Posts Tagged ‘less is more’

Teaching Children Through Our Actions

Thursday, September 10th, 2009

As I was on my morning walk, I strolled right by a bank’s drive-up instant teller. A woman was using it, standing outside her SUV because it was too far to reach from inside her car. The sun was bright, and she was struggling to shade the screen with her hand because of the glare. Behind her SUV, a city maintenance truck and a third car were waiting, their engines idling.

What bothered me about this scene is that right around the corner of the building there are two instant tellers in the lobby. Using them would only have required parking (free!) and walking about 30 steps. Instead, the woman chose to get out of her car and fight the sun’s glare, and the other two people decided to sit in their cars, wasting time and gas. All this on a 70-degree day!

As I continued my walk, the sight of another woman made my day. When I saw that she had a plastic bag on each hand, I jokingly said, “I see the bags, but I don’t see the dog!” She laughed and told me the bags were for picking up trash. (She was using them as gloves.) While there are many popular “awareness” movements right now, from breast cancer to autism, is there any greater way to provide awareness than through real action and purposeful living like this? As great as pins and bumper stickers can be for getting the word out, this woman’s generous act speaks more than 100 anti-litter stickers.

If we want the next generation to be loving and reverent caretakers of the earth and each other, we parents have to step up to the plate with our actions. It’s not enough to use peace signs, bumper stickers, and tattoos to proclaim our love and values. We’ve got to demonstrate the very core beliefs we value. Do we buy our children a giant inflatable bouncer house for Christmas while proudly wearing a “Save the Earth!” t-shirt? Do we drive our Hummer 30 miles to pick up our organic, free-range Thanksgiving turkey?

Just as the two women I watched this morning told two very different stories, we tell our children stories every day through our actions. This holiday season, we’ll be singing songs with our children about peace and goodwill and sending cards about spreading joy, but my hope is that each one of us in our own unique ways will be living peace, goodwill, and joy through our actions-be it in volunteering in soup kitchens or in buying gifts that support artisans and sustainable living. Our children truly are watching.

Multi-Tasking Mama Syndrome - It Can Happen to You

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

I had 2 leg injuries last year from falls (and I’m only 45). The female doctor said injuries are actually quite common among busy moms. I decided this “disease” needed a name so I named it Multi-Tasking Mama Syndrome. Do you have it too? I think we need a support group — the meetings should take place at a medical facility. Make sure to bring along your laptop, cell phone, kids, diaper bag… 1-800-555-MTMS

Give Your Kids the Gift of Boredom this Summer

Monday, June 22nd, 2009

Growing up in the 60s and 70s, I don’t recall my parents ever going into a panic because school was out and they had to entertain me. Come to think of it, did any parents in that generation ”entertain” their kids?! Nonetheless, I don’t seem to recall many bouts of boredom. Somehow, I managed to find things to do without a pony, an inflatable bounce house, or anything requiring a microchip.

So why do we parents so often feel the need to be entertainment directors? And since when is ”boredom” a bad thing? Now I’m not condoning letting our kids fend for themselves all day long, but this summer, I’m hoping we parents and grandparents can all just chill a little and not fret so much about the details of what our children are going to do with their free time. It’s summer vacation — not a NASA mission! Let’s take some of the pressure off ourselves and give our children some credit for using their imaginations. Better yet, let’s help them to cultivate it by letting them figure out some of the details themselves!

Something recently happened at our summer photo shoot that serves as a perfect example of this. We had three children for models, and their parents were a little nervous because the children had never met and were supposed to play together and look like they were having the time of their lives with some fairy wands — items the adults had no clue what to ”do” with. Even the photographer asked, ”What will the kids do with these?” I told him I wanted to leave that up to the children. When they arrived, each child chose a wand, and with all of us adults hovering in eager anticipation, they stood in a row like brave little soldiers in front of the photographer. With forced smiles and stiffly held wands, the line-up looked like something from Fort Bragg, as in ”Yes, SIR! Reporting for duty, SIR!” Now I was nervous. One wise mom suggested we walk away and start talking amongst ourselves. Within minutes after the children were left to their own devices, they forgot about us and the photographer, and soon, irresistible peals of laughter began filling the studio. Out of the corner of our eyes, we saw more joyous movement than a passel of puppies with chew toys (see photo above). The photographer laughingly said it was like photographing chaos. Two of the children actually began to cry when it was over. One of them (my grandson!) still asks his mom if he can play with the girls at the photography studio again.

That is the magic that can be found in stepping out of the way and allowing children spontaneous play with open-ended toys. Yes, we adults were close by and available, but we weren’t hovering and orchestrating their every move. Perhaps the ingredients for a really good summer might be to provide our children with playmates from time to time and let them figure out the rest. Give them a few well-chosen toys (cardboard boxes count!), plenty of outdoor time, lots of love, and knock off all the worrying about getting it ”right” as parents. Let’s give ourselves permission this summer to forget the bounce houses, microchips, and ponies and r-e-l-a-x — because isn’t that what summertime is really about?

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.

Healthy and Whole Foods on a Budget

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009


When my children were young, my husband and I were on the verge of being “poor.” One of the ways we kept costs down was to avoid buying packaged and processed food. Now recognized as not the most nutrient-filled items to eat, packaged and processed food didn’t give a grocery-shopper much bang for her buck back then (or today). So I attempted to cook using as many whole foods as I could get my hands on.

Trust me, I didn’t spend my days in the kitchen! I’d make a pot of legumes to use over the course of several meals, or freeze; a larger-than-needed serving of rice so that I could add some to soups or serve for breakfast with fruit, yogurt, and maple syrup; as many fresh vegetables available at a given time of year to use every which way. It really wasn’t very complicated. My family ate well and without spending too much money on food.

I bring this up because I think adults tend to believe that kids need their food jazzed up in some way and several generations removed from its natural state in order to eat it. Maybe kids believe that, too. (Madison Avenue has surely had its way finagling us into thinking we absolutely need what they are selling.) But truly, children are born with unadulterated taste buds and the real flavors of real food suit them perfectly. An apple slice is a fine treat to most. Almond butter on a whole grain cracker is a pleasure to eat. Sparkling water with a touch of unsweetened apple juice is an infinitely better choice than a soda, and unless your child has already consumed sickeningly-sweet soft drinks and thinks that is the way liquids are supposed to taste, will suit her just fine. Truly, unless and until we get our children addicted to food that has “flavoring” on the label, or is packed with sugar, they are generally delighted with many foods that are real and unadulterated.

To this day, my own kids, now adults, appreciate a piece of fruit from the farmers’ market and a sandwich made with real whole wheat bread more than they do something out of box that you have to unwrap. And they know their way around the kitchen and how to use basic ingredients to create meals.

There are many things I wish I could go back in time and do differently as a parent, but feeding my children real food from the start is one thing I know I did right.

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.

Feeding Your Green Baby

Saturday, April 11th, 2009

 

Feeding Your Green Baby

Feeding Your Green Baby

I found this article on the MomsMenu.com website. It was written by Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers from http://freshbaby.com.

If you are looking to reduce your carbon footprint making organic baby food is a great way to go. Consider the green facts:

Organic- Organic fruits and vegetables are the best choice for making baby food. They are the most natural ingredients and organic foods drastically reduce harm to the environment.

Less waste - When you make your own baby food, there are no jars, labels or metal lids to dispose or to recycle.

No factory required - Just a little energy to steam foods and run a blender is all you need to make your baby’s meals! Did someone say near “zero” greenhouse gases?

Local - Your baby’s food does not need to trucked to you from a factory thousands of miles away. Instead you can simply buy organic produce from your local farm market and get started.

Healthy - Homemade baby food is safe and nutritious. Baby food jars are often lined with bisphenol-A, a controversial hormone disruptor that should be avoided. In addition, homemade baby food has no preservatives, additives or chemicals - it is pure and natural goodness.

Homemade baby food and healthy meals in less than 30 minutes per week:

To prepare: Wash, peel and cut fresh fruits or vegetables, then stove-top steam or microwave in less than 10 minutes. Create a very smooth texture with a blender of food processor. Add a little water if needed to reach pudding-like texture. Pour into baby food storage trays, cover and freeze overnight. Pop cubes out and store in freezer in an air-tight container or freezer bag. Frozen baby food cubes last up to 2 months.

To Serve: Select frozen baby food cubes from the freezer place in a dish and thaw or warm. Stir food before serving and check the temperature. If you want to thicken something, use baby cereal, yogurt or mashed banana. For thinning, use breast milk/formula, 100% juice or low-sodium soup stock.

Making healthy Meals: You can mix different baby food cubes together to create tasty, healthy meals. You can also add yogurt, melted cheese, ground nuts, mashed pasta/rice to introduce new flavors and textures. Here are a few ideas:

  • Green peas and sweet potatoes
  • Butternut squash and mashed banana
  • Broccoli, cauliflower and melted cheese
  • Peaches, pears and oatmeal baby cereal
  • Black beans, corn and rice
  • Strawberries, apples, yogurt and ground pecans

The bottom line: Making baby food is a great gift to give the environment and your baby. Plus homemade baby food tastes great. Who knows? Your baby may even grow up to like the taste of Brussels sprouts and mangoes!

Apple Puree

6 medium golden delicious apples

Step 1: Prep - Wash, peel, core and cut apples into one-inch (3 cm) slices.

Step 2: Cook - Place apples in a microwave safe dish. Cover. Cook 5 minutes and let stand for 5 minutes. Cook an additional 5 minutes. The apples are done when they can be pierced easily with a fork.

Step 3: Puree - Place apples and cooking juices into a blender or a food processor. Puree to a smooth texture.

Step 4: Freeze - Spoon into So Easy Baby Food Trays or ice cube trays. Cover. Place in freezer eight to 10 hours or overnight. Remove cubes from trays, place in storage container or freezer bag, and return immediately to the freezer.

Makes 24 1-ounce servings. Stays fresh for two months in the freezer.

To serve, select frozen apple cubes from the freezer, defrost and warm, check the temperature and feed.

Age to introduce: About 6 months.

About the Authors:
Cheryl Tallman and Joan Ahlers are sisters, the mothers of five children and founders of Fresh Baby (www.FreshBaby.com). They are the creators of the award-winning So Easy Baby Food Kit and Good Clean Fun Placemats.

Words of Wisdom from Eda J. LeShan

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

“In all our best efforts to provide “advantages” we have actually produced the busiest, most competitive, highly pressured and over-organized generation of youngsters in our history — and possibly the unhappiest.”

– Eda J. LeShan

Thinning Out the Garden and Our Lives

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


Spring finds me out in my garden every chance I get. Nothing is as nourishing to me as working the warm soil, seeing new growth on trees, and stumbling across new shoots of plants that looked all but dead in the torrid days of August. Few other things are as much of a delight as receiving my order of seeds from my favorite seed catalog, sketching the vegetable garden layout, and then preparing the soil. My son, Evan (a.k.a. Mr. Dirt), loves to help me. He’s the self-appointed organizer of the earthworms, and as we move along digging in the soil, he picks up every one, says something admiring to it, then places it exactly where he thinks life will be good to it. The cats drop by to visit us, mourning doves touch down a safe distance away to check us out, and if I hear our phone ringing, too bad. When I’m in the garden, I’m immersed in another world.

When it comes time to plant the seeds, the dirt is so fine and smooth that all we need do is run our fingers through it, making a shallow line. Evan’s the expert at distributing the seeds, and does so one by one, no matter how tiny they are. (Last year, he admonished me for shaking the seeds directly from their package into the soil, explaining that each seed needs to be touched by the person planting it. “That makes sense,” I think to myself.) So the seeds go in, the rows are reasonably straight, I note in my gardening journal exactly what went where, and finally we lightly mist the soil, wishing the seeds a healthy life. Few times during a year do I feel as alive, as accomplished, as good as I do when I’ve planted my garden with care. Then, about two weeks later, the sprouts appear, and soon it’s time to thin the seedlings according to package directions.

Now, as anyone who gardens knows, “thinning” means plucking out sometimes three quarters of the baby plants so that the ones left will have enough room to grow. It’s my least favorite part of gardening. In fact, most of the time I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t simply discard what turns out to be most of the seedlings-healthy seedlings-that have sprouted, at my beckoning, in the soil I’ve so carefully prepared. Nope. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. “Somehow, they’ll all manage to survive,” I tell myself. But, of course, what always happens is that as the plants grow, they eventually crowd each other out. Not having the space or nutrients they need, all of them become less pest- and disease-resistant. Gnarly and mottled, they die an early death, and even though I know from experience that this will happen, I still can’t bring myself to thin the rows of seedlings.

Yesterday afternoon, as I scrutinized the dense new strips of one-inch tall sprouts, I was struck by the similarity between those crowded rows and a pitfall of modern family life. In an effort to expose our children to the right things, we expose them to too much, in hopes that a few of their encounters will “take.” But what really happens is that life gets too crowded and nothing really flourishes. It just seems to be made up of a bunch of experiences, all of which turn out to be shallow, because there is no time in between them. There is no time to daydream; no time to be with one experience (or toy or whatever) before the next experience is plopped in front of them; no time to dig deeply enough into anything and realize that it could grow to be a passion if it were well-tended. It is so easy to lose focus of the fact that just as seedlings simply need good soil, the right environment, and room to grow, children have equally simple needs: love, respect, and space to be themselves. Life can get so cluttered, and then it’s hard to thin it out- just like my rows of seedlings.

Early this morning, before it was light, I heard the unmistakable sounds of one of our neighborhood skunks rooting through the garden. I sneaked out our bedroom door and sat for a long time on the steps in the warm night air, straining to see him (her?) in the darkness. I didn’t want to scare him away, for I knew he was up to something very important, indeed. In dawn’s first light, he finally left, and I made my way over to the garden, knowing what I would find. Sure enough, he’d been feasting on grubs and things, and in doing so, had uprooted most of my seedlings. Granted, the job wasn’t quite as orderly as I’d have done it (had I ever done it), but my rows were now thinned, and each plant would have enough space, soil, sun, and fresh air in which to thrive. I chuckled, and wondered if some giant skunk would ever lumber into my life and thin it out!