Tender Sapling

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The Story of Stuff: Individual and Collective Action for Real Change

The Story of StuffDo you have too much stuff in your life? We are constantly amazed by the deluge of stuff in an American life, even when we try to control it and reduce. I know I’ve often wondered how we got here.

That’s part of why I love The Story of Stuff . If you haven’t seen it before, I urge you to stop what you’re doing and watch it right now (it’s about 20 minutes long). Seriously!

Since it was first posted online in 2007, more than 15 million people have watched this wonderful little video by Annie Leonard and Free Range Studios, but I expect that a significant portion of those people have no idea that Annie and crew have produced seven more short films in the same style since then.

The original film is a terrific, child-friendly introduction to “the way we make, use and throw away stuff.” With simple yet engaging animation, it introduces a number of ideas that children and many adults may not have thought about and connects the dots from planned obsolescence to our disposable culture. One of its greatest virtues is that, far from blaming or shaming, this story may stir outrage but it spins it toward empowerment and action. What can each of us do to reduce our consumption and our part in this cycle of consumption?

As a parent, I especially enjoyed seeing my kids get the concepts quickly. It is a great learning tool and one worth repeating every now and then when the cultural tide of material consumption pulls on them.

Since the original, Annie and her team have produced pointed explorations of the life cycle of specific product industries (electronics, cosmetics, and bottled water), all in the same no-nonsense, fun, and down-to-earth style as the original. Perhaps even more interesting, though, is that, recognizing that individual action is not enough by itself to make lasting change, they have begun exploring education for collective change.

With The Story of Citizens United vs. the FEC, the team explains in layman’s terms what this case means and why it is significant. Yes, it is outrageous that the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes corporations as people and grants them the same rights to free speech as individual citizens. Now what can we do about it?

In The Story of Broke, the team skewers the explanation that many politicians give for why the U.S. government can’t afford new programs or even to maintain old ones. They explain that the government is only broke because it first provides huge funding to corporations and their interests. Many of us suspect this already, but the way it is done is so subtle and obfuscated that we the public are kept blissfully ignorant, even as the economy tanks around us and we wonder why corporate profits keep rising even as individual bottom lines plummet.

Most recently, in The Story of Change, they approach collective change head-on, advocating for a grass-roots call for a Constitutional amendment overturning the Citizens United decision and clarifying that corporations are not individuals.

In addition to being a great educational tool advocating for individual change and individual action, the Story of Stuff is also a great resource for being part of the urgent need for collective change and true reform — both for the environment and for social justice (and seeing how closely intertwined those issues are). Go Annie!


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Can Individuals Make a Difference?

We believe, and we teach our kids, that every individual is important and that our individual choices make a difference in the world, whether talking about saving the planet or any other social justice issue. But some would argue, at least in terms of the success of the green movement, that that’s debatable.

Boy in Monticello garden

For example, Continue reading


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The Art of Bending

There’s a wonderful and little-discussed parenting skill I’ve learned to admire that I call Bending. Tendersaplingmama is like a jedi master at bending. I’m still learning.

foyer ironing

To use a well-worn analogy (which incidentally is how we all think about pretty much everything. Here’s a fascinating article on the brain as an analogy machine.), a mighty tree must bend with the wind; if it is too rigid, the wind may uproot or break it.

I’ve come to recognize that kids, or more precisely, kids’ behavior and all the things they do that cause frequency in a parent’s mind and life, are like the wind and we parents, or at least our rules, are the trees. Some level of rigidity is important. Children must learn self-discipline gradually over time, and there must be certain baseline expectations for safety and sanity, not to mention respect, courtesy, etc.

But I’ve come to realize that some of the behavioral expectations we place on young children are simply not developmentally appropriate for many kids. For example, there may be some two-year-olds who can be counted on to not touch breakables on a low shelf, but most would find them irresistible. Often restrictions we give kids are for the parent’s convenience or whim and don’t really have much to do with health and welfare or developing virtues. Those are the areas where we parents tend to get into the biggest power struggles with our kids (can you tell I speak from experience?). Continue reading


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Sunshine Award – Not Just a Chain Letter (?)

sunshine-award

We’re delighted (and frankly quite surprised) to accept our first blog award – the Sunshine Award – from the inspiring Leanna at All Done Monkey! Thanks so much, Leanna!

The Sunshine Award is given to those who write positive and inspiring articles and bring some sunshine into the life of others. It’s an honor to be included in this group!

Like any blogging award this one has its own rules and requirements.

But before we get to those, here’s a little behind-the-scenes glimpse of the Tender Sapling blog team’s discussions about this award in the spirit of keeping it real:

May 22 (In car bursting with three boys, two tired parents, snacks to get us through a 14-hour car trip, and lots of stowaway stuffed animals nestled between bags packed for a crazy wonderful trip to Chicago, Emily glances at Facebook.)

Emily: “Wow! Honey, did you see this? Leanna nominated the blog for the Sunshine Award!”

Scott: “What’s that?”

Emily: “It’s one of those blogger awards. It’s for being uplifting and positive! Wow, how sweet is that? Leanna knows like a million bloggers and she included our blog on her list. That’s amazing!”

Scott: “That Sunshine thing still doesn’t mean anything to me.”

(Lightening flashes and thunder interrupts our conversation as we enter a massive thunderstorm in silence, all attention on road safety.) Continue reading


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Migrate to Mongolia: A Tender Sapling Travelers Cultural Adventure – Part 3 (Food)

This post is part of the Tender Sapling Travelers Series and Part 3 of a 3-part installment on Mongolia. See Part 1 here (book recommendations and learning about the ger) and Part 2 here (prayer wheels, including a step-by-step craft).

I usually love researching and selecting which native food to prepare for our monthly Culture Club homeschool cooperative potluck. However, Mongolia had me stumped.

The traditional nomadic diet is so opposite to what we eat, it presented a few challenges:

1) Where would I get the ingredients or cooking tools, such as the abdominal cavity of a marmot, inside which I would cook chunks of mutton over heated stones if making “Boodog?”

2) If I could get all the supplies and pull off a traditional dish, which typically involves no seasoning and is usually heavy on the animal fat to help Mongolians survive their cold winters, would my kids or any of the 30 other children at our potluck try more than a bite of it?

3) Given that there are several vegetarians in our coop and that our potluck dishes sit out at room temperature for some time, I prefer to select vegetarian dishes from each month’s country. Mongolian food is so heavily meat-based! It’s summarized by Wikipedia as a diet consisting primarily of “dairy products, meat, and animal fat.”

Then I remembered: Continue reading


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Homemade Yogurt Grows Good Cultures + Character too!

Want a fun food project to enjoy with the kids that’s healthy, green, globally-loved, and cultivates some wonderful qualities of the heart too? Look no further: Yogurt!

How can all these lessons be packed into one food? Here’s a quick run down:

* Healthy: Yogurt is considered a health food. We’re talking ideally homemade, no sugar added, real yogurt. Historically, yogurt is credited with curing at least one king from an incurable case of diarrhea. Yogurt is a great pro-biotic with awesome bacteria for your body, which I recently learned that 90% made up by microbes according to this fascinating article by Michael Pollan. (While our yogurt-making experience is solely with cow’s milk, there are non-dairy options and recipes out there, if you prefer that route.) Continue reading


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Mama – Magic in the World

A magical mama-baby moment.

A magical mama-baby moment.

Forget Harry Potter for a moment. There is real magic in the world. And it’s sprinkled everywhere. It’s in you, mama!

This day (Mother’s Day in the United States) always reinforces for me just how magical mama really is. Just watch a babe in utero kick and mama caress her belly. Or remember the first moment you held your baby, radiating love-beyond-compare to this new being. Pure magic!

But Mama can get worn down and tired and sometimes needs to know how much she is loved, how special she is, even if dinner is just peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and the kids haven’t bathed in days.

Mama tends to be her own worst critic, and while I’m all for self-improvement, an important part of doing our best is forgiving and loving ourselves. When we do that, we model some mighty awesome virtues for our own tender saplings too!

So, in the spirit of helping support you in loving yourself as a mama, here is a simple little poem I just composed as an ode to celebrate YOU! Continue reading


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5 DIY Ways to Pamper Mama this Mother’s Day

What will you do this Mother’s Day for the sweet mama in your life? As a parent working on mindfulness and striving to raise mindful tender saplings, I find this American holiday a great way to teach our little ones about honoring their mother. And I love the idea of trying to make our gestures more mindful and meaningful.

It’s traditional and appreciated for dad and the little ones to come through with flowers, homemade cards, and/or chocolates (like these fair trade bars from our Global Kids Gift Guide) for Mother’s Day. While these are all wonderful, how about adding one or more of these fun, thoughtful do-it-yourself ways to show you care? Continue reading


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Migrate to Mongolia: A Tender Sapling Travelers Cultural Adventure – Part 2 (Prayer Wheels)

This post is part of the Tender Sapling Travelers Series and Part 2 of a 3-part installment on Mongolia. See Part 1 here.

After a wonderful introduction to Mongolia, covered in our Part 1 post, our oldest son was ready to focus on an area of interest to present on at our monthly Culture Club homeschool cooperative. In past years’ learning about Mongolia, his interests veered toward the incredible dinosaur discoveries of Roy Andrew Chapman and team (see book recommendation in the Part 1 post). But this year, he chose to focus on the Mongolian Prayer Wheel.

What’s that? Read on to learn about this fascinating prayer tool, if you will. Plus, use objects around the house to create your own! The step-by-step craft instructions follow the prayer wheel intro:

MONGOLIAN PRAYER WHEEL

Mongolian hand prayer wheel

Our oldest tender sapling found the Mongolian prayer wheel interesting from several perspectives: its design, its spiritual significance, its history, and its recent rebirth as a sign of the revival of Mongolian culture following decades of repression. Here are some of the points he enjoyed learning and sharing with the thirty other children who had each been studying Mongolia on their own: Continue reading


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May Day Fun: Dandelion Soup Recipe

Picking dandelions.

Picking dandelions.

You know the saying, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade?

Well, we decided to apply that to dandelions last week!

It all started when we walked outside to see a sea of dandelion blooms dotting our grass with happy, yellow splotches. It brought to mind my friend Heather’s brilliant easier-than-weeding plan to arrest the spread of the dandelions in her yard. She hired her four boys to pick them, paying them per flower.

I offered a deal that couldn’t be turned down to my two oldest boys: 1 cent per flower. They paused and I feared they would scoff at my low-ball offer. But, seeing as they have precious few opportunities to make money around these parts (something we’ve been meaning to remedy), they got busy. Pails in hand, they fanned out across the yard, hunched over in determination to rid the yard of the splashes of sunshine. (Can you tell I have mixed feelings about losing out on their beauty? Plus childhood seems so much sweeter with plenty of dandelions to make wishes on and blow their seeds into a carefree dance on a spring breeze.)

My father arrived soon after and, learning of the kids’ mission, mentioned that we should use the dandelion flowers to make soup! He had tried a dandelion soup while living in China and liked it. We had used dandelion greens in salads before, but I had a long list of to-dos that day and making dandelion soup was not high on it. Yes, I know, my father’s words can be well worth listening to, but I tried not to this time. Continue reading