Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Yahoo for the Sun!

We spent a few days at the beach with John's dad and stepmother, which was just lovely. The weather was nice, and Bess finally got over her fear of the ocean and had a blast. She spent every possible moment in the water, and we were excited to be able to share our love of the sea with her, finally - in years past, she wouldn't even set a toe in the sand, never mind swim in the waves!

Then we got home to a surprise - our garden had actually grown! The couple of days' worth of sun had given the plants the jump-start they needed. This morning we were able to stake the cucumbers, beans and tomatoes before the rain started

AND we noticed that our pear tree actually appears to be giving us some fruit this year, too!

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Humane Parents Read

One of the main tenets of Humane Education and Humane Parenting is to find accurate information, to continue to educate yourself on issues of importance. Staying on top of current thought on human rights, environmentalism, animal protection, cultural issues and consumerism can be overwhelming and somewhat depressing. Add to that the sheer volume and range of ideas on parenting and you've got yourself a tall order.

In order to facilitate discussion, I have created a virtual book club called Humane Parents READ on Good Reads. Please stop over and join the discussion. This month's book is EcoKids: Raising Children Who Care for the Earth by Dan Chiras.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

My Favorite Four-Legged Person

Today has been a sad day at our home. Our dog, Sarah, is not feeling well and likely has bone cancer, though we can't say for sure without lots of invasive tests that we may or may not decide to do. She's twelve, and for the past couple of months she's been getting older by the day. Then this past week we noticed a marked decline in her condition, and brought her to the vet yesterday. She has minimal use of her hind legs due to severe arthritis which has begun impinging on her spinal nerves, and we found a large lump on her front foot that is hard and painful, thus leaving our 60-pound dog with one functioning leg. Usually active (frenetically so, even at her advanced age), she laid on the exam room floor for her acupuncture, and even held up her foot so the vet could easily take blood.

We started her on a pretty aggressive pain-control regimen, and today she seems a bit better. She's been following her Daddy around (albeit at a slow pace) and even did a little begging this morning - now THAT'S my dog! But there are still decisions to be made with regard to medical care, quality of life, and all those awful things that often go along with having non-humans as a part of your family.

If you've never loved a non-human animal, this may sound corny to you - but if you have loved a companion animal you'll understand. Having Sarah in my life has changed me in many, many ways. She kept me company when I was a graduate student and John was traveling almost every weekend and working long hours. In her youth (and mine), we used to hike for miles and hours, meeting other people and dogs, exploring the woods, swimming, picnicking, and just being quiet together. She made me more open-minded, more outgoing, and introduced me to people and ideas I never would have otherwise been exposed to. My life took a rather profound detour in my early twenties, and this was in no small part due to the impact of having Sarah in my life.

She can also be an incredibly infuriating creature. She counter-surfs like nobody's business and even steals food off your plate if it's sufficiently attractive and you've turned your head. She has been hospitalized repeatedly for excessive consumption - of dog food, bird seed, rice, cat litter, you name it. If you say the word "bath" or take a Q-tip out of the medicine cabinet, she high-tails it to her crate (otherwise known as her Safe Haven). She can open cat food cans and peanut butter jars without chewing them. We had our house "baby-proofed" well before we had babies, because she could open any cabinet - I fondly (NOT!) recall the time she ripped the door off of one kitchen cabinet and ate 2 pounds of baker's chocolate, requiring a stay of several days in the hospital while they tried to get her heart rate back to something resembling a safe level. Despite several years of "obedience" work, Sarah never walked at a heel until yesterday, and that was just because she couldn't walk faster than me.

Sarah is the smartest dog you'll ever meet, and up until very recently she had the look and exuberance of a puppy. She came to our family during an extremely difficult and lonely time in my life, and I will be forever grateful for the many hours of quiet companionship she has given me. As the years went by, and we added kids with four-legs and then with two to our family, Sarah was always there, quietly scheming for food or demanding to be let under the covers so she could sleep by our feet.

I am hopeful that she will have some quality time left, and I feel a bit guilty for writing her "eulogy" somewhat prematurely. But since we got the bad news, I have been thinking a lot about her, and what she has meant to me, and what companion animals often mean to their people, and what we mean to them...so I didn't want to wait until she is gone to express my love and gratitude for my favorite four-legged person.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hackelbarney Hike

Yesterday we went for a hike at Hacklebarney State Park with our Holistic Moms group. We were determined to go rain or shine because we are so tired of being stuck inside because of the bad weather. Luckily, though it didn't exactly shine, it didn't rain either. We spent a glorious three hours playing in the mud, checking out the creepy crawlers, running around, meeting some lovely new friends, and just generally having a great time.

(The picture isn't all that clear, but this is a mama doe. Her fawn is right behind her, hidden among the leaves. We saw two other fawns on our way out - we didn't see their mama, but I'm sure she wasn't far!)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Can You Have Enough?

A product review in the May/June 2009 issue of E: The Environmental Magazine begins with these words. "Can you have enough reusable tote bags? No, we cannot."

Really? REALLY???

There is something about all these "green" products, and the media that review them, that seems a little off. Sure, we need some stuff. A reusable bag, or two for those really big shopping trips. Better a reusable shopping bag than a plastic or even paper one. If you're going to buy one anyway, this may indeed be a company you want to patronize. But, you can most certainly have enough.

I'm a little dismayed at these words coming from an environmental magazine - indeed, arguably THE environmental magazine. There is so much more to a product than when, or whether, it ends up in a landfill. The resources used to produce the fiber, weave it, sew the bag, transport it to distributors (never mind transporting materials between levels of production), the ink and energy used to print the bags....

Come on.

Click here to read a different perspective on the phenomenon (paradox? oxymoron?) of "green consumption" by Zoe Weil.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day

I would be remiss if I did not take this opportunity to wish my husband, John, a big Happy Father's Day! He is a wonderful man, an amazing and hands-on father, and I would not be able to do all the things I do without him. Best of all, he puts up with all my neuroticism, impulsiveness, and just plain weird-ness. Have a great day!!!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

How to be the change?

There was something that Shannon Hayes said at her Radical Homemaking reading the other day that's been sticking in my mind. Keeping me up nights. Really.

Someone asked how to build community when you are surrounded by people who don't share your values. Many of us who practice some sort of "alternative" lifestyle, whether it be simple living, veganism, attachment parenting, or whatever, can relate to the feeling of being isolated and alone among a sea of people.

Hayes answered that you don't have to have a lot in common with someone to have a relationship - a friendship, even - with them. We often have ideas of how other people are based on a small amount of information - the clothes they wear, the food they eat, the way they wear their hair, how they carry their baby. Once we get past that, though, and we meet the individual instead of the idea, we often find that we have more in common than we think. From there we can build a relationship. You just kind of do your thing, you come to a place of mutual respect, and it all works out.

So the person who asked the question mentioned the now-cliche Gandhi-ism: Be the change you want to see. And Hayes' answer is what is sticking with me: Be the change, and be loving.

I couldn't quite figure out why this has been in my mind so much. After all, I've heard the "Be the change" line hundreds, maybe thousands of times by now. But I think what's sticking with me is the "and be loving" part. Because for me, being loving IS the change.

Many people have the idea that being the change should go something like this: you do whatever it is that you do, be it recycling, biking to work, eating local, co-sleeping, or whatever. If you do it well enough, and tell enough people how great it is, then eventually they'll do it too.

However, I don't quite see it that way. Everyone has a different way of getting where they're going, but we're all aiming for the same thing - to have happy, healthy families. Everyone has different ideas, different resources, different priorities, and different information. That's okay. It's good, even. Diversity is good - not just in workplaces and schools, but in movements and ideas.

So being the change doesn't mean, at least for me, being an exemplary representative of a certain set of behaviors. It doesn't mean that I think that if everyone does it my way, the world will be saved and peace will reign supreme. Truth be told, it really doesn't have much to do with behavior at all. It's an attitude. I am not always able to live in integrity, but when I do or don't do something out of laziness, or greed, or ignorance, I try to forgive myself and resolve to do better next time. I try to love, forgive, and understand myself (warts and all!), and I try to do the same for others. I try to understand where they are coming from, why they hold a certain perspective, and to remember that we're all in this together. There are no good guys and bad guys. We're all just doing the best we can. This is the change I want to see in the world - acceptance.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Rain, Rain Go AWAY!

As if the rain weren't depressing enough for us humans, my poor garden! Though well-watered, it could use a little sun so the plants could engage in a bit of photosynthesis. I'm not being greedy here - just a bit of sun, a touch really, that's all I'm asking. The herbs are doing quite well (read: out of control) but alas, the vegetables are stunted, and there is no sun in sight on the ten-day forecast. It will be most discouraging for this novice gardener if I have nothing to show for my effort at the end of the season!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Shannon Hayes and Radical Homemaking

This morning, I went to see Shannon Hayes speak about her upcoming book, Radical Homemakers. It was well worth the drive to Princeton, down Route 206 during the morning rush (during which I had plenty of time to listen to my current audio book, which made the time fly anyway). Funny, thought-provoking, and informative, Hayes had some real nuggets of wisdom during the short one-hour presentation, during which time she read the first chapter of her book and then fielded questions from the audience.

The crux of Radical Homemaking, from what I could glean, is the act of taking a step outside the consumerist culture and changing the family from a unit of consumption into a unit of production. Not everyone has to be able to make and do everything themselves, says Hayes, but one common skill among Radical Homemakers is that they can all build community. They know that we need each other, and they masterfully trade their own ability to sew or garden, for example, for someone else's ability to fix cars or can beans, and it all works.

In an article about Hayes in the Fall 2008 issue of Brain, Child, she says that "the problem is that we see parenting as a consumer act. Eco-parenting [or Enlightened Homemaking, or Radical Homemaking] is the antithesis of being a consumer. It's about humility and generosity. It's creating lives that have meaning." Radical Homemakers are a breed apart from the "stay-at-home mom" who carts her kids from activity to activity and offers them constant, but ultimately meaningless, "enrichment". Far from being a step backwards into a pre-feminism past, this is a movement forward, where women (and some men) are thinking and acting locally - as local as you can get, in fact - choosing to make their concern for the planet the centerpiece of their homes and families. They choose to use their time, energy, skills, and minds to do work that is useful and meaningful, instead of working to make someone else rich while earning wages that allow them to buy "crap" (as Hayes puts it) and services.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Focus on Self-Care

Today was "one of those days". Come on, you know the ones. From the time you get out of bed you know you'd be better off just staying there for the day, when you have no energy, no patience, and no attention for anything. Today we had a play date at the park, and I considered the possibility that I shouldn't have worn my Attachment Parenting International t-shirt, because I wasn't a very good example of attachment parenting.

I find that these days most often occur when I haven't been taking good care of myself. I haven't gotten enough rest, or I haven't eaten well, or perhaps I haven't gotten enough quiet time - as an extremely introverted person, I need daily chunks of silence in order to maintain my sanity. I think that many people who experience "parenting fatigue", a subset of "compassion fatigue", know exactly what I'm talking about.

We've all heard the cliche, that if we don't take care of ourselves we can't take care of anyone else. You know, you put on your oxygen mask on the airplane before putting one on anyone else. Blah, blah, blah. Easier said than done, when you have a vibrant preschooler and a crabby baby to take care of, and dogs, and cats, and a house, and a job, and school - oh, right, and a marriage too!

So in the spirit of self-care, I'm off to an early bedtime with a good book (once the small crabby boy is sleeping, of course), and then tomorrow I am going to hear Shannon Hayes give a presentation on Radical Homemaking in Princeton. And then maybe I'll find myself a cup of coffee before coming home...

Monday, June 15, 2009

Teaching 21st Century Skills

According to an article in yesterday's Sunday Star Ledger, New Jersey is poised to adopt new graduation requirements. Students will be subjected to a number of additional state-mandated tests in order to graduate, and will be expected to achieve more rigorous academic standards.

I am sure my readers will not be surprised to know that I am not a big proponent of standardized testing, or of school in general. The reasons for my aversion to "academic rigor" and the reliance on tests to describe one's intelligence (define one's self esteem?) are far too numerous to detail here, but suffice it to say, as a recovering "gifted child", I am painfully aware of the flaws in the system.

However, New Jersey educators may be taking a step in the right direction after all. According to the article, "The new standards aim to equip high school grads with '21st-century skills' including critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, communication and collaboration."

Sound familiar?

It should, if you are familiar with Humane Education and the work of Zoe Weil. According to Weil, the elements of Humane Education (and, by extension, Humane Parenting) include curiosity, creativity and critical thinking. So, if our public schools are being mandated to teach these things in classrooms statewide, then I say, Hooray!

Now let's hope that little is lost in the execution. I'm not keeping my hopes up.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The Matrix

Yesterday I started reading Magical Child by Joseph Chilton Pearce. Or at least trying to read it - I'm finding it a little bit dated and quite anthropocentric, but there are also some really useful and interesting ideas to be found in his work.

One concept that fascinates me is that of the brain as a hologram, that even just one cell of the brain contains the information contained in the organ in its entirety (albeit with lower clarity). Further, Pearce proposes that each human brain is a fragment of the Earth hologram - "the human brain may be a kind of microminiature replica of the living planet itself, just rather fuzzy at the edges, needing clarification (6)." As we mature, starting out in the safe environment of our mother's womb, moving on to rely on our mother (or other caregivers) as the solid base from which we grow and branch out, and eventually learning more about the world at large, we require extensive interaction with our surroundings in order to figure out where we fit in. "Confine a newly born brain and prevent interaction with the earth, and no clarification can take place," says Pearce. "To the extent that the newborn is allowed interaction with the earth, to that extent the brain clarifies its own portion of the picture (6-7)."

As someone who wants to understand how we can raise our children to be responsible, creative citizens of the Earth, I found myself wondering what the implications are of viewing ourselves as a holographic fragment of the planet, and indeed the Universe. I've read research that suggests that one common commonality among the childhoods of many different social justice activists is that they were taught to love and enjoy their natural surroundings by important adults in their lives. This is not only true of those who grew to become environmentalists; the youths of animal protection activists and those who work for human rights also follow this pattern. I've always wondered, why would this be? What does loving trees as a child have to do with fighting for Chinese sweatshop workers as an adult?

Pearce's matrix may hold the answer. Perhaps interaction with the natural world allows us to understand what it means to be human in a meaningful, big-picture way, so that we can clarify our own roles in the system. Some find their niches fighting to ensure that enough natural world is left for later generations of children to experience, and others perform covert rescue operations to free battery-cage chickens or work for the Peace Corps. Whatever our niche, we need the firm foundation that we gain from an intimate understanding of our Earth from which we can grow and develop a greater vision.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Book Review - More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want

As a parent educator, I find the topic of [over]population a bit touchy. Though some people choose to build their families through adoption, most (including me) do so by procreating. The topic of how many people is enough, or too many, is not likely to find a very objective ear among the people I most often talk to. I also think that the urge to have biological children is strong and compelling, and difficult to deny.

On the other hand, I have often found it curious that the largest families I know also often make the smallest collective impact on our planet. They raise much if not most of their own food, they tend to consume fewer resources out of choice and necessity, they travel less...they just seem to live more simply and sustainably.

It seems obvious that the more people who live on this planet, the more pressure we will put on the system in many, many ways. However, it is not just a question of how many people, but also how they live, that impacts this equation. The resources required to support one average American person could easily support over three dozen people in some of the poorer countries in Africa. As the 2 billion plus people in India and China begin to have access to luxuries that we in the US have come to consider necessities...well, I don't know what will happen, but it's not going to be part of the solution when with respect to the problem of global scarcity. Population and consumption are intimately and inextricably linked.

Most of the books I've read on the topic of population take a gloom-and-doom position - that the current trends in population that could top out at nine or ten billion (or, according to some sources, more) in the next few decades, will lead to global famine and war. That may be true, but since people are not likely to stop having sex, and are not likely to stop having babies, what can we do?

More: Population, Nature, and What Women Want by Robert Engelman is a refreshingly hopeful examination of the issue of population that is written for the general reader. According to Engelman, if given choices about when and how often to bear children, women will choose to have smaller families, particularly during times of scarcity. He argues that human numbers were held fairly constant for most of our history through a combination of folk methods of birth control and (unfortunately) high death rates. However, once choices about family size became political and/or religious, combined with the ability of science to help people live longer, our numbers surged and we haven't looked back.

In order to stem the tide of population growth, Engelman proposes that we simply need to put choices about childbearing into the hands of those most equipped to make them - families, specifically women - through reproductive health counseling, widespread and affordable access to reliable birth control, and availability of abortion when necessary. Will this stop the runaway growth of the human species in time to avoid disaster? Maybe; maybe not. But, current strategies are clearly not doing the trick, and as as the author states in his cleverly-titled chapter "Zen and the Art of Population Maintenance", "the safe and healthy reproductive habits [reproductive health workers] promote do create conditions out of which population stability tends to arise (179)."

As an interesting aside, Engelman suggests that the current prohibition against co-sleeping with infants came from a time when birth control and abortion were unavailable and infantacide was the only real option for women looking to control their family sizes. These women began to "accidentally" overlay their babies during sleep, leading the Church to forbid co-sleeping, an attitude that continues today in many industrialized cultures. Hmmmmm....

Friday, June 12, 2009

Our Last Walkabout :(

Today was our last Preschooler Walkabout at Schiff Nature Preserve for the summer. We will miss Miss Lydia and all our friends there, especially Peter, Toby and Sequoia, and of course Thad and Carter. Today we got to meet Toby's baby brother - so cute!

I'm feeling a little melancholy because it seems that all our activities are ending for the summer, and next year Bess will be in school and everything will be different. As tiring as it can be to spend all day, every day with her (more or less, though I must give props to those who break up the monotony for me!), I will miss her!

Anyway, here are some photos of our "campout", complete with campfire and roasted marshmallows!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Youth at Its Finest

Check out this article about a fifteen-year-old young man, Javier Fernández-Han, who invented an innovative algae energy system called VERSATILE.

The best part of the story is this quote from the inventor:

An invention that is narrowly focused on solving a single problem often inadvertently creates more problems because nature is highly complex and interconnected. - Javier Fernandez-Han

I couldn't have said it better myself!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Guerilla Gardening

So, my favorite part of our trip to Vancouver was the last morning. We went to have breakfast with Barb and her family at their tiny city apartment. Barb is a board member at the Marpole Oakridge Family Place, and was the one who originally invited me to speak. After breakfast she took us outside to see her garden.

Behind her building is a tract of land belonging to Canadian National Railway, but the tracks are long abandoned. So members of the surrounding community have taken over the land and made it an urban oasis, full of strawberries, small trees, vegetables, and flowers. One man loves gardening so much that he took a plot of land and made it into a meditation garden, complete with waterfall and pond, for all the neighbors to enjoy. What a beautiful spot in a beautiful, friendly city! I can't wait to go back.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

More Things to Love About Vancouver

...electric buses
...recycled art
...diverse population
...The Crystal Ark
...helpful locals
...the fact that the logo for the 2010 Winter Olympics features an Inukshuk
...Canadian babywearers
...Westcoast Mobile Lending Service

Friday, June 5, 2009

We're in Vancouver!

Well, we've been here for about eighteen hours so far, but most of what we've seen has been from a plane, cab or the hotel window - though we did walk the neighborhood for a few hours this morning while Harry napped (after waking up at 3 am, which is his usual 6 am East Coast wake-up time). But so far, here are the things I love about Vancouver:

*the mountains
*hybrid taxis
*playgrounds everywhere
*organic fruit at a corner stand
*wind-powered street lights
*you can't walk five feet without finding a sushi bar
*there is a show called 100 Mile Challenge on the Food Network (Vancouver is, after all, the place where Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKibbon did their 100 Mile Diet experiment!)

Now we're off to do more exploring, and then tomorrow is my Humane Parenting 101 talk at the Marpole Oakridge Family Place - I'm so excited!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Just a Quote for Today

I'm tying up loose ends for my speaking engagement in Vancouver, so just a quote for today:

The environment begins in the womb of a woman and ripples out all over the world. - Wanga Grace Mumba

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Some of My Favorite Books

I am packing up for my trip to Vancouver to give my Humane Parenting 101 workshop sponsored by the Marpole Oakridge Family Place. I decided to bring some of my favorite humane parenting books for participants to leaf through during breaks. The ones I decided to bring include:

Trails, Tails & Tidepools in Pails by Nursery Nature Walks - This is an incredible book of nature-based activities for young kids, and what I most love about it is how respectful all the activities are. If you pick up a rock, put it back; you can look at bugs, but don't touch them. This is, hands down, my favorite activity book.

The Legacy of Luna: The Story of a Tree, A Woman, and the Struggle to Save the Redwoods by Julia Butterfly Hill - I like this one because it's a compelling story and she is such an inspirational person, but also because I think we all need to be reminded sometimes of the Power of One.

Free the Children: A Young Man Fights Against Child Labor and Proves that Children Can Change the World by Craig Kielburger - Another story about the Power of One, and in this case of a young person. Plus, he's Canadian, so I thought it particularly apropos. (In fact, many young activists are Canadian, come to think of it - they must be doing something right north of the border!)

Consuming Kids: The Hostile Takeover of Childhood by Susan Linn - An important examination of the effect our consumer culture has on children, I think this is a must read for parents who want to educate themselves about the ways in which corporations are looking to subvert us and reach our children.

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots: Activities to Do in the Garden by Sharon Lovejoy - Okay, I'm on a huge gardening kick these days, but this is another really great resource for respectful outdoor activities that can be done with children.

Material World: A Global Family Portrait by Peter Menzel - This book is, quite possibly, the most powerful thing I've ever read. A picture is worth, in this case, a million words.

Earth in Mind: On Education, Environment, and the Human Prospect by David W. Orr - I love this book because it takes some really complicated subject matter and makes it understandable, while clearly synthesizing a wide range of ideas into one coherent work.

Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life by Marshall B. Rosenberg, Ph.D. - I think NVC is one of the key ways that we can become better people, better parents, and better activists. Anyone who wants to change the world needs to know how to communicate clearly, compassionately, and without judgement, and this book is a great start.

Stuff: The Secret Lives of Everyday Things by John C. Ryan and Alan Thein Durning - There is a lot packed into this tiny book. A quick read, this book helps get you thinking about the "backstory" of everything in your life from an environmental, cultural, human rights, and animal welfare perspective.

Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education by David Sobel - This is one of the most important books written about environmental education, in my humble opinion. Another really quick read, it is chock full of ideas about how we can effectively inspire reverence for nature in our children.

Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees - I talk a lot about the concept of EF in my presentations, and I think it is a really useful and powerful metaphor that helps us to consider how we impact the planet and all her inhabitants. I would be remiss if I didn't include this one on my list.

Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times by Zoe Weil - Well, it's simply THE book about Humane Parenting, and should be a part of every parent's personal collection to be referred to frequently and loaned out often.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Great New Kids' Books!

I've been absent from the bloggosphere for a few days, our family was in Connecticut to celebrate with my sister. She graduated from Southern Connecticut State University with her M.S. in biology, and got a job with the Nature Conservancy monitoring plover nesting sites. Yay for her!

Anyway, I'm working on getting some photos of our trip together, but for today I wanted to share a new book series I found while browsing in a bookstore up there. Green Start is a series of board books for little ones that are printed with soy ink on 98% post-consumer recycled materials. We got In the Garden since we're pretty garden-centric these days, but other titles include One Tree, The Five Senses, and Baby Animals. The illustrations are adorable and include kids of all colors. There is even a Parent Page at the end with organic gardening tips, directions on how to grow tomato plants, and recipes for a fresh fruit smoothie and applesauce. I highly recommend these books - suggest them to your local librarian as a great addition to their collection.