Archives for March 2010

The In-Between

I like to think of myself as an easy-going parent. I’m not sure if it’s always true, but I try. I believe that as parents we need to keep our kids safe and teach them manners, but we don’t necessarily need to intervene constantly. Since my daughter Hannah was born 5 years ago, my experiences have mostly confirmed that belief. She learned to walk and talk and use the toilet basically on her own, and I had very little to do with it.

My son Jacob is 19 months old now and he is also figuring things out at his own pace and under his own steam. Again, I see that while my role is important, it’s mostly up to him. Usually, the best thing I can do is trust my kid to learn and grow as he needs to.

The kidlets
My babies

Of course, there are areas where I do actively intervene. When Jacob runs towards the street I run after him. In spite of his arching and angling I don’t let him walk in parking lots. And when Hannah hides in a store clothing rack I enforce hand-holding so that I know where she is. Both of my children need to be buckled into carseats in the car. These decisions are the no-brainers.

Few parenting issues are so clear. It’s not always obvious what is and isn’t worth getting worked up over. I know for sure that I don’t want to be constantly nagging my kids and micro-managing their lives. But I also know that I need to attend to their needs and my own, too. I might be easy-going, but that doesn’t mean that I can just sit back and watch all the time.

Hannah doesn't like chives
Mixed reactions to tasting chives

Most parenting falls into the in-between area, where no one’s life is at stake but your sanity just may be. Like when your kid wants to bring 3 stuffed animals to the park. But eventually that kid is going to lose interest in the stuffed animals, and you’ll to be left holding them. Only you won’t be able to, because you’ll be holding the other kid who skinned his knee. So you’re in your entryway, deciding if you want to have an argument now or an argument later, when the kid doesn’t want to deal with the stuffed animals and runs off in an effort to declare her autonomy when you say she has to.

I don’t want to spend my life engaged in stalemates over stuffed animals.

I think my expression says it all
Running out of parental steam

These are the questions I rarely see answered in parenting books. They all say pick your battles, but they don’t all acknowledge that sometimes you are engaged in so many little battles at once that you can’t see straight. And sometimes, you cannot for the life of you deal with the inevitable fallout of a trivial decision and so you arbitrarily say no.

I love my kids, and I believe in them. I know that they are going to be OK if I’m not always consistent and I don’t have all the answers. I’ll seek answers anyway, and I’ll try to be easygoing, even if I don’t always know how to. Until I figure it out you’ll be able to spot me, because I’ll be the mom at the park holding a crying toddler and 3 stuffed animals.

Programming Guru

I am working on a blog re-design right now. Well, maybe not right now, because at this moment I am trying to write without waking baby Jacob who is asleep on my lap. Also, I really have to pee. Although by the time that you read this, hopefully that will have passed. Especially because I going to schedule this post to publish in around 18 hours. Ahem.

Anyways, I really am working on a blog re-design. I have set up a local copy of WordPress and installed a new theme and I’m just finishing up some new content and tweaking it a bit before I go live. I’m not sure exactly when that will be. I’m toying with the idea of doing it on Thursday, so you will all think the new site is some kind of April Fool’s joke. Only not funny, and hopefully sort of pretty. But now that I’ve written this here I guess you’ll just think, “Oh, this is the new site that she was talking about.” And then hopefully you’ll think, “Wow!” Or at least not, “Oh dear.”

I don’t seem to be able to stay on topic today. I think it’s because I really have to pee.

Working on the new site has been an interesting exercise. I am an engineer and I worked for 10 years as a programmer. I know my way around a while loop and I can speak intelligently about the advantages of different programming languages. But I never believed I was all that good at programming. I was competent, sure. But some of the programmers I worked with were exceptional. They were living their calling, and dedicated to their craft. Compared to them, I was middling at best.

When there is technical website-type stuff to do I usually defer to my husband Jon. He is much more up-to-speed on technology in general. He likes to listen to technology podcasts and read computing magazines. While my technical education far outpaces his, he has more practical and up-to-date knowledge than I do. Also, Jon is more patient when things don’t work right on the first try. Also, if I try to work with him I drive him totally crazy with constant questions and demands. I am maybe a tad obsessive about some things. Staying out of it is usually best.

This time I decided not to defer to Jon. I wanted to figure it out for myself. And I did figure it out for myself. But most surprisingly, for me, I was good at writing CSS and HTML. While I don’t usually think of myself as a great programmer, after 10 years in the trenches I’ve learned a few things. I know my way around computer languages and code structure. With a manual to figure out the basics and some examples to copy for the rest I can do it, and do it well. I felt competent and in control as I tweaked stylesheets and edited widgets. I didn’t even swear. I actually enjoyed re-designing my site.

My re-design experience makes me wonder what other things I might be better at than I realize. What other things I might enjoy if I weren’t too caught up in old stories. Like brussel sprouts. For 25 years I was convinced I hated brussel sprouts. And then one day I tasted some well-cooked ones and they were delicious. I was shocked to see myself take seconds. Sometimes, we let previous experiences hold us back.

Have you ever been surprised to discover that you were good at something? Or have you enjoyed something that you previously thought you detested? I’d love to hear your stories. And, please, check back on Thursday to see the new site design!

PS – I did manage to go pee. I feel much better now. Thank you for your concern. 😉

Encouraging a Love of Dirt

Today I would like to welcome Dionna, who has written a guest post on gardening with children. She is a lawyer turned work at home mama, and she’s one of those crunchy liberals her parents warned her about. You can normally find Dionna on her fabulous blog, Code Name: Mama, where she shares information, resources, and her thoughts on natural parenting and life with a toddler. Today, I have a guest post there. So, once you’re done reading Dionna’s thoughts on gardening with children head on over to see what I have to say on the same subject.

Gardening for me is more than just a way to save money by growing vegetables. It is humbling. Miraculous. Exhausting. It is an exercise in delayed gratification. It physically connects me to the Earth. Gardening tests my patience while strengthening my spirit.

My husband shakes his head at me year after year, wondering why I am so anxious to break ground when I’ve never had (what some would call) a “successful” garden. He doesn’t get it: I like the challenge. And I love working the dirt.

I want our 27 month old son, Kieran, to experience gardening. I want to introduce him to the beauty, surprise, and magic that can be found when you put a handful of seeds in the ground. He may never love to garden, but I want to expose him enough that he has the option.

With that in mind, I have compiled ten fun gardening activities appropriate for all ages of children, but particularly suitable for toddlers and preschoolers. Enjoy!

10 Unique Gardening Activities for Kids

1. Grow a Playhouse: Imagine being three years old and surrounded by gigantic sunflowers towering above you, or crawling into a teepee made of sticks and overgrown with pea pods, or engulfed in a square of moonflowers that open up when the crickets start to sing. Flowering playhouses are easily built (by a parent) out of wooden poles and string. Plant the seeds around the poles, then gently train the flowers to wind around and through them. (1)

2. Grow Something to Wear: Let your children play dress-up with their flowers. Turn colorful blossoms into necklaces, leis, or bracelets. Clip flowers into your daughter’s barrettes or thread one through your son’s shirt button. Save pretty petals to make jewelry.

3. Plant a Rainbow: Find flower seeds in the colors of the rainbow, then help your child plant them in a rainbow shape. Try to find flowers that are roughly the same size and make sure they are all appropriate for the same season.

4. Plant Something Weird: Appeal to your child’s love for the unexpected. Plant purple and red carrots, blue potatoes, or purple beans. Grow miniature or “midget” versions of the vegetables we usually see like peas, corn, or lettuce.

5. Attract Butterflies and Hummingbirds: Create beauty on and above the ground by planting flowers that attract butterflies and hummingbirds. (2)

6. Grow Plants that are Nice to Touch or Fun to Hear: Your toddler will love “tickle me” plants; the leaves curl up when touched. Lamb’s Ears have a fuzzy silvery fur that kids like to touch. If you garden indoors, aloe vera plants are a good tactile choice for small children. You can also try bunny tails and cotton to satisfy a child’s sense of touch. (3)

On windy days, your toddler will love to listen to the sounds made by ornamental grass, the Chinese lantern plant, or the Money plant. (4)

7. Grow a Craft Project: Grow gourds that you can turn into birdhouses or musical instruments. Grow flowers and berries that you can use for their natural dyes, which your child can use for artwork and other crafts. There are even certain plants with beads that can be used in jewelry.

8. Garden in Unusual Containers: Who says you have to plant seeds in the ground? Give your child a fun container (also a great way to garden inside). You can use an old shoe, a discarded toy, or a plain pot with a face drawn on. Or trap a cucumber in a glass jar.

9. Create a Scratch & Sniff Garden: Please your child’s nose with an assortment of smells: plant mint that smells (and tastes!) like chocolate peppermint, ginger, lemon, orange, and apple, and geraniums that smell like roses, lemon, mint, chocolate, pine, nutmeg, and more.

10. Eat Your Vegetables and Your Flowers: Ground cherries are hidden in pods that look like little lanterns. Grow a pizza patch garden full of tomatoes, peppers, basil, garlic, and other veggies and herbs that can be baked into homemade pizza. Apartment dwellers: did you know you can grow peanuts inside?

For a completely new level of edible fun, try growing flowers you can eat: nasturtium, clover, and lavender are just a few tasty varieties.

A Few Guidelines to Gardening with Children

Here are some simple tips to help keep gardening with kids fun and easy:

1. Give your child her own space and tools.
2. Let your child have some control over what he grows. Choose a few ideas/varieties that are doable, then let your child pick his favorite to try.
3. Relax! Let her do her own thing. Don’t worry if she spends more time playing with the dirt or worms than she does pulling weeds.
4. Consider planting a mixture of seeds, seedlings, and full-grown plants. It can be hard for little ones to wait for those first sprouts to pop out of the ground. (5)

Do you have any fun ideas for gardening with children? Detailed instructions for a sunflower (or moonflower) playhouse. Instructions for building your own teepee and ideas for seeds to plant around it. Nature Moms Blog has more ideas for flowering playhouses. There are also two books dedicated to growing sunflower houses.
(2) Butterfly Gardens; Hummingbird Gardens
(3) Check out this article for more plants that react to touch.
(4) Always research flowers/plants before growing them. Some – like the Chinese lantern plant – have parts that are poisonous if eaten.
(5) More general tips for gardening with kids –
*Gardening with Kids has a wealth of information and ideas, including The Basics and For the Youngest Beginner;
*Ten Tips on Gardening with Kids; and
*Toddler Garden

30-Something High School Students

Today I want to talk about one of the defining issues of our times. It’s not health care or peace in the Middle East or climate change. No, it’s something much more serious than that. I want to talk about actors in their 30s who play high school students on TV.

When I was 15 the original Beverly Hills, 90210 TV series was in its heyday. I was a big fan. I tuned in religiously to see what Brenda, Brandon and the gang were up to. And what they were mostly up to was playing characters much younger than themselves. They pretended to engage in drama that really, for the adults they actually were, wasn’t all that shocking. When the second season debuted in 1991 everyone on the show was supposed to be around 16. However, the real age of the 8 actors portraying teenagers ranged from 18 to 30, with an average of 22.5. By graduation day 2 1/2 years later ‘student’ Gabrielle Carteris was 32 years old.

That was almost 20 years ago now. Surely things have changed, right? In the era of HDTV, can a 30-something actor really pull off playing someone in their teens? I’m not sure, but based on two current TV shows set in high school things just may have gotten worse.

I love Glee. I don’t have cable but I manage to tune in every week over the internet. My kids and I listen to the music and dance while we make dinner. But in order to enjoy the show I have to ignore the fact that the ‘teenagers’ are stretching the bounds of believability. The actors playing 13 of the students range in age from 19 to 27, with an average of 23.2. And my guilty pleasure, the embarrassingly awful new 90210 series, is even worse. On that show, the actors playing teenagers have actual ages of 20 to 31, with an average of 24. On the last episode that I watched one of the ‘high school students’ had wrinkles.

I have often thought that I was too old to play a 17-year-old on TV. I may look young for my age, but I certainly don’t think that I look like a teenager. But based on my research, that doesn’t matter. So maybe if this writing and speaking thing doesn’t pan out I should consider acting. And heck, you should, too. Because apparently it’s totally cool in TV high school if one of the students is actually 6 years older than his teacher.

OK, so maybe it’s really not one of the defining issues of our times. But still, it kind of cheeses me off. Call it a pet peeve, or a petty quibble. I wonder if I am the only one who feels this way. Tell me, what bugs you in terms of casting choices for TV shows or movies? Is it 60-something men with 20-something love interests? The way that pregnancy and childbirth are portrayed? Bad writing? Please share!

Photo credits: Fox Broadcasting Company and The CW

Why I’m Participating in Earth Hour

Earth Hour is this Saturday, March 27, 2012 beginning at 8:30pm. At that time, participants will turn off all their lights to show their shared concern over climate change, and their shared hope for a better world. This is an international event, and last year more than a billion people participated. A billion people from all over the world, on every continent, took part. I took part. We did it because we believe in something.

It is really easy to become cynical, and overwhelmed. Global climate change is an epic problem, and change is slow in coming. In fact it’s more than slow, it’s not even universally accepted as a reality. Big companies continue to spew out pollution. Our breast milk contains carcinogens. Our society is geared towards consuming things and throwing them away. If I think about it too much, I become incredibly discouraged.

The reality is that almost everything we do has some impact. Even turning our lights off for an hour has an environmental impact. Burning candles emits carbon, especially if those candles are standard paraffin derived from petroleum. Earth Hour itself might reduce electricity consumption while it lasts, and it might feel really good to be part of it, but on the whole its actual impact is likely small. It’s more effective as a PR campaign than a tool for change.

Given all of that, why am I participating? Like last year, I am participating because I believe in the message of Earth Hour. The message shared in this video:

The message is that if we work together and raise awareness and make change we can make a difference. All by myself, my impact is small. But if more than 1 billion of my friends and I get together, we can accomplish great things. And if we are all getting together and making changes, then the people who really make a difference will listen. People like policy makers and politicians and businesses. We are not disconnected from the world around us. If all of us brought re-usable bags to the grocery store, there would be no need for plastic. If we refused to buy toxic cleaning products, they wouldn’t make them anymore. We are the ones who hold the balance of power, when we work together.

Tomorrow night I will turn off my lights and my computers for an hour. I will unplug and step back for a moment from my life. And I will not be alone. That fills me with hope, and makes me think that perhaps, somehow, we can change. Whether turning off the lights for one hour really makes a difference or not on its own, I think that the collective action does.

What about you? Do you participate in Earth Hour? Why or why not?

Is Blogging the Path to Dreams?

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! March’s theme is blogging. In previous weeks I talked about blogging your dreams, about how bloggers are real people, and about the ins and outs of building community through blogging. This week I am talking about what blogging can and can’t do for you. I also have links at the end of this post to some other fabulous bloggers and their thoughts on blogging, so be sure to check them out!

I run ads on my blog through BlogHer’s advertising network. I put the ads up around 9 months ago, and I don’t regret the decision. BlogHer has been easy to work with and responsive, they allow me to opt out of certain types of campaigns and they build community within their network by posting links to selected posts with each ad block. Plus, I don’t have to do any work beyond cutting and pasting a code into my sidebar, they handle all of the ad sales and so on.

While I am generally happy with the advertising arrangement I’ve got here, it is not a path to riches. On average, I have made around $25 USD per month from my ads. Still, it’s $25 for something I’m doing anyways, and with no effort on my part. Over the 6 months I have been paid for so far, I averaged around 8000 page views per month (BlogHer pays for page views, not clicks). My current monthly page views are higher, but there is a lag between when the ads are viewed and when I am paid. I am sharing these numbers in spite of my qualms because I think you might genuinely be interested.

My point is this – blogging and blog monetization, for most of us, are not a path to riches. It would be lovely if working part-time from home, writing about our daily lives with children, made us the big bucks. Unfortunately, in my experience, that is not realistic. Yes, some bloggers have done it. But they have worked hard to do it, putting in time and effort and facing more setbacks than we probably know. Dooce, for example, started blogging in 2001, and gained notoriety when she was fired because of her blog in 2002. She has been blogging for 9 years. The fact that ‘dooced‘ is now a slang word testifies to the fact that she’s paid her dues.

If blog montetization isn’t a path to financial freedom, why do I do it? Why do I spend hours each week writing this blog and visiting other blogs? First and foremost, I blog because I love it. I love writing, I love reading what other people have to say, and if I’m honest I rather enjoy the attention. This is my creative outlet and my sacred space, and I am not just saying that. Compensation would be icing on the cake, but I relish this cake straight up. I also love the community I’ve found here. If it weren’t for this community I wouldn’t have had the wherewithal to even ask myself what my dreams were, let alone actually pursue them. These are the happy, fuzzy reasons I blog.

There are less happy, altruistic reasons that I blog, too. I believe that while blogging isn’t an end, it can be a means to an end. I want to write, and I want to speak, and I want to teach. My big dream is to help other moms like me, moms who find themselves at a juncture and aren’t sure which way to go. Moms who are struggling to find balance and a space for themselves in their own lives. Moms who are just starting out and feeling overwhelmed and lost and need someone to help them through. Hopefully, I will figure out a way to get paid to follow this dream. In the meantime, this blog is my practice ground. It is a place where I can try things out, it is a place where I can find other people to bounce ideas off of, it is a way to gather an audience and provide information to people who might be interested in hearing what I have to say.

I don’t know how my dreams will turn out. I don’t know what role blogging will or won’t play in where I end up 10 years from now. But I really believe it will play some part, if only because this exercise has changed me. It has helped me to find my voice and find myself. This blog might not be the road to unspeakable fortune, but it doesn’t have to be. And as long as I know that, as long as I’m not counting on a big cheque from my ad network that may never come, I think I’ll be OK.

Now it’s your turn. Have you written a post about blogging? If so, enter the details below. And whether you have or not, go check out these other blogs for some inspiration or helpful advice.

How Old Am I Again?

I am currently 33 years old, and I will turn 34 in around 6 weeks or so. But in my mind I don’t feel like a woman who is about to be 34 years old. In my mind, I am about 10 years younger, perpetually 24 years old.

Many of us feel this way, I think. The lovely PoMo Mama said that she is still 21 in her mind. I remember Shelagh Rogers saying that she thinks of herself as being around 19 during one of her radio shows. It can be hard to accept that you are actually an adult, and not even a young one.

There were a few things I liked about being 24. That was the year that I was engaged, the year that I graduated from university, the year that I started working in a real full-time job. I bought my first car, which I am still driving today. I adopted my first pet, my lovely little guinea pig Tilly. I lived on my own in a one-bedroom apartment in a neighbourhood that I loved. There was an independence and a hopefulness to that time that I didn’t appreciate then, but I do now, in retrospect.

Many decades from now, as I survey my life, I’m not sure what I will consider the best time. If it will be that year that I was 24, or the years when my children were small, or the year that the last of them finally moved out at the tender age of 32. I think there’s a little bit of danger in waxing poetic about your own past, to be perfectly honest. We often remember the good and don’t remember the not-so-good. We soften the edges and blur the lines and start saying things like, “Back in my day, we never forgot to floss because we valued oral hygiene!” While reflecting can be lovely, we need to keep in mind that our memories have a tendency to be selective and are not always completely accurate.

My happy memories of being 24 are not the only reason that I think of myself as still being that age. I suspect I really feel that way because with every passing year time just seems to speed up. It races by at ever faster rates, months and years and decades adding up at an alarming pace. I realize that the last time that I visited a local landmark was 15 years ago, but it feels like yesterday. I realize that it was 20 years ago that a certain photo of me was taken, and I can’t believe it. And so I can’t entirely fathom that I am staring down my mid-30s, and before I know it I will be staring down a number that is much bigger, still. Where has the time gone, and why is it speeding up? I really wish I knew the answer.

As I said, I don’t think that I’m the only one who feels this way. So, tell me, how old do you feel in your mind? Is it younger than you currently are, or older, or exactly the same age? I would love to know!

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