Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The Great Pumpkin miracle

Whoever said that there is no Great Pumpkin is wrong. BUT, Charlie Brown is kind of wrong too.  The Great Pumpkin doesn't give out toys... it saves other pumpkins from being carved on halloween, of course! 

October 29, 2012 - This day will go down as the day the Great Pumpkin waved it's wand, and captured the heart of my 2 year old. Two days before, we went to Butler's Orchard in Maryland to celebrate the last day of the Pumpkin Festival. We had family fun day with their hayrides, giant slides, etc... but the best part was pumpkinland, the pumpkin patch where you can pick the One... or two or three pumpkins that spoke best to you... or your two year old.  

We had a great time and came home with 2 pumpkins - one is a peanut pumpkin to make delicious pie with, and a small-ish pumpkin to carve for halloween.  As you can see, we had great plans for these pumpkins! What's more, with Frankenstorm Sandy threatening to keep us indoors for a few days, carving the 2nd pumpkin and roasting the seeds were going to be the fun activity that was to highlight our cozy time together at home.  My husband and I could picture it, could smell it too: roasted seeds, pumpkin pie, and a simply carved and lit toothed pumpkin smiling back at us. 

Alas, this was not meant to be. All was going well, and my daughter really liked it when my husband drew a face on the pumpkin that we would carve out later.  I could just hear what's going on in her mind - "You can draw on pumpkins?!  Awesome!"  Off she ran to her art table to grab some markers and began to scribble squiggly lines here and there. She had a blast. But the minute that my husband took a knife to the pumpkin, we heard a gut wrenching "Noooooooo!!!!" A few minutes later, we tried a smaller knife, and was still greeted by a fierce cry, howling even stronger than storm Sandy.

Well, friends, our daughter was enamored with her pumpkins.  After that, she began hugging BOTH pumpkins, saying "I love you, pumpkin" and kissing them. Oy vey. The pumpkins live to see another day to tell their story - even a few weeks perhaps, but hopefully not another halloween. Yikes. And that's how the Great Pumpkin save the hearts (and seeds) of 2 mighty pumpkins who captured the love of a two year old. 

A different fairy tale - she's kissing a pumpkin instead of a frog
And instead of a full face, this one gets lots and lots of eyebrows

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Raising bullies

     Having grown up on the other side of the world, I don't really know much about bullying except for those snippets that I saw on television or read in books.  I'm sure bullying existed in 3rd world countries as well, but for whatever reason - whether the country I grew up in was overly religious, too hungry, comprised of equally poor individuals, or something else - it just didn't seem to be as blatant as here in the US.  I guess because of that, I've always seen this as a problem associated with privilege. 

     I was in San Diego just last week for a business trip, and brought my daughter along for some family bonding time.  One day at the playground, my 2-yr old was happily digging at the sandbox by herself when she got a bit too close in vicinity to 3 older kids in their 3's and 4's. They were annoyed by this, and started shooing her away, saying "Go away!" "We don't want you here!" "You're a baby; We're 4!" Now the kids parents were only 2 feet away, so I at first watched with interest if anyone of them would say anything.  I, on the other hand, was a few yards away, so nobody noticed that I was this toddler's mom. The parents looked over, and continued yakking, and the kids continued with their taunting.  My daughter looked up, smiled, then looked down and started digging again.  Thankfully, she took this digging business quite seriously.  The taunting continued, and then the girls surrounded her.  That's when my mommy antenna went up! Then they started kicking sand at her - all 3 of them. I was horrified with what I saw! And the adults just stood there watching, not caring at all. My daughter looked up wondering what is happening. I ran as fast as I could, and started yelling "YOU! YOU! YOU! Stop that!!" at the girls, pointing individually at them. I was so infuriated, and I asked them why did they kick sand at my daughter?? One of them had the guts to answer me back and said that this was their lot and they didn't want to play with her. I responded with "Well, she doesn't want to play with YOU either! So, what do you say??" The youngest one muttered "Sorry" and all 3 ran off. 

     After that, I waited for the parents to approach me. They knew that I knew that they saw everything and they didn't stop it.  Still, they chose to keep talking to themselves about the weather, and other trivial things.  I could have left after that, but I wanted to give them the opportunity to talk to me.  They could have apologized, they could have tried to explain, or they could have asked me for explanation for raising my voice at their kids. But no. The air was filled with apathy. I waited some more.  Nothing. My husband said that I could have simply taken my daughter out of the situation as soon as I saw the sand kicking. In hindsight, I'm glad that I didn't, and that my fight-or-flee meter ticked the other way.  Someone had to say something to these kids, and I had to hear the "Sorry" even from a 3 yr old. We only got out of the sandbox when the train nearby honked its horn and caught my daughter's fancy. 

     Now I can say that I've learned first hand about bullying, and how ugly it is, and how bullies can be raised by apathy. I'll try my best to make sure that my daughter doesn't turn into one. And if someone tries to bully her again, they can count on Mama bear here to come out growling.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A world without milk or honey

*This piece was published in Etz Hayim's October Chronicle Issue.

As I write this article, Rosh Hashanah is only a couple of days away. I am looking forward to gathering with friends and family for prayer and festivities. For me, Rosh Hashanah cues the arrival of fall with its sweet, delicious scents. While we cannot be with everyone we love during the holidays, in my mind, we will all share the same tables bearing the staples of round challah, apples, and honey.

Honey has been a part of the Jewish culture since biblical times; the Torah refers to Israel as the "land of milk and honey" to signify its agricultural richness. Unfortunately, over the recent years, there has been a looming fear of honeybees going extinct.  The population of many different species of bees has declined and, with strong correlation, so have the number of wildflowers that depend on them for pollination. Soon to follow, I’m afraid, will be the crops that these bees support such as the alfalfa hay that feeds the cow that produces our milk and meat, as our vegetables and nut crops. In the US alone, the honeybees pollinate $15B worth of crops, including Pennsylvania apples, Florida oranges, and New Jersey blueberries. Agronomists have even gone to say that Americans owe 1 in 3 bites of their food to bees! In a symbiotic relationship in our ecosystem, it is easy to see how the disappearance of bees would translate to famine in a big chunk of the world.

It is generally believed that bees have been around for about 120 million years.  So, bees have done quite well for themselves for millions of years! But over the last two decades, populations of four key bee species have declined by 96% and their geographic ranges have become smaller. Why? How?  Researchers have coined the term Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) to refer to the disappearance of bees by abandoning their hives en mass. If that name doesn't scare you, I don't know what will. There are no dead bees littering the bottom of a hive; they simply vanish! Thousands of individual worker bees fly off to die. It's almost a traceless mass suicide! But if there is anything we know about bees, it is that they are among the planet’s most loyal creatures; a typical colony would do anything to protect its queen. So, what gives? The cause for CCD has been attributed by some scientists to a virus-fungus combination, and by others to the effect of pesticide. Most likely, there are multiple factors: parasites, fertilizers, pesticides, climate change, urbanization and even economic causes such as professional beekeepers closing shops.

The weird weather we've been having certainly has a major impact on these foragers.  The summer has been too wet or too hot. There are not enough blooming flowers during the growing season. And the expanding urban landscape does not provide the hive with enough honey to survive the winter.  Adding insult to injury, natural disasters affect the bee population too. For instance, a series of hurricanes in 2004 decimated the Gulf Coast bee industry. When bees are at their weakest, parasites are at their strongest, attacking the bees’ immune system. Mites transmit viruses from bee to bee and between adult and larvae. So if the mites do not kill the bees, the viruses surely do. If the bee survives the virus, a fungal gut parasite delivers the final blow. And with pesticides, the bottom line is that the bees get disoriented and unable to locate their hives - a sure death sentence for these hardworking insects.  

But, there is hope. The 2008 Farm bill approved USDA grant programs to include pollinators such as bees to become research priorities. Outside of farms, homeowners and policy-makers alike are being educated and encouraged to incorporate floral diversity in urban landscapes and roadsides. 

Why do I write about this now? In this season of football and politics, where tensions are running high, there are still some issues that touch the memories of our childhood.  For me, Rosh Hashanah brought just that.  I cannot enjoy honey without thinking of my encounters with bees when I was a child. I remember how one day I collided with a bee while running full-speed. It bounced off my cheek, and I spent an entire hour brushing an imaginary sting away. But now that I'm an adult, there just don’t seem to be a lot of bees around. I hope that writing about the plight of bees will strike a common chord in our community. Whether you live in a house with a nice backyard or can only plant in flower boxes, it is possible to mitigate the plight of bees, restore some balance and harmony in our ecology, and ensure far sweeter future years to come. Here’s to hoping for a buzz-worthy year ahead! L’shanah tovah!