Monday, October 31, 2011

Trash From Your Halloween Candy Shouldn't End Up In a Dolphin's Belly

The Ocean Conservancy and it members and volunteers endeavor to preserve our oceans whenever possible. Now that the first Nor'easter has blasted into NY, NJ, Mass. and Conn, setting historic records and pulling the plug on Con Ed, PS&G and other utility customers with a pre-winter, pre-Halloween goblin-like ferocity, the conservancy has some tips for Halloween and its after-effects that also will come in handy year-round.
Halloween candy and wrapped items that can become trash in the oceans.

Of course, the problem is trash and litter that can wash into storm drains and travel all the way to the ocean. And Halloween is a real trash burner from candy wrappers to decorations and costumes, except you can't burn paper trash any more, right? So the conservancy has listed some easy ways for everyone in the family to reduce their trash output during this scary time. That way, you and your kids feel good, and so do the ocean's creatures.
 Going trick or treating with the kids?
Why not reuse a pillowcase (have the kids decorate it...if it's an old one) instead of buying a plastic candy container. Or, if you really want to be innovative and artistic, use any larger container from a used-up food item, i.e. plastic milk container. Then get out the permanent markers, paste and colored paper and start your kids and their friends to decorating. When they're done, hold a contest for the best decorated container in the family or amongst friends. Of course, don't forget to recycle it after they've devoured the candy.
An additional way to make them feel good about helping the planet with their endeavors and forestalling any "smart mouth" who might try to "put them down" for their efforts. To any kid who makes negative comments about their container, they can say something like, "I'm conserving the oceans. What are you doing for marine habitats?"
Want to save some money?
I know, I know. merchandizers prey upon your kids, forcing them to coerce you into buying the "coolest costume on the block."   Again, turn these behaviors around to benefit a good cause. Using stuff in the house, have them create their own ocean-themed costume: i.e. sea creatures, sea monsters. For example you can make a jellyfish by attaching strips of bubble wrap around the outside of an umbrella. For a sea urchin, dress in black and tape cardboard triangles to a bandana. You can always go as an ecosystem and tell people that unfortunately, the trash in your costume is part of that ecosystem.
If your child does go as a marine animal and adults/kids ask about the outfit, your child can give the animal/fish a name (Seth, the sea horse). Proudly, they can tell these inquisitors that their costume is a reminder for folks to stop ocean trash build-up and preserve the oceans' creatures.
House Decoration
Decorate your house as a spooky trash gyre. Paint skulls on bottles or other items and make ghosts from plastic bags. For  trick-or-treaters who come by, explain the symbolism of the decorations. Also, don't forget to keep a trash can next to the door so they can dispose of candy wrappers since they’ve probably been snacking on treats along the way.
Contain Your Own Trash
In addition to your innovative trick-or-treat candy containers and artistic costumes, think about bringing a separate trash bag to collect candy wrappers you might see on your Halloween journey. Make it a fun challenge for your kids to collect as much trash as they see. And of course, at home, encourage your kids to keep all of their Halloween candy wrappers in a box, so stray wrappers aren't blown by the wind and washed down the street drain in the fall rains that eventually make it to the oceans. After combining everyone's wrappers, then  either throw them away, or if you are really ambitious and inspired by your helpful efforts, send/take them to Terracycle. There, the wrappers will be made into something new like a purse or a pencil case.
You don't have to be an ocean lover to do one of these fun activities with your kids. But you will be doing your part in educating them that their actions have consequences. Don't they want to be sure that the consequences are beneficial? This grown up and responsible behavior can make Halloween even more fun.
The bottom line is this. "Bottle caps, cigarette butts, candy wrappers" seem insignificant and such "tiny trash can appear harmless. The truth is, it has a BIG impact on wildlife when it reaches the ocean." (The Ocean Conservancy) And it will get there if it is in the street. Try to do your part for Halloween and educate your kids along the way. Years from now, they will have seen the difference, as will you!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Halloween Blaze!

Parents and children of all ages have been flocking to a nearly sold out show held outdoors at Van Cortland Manor, Croton-on-Hudson, New York in a month long recognition of fall and Halloween. It is one of the tri-state area's most creative and amazing events and perhaps Historic Hudson Valley's most well attended event. Each year its creators add to the breadth of exhibit themes. the production has grown so that his year it has spanned 21 nights. Blaze will end the first weekend of November, the Sunday after Halloween.

It's The Great Jack O' Lantern Blaze and it is indescribable. Photos do not do justice to the live, walk through experience. I have gone two years in a row and this year was even better than last year. Halloween couldn't be celebrated in a more spooky, thrilling and electrifying way. And there are still tickets available for the 6:30 PM show, Halloween night, but they are going fast. 

Michael Natiello, ArtsWestchester honoree for his efforts with Blaze is the creative director of the event. Since the first production in 2005 through 2011, Natiello has overseen the team that brings the eerie, magical jack o' lantern's to life by planning, designing, and executing Blaze's elaborate displays.  With his team members, Natiello carves, cuts, and scrapes the jack o' lanterns which must be replaced if they are destroyed by the weather conditions. Goldilocks weather is needed to keep the carved pumpkins robust. If it's too hot, the pumpkins melt. If if it rains, they rot. If it freezes and thaws and freezes and thaws, the pumpkins collapse. The team has renewed and re-carved hundreds of pumpkins by the end of the production month. They must replenish up to 700 pumpkins a week because of spoilage and hungry, snacking animals who don't care about ruining lovely and individually hand-carved works of art.

It takes around 33 or more volunteers and a labor of love to individually masterpiece the 4,000 + jack o’ lanterns which are set into Van Cortland Manor park's 18th-century riverside landscape and  illuminated against the backdrop of night. The inner lighted pumpkins create a beautiful yet macabre glow and amazing effects that are dependent upon the intricate carvings.

Thousands of visitors come to be enthralled and enchanted as they stroll by an 8 foot high sunflower patch and scurry past grinning, ghoulish jack o' lantern faces rising up from the misty ground. Displays pulsate vibrant oranges that penetrate the darkness:  huge, scaly ten-foot long snakes; a mammoth spider web and its attendant scurrying spiders; an undersea aquarium, replete with barracudas; dinosaurs (including the thunder lizard, himself) pirates, ghosts, arching Halloween cats and a collection of creatures from Greek and Roman mythology. Sheep skeletons ‘roam’ the Van Cortland landscape and a cemetery looms where headstones preside over "the dead," witnessed by living onlookers whose footsteps increase their pace to move quickly passed bony fingers stretching toward their feet. This year there is even a jack o’ lantern ‘King Kong’ perched and ready to jump off a building that towers over the glittering blaze! 

The spectacle, anchored with original, atmospheric music, sound effects, and elaborate, synchronized lighting, is innovative, original and artistic family entertainment. At the end of the walk, if the fresh air and eerie surroundings whip appetites, there is a large tent where the family can warm themselves and enjoy home-made pumpkin spice donuts, hot chocolate, apple cider, coffee, soda, snack foods, cookies, cappuccinos and other food items fit for the season. 

And of course, one can pick up a souvenir for this memorable experience to remind everyone in the heat of July, that the fall and the Blaze of Halloween will be coming in three months. A perfect closure to one of the best Halloween experiences in New York.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Nor'easter Didn't Deter Occupy Wall Street!

October 29th weather forecast in New York City. Historic and rare October Nor'easter: snow, sleet, wind. Temperature range around 35 degrees during the day, 32 degrees overnight. Wind chill makes it feel like 23 degrees. Snow accumulations could be two inches. Winds at 20-30 mph, wind gusts could be 40 mph. (Weather Channel)

But "neither snow nor sleet nor rain nor hail" are stopping the Occupy Wall Street protestors at Zuccotti Park. (New York Times) Today, they attempted, despite all odds, to remain warm and dry in the rare October storm which blasted through their environs, whipping tents and tree branches and dumping mixtures of sleet and wet snow on their already wet heads. And they are doing the same in the evening which has been forecast to be colder, snowier and windier.
Shivering in the wet, I walked through Zuccotti, umbrella overhead, camera at the ready, picking up snatches of conversation here and there. One young man covered in a yellow slicker and hoodie discussed how he was born in the protests of the feminist movement, his mother taking him to marches and sit-ins. He was used to activism and appreciated its power. When asked where his mother was now, he responded that she was out west and had "gotten religion." He said he didn't own property and lived with friends in Florida. He said he was at Zuccotti protesting because, "He was pissed." 
Walking along the pathway under tarps and between the tents where protestors had sought an uncomfortable shelter from the relentless blustering wind and damp, I saw organizers moving to and fro reminding the occupiers to check up on their neighbors to make sure they were doing OK. A medical tent had been set up to help those who might be overcome by the cold or who had other issues that needed attention .Others stood getting coffee and food. It was remarkable to me that they had the stamina and the courage to be there. Their presence heartened me, yet I was worried for them in such conditions.
 Getting coffee and food
I bumped into folks moving on the pathway. All were courteous to "the stranger." They wanted to be there, despite conditions and had prepared themselves for taking this stand, regardless: "neither snow, nor sleet, nor hail, nor wind, nor cold." Some were attempting to clean areas. Others were delivering boards and other materials so that they wouldn't have to place sleeping bags on wet concrete. Water was running everywhere, it seemed.
As I made my way along an exit route, I spoke to another young man in a blue slicker, hair dripping, no hoodie or hat, obviously cold, certainly preoccupied, but he stopped for a moment to chat. He told me he was from Charlotte, North Carolina. I told him he was supported by many folks and thanked him for what he was doing. He smiled and confided that he was trying to get an air mattress or some material to get off the wet pavement so he would be drier during the night.
As I exited, I saw others pulling out boards and readying themselves for the long, cold, untenable darkness. I scrambled back into my car, my feet were wet, my umbrella bent misshapen from the wind. I immediately  turned on the heater. They don't have that benefit. But as some would say, that is their choice. I wish it were that easy.
They are a determined bunch, these occupiers. The longer they stay, the firmer their resolve seems to be. But they certainly don't see that they have won. They have not gotten what they have come there for. And they are staying. 
Maybe what drives them was best summed up by one of the folks who was sweeping and cleaning within the barriers set up to protect the protestors and insure free passage on the public sidewalk on Church Street. I saw him arranging things, his back to me. I stopped at the light before the corner of Church Street and rolled down the window to take a picture of him, when I heard him singing, a tune, familiar, from an old musical, and he was somehow cheerful yet plaintive in the cold and drear.
What was he singing? "The sun'll come out, tomorrow..."   Little Orphan Annie's song of hope. And I was reminded, in a way we are all orphans in a storm. Some are just better able to handle the cold and the want. I am not one of them.