Thursday, December 1, 2016

Third World Green Daddy 67: Sustainable Birthdays

A while ago I offered my thoughts on doing Halloween sustainably.

Here now are some of our experiences celebrating birthdays in a way that costs less and hopefully uses fewer natural resources.

You can start with creative invites.  My wife sent these out for a cowboy-themed party.  Though considering that she spent like a week making them, they're probably not the best low-cost, low-effort option.

Paper cutouts make for fun, cheap decorations.

And leis are a wearable decoration.

The food is easy to do yourself.  Tacos are a good option.

Popcorn is an easy snack to pass around.

Having kids make their own pizzas has become a standby in our birthdays.

You can make your own plates fun and goofy.  This is a spider meatloaf my mom made for a birthday.

Desserts?  Having kids decorate cookies is always a hit.

Ditto for cupcakes 

Note too the PB&J sandwiches cut out in fun shapes, and the fruit skewers.

You or a nearby grandma can make your own cake

A few times we've broken down and paid to have someone make a special cake.

We almost always make our own pinatas, from Santa-shaped

to weird scarecrows

to Edward Gorey-looking dog/gargoyles

to creatures shaped more by available materials than by any prior planning.

What to fill the pinatas with?  We've managed to avoid candy, albeit by replacing it with cheap plastic trinkets.

You can make your own paper confetti, which is also a thrill when it comes out of the pinata.

As for activities to keep kids busy, you can make a maze or a castle for them to play in

a rocket

or just strew boxes about for them to make their own inventions.

Balloons are surefire entertainment.

You can easily learn how to make balloon animals with a kit, and this is a good source of excitement and wonder, too.

If you're near a playground, just take the kids there for a while to play.

We did this once in Arlington, and parents were wowed.  It was like the most novel thing they'd ever seen.

If you find old play equipment in the alley, hold on to it for your next Bday party, as we did with this basketball hoop.

More quiet activities can include puzzles

You can do reading time, and have kids draw in their own big books.

They can make their own party hats or just draw on butcher paper on the floor.

You can do papier mache masks, either as presents, party favors, or activities in their own right.

One year we had a friend's daughter who is studying child development serve as the party coordinator.  She made really cool stick horses as party favors for kids to take home.

Little artesanal things like clay whistles work well for goodie bags, too.

The biggest hits we've had have been homemade puppet productions of favorites like Brown Bear Brown Bear, the Little Blue Truck, or Peter and the Wolf.  For this you need an artistically-inclined grandpa and a lot of willing older siblings and cousins as puppeteers.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Moving video from USAID

This is a touching video put out a few years ago by USAID, the United States Agency for International Development, marking the agency's 50th anniversary.  It features excerpts from two speeches by John F Kennedy, one from 1962 marking the first year of implementation of the Alliance for Progress in Latin America, and one from a 1963 commencement address at the American University discussing nuclear detente with the Soviet Union.

I'm normally not one for dramatic PR videos, but this one is damn good.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sharing with your kids the vulgar music that shaped you

I think I'm like most parents in wanting to share with my kids the music, art, and movies that shaped me, that I think are important or moving or wonderful.  This hasn't been a problem as far as the "high culture" stuff.  They know now a bit of Dickens, of Prokofiev and Beethoven.  When Sam was one I showed him an Indiana Jones movie before realizing an hour in that this was pretty flippantly violent; now I'm sharing with him and his brother the Young Indiana Jones TV series from the 90s that's less violent and more educational.

But when it comes to the popular music I grew up with, a fair chunk of it is pretty vulgar or otherwise inappropriate for kids.  There is no "Young Snoop Dogg" series.  Not just the gangsta rap, but a lot of the angry or destructive rock music just isn't fit for little guys.  They'll hear it eventually, and I don't have a problem with that once they're a bit older and can understand and process it, but I don't want them learning from Axl quite yet that heroin is "a real motherfucker".  In that vein, the Guns and Roses albums that I like are pretty much out of bounds for now.

So I've had a dilemma of how to expose them to good hiphop without exposing them to a lot of profanity.  Thus far I've handpicked a few songs from Tupac's Me Against the World, the ones like Dear Momma and Can you get away that are sweet, as opposed to the frustrated, hopeless tone of the rest of the album (which is indeed its strength, since it captures the feeling of so many marginalized youth that don't have a place to be nor a place to go in our society).  I also played quite a bit of Common's "Be" for my boys, since aside from the occasional drop of the N-word it is pretty positive and constructive. 

This is why a recent article from a much more devoted hiphop fan than I really struck home for me.  He has found a series of recordings called Kidz Bop that reworks inappropriate parts of pop songs, then has kids sing them.  I don't think I'll be buying a Kidz Bop album anytime soon.  That type of kids singing is often cloying, and I'm not up to date on most pop music, nor would I want to generate some consumer addiction for my kids.  But the concept is novel, and the musings of the author on how to share some 20-plus years of pretty profane music that has shaped him with his kids is exactly the same question I'd been asking myself for some time.

Monday, November 21, 2016

The failure of the US education system vis a vis white voters

This is a reflection on how the US educational system has failed many white folks insofar as it has left them unable to participate constructively in a pluralistic, inclusive society.  The author reflects on how the 2016 election has manifested various severe shortcomings in many white folks' knowledge of history, scientific process, and morality and values.  In short, the tidal wave of white support for Donald Trump shows that their schooling (occurring in a drastically segregated environment, to boot) didn't prepare them with sufficient capacity for critical thought, empathy, or a sense of belonging.