Can You Believe Who’s Here? Blog Tour Comes to Snook

26 04 2007



And Teresa Heinz Kerry does not disappoint. 🙂
It’s a real honor to open Snook’s living room to her today, although technically we’re in the library, where MisEducation herself is glowing with ladylike excitement!

We are secretly thinking that she and Teresa could take over the world together, probably have time left over for tea and then launching a couple of ships or book tours before dinner. But Nance and me? — um, not so much. By golly though, they are letting us stay and participate as if we belonged in the mix, does it get any better than this?

Teresa is so gracious and so relaxed that she’s letting me set the tone! JJ gets the first question so of course, it has a little wordplay and political power of story served on the side.

“It’s been said that all politics is based on either hope or fear.
What are some really hopeful environmental messages you’d like to emphasize for families living and learning with children, and what are some ideas other than public school lessons and tests, for helping our own children receive such messages, and take them to heart?”

THK: I believe that within the family deep learning does take place, in one way or another. Children live what they learn and learn what they live. We have to model the behaviors we want them to embrace, and that includes taking responsibility for our surroundings and caring for our bodies, earth around us, and all creation.

First of all, we can change the status quo if we do simple things together, such as recycling. Children can understand how simple tasks can help the planet, the family, and even the economy (some states like Oregon have passed the Bottle Bill where each can or bottle returned is worth 5 cents). Children learn that there is a value put on recycling. A good field trip for unschoolers might be to take your child to a recycling plant or program and allow them to see, hear and understand the overall value. Another good project is to compare the characteristics of rivers with fish and without fish.

Second, plant a vegetable garden with your child and allow them to watch things being created and nurtured. Gardens teach children about cause-and-effect and allow them to take a little responsibility for their own healthy nourishment. Stagger what you plant so that various vegetables come to full growth at different times. Study the latest organic growing methods, so they are informed consumers and contributers to the community’s welfare.

Third, explore composting by first talking with a local environmental organization or researching composting on the internet. Both you and your children can decide if this is something you want to do.
And finally, have some fun in the kitchen where you can try baking home made bread together using whole grains (not white flour), and other healthy foods. You can even buy the grain and grind it to get different textures and experiment with those.

As much as possible, plan meals that use only locally or regionally grown produce, meats and dairy items to learn about what farmers in your region are producing and selling. At farmer’s markets, you can often speak directly to the farmer and ask about their pesticide practices.

For a child (or anyone, truly) to take a message to heart requires that you think about starting with a small project and build from there. Family-based projects can change everyone’s behaviors, and it is through such projects that deep learning takes hold. But, the most important part is to talk with your child about the environment.

That conversation and the actions that follow are the basis of building a strong foundation for learning and ultimately, a healthier family.

THK finished and smiled, as if she could tell my mind was reeling.


The vegetable garden sounds so good, and all the learning projects do have me off in a fog of thinking and dreaming already. Looks like Nance will have to pick up my slack for the moment, Nance who is as you know, the more practical and plain-spoken of the Snook partners, Nance who, thank goodness, has something she’s been burning to ask all this time.

She feels her family is already much healthier than their bank account is, even though it gets SOOOO much exercise! 😉

So she asks,
“Often the responsible actions urged on us for the environment and our own health seem to involve discouraging and impractical trade-offs that make it hard to figure out if it’s worth the effort and cost!
What are some personal changes that individual parents can make right now, without breaking into the kids’ college fund and with confidence that their individual action DOES matter?”

THK: I would start simple by knowing what chemicals are in the personal care, cosmetics, and house cleaning products we use for ourselves and our children. The Environmental Working Group website ( ) allows you to ask about specific products including food, and to begin to understand the choices you can make.

Second, when considering a new car, consider the balance between a hybrid and something less fuel efficient. A great long-term investment is an A123 Systems lithium ion battery, which when applied to hybrid vehicles, can bring the fuel efficiency to 150 miles per gallon.

Third, there are some new great energy efficient light bulbs each of us can use at home. These compact fluorescents can be expensive but they last ten times longer. They can be used in those areas of the home where light bulbs often need to be replaced, such as the kitchen or family room.

Some things you may be able to do that cost little:

* Check out gDiapers at — flushable diapers that are biodegradable.
* If you can do it safely in your neighborhood, walk or ride bicycles to the store with your child, at least for small stuff. In any case, find ways to reduce car trips and explain the reasoning to your child.
* Try shopping farmer’s markets for fresh, locally grown produce. Often you will find better quality, without breaking the bank. You may be able to find locally-oriented marketers in your area through websites and organizations such as the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies.
* Use websites like the Environmental Working Group’s SkinDeep database to compare products and find the safest ones you can afford. Safer is not always more expensive.

(She smiles again and folds her hands. I could’ve sworn she winked but maybe not.)


It doesn’t happen often but I am speechless. My brain is full.
“Children live what they learn and learn what they live.” Oh my yes — a better definition of unschooling I never heard; I didn’t know Teresa knew unschooling too!

MisEducation is doing more than being polite; she is impressed.

And that was enough practical advice even for Nance (who was making a list, I saw her!) to get started on. She is chomping at the bit to go DO something instead of just talking about it! And I have enough to think about and connect to other ideas for oh, weeks of mind-boggling blogging while she’s off replacing all those lightbulbs . . . We have learned so much already and having met some of the other amazing enviornmental activists on your tour, we are a little chastened about having taken a spot in the first place. . .

Maybe I get the cakes, offer her a spin on the old stationary bike? I hope Teresa can think of us as the scholarship blog this time around, earnest and eager and just grateful to be admitted into the ranks of the truly enlightened and effective, hoping to rise to the occasion and make her visit with us worthwhile.

Oh good, she and MisEducation really have hit it off and they are walking out through the gardens together — they are so lovely, I would kill for that posture and oh boy, now they’re speaking French, I think it was something about being off to her next stop at VBDems tomorrow but my French is atrocious, there’s really nothing more Nance and I can do but wave goodbye and offer a couple of links to the rest of you virtual visitors (sorry you missed the cakes though, they were scrumptious!) —

At the Women’s Health & the Environment Conference sponsored by the Heinz Family Philanthropies last week, a new website was unveiled to keep the learning going year-round.

And the blog tour still has surprises in store through the end of the month, please check out the full schedule here if you get lost after VBDems tomorrow (I hear they have nice cakes too . .)

Many thanks to our very special guest, and to blog tour coordinator and new friend Meredith Efken for making this all possible, and oh heck, thank you ALL so much for this wonderful inaugural event, and y’all come back soon, y’hear? 🙂



29 responses

26 04 2007

Thanks for that great interview. Food for thought (if you will) in what to do with the kids.

27 04 2007
Nance Confer

THK: A good field trip for unschoolers . . .

Nance: I am shocked and pleased that Ms. THK even knows that unschooling exists! 🙂

THK: Second, when considering a new car, . . .

Nance: Riiiight. But when that battery technology is actually available on the market, we should look into it. I wonder if it will work in old cars??

THK: Third, there are some new great energy efficient light bulbs. . .

Nance: Yes! And they are affordable now! We have recently started replacing burned out bulbs with the new type.

THK: The Environmental Working Group website ( ) allows you to ask about specific products including food, and to begin to understand the choices you can make.

Nance: My makeup and skin-care needs are minimal, to say the most. We are past the diaper stage. And walking or biking to anywhere to shop is out of the question — except maybe the corner store for overpriced junk. We are in suburban FL, the land of bad drivers and little or no mass transit but everything is spread out to hell and gone.

But we do eat. 🙂 So I checked out the “what vegetables and fruits have toxins” list. Apparently, all of them do and especially the ones we eat. But I did not find, in my quick search, a real explanation of what that means. This page — — starts off an explanation but I need more. In part, it says: “. . . people can lower their pesticide exposure by almost 90 percent by avoiding the top twelve most contaminated fruits and vegetables and eating the least contaminated instead. Eating the 12 most contaminated fruits and vegetables will expose a person to about 15 pesticides per day, on average.” What does that mean? “Expose a person” is just vague enough to raise my eyebrow. I see there’s a “Body Burden” link at, so I’ll have to see if that helps me understand the actual threat.

Thank you, THK, for giving us so much to think about and continue learning from!

Now back to that ewg page. . . must understand. . . 🙂


27 04 2007

Interesting, very interesting. 🙂

27 04 2007

Which refers back to our analogy of the cumulative “body burden” on kids built up from repeated exposure to all the effects of schooling and other message lessons —

Just to keep all this healthy Thinking Parent exercise on track!

27 04 2007

Nance: In my experience, THK knows EVERYTHING. I am not kidding. She could probably tell you what I had for breakfast.

Really good questions. I’ve been noticing that the mainstream media has erred toward asking THK (and Senator Kerry, as well) about the “elitism” of the environmental movement, and that’s all well and good, as some of this stuff is damned pricey. But as anyone who had ever been forced, by whatever circumstances, to be thrifty will tell you, “reuse” is probably the most underrated component of the reuse-reduce-recycle triangle. Turning old clothes into new clothes, bartering when you could throw away, shopping at Goodwill instead of Target, etc, etc, are all cheap (and fun) ways to keep stuff out of landfills.

In my experience, it was easier to just suck it up and pay for more expensive organic stuff, and just offset the costs by spending less on gas (I walk now), energy, clothing, and so on.

27 04 2007

A timely point as I sit here today looking at half a laundry room full of outgrown clothes! And we aren’t very social creatures, at least not with “family” type friends who have kids the age of ours, and our own extended families are far away, etc. We just can’t do anything with all the too-small stuff! Yet the local Goodwill has gotten so picky, what’s up with them anyway? Last time I tried to take in a serviceable vaccuum cleaner that needed a little work, they wouldn’t take it, said they didn’t fix things any more, and they don’t want off-season or worn clothing, geez! Has anyone in the environmental movement thought of an alternative Goodwill donation center??
(rant over — but the clothes are still sittting here . . .)

27 04 2007

Should have added — I DESPISE garage sales, all selling actually. Never had one, won’t go to one. I am not a sales person or fundraiser.

27 04 2007
M. Loutre

Churchgoing folks I know tell me that someone in their congregations pretty much always knows somebody who can make good use of the stuff we no longer need ourselves. I’m just sayin’.

I can’t believe Teresa didn’t digress long enough to chat with you about the finer points of snook-cocking, though. Or did she, and you’re just being too coy to say so?

27 04 2007

(tittering behind my fan)
Snook-cocking I feel sure, is neither diplomatic enough in delivery nor devastating enough in actual effect (on those in clear need of receiving a good snook-cocking or three) for either MisEducation or Mrs. Heinz Kerry to employ. I have, however, heard rather salacious whispered suggestions that the latter has a most impressive arsenal of alternative techniques at her command, and I shall acknowledge — only because you are a trusted confidante Dear Otter — that the one whispering those suggestions to me in the first place, was MisEducation!

27 04 2007

I am not sure I want to think about what all those huge church congregations are “doing” to support folks these days. As I woke up yesterday, the university NPR station had some kind of technical problem and it dropped out, to be replaced with a very strong signal from what is apparently a local Christian channel. They were advertising INSURANCE! Health insurance, because it was in the bible somewhere that you help each other (a verse is quoted by this preacher voice) and so the right thing to do is to send in money and do this among the godly folks. I found myself frightened by the idea that soon they will have a completely alternative society, insulated and all-powerful and unregulated, with no consumer oversight or accurate information, no administrative or judicial protections for those defrauded and no transparency so that we would even know it’s happening until it’s too late . . .definitely not my vision for a healthier society, especially one making progress for women and children.

27 04 2007

Great questions and great answers! Thanks for this, JJ and Nance!

btw, if you are looking to unload those things that don’t fit and Goodwill doesn’t want anymore, you may want to find out if you have a Freecycle group in your town. Freecycle kind of was conceived as “an alternative Goodwill donation center” if I understand correctly. I know the one in my county is a very active list and a lot of stuff gets “freecycled” that otherwise might end up in a landfill. I hope you find a group near you and find that it works for you!

28 04 2007

Wow, all I had to do was ask . . . thanks MH, I’ll check that out Saturday am!

28 04 2007
Nance Confer

Yes, Freecycle is a good thing! I recently gave away two computer screens — the Moms were happy to get them and I was happy not to send them to the landfill. Or to schlep them to the toxic waste dump — whichever I would have had to do.

We recently did take a trip to the toxic dump and felt a little better to find out that the car batteries we were dumping (cleaned out Granddad’s garage) were recycled — the lead is used as ballast in ships. Who knew. 🙂

I have also donated to our local churches’ thrift stores and they seemed happy to get anything I had. I may be, and am, uncomfortable with a lot of what goes on in the name of churches, but I figure their kids need stuff too. (Echoing my outrage at the requirement that people working at the Salvation Army speak English. WTF?!)

And the Boys and Girls Club near us takes donations — outgrown computer software or books or toys.

Giving is a great way to recycle!


P.S. I heard the stat last night that only 55% of what we throw away ends up in landfills. I type “only” because I was pleasantly surprised by that number. More to do but I found that encouraging. 🙂

P.P.S. Maybe THK already encourages all of this and I just wasn’t focused on it. It’s more sexy to talk about new technology or new cars, I guess, but simple things like how to dispose of things and help others at the same time — to not waste iow — could be encouraged more.

28 04 2007

I don’t have to give up my shelves and stacks of books in every room though, do I, along with the toilet paper? 🙂

28 04 2007
Nance Confer

Books are not a waste.

If you want to get more though and need to get rid of some, I have always found people happy to take the old ones. 🙂


28 04 2007

That’s the problem. I DO want more, always, but I never get rid of any! — like a houseful of children except I can’t ever let them leave home! I do have several (mostly education and feminist) favorites that I buy multiple copies of yet can’t keep in the house, because I loan them out and never get them back. It’s like placing books for adoption to good homes! 🙂
I think I’ve bought ten or so of Gardner’s Disciplined Mind and Pink’s Whole New Mind. For fiction, at least a half-dozen copies of Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale and Patchett’s Bel Canto. One of Favorite Daughter’s feminist dance friends is reading my latest Bel Canto right now, and if she loves it enough to keep it, oh well . . . more room for books I haven’t read yet!

28 04 2007

Great interview, JJ! I especially appreciated Teresa’s suggestions about how to introduce vegetable gardening and composting to our kids. That’s one of our goals for this summer–we’re going to get a compost pile going. And then my husband wants to try growing corn, beans, and squash in the “Three Sisters” style–where you grow the beans up the corn and put the squash around the base. He wants to get heirloom seeds, too. I think the kids will love it.

28 04 2007

Oh yes Meredith! Power of Story in the garden.

I remember reading about the importance of the Three Sisters style and you just made me remember summers with my grandmother, when she would walk me around her vegetable and flower garden very early every morning to water, and tell me such stories. Every one of her irises had a name (Top Hat, Birthday Cake) and I created whole back stories for them all in my mind, they were personal friends I would greet each day! 🙂

28 04 2007

I just commented at VBDems, something kinda long and education-philosophical about the tour, in case those here want to read it there:

28 04 2007

About freecycling, there is a great website here, which includes an easy way to see if there’s a group in your area or to start one if there isn’t. Don’t I feel like a dummy, my town has had a local networkfor three years and I never even heard of FREECYCLE.
Lucky me, that more than 2,000 of my neighbors are smarter or at least more active in the community than I am, and have it all up and running already! 🙂

28 04 2007

The Naked Lady Party is a favorite thrifty past time, and could almost certainly include some naked babies as well 🙂

28 04 2007

Ha! I love this idea because naked seems healthy to me, although few moms are as tall as I am (just under six feet) so I’d be limited to scoring those Martha Stewart prison ponchos probably . . .

28 04 2007

Speaking of naked, I saw The Full Monty last night in community theatre and it was a complete hoot . . . the best part was not the naked bodies but the naked guy-think.

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