Live simply.

Grow naturally.

Love greatly.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Weekend Challenge #3

For me, winter is the hardest time of the year to get outside regularly. Shortened days, overcast weather, plus the whole process of bundling up the kids to keep them warm sometimes seems like too much of a hassle to deal with. Of course, once I’m outside, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. I love the pink cheeks, the windblown hair, and the deep breaths of cold fresh air. I love the smell of the outdoors that lingers on the body and clothes after going back inside. It is always eye opening to find, once I return, a house that is hot with stale air.

Here is another challenge for those of you who are looking for a reason to get outside. The photo essay that follows is a walk we took looking for the colors of winter. What colors can you find in your neighborhood? 

Yellow Green Moss found wedged between a rock wall
Red Nandina Berries
Yellow Dandelion
Burgandy?? wild boysenberry branch
I was surprised by how many colors showed up on the pine tree trunk after color enhancing through photoscape
Orange leaf from unidentified weed
 Blue, gray and white from the winter sky

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Every Newborn Need a Full Grown Tree

I have a bunch of newborn toys hanging around the house. Soft, plush bunnies and teddy bears, brightly colored plastic teethers to chew and hold on to, and plenty of black and white checkered objects (for those first weeks when babies can only see black and white). These are all guaranteed to hold your newborn’s attention. Honestly, I found these to be absolutely worthless for at least the first three months of a baby’s life.

Might I offer an alternative to the vast array of toys that companies are hoping you will spend money on? A full grown tree, visible from any window in the house, will keep your newborn’s attention like nothing else will (with the exception of nursing). Mere days after the birth of both our daughter and son, I remember being in awe of the power of nature at such a young age. The contrast between the blues and whites of the skies and clouds and the greens and browns of tree trunks and leaves captured the attention of our tiny babies even more than face to face time with mommy and daddy. Eyes were especially drawn outside on windy days when clouds billowed by and branches swayed to and fro.

Let me further suggest that that fresh outdoor air will calm a baby better than any sound machine. My second baby was fussier during the first few weeks of existence than my older one. I remember evenings when his little stomach seemed to be giving him no relief and he would cry softly throughout the late evening hours. Walking up and down the halls would sometimes appease him but, more often than not, simply walking out onto the porch would bring a calm to the little one cradled in my arms and sleep was soon to follow.

God has created us to revel in the natural world around us. From infancy, there is a connection to nature that just blows my mind. It takes hard work to turn us and our kids away from that connection. We must increase T.V. time, surround ourselves with expensive toys and gadgets, decrease outdoor time and allow for more sedentary activities. Sadly, that reality is becoming more and more prevalent. I want to say “yes” to the simplicity of nature and all it has to offer and “no” to manufactured happiness.

My youngest is 4 months old now. He has started learning to grasp things that are put before him. I am just now using one or two of those colorful teething toys. But I am happy to say that being outside still catches his attention and calms him down more than any of the other baby objects lying around the house. And it does wonders for mommy, daddy, and big sister too!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Honking the Horn about Public Libraries

When I was in fourth grade, my teacher, Mrs. Ross, took us on a field trip to the county library. We all signed up for library cards and chose a book to check out. Two weeks later my mom took me back to the library to return what I had taken home. I can’t remember the next time I visited the library. It must have been sometime during high school or college, because I vaguely remember updating my card.  For the majority of my life, however, I relied primarily on family, friends and bookstores to meet my reading needs.

My reintroduction to public libraries took place when, about 8 years ago, my husband and I took advantage of AARP’s freetax help. They annually set up tax volunteers at my local county library. I guess that’s when I realized that aside from the huge, ever changing collection of books housed there, the library also offers a wide variety of additional services.

We have only taken advantage of a few of the many resources available to members, aside from books. When teaching my daughter baby sign language, we checked out sign/sing videos, which she loved watching and mimicking. Activities such as crafts, walks, puppetry that I plan at home often come from library resources. My 4-year-old loves using the computers that have age appropriate learning software and playing with toys and games that encourage learning and creativity. One Christmas we happened to visit when a model train and village, created by a group of people from an area model train club, was on display (train cameras included). We have also been to a few children’s story times, which are often accompanied with crafts. I recently downloaded the Overdrive App on my iPhone. If you are a member of a library, you can sign in with your card number and access that library’s e-book collection. My first book downloads were “Are You My Mother?” By P.D. Eastman and “A Walk in the Woods.” By Bill Bryson. Any books downloaded are accessible for 14 days.

We have yet to take part in the monthly book club for adults, or the special events planned regularly for kids (visits by the police men, firefighters and evening programs like pajama parties and back to school events.) I’ve seen announcements for writing lectures and book signings. They have great home school resources that I can’t wait to utilize. And how much does all of this cost? NOTHING!!!

If you can’t tell, I really get excited about libraries. Just for the record, I am not being compensated in any way to write this post. Libraries really do open up the world to kids and adults alike. If you don’t have a library card, I highly recommend getting one.  And if you are already a member, tell me your favorite aspects of your local branch.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Our Non-Natural Christmas

Where have I gone wrong? No holiday, other than Christmas, can show me how far off the natural path my daughter has moved.

It started with the decorating. In my mind, less is more. A few lights, some pine needles and juniper and nandina berries to decorate the window, an outdoor tree decorated for the birds. Doesn’t that sound lovely?  Sarah seemed to like our minimalist efforts as well…until we went to WalMart and she got a look at the pink and purple fiber optic Christmas trees and all the outdoor blow-up Santas and reindeer. I could barely pull her out of the home and garden section. Then, when one of our neighbors lit up the outside decorations they had been putting up for three Sundays, we were forced to slow down every time we drove by; “I wish we had a polar bear like that…Look at that Santa…can we get one of those?” Mentioning how much electricity and non-recyclable material is used to power that scene didn’t seem to have much of an effect on her.

The big day finally arrives. Sarah opens presents at THREE different locations! That’s just crazy. Was she overwhelmed with gratitude at the gigantic pile of gifts we took home? No…she only wonders if there are more to open. Was she shocked at the excess? No…she seems to expect it!  

Finally, Christmas passes. Now is the time for Sarah to play with the things she has received. I am confident that the emphasis I try to put on being outside and exploring and creative play will lead her to choose those types of gifts – The ant farm, or the creek scope that lets you see what’s in the water, or the wooden blocks that you can make pictures out of. Sarah, however, gravitates towards the shiny purple pom poms with the drum beat and the plastic microphone stand with more drum beats and the doll with clothes that match hers – all bright and fluffy and about as non-natural as you can get.

It’s not so much that I am disappointed in my daughter. She has obviously been exposed to a lifestyle that is not so natural, and I can only blame myself for that. I’m disappointed that I took her to see those tacky Christmas decorations every time we went into WalMart and some of her stocking stuffers from us were pretty anti-natural. What is my worst offense? I found it cute to watch her try and come up with cheers while shaking those awful pom poms and I recorded her singing Jingle Bells into that plastic microphone and it was I who suggested she and her doll put on their pajamas for the night. Ugh. What was I thinking and how can I fix it?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Weekend Challenge #2

Here is the second installment to my weekend challenge series.  The purpose of these posts is to get you and your family or loved ones outside, enjoying God's good green earth. Don't delay - before you know it you will be 70 years old with arthritis, back pain, and no stamina wondering why you didn't take advantage of the good years.

In a previous blog entry, I mentioned future plans for a nature walk that involved finding places that critters call home. We have since taken that hike, and what follows is a photo essay of what we found. Your weekend challenge, if you choose to accept it, is to do the same. I look forward to hearing about what homes you discovered!

For those of you who lost sleep trying to figure out the theme of the last weekend challenge, hop on over to the comments section of that specific blog (Weekend Challenge #1) to find out what the photos were showing! 
 The Squirrel nest. They are all over the woods. Someday you will learn just how much I dislike squirrels. I'm just not quite prepared to alienate my readers yet

I wasn't fast enough with the camera to catch the cockroaches running away when Sarah pulled back the bark

                                                                      Bird House

                                                                 Daisy, the flea motel

You never know what you'll find when you pick up a rock. This was the only thing slow enough for my camera

Happy Habitat Hunting!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Picture Perfect

I realize that most parents think their newborn bundle of joy is one of the most beautiful babies they have ever seen, but my daughter really was above average on the beauty scale. She was born with this thick dark head of hair and her eyes were framed by long, lush eyelashes. People couldn’t look at her without oohing and aahing and more than once it was suggested that we should enter her face into the coveted Parenting Magazine’s yearly photography contest. Of course I would never market my child like that, but I had to agree that she would probably win.

Among the accolades, there was only one dissenting voice. My father has always clearly made his opinion known; “All babies are ugly.” I took his comments with a grain of salt. True, I had seen some ugly babies – be honest, who hasn’t – but my daughter was definitely not part of that group.

Fast forward 3 ½ years. I am expecting my second child. Memories of my daughter’s beginning months flood my mind and I decide to take a good old walk down memory lane. I open a random photo album. Wait a minute! This is not my daughter! Someone has switched out her pictures and replaced them with a kind of ugly baby. This child has chipmunk cheeks that look full of nuts, hair that can only be described as mohawkish, and her eyes are looking suspiciously cross-eyed. I try to comprehend exactly what I am seeing. Wow, I have been duped by friends, family, and what must be motherly hormones. My dad was right all along: Babies are ugly.

When my second child decided to make his presence known, I feel like I was able to successfully take off my rose colored glasses. I took the oohs and aahs with a grain of salt, and basically listened to my dad, “Yep, he looks like all other babies…kind of ugly…but he’ll turn out okay in a few months.” I was able to admit that, yes, his cheeks did remind me of Alfred Hitchcock.

Of course, now he’s 3 months old and is surely above average in the handsome baby scale. That ugly baby syndrome is a thing of the past. And my daughter is absolutely gorgeous. And, no, I won’t be looking at baby picture albums a few years down the road to prove it. I will instead remember the way my children made me melt when they said things like “you’re a great mommy” or “I love you” or when they smiled and laughed with me or when they asked me for “some loving.” There is nothing more beautiful than that.

Monday, December 5, 2011

3 Tips One Never Admits to Learning from Experience

Throughout history, knowledge has been gained from a variety of sources. Books, and now the internet, offer information on whatever topic you can come up with. Scientists often employ the method of observation to discover great truths. Go to any school and you are likely to find teachers passing off knowledge left and right. On the job training allows one to learn from experience while being guided by a trained professional. And then there is what I would call the “living life” method – maybe one of the best ways to learn. The following is a list of informative tidbits. You will never hear admittance that these were learned from the “living life” method, so don’t even try get it.
  1. Eggs explode – That’s right ladies and gents. If you have the hankering for some hard boiled eggs, go ahead and begin the preparation. Pot? Check. Eggs? Check. Water? Check. Boil for 5-10 minutes? Simple in theory, but it might be suggested that a timer would be useful. If you don’t use a timer, you might just forget about the eggs. You’ll likely head off to make the beds, straighten the living room, and take a bath while the offspring are sleeping. Wow, you got a lot done! Now you can sit down and read some with your child. “Honey, did you here that pop?” you question as you take a break from the fifth book of the morning and go investigating. That is when the distinct smell of cooked eggs will hit you. It won’t be overwhelming, just enough to remind you “Oh no, the eggs!”  There is no need to rush. The eggs have already exploded. Simply turn off the stovetop, move the pot off the burner, say a prayer of thanksgiving that the house didn’t burn down and start the cleanup process. Check the walls, floors and ceiling for bits of eggs.
  2. Hold on to the stroller’s safety strap. Because you are such a great mother, you realize the importance of getting your child out into the fresh air. Normally you wear your little one, but you have decided to start the exercise regimen that’s sure to get you into the best shape of your life. Thus the need for the stroller you pull out of the shed that is specially built for the active parent. There are a number of features to help ensure the safety of your child during your jaunt into nature: 3 big wheels, an easy to use brake, and an elaborate safety belt are things you are familiar with. Do not dismiss the safety strap that belongs firmly attached to your arm. Even if you think you have things under control, you don’t. You might just hear someone calling your name from behind. As you stop, you note that the incline you are on is very minimal and so you ignore the brake and the safety strap, let go of the stroller, and turn around. The look of horror on the caller’s face will alert you that something is awry. Your head whips around and that same look of horror transfers to your face as you see your child picking up speed on that insignificant incline, stroller tipping back and forth and then –as if in slow motion-you see the stroller gently lay itself down in the ditch on the side of the road. Be very glad that the safety harness is so elaborate.
  3. Do not take your smart phone into the bath. Your husband has warned you any number of times that things like smart phones can’t get wet. Yes, you are his wife, not his child. Yes, you are an adult. Yes, it is your right to make your own decisions. Yes, you are very careful. Despite these very true statements, there are times when you can listen to the advice of your husband without taking offense. This is one of those times. You are basically playing with fire…I mean water.. Even if you somehow make it through 50 baths without damaging the phone, one small misstep can ruin your perfect record. For example, you might always put the toilet seat down before the bath so that you can place the smart phone there when it’s time to get out. However, while in your bath, your cute little 4-year-old girl might come into the room needing to go pee-pee. After she leaves, you finish the chapter of the e-book you were reading, and place the smart phone on the toilet seat…SPLASH!!!...that is no longer down because your cute 4-year-old daughter lifted it up to go to the bathroom. By a miracle, your phone may survive, but why take the chance?

There you have it: 3 tips for those who would rather not learn from experience