Wednesday, May 27, 2009

It's So Confusing, Being Green (Sometimes)!

So, now our dishwasher is broken. I am chalking our bad appliance luck to the Universe's effort to help me simplify. I've actually begun to enjoy washing dishes by hand as much as I enjoy hanging out laundry. It's very Zen.

However, I've been wondering if it is actually "greener" to wash dishes by hand or to wash them in the dishwasher. I don't run the water while I scrub, but even so it seems like it would take a lot more - soap, energy, water - to do each dish individually than to do a full load in the machine. But then, is it like the cloth vs. disposable diapers thing? I mean, it seems clear that cloth diapers are the greener option, yet people continue to insist that laundering them is worse for the environment than producing, shipping, and throwing away the paper ones.

Anyway...I've been meaning to research the dishwasher thing, but I've had a sick baby at home (still? again? I'm not sure) so my time has been limited for that sort of thing. But lo and behold, when I had him at the doctor this afternoon, I picked up the latest issue of Kiwi Magazine, and there was my answer! Isn't it nice when things work out like that?

According to the article "Do This, Not That", using the dishwasher uses much fewer resources than washing dishes by hand, particularly if you only run it when it's full. Most of the energy used by the dishwasher goes to heat the water, so you may as well make sure that water is washing as many dishes as possible. Plus, it uses much less soap and water to use the machine. So I guess it's time to call the repair person....

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

It's All Connected

I am very excited to be going to Vancouver in a week to give a day-long workshop on humane parenting. I am being hosted by the Marpole Oakridge Family Place, and I am very grateful and flattered that they are having me.

I spent the better part of this weekend going over my agenda for the workshop and updating some of my statistics and activities. One thing I think is important to emphasize to humane parents is how things are connected. You can't be an environmentalist without caring about human rights, or a social justice activist without caring about the environment, or work for animal welfare without concerning yourself with cultural issues...or I guess you can, but you won't be very effective at fixing the problems.

One example I like to use comes from the book Disposable People: New Slavery in the Global Economy by Kevin Bales. Bales tells the story of people in Brazil who are recruited by "gatos" and led to believe they will be given high-paying, prestigious jobs working in the rain forest, but once they find themselves out in the middle of nowhere with no means of escape, they are forced to work cutting down trees and turning them into charcoal for no pay at all. A little research on this issue reveals the ways in which the issues of human rights, environmentalism, animal welfare, consumerism, and culture inform and affect each other in this context.

Brazil, a country with few natural resources aside from its trees, was facing a financial crunch several decades ago. The government decided to sell publicly owned land to private land owners in order to generate much needed revenue. However, the new owners of this land were obviously not content to just own it - they expected it to make them some money. So they began to cut down "their" trees in order to make way for crops or livestock, and the trees were - and continue to be - turned into charcoal. In order for this to be maximally profitable, the land owners need to reduce their costs, especially labor costs, so they enlist slaves to perform the work.

When we learn about the destruction of the rain forest in elementary school classrooms, the issue is viewed in a vacuum. Loss of oxygen, loss of carbon dioxide sequestration, loss of biodiversity...admittedly, all important. However, in light of the poverty and greed which is driving the destruction, these issues are small. The needs of today will always take precedence over the maybes of tomorrow. The lives of the beef cattle raised on the cleared land to be turned into American fast food hamburgers is barely even mentioned. But all these things go together, and we can't solve one of the problems without solving them all.

Monday, May 25, 2009

A Day of Memories and Hope

Bess has been having a really hard time grasping the concept of time, so we decided to get a dry-erase wall calendar so that we can follow the days, weeks, and months, and she can get a feel for her schedule.

Since she was born on Memorial Day weekend, I think she's always thought the parades and festivities were in her honor. This year, she noticed the flag I had drawn on the calendar and wanted to know what Memorial Day is.

Hmmmmm....Soldiers. War. Casualties. Death. Broken families. Scary stuff. Poor planning by me. How to answer?

So I told her that today is a day we honor the soldiers who have worked to protect us. Today is also the day we pray that everyone will learn to live together peacefully and find ways to cooperate and compromise so that everyone can have what they need to be happy and healthy so that we don't need soldiers any more.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

101 Uses for an Empty Milk Carton

Okay....maybe just two. But two pretty cool uses for an empty milk carton!

Today we made a bird box out of an empty milk carton, the idea for which we got from Lydia during our Walkabout at Schiff Nature Preserve yesterday. We filled it with grass and we're hopeful that some birds will come to inhabit it, or at least check it out. We'll see...though Bess felt that ten minutes was plenty of time for some neighbors to move in, I am a bit more realistic. It is supposed to be rainy this week, so maybe some friends will take refuge in our newly-constructed home.

We also made a wallet out of a milk carton, the idea for which we got from Family Fun magazine. It is not a craft for the little ones, but I would say that grade school children could probably do it. I certainly had fun with it.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Our Little Garden

Our garden is coming along nicely. We've planted strawberries which are starting to grow (though not yet ripen), eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, squash, beans and cucumbers. We also planted some sage, thyme, chamomile and lavender, so we'll see how it goes. All our poor seedlings met their demise during the frost we had earlier this week (who knew it would get so cold?), so we had to replace them - but given that it's our first year, we were expecting a steep learning curve. We enjoy going out in the morning and checking to see how our "babies" made out during the night, and watering them for a long day of growing in the sun.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Humane Parenting Cures ADHD?

It's been several years now since I read Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv. In this book, Louv argues that many children who appear to suffer from Attention Deficit - Hyperactivity Disorder simply suffer from not having enough unstructured playtime outside. He cites studies suggesting that we can alleviate, if not cure, the symptoms of ADHD by giving children time in nature.

Recently, the topic of ADHD, its causes, and its cures has come up a lot in my reading. One book I'm working my way through, and enjoying immensely, right now is Awakening Children's Minds: How Parents and Teachers Can Make a Difference by Laura E. Berk. In this book, the author states that "the current trend to give preschoolers stimulants to calm their behavior may, in large measure, be due to a reduced tolerance for child-rearing stress in parents who lead increasingly busy, demanding lives", that "impatient, inattentive, inconsistent parenting promotes demandingness, anger, and poor emothional control in both ADHD and symptom-free children", and further, that "if nondisabled children are denied the support system for bringing behavior under the control of thought, they will exhibit disorganized, unruly tendencies that can - in a world in which ADHD has achieved great notoriety - be mistaken for the disorder (page 174)."

In a recent article entitled "Can Lack of Sleep Cause ADHD?" by Danielle Wood, states that "a new study shows that lack of sleep can cause more than just sluggish brains: sleep deprived students are at higher risk of developing the behavioral symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)." And why is this such a problem? Because "American children are increasingly over stimulated and overscheduled. They get an average of one hour less sleep than they did just 30 years ago."

In the reading I've been doing for the Healthy Children, Healthy Planet discussion course, there is a piece called "Food for Thought" by Nathaniel Mead, originally published in East West in September/October 1991. In this article, he quotes Dr. C. Keith Conners, director of Duke University's Center for Attention Deficit Disorders in Children and author of Feeding the Brain: How Foods Affect Children (2001): "Foods can enhance problem-solving ability, optimize alertness, and improve mood and behavior in normal children. Contrarily, foods can also impair children whose behavior and learning are already in trouble from other causes, hampering their efforts to concentrate and maintain self-control."

So, then - what does all this mean? On the face of it, one could come away with the conclusion that no one really knows what causes, or cures, ADHD or symptoms of inattention and hyperactivity. However, upon closer examination, the answer is clear.

Make sure your children spend time outside engaging with your natural surroundings. Slow down and take time together as a family. Practice positive parenting. Live a simple lifestyle. Feed your family a healthy, whole foods diet low in processed, energy-intensive foods and wasteful packaging.

In other words, be a humane parent!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Our Weekend

This past weekend John was away on business, and I was EXHAUSTED after a long week of work, taking care of the house, taking care of the kids - and all while sick. It was kind of chilly out, and we were having some work done on the trees that were damaged by this winter's many, many storms, so yard play wasn't too much of an option - though of course watching the tree guy work was quite entertaining, even if it was from the kitchen instead of the yard. We stayed close to home for the most part - though Bess and I did go to the New Jersey Ballet's performace of Sleeping Beauty at the The Community Theater in Morristown on Sunday, which was lovely. They occasionally do matinees for kids and families, which are abbreviated, narrated versions of the original ballet, and which are always done really well and just long enough. Mostly we just hung out, made sock puppets,

and did some neighborhood scavenger hunting.

All in all, not a bad weekend!

Monday, May 18, 2009

Too cute!

Since poor little Harry doesn't get much air time here, I thought I'd share a photo my sister took of him enjoying the outdoors. Feast your eyes on the CUTEST BABY EVER!


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Changing the Punishment Paradigm

On Friday, Harry had his one-year checkup at the pediatrician and Bess was with. She wanted to choose a book for us to read, and the one she chose was A Book About Disobeying: Help Me Be Good! by Joy Berry.

Oh dear lord! Where do I start???

Well, I guess I should disclose that I am not a big fan of the concept of "obedience". I think that teaching kids that they are required to do something simply because an adult told them to do it is a recipe for disaster (both now and later, when adult authority is replaced by peer pressure), and also for a less-than-humane child. I am more comfortable with teaching children about respect, critical thinking, and good/bad, safe/unsafe, and kind/unkind choices.

The worst part of the book, from my perspective, was its take on punishment. According to the book (I am paraphrasing here), parents MUST punish their children when they disobey so that children can learn to obey, and children should gratefully accept their punishment as the well-intentioned guidance that it is.

From a psychological perspective, punishment is something that is designed to decrease the likelihood that the punishee will repeat a certain behavior. Punishment can be either positive, in the sense that it involves doing something to the punishee (i.e., spanking, dropping bombs) or it can be negative in the sense that it involves taking something from the punishee (i.e., sending a child to bed without dessert, imposing a trade embargo).

As a recovering experimental psychologist, a humane educator, and a parent, the idea of punishment just rubs me the wrong way. I don't think that punishment is a particularly good means of controlling behavior. Aside from the philosophical question of whether we want our children to make choices based simply on their desire to avoid punishment, I do not think that it is an effective way to shape children's long-term behavior, which is ultimately our goal as parents. If the only reason a child does or does not do something is because he or she is afraid of the potential negative consequences that will be imposed by an authority figure, then the likelihood is high that as they grow, they will either become more adept at concealing their behavior, or will act one way when they think their parents might find out about it and another way when they think the likelihood is low that their parents will ever find out.

Research on laboratory animals has borne this out - punishment is most effective if it is especially severe or perfectly consistent, and I would argue that it is undesirable if not impossible to meet these conditions in real life. And we've all heard of learned helplessness, which is the condition that can result from relentless punishment - and I think we can all agree that we would rather our children not suffer from it.

Extrapolating forward, I think that a society built on a paradigm of punishment is one where increasing violence and discord is inevitable. If, instead of trying to figure out why someone steals or sells drugs and solving the problem at its roots, we just throw them in jail for awhile with other thieves and dealers, all we're doing is escalating the situation. (And forgive me for stating the obvious, but if the threat of prison were a good deterrent, then prisons would be much emptier, no?) Further, if our response to violence is to punish it with more violence, and we are met with further violence as a punishment for our violence - is it just me or is there a flaw in this system? Where does it stop? Do we really want to find out?

If instead, we built our society on a paradigm of cooperation, mutual respect, and shared goals, then we might be able to reduce the crime and violence that is perpetrated against other people and against the world as a whole. I am not naive to the fact that this would not solve all our problems - but it is clear, at least to me, that the way we are doing things is not working. Maybe it's time to shake things up and try something new.

Saturday, May 16, 2009


We are working on learning to identify birds solely by their songs. In an effort to do this, we are hanging out in the back yard and watching for birds that we can easily identify by sight, and then listening to their songs so that we will recognize them in the future. The other day we did this with a beautiful red cardinal who was hanging out in a tree just outside the fenced part of the yard.

I happened to have my iPhone with me, so I decided to check out the cardinal call that is on my Peterson's Field Guide application to see how true to life it is. Well, as it turns out, it must be pretty realistic, because the cardinal heard it and started circling just over our heads trying to find the other bird! I felt badly - like I was purposely deceiving him and stressing him out - but it was pretty cool to see him so close up, and to hear him responding to the phone "call"!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Shifting Priorities

I am crazy busy this week and I haven't had much time to think, much less write, so today I'll give you someone else's words to contemplate. Check out the article "Shifting Values in Response to Climate Change" from the Worldwatch Institute's State of the World 2009: Into a Warming World, by Tim Kasser. Much like some of the individuals described in the article, I have been thinking that some of the chaos in my life is a wake-up call to slow down...slooooow doooooowwwwwn....s-l-o-w d-o-w-n....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Attached Family

The inaugural issue of The Attached Family magazine came out today, which is a publication of Attachment Parenting International. Check it out - I have two articles in this issue! One is an essay I wrote about how helpful I have found our parenting style to be when we are in difficult or stressful circumstances, and the other is Harry's birth story.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Check it out!

My article, "On Being a Parenting Original" (which originally appeared in the March/April 2008 issue of Mothering) is the featured article on today!

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Hardest Part of the Hardest Job

I think the hardest part of parenting is recognizing your own biases sticking points so that you can see your children for who they really are.

We have found a wonderful school for Bess, the Wellspring Community School, and we are working very hard on getting her ready to start there in September. One of the things we need to work on is transitions, because any change can send Bess into an absolute tailspin. It is frustrating to say the least, and exhausting, and I am frequently unable to anticipate these meltdowns. I'm sure she has a good reason for them, but darned if I can figure out what it is much of the time!!! Needless to say, I have spent the better part of four years trying to help Bess manage this explosiveness, with what I consider to be minimal success.

I was talking to a friend who was a school psychologist in her pre-children life, trying to figure out a way to help Bess manage her transition difficulties. And, you know how sometimes someone asks you just the right question at just the right time, and suddenly the answer is so OBVIOUS you can't believe you've been unable to see it all this time? This was one of those times.

She asked me if I think Bess is an anxious child. And though I never realized it before that moment, she is, actually, quite anxious. I was an anxious child too, and I continue to be an anxious adult, but I always thought that was circumstantial. I thought that by providing my daughter with stability and unconditional positive regard that she wouldn't have any reason to be anxious.

Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps I'm just wired to be anxious, and so is she. Perhaps by trying to control her external environment I'm actually doing her a disservice - perhaps I should be teaching her strategies for coping with (inevitable) instability instead.

One of the most beautiful things about positive, mindful parenting is that you get to live through your children, but in a good way. By really seeing them, you also get to see yourself and re-parent the parts of yourself that need some extra TLC. And, you get to learn some lessons from your childhood that can help your kids.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Birthday Celebration!

Yesterday was our big birthday bash. We celebrated John's birthday (21 again!), Bess' birthday (4), and Harry's FIRST birthday, which is actually today. I am in total denial that he's a year old already - it's been a tough one, but a fun one too!

Our craft was to have the kids decorate flags with fabric markers and paint, and today I hung them up in the kitchen to liven things up for birthday month:

The kids actually did a really beautiful job on them - check out the photos on the slideshow, or on Flickr! I look forward to enjoying their creations for many Mays to come!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Just a Quote for Today

"Ask yourself: Will this disturb the sleep of a woman near to giving birth?" - Wendell Berry

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I am trying very hard to get out of the disposable mindset and figure out ways to reuse or repair things in our home. For example - our kitchen chairs. For some reason, when I purchased them many years ago, I thought that white upholstery was the way to go. I'm not sure what was going through my head at the time, but CLEARLY white is not at all appropriate for our family. Between dogs, cats, kids, food, drink, paint, marker, and whatever else is on there, the chairs are disgusting and need to go. I decided to try to reupholster them instead of getting new ones.

In the past, I never considered myself "crafty" enough to take on a project like this, but I'm finding that the more you do the better you get at being handy. Besides, it's not like there are craft police who are going to arrest me if it's not perfect - and anything is better than how they are now. The project isn't that involved or expensive, so if they don't come out quite right the first time we can always try, try again.

So, a friend of mine, Al, was kind enough to cut new bottoms for us since the old ones were not solid and were an invitation for cat scratching, and we started experimenting with re-covering the cushions today. It's a work in progress....I'll keep you posted.

I also found a way to re-fashion a shirt I had gotten last fall and promptly managed to ruin on my first wearing when Harry's wrap got wet and the dye bled. I decided to try tie dying it this weekend. I figured, it's ruined anyway so why not try to salvage it? Turns out I am a gifted tie dye artist! ;) Seriously, it came out pretty nicely if I do say so myself - I did a turquoise gradation dye on it which came out kind of green because the shirt was yellow. (I'll post a photo eventually, but right now my usual computer is out on the road so I can't do pictures.)

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cooperative Games

Yesterday during Harry's nap, Bess wanted to play Candy Land. We play a bit of a modified version - for example, if you pick a special card you can only go forwards. If it requires a backwards move, you discard it and choose again. This is mostly to keep the game moving along, since Bess' attention span is not really long enough for a protracted game of Candy Land.

Obviously, I am just playing to play with her, and I've always just referred to it as a game to see who gets to the party first. The game isn't over when someone arrives - we keep playing until all the friends get there and the party can begin. However, yesterday, Bess was cheating! Cheating! And freaking out that I was "winning", though I've always made the effort to avoid references to winning and losing. It brought me back to checkers games of my childhood, where my sister and I overturned more than one playing board in frustration at our inability to beat the other.

How does this happen? And why? Personally, I am a competitive person by nature (nurture? I'm not really sure.). I realize that we live in a competitive culture, and of course my husband makes his living promoting and cultivating competition among young people. Oftentimes, we use the idea of a "race" to get Bess to do something, i.e., let's see who can get their shoes on first, get in the car first, get to the table first, or whatever. But I've always made a concerted effort to emphasize cooperation over competition, yet there it is anyway.

A while ago someone sent me a link for cooperative games for young children. Guess what Bess will be getting for her birthday...

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Eco-Party Planning

I love planning parties. LOVE it. I often think that I've missed my calling in life and really should have made a career as an event planner. I like the short-term nature of the projects, I love the creativity involved, I love seeing it all come together.

My kids' birthdays are both in May, as is my husband's. I've always had a big blast for Bess' birthday (excuse the alliteration, I couldn't resist), and now that she shares the month with her brother, I'm even more excited for the party - especially since it's Harry's first birthday.

But planning a green - or at least greenish - party is a lot of work. For example, it took me like an hour, maybe more, to buy plates, cups and flatware for the party. Using washable plates for the number of people we're having is not really feasible, but I also hate the idea of buying lots of paper goods that are just going to go from grocery store to table to garbage to landfill. So I purchased what I need from a company called Eco-Products. I've purchased from them once before for my Holistic Moms Open House this past winter, and I was very happy with the stuff. They were sturdy and even attractive (as far as "plastic" cups go, though they're not plastic, they're corn-based) - and compostable!

One step closer...

Friday, May 1, 2009

Bird Nerd by Proxy

My sister Lauren is into bird watching, and she has introduced Bess to it as well. Bess usually has her trusted Peterson's Field Guide to Birds of Eastern and Central North America (5th Edition) and binoculars in tow whenever we go hiking or to the park. In fact, it's her favorite book, and we've spent hours poring over the pictures, talking about the birds' habitats, diets, and physical characteristics, and playing "school" with this as our textbook.

Personally, I've always liked birds well enough but never really paid them all that much attention aside from the obvious birds, like cardinals, blue jays, robins, bluebirds and chickadees. We have feeders outside, but between the chipmunks, the squirrels and the bear, there usually isn't much left for the birds to eat. Now, however, I am feeling like I should start learning more about identification and bird calls so that I can help Bess develop this interest, and her attention span and observational skills along with it.

We downloaded the Peterson's Guide for my iPhone, so that we can use it to identify bird calls while we're out and about - since the birds often blend in to their surroundings, we often find them most easily by following their sound. Today while we were at our Walkabout at Schiff, we saw two birds in particular that I am sure we've seen a million times but never noticed before,. As far as we can tell, one was a rose-breasted grosbeak (what an amazing song he had - and we know it was a "he" because of his feathers) and the other was a female red-breasted nuthatch (we think).

We may have to make a birding journal this weekend!