December 2009

Animal Rights and Environmental Organizations: In Honor of Wolf 527

by The Car Family

One sure fire way to get students interested and involved is through using lessons and issues related to the environment and animal rights. I started a 527 Wildlife Club. It was named for the dominate female Yellowstone female wolf that was killed by Ryan Counts of Pray, Montana. The wolf was wearing a radio collar and shortly thereafter most of her group was also killed. This an major kills in Idaho were the result of the gray wolf being removed from the endangered list by the Secretary of the Interior. After reading the story of 527’s life the students were eager to take action. They wrote letters, send petitions, sponsored a wolf at the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary, and sent money to Defenders of Wildlife. They were empowering themselves. They were motivated to learn and to use the system appropriately.

When they came to class the regular lessons were waiting and they gulped down the material eagerly after checking what was happening on the current events board and what emails have arrived. This motivation not only rolled into the classroom, but they started to get their parents involved. Clearly, this issue was controversial as many feel that the wolves threaten their livestock and some claim wolves are causing the elk population to fall. Thus it is important to show both sides of the issue. That being said, there are less controversial issues students can adopt, but this issue and the way that 527 was killed stirred a fire under them as few other issues have ever done. Using the teachable moment ideas here, ( I was able to integrate the curriculum, and keep the fires burning while still following the required course of study.

Should you want to see more about what happened here are some articles that may be of interest. Also listed are a variety of environmental links to all types of educational related sites. Very worthwhile and true to the goal of education, which is to provide lifelong learners and good citizens. We even used them to bring in guest speakers to help bring new information to the students.

Photo ffrom Tom Murphy

The story of 527 and her killing:


Here is the site where we adopted a wolf from. There are other wolf adoption sites that may be closer.

The students loved the fact that these wolves were the models for the ones in Twilight-New Moon

Here is a good overall site with many organizations of all types offering educational materials

General environmental organizations

Educational Sites

Wolf cam

Animal Rights Organizations

Huge link site by issue, animal

Wildlife organizations in alphabetical order

Worldlife Organization

Animal Welfare Sites

Bird Sites

Wolf Sanctuaries


Wolf and Wildlife link site

Wolves and Bears

Endangered Animals Worldwide

Environment Sites

Environmental Organizations

Rainforest and conservation sites

Weather related sites

General organizations


Rainforest and trees

Water resources

Energy links


Youth Programs


Earth Day

Soil and Parks

Arbor Day

Native Plant Oragnizations

Box Cars: Perfect for Hauling Coal for Stockings

by The Car Family

For more reviews:

Looking for the best vehicle to haul that coal for the undeserving one’s stocking this holiday season? Well it might not be that simple since there are five main types of coal. Of these, Anthracite, which is an environmentalist nightmare, has significant carbon content, but high heating value. Bituminous, the most common, is used mainly for generating electricity and casts a large carbon footprint, too. There is also Subbituminous, which gives less heat, but also has less carbon, and Lignite, a younger coal with less potential.

So which coal to buy is the question, but equally of note is which box car to tote home the combustible sedimentary rock? Fortunately, this holiday season there are three fairly newly minted vehicles that provide good fuel mileage, room for four adults as well as a few bags of coal within their squared off exteriors. The box cars are the Scion xB the Kia Soul, and the Nissan Cube and they are as different as Bituminous is from Lignite despite their similar Lego-like looks.

Mom’s view: The most conservative of the trio is the fairly “spacious” Scion xB with nearly 70 cubic feet of interior space and a lengthy list of options from stereo upgrades to an integrated navigation system. There is an abundance of standard features, especially considering the mid-$15,000 price range. Acceleration is PCH brisk, which means it can get you to 40 mph in a hurry, but after that no rush. The engine is eager to please while still yielding above 30 mpg in mixed driving. The interior is quaint, but legroom is tight. Safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and front active head restraints. Crash scores have been above average. Overall, this is a handy rig, but the bus driver type seat and steering wheel angle were obviously designed for a younger dudette.

Dad’s view: If you are into a bit more sport and a whole lot more fun the Kia Soul is worth a tug at your purse strings. Starting under $14,000, this cool coal hauler has a great seating position, good handling, although it can be harsh on tax deprived roads, and offers 53 cubic feet of cargo space or about room for 40 bushels. Besides its looks, the Soul has such standard features as a four-speaker stereo with CD/MP3 player, satellite radio, and auxiliary input jacks, as well as 12-volt power outlets. An enormous number of options can help give the Soul more soul, but definitely check out the glowing upholstery options and get the larger engine. The base engine and local canyons don’t make a good mix. Safety features include antilock brakes. stability control and front side airbags and side curtain airbags. A bit noisy, but with the excellent stereo it really doesn’t matter. Overall, a worthy utility machine that is loaded with value. However, a safety reminder is in order. Never, ever start the Soul after a member of the younger generation has driven it without first turning off the stereo first. You heard me, didn’t you?

Young guilty male driver’s view: Priced around $15,000, the Nissan Cube is an oxymoron, a round box. Every inch of this vessel has been exposed to the French curve and the result is, well, French like. Perhaps this is owing to the fact that Renault has controlling shares. Nevertheless, this is a compelling machine and practical, too. It has just over 58 cubic feet of cargo space and the rear hatch can be accessed through the side-hinged door. The interior is interesting, especially with the optional 20-color interior lighting and distinctive instrument panel. The easiest to park and maneuver, the Cube is full of fascinating features and doesn’t short change the buyer on safety equipment as front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, stability control and antilock brakes are standard. Cool, but the stereo is n’t as sick as the Soul.

Family conference: All of these diamonds in the rough are great coal haulers, but after the season is over they are also ideal for driving the kids to the therapist and still have room in back for the peace making dog in the process. And if you are into positive reinforcement and don’t cater to the Sicilian tradition of coal in the stocking, or perhaps want to substitute Carbone Dolce, these three boxcars are great fun and attract more attention than a Maria Shriver with a cell phone.

For a list of all vehicle websites go to

  Mazda CX-7: Fresh Face Makes an Impression

 by The Car Family

for more reviews go to

 Stepping to the front of the mid-size crossover line in the under $25,000 category isn’t easy in a class that has proven winners from Toyota, Ford, Honda, Nissan, Volkswagen, and Subaru. Indeed, we were quite skeptical, but that is what Mazda has done with its CX-7. Of course, that does not mean that this Mazda is the best for everyone as it clearly favors those who like a more compact SUV that handles well, gets excellent fuel mileage, and can live with possible subpar resale. We could accept these and we also think that Mazda’s reliability index is going to improve as we could find nothing remotely wrong with our test vehicle after a week of significant driving in all types of conditions.

 Mom’s view: When I got out of the CX-7 After two hours of driving this sporty Mazda I was not stiff and was quite pleased with its features. It is attractive inside and out, and except for the dam, and I mean dam, speedometer it was a joy. The problem with the speedometer is that it has fonts that are way to small and the 80 mph and 60 mph readings are too close together. Why does a SUV like this need a speedometer that goes to 140 is beyond me.

Getting in and out is easy and the rear doors open wide to accommodate even larger adults. There isn’t much cargo space, which is a weakness, but its base price of $22,340 makes up for it. Of course, it is still priced a bit higher than the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV-4, both of which have more useful interior space.

 Safety wise the Mazda has done well on federal crash tests with side curtain air bags, ABS, and electronic stability control. On the negative end is the reduced rear visibility and I would highly recommend the rear view camera, even though the dash mounted monitor is small and the image sometimes cloudy. The high seating position was also welcomed on crowded highways.

The interior is lively, and this Mazda has 60/40-split folding rear seats that can easily be lowered using a handle in the cargo bay.

Another plus is that the rear seats can be folded flat without having to remove the headrests. Our test vehicle had a few touches of chrome with the optional beige leather surfaces which was okay, but the dashboard was quite modern looking and the easy to grip steering wheel with its abundance of controls for the sound system, cruise control, Bluetooth, and more were well done and easy to master.

Dad’s view: Mazda’s CR-7 has a 2.5-liter, four-cylinder engine creating 161 horsepower, of which 90 percent is online at just 2,000 rpm, and providing the owner with about 24 mpg in mixed driving. It isn’t as quick as the optional turbocharged engine, but it is a lot easier to live with, especially if you reside in areas where it snows. You can order the Mazda as a Sport, Touring or Grand Touring. We had the Sport model with front wheel drive and it was a great combination of family hauler, daily commuter, and still had canyon running capabilities. The only competition we see for the Mazda is from Volkswagen and Acura and neither of these had the combination of price, sportiness, and gas mileage that we like, although the Volkswagen and Acura had excellent build quality that seemed unsure of how many gears to downshift on steep climbs. On the other hand it was very responsive to heavy accelerator inputs. The handling was exceptional, although the steering was a bit light. Unless you have a need for speed the base engine is plenty, but for a few thousand more you can order the the 244-hp turbocharged four cylinder version and challenge many more expensive crossovers. The Mazda CR-7 reminds me most of the Acura SUV in terms of handling and the Nissan Rouge for acceleration. The Subaru Forester has more room and all of these are priced almost identically and so exterior allure may be the deciding factor. All fo these vehicles come with all drive either as standard, or as the Mazda, as an option.

Young working woman’s view: Not the prettiest face and I am not sure about its reliability based on some mediocre consumer ratings, but it is easy to live with and has the charm and lovability those in my demographic group seem to admire. I do wish Mazda would prove a better warranty as the Mazda’s three-year/36,000-mile basic warranty isn’t attractive in this market outside of those with a more established reputation. I also found the rear seat a bit tight and the interior lighting was dim. The headlights were excellent and visibility in all directions except to the rear were excellent. I would order the optional rear view camera and the heated seats, too, although they push the cost up a $1700. The air and heat work fairly rapidly, but he huge windshield area is difficult takes a while to defog and defrost. Cleaning this large piece of expensive glass is also difficult both inside and out unless you are a NBA player.

 Young working male’s view: Superior radio reception with an easy to use system and lots of features that included the ability to pause the stereo. Well done. There is an abundance of standard items such as halogen headlights, a 6-way manual adjust driver’s seat, tilt and telescoping steering column, power doors and windows, air, and a plethora of safety details.

 However, I would recommend the optional Touring Technology Package with its Bose Centerpoint Surround Sound, nine speakers, six-disc CD/MP3 changer, moonroof, automatic climate control, and LCD screen with rear backup camera. I also recommend the quick acting heated seats. Speaking of which, I felt myself warming up to this Mazda the longer we drove it. The seats take a time to get correctly adjusted, but you don’t get tired on long trips. I would buy this SUV, and that is something I seldom say about a crossover or any SUV outside of a Lexus RX for that matter.

 Family conference: A superior effort from Mazda and one which should get more attention from those families who like a little sport in their daily delivery treks. For a list of all vehicle websites go to