Earth Day 2013: Are we doing enough?

Earth Day 2013 came and went. But was the message even heard?

The Linn County Landfill also has a recycle center, where you can recycle most anything, even hazardous materials. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

The Linn County Landfill also has a recycle center, where you can recycle most anything, even hazardous materials. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

Earth Day was started in 1970 to remind the Earth’s inhabitants that they need to take better care of their planet.

It was celebrated in my community with EcoFest 2013, held Saturday in the NewBo district in downtown Cedar Rapids. Those who attended enjoyed interactive art and educational activities, eco-product and eco-practice demonstrations, and health and fitness challenges. They also learned  fun ways to reduce and reuse personal and household items.

The Indian Creek Nature center held a program for preschoolers to learn how to be more earth-friendly and make a fun craft out of recyclable materials.

Mount Mercy University welcomed activist, author, and environmentalist, Julia Butterfly Hill, who spent two years living in trees to protest their destruction. I wish I could have attended, but a fellow blogger did, and he writes about his experience in his blog.

I know I’m not perfect. I drive a car every day, spewing carbons into  the air. I don’t litter, but I don’t recycle everything that I should. I buy plastic bottles and I use plastic bags. And I’m not really sure what to do with Styrofoam.

My efforts to help preserve Earth have not been all they can be, and I know it. I’m even a little ashamed.

I celebrated Earth Day by taking papers and cardboard to the recycling center, but it as I drove County Home Road on my return trip from the landfill and recycle center, I was reminded of how little our efforts have been.  Litter filled the ditches along the road and I was a little disgusted that we let this happen.

I sometimes see people throwing cigarette butts, wrappers, and garbage out their car windows and I cringe, because they have no idea what that is doing to our environment. Not only does the litter create a health hazard to our wildlife, but it’s also an eyesore.

Some people say, “Everyone else does it,” trying to put the responsibility on someone else.

But like my mom has told me many times (because sometimes it takes a while), “Just because everyone does it, it doesn’t make it right.”

It’s everyone’s responsibility to take care of our planet.

If more people knew the damage they were doing by throwing trash out the car window or inundating our landfills, maybe they would take the first step into changing their own habits.

People learn by example, and if we show others how important it is to take care of our world,  we could change the mindset of millions.

All it takes is one person to decide that, “Today is the day I take better care of the world I live in.”

Can you just imagine the impact it would have on our environment?

We live in a world that has come to rely on convenience. But is that worth the price we pay for the damage we are causing to our Earth?

Expanding background checks for gun owners could hinder crimes

Like many Americans, I was disappointed and frustrated to learn that the Senate voted not to extend background checks for those wishing to purchase firearms, stating that it goes against the Second Amendment, which is the right to bear arms.

President Obama told the nation Monday that "it's a pretty shameful day in Washington," when a bipartisan measure that would have expanded federal background checks for firearm purchases was rejected.

President Obama told the nation Monday that “it’s a pretty shameful day in Washington,” when a bipartisan measure that would have expanded federal background checks for firearm purchases was rejected.

The bipartisan Manchin-Toomey gun bill, devised by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and others, was six votes shy of passing.

Even Senator John McCain, who has long since defended Second Amendment rights, went against his Republican comrades and was quoted as saying (according to,  “Just as I have long defended the Second Amendment to the Constitution, I have also long believed that it is perfectly reasonable to use available tools to conduct limited background checks, as this amendment prescribes, to help ensure that felons and the mentally-ill do not obtain guns they should not possess.  In my view, such background checks are not overly burdensome or unconstitutional.”

So why did the majority decide to vote against it? According to the Washington Post, some Senators, who voted against the bill, did not vote against it because they didn’t agree with it, but because they had a different agenda.

The Post stated that Senator Harry Reid (D-Nev.) voted no so he would be able to bring it up later.

“The short explanation…is that Reid voted no ‘for procedural reasons’ or because a no vote “allows him to bring another cloture vote in the future.” (A cloture is a procedure for ending a debate and taking a vote. Only someone on the winning side can bring it up again.)

Maybe I don’t understand all there is to know about politics, or why they do what they do, and maybe Reid has been in politics so long that he has cracked the code. However, I don’t like the idea of our Senators playing games with something as serious as our safety and well-being.

If we look at crimes committed in the past 10 years, most of them involved someone who was mentally ill.

Mark Becker killed Coach Ed Thomas in the training room at Aplington High School (Iowa)  in 2009. Becker had been released from a Waterloo hospital only 24 hours before the shooting and was being treated for a mental illness.

Gabrielle Giffords, a representative from Arizona, was shot in the head while visiting a store opening in Tuscon in 2011. Six people were killed, including a federal judge and a little girl. Thirteen others were injured. Jared Lee Loughner was arrested in the shooting and later diagnosed with schizophrenia. His parents said they noticed strange behavior before the shooting and were trying to get help for him.

Columbine, Virginia Tech, the shopping center in Oregon, the movie theater in Aurora, Colo., Sandy Hook; these are all incidents that might have been avoided if authorities had been paying more attention to who was buying arms and where they were getting them from.

I believe every American has the right to bear arms.  Still,  there has to be a way that we can make sure that people are in their right minds when they are buying guns. Too many people are being hurt and killed by those who shouldn’t have guns in the first place.

Would we allow someone who was mentally ill to fly a plane on a commercial airline? Or perform heart surgery? Or be president? Of course not. Why would we allow someone who is mentally ill to buy a gun?

According to the National Institute of Justice, nearly 500,000 people are affected by gun violence every year.  Maybe extending a background check won’t stop criminals from obtaining gun, but it might make it harder for them.

Those who still want to obtain guns, will. We just have to figure out a way to make it more difficult for them to do so. But then, isn’t that what we pay our government officials to do?

You would think so.

April showers bring May flowers…or something like that

I turned 50 April 8.

My 50th birthday party

My 50th birthday party

On one hand, I’m thrilled to reach that level of maturity that some are not so lucky to reach.

On the flip-side, I have spent the last few days reflecting about where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going.

Honestly, I’ve been thinking a lot about my past for quite some time, ever since I decided to change the course of my life nearly eight years ago.

I woke up Aug. 31, 2005 and decided to do something different. The choice was easy, but it wasn’t easy to do.

For the past few years I have worked hard to change my attitude about myself, my relationships, and my life.

As I neared my 50th year milestone, I became very aware that time is passing at a rapid rate. My children have families of their own and my mother is becoming more incapacitated as the days pass. (My father died nearly 5 years ago.)

And though I look in the mirror and see graying hair and wrinkles, I often see a glimpse of a younger version, someone who has become stronger because of the  events that unfolded in her life.

And I am proud. Because even though I’ve been through Hell, I have come out the other side, a little scarred, but stronger nonetheless.

One thing I have learned along the way is that we make our own happiness.

I used to wonder how some people who have lost everything could still stand up straight and say to the world, “Worse things could happen.” And though it took me a while to figure it out, I know now, too.

It’s because everyday I wake up with a grateful heart. And I go to bed with a grateful heart. I have my family, I have my health, I have my friends, and I have someone by my side whom I can depend on to be with me in good times and bad.

And if I lost all that tomorrow, I would still have my faith. Faith that everything will be OK, no matter what, and we will all be together someday, somewhere else.

But I still have one question that I would like to have answered: What is the meaning of  life? Why am I here?

Unfortunately, those who have gone before me have tried to find that same answer, and some have even gone as far as to state they actually know. But does anyone really know?

A wise man once told me that maybe we aren’t supposed to know the answers to those questions.  That might be so, but it hasn’t stopped me from searching, learning, experiencing, and dreaming.

And it probably never will.

(Someone else who was born on April 8, 1963? Julian Lennon, who released an album in honor of his big day-below is a song from the album)


Who’s fooling who?

The birds must think it’s spring.

One of the rites of spring, an Easter egg hunt, held in our front yard March 31. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

One of the rites of spring, an Easter egg hunt, held in our front yard March 31. (Photo by Cynthia Petersen)

For the past few days, I have lingered in bed each morning, listening to the beautiful chorus of the birds, trying to decipher their meaning.

“Good morning!” they might be saying. “It’s a bit chilly , but the calendar says that we’re supposed to be singing. Don’t you agree?”

The others reply, “Yes! We are all so happy that winter is over and we can finally get to the worms and lay our eggs!”

But is winter really over? Just because the calendar says so, I have my doubts.

Iowa didn’t really have a spring last year. We went from winter straight into summer, with March temperatures in the 80s.

This year, spring is off to a slow start.  Last week we had a couple of days in the 50s, but this morning, the  temperature is hovering somewhere in the 20s with the highs only promising to be in the 30s.

But when you live in Iowa, you just accept that Mother Nature does what she wants. The weather patterns can be a roller coaster and you can rant about it, become frustrated with the meteorologists, and even put your winter gear away, thinking it will make a difference. But it won’t  change Mother Nature’s agenda.

We can’t discount that it won’t snow, even in April.  According to one local meteorologist, snow has fallen in Iowa as late as May 11.

And I have seen it snow in April many times. I was celebrating my 10th birthday April 8, 1973, when the first few snowflakes began to fall in Cedar Rapids. It tuned into a blizzard that dumped nearly 15 inches of snow on the city. I couldn’t help but think, “What a great birthday present!”

According to a KWWL blog:

“A late season snowstorm brought heavy snow to Iowa, southeastern Minnesota, northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin. Wind gusts were up to 70 mph blowing the snow into snow drifts as high as 16 feet. Snow totals were commonly reported in the 10-20″ range.

Dubuque: 19.2″
Waterloo: 9.7″ (this pushed Waterloo to the top of the list of Snowiest Aprils)
Cedar Rapids: 14.5″
Belle Plaine 20.2″

The heavy snow and strong wind closed some highways in Iowa.”

My brother and I jumped from the roof of the garage into snow drifts that were nearly as high. Most businesses and all the schools were closed and we walked to the gas station to buy milk, hoping it would be open when we got there.

And then on April 11, the sun came out and melted all the snow.

Spring will come in its own time. The chilly temperatures will give way to warmer days this week and then the birds won’t be so confused.

Little flowers have emerged through the leftover fall leaves and the robins are strutting around the yard like they own it.

We could still get a little snow. But what will it matter? Remember? Mother Nature does what she wants.

However, I’m also beginning to think she has a warped sense of humor.