Archive for the ‘Our Big Beautiful World’ Category

Connecting with Each Other

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Our family had the most wonderful Sunday afternoon together recently. We headed out in the late afternoon and brought some dinner to one of our favorite parks. We spread out a blanket and some chairs and feasted on some great food. Afterward, we continued one of my favorite family traditions: playing croquet. We started this years ago when the kids were younger, and often we set aside time on a special day  to go to the park and play croquet together.

Instead of worrying about catching the latest show on TV, we focused on each other and, of course, trying to hit a little ball through wire arches, which often results in a lot of laughter. This confirms one of my suspicions: Getting out of the house is one of the best ways to connect with my kids. Gone are the distractions of phones, TV, and computer, enticing us to while away too much time. Instead, we can focus on each other. Being somewhere else just seems to free us up to connect with each other better.

One family we know takes their kids to the beach in the late afternoon every Tuesday night during the summer. They do this without fail, walking on the beach, eating a relaxed meal, jumping in the water, connecting with each other. My friend says that this is her favorite activity, because it is low-key, relaxed, and something they can all do together.

Now if going to the beach or the park won’t work for you because of either time or distance, maybe a walk around the neighborhood would be a better fit for your family. The other night we went for a walk after dinner and ended up finding a wonderful area with lots of purple flowers blooming right under our noses. Had we not ventured down this particular street, we would have missed the beautiful colors and, most importantly, the beauty of our conversations. And what were we missing at home? Absolutely nothing.

Today’s children are losing touch with the natural world. Rarely do they feel free to wander in woods, climb trees, or build forts and tree houses anymore. There are too many safety issues, rules and regulations, and the urban destruction of green and growing places. Children are meeting nature ”virtually” on the Internet and television instead of running outside and encountering the world sensually for themselves. One fourth-grader told the author, ”I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

When children (and adults) are separated from nature, their health and well-being suffer. So do their souls. Louv offers studies that reveal how much playing in nature can stimulate creativity, imagination, vitality, and joy in our children. Schools that allow outdoor play in natural places find increased learning skills and greater concentration in their students. Parents of attention-deficit children often find time in nature to be as healing and as helpful as any drug. And yet our children are spending most of their time indoors, and when they do venture outside, it is only in controlled settings like team sports — not the same as letting children explore and experience nature for themselves. Louv has written a book that is both a blessing and a challenge. Please, please, read this book, and give it to every parent and teacher you know. It feels profoundly important — essential — for the health and well-being of our children and for the survival of the planet we call home.

Review by Lucinda Herring

Frugal Gardening

Tuesday, May 12th, 2009

In past years, many spring weekends would find me at a local nursery, loading up on plants, eager to bring home the latest and greatest. More often than not, what I chose did not flourish in my mostly shady but dry garden. Finding plants that thrive in shade with little water has been quite the undertaking since most shade-loving plants simply drink up every drop of water you offer them. As I’ve become more and more aware  of this precious resource – not to mention my pocketbook – I’ve searched out drought-tolerant plants that do well in sun but can also prosper in a bit of shade.

My biggest success has come with a striking plant called Calandrinia grandiflora, a gift from a like-minded frugal-watering friend. When I saw these plants for sale at our local water conservation garden, I figured Calandrinia would fit right in with my limited watering scheme. And boy was I right!

The first year I planted it, I was rewarded with nodding stems of hot pink flowers emerging from beautiful grey green foliage shaped like flowers. I fell so in love with this plant that I wanted to have it in other areas too.

By using another economical gardening tip, I filled one hillside with my new favorite plant. Since I’d had success growing more succulents by putting broken-off tips into dirt, I thought I’d try this method on these plants too. One day, I broke off pieces of the mother plant and poked holes in the moist soil (kids love to help with this!). I watered the hillside sparingly, and while I lost some of the plants in my first season last year, most of them grew and even flowered.

This spring, I was rewarded with almost the entire hillside covered in spiky grey green shoots, covering so much of what had been bare soil (most of the ivy trailing down this hill had withered with my less-is-more watering plan). I’ve already planted Calandrinia in another area this spring, in hopes I’ll have even more flowers next year.

Anyone else have water-saving gardening tips? No doubt you’ll be helping other gardeners who want to conserve water but still enjoy a lush landscape.

For gardening with children, we recommend A Child’s Garden: 60 Ideas to Make Any Garden Come Alive for Children by Molly Dannenmaier. This book will inspire you to give your children the gift of growing up in direct contact with the natural world.

The Joy of Discovery

Monday, May 11th, 2009

This past weekend my son and I visited a science center. One of the more popular exhibits with the smaller children was a fan that faced the ceiling with a clear plastic tube sitting over the top. There was space underneath the tube to place items and then see which ones the fan would carry up through the tube and subsequently out the top and back down to the ground. There was a plethora of experimental bits and pieces lying on the carpet: scraps of paper, little strings, ribbon, Styrofoam packing peanuts, tiny paper airplanes, etc.

My son was absolutely fascinated with the fan. For about ten minutes he placed items inside the tube, jumping up and down with excitement as he watched the pieces shoot up to the ceiling, some slower than others depending on the weight. Then he discovered a small plastic tray, the kind that would hold about three pieces of chocolate candy in a box. He set the tray inside the tube and the air from the fan shot it up and out quickly. He then placed little scraps of Styrofoam inside the tray, watching the tray rise a little slower out of the tube. He finally found a happy medium by adding and removing enough of the pieces in the tray so that when he put it on the fan, the air caused the tray to levitate about midway in a mystifying way in the center of the tube.

I stood back, watching his mind work as he tested his experiments and I was reminded that as parents we sometimes need to take a “hands-off” approach. It’s difficult at times to bite our tongue and let our children experience the World at their own pace and in their own way. If I’d offered suggestions or taken the pieces and shown him myself, his course of learning wouldn’t have been the same as when I’d left him to discover it on his own. It’s our nature as parents to want to jump in and attempt to “teach the lesson” instead of letting children discover and study the cause-and-effect on their own. It’s tough watching our children struggle as they learn, but it’s necessary in teaching them independence. And isn’t that what raising children is all about, to guide them toward full independence and autonomy? I reminded myself of this again yesterday as I watched my son wriggle teeny-tiny buttons through buttonholes on his shirt. I sat quietly and watched, ready to help if asked, but not offering. He didn’t ask for my help.

“I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Albert Einstein

Create a “science center” in your own home with the ideas from 365 Simple Science Experiments with Everyday Materials.

Happy May Day

Friday, May 1st, 2009

Can you believe it’s already May??? Ever since I became a parent, time just seems to fly by at record speed. One day our family is celebrating the new year, and then, with Houdini-like magic, it’s Valentine’s Day, then Easter, then my twins’ birthday, then time to sign them up for summer camps. Isn’t it crazy?!?

Anyway, I digress… the photo is of the May Day 2009 Bloom from Susan McKinley Ross, toy and game designer. Check out our interview with Susan from last week for more information.

Here’s to life slowing down just long enough so we can catch our breath.

May Day History and Significance (from TheHolidaySpot.com):

Well, it is a fact that May Day, which the children do enjoy with all vibes, is not an overly prominent holiday in America. Yet, it does have a long and notable history as one of the world’s principal festivals. The origin of the May Day as a day for celebration dates back to the days, even before the birth of Christ. And like many ancient festivals it too has a Pagan connection.

For the Druids of the British Isles, May 1 was the second most important holiday of the year. Because, it was when the festival of Beltane held. It was thought that the day divides the year into half. The other half was to be ended with the Samhain on November 1. Those days the May Day custom was the setting of new fire. It was one of those ancient New Year rites performed throughout the world. And the fire itself was thought to lend life to the burgeoning springtime sun. Cattle were driven through the fire to purify them. Men, with their sweethearts, passed through the smoke for seeing good luck.

Then the Romans came to occupy the British Isles. The beginning of May was a very popular feast time for the Romans. It was devoted primarily to the worship of Flora, the goddess of flowers . It was in her honor a five day celebration, called the Floralia, was held. The five day festival would start from April 28 and end on May 2. The Romans brought in the rituals of the Floralia festival in the British Isles. And gradually the rituals of the Floralia were added to those of the Beltane. And many of today’s customs on the May Day bear a stark similarity with those combined traditions.

May day observance was discouraged during the Puritans. Though, it was relived when the Puritans lost power in England, it didn’t have the same robust force. Gradually, it came to be regarded more as a day of joy and merriment for the kids, rather than a day of observing the ancient fertility rights.

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National Geographic’s Mothers & Children

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Review from Tina at Chinaberry:

In this stunning photographic gift book, National Geographic has once again compiled pictures that tell a story more eloquently than words could ever do, in this case capturing the essence of a mother’s love. No matter the place or the language, the universal truth of the connection between mother and child is the same: “I am here for you, you are safe and you are loved.” In southern Indiana, a young mother nurses her child while driving a tractor. In India, a beautiful young bride tearfully clasps her mother’s hand to her lips before driving off to her new life as a wife. In the People’s Republic of China, a mother and daughter share a gleeful moment of pure joy, and in Iceland, a mother braves the frigid air as she skates across the ice, her child warm and safe in a covered carriage.

The beautiful photographs, interspersed with quotes honoring mothers and musings from Craig Wilson combine to make a lovely gift for Mother’s Day or at any time. You will want to share this treasure with all the mothers in your life.

Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2009

710 Games and Activities for Ages 12 Months to 10 Years
by Bobbi Conner

You will never hear the words ”I’m bored” again from your children if you own this extraordinary book. It would take years for anyone to play all the games and do all the activities within its pages, so there’s the grand feeling of always having something new and marvelous to play, learn, or create. It is set up so you can begin when your child is a year old and keep going for ten years, adding more and more ways to imagine and create, run, jump, skip and exercise, be outside with nature, laugh and be silly, and share good times with others. All this instead of watching TV, surfing the Net, or playing video games that aren’t really about being connected, happy, and alive.

What a gift this book is. There are great pages with information about what children need at every stage of growing — how creative play helps children develop healthily and with joy. Each age range has sections: Solo Play, for the times you need children to play on their own; Play Ideas for Parent and Child to do together; Playing with Others, and Birthday Party and Group Play. The appendixes support family game nights and creating a well-stocked toy cupboard to be ready for fun at any time. I can’t imagine a childhood without this book now, so I am giving one to every child I know and love.

TV-Turnoff Week: Take the Challenge!

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Take the challenge—keep your TVs turned off this week. After you go through that initial media-withdrawal, you just might see a glimpse of the possible rewards of a TV-free lifestyle, most notably having more time to really connect as a family.

Continue in the spirit of TV-Turnoff Week by scheduling one unplugged day or evening a week when the only things you’re tuned into are each other. Chinaberry can help you to unplug from electronics and tune into family and community. Check out our wide selection of games, crafts, activity books, puzzles, and outdoor/active play toys and free yourself from TV for at least one day a week.

Words of Wisdom from Groucho Marx

Monday, April 20th, 2009

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” –Groucho Marx

Attack of the Robot Gardeners

Tuesday, April 14th, 2009

(Or The Cherry Tomato-nator)

While I’m hoping to be proven spectacularly wrong here, I can’t help but hope a gardening article I recently encountered is not one of those deeply ironic signs of some ridiculously unnecessary science fiction-themed Armageddon heading our way.

I, robot — and gardener: MIT droids tend plants

By MELISSA TRUJILLO, Associated Press Writer - Fri Apr 10, 2009 11:25AM EDT

These gardeners would have green thumbs — if they had thumbs.

A class of undergraduates at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has created a set of robots that can water, harvest and pollinate cherry tomato plants.

The small, $3,000 robots, which move through the garden on a base similar to a Roomba vacuum, are networked to the plants. When the plants indicate they need water, the robots can sprinkle them from a water pump. When the plants have a ripe tomato, the machines use their arms to pluck the fruit.

Even though robots have made few inroads into agriculture, these robots’ creators hope their technology eventually could be used by farmers to reduce the natural resources and the difficult labor needed to tend crops.

Last spring, Daniela Rus, a professor who runs the Distributed Robotics Lab at MIT, began a two-part course. In the first semester, the students learned the basics of creating and using robots. By the fall, the students were ready to have robots tackle a real-world problem. Rus and Nikolaus Correll, a postdoctoral assistant in Rus’ lab, challenged the students to create a “distributed robotic garden” by the end of the semester.

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The Magic of Good Soil

Friday, April 3rd, 2009

Years ago when I was new to gardening, I would read books about amending the soil and be absolutely mystified about this. What was organic matter and where do you get it? Since I wanted flowers, I went ahead and dug a hole and plopped my rose bushes into the ground. When they barely bloomed, I wondered what I was doing wrong.

A few years later, we were in the process of buying a house with a much larger garden and discovered that the owners were meticulous gardeners, with plans and drawings of their garden from bare dirt and stories about what worked and what didn’t. When I marveled at the huge trees, they mentioned the trees were planted from one-gallon pots, lovingly watered and regularly weeded.

One day while we were visiting (these generous souls had us over practically every weekend, while our house was still their house,  to share stories, show us their manuals for practically everything, and — now that I look back on it — gently ease their way out of their home of 38 years), I noticed a huge mound of leaves at the end of the driveway. Doris and Glenn proudly showed me their compost heap. They added leaves, water, and this and that and ended up with this marvelous dark rich soil – black gold, they called it – that they added to their soil. Even though they lived in an area known for loose-draining soil, theirs was rich and held water well. This was their secret to the majestic beauties that made this yard more of a park.

Just like in cartoons, a light bulb went off above my head and I “got” what amending the soil was all about. Compared to what I read in books, this made a lot more sense. And perhaps, even more importantly, I now understood the benefits, since the evidence was right in front of me.

We’ve now been in this house and garden more than 20 years, but I fondly remember the story of how those trees grew from something so small into something truly majestic. Now that I know the secret, I have a lot more garden successes, with my trusty compost heap to help me along the way!