Thursday, February 11, 2010

Michelle Obama and the Let's Move Initiative

On Tuesday, February 9, 2010, First Lady Michelle Obama appeared on Larry King Live to discuss her Let's Move Initiative, which is the same day that her Let's Move task force on childhood obesity was launched. The Let's Move Initiative has an ambitious, but critically important goal to "solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation."

Let's Move says that "Childhood obesity or excess weight threatens the healthy future of one third of American children. We spend $150 billion every year to treat obesity-related conditions, and that number is growing. Obesity rates tripled in the past 30 years, a trend that means, for the first time in our history, American children may face a shorter expected lifespan than their parents."

As far as I'm concerned, this is a problem of epic proportions with drastic consequences. Especially when it is concerning so many quality of life issues. But this initiative is definitely a step in the right direction, and I am anxious to see where it will go from here. Let's Move has identified 4 ways in which to accomplish the goal to "Raise a Healthier Generation of Kids"

1. Helping parents make healthy family choices;
2. Creating healthier schools;
3. Encouraging physical activity; and
4. Widening access to healthy and affordable food.

There is more information on the Let's Move website about how the task force will be moving on these steps for combating childhood obesity. For now, check out the First Lady's interview with Larry King about childhood obesity:

Monday, January 25, 2010

Nature Education on Sesame Street

This year marks the 40th season of Sesame Street and it sure is going to be a great year! The first episode of the season was titled My World is Green and Growing, and kicked off a two-year science initiative "to help support children's innate sense of awe, wonder, and curiosity about nature."

The 40th season focuses on "Nature Education, through the lens of scientific investigation, [where] new songs, story-lines, and animations are designed to stimulate a child's knowledge and appreciation for the natural environments around them....Each episode will feature nature curriculum in one or more components of the show."

The three main goals of Sesame Street’s environmental focus are to "increase positive attitudes towards nature, deepen children’s knowledge about the natural world, and encourage behavior that shows respect and care for the environment. Through these overarching goals, children learn to actively explore and discover the world around them as they become true scientific thinkers and investigators."

Nature Education on Sesame Street? Sounds good to me!

As part of the Nature Education Curriculum that Sesame Street is incorporating, Jason Mraz appeared as a guest on the show, rewriting the lyrics to his popular song "I'm Yours" to create a new song called "Outdoors." It's kind of catchy, if you ask me. Enjoy!

(sorry about the goofy formatting - this is the smallest size I could find to embed.)

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Do Honey Bees Hibernate?

As I was walking from my house to my car on my way to work this morning, I noticed a honey bee lying on my sidewalk. Two days previous, I had seen a dead honey bee on the window sill right above this spot on the sidewalk, so I checked to see if maybe this bee had fallen from its perch. It had not. The bee on the window sill and the bee on the sidewalk were both honey bees, and both had met their demise near my front door.

This got me to thinking. Where do honey bees go in the winter time? Why had these bees unfortunately strayed too far from warmth and safety and perished in front of my home?

It may come as no surprise that honey bees spend the cold winter months in their hives. But what they don't do is hibernate. Instead the bees form what is called a "winter cluster." The worker bees huddle and swarm around the queen bee, who is at the center of the cluster, and shiver in order to keep the center warm. The worker bees move in and out of this cluster so that no bee gets too cold in the outer layers of the cluster. I suppose this is similar to a March of the Penguins style when the males watching the eggs during the coldest months of antarctic winter form a rotating huddle and move in and out of the huddle to keep each other warm.

Studies of over-wintering honey bees have shown that the hive consumes about 30 pounds of stored honey during the winter months. The honey that bees work so vigorously to store during the spring, summer, and fall makes the hive's survival possible. Heat energy is produced by the oxidation of the stored honey and this heat is circulated throughout the winter cluster by the wing-fanning of worker bees. The center of the cluster hovers around 80 degrees Fahrenheit, and the outer edge stays around 46-48 degrees Fahrenheit. The colder it gets outside, the tight the cluster becomes to keep everyone warm.

So why were there two dead honey bees near my front porch this morning? Honey bees stop flying from the hive when the temperature reaches around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. At this time the temperature gets too cold for the bees to be able venture far from the hive without risking death of exposure. There is also not much reason for the bees to leave the hive because there are no flowers in bloom from which to collect nectar. But the bees still need to be able to eliminate their bodily waste, as bees are very tidy creatures. On warmer days, the bees will venture out of the hive to do this. These flights are very short and the bees generally do not venture far because they can't make it back to the hive if they get too cold.

This must be what happened to my resident honey bees. It did get rather warm on Sunday afternoon and yesterday afternoon and the bees were probably taking advantage of the few hours of radiant sunlight. There must be a hive somewhere near my house, but a bit too far for the bees to make it back safely. Hopefully these two will be the last that make it this far before heading back home to the life-sustaining warmth of their hive.


Dave's Garden - text and hive diagram

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Pumkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

These are one of my family's favorites. I made some last night and this is hands-down a top 10 recipe, especially during the fall season, so I think I should share. Don't you? Enjoy!

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins:

4 eggs
3 cups of flour
2 cups of sugar
1 cup of vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
2 teaspoons of baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt
15 ounces of punpkin (make sure it's straight pumpkin, not the pie filling)
12 ounces of chocolate chips

Mix the eggs, sugar, and oil together in a medium bowl. In a separate bowl, mix the remaining dry ingredients. Combine the mixtures and add pumpkin and chocolate chips. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


Bio-fuels seem to be a hot topic lately. People say we need an alternative to gasoline, and I would agree. But some major figures promote bio-fuels as a viable alternative - something to bridge the gap between the gasoline dependent lifestyle of today to the clean fuels of tomorrow. I have heard many people, from President Obama to the commercials on televsion, promote the use of biofuels to bridge this "gap."

Ever since I started learning about the environment, energy conservation, climate change, water consumption, and all of the other scary things out in the world, I have always been against the use and development of biofuels. The biggest reason for this is that all of the biofuels that I have heard of (up until today) are generally foods that people eat (mostly corn and soy - both products heavily grown in the U.S. and subsidized by the U.S. government). My first thought about this is, "How can we justify using food crops for transportation when other people around the world don't have enough food to eat?" Or, "Where will all of the land, nitrogen, and, most importantly, water come from to grow enough to run any society on biofuels?"
Cornfields Near Arles
Vincent Van Gogh

As far as I'm concerned, there are no positive answers to these questions. I think that if the U.S. government suddenly made the switch to subsidize the development of alternative, renewable, and clean energy sources (in my book that means wind and solar) the way the government subsidizes the corn, oil, and coal industries, then we would definitely be having a different conversation. But for now, since the U.S. has the infrastructure for a bio-fuel intensive alternative to gasoline and the people with the money are the people pushing the legislation which are also the people with "if it's not oil then it will be bio-fuel" agendas, I've been wondering what might be a possible alternative.

This morning when I was driving to work, a segment called Isle Earth Radio Series came on the radio, just like it does every morning. Every day they send out a quick segment about environmental things from energy issues to wildlife conservation. Today's was about bio-fuels. But this segment was about research involving coffee grounds as the bio-fuel, instead of the traditional ethanol (corn).

This research has to do with developing a bio-fuel based on coffee grounds. The benefits to this approach is that it is based on a medium that would otherwise be simply thrown away. There is already land, water, and soil devoted to the growing of coffee beans; the beans are already being transported from their growing places around the world, and they will be grown regardless of whether or not the grounds are used for bio-fuels.

I think this is a very interesting research development. According to the radio segment, coffee ground biodiesel could add about 340 million grounds of biodiesel. And this is a biodiesel market that is expected to hit about 300 billion gallons annually by 2010.

I would be interested to see what the effects of this approach would be, however. For instance, would this development cause a growing of coffee beans for bio-fuel exceeding the demand of global coffee drinkers? One great thing about this approach, regardless of other consequences, is that the end product apparently smells just like coffee. Yum!

Photo Credits:

Cornfields Near Arles
Wind Turbine
Coffee Beans

Friday, October 16, 2009

Take a Break - It's Friday

I originally posted this on my blog for work, but I decided it was applicable here, too. Especially since this blog serves mainly a different audience - an audience I've been neglecting!

I don't know about you, but this week has been a very busy one. We are in the full throes of our Annual Conference preparation, recovering from being gone all last week in Portland, and of course all of the other "life-as-usual" things here at USEE. Needless to say, I am very happy that it is Friday!

I thought it might be nice to write about something other than the usual this afternoon. Something easy, that doesn't require a lot of research, but still might be at least somewhat interesting to read. So how about weekend plans?

This weekend I have a mix of fun, productivity, and relaxation on my list. Tonight I am going to dinner with my family at my uncle's to see his new house. After that, my sister is coming home with me and she will be staying with me for the weekend as she takes a break from her regular life. She owns a photography business, so we are going to visit Andree' to take pictures of Little Olive and the family. Saturday night my sister and I are getting together with an old friend - maybe we will all watch the University of Utah football game together, or maybe we will just laugh the night away after going to dinner. Those plans haven't been completely solidified yet.

Other than that, the rest of my weekend is free to do as I please, other than the regular things like cleaning out my garden area, cleaning the house, and early-morning runs. I hope to get in a good bike ride, or maybe even a hike somewhere below the snowline on Sunday. I feel some studying at the local coffee shop is also on the horizon.

I am definitely feeling the seasons change. Many of my friends have gotten really sick with the flu in the recent weather changes, I feel like I've missed fall completely since the snow fell in the mountains before the leaves had a chance to change, my house is very chilly, and I've pulled out the pumpkin candle, long-sleeved shirts, blankets, and hot tea. Part of me embraces the change. I look forward to the holidays and all of the festivities they entail, getting warm with hot cider under a blanket after cross-country skiing, and wearing slippers again. The other part of me is already nostalgic for late summer vegetables, long evenings on the porch, and flip-flops.

The transition from summer to fall is always a happy one for me, as fall is most definitely my favorite season. But when summer heads straight into winter, I find myself wishing it wouldn't all happen so fast. But don't get me wrong, I am excited to go skiing! And I plan on visiting the Black Diamond Gear swap tomorrow to see if I can get a good deal on some decent skis to justify buying a pre-season ski pass from Solitude. We'll see how that goes. For now, I'm going to try and enjoy the weather as best I can and hopefully I'll be able to get one more rock-climbing day in before the snow really starts to fly.

Jason (my boss) has informed me that he plans to do an 18 mile run tomorrow in preparation for the marathon he is running in a few months, followed by a short bare-foot relaxation run around the park on Sunday.

So what are you doing this weekend? Getting outside? Going for a run? Spending time with your family and friends? Enjoying life? I hope so!

Photos by Mallory Platt

Friday, September 11, 2009

Lake Blanche

Over Labor Day weekend I finally hiked to Lake Blanche. Lake Blanche is 3 miles up a side canyon up Big Cottonwood Canyon, just below the big S-curves. I regret to say that I have lived in Salt Lake City my entire life and this is the first time I have ventured here. I have been missing out! The trail is incredibly steep, which is part of the reason why I have shied away from it for so long, but it actually wasn't as bad as I was expecting.

The trail is absolutely beautiful and winds mostly through mixed pine and aspen trees. At the top there is steep red rock ridge that runs across the canyon. Lake Blanche is perched just over the ridge and Sundial peak (about another hour and a half to the top) looms above the lake. If you keep hiking west along the ridgeline, there are two smaller lakes beyond Lake Blanche. A small waterfall cascades from Lake Blanche into the first lake, and a slightly larger waterfall comes out of the last, and smallest, lake into the river that runs down the canyon.

As I was hiking up the trail, a few hundred yards from the top of the ridge, a friendly hiker informed me that there were some mountain goats on the cliffs past the smaller lakes. After resting up and eating my lunch, I set off to find them. After exploring for about an hour, I finally found them high on the cliffs above the lakes. Unfortunately, they were too small to see with my camera - so no pictures of them, but I enjoyed watching them bound up and down the cliffs with the greatest of ease - definitely a treat to see.

The trail switches back through many aspen groves.

First view of Lake Blanche

Lake Blanche with Sundial Peak high above.

The two smaller lakes west of Lake Blanche.

View down the canyon from the ridge line - the trail goes up this canyon.

Even though it took me way too long to get up there, I'm glad I finally did now rather than later. If you live in the Salt Lake Valley, or close by, I highly recommend this gorgeous excursion.