Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Just Another Day on the Farm

This week during Farm Chores, the kids collected all the walnuts that had fallen from the trees

and learned how to open them with the "cracker" (I'm not sure if that is the official name of that particular piece of farm equipment).

Even Harry got in on the act

until one fell from the tree and clocked him - then it wasn't so much fun any more. Otherwise, another great day at Soulshine Farm.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Great Play Doh Experiment

Bess' teachers had mentioned that they wanted to do play doh this week casually, but it was nothing but casual to me. She has Celiac Disease, and even touching gluten can cause her a reaction - so regular play doh is out for her. Luckily, I had a few recipes for gluten-free play doh and I offered to make some for the class.

We tried all the recipes I had (four of them), and this one was the winner:

1 1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup corn starch
4 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 cup salt
2 cups hot water
food coloring, if desired

Mix all ingredients together and cook over medium heat until the mixture comes together and starts to pull away from the side of the pot. Add food coloring a little at a time while cooking until you achieve the desired color. Turn the mixture out onto a cutting board or wax paper and allow to cool. Once cool, knead until it reaches the desired consistency. Store in the fridge in an airtight container for up to six weeks.

The winning recipe (a.k.a. Blue) went to school with Bess, and she created a centerpiece with the others:

Monday, September 28, 2009

Shades of Gray, Part Two

I am plowing my way through the August 23 New York Times Magazine - the one with the theme Saving the World's Women, that was inspired by the book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression Into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn. I am really interested in the Girl Effect - namely, the idea that we can best make an impact on the world by investing in the health, education and empowerment of girls and women. Unfortunately, with the chaos that has been swirling around my home and family for the last month, I am finding it hard to get through all the articles.

Anyway....last week I was reading the excerpt from the book that was included in the Magazine, and there was a quote that stopped me dead in my tracks: "The only thing worse than being employed in a sweatshop is not being employed in a sweatshop."



I've been thinking about that one all weekend. I guess I can see the point that at least women who work in sweatshops (and it is almost ALWAYS women) have some money as opposed to none, which is a start. I guess that, when the other options are things like prostitution and being beaten and raped by your husband, a sweatshop might not be so bad.

But just doesn't sit right with me.

If we refuse to purchase items made in sweatshops, are we taking money out of the pockets of poor women, who inevitably invest their earnings in the education and well-being of their children? If we accept that sweatshop employment is the lesser of two evils, and choose to purchase items made there, how do we advocate for the rights of the women who work there to be treated fairly, to be paid a living wage, to have reasonable hours and safe conditions? Perhaps if we boycott these products, then employers will offer them better pay and better treatment, which is still way less expensive than in more developed countries. Or, are we just lowering the bar, so that employers will offer their workers even less in order to maintain a profit margin?

Are we right to take work away from desperate women, women who may (or may not) consider a meal and a roof to be adequate compensation for eighty hours a week at a sewing machine when compared to their other alternatives?


I am not saying that these conditions are fair, or acceptable. Personally, I think that the more we speak up, the more visibility we give to the issue, and the more we pressure employers to treat their workers fairly, the better off those workers will be. However, I do have to admit that coming from Kristoff and WuDunn, who worked in Asia for years among these people, the idea that sweatshops might actually be elevating the position of women did give me pause.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Shades of Gray

When I first started on my humane/sustainable/green/social justice path, I was pretty rigid. I think that, like many people who concern themselves with the issues that I care about, I considered my carefully-crafted and well-researched opinions to be sacred and I had little tolerance for other points of view.

In my old(er) age, I've softened quite a bit. For one thing, as a mother of two young children, I no longer have the energy to get hysterical over what other people do, since the only thing I have any control over anyway is what I do. I have found that living an authentic life is the best PR around. But more importantly, I have become a student of diversity. Not diversity in the sense in which it is commonly used (i.e. a group of people with varying race, religious beliefs, cultures, etc.) but in the way that the word applies to the natural world.

Take pandas, for example. They eat one thing: bamboo. If something happens to the bamboo for some reason, like bad weather or some sort of invasive pest, the pandas are in big, big trouble. On the other hand you have rats, who can eat anything and will probably outlive us all (as a species). When you rely on one small niche for your survival, you are likely to run into problems at some point. If you can view all the world as your dinner, metaphorically speaking, you are in much better shape.

In the same way, I have come to see that there is no one path to compassion. Different people can move towards the same goal along very different paths. Take, for example, an article in the latest issue of Newsweek called "Are Locavores Really Green?" James E. McWilliams, author of a new book, Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly argues that we need to come at the food issue from all angles - local food and global food system, organic food and pesticides and GMOs - in order to meet the world's needs.

While McWilliams supports local food and organic farming in principle, he thinks that we cannot possibly feed the entire global population using those methods. It may work for some and be sustainable, but we have to accept that the local food movement is not THE answer. (Nothing is THE answer, I would add.) It may take more energy, he says, to ship a few crates of food back and forth to the farmer's market than to ship tons of food over thousands of miles. When you consider that some of that non-local food may have been produced in a more appropriate environment for that particular plant, and therefore may have required less energy and water input, it may turn out that the net energy cost of a global food economy is lower than that of a food system built on local farms.

Maybe he's right. Personally, I think there is something to be said for his argument, to a degree. I happen to live in a part of the country where I can get much of my produce right off the farm, grown in season, for much of the year. Most of it is not grown organically, though I believe that a short farm-to-plate turnover renders it healthier than some organic alternatives on many different levels. I like to rely on local food as much as possible, but am not married to the concept. When I buy things that were not grown locally, I try to get them from neighborhood stores or small co-ops so that I am at least supporting a local business if not a local farmer. However, I also recognize that if I were a starving mother of six in Mozambique, some highly-processed GMO corn would look pretty darn good to me.

I think that any time we become really hard-core about anything, it is probably a good idea to take a step back and try to appreciate the nuances of the issue. Perhaps we are on the right track, and there is something to be said for passion and commitment...but there is also something to be said for diversity.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Learning Compassion

Well, the highlight of our week has once again been farm chores at Soulshine Farm. We were running behind and I was tired, so I didn't think we'd be able to make it, but Bess insisted and I'm glad she did. The project for this week was cleaning out the pond, which was great fun and gave the kids an excuse to get uber-slimy.

They walked the fence to make sure there were no holes or loose posts where foxes could get in, and they helped to collect the eggs from the hens. Then, the ultimate in cool - Bess helped Farmer Brad to feed the bees!

Last week when the kids were helping to collect eggs, I heard Bess crying from the hen house. Apparently, once of the hens had scared her - she wasn't hurt, the hen didn't peck her, but she was startled. I made sure she was okay, but she didn't really want to talk much about it. I was concerned that she was going to have an ongoing fear of chickens, which would definitely put a cramp into my chicken flock scheme! But, the next morning on the way to school, she said, "You know Mom, I've been thinking about it, and I think that the chicken didn't like me taking her egg. She can't use words to tell me what she wants, so she flapped her wings to tell me to leave it alone." That's my girl! And this week she bravely helped Farmer Julie with the chickens again, though she wouldn't go in the hen house.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Nurturing Creativity

I have always been interested in children's art, and in watching the way that they create and progress from scribbles (or, even earlier than that, eating crayons) to creating recognizable drawings. I often feel stress about Bess' art skills because they seem to lag behind those of her peers - she is still in the scribbling stage while others can write their names and draw things. However, I also feel that she will master those skills when she is ready, and that it is more important for her to explore her creative urges than to perform art in a certain way.

I signed her up for a local art class, more because I like the idea of her being around creative people than because I hope she'll learn some sort of "skills" from it. (I'm still not sufficiently evolved to allow Bess to paint with reckless abandon in my house, but I'm working on it!) So far, I haven't been disappointed - the teachers are wonderful and the projects are sufficiently open-ended that she is free to create whatever she wants. Here are her creations from last week:

and you can read some interesting articles about children's art here and here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Green Travel

Something that is always a hot topic among Humane Educators is the question of travel and its impact on the environment. On the one hand, Humane Educators as a group like to travel, to see different places and people, and often go to conferences as attendees or as presenters. However, we are also aware of the huge impact that travel, and air travel in particular, has on the environment.

So, when I went to Vancouver to give a talk on Humane Parenting in the spring, I became interested in the idea of using carbon offsets to help alleviate the impact of my trip. My travel agent, Roz at Skyland World Travel here in New Jersey, referred me to This company allows you to purchase carbon offsets and even decide which program will be funded through your donation. In addition to carbon offsets, you can also purchase offsets for radiative forcing, which is the effect of the frozen vapor trails, called contrails, that are generated by aircraft and cause a net warming effect.

I am happy to say that my donation will be used to fund renewable energy projects such as the construction of wind farms, landfill methane projects (where the methane produced by landfills is destroyed), and a waste-to-energy biodigester. Of course, this is not a perfect solution to the problem of the impact of travel on the planet, but at least it's a start!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Building our New Family Rhythms

This week we are working on getting the hang of the whole school thing. Honestly, I think it's harder for me than it is for Bess. The separation is hard, but I'm also not used to having restrictions on my schedule and it's hard for me to get it all straight. I feel like an air traffic controller, trying to get all my charges to where they need to be, when they need to be there, with clothes on their bodies and food in their stomachs as appropriate.

The most relaxing hour of our week was undoubtedly the one we spent at Soulshine Farm helping out with farm chores. To be quite honest, I'm not sure how much help the kids were, but Julie is extraordinarily patient and the kids sure had fun! Harry and I hung out and watched the animals while Bess helped to feed the chickens and collect the eggs, and put the horse and alpacas out to graze, and collect sunflower seeds and water the garden...all followed by a little fun in the pond.

Monday, September 14, 2009

My Kids *heart* Farmed Animals

Well, it's been quite the busy week here at the DiNorcia home! Bess started school - and is doing fantastic so far, I might add. In fact, I'd say it's been much harder on Mommy than on Bess. We had a big weekend too - we went to see a youth production of Seussical the Musical to celebrate the first week of school

and on Sunday we went to the 1920's Country Fair and Harvest Festival at Fosterfields Living Historical Farm in Morristown. We learned all about the music of the era, about making butter and cider - but the best part was, of course, the animals! Harry loved them so much he actually climbed into the sheep enclosure, and I could not peel Bess away from the chickens and Ginger the one-eyed horse. I may convince John to agree to getting a flock of chickens yet!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Art is Sacred

This morning we had nursery orientation at Bess' school. I have mixed emotions about her starting - mostly I'm excited, but I'm also a little sad that she's growing up and away. I'll enjoy the quiet time in the mornings, but I'll miss her too.

One of the new teachers at the school, Darcy, worked at an early childhood center and talked about their approach to art. "Art is sacred" she said, meaning that adults should never interfere in the creative process of a child.

I believe that is true, and I wish I had heard it sooner than I first did which was about a year ago. Prior to that time, I would try to entice Bess to color or draw by sitting down and doing it alongside her, but I found that all she wanted to do is watch me color and draw. I think that she became frustrated when her creations didn't look as "good", or polished, as mine, so she decided not to even bother trying. It has been a year since I learned of my mistake, and it has taken that long for her to overcome her art aversion. She is just starting to enjoy coloring and drawing, and especially enjoys making collages with paint, beads, glitter, and whatever else is around.

I look forward to a year of creativity and support at her new school!

Monday, September 7, 2009

No Opportunity Wasted

John's hockey team won their morning game today, so we had some time to pass until they played in the finals at 2 pm. We went back to the hotel to swim (Bess) and nap (Harry), but I wanted to make sure the kids were good and tired before we packed them in the car for a long and potentially traffic-filled trip home.

We went to a nearby playground so they could blow off some steam. The place was great - they had a big play structure for the big kids and a small one for the little kids (perfect for Harry's size), and a skate park, basketball courts, and walking/biking/skating/scootering trails. I unleashed the kids, and then noticed something that I had observed a few times before. They didn't really care for the play structures and seemed kind of bored. Harry wanted to play with a basketball he found, rolling it down the stairs and watching it bounce, and all Bess wanted to do was make new friends. Compare this with the time they spent at the Botanical Society yesterday or Walden Pond the day before, where they were entertained for hours making fairy houses, watching the fish swim and wandering through the woods.

I began to think about this as a metaphor for modern parenting in general. We structure so much of our children's time and give them ready-made playthings, when all they really want to do is check out their world and use their imaginations. We want their playtime to be efficient, and give them slides, swings, and monkey bars to play on so they can get their exercise in a limited amount of time and space. (As a side note, the play structure also had the alphabet, the numbers through twenty, and several geometric shapes with their names carved onto the side, I guess in case the structure itself were not enough intellectual stimulation for the pre-verbal children using it.) In the city, I can see why this is desirable as places for safe play are in short supply. But Marlborough, Massachusetts? You can't throw a stone without hitting a beautiful outdoor setting where children can run, play and explore.

All in all it ended up fine. Some of the sisters from the team played Aliens with the kids while I watched the game, and we made it home in record time and with minimal screaming from the backseat. But consider the lesson learned.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Most Perfectest Day

Today was absolutely the most beautiful day - ever. The sky was clear and blue, it was cool and breezy, perfect for some outdoor fun.

First we visited the Massachusetts Horticultural Society in Wellesley, which was breathtakingly beautiful. The perfect place to spend time on this perfect day. We enjoyed a couple of hours in Weezie's Garden for Children, which features kid-sized birds nests, an awesome treehouse, a goldfish pond, and a huge sand pit where Bess decided to build a Fairy House.

We also checked out the formal garden and the herb garden. I am inspired to turn my backyard into a vegetative wonderland next summer!

The mom of one of Bess' sand pit playmates told us about the nearby Natick Community Organic Farm, so we decided to check that out as well.

We visited with cows, goats, sheep, chickens, turkeys and rabbits - and made a new friend named Miles. All in all, a great end to the summer.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Walden Pond Today

We got to Walden Pond early this morning, really before it was warm enough to swim - not that it stopped us.

We decided to hike a bit until it warmed up, and we made it all the way around the pond (which was level but pretty far, I'd say 2 miles or so).

And we visited the site of the famous "house" - which was a room with a bed, desk, table and fireplace. They do have a replica of the house, but after all the swimming and hiking we did, all members of our party were way too tired to visit it.

The last time I was at Walden Pond was five, maybe six years ago. I read Walden while sitting on the shores of the lake enjoying the serene, beautiful setting and imagining what it must have been like to live in that tiny cabin. It was nice to visit and share the stories of Walden with my kids.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Close Quarters Parenting

We just arrived in Boston, where we will be finishing the summer with a long weekend. The weather should be great, and we have some fun outings planned, including swimming in Walden Pond (Simplify, simplify) and playing in Weezie's Garden for Children.

However, the process of getting here was, as always, anything but simple and carefree. The kids spent the first hour of the trip screaming in the back seat, practically making my ears bleed and distracting John in heavy traffic. Then Bess kept taking off her seat belt and went into Repetitive Mode, where she just asked the same question 100 times without ever actually listening to the answer as far as I could tell. Harry screamed for awhile, then slept for a bit, and then screamed for the last 40 minutes of the ride after Bess woke him up for no apparent reason whatsoever.

Needless to say, these past several hours do not represent my finest parenting. I get a bit claustrophobic in the car, and a little car sick too, and I'm easily overstimulated by the noise. I still cannot figure out a way to get the kids to behave safely and have fun on long car trips. I try all manner of tactics, some qualifying as "positive parenting" and others decidedly not, but in the end I always expend a lot more energy than I'd like and don't really get very good results.

I am going to devote some time over the next few days to strategizing for the ride home. Perhaps while I'm soaking up some rays on the shores of the Pond, watching the kids splashing happily, some inspiration will hit. And, of course, I'm always open to suggestions....

Wednesday, September 2, 2009


So, I think I have an idea for a children's book.

Bess has a new friend in our yard that she named Slugger. He's a slug, in case you couldn't tell from his name. (Or her name, I'm not really sure how to tell the difference, or if such a difference even exists in slugdom.)

Anyway, she likes to watch him climb the wall and to inspect his slime trail. (It's kind of like watching grass grow, only slower.) I've finally convinced her not to touch him because it scares him (I think) and makes her hand gooey. Yesterday she left some corn husks out after helping me shuck our dinner, and when we got up in the morning he was dining away on them, so she moved him to a shady spot, left him some tasty leaves and checked on him periodically during the day.

So I was thinking - what a cute children's book it would be to have a little girl who loves slimy, slithery, and creepy-crawly things, and who teaches her parents all about how important they are!

Do I hear an illustrator out there???

Back From My Summer Sabbatical!

There's something about summer, this summer in particular, that makes me lazy. Maybe it's the heat, or the lack of structure...but I'm feeling re-energized by the autumnal weather!

I've been doing some reading, and some thinking, and just trying to simplify my days. I've been hanging out with the kids, playing with the hose and the sprinkler in the backyard, spending time with friends, and enjoying the being-ness as opposed to the doing-ness. Well, mostly enjoying it - I can't say there haven't been moments of anxiety, of "I should be doing (fill in the blank) instead of sitting here doing nothing!" But I'm trying to learn to sit with them instead of giving in.

Anyway, I think I'm ready to start the fall, and school for Bess, and activities, and regular life with a fresher perspective. I hope so, anyway. I think I had a productive summer of working on me a bit.

How about you? How have you spent your summer?