Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Humane Parenting Home Run

We're back from Lake Placid, and we've spent the past couple of days trying to regroup from the trip, get back on schedule, and deal with the last remnants of construction that has been ongoing in our laundry room.

On Saturday, we went to the Wild Center Adirondack Natural History Museum. I am not easily impressed, but that place was quite impressive. It was spotless, well done, and the docents were wonderfully helpful. It was big enough to be worth the trip, but not so big as to be overwhelming. I found it interesting and learned a lot, but all the exhibits were also all kid-friendly. They had an amazing kids room with games, toys, puzzles, books, and a time-lapse photography video that Bess loved. They had some animals there who had been injured and could not be returned to the wild. We learned all about one of them, a porcupine who had been attacked by a dog.
There was also an outdoor exhibit area, where we took the half-mile walk around the pond. It was still too chilly for there to be much going on there (though the day we visited it exceeded 60 degrees!), but in the summer and fall there are birds, ducks, frogs, turtles, and all kinds of plants. The facility is LEED certified, so we also got to learn about solar power, water catchment, living roofs, light pollution-reduction lamps, and how they were able to build the facility on previously strip-mined land while returning it to it's natural state bit by bit.

I think the best part was when we were getting ready to leave. we ran into a docent named Arlene. She was missing her right hand, which she said was a birth defect, I assume due to thalidomide use by her mother. Bess, of course, was staring at her arm, and my mind was racing trying to figure out what to say. But Arlene beat me too it - "Do you notice something different about me?" Perfect! I wished I had thought of that. Bess nodded. "What's different?" Bess held up her hands. "You're right, I only have one hand. I was born that way. But you know what? I can clap just like you can!" And she could.

After that, Bess was fascinated. She asked Arlene how she is able to write, and if her arm hurts. She thought it was cool that she could clap with only one hand. She wanted to follow her around the museum for awhile and asked her about several of the exhibits. Then while we were checking out the gift shop, Arlene came to find Bess and give her a pencil, and to tell her that Bess was her special friend, and that she was glad she met Bess that day.
When asked what her favorite part of the day was, she says it was meeting her special friend who has only one hand instead of two, and who gave her a special pencil with an otter on it. I thanked Arlene for being so great with Bess, and for giving me a lesson on how to deal with that type of situation when it comes up again in the future. She was gracious, and I am grateful that we ran into her. From a humane parenting perspective, the day could not have been better.

You can view all the photos from our trips to the Adirondacks on Flick here, or above as a slideshow.

Friday, March 27, 2009

A Little Hiking

Today we were all starting to get a little crazy from being cooped up in the car, the hotel room, or the rink. We decided to try hiking at High Falls Gorge, just a short car ride from Lake Placid. I was a little apprehensive since it was quite chilly this morning - more normal for Lake Placid in March - but we all bundled up and headed out.

It turned out to be a great time. It warmed up enough to be comfortable, and Harry slept the whole time in his carrier (I was very thankful for our babywearing coat!). Bess was able to blow off some steam, which is good for everyone.

The place is beautiful. The trails were easy and well-groomed, and barely muddy. There was a bridge built over a 700 foot waterfall that was carved into the stone about 1.5 million years ago - a geological eyeblink. The forest was clear-cut about 100 years ago, so there were no large ancient trees, only emerging species like spruce and some maples. I know the word is overused, but in this case it applies - it was awesome. The only disappointment was that there was no snow, so we couldn't go snow shoeing.

The staff was friendly and helpful as well. Bess wanted to know about the fish who live in the river and how they avoid going over the falls, so we learned all about the pike, catfish, and salmon who live there. We even learned about the clever trout who live in the rocks waiting for a tasty morsel to swim by. It was definitely worth the trip.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My Favorite Day!

Today is my favorite day of the year. It's the day when the very first spring flowers come. The winter is almost over, spring is on it's way, buds are on the trees, the birds are singing, all the baby animals are coming....a new beginning. The equinox is just around the corner, a day that reminds us of balance, of yin and yang, light and dark. A hopeful day, today.

Ahimsa Mama on the Road

Today I am writing from Lake Placid, New York via iPhone. My husband is here for work so the whole family made the trip. I love it here - so beautiful and relaxing, and a chance for us to spend a little time together as a family.

I am feeling a little strange about my first foray into mobile blogging. As someone who talks about - and genuinely believes in - voluntary simplicity, I think that my use of technology might be a little inconsistent.

Initially, I resisted all technology. It was awhile before I got a cell phone, and I really didn't carry it with any consistency until I had kids. Even then I was only sure to bring it if someone else was watching them.

But as I've gotten busier and had more responsibilities, I've found it efficient to be able to make calls and check email on the road. I like being able to keep up with everything when I'm out of town speaking or vacationing.

And the world has changed. Technology is important, and everything changes quickly now. Even as technology has taken over our lives (to the degree that we allow it to, anyway), it also allows us unprecedented access to information, and gives us the opportunity to get our ideas out to an ever-widening audience. Though some argue that e-friendships are replacing actual human contact - and for many people they are - it is also pretty exciting and interesting to be able to connect with so many people we would never have met otherwise. Everything in balance.

So, here I sit while my kids nap with their dad, on the floor outside my hotel room, writing. I guess today I think technology is pretty cool.

Mobile Blogging from here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


I had two blissful, quiet hours to myself today while Bess was out with her dad and Harry took a nap. I spent them finishing The Scientist in the Crib: Minds, Brains, and How Children Learn by Alison Gopnik, Andrew N. Meltzoff and Patricia K. Kuhl. It was pretty good - as a recovering neuroscientist, I was intrigued by the research they described regarding how babies learn about the world around them, both from a psychological perspective and a biological one. The book was written to bring this science to lay people, so the authors tried to make it conversational, sometimes at the expense of good taste, but overall it was an extremely worthwhile read.

Near the end of the book, they made an observation that seemed to me to be stunningly brilliant. In their discussion of the studies that have been done comparing the brains of rats raised in "enriched" environments to those raised in "deprived" environments, they reported the same old results that have been used to justify all sorts of intelligence interventions from Baby Einstein to reading camp for three-year-olds to attaching headphones blaring Mozart to our bulging pregnant bellies. The rats who were raised in "enriched" environments, with all sorts of different things to look at and do, and other rats to socialize with, had much bigger brains and were better at solving problems than the rats who were raised in the "deprived" environments.

That isn't the brilliant part, though. Wait for it....the authors point out that the word "enriched" is actually a misnomer, because the environment that contained all these things was actually a laboratory-produced approximation of rats' natural environments! Rats were not designed to live in a plastic cage alone, with the same food and water and bedding every day, with their light and dark cycles and even the temperature controlled perfectly by machines. They were designed to thrive in an environment where they had to form associations with other animals, forge for a wide variety of foods and shelter, and avoid capture and injury. So, what we call an "enriched" environment is really just normal.

Babies are experts at learning, at making opportunities for learning happen. The authors of Scientist in the Crib note, and I agree, that by offering our children all sorts of "enrichment" activities, we are at best causing no harm but probably not doing any good. At worst, we may be overwhelming them or distracting them from the things they really should be doing to learn the things they should be learning about the world around them. Humans evolved, for the vast majority of our existence, to be living off the land, hunting and gathering or - later - farming, and spending our time in the activities of daily living. There is inherent value in that - in having our children outside to feel the change in temperature and weather that accompanies the changing seasons, in having their hands in the dirt, in watching a plant go from seed to plate, in smelling the aromas of cooking, the rhythms of cleaning, the satisfaction of providing for oneself.
This is not to say that culturally, artistically or intellectually enriching activities aren't valuable, because I believe, in our global culture, that they are vitally so. However, they should not be emphasized at the expense of all else. Children gain from doing activities that have inherent value, and when we are too busy trying to push them along, push them ahead, enrich their lives, instead of doing normal human things, maybe we're really missing the boat.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Suburban Scavenger Hunting

On Monday, we went for a walk around the neighborhood. It was a cold day, and we wanted to stay in the sun and close to home. Bess had the idea to have a scavenger hunt while we walked, so that's what we did. We looked for a stop sign, a bird feeder, a house with a brown door, the number 5, a bench, a basketball hoop, a picture of a fish (on a storm drain), and a stump that she could stand on - and we found them all!

It reminded me of a story from the November-December 2008 issue of Mothering magazine called "Suburban Walkabout", in which a mother (from New Jersey, thank you very much!) describes her daily walks in her neighborhood with her kids. As much as I enjoy hiking in the woods or a long walk on the beach, where we are surrounded by the quiet rhythms of nature, it is nice to sometimes take the time to notice what is right under our noses. Bess was thrilled to find buds on the trees, seed pods that had fallen, and some daffodils beginning to poke out from the warming soil. These are all things that she might still find in the woods, but they wouldn't be as obvious, with the daffodil shoots still hidden under a blanket of leaves and the buds often too high for her to reach.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Scavenger Hunt

On Sunday, our family went on a scavenger hunt at Schiff Nature Preserve. It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day - perfection! We decided to take the blue trail which we haven't done before, but which was easier walking for everyone - and we still managed to find everything, even a woodpecker hole!

Now that it's warm, the frogs were out and singing in the pond, which was a big source of excitement. Bess just could not get enough of them, and I have to agree - they were pretty cool!

We worked hard to finish the whole sheet!

And here's Bess and her beloved Miss Lydia looking for creepy-crawlies under a log:

Sunday, March 22, 2009

India Day

We were supposed to have company last night, but Bess was sick so we ended up cancelling. But, we had planned on making Indian food for dinner, and since had all the ingredients, we decided to go ahead and make it anyway. Then we had the idea to make a day of it, and I went to the library and got some Indian music and a book to read.

We listened to Putumayo's Music From the Tea Lands and the traditional tunes of Ravi Shankar as we prepared Kheere ka Raita, Vagan Bateta nu Shak, and Palak Paneer. I probably would not make the Vagan Bateta nu Shak (eggplant and potatoes in curry) again - though Harry really liked it - but I think the Palak Paneer (spinach and cottage cheese) could be great with a little work, and the Kheere ka Raita (cucumbers in yogurt) was delish! We got our recipes from Indian Vegetarian Recipes.

Then we read (sort of) Gobble, Gobble, Slip, Slop: A Tale of a Very Greedy Cat by Meilo So. More accurately, we looked at the pictures, since the story of a cat who eats all his friends until some crabs use their claws to snip their way out of his stomach was a little harsh for my personal taste. (I have learned to ALWAYS read stories, especially traditional fables, before reading them to my kids!) But the ink and watercolor artwork is beautiful - I definitely recommend checking out her website.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Embracing Diversity

Today, I walked into the living room to find Bess sitting in her doll stroller. I suggested that she might not want to do that because it wasn't really designed for girls, and she might break it.

"Mommy, it's not a stroller, it's a wheelchair. I'm Monty."

Monty is a character from an episode of the television show Little Bill, which was created by Bill Cosby. The goals of the program are to promote images of diversity, and to show an inner-city African American family as loving, educated, and kind. Oddly enough, I recently read a study of this program, and of the Monty episode in particular, that concluded that it represents the next wave of multicultural education. It seeks to expose the roots of group stigmatization by examining it's impact on a number of stigmatized groups (i.e., women, African-Americans, people with handicaps, etc.) as well as by showing people who belong to these groups simply living their lives instead of using them as "teaching tools".

So, I'm not sure how I feel about this whole Monty-wheelchair thing. My first reaction was to discourage it, but then I thought about it and realized that I don't really discourage her from imitating any other characters she sees on television, in movies, or in books. What's the difference between wanting to be Monty or Word Girl? Perhaps I am concerned about how a person with a disability would feel if they saw her pretending to be in a wheelchair - but she isn't mocking, she's simply imitating what she's seen, just as if she were wearing Word Girl's cape or Dora's backpack. I decided that the fact that she was imitating Monty indicated that, for one thing, he made an impression on her, and two, the impression was a positive one. So for now, the stroller can be a wheelchair if she wants it to be.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Welcome Spring!

Today Spring arrived, along with a dusting of snow. It was a cold day, but we spent a large part of it outside anyway. Bess and I went to her Winter Walkabout at Schiff Nature Preserve, which is by far our favorite activity of each week. The other kids in the class are a lot of fun, and the teacher, Lydia, is simply wonderful - sweet, patient and knowledgeable.

Personally, the thing I like best about spending time at Schiff is that Bess is a whole different person when she's there. Most other times, she is a whirlwind, "Hurricane Bess" we call her. Her attention span is minuscule, and her frustration tolerance is almost equally so. But when we're there, she is patient, engaged, and attentive. Last week, we were making fox tails as our craft, and she sat there for almost twenty minutes (twenty minutes!) putting crepe paper and beads on a pipe cleaner. I don't know that I've ever, ever seen her sit still that long before!

I think that place might be magic, but it also got me thinking a lot about Richard Louv's idea of Nature Deficit Disorder. In his book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder, he talks about the lack of unstructured outdoor time from which our children suffer. He theorizes that this disconnection from nature is largely responsible for the epidemic of attention deficit disorder in the United States, and that most children who suffer from attention issues would benefit immensely - be cured, even - by simply spending time outside. To be sure, there are some elements of his book that I don't really love (such as his stance on hunting and fishing), but I can't deny that my experience with Bess certainly supports his hypothesis.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sprouts, sprouts and more sprouts!

Well, I think that our experiment has yielded important results - for the purposes of instant (or nearly so) gratification, sprouts are the way to go! Our radish seeds sprouted in about a day, and three days later look like this:

Apparently you can't eat sprouts unless the seeds are treated as a food crop as opposed to a seed crop which may be treated chemically to prevent molding during storage, so we haven't tried them to see how they taste. But now that we know how easy it is to do, we have our order in for some edible sprouting seeds!

In the meantime, we are trying to sprout lentils, which would be pretty cool since the seeds would be so much easier for the kids to handle - and for the moms to clean up afterwards. We shall see...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Luck o' the Irish!

I am a big fan of gratitude. At Thanksgiving dinner each year, my family dreads the moment when I go around the table and make everyone name something they are thankful for before I will let them eat. They start thinking about it days in advance, and everyone wants to be first so they can express an "easy" gratitude, like family or the meal we are about to eat.

But I think that it is important to find gratitude every day. I think it is healthy to think about the things that we have that others may not, or the things that make us happy, healthy and safe. If you're a fan of the Law of Attraction, then clearly taking a moment to be thankful for the good things in our lives will pay huge dividends. I try to think of at least three things that I am thankful for each night before I go to bed, and I find it very therapeutic to take a Grateful Moment whenever I find myself getting upset and stressed about something. I also think that it is important to find something to be grateful for in the difficult and painful experiences as well as the fun and joyful times, because there is a lesson or a gift in them all. The most painful experiences I've had in my life have also been the best teachers, and have made me who I am today.

Anyway, I strive to impart this to my children, so we often talk about what we are thankful for. For St. Patrick's Day, we decorated the windows with paper shamrocks, and I wrote on the top of each one, "I am lucky...." Each of us, as well as friends and family, had our own shamrock where we could complete the sentence.

Some of our shamrocks are silly - for example, our dog Chryssi is lucky to have so many tennis balls, and Sarah is lucky that we leave food out for her to steal on occasion. But some were serious - I am thankful that I have plenty of food to eat and a beautiful home. Bess is thankful she has good friends to play with.

Monday, March 16, 2009

And We Have a Winner!

The peas have it!

The little buggers sprouted up this morning, which was VERY exciting! The ones in the paper towels, that is - we're finding that the cotton balls don't really work well for us. The seeds are getting a little moldy. The key to the paper towels is that they dry out between waterings, so the seeds are getting enough water without being too wet.

Since we weren't sure how this was all going to turn out, we decided to add another element to our experiment and do a little bit of ultra-low-tech sprouting. We put some radish seeds in a dressing jar, covered it with cheese cloth, soaked the seeds for about eight hours, and then drained all the water off and left the jar upside down in an empty yogurt container yesterday to dry out. Today, we are rinsing and draining the seeds when we think of it, every few hours. We'll see what happens.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Our next daytime meeting for our Holistic Moms Network chapter has the theme of "GROW". We're going to read a story (maybe Elaine Greenstein's One Little Seed or The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle), and then we'll do a craft. The idea for the craft is to try to grow something from seed, but since we'll be gathering in the meeting room of the local public library, I think soil is probably a bad idea.

So Bess and I are doing an experiment to see if we can get seeds to grow in something other than soil. We have Dragon Tongue beans, Triomphe de Farcy beans, and Burpeeana Early Peas (and some parsley and spearmint, just for the fun of it)

in paper towels and in cotton balls.

We'll keep them wet, we'll keep them on the windowsill (which gets some sun, not a lot), and we'll keep you posted about what happens!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Eat Fresh, Eat Local(ish)

Since we moved to Long Valley, a relatively rural community with lots of farms, we've really enjoyed the fresh local produce that is available most of the year. We have belonged to the Community Supported Garden at Genesis Farm in Blairstown each summer, and have also participated in the Purple Dragon co-op. Last summer, with the baby, and me being sick, and all the other stuff we had going on, running all over the place to get our food just got to be too much, so we stopped participating at Genesis and with Purple Dragon.

What I found was that I no longer knew how to cook! How do people plan meals if they actually have to go shop for the ingredients? I know some people dislike having to figure out ways to use unfamiliar, unusual, or just plain unliked foods, but I enjoyed the challenge and the opportunity to try new things and be creative in the kitchen. I liked opening my refrigerator, seeing what I had, and figuring out what to do with it.

So we decided to re-join the Purple Dragon co-op, and had our first pickup yesterday. And as much of a project as it can be to wash all the produce and figure out where to put it in the fridge, it's also my favorite part of the whole thing:

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Do As I Say?

The other day we saw two beautiful splashes of red soaring about the trees behind our home.

"Mom, can we catch one of those cardinals and keep it in our house?" Bess wanted to know.

"Don't you think that the bird would be lonely in our house, without his friend?"

"I'll take him out and play with him!"

"Well, don't you think that he'd rather be outside where he could fly and use his wings, instead of in a cage?"

"Well, maybe we can get him a really BIG cage!"

I've been doing a lot of research on how we can raise our children to exhibit pro-social behaviors, to develop the highest levels of moral reasoning. When viewed within the framework of Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development, what I am interested in finding out is how we can best raise children who will reach the sixth, highest stage of moral reasoning of Universal Ethical Principles.

During my research I came across a study that was done to examine whether parents' levels of moral reasoning has any impact on their children's levels of moral reasoning as teens and adults. Naturally, I thought this was going to be a great study to include in my thesis, as it would provide some empirical support to my idea that we need to teach our children by example.

However, what the study found was that there is minimal correlation between sons' levels of moral reasoning and that of their parents, and daughters' moral reasoning has no discernible correlation with that of their parents.


To be fair, it was found that children's moral reasoning skills often exceeded their parents', which is an encouraging finding. However, these results left me wondering, if it is not through example that we teach our children the morals we want them to learn, then how exactly do we teach them to be compassionate, loving, peaceful people?

Well, according to the research, moral reasoning of the highest order - the desire to act according to some personal set of values that considers multiple perspectives and needs - is a SKILL. It is through teaching our children HOW to think, not WHAT to think, that we help them to develop this sort of ability. So, instead of saying to Bess, "No, birds don't belong in cages," we talk about the reasons why I'd prefer not to have a wild bird in a cage in my house. I am not judging those who do have birds as companion animals, and I'm not telling her what to think - instead, I'm trying to teach her to think about it from the bird's perspective. Of course, she's three and not really able to do that yet, but at least I'm planting the seeds of that kind of thought for the time when they're ready to grow.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Today We Bake

Bess had her final French class of the semester today, which means cupcakes. Which means....I have to bake something that she can eat. Vegan, gluten-free baking is not easy, in my experience (which is considerable) but we've found a brownie recipe which works pretty well in the Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home cookbook. We're experimenting with which flour blend works best, but it doesn't work if you use one that has baking soda included (like Bob's Red Mill) because baking soda + vinegar is the leavening agent. Today we used a locally blended mix called The Wheatless Baker that we get at our local health food store, but it isn't great for this application - too gritty.

We baked...


and celebrated with Monsieur Paul!

Bon appetit!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Is it? Could it be? SPRING?!?!?!

Today we awoke to what seemed like it would be another dreary, dismal, grey and chilly day. But the sun briefly showed her face, and Bess and I decided to make the most of it and go outside to play (her) and clean up a winter's worth of dog poop (me). After checking out what was going on in the yard

we decided to exit the fence and explore. I took Bess on her first hike of the property where she found piles of deer scat

selected her favorite tree

and just got to do some general running around.

All in all, a good day.