I am thankful for clean sheets

Thanksgiving brings memories of good food (probably too much food), football, The Macy’s Parade, Black Friday shopping, and lots of family, good fun, and laughs. OR in my case having a Stargate marathon for 4 days in a row.

But there is something to be said for the simple things in life – like spending time with your family. Being away from your family makes you really appreciate them and miss them. It’s been a challenge to be away from my family for as long as I have been and not to be home for Thanksgiving has been especially hard on me. Being sick kind of distracts from missing them so much – but only a little bit because I know if I was back at home I would be babied. Thanksgiving in recent years has been a time when my sisters, dad, and I spend hours playing the Wii and eating way too much food – including puppy chow.

So this Thanksgiving I am truly thankful for my crazy, fun, ridiculous family because I really miss them. It’s very easy to take your family for granted (especially when you live with them) but spending almost constant time with them has been time I definitely miss. On the bittersweet side, the internship is almost over and I’ll be home for Christmas.

Other small things I’m thankful for:

-Alex, who puts up with my ridiculous antics – and they are plentiful

-having a puppy who makes me laugh

-the fact that it was 7o degrees outside today and Alex and I got to go on a long walk and enjoy the nice weather

-my few, but close friends

-having a fully stocked fridge and being able to enjoy a giant bowl of ice cream

-living in a country that allows people to have free speech, which allows me to be able to write and post this blog

-having two jobs while some people do not even have one job

-having the opportunity to learn valuable skills and build my resume by working at National Geographic

-and of course, clean sheets! Who doesn’t love clean sheets?!


The “C” Word

NO! Not that word, get your mind out of the gutter… I’m talking about the word Conservation. Geography Awareness Week has been great but the icing on the cake has been the WWF Fuller Symposium I attended the last two days. I’ve learned so much and the only way I can express that is to tell you that over two days I heard 26 speakers and took 17 pages of notes! I had a great time, learned a lot, and now I’m feeling very inspired to, yet again, save the world. I won’t bore you with all of the notes I took because I know people are not as fascinated by sustainability and the environment as I am (I think I border obsessiveness) but I do think the repeated messages are important to the future of us as a race, the biodiversity on this planet, and the planet itself.

A topic that came up, by almost every speaker I might add, was the need for more science and more data. According to Wolfram Alpha, the field of conservation science is growing about 6%/year. Having more data will allow scientists to see if certain forests are recovering as expected, how many different animals there are in a certain park by sampling feces, checking out the toxicology of a river, whether hydropower and damming are creating enough energy to be worth it, when the best estimate is that the last polar bear will go extinct and why, and so on. There will be a huge need to fill in this gap of information with accurate and precise data. This information will be important to policy and decision-making and with this information comes the need for collaboration.

Repeatedly, people brought up collaboration. Countries need to collaborate with one another to create change; one example of this is the Jordan-Israel Peace Park. These two countries teamed up to create a Peace Park to help migratory birds across this area, which is such a great idea because two countries now have a stake in seeing that the park is successful. Another area of collaboration that was discussed was that scientists need to be in communication with policy makers and the policy makers need to be in communication with people and communities. There needs to be cooperation from every level and every area to make a positive impact on the planet. Conservation needs to be a part of the planning process not a detail we go back and try to fix afterwards – this is clearly a route that isn’t working for us.

The last topic I want to point out was that all the science and data does no good if we can’t get people to change. But you can’t force people to change, you can’t force data and facts at people, you can’t convince people to change unless you make it personal for them. People connect with stories and journeys and learning how they make an impact or can make less of an impact on a personal level. One speaker, Randy Olson, in particular mentioned that we need to be less scientific with conservation and be more artistic with it – poems, videos, sitcoms, etc… This is in sharp contrast to the second point I mentioned above, but what Randy Olson meant was that we need to be able to communicate the science of conservation.We need to make conservation available to the masses and make it less boring. There are no exciting movies on conservation and the one real focused movie out there, The Inconvenient Truth, isn’t even that great. It was profound at the time it was produced, but it only made an impact at the moment it was produced because it was “sciency” which was great for right after the five hurricanes hit the United States – but it wasn’t personal. As a future teacher, this would be a great opportunity to get students involved personally by writing a poem or creating a story or making a short video to post to YouTube. The possibilities are endlessly beautiful to make it more personal for people and make conservation more exciting.

So those were the top three repeated topics. There were many other intriguing speakers and wonderfully thought-provoking topics presented and I wish I could share all of them but I would recommend checking out the WWF’s website to see a full list of speakers. AND I would of course love to discuss everything I learned!

My parting thought: conservation has to be an everyone thing, not a some people thing.

Happy GAW!

It’s that time of the year again to celebrate Geography Awareness Week (GAW)! It happens once a year to help show support for the importance of geography – here in the US and around the world. It’s kinda cool to know that everyone in the world can celebrate this small “holiday” together – regardless of location, nationality, religious affiliations, financial status, gender, or age.

Rewind one year to GAW 2010. Last year at UNC, we (the other geography students and myself) held a GIS day so students not in the geography department could try out geo-caching. We also offered cupcakes for correct geography questions answered at the University Center. The questions were fairly simple (ok, really simple, like what are the four directions on a compass rose) but students played along because there was free food. It was also a great opportunity to hang out with my fellow geography and Powell Club members and hopefully we got some people interested in Geography. Looking back, it was a pretty small effort, but at least we tried to bring awareness to Geography! 🙂 Hindsight really is 20/20, and looking back we had no focus on last year’s theme which was Freshwater. Ooops. {A for effort?!}

THIS YEAR however, I’m much more involved (working for NatGeo definitely helps with that!) with GAW – I’m blogging for the My Wonderful World blog, I’m hanging out on the Hill to award Legislatures who have been Geography Heroes, I’m also running some mapping activities on the Hill and at some Marine Corps event (still a little unsure on the details), I’m volunteering at two NatGeo Live! events – Ocean Soul and The Untold Civil War, I’m going to try to get some fellow interns to dine with me at Founding Farmers for Think Local Thursday, I’m decorating tiles for a rather large map that is composed of more than 130 tiles (I’m hoping to post a picture when this project is completed, so people can see the visual but think of 130 tiles done by 130 different people to create a diverse map), and I’m attending a Conservation Symposium by WWF all day Thursday and Friday.  I’ve also Spoken Up for Geography – as I encourage everyone else to do. It takes a quick minute to send a pre-made letter to your members in Congress to tell them that geography is important and needs proper funding. And last but not least, I pledge to be more aware about recycling in my community and focus on recycling one new type of material this month through America Recycles Day (Tuesday 11/15/11). I’m going to focus on mixed use paper.

About me: I really like word scrambles, acrostics, anagrams, and puzzles (which is surprising since I’m so terrible at them) so from the word “Geography” I came up with this list of anagram words (and thanks to excel they are alphabetized and arranged by letter length) – hero, gorge, grape, graph, grope, hyper, opera, pager, payer, raggy, repay,  ropey, pager, ahoy, ergo, gage, gape, gear, goer, gore, gory, gray, grey, gyre, hare, harp, heap, hear, hope, hype, ogre, orgy, page, pear, pore, pray, prey, rage, reap, repo, rope, yeah, year, yoga, age, ago, ape, ear, egg, ego, era, gag, gap, hag, hey, hog, hop, oar, ore, par, pay, pea, peg, pro, rag, rah, rap, and ray. I did a quick anagram search via Google and found out that my list is less than 50% of the words that could be created using “Geography.” But it’s still fun to play with and that’s my focus for GAW this year – have fun and learn lots!

I hope everyone has a great Geography Awareness Week and has fun exploring their community and getting involved! :))  

Got Soy Milk?

So last weekend I bought my first container of soy milk. All biases and stereotypes aside, it was pretty good. It was like a watered down version of milk, but I drink skim milk anyways, so it wasn’t that different and I thought it was pretty dang good. I bought the vanilla flavored as opposed to the regular flavor, just in case – I didn’t want to waste my money on something I wouldn’t enjoy or finish. According to Alex, it had a nut flavor – I didn’t think so, but it was my first soy milk, so what do I know? However, I intend to buy organic milk in the future. Besides drinking the organic milk plain, here’s what else I did with the organic milk… 

  • I added some chocolate and made some pretty tasty chocolate milk.
  • I also added it to my egg-white omelet.
  • I added it to my Cheerios.
  • I used it in my hot chocolate.
  • I used it in my smoothie creation.
  • I used it as creamer in my coffee.
  • I added it to my ice cream to create a “blizzard” type concoction.
  • I even added it to my White Russian – which totally enhanced the flavor of the coffee liquor! Each and every time I could hardly tell a difference, if at all.

I believe I mentioned in a previous post that I would be talking about organic stuff and so this was not a random purchase, but it was indeed very intentional. I’ve been reading up about conservation and sustainability and it’s hitting me pretty hard. I call it the I-want-to-save-the-world plan or in the great words of Wangari Maathai, “be a hummingbird.”

Anyways, I’ve been reading and learning a lot about the differences in organic vs. inorganic foods. Meat was one of the items to come up, hence a previous post, and now milk has come under my radar. I’m not going to pretend to be an expert in any way, shape, or form,which is why I like to list books and websites that will be helpful and educational to other people, but reading up on the differences between organic milk and regular milk is pretty crazy. The websites I listed below are from National Geographic, so there is only a few, but they list other articles to check out and stumble through. Having now worked at NatGeo I know every piece of writing, from TV scripts to what is printed in the magazine to what is posted on the educational website, is fact-checked about three times over, IF not more. So I do not see the need to list additional resources besides those of NatGeo. Side story: One project I was working on, each fact needed to be fact-checked by at least four reputable resources! Being on that side of the fact-checking was definitely not my funnest job at NatGeo, but I definitely have more respect for NatGeo and the people who fact-check all day long!!!! 

Anyways, back to the soy milk… For those who just want to save the world, switching to organic foods is a great way to save the body and the world. Organic products are better for the environment because they do not create as much waste and they are more sustainable for the long-term because they do not do as much damage to the land in which the products are produced, whether that be fruits, vegetables, meat or dairy products.

Eating Organic Food by NatGeo – this article lists steps to have a more organic diet in general.

How Do I Eat Healthy and Organic? by NatGeo – this article is a very short read and similar to the previous website but it too lists steps to become healthier and eat more organic foods.

Organic vs. GMO by NatGeo – this article talks about what GMO (genetically modified organism) is and how that relates to being organic and healthy.

How To Buy Organic Without Breaking the Bank by NatGeo – well this article is just like it sounds :)) which is great because at this moment in my life I’m a very poor, struggling college student just trying to make a positive impact on the planet.

So this whole organic thing started because I wanted to save the world, and now it has developed into also wanting to be good to my mind and body, as well as good to Mother Earth. I’ve been eating more fruits and veggies lately – we bought apples, celery, bananas, pears, and onions in just one shopping trip! Which is pretty excessive for me, but I feel good about it. This health/save the world plan definitely won’t get be to drop the large bowl of ice cream with chocolate syrup and sprinkles, but it definitely is making me re-think the other things I put in my mouth and into my body and the impacts it has on others.

Beautiful Life

Hands down, I love working for National Geographic. I get the opportunity to meet extraordinary people and work on amazing initiatives – The Big Cats Initiative and The Ocean Initiative. My eyes have been opened to issues around the world and problems in my own backyard. However, it’s these dilemmas that keep me thinking long after I should have already fallen asleep at night. It breaks my heart to know that the last Javan Rhino has been poached in Vietnam or that the flooding in Thailand has killed nearly 500 people or that there is yet another sex scandal in our country. The list could go on and on and these are the types of issues that have been weighing on me – I want to do more, help more, be more, see more. The flooding in Thailand is especially near and dear to my heart considering I was just there a few short months ago and I haven’t heard from my host mom since the flooding.

However, while it is easy to worry myself into oblivion (which I tend to do), I’ve been trying to remember all the beautiful things there are in life. Granted there are some horrifying aspects of our planet but it is also truly beautiful. Here’s a short list I came up with and examples from my life…

-The seasons, although not constant everywhere, are a reminder that we have the opportunity to continue to live and to develop ourselves and to do something new each day, each moment, each season, each year. This Fall I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to work for NatGeo, get out of the comfort of my parent’s house, struggle to buy groceries, and to go see awe-inspiring places like Gettysburg, The Baltimore Aquarium, go on a Ghost Tour of Fell’s Point, see The National Mall (which is not actually a mall!), and eat at local mom and pop shops. This list is definitely not an exhaustive and I still have 6 more weeks to conquer other spectales – like Williamsburg and New York City. I’ve also gotten to know some pretty swell gals in our tiny intern cave at NatGeo. It’s nice to have people with which to share food, laughs, and YouTube videos.

Beautiful reminder that it is Fall time on the East Coast.

Left to right: Chari, Me, Makayla, and Julia

-I am surrounded by amazing people. I have a few close friends,  my truly wonderful family, and a boyfriend who care about me and I am fortunate to have them to care about and love back. They put up with my crazy plans and bizarre ideas. 🙂

Left to right: My Mom, Jamie, Maddie, Taylor, Me, and My Dad, Kevin

-I’ve had the pleasure of traveling the World and next December I will be going to Nicaragua for another astonishing adventure to meet the locals and hopefully see the red-gold economy and how American’s consumption of lobster effects this part of the world. Traveling has been an excellent way to learn about people and cultures face-to-face and not from a textbook (duh!), which I believe is vital as a future geography teacher!

Last meal with my host family before I came back to the US.

-I have an adorable puppy who makes me beyond happy and I love coming home to her unconditional love and her ridiculous puppy antics. She was a former foster puppy of mine and I just couldn’t give her back. Because of little Miss Roxie Jane I have this need to continue to foster and help other puppies who had been abused and abandoned like her, which should never, ever happen.

Mommy/Daughter bonding time

-While it’s taken me some time to figure out what I “want to be when I grow up,” I’m able to attend school and get an education. These days in the US that doesn’t seem like a huge feat, but in other parts of the World, like some of the people I’m working with in Tanzania, they can barely afford an elementary education. I also have gotten to meet some amazing geographers and friends through my program at UNC, which has allowed me to have this unforseen life changing lens on the World.

-As always, people throw out that they have their health, and while I do have my health, my clumsiness interferes with my health on a frequent basis. I’m currently nursing a black and blue knee.
-And if none of those things make me smile or feel better about the World, I can always re-watch Life In A Day, which is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen. It features people from all over the World, sharing their life for a single day and it was one of the most stunning films I have ever seen. I’ve seen it 3 times now and each time I cry because of how amazing our planet is and how we can all come together and create change.
-AND if all else fails, I always have Finding Nemo to watch, while I snuggle with my puppy and drink a Venti Chai Tea Latte! 🙂

That’s alot of meat!

So i’m currently reading EarthTalk: Expert Answers to Everyday Questions about the Environment (as well as a few other books), but I’m really digging this book for a few reasons – it takes questions from everyday people, ranging from various environmental topics like water pollution and organic foods and clothing, and breaks down the answer so that it  is very understandable. AND it gives a list of additional resources to check out. I love when websites do this (I’ve never seen this in a book) because it allows the fascination and interest in the topic to continue to grow. I’ve also recently discovered StumbleUpon, which has fueled my obsession to check out new stuff.

Anyways, while I was reading on the train home last night, I read this statistic, “A 10% reduction in U.S. meat consumption would free up enough grain to feed sixty million people.” Just take a second to really think about this… It’s staggering to think that the amount of meat consumed in the United States affects those all over the world – to the point that people are starving while we over-indulge in meat products. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good steak, but I read somewhere else that if everyone in the U.S. gave up one meal a week that contained meat, we would be able to feed everyone in the world.

For as long as I can remember, when we would have family dinners growing up, we would have the main meal focused around the meat – a burger, ham, grilling; or we had meat in almost everything we ate – yum yum, manicotti, chipped beef, spaghetti, hamburger helper meals, lasagna (notice an Italian theme here?) and so on. According to many websites and dieticians, an adult plate should be 2 parts fruits and veggies to less than one part protein/meat – this is definitely not the balance on my plate! And overall, Americans need to cut back on their meat intake. There are many health benefits to cutting meat out of one’s diet, and while those reasons are important, I want to focus more on the conservation side. But for people who are interested in all of the above, there is a movement called Meatless Mondays (I just signed the pledge) that is all about the benefits to the earth and to people who partake in this movement by not eating meat on Mondays, just one day a week, it’s pretty cool.

Back to the conservation stuff. The meat industry contributes to global warming by leaving a HUGE carbon footprint by using excessive water (and the polluting other water sources), clearing tropical rain forests for grazing land or for meat factories, using a lot of grain, that as previously mentioned good go to better use feeding people around the world. So what are some solutions to this problem?

  • Number 1 being definitely cut meat or some meat out of your diet! This definitely is not an easy task, one intern in particular said it would be near impossible for her because she loves meat that much. However, this simple dietary change can make a world of difference (pun intended). The Meatless Monday campaign is a great way to start, but it’s more than just cutting meat out of your diet, I think the real focus is to eat healthier – more fruits and veggies. OR another option would be to eat organic meat, in which animals are raised humanely and not given any hormones or toxins.
  • I think the second thing people can do is just educate themselves and others – I think the teacher in me is coming out a bit 😉 However, I truly feel like education is the number one thing people can do to help themselves and others. AND it’s been proven that when woman in developing countries become educated or more educated they have a huge impact in changing their livelihood.
  • The final thing I would recommend people to do is to positively contribute to the environment in other ways if they can’t cut meat out of their diet or find it hard to read a book about the topic. I’ve found there are a number of things people can do to positively contribute to the environment and I’ve been recently inspired by Eco-Day (today) at National Geographic. They had booths and gave out all sorts of goodies, but more than that the goal was to educate the staff about how to leave a smaller carbon footprint – solar panels, wind energy,  biking to work or public transportation or carpooling, installing water regulators in faucets and toilet tanks, and the list goes on and on. NatGeo is apparently very eco-friendly, which is just another incentive for me to want to come back and work at NatGeo in the future.

If you do a quick search for “meat industry impacts on environment” you get over 3 million hits. These were a few sites I really liked:

NY Times article is basically a summary of the meat industry – including a lot of statistics and interviews from experts. It also lists a few solutions and ways people can help.

This article I think is mis-titled, but it’s called 13 Breathtaking Effects of Cutting Back on Meat, it lists 13 problems associated with the meat industry. I was expecting more of a health article and benefits from cutting back on meat – it doesn’t. Nevertheless, it lists 13 impacts of the meat industry on the environment.

PETA‘s brief article, and website for that matter, are a bit extreme, and I don’t think I could ever completely give up meat in my diet, but this statistic is pretty intense, “According to Environmental Defense, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads.”

I would also highly recommend reading Fast Food Nation. It’ borders on the gross factor, but for the most part it is very eye-opening. Granted, it focuses only on the negative aspects of the food industry, but it does put into perspective the positive associations most people have with the fast food industry – like the fact that it’s cheap and convenient!

Lots of information to think over. Just a heads up, the next chapter of Earthtalk is about shopping organically – you should probably expect a post on that. 🙂