Photo image by gareth1953 via Flickr Creative Commons
Bring your backyard to life
As I write, I am listening to the clear, fluted sound of a couple of Black-Capped Chickadees coupled with the metallic chirp of a Northern Cardinal. It’s relaxing, entertaining and satisfying to the nature-lover in me to devote the backyard to the birds. Habitat restoration is vital for wild birds and other wildlife due to commerical and residential infringement on natural areas. Your backyard (or if space is limited – your balcony!) is one place where you can easily make a difference. All you need to do is provide 4 basic elements:
You can help secure a food supply for birds by planting shrubs and trees that produce seeds, fruits, nuts and nectar. This is a sure fire way to make your yard attractive to birds for years to come. Here’s a list to give you planting ideas. Bird feeders (seed, nectar, suet) make it super easy to provide a helping hand to the birds throughout the year. Plus, you can position a feeder in a prime spot for bird watching. Just be sure to place it near a tree or shrub – birds like cover from predators while feeding and a place to perch while waiting for a turn at the feeder.
Water is an important part of your backyard habitat. A pedestal bird bath or shallow water dish placed at ground level will provide the necessary water for drinking and bathing. Replace the water every few days to keep it fresh and clean. Although this is a bit of extra work, it is well worth it. A water source can dramatically increase the number and type of wild birds that visit your yard. Plus it is totally entertaining to watch birds splash around in the water. Be sure to place the bird bath where you can view it from indoors. For more tips on supplying water, click here.
Shelter will turn your yard from a place where birds visit to a place where birds live. Birds need places to hide from predators and the weather. Plant evergreen trees and shrubs that provide year round cover. Large rocks, stumps, ground cover and brush piles offer a welcome haven for ground feeding birds.
PLACE TO RAISE THEIR YOUNG
With more and more destruction of natural habitats, birds are having trouble finding nesting and roosting sites. Bluebirds, purple martins and woodpeckers are struggling to find places to raise their young. Go here to find specifications for birdhouses that will suit the birds you wish to attract. You can put birdhouses up any time of the year; when not in use for nesting, many birds will use them for a place to sleep in cold weather.
Now that you’re a bird nerd…
Once you have your backyard habitat established, treat yourself to a field guide or mobile app (I use iBird) to help you learn about and identify your new feathered friends. You can also participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count to help scientists create a real-time snapshot of where birds are across the continent. On Twitter? Search #birdnerd to see what other bird watchers are tweeting.
Special thanks to my friend, Stephanie, a fellow bird nerd, for the post idea.
Which birds frequent YOUR backyard? Let’s compare birding notes (include your State in the comment to make it more interesting)!
It starts as a gentle subliminal nudge. “chocolate…” Within minutes, it grows into an insistent full body urge. “Chocolate. Chocolate. CHOCOLATE!” You can’t (and in my opinion, shouldn’t) ignore it. You have a full blown chocolate craving.
What powers the craving?
It is said that people crave chocolate more than any other food. In the U.S., the typical person eats 11.5 pounds of chocolate a year. Why is chocolate craved more than any other food? Sure – it tastes good, has a silky smooth texture and melts in your mouth…but is there more to it? The question is, are chocolate cravings in the body (physiological) or in the heart (psychological)? There are a wide variety of arguments as to why people have chocolate cravings.
Is the body to blame?
Some think certain compounds in chocolate may be physiologically addictive, activating mood-lifting chemicals in the brain (serotonin, dopamine). However, tests have shown that most mood-altering agents in chocolate are broken down before they reach the bloodstream. Others insist that deficiencies in minerals (such as magnesium, iron) cause people to desire chocolate. But it that’s the case, why aren’t we craving snackable magnesium-filled pumpkin seeds or iron-rich savory thyme with equal vigor?
Or is it comfort we crave?
A 1994 study passed out milk chocolate, white chocolate (which contains zero cocoa), cocoa capsules (utterly lacking the sensory components of chocolate) and placebo polls to a group of subjects. The study found that only milk chocolate fully satisfied the chocolate cravings of the subjects. In addition, their cravings were better satiated by the white chocolate than the concentrated cocoa capsules. This suggests that chocolate cravings can be (SHOCKER!) attributed to its taste, aroma, texture and sweetness.
But really, who cares?
Long story short, when it comes to pinning down the reasons for chocolate cravings, research is pretty inconclusive. But do we really need to know the why? Shouldn’t we be focusing our mental energies on how to best satisfy those chocolate urges? I’m off to check on my secret chocolate stashes. I suggest you do the same.
What do you think causes chocolate cravings? What types of chocolate best satisfy your strongest cravings? Comment below; we crave the feedback!
Better late than never
My mind is continously wrapped around chocolate and species conservation. It’s my job and I love it. And you’d THINK that I’d be totally keyed in to all the conservation-minded holidays out there – but they always sneak up on me. Usually, I become aware of these obscure observances the day after the fact. Like World Water Day (March 22) and International Migratory Bird Day (May 14). And wouldn’t you know it – World Turtle Day was May 23rd. I’ve given up too many good writing ideas for fear of being untimely. Watch me now as I bravely and belatedly post about World Turtle Day!
Soft spot for hard-shelled creatures
Turtles and tortoises have been around for more than 200 million years. They obviously are creatures that are meant to stand the test of time. However, over the past 20 years, almost 50% of all turtle species have been listed as threatened. And six out of seven species of sea turtles are threatened or endangered. Since learning these deporable facts, I aim to seek out ways to help.
SEE Turtles saves sea turtles
Combining conservation tourism and volunteerism, SEE Turtles works in Costa Rica, Baja California Sur and Trinidad – vital nessting habitats for endangered sea turtles – to support community-based turtle protection efforts.
You can get involved in a small, meaningful way by purchasing Endangered Species Chocolate’s Save the Sea Turtle Gift Pack. Or you can go big and plan an adventure vacation with SEE Turtles and have a hands on sea turtle saving experience!
Be aware of baby turtles
The U.S. Humane Society urges people to beware of fairs, carnivals, flea markets and pet shops that sell baby turtles. In 1975, FDA’s Public Health and Services Act banned the sale/distribution of turtles less than four inches in length. Despite the ban, baby turtles continue to be sold – an illegal practice that is destructive to both turtles and humans. A practice I recently witnessed at a tourist shop while on a beach getaway weekend. You can bet when I return to the beach this month, I am going to be asking the store owner some hard questions and reporting them. Click here to learn how to report these types of violations to the FDA.
Many turtle species are declining due to the pet trade. Children often lose interest in pet animals obtained on impulse and parents may not be prepared to care for a turtle who can live for decades and grow to be a foot long. Turtles need proper light and temperature, a water filtration system and room to grow. Countless pet turtles die from being kept in inadequate conditions.
Humans, especially young children, are also put at risk by close contact with pet turtles. A major Salmonella outbreak in 2007 that sickened 107 people (mostly children) in 37 states was attributed to pet turtles.
World Turtle Day
May is a busy time for turtles (yes, yes…I know it is now JUNE!). Many have recently emerged from winter hibernation and are beginning their search for mates and nesting areas. May 23rd was designated World Turtle Day in 2000 by American Tortoise Rescue. The day is used to highlight the threats to turtles’ survival and educate about what we can do to protect these quiet creatures. Just like this post, caring and spreading the word is better late than never.
Share your turtle stories! Join me in celebrating a belated World Turtle Day by commenting below.
Working at a chocolate company is SUCH HARD WORK! Each week, we are assigned “sensory duty” – meaning we have to drag ourselves away from our desks to sample endless bites of freshly made premium chocolate for the sake of quality control. Over the years, I’ve learned a thing or twelve about chocolate tasting.
First and foremost – chocolate…really good chocolate…deserves to be thoroughly savored and appreciated. Get the most our of your next chocolate experience by involving all of your senses. Pick your favorite fine chocolate (here’s mine) and let the sensory suggestions below guide you.
A glossy shine to the chocolate’s surface shows a good temper – cocoa mass and cocoa butter bonded to perfection. The overall color should be consistent, a feast for the eyes.
A crisp, bright snap indicates quality. When chocolate molecules are aligned (a proper temper) they are harder to break apart, hence the snap!
A sensual step that should never be skipped! Release chocolate’s aroma by rubbing your fingers along the chocolate’s surface. Inhale deeply and focus. What olfactory memories pop into your mind? While smelling the chocolate, prepare your taste buds…
Take a bite and notice the texture of the chocolate. Fine chocolate should feel smooth to your tongue.
Now, close your eyes and cut off all sensory information except the chocolate and your taste buds. Allow the chocolate to overwhelm you. Fine chocolate should have a lasting impact – a slow and lingering flavor experience. BWF2JQHM8AEN
Share what you love about chocolate by commenting below.
Mark your calendar. Friday, May 20th marks the 6th year of national Endangered Species Day. This day presents an opportunity to really focus on the importance of protecting plant and animal life. From the downright adorable to the wonderfully weird, each species has a place and purpose on our planet. Thousands of plant and animal species across the world are endangered and on the brink of extinction. Over the years, the Endangered Species Act has provided a much needed helping hand to our natural neighbors.
America enacted the Endangered Species Act in 1973, one of dozens of U.S. environmental laws that were passed in the 1970s. The Act was designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction – to protect and nurture populations back to full health. It is not a perfect law but it has been hugely successful to many species on the brink. Critical habitats are given a fighting chance under the Act too. Millions of acres of ancient forests, wild beaches, open meadows and sparkling rivers – treasured places that would have otherwise been long since logged out, paved over or built up had it not been for the Endangered Species Act.
Put endangered species and conservation groups in the forefront of your mind this month. Extinction is forever. Protecting our world’s disappearing wildlife and open spaces is a responsibility that needs our focus, compassion and action.
Which endangered species speaks to your heart the most? Let us know by sharing the species you are most passionate about my commenting below.
As I find more and more ways to green up my life, I find that there are some eco-minded acts I relish more than others. I may not LOVE all the eco chores on my To Do list – but I incorporate them into my family’s life because the actions reflect how we want to support the planet.
→ Rinsing out peanut butter and jelly jars before tossing them in the recycle bin? *grumble, grumble, complain*
→ Hitting myself over the head when I forget to BYOBag on shopping trips? Ugh, now I have to lug those horrid plastic bags home, hanging my head in shame.
→ And taking kitchen scraps out to the compost bin? According to my husband, I put this chore off till the last minute each and every week.
But enough about the small handful of eco-tasks that I don’t totally dig! There is a long list of green-minded habits that I find inspiring, enjoyable and – dare I say – indulgent. Finding ways to help the planet that mesh with your personal interests is a great way to nurture a lasting commitment to being green.
→ As a girl that likes to get her hands dirty, I find it a fun, educational challenge to raise my flowers and vegetables organically. And all those drought-resistant native plants I planted over the years? They give me a beautiful backyard that requires little to no watering or maintenance.
→ Biking is an excellent way to reduce my carbon footprint – but really, pedaling home from work is a rather selfish act that allows me to arrive home refreshed and stress free.
→ Shopping at our local farmer’s market tests my budding culinary skills as I create a meal from the organic produce available that day. It also is a great way to spead a Saturday morning outdoors with my family.
Next on my list of Earth-friendly chores to employ are putting up a backyard clothes line and joining an environmental advocacy group in my area. Being environmentally aware isn’t all about the mundane daily tasks (note to self – remember to buy energy-efficient bulb for front porch light!), it’s about finding creative, fun ways to incorporate green acts into your lifestyle. Want to see how other’s do it? Check out the photo entries in Whole Foods and Endangered Species Chocolate’s “Indulge in a Cause” photo contest. Vote for your favorite by May 13th; the grand prize winner receives $5,000 to donate to the eco-charity of their choice and a year of chocolate from ESC.
What eco-tasks do you find not all that thrilling? Which ones do you truely embrace and enjoy? Share with us by commenting below.
With Earth Day (April 22) falling right in the lap of Easter (April 24, 2011) this year, I’m thinking of nixing the traditional basket filler and tucking in goodies that encourage an appreciation of nature. I’m pretty confident my outdoorsy, totally-curious-about-the-world 4-year old son will love it.
Reducing by Reusing
It really surprises me to learn that lots of folks trash their baskets after Easter. Think of all of those sad, pastel baskets sitting in landfills for eons – discarded and forgotten. And don’t get me started on those (soulless) cellophane wrapped pre-filled baskets you see in big box stores! The Easter Bunny is way more creative and nature-conscious than that.
Growing up, my brother and I always reused the same baskets year after year. Lots of memories tied to those baskets! It was like seeing an old friend when my parents would pull my basket out of the attic each spring. Believe it or not, my mom also saved and reused our Easter basket grass from year to year. Her reasoning was rooted in saving money and getting the most use out of everything. My mom’s example fits right in to my environmental outlook on life (not to mention my budget). I bought a sturdy natural woven basket and a couple of bundles of green recycled paper grass for my son’s first Easter – and – four years later, we are still making holiday memories with them.
Gifts that last
As I set out shopping to help the Easter Bunny find gifts to fill my child’s basket, I noticed that some stores set out a dizzying array of disposable trinkets as filler for baskets. The Easter-specific toys I spied seemed like they’d last a week before breaking. Needless to say, I was uninspired.
With Earth Day in mind, I aimed to seek out items that would be fun, useful and encourage our kid to get outside and commune with nature. Here are some of the ideas I thought up; share yours too – I still have some room to fill.
Books about bugs, butterflies, birds can open up a young one’s eyes to the importance of conservation.
Springtime is a good time to replenish art supplies – a quality sketchpad and colored pencils could help a young artist to bloom.
A colorful water bottle can keep your kid hydrated and keep plastic out of landfills.
Encourage your young one to dig nature by tucking a few flower, herb or vegetable seed packets into their basket.
Look for organic, all-natural sweets made with ingredients sourced with care. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Endangered Species Chocolate’s Easter Collections. *smile* Chocolate that not only tastes indulgent – it funds species conservation, promotes fair trade and encourages sustainable cacao farming.
Comment below and tell us how you green up Easter! Or add other eco-minded Easter basket ideas to our list.
Seeking solace from the pine pollen that was kicking my allergies into overdrive, I spent much of my Saturday morning indoors at my favorite coffee shop. In true Monica-style, I set up camp – covering the table with my sketch pad, colored pencils, soy chai and a dangerously dark Endangered Species Chocolate bar. Just as I was about to don a pair of headphones and start drawing, the fellow at the next table pointed at my chocolate bar and asked why it had a picture of a panther on the wrapper. Once I finished waxing poetic about the virtues of all-natural, ethically traded chocolate that supports species conservation, he looked at me with an impish grin and said, “I’m allergic to chocolate.”
Suddenly my itchy eyes, stuffy nose and headache from the pollen seemed like small potatoes. Imagine that for a moment. An allergy to chocolate. No chocolate bars, chocolate cakes, chocolate ice cream, chocolate chip cookies, chocolate truffles! “How do you cope?” was the only question I could muster. He laughed and said that he never really developed a taste for chocolate so he didn’t feel like he was missing out on much (unlike this poor soul).
After doing some research, I found out that allergies to cocoa (the bean that is the main ingredient in chocolate) are exceedingly rare. It’s more likely that the fellow I met over coffee had an allergy to one of the ingredients in chocolate. Milk, peanuts and tree nuts, wheat and gluten, and soy are often the ingredients found in some chocolate bars that can trigger allergies. Symptoms of a chocolate allergy can include headaches, heartburn, hives or difficulty breathing. In severe cases, a person can go into anaphylactic shock. It’s pretty serious and there’s no over-the-counter pill that can cure this allergy – the only way to avoid issues is to pass on the chocolate.
Do you know someone that is allergic to chocolate? Comments welcome below!
Have you happened across our new Endangered Species Chocolate ads yet? You’d remember if you did because they are STELLAR! (Me, biased? Never!) The animal photography featured in our “Indulge in a Cause” ads was captured by the camera of Eric Isselée. We were not only drawn to the powerful presence of his images, we were also captivated by his philanthopic mission and compassionate approach.
Eric Isselée’s project, Life on White, aims to document Earth’s endangered animals and insects. Over the past four years, his series of wildlife set against pure white backgrounds has grown to over 10,000 photos of over 450 animal species. Images this special shine a spotlight on these species, thereby raising their public profile and ultimately, helping to ensure their conservation. In addition to capturing images for future generations, Life on White donates generously to animal charities and sanctuaries.
Eric’s team travels worldwide to get their shots. The team insists on the animals being photographed in their own environment (mostly sanctuaries and zoos) so animals don’t suffer any undue stress linked to transport or unknown environments. You can watch for yourself by clicking on Life on White’s “Making Of…” videos. Imagine patiently waiting 72+ hours for a peacock to strut his stuff for your lens. Or clicking away as mischievous monkeys cavort across your portable white backdrop.
This work results in stunning photos that show each animal’s beauty, emotion and personality. Images this vivid and artistic bond the viewer to the animal and create compassion. We love supporting and sharing this work.
Name some of your favorite wildlife/conservation photographers. Have you ever photographed wildlife – what challenges did you face? Share what inspires you visually by commenting below.
Who are these people? What kind of person has such apathy – such a basic lack of fundamental respect? Who do they think is going to pick that up?
These questions ricocheted around my brain last week as I turned into the road leading to my house. A trail of trash littered the entire right hand side for a good 50 feet. Having this eyesore so close to home made me mad, sad and embarrassed. Not only was it a bad reflection on my neighborhood, it was also an ugly reminder that there are people that just don’t think or care about the health of our planet.
Instead of spending the day seething, I decided to get involved. Donning a pair of gloves that I usually reserve for more pleasant pastimes (gardening), I set out to set things right. Sticky plastic cups, random paper scraps, discarded fast food wrappers and other bits too miserable to mention were taken out of nature and put in their place. I filled an entire trash bag during my 15-minute walk.
Looking back down the now clean stretch of road, I felt protective. Woe to the person that tosses trash on MY street! (OK, who am I kidding – I’m not a confrontational person…I’ll just quietly be back out there, picking up others’ laziness) Although, according to Keeping America Beautiful, I may not have to. One of the strongest contributors to littering is the prevalence of existing litter. Picking up litter is one sure fire way to make a positive impact. I am now totally tuned in to litter. I see it everywhere (a mixed blessing of sorts) and you can bet I’m out there picking it up and putting it in its place!
Share your thoughts on litter; leave me a comment – let’s commiserate and cheer each other on!
THE TWEET FEED
- Need a soundtrack for your chocolate bar break?http://t.co/tSfxiRFodb Thxs @DSP_ROCKS!
- Apricot Scones made w/ our Dk Choc Cocoa Nibs Bar. Recipe via @thepuritylady http://t.co/ty9mJlQTly
- RT @RnfrstAlliance: Another reason to indulge in a (sustainable) bar of chocolate: How Chocolate Makes You More Productive http://t.co/5a8V…
- Need a gift? Check out the Gift Collections available on our web store http://t.co/s94bqdZ9xY