Fives’ Favorite Resources to Learn About Climate Change

Climate change has never been far from our minds as we travel. For one, we have experienced its effects first-hand (seeing shrinking glaciers in Glacier National Park and driving through the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy on our way to Washington D.C.). Our homeschool studies have also helped us understand the various consequences of climate change, including how melting sea ice is endangering polar bears and other creatures.

With the People’s Climate March happening this Sunday in New York City and around the world (in anticipation of next week’s UN Climate Summit), we’ve decided to focus our homeschool for the coming days on climate change and its impacts. While we will not be able to make it to any of the marches, we are planning to watch the NYC rally live on Sunday. Now is the perfect time to learn more about climate change and how our actions at this very moment will accelerate or lessen its impact. We have found the following resources to be informative and engaging for all ages.

 

Climate Change 101 with Bill Nye
We are huge Bill Nye the Science Guy fans, and his shows (click here for a list of topics) make learning about science a riot. While the following video is not part of the series, he does an excellent job breaking down the science of climate change in under 5 minutes.

 

Climate Kids: NASA’s Eyes on the Earth

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NASA has put together a great assortment of animations and games to teach the fundamentals of climate and climate change. It is conveniently organized by topic or by type of content (video, animation, game, etc.).

 

Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously
This 9-part documentary series does an amazing job of making the complexities and challenges of climate change come alive through an impressive cast. The first episode is available for free, and it changed the way we look at the palm oil we find in countless food products (a huge cause of deforestation in Indonesia) and at the conflict in Syria (fueled in part by chronic drought). The entire series is now available to stream online at Amazon and iTunes.

 

Surging Seas

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This interactive map program shows the impact of rising sea levels on coastal locations in the United States. Based on the increasing reach of high tides, the program allows you to experiment with various scenarios and see which areas end up underwater (shown in blue). You can search places by state, city, or zip code.

 

Crash Course World History and Ecology
The Crash Course video series gives a great introduction to both the historical and ecological dimensions of climate change. The first video lays out the social upheaval caused by the Little Ice Age in the 17th century, while the second video looks at climate change through the lens of ecology.

¡Viva México!: Independence Day in Pictures

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We’re suckers for parades. Despite the hassle of getting up at the crack of dawn to claim a prime piece of sidewalk along the parade route, the hours of waiting and baking in the sun are always worth it when we first hear the distant notes of the marching band getting louder by the moment. During our travels we’ve experienced the Fourth of July in New York City and Canada Day in the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland, but there’s nothing quite like an epic Mexican Independence Day parade. 

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During the course of the more than hour-long parade, we got to see every student, every police officer and firefighter, and every military service person on the island of Cozumel. And we mean everyone. Wave after wave of school children brought up the front of the parade, and it was fascinating to see the amazing variety of uniforms among the students of all ages, from pre-K up through university. They were followed by all the police officers, firefighters, and ambulance drivers, who then were followed by the army, navy, and air force personnel on the island. The time went surprisingly fast, and as the final flag and snare drum passed we still were wanting more. However, the rides and attractions set up in the town square gave us a push to keep going with the day’s festivities.

 

Fives’ Facts about Independence Day in Cozumel
* Fireworks:
 Some impressive fireworks are set alight the night before on September 15th around 11:00 PM. While the most popular place to view is from the main square, we found our 2nd floor bathroom window gave us a perfect view with all the comforts of home.
* Where to Watch the ParadeThe parade route is along the Malecon (coastal boulevard) from the Municipal Palace north several blocks toward the airport. We found a good shaded spot in front of the Mega supermarket which made it super convenient to take bathroom breaks and get refreshments.
When to Arrive: After asking around, we gathered that the parade started at 8:00 AM. Therefore, we made sure to arrive at our spot on the parade route around 7:55 AM. The street, though, was completely deserted. The reason, we discovered, is that the parade actually starts around 9:15 AM. Even as the parade began, there was still plenty of space on the sidewalk. Lesson learned: no need to rush :)
* Patriotic Accessories: We debated whether to invest a few pesos in Mexican flags and decorations to wave during the parade. In the end, we never got around to buying any. This ended up being a wise move as none of the spectators went overboard with the red, white, and green. The only flags were in the parade itself, so it’s probably best to leave the face paint at home.
* Fair in the Square: The main square has a carnival-like atmosphere for the week leading up to Independence Day. There are plenty of amusements for the kids, including carousels, trampolines, and pint-sized roller coasters.

Sourdough Summer

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This summer we’ve had an extra mouth to feed everywhere we’ve traveled throughout the Yucatán peninsula. It’s not all bad, though. This constant companion is silent, housebroken, and never whines or complains. And perhaps best of all, it makes a delectable pizza crust.

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In an effort to improve our digestive health, we began our first sourdough starter almost three months ago, and our kitchen has never been the same. After looking through several online directions, we settled on the tips provided by King Arthur Flour (given our Vermont roots, we’re probably a bit biased). All you really need is a dedicated container with a lid (most people use glass, but we already had a plastic jar) and a steady supply of whole grain flour. One cup whole wheat flour and a half cup water gets things started. Then every day we “feed” the starter in the same way, one cup flour and a half cup water.

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One part of the instructions did make us feel uneasy, though. Once a day, you need to remove half of the starter before you feed it. Many people just compost or throw out the discard, but that felt pretty wasteful. Fortunately, there are a wealth of recipes available to turn the cast-off starter into everything from muffins and pretzels to biscuits and pancakes. Basically, every time we feed the starter we use whatever we take out in a recipe. It is a bit of a commitment, but it helps to know we always have the option to stick the starter in the fridge and just feed it once a week instead.

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For the moment at least, our sourdough starter is making its way into at least one baked good every day. Our favorite recipe, which we find to be the most versatile, is a flatbread recipe from King Arthur. We use just the flatbread (not the topping or filling) part, minus the dry milk. The recipe makes a tasty bread for sandwiches, and also serves as a spectacular pizza crust!

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With fall around the corner, our sourdough summer shows no signs of letting up. While the exact starter we are using at the moment won’t be leaving Cozumel, part of our new ritual upon moving into a rental will undoubtedly now include beginning a new one. Six mouths to feed is really not that bad in the end, especially when one helps to feed the others :)

 

Choose Your Own Family Adventure: A Day at Playa Mia Beach Park

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The kids’ smiles widened as they looked over the map. “We get to do all this today?!”  they asked in disbelief. This was the wonderful start to our amazing day at Playa Mia Grand Beach Resort and Water Park.

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Cozumel has its fair share of beach clubs and beach resorts along the western coast, and we spent a good amount of time upon arriving here figuring out which ones would be best for our family. As we had been planning to visit a water park before our abrupt departure from Merida, Playa Mia caught our attention due to its kids’ water park, water slides, paddle boat and kayak rentals, along with its prime beach access. We liked that all these activities were included in the admission price, compared to other beach properties that have free admission but expect you to keep buying round after rounds of drinks and food, and make you pay for all the extras.

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We decided to arrive right at the beach club’s opening to try to make the most of all the recreation options, and that ended up being a wise decision. We had a lot to keep us busy, starting with the Buccaneer’s Bay Kids Pool. The Younger Fives had a great time splashing in the shallow water, climbing and sliding down the pirate-themed elements, and running through the water spraying at them from every angle. While more geared to kids 5 and under, Five of Hearts didn’t mind being a few years older than the rest and really enjoyed herself as well.

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Before long, Five Ball and Five of Hearts spotted the towering water slide behind the kids’ pool and were determined to give it a try. After checking in with the lifeguards, and explaining that both kids were good swimmers, they got the green light to climb the stairs and zoom down the water slide. They didn’t have much competition for the slide, a fact they took advantage of by sliding down again, and again, and again.

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It took a lot of coaxing, but we eventually got High Five out of Buccaneer’s Bay and the other Fives away from the water slide to relax in the Oasis Pool. The crystal clear water was very inviting, and Five Ball put his recently acquired swimming skills to good use by following his siblings as they crisscrossed the pool trying to make their way all the way around and back to where they started.

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Soon the beach and Caribbean called to us, and we headed to the watercraft area to take a paddle boat and kayak out for a spin. The staff was very friendly and safety-conscious as they ensured we all had a properly fitting life jacket and helped us get the vessels into the water. The gentle waves made getting around an adventure, but even with the Younger Fives at the helm we had no problems staying in the enclosed area or making it back to shore.

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We (at least the Older Fives) needed a little break next, so we walked down the beach to the enclosed swimming area and let the waves lap at our feet as the kids played in the surf. The swimming area is also just inshore from the Floating Park, and we watched as others bounced on the floating trampoline and ascended the Giant Aquatic Iceberg. We had read some reviews that getting out there was a bit of a chore, so when the kids asked about giving it a try we were a bit hesitant. However, we had to admit it did look like a blast, and we found out from the staff that kids were welcomed out on the Floating Park as long as their parents accompanied them. Nothing stopping us now, we were all fitted with life jackets and headed out for the short swim ahead of us.

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Photo from Playa Mia (alas, our camera is not waterproof)

Having the life jackets on was great, as we could more or less drift and not have to worry about treading in the water. The kids were not content to drift, however, and they soon zoomed ahead and were pulled up onto the Floating Park by an awaiting staff member. We had the entire floating playground to ourselves and lost all track of time as we bounced on the trampolines, climbed the inflatable iceberg, zoomed down the slide into the water, and raced on the obstacle course. For something we were not even planning on doing, this turned out to be our favorite part of the day. When we eventually and reluctantly swam back to shore we were certainly tired, but the smiles stayed on our faces even after we were back on firm ground.

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We quickly noticed everyone gathering in the dining tent, and finally became aware that some dark clouds were making an appearance, albeit briefly. Taking it as a sign, we moved our backpacks into the tent as well and had lunch. As our admission included the buffet, we scanned the buffet line and were pleased to find quite a few vegan options. We soon were ravenously enjoying chips and salsa, fruit salad, and french fries as the staff conducted several games inside the tent and gave away prizes to keep people’s minds off the rain.

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By the time we finished lunch the clouds passed, and we decided to wrap up our day back at the Oasis Pool / Buccaneer’s Bay / water slide area. The kids still had plenty of energy for pirate ship water canons and Twin Twister water slides, but the Older Fives were content to lounge in the pool and unwind. We had the good fortune to get the kids eventually back into the main pool for some more family swimming and relaxing in the submerged lounge chairs. As the time of our departure crept up there were some minor meltdowns, but we took that as a sign of a day well spent. We managed to keep our eyes open for the cab ride home, but it was certainly an early night to bed after all of our adventures that day.

 

Fives’ Facts about Playa Mia Grand Beach Resort
* Getting There: We caught a cab from San Miguel, and the official rate for the trip is 170 pesos for 4 people. Checking out the Official Cozumel Taxi Rate document in advance helped up keep track of what we should be paying.
* Hours: 9 AM – 6 PM Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.
* Admission Cost: Day passes start at $30 for adults, $25 for kids 4-11, and kids under 4 are free. This includes access to the beach, all the pools, non-motorized equipment rentals, and the Float Park. Other passes include buffet and open bar options.
* Not To Miss: The Floating Park and non-motorized water toys (paddle boats, kayaks, water bikes)
* Social Responsibility: We were impressed to see several areas around the resort that were being restored to their natural state, including a mangrove area. We also learned Playa Mia has partnerships with local charities and uses a state-of-the-art sewage treatment system to reuse water and keep the surrounding Caribbean clean.

Floating on Waves

As we boarded the ferry to the island of Cozumel, Mexico, we had one thing in mind: taking a swim in the ocean. We hadn’t been near the surf since last March, which is way too long for this ocean-loving family. However, before we could skip into the waves we had to get settled into our new rental house and figure out the beach scene on the island.

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It turns out that Cozumel has a very different kind of beach scene than we have been exposed to so far. This makes sense as we are in cruise ship territory and the island has 3 cruise ship piers that allow for thousands of passengers to disembark onto the island daily. So, after examining the Cozumel interactive beach map we found out that the nearest beaches were all home to beach clubs. These are private businesses that have rented the beach and surrounding area and set up restaurants, pools, and beach-side lounge areas. While the shoreline and waters of the island are technically free for all people, you have to go through the beach clubs in order to enjoy a day at the beach. That is unless you want to head over to the less populated east side of the island where you will still find deserted stretches of sand. However, taxi cabs on the island cost a pretty penny and a one way trip to the east side beaches costs well over $60.

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So, after figuring this all out we decided that for our first beach foray we would stick to the west-side of the island and experience a beach club. After reading all the reviews and descriptions we decided that Playa Palancar would meet our needs. This beach club charges no admission price, but for their services (lounge chairs, restrooms, etc.) you are expected to buy food and drink from their restaurant.

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After a quick $20 taxi ride (this is when we really miss having our own car) we were on the beach and the kids were immediately jumping the waves. The reviews were spot on about Playa Palancar and the beach with clean and the services adequate. The palapa style restaurant fit in nicely with the surroundings and the wooden walkways between the different services were a nice touch. They have foam floats for rent, and the kids spent the day floating on the waves and digging for shells and coral in the sand.

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The only snag of the day came when we tried to give the kids their mid-morning snack. Immediately upon reaching into our bag and taking out snack cups a very annoyed looking waiter showed up and informed us that no outside food was allowed on the beach. In our best Spanish we tried to explain that we were going to order food and drinks from the restaurant but that it was only 10am and the kids just needed a small snack before they got back into the water. The waiter wasn’t having any of thi,s and he proceeded to have a fit and remind us that this whole area was only for paying customers. So, we headed to the restaurant and ate our guacamole and chips early. Once we had paid our bill and tipped him we weren’t bothered again the rest of the day. In retrospect we should have ordered something first thing upon arrival at the beach as the staff obviously depend on the tips that they get as their income for the day.

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Once the whole “food and tipping” experience was out of the way we continued to have a lovely day. It wasn’t at all the beach experience that we were used to, as motorized boats zoomed by and cruise ship passengers sipped large tropical looking drinks from their lounge chairs (you don’t ever see that at a Maine State Park beach). However, the temperature of the water was perfect and the waves just right to keep the kids happy. When the sun hit the water at different angles you could see at least 5 shades of blue, reminding us all that we were truly in a very special environment. Playa Palancar wasn’t as secluded and pristine as some of our other favorite beaches, but it sure felt good to be back at the ocean.

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