In Defense of Technology

I recently read an article in the current issue of Brainchild Magazine entitled, "Guilt Trip Into the Woods," which questions the current slew of literature against technology and for more time spent in nature for children. In the article Martha Nichols makes a claim for technology, and discounts the idea that kids are withering away indoors as a result of it. And, for the most part, I agree.

Our kids hardly watch any television, maybe a half an hour a day, if that. When the weather is warm we spend a lot of time outdoors, playing, exploring, walking. But if we find a pine cone and start talking about deciduous plants I might come across an answer I don't know. And do you know what we do then? We head inside and check Wiki. Today Erika asked me, out of the blue, about the very first person on Earth. This lead to a discussion of Evolution, and straight to the computer where she could read about it, look at pictures to help her visualize, and discover more questions. And the next time we head to the library you can be sure she will check out a book about Evolution, or how the Earth was formed, and read them under a tree while her sister plays in the sandbox.

I cannot ignore the role that technology will play in my children's future, that isn't helpful to them. Erika is showing a lot of interest in the internet and computers in general, so I am going to nurture that interest. Audrey is much more interested in physical activity and I nurture that too. There shouldn't be so much guilt associated with technology- if used right, it can be a great aide to parents. Should you sit your kids in front of the television and computer games for hours on end? I would have to say no. But have you checked out Wikipedia lately? There's so much to learn out there!

Fun Brain has tons of learning games. Even the seemingly silly games were teaching Erika about gravity and angles.

I found Knee Bouncers on Ohdeedoh a while ago and sometimes Audrey likes to participate in computer time.

Erika also loves, loves, loves to fly around on Google Earth. It was very popular when she was obsessed with Hawaii and learning about how volcanoes formed the islands.

What are your kid's favorite non nature activities? Where do they learn online?


Last summer I found a red cape at a garage sale for 25 cents. Erika wore it a few times and then lost interest in it. Try as I might to sway her, she prefers to dress up like a princess, a ballerina, or a nanny (I think this comes from her obsession with The Sound of Music and the Eloise books). But the cape has made a serious comeback in recent weeks, thanks to the big E I sewed on the back. Now it's not just some cape, it's a way to transform into Super Erika, a superhero who is mainly interested in helping the Earth and small animals. She can run faster, she can swing higher, and she wants to jump off really high places to catch some air. Who can blame her for trying?

I have practically no sewing skills, so I just cut out an E from some felt and sewed it on using different colors of thread. I like the looks-like-the-kid-made-it-herself look of it, don't you? Convenient for me, too.

Weekend Snapshots

A Trip to the library on a blustery spring day meant pink flower petals all over the place. Tiny hands gathered and flung these petals into the air over and over again.

I love weekend breakfasts. During the week it seems there is always somewhere to be in the mornings and I tend to feel rushed. Weekends are for cooking in pajamas and leaving dishes out for hours.

We've got sprouts! I may have jumped the gun a bit on the outdoor herbs and carrots- we had freezing temperatures two nights last week. But these little guys are doing great in Erika's sunny room.

We all slept a little more than usual this weekend. A rainy weekend is perfect for napping and reading in bed.

Meat Counter Time Travel

I am the sole vegetarian in a house full of meat eaters. While I don't care for meat for several reasons for myself, I want my kids to make their own decision about eating meat when they are older. So there I was at the meat counter last night, waiting for my ground sirloin and staring at a case full of meat. Our market is known for it's great meat selection and even I was kind of in awe of all the different kinds of meat they had and just how fresh they looked. Then I wondered just how fresh it really was, so I asked. I kind of figured the teenager helping me wouldn't know, and he didn't. So he asked his superior, and she didn't know either. "Can you give me a ballpark figure? Like a few days? Or a few weeks? Months?" She said she had no idea. "No one has asked me that before," she said, like I was totally nuts for wondering.

She suggested I call the next day and talk to the butcher. So today I did just that. And guess what, he didn't know either. No idea. "Back in the days it could be weeks or months," he told me. But today? He didn't have the slightest idea. When I came home last night I searched online for the answer. You guessed it, I couldn't find it there either. What the heck do I have to Google to find out what I'm feeding my family?

I did find out that meat has to age before it is sold, this can take a week or two. That is about all I could find in my twenty minute search. And all I kept asking myself was, how did we become so disconnected from the food we eat? How can we put food into our bodies without the slightest idea of where it comes from? These questions actually started last year when I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, but they have been resurfacing a lot lately. And it isn't just meat.

I opened a package of strawberries today that boasted that they were from California. Hmm. California is really far. How long were these sitting on a truck? Who grew them? How different would they taste in California, right off the plant? Suddenly I was taken back 10 years: driving with my best friend through Pauma Valley, a little town about 40 miles inland from the coast in Northern San Diego. It was summer and we were driving with the windows down. We came around a bend and were enveloped with the smell of strawberries. There were a few small strawberry farms in the valley and my mouth watered as we drove though them. That is what strawberries are like in California. These packaged berries, sitting under these specially designed fluorescent lights, however sweet and ripe, have nothing on them.

From the Library

Fairy Houses, by Tracy Kane, has been our latest inspiration. This book is about a little girl who makes a fantastic fairy house in the woods and finds herself immersed in nature in the process. Last year we made a small fairy house using a large pot turned on it's side and buried under the dirt a little. We filled it with little trinkets and rocks and flowers. This book sets some rules for building a proper fairy house:

1. Fairy Houses should look so natural they are almost hidden. A location close to the ground is best.

2. You should use only natural materials. Dry grasses, leaves, sticks, pebbles and pinecones are just a few examples of materials to choose.

3. Be careful not to use or disturb any of nature's materials that are still living, especially flowers, ferns, mosses and lichen. Fairies do not like to disturb or destroy anything that is growing in nature.

Erika studied this book many times and we discussed what the rules meant at length. Then we went an a walk around the neighborhood and collected materials to build with. I ended up doing a lot of the work on this house because Erika's fingers, however small, were not quite steady enough for this line of work. She directed, collected, revised, and decorated, and I built the little house much as one plays the final rounds of Jenga. I can see already that this will be a work in progress from tomorrow until snow falls again. As you can see from the pictures, it's already been through a few remodels.


First Seeds

I finally got some seeds in the dirt today. Since this is Michigan and we could still have a freezing temperatures at any moment, I planted most of the plants in egg cartons so we can bring them in at night over the next few weeks. In my small raised garden bed I planted carrots and lettuce on either side of the already existing strawberry plant that has yet to yield a single strawberry, but somehow managed to survive winter. I also have a small peppermint plant in there that survived the winter. Not quite sure what to do with the peppermint but pick the leaves and smell them.

In two small pots I planted basil and cilantro. I'm saving another huge pot for a tomato plant. In the egg cartons are sunflowers, because last year Corey accidentally weed whacked the sunflowers last year and Erika hasn't forgotten about it, Marigolds, because I heard that they will keep the squirrels away, Zinnia, because they are pretty and I can cut them for the house, and pole string beans because I am determined to get a good bean house going for the fairies this year.

This was a special planting year because it was the first year that I had a little helper. Last year Erika was able to help a little, but this year she really sat and worked with me, really getting her hands dirty and staying focused. It was pretty awesome.

From the Library

"Of you desire happiness, you should seek the causes that give rise to it, and if you don't desire suffering, then what you should do is to ensure that the causes and conditions that would give rise to it no longer arise."
-The Dalai Llama

The subtitle to this book, "A Handbook for Living", intrigued me, so I checked it out. What I love about the wisdom of the Dalai Lama is that it is so simple. It almost seems too simple. The first few chapters are devoted to the idea that the ultimate goal in any life is, or should be, happiness. Simple, right? Who doesn't want to be happy? And yet when I began to examine my life, there were so many things standing in the way of pure happiness, and they could all be changed by my attitude, actions, words. And so began the cleansing of this home.

I don't know where I got this need to collect stuff and hold on to things that are useless and unsentimental. I have this fear of wastefulness that would better fit a war survivor or someone who had gone through the Great Depression. I hate waste. But when the kids were at their grandparents for the night I went through and cleared out closets, toys baskets, rooms. I believe in the Montessori approach to learning and play: simple is better, less is more. But you would never know it to look at my home. I felt stressed because the house always seemed messy, stressed because my ideals weren't in line with my reality, stressed because there was just too much stuff. And now that stress is slowly lifting. What in your life is standing in the way of your happiness? And what can you do to change it?

Farm Babies

Last week we took a little field trip with some friends to a 4,400 acre park in Kensington, a suburb of Detroit. Kensington Metropark has activities from fishing and hiking, to disc golf and cross country skiing. We went for the Farm Center, which not only has all the animals you would expect to see, but also hayrides, a nature center with classes and activities, and maple syrup tapping. The kids loved running around and meeting all the animals, especially since most of them had babies. Baby farm animals!

Erika's favorite part of the farm was the chicken coop. She kept running back in there and waiting for a hen to lay an egg. As we turned out the lights that night she said to me, "Mommy, I want to live on a farm. Then I could go out everyday and collect eggs." Audrey's favorite part of the farm was the horse which was hanging out right by the fence. He was so sweet and gentle and loved all the attention we were giving him.


And speaking of healthy things my kids love to eat, these little snacks are pretty yummy.

Erika and I have been making these a lot lately. Sliced banana with peanut butter and a chocolate chip on top. The best part of these is that Erika can make them herself and feels really proud of herself for doing so. I saw these somewhere in the blogosphere, but can't remember where (bad blogger). If you know where this idea came from, please let me know....

Edamame Beans are Rad

Edamame beans are young soybeans. They are full of protein, easy to make (all you have to do is boil them!), and fun to eat. At least our kids think that they're fun to eat. Audrey was trying to crawl across the table to get her hands on more tonight and Erika eats them faster than M&M's. And we all laugh as they shoot out of their pods and across the room.

Dear Audrey,

Two days ago I sat in the middle of your room taking apart your crib with tears rolling down my face, is disbelief at the passing of time. Unthinkable that less than two years ago I was holding you in my arms wondering who you were. And now, there is no doubt as to who you are: brave, loving, determined, wild, a dancer.

You started climbing out of your crib a few weeks ago. Climbing out and over everything in your way, actually. I wasn't sure how you would do in a toddler bed, but I should have guessed it would be as easy as it was because that's just your nature- to go with the flow, ride the wind with open arms. "Go Mama," you told me as I stood in your doorway yesterday at nap time, thinking that you might run out and try to avoid your nap. But you looked at your book for a few minutes, put all three babies in your bed to sleep, laid your head on your blankie ("bok-bok"), and slept for hours.

Time will pass quickly. You will grow up much faster than I care to think about at the moment. I will try and savor each moment and dance with you often.

Change of Scenery

Erika and Audrey both enjoy painting, but with the weather so warm it's been hard to keep them inside. So, we moved the easel outside! Erika started out painting our street, but ended up painting a few "pages" for her book about "the whole world". After Antarctica, Austria (inspired by The Sound of Music) and Australia, she got distracted by the dirt, her bike, and storytelling. Audrey lasted for only a few squiggles before running off to chase a cat. This nice weather is still new and I didn't expect much more from their attention, but I see a lot of outdoor art in our future.

The Things Around Me

For me holidays are all about family and food. An excuse to get together in a world where people are increasingly isolated. An excuse to bake a cake. I wish every day was a holiday. Today we had a small brunch with quiche, fruit salad, bread, cheese, and, of course, cake.

As I was uploading pictures of the girls to our flickr site for my family in California, I came across this picture which I had hurriedly taken earlier.

The silver platter in the upper right was a gift from my Mom and she is perfectly personified in it: strong, modest, beautiful, practical. Below that are some plates from a set that my Dad found for us at a second hand shop and lovingly flew out to Michigan from California. Dinner plates, salad plates, cups and saucers all flown out because he thought they were beautiful and thought that I would too. And he was right. The silver platter to the left of the plates is from Iran and a reminder of how much the idea of "home" can change over the course of a life. The silverware on the platter was a gift to my parents when they got married, a gift given to them with love more than thirty years ago and then, again, given with love to me from my mother.

And my cake lies on a white plate that Corey's Mom gave us when we moved to Michigan almost four years ago. Having left a lot of what we had back in California, this plate, and the others she gave us from her own cupboards, represents the foundations of the life we have built here. We fit what we could in a small trailer and a car and have made a home with it, with some help from our family. So, as I look around me now I don't see things anymore. I see the history of those things, the lives they once sat amongst, and the love of those who gave them to us.

The table holding up all this love is from Corey's Grandmother's home and, luckily, it is heavy, sturdy, and large.