southeast Asia details how China's trash import ban has been a game changer for all of us. For a year now, China (previously the largest importer of plastic waste) stopped buying the majority of what's out there. Their pursuit was for the 99.5% pure plastic trash. That upset a $200 Billion plastic scrap/plastic crap global industry... uprooting a 25 year roll!

But the trash has to go somewhere--and most Americans buy into the "NIMBY" philosophy--"Not In My Backyard! So where has all this recyclable waste gone? Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam,, & Malaysia. And, being "newbies" versus 25 year veterans, the learning curve led straight to overwhelm due to quantity alone!

From the article:
“I hate seeing my country as the dumpsite for the developed world,” said Yeo Bee Yin, whose full title is Minister for Energy, Technology, Science, Climate Change, and Environment. She declared that 'no developing nation should be the dumping site for the developed world.' "
Malaysia may now be considered the world's largest importer of plastic trash--and potentially the largest trash heap. Who wants that for their country?! But, perhaps it's the wake up call we all need in terms of thinking about our use of resources in order to help minimize the idea, especially with a potential of 10 billion people on our planet by 2050. The rate of waste is only growing. More people could get us to an increase of 70% over the next 30 years, meaning the garbage problem is only going to get worse!

Economy always rules the game. Especially when it is often exponentially cheaper to ship from the American West Coast to China by boat versus land-transport across our own country. The uncertainty in the recycling markets doesn't help. Additionally, there's now become a market for illegal importation of plastic trash. If there's a potential economy for anything, I suppose there's the potential for an illegal market of "that thing" as well. Sad but true.

So what ARE you supposed to do? Curl up in the fetal position? Bury your head in the sand? Drink ourselves silly? Those strategies, while temporarily comforting, aren't going to help.

Given this feels like the doom & gloom, mind-numbing portion of the program, I hate to stop here. But as you can tell, there IS a lot here. Given that, I'm going to share the silver linings in a secondary post. The good news is there ARE still ways we can take action and rein in the recycling.

For other eye opening articles for your own deeper dive, be sure to check out: 

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Martin Luther King, Jr: Day of Service

With Martin Luther King, Jr's birthday next week, this week we shared the following videos with our 5th graders. We focused on the idea of using the day as a day of service--the perfect way to commemorate Dr. King.

We had a secondary activity where students scanned a QR code linked to a Padlet board. Here they could record reflections on the videos, Martin Luther King in general, and their idea of service. Their level of empathy and the commentary was striking.

What will you do this year to commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King? 

At the very least, watch these videos. It's always good to remind our selves where we've been historically, and how powerful Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words are in this speech alone. Cheers to a great leader.

Photos from and; Videos from,,;;; and

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

How To Not Be (Completely) Depressed About Climate Change by Sarah Lazarovic

I just ran across Sarah Lazarovic's beautifully hand-drawn and poignantly true, illustrated infographic "How To Not Be (Completely) Depressed About Climate Change" on YesMagazine's website.

The title grabbed me, because... let's face it: climate change is not the most uplifting conversation. Focusing long and hard on our planetary decline (especially in the age of deniers and folks that disregard facts) certainly can bring a person down.

Sarah has some good food for thought--and humor to go along the way. Click this link to see the 4-panel infographic in its entirety. My favorite line: "Be bold, but not a buzzkill."

Lazarovic's infographic also ties to another YesMagazine article that includes a book excerpt from Charles Einstein's book Climate: A New Story. The book excerpt (also published January 2019) entitled "Why the Climate Message isn't Working" with the title tagline: "Threats of global catastrophe won't move people to action. Only the heart can inspire zeal.

And...upon digging this up, I ran across some of her other work, that also is good food for thought!

Small Works: Little Actions Everywhere (click the link to see the infographic in its entirety)

The Buyerarchy of Needs (which is on the home page of her website, ) and her book: A Bunch of Pretty Things I Did Not Buy


mages from

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Zaria Forman: Climate Artist & Activist

This weekend, from the Midwest to the East Coast, snow is coming, temperatures are dropping, and iciness is on the horizon. Typical winter in most of these parts for mid-January. Makes us all shiver at the thought of that "arctic chill," as the meteorologists often describe it.

But what about life in the true arctic? Where that "chill" really is and where glaciers and icebergs truly live?

Climate artist and activist Zaria Forman knows a little bit about that, as she features such extreme locations as Greenland, Antarctica, and Arctic Canada as well as places like the Maldives, Hawaii and more in her pastel drawings.

I learned about Zaria Forman from a former colleague of mine--as she was a former student of his. He was detailing her environmental advocacy in a Facebook post of his. Upon looking into her website, I found that she's both a talented artist and a passionate champion who shares her knowledge, experience, and expertise about climate change through her work. From her website's "About" page, these are some striking accomplishments:
  • She's flown with NASA on Several "Operation IceBridge" missions.
  • She's been featured on many news shows and multiple publications (including the Smithsonian Magazine, Nation Geographic, Wall Street Journal, and New York Times and links to many more on her press page).
  • She's spoken at Amazon, Google, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
  • She was a National Geographic artist-in-residence aboard their ship "Explorer" to Antarctica.
Below is her TEDTalk, where you clearly see her passion, love of our planet, concern, but also her optimism for the future.

As she states (and I paraphrase): to love nature, you need to know nature, and it is then that you will protect nature. May we all do the same! One way to do this is to be sure to check out her "Reduce Your Carbon Footprint" page while checking out more of her art on her website.


Photos from and from

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

New Year, New Reads

What was on your Christmas/Holiday Wish List?

Mine was heavy hit with books. And boy oh boy, did I get some good ones:

As a homeroom teacher, my classroom library was one to rival the school library. "Treat books lovingly" has always been one of my messages. No folding back the covers or bending down the corners. Treat them as your friends!

I also always had the Harry Potter books in my class library. Gotta love Scholastic book points! But given I'm more of a fiction or non-fiction versus fantasy reader, I never read them. Nor did I see the movies: "It's not my genre," I always used to say.

But that was until this year, when my Middle School son started reading the series. Simultaneously, we made plans to go to Orlando's Universal Studios over Spring Break to Diagon Alley, Hogwart's Express, and all that's Harry Potter. With our plans to go, I did what I do: I started researching:
  • We started a week long binge-fest of watching 6 of the 8 movies.
  • This led us to a friendly family competition: who would finish Book #7 first. 
  • I started reading book #7 first.... then we went to Universal.
  • Then I started the series from the beginning and read all 7, while simultaneously watching the last 2 movies upon our return from Florida.
I. Was. Sucked. In!! And surprised. And stunned by some 20 year surprises that I'd never learned the spoiler. (My kids chastised me, saying, "Mom, where have you been...we knew that! Everyone knows that" How, I asked? You haven't seen the movies. "Mom! The Internet!" But of course! Given that, the philosophy and back stories fascinate me, and the illustrated trio of the first three books are just down right amazing. I'm starting my reread again!

From my techie side, I've got another trio of books. This set though is to help neutralize tech time (for both myself, my family, and my elementary school students), helping us all to balance out screentime in a positive way. I'm eager to dive into those 3 books: "The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place" by Andy Crouch, The Art of Screen Time: "How Your Family Can Balance Digital Media and Real" by Anya Kamenetz, and "Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World" by Deborah Heitner.

All this leads me to my next set of books: More and more, I think the way to offset the over-techification of America is to got back to nature and environmental education. Upon reading Richard Louv's "Last Child in the Woods" as part of our school summer read, my school has created book groups with this and 3 other books in order to create a positive change internally within the school. I opted into a group centered around this book since I feel this and the "teching of America" are two sides of the same coin. Nature will help us neutralize the FOMO associated with technology, yet technology and innovation will help solve some of the environmental issues our world is facing. Given that I'm eager to read The Nature Fix and Love Earth Now: The Power of Doing One Thing Every Day.

And then there's Michelle Obama's book, which I did finish reading over break already. Always interesting to put yourself in someone else's shoes, to take a peak into the White House and see what it would be like learning yourself into being a member of the first family. It's always good to embrace hope and optimism too.

Clearly, I'm going to be busy for a while! But what's better than curling up with a good book? 

What's on your reading list for the 2019?

Photo from my camera of my reading stack!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

One Word 2019

For the last several years, I've embraced "One Word" as an approach to the New Years and resolutions.

One word to focus on for my year.

Some years, it's more tried and true than others. Some of my words in the past:

8/-ate (2018)
Notice (2017)
Up (2016)
Make (2015)
Change (2014)

So it's 2019. Where do I want to go from here?

My word this year: WIN.

But, because I can't just go with one word and leave it at that, "WIN" has extra meaning as it's an acronym.  WIN:
  • What is Necessary?
  • When, If Not Now?
  • When In Nature...
  • What Do I Need?
  • What's Important Now?
My hope is that if I'm at a thought crossroad here in 2019, I'll check in with myself. Do I need to lay down my phone/tech? Do I need to stop and reach out to my kids? Do I need to head outside? Do I need to take a break, read a book, do something different? My "WIN" questions should be able to step up and answer what needs to be answered!

What's your "One Word" this year?

 and My "Win" image created on Pic EDU and shared here!