Saturday, 27 March 2010

Earth Hour

No doubt you know that tonight at 8:30 until 9:30 it is Earth Hour, in which people around the world are encouraged to turn off their electricity (as much as is possible) in order to show that they care about the planet. It is one way in which we can promote awareness of our dependence on electricity, and perhaps find a way to take it less for granted.

Cynics may say that it is too small a gesture to make any difference, and may even claim it is dangerous for people to light candles in their homes. Sadly, they miss the point.

Earth Hour is an opportunity to unglue ourselves from screen activity, see the stars clearer than usual, and reunite with out families. Aside from a small amount of energy savings, there are things to be gained here. We are increasingly becoming isolated by our use of gadgets and our departure from face-to-face communications. We are easily distracted by the shiny, loud and flashy aspects of our environment at the expense of meaningful listening, which is the most important part of communication.

So this year, instead of shrugging it off, it is my hope that people, including myself, will take the opportunity to reconnect with families and nature. Enjoy the quiet that comes with throwing the circuit breaker. If you are concerned about power surges, then wait a little longer to turn your power back on, and do it an item at a time. Remember, if the utilities could cope with the surges that came surrounding the Olympic hockey game, they will cope with this too.

We intend to go for a walk and hopefully do some stargazing. In Toronto, the Ontario Science Centre is bringing out telescopes for public use tonight.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Centre for Child Honouring

Remember Raffi Cavoukian? Let me give you a hint:

Baby beluga in the deep blue sea,
You swim so wild and you swim so free,
Heaven above and the sea below
and a little white whale on the go!

Well, as much as we enjoyed his music through my son's early childhood, the man is now even more of a hero to me.

He has started the Centre for Child Honouring with which he intends to reshape society's view of children in the hopes of improving their environment.

Dream big? This guy is all over it.

If you read my earlier entry about empowerment for children, you'll understand that this is something I feel is long overdue. The work involved to create such changes is nearly unimaginable, but as the saying goes, the journey of 1 000 miles begins with a single step.

Mr. Cavoukian, hats off to you for this incredibly important and monumental undertaking. You have made my week and renewed my faith in humanity.

Being Green

Tomorrow is Earth Hour day. While I believe it is not nearly enough, and is merely a token gesture, I can appreciate anything that in any way promotes respect for the planet. So often we get hung up in our own personal lives that we forget that we are only part of the larger system--earth's ecosystem--and that we need to respect that system if we are to ensure a decent future for our children.

We make it easy on ourselves--we throw the main house circuit breaker. There is an incredible silence that comes from doing so. Last year I remember thinking that we, as a family, should do this on a more regular basis, but I've only just remembered that thought again now. Perhaps by posting it here I'll actually do it this time! I guess that's another good reason to have a designated time for shutting off the power.

Earth Day is also coming up later on in April. Common activities include tree planting and creek/rive/lake/beach/park cleanups. We actually do any tree planting in the fall because we've had better success at that time of year.

I read once that it takes an average of 80 trees per person to offset our carbon dioxide emissions. I believe that just counts breathing, but since the number is something I saw "somewhere" many moons ago, I'm not really sure what it takes into consideration.
Regardless of its accuracy, the act of planting trees has to be one of the single-most earth-friendly things we can do. About the only thing better that I can think of is to let little tree seedlings that randomly fall grow where they fall, as long as it isn't in a place that will cause problems (like under hydro wires, for example). At our last house, we let the seedlings that fell near our fence line grow and ended up with several beautiful trees including a beech, three maples and an ash. The ones that grew naturally like this grew much faster than the ones we planted.
We have a local program in which the municipality subsidizes the purchase of native tree and shrub species to be grown for house shading purposes. We have planted several shrubs through this program. The energy savings that can come from shade trees is substantial--in our last home, we had no air conditioning, and didn't need it because we were so well shaded.
Planting deciduous trees on the south and west sides of the house (this lets sunshine in during the winter and gives shade in the summer) and conifers on the north and east (to protect from winter winds) allows for the best seasonal effects in the northern hemisphere.

In a similar vein, for a couple of years of veggie gardening, I found that the seeds that were in my compost tended to do better than many of the store-bought ones. I'd plant squash and beans and carrots, and I'd get beautiful cherry and plum tomatoes and cantaloupe. The third year we planted veggies, I only used seeds I'd saved plus those that were in the compost. It was an eclectic garden, but much more interesting than the usual rows of same-type plants. The kids really got into it, becoming veggie detectives in trying to figure out what each plant would be. It also gave me an excuse to weed less, "just in case" we accidentally pulled something we'd later want. I've never liked weeding (always feels like plant species discrimination to me) so this suited me just fine.

I am very pleased that this year I found organic carrot seeds spaced out on planting tape. I hate the idea of "thinning" plants by killing the ones that are too close together, so I have painstakingly planted them one seed at a time using tweezers in the past. Yes, I'm that kind of person! Now I won't have to do that. I've never been able to save carrot seeds, although I have had success saving many other seeds.

Now I'm going to have to find all the seeds I saved before the move!
Lemonade page about saving seeds
Lemonade page about saving energy

Thursday, 25 March 2010


While I'm talking about food here, I thought I might mention my lunch ideas page. If you're like me, you find coming up with lunch ideas difficult. Even more difficult is coming up with packable, portable lunches.

Because of that, I took it upon myself to gather ideas from my family and make a list of our favourites. My kids especially like apple pie sandwiches and pizza to go, but the all-time favourite is a hummus and veggie tortilla wrap.

I've also provided some littlerless packing suggestions, and sorted the ideas into those that require reheating (great if you have a microwave at the office) and those that don't.

If you would like some new twists on the "same old", then be sure to check it out. For some excellent ideas on reducing restaurant food packaging, check out Take Out Without here.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Comfort Food

When it's cold or rainy outside, or you're feeling otherwise under the weather, there's nothing quite like comfort food to make it all better.

Some of my favourite recipes, like Mom's Mac and Cheese and Barley Casserole can be found on the website. Quiche should also be there, but hasn't quite made it yet. It's pretty simple--we use 9 eggs, 1.5 or so cups of milk, and a dash each of salt and pepper for the egg mixture. I butter and "flour" the bottom of a shallow casserole dish with wheat germ, add the thoroughly combined egg mixture, then toss in a handful of washed baby spinach leaves, 4-6 thinly sliced cremini mushrooms and 1/2 cup of grated cheddar. I mix it slightly in the casserole, then bake it for 50 minutes at 375 F. When I get to it, I will add this to the food page.

I also really enjoy Vegetarian Shepherd's Pie. The ingredients vary according to my mood, but generally the bottom consists of assorted veggies (grated carrots, chopped onion, chopped mushrooms, & frozen corn are the regulars), lentils (1/2 way pre-cooked), tvp (So Soy claims to be GMO-free), a couple of eggs mixed in, tomato paste, bbq sauce and soy sauce, and a sprinkle of the So Soy seasoning. The top is mashed potatoes but I sometimes add a yam or two, or some cottage cheese, or some roasted garlic to the potatoes. This is one of those recipes in which my spouse marvels at my blatant disregard for measuring utensils. He and my eldest always come back for seconds, so either they're really, really hungry, or they have gotten used to my experiments.

For the most part, I tend to view recipes as vague suggestions, with some basics to follow (like the amount of moisture, rising agents, etc.), but after that, it's (almost) anything goes. I've only heard complaints from my youngest, but he's the one who prefers plain raw tofu over pizza, so I take it with a grain of salt.

It must be me

It must be me. There is no way that and could possibly be so difficult to use as a monetizing feature for the rest of the world, so it must be me.

I made the mistake of doing this through Blogger. The default is to the US site. Ok, but after I inputted 50+ "favourites" for the slideshow, I then saw this flags at the top right side, so I clicked on the Canadian one, and promptly lost all my choices, and signed out. does not recognize Of course, I went back and tried it all again, but this time I put it on here first. When I put it on here, I lost the option to pick up the html code for it to also put it on my website. And, it is all still the US (.com) version.

Maybe the sinus headache and cold I have are making this much more difficult than it should be. But for now, I am leaving it as it is. If you need a book (or toy, movie, audio, etc.) I will get a teensie tiny % of the proceeds if you buy it here, but you will need to go through the US site to do that. Which is great if you live in the US, but a bit annoying if you live in Canada. Either way, if you do this, please know I am grateful for your patronage (and even if you don't do it, I'm still grateful!). I think I'm going to go and blow my nose now.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Science, because I want to

My elementary school did not have a science lab or even  a science teacher, so when I reached high school, I was unfamiliar with the workings of bunsen burners and didn't know the difference between a beaker, a test tube and a flask. In grade 9, I was in a class with kids who had to repeat it, so they always gathered the equipment and set it up while I read the experiment and wrote it up.
crystal growing jars
tinted borax crystal ornamentIn grade 10, when I asked my physical science teacher what I needed, he accused me of being difficult, and from that point on, refused to answer any questions I or my lab partner had. We were the "giggling girls" (which only got worse over time), and he was never interested in seeing us as curious, intelligent students. The curriculum didn't help. Levers and pulleys could have been much more interesting--just ask my kids! Why were we only beginning to study that in grade 10? He gave us more academic credit for washing the glassware (doing the dishes) than for actually doing any science.

slime silly putty polymerBut I was always very curious, and would not let the stereotyped opinions of this so-called teacher ruin that. Ever since then I have made a point of learning what I could, on my own, about physics, albeit from a layperson's perspective. For me it is pure entertainment. I gain pleasure in learning what I can and passing it on enthusiastically to others. It is in this spirit that I have introduced my kids to kitchen chemistry, Rube Goldberg machines, model rocketry, and amateur astronomy. My kids have enjoyed exploring fractal patterns, discussing mind experiments about black holes and dark matter over dinner, and wondering about the nature of potential extra dimensions as postulated by string theory. And why shouldn't they? These are the topics that tickle the imagination and make you come back again asking for more.

egg after shell dissolved in vinegarThese are the interesting things--the "what ifs", the wonders of things yet to be discovered as well as the exclamations of delight upon mixing glue and borax to get a strange polymer, the fascination of making cabbage water turn every colour in the rainbow, and figuring out what makes that happen. If the kids can know that awe and wonder about the world, and maintain it throughout their lives, I believe I will have attained something Mr. Penton never could. Maybe, in that sense, Mr. Penton did my family a favour.

In this spirit, I have shared some of our science experiments and resources we have enjoyed on Lemonade: 


Like a river, my thoughts often meander to unsuspecting places...

I am currently reading "Nature's Playground" by Fiona Danks and Jo Schofield and am really enjoying it. I especially like the quotes:

""Playing outdoors should be a fundamental part of childhood, yet we are in danger of tidying out children away into stuffy bedrooms..."


"Life is full of risk, so the best way to prepare children for life is to ensure that they understand how to judge risk for themselves."

This last one especially hits a chord with me. Children hidden away just learn to fear the world instead of participate in it. What kind of life is that?

I am so looking forward to backpacking and canoeing this year! Maybe we'll take along "mud wear" and have a mud fight on one of the hotter days. Life is too short not to make the most of it!

Wildlife Videos to Share

Some very cool and interesting wildlife footage to see, as tweeted by @BillNigh:

Nesting farm owl, streaming:

Seahorse dad giving birth to 100's: (yes, seahorse dads carry the babies!)

I may need to start looking for more wildlife streaming again. We've followed eagles and orcas in the past and enjoyed both immensely! It's a nice change from the wildlife documentaries that emphasise only feeding and mating; when you watch streaming video of an animal you get to see all the behaviour, whether or not the sponsors feel it will sell cars or beer or whatever.

If you like the barn owl, why not try dissecting barn owl pellets? You can order pellets from a science supplier online and download a free bone chart as well from here: We have done this and it is incredibly interesting and not messy or unpleasant like you might fear. It kept all the kids at our party enthralled for over an hour, then after the food they hurried back for more. We were able to put together several complete vole skeletons. There is really just bones and fur in the pellet, and the suppliers heat-sterilize them. You can also collect them yourself and do it, just be sure to wash up well afterward!

Monday, 22 March 2010

Lemonade and Greensim

Lemonade started off as an experiment. Because of this, I used my husband's domain name (with his permission) and tacked the site off of it. Lemonade grew very quickly, and I have not gotten around to getting my own domain, especially as my DH is not presently using the Greensim one.

It's a catch-22 situation: I am reluctant to put money into the site because it doesn't make money (less than 3 digits a year in advertising revenue). I do not feel that with the time and effort I put into the site that I should end up actually paying to run it as well. Breaking even is ok, making a tiny bit of income to treat myself to, say, a bar of fair-trade organic chocolate once a year is better.
I am also not I a hurry to rename the 100+ pages and thousands of links to suit a new domain address! I have written the entire site in my own very pedestrian Alleycode HTML, so each element must be separately changed. I know NOW how to avoid that, but the deed has been done, and I am reluctant to put in the hours to fix it at the moment.

On the other hand, Lemonade would be easier to find were it to possess its own domain. I'm sure there are many who wonder about the connection between my husband's building energy business, and a website full of educational resources! Now at least you know how it came to be.


Each year I go a wee bit nuts planning elaborately themed birthday parties for my kids. We have had an Enchanted Forest party, a Scooby-Doo mystery, a pirate search for treasure, 2 train-themed parties, 2 Harry Potter themed parties, a canoeing/caving/camping party and an Amazing Race themed party,among others (I also do Halloween Parties some years). It is the place where my latent over-planning tendencies left over from teaching emerge!

This year one of my sons is having a movie marathon sleepover as he wants something less "pretendy". We may make waxen "Hands of Glory" to match the movies (Harry Potter again--this time #5 and #6). I will be setting up some more casual games and they will use them as desired. But I will still go nuts on the wizard food! Butterbeer, pumpkin juice, fire whiskey (gingerbeer I will make extra spicy somehow), chocolate frogs, a castle cake, wizard wand kebabs and/or chocolate fondue with breadstick wands and various candies they can roll the dipped wand in, etc. I think it would be a long time before we ran out of new ideas for the HP theme.

The youngest is going for a dragon theme, but is "allowing" me to add some of the medieval activities, such as building catapults and storming the castle. We will also be having a dragon-egg hunt, with paper mache dragon eggs filled with t-shirts which will determine the teams for the party games (red shirts vs. green shirts).
His castle cake will have a smaller (fire-breathing with dry ice effect) dragon climbing up the back. Pictures to follow, assuming it works!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Canoeing, Nature and Needs

Today we went to see the Paddling Film Festival.

My favourite was called "Finding Farley" in which a couple, their two year old and their dog paddled from Canmore, Alberta to Hudson's Bay, then from Quebec to Newfoundland and eventually to Nova Scotia to visit Farley Mowat, while visiting the settings for many of his books along the way.

I was reminded of the importance of keeping a connection with nature. We are increasingly "nature illiterate" in our society, and we suffer for it. We forget that we are part of the greater ecosystem, and in denying it, often serve to destroy it without even being fully aware of doing so.

I truly believe that a stronger cultural connection to nature and its rhythms would go a long way in alleviating depression and over-consumption in our society. At least, it works that way for me personally. I am never more at peace than when I am standing in the protective shadow of an ancient tree, or paddling down a pristine river. How many more sunrises and sunsets I enjoy when camping than when following the urban rat-race!

Kids have a natural pull towards the outdoors. We would do well to listen and nurture the connection. Their future may well depend on it.


I have long believed that children need a sense of empowerment in order to become strong leaders for the future.

What I don't mean by empowerment is giving in to every want or desire of the child. Nor do I mean that we let them call all of the shots at every stage of their development. Letting a child make adult or family decisions with no adult input is not what I am talking about.

I do believe that the roles of parent and teacher are to help mentor and guide a child so the child can safely learn to make decisions and learn to predict and cope with the consequences of those decisions. A 2 year-old might choose between wearing a red shirt and a blue one. A 4 year-old might decide whether to do painting or cut and paste, whether to help fold laundry or unload the dishwasher, and how they want their hair to be cut. A 10 year-old might decide whether to continue with an extra-curricular activity, and what he/she will make for lunch.
There will be daily choices, as well as life choices that come up along the way. As much as possible, children should be allowed to participate in decisions that affect them. They should be given a voice and listened to so that they will know how to be heard as they grow up. They will be strong and experienced decision makers who can say no to peer pressure or other situations that challenge their inner values.

There are a few pitfalls that we will need to watch out for. There is an increasing trend to overprotect our children. When we shelter them from the world, we deny them the chance to learn and grow. It is a delicate balance. We want them to be safe, but they have a strong need (and it is a need) to learn independence, to play with other kids without imposed adult structure, to explore nature, to make mistakes and learn from them and to practice decision-making skills so that they can develop their own good judgment. This is where they pick up life skills and learn about who they are.

Another pitfall is permissiveness. It can be easier to give in to a child's wants at times, but we need to be sure of a few things first. We need to determine the difference between "needs" and "wants". We need to teach children that wastefulness is undesirable. We need to teach the child to think through decisions and be sure. We need to teach thrift, and we need to teach them to put their wants and needs into the context of the family and/or group and consider how others are affected.

The last pitfall we've encountered is societal attitudes about children and teens. If you are a parent you have no doubt found yourself in a situation in which a stranger walks up to you and gives you "free advice" about parenting your children. This advice is unsolicited, and, while sometimes well-intentioned, usually only serves to make the parent feel incompetent.
It can be hard for new or particularly stressed parents to brush these things off. I do not know what possesses people to believe it is their business, but it seems to be something that happens at least once to every parent. Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about how to raise children, yet few are willing to truly support parents in that endeavour.
There are many adults (esp. teachers) who view children as problems to be solved. Have you ever heard from a teacher or coach the phrase "we need to work on _______"? While there may actually be skills that require practice, the wording behind this suggests that the child is or has a problem or is deficient in some way, rather than emphasizing that the child is developing some new and exciting skills.

Along these lines, I have been paying attention to the way society treats children and teens.

It is a reflection of our society's values that parenting and working with children are not highly valued. Daycare workers and teachers are paid low wages, and sometimes aren't given opportunities for further education akin to other professionals. They are used as baby sitters for the most part. They often become scapegoats when things go wrong. Yet these people have the huge responsibility of nurturing and preparing a new generation for the future.

Imagine what could happen instead: imagine a community engaged with their children, in which the children and the adults in their lives come together to plan, to work, to play, and to celebrate. Where communication between daycare, teachers and parents was not something to be dreaded or rushed through before running home for dinner. Where the welfare and development of the children were given the time and attention they warrant. Where the child's life wasn't chopped up arbitrarily into compartmentalized segments, but given continuity and flow. And where there was time to hear from not just the adults, but from the children as well.

Let's move on.

Have you ever seen a sign in a storefront window limiting the number of students allowed in the store at once?
There are people who will defend this, saying they don't want gangs in their store (fair enough, who would?) But surely a sign would not stop them as effectively as a phone call to the police. Others will say that kids are likely to shoplift.

The truth is that shoplifting occurs across all age groups. Is it more of a crime for a teen to steal than for a senior? We often act as if it is. Can you imagine if we substituted the word "senior" for "student" on one of those signs? If maybe we put a racially defining word in there, or perhaps name a religion, how would people react? If those would be offensive to us, why do we allow for the group of people we call "students" to be treated in such a way?

If we are to mentor our youth to become the leaders of the future, if we want them to treat others with respect and empathy, then we need to consider our actions more carefully. We need to show them the respect we expect them to give. We need to give them a voice. We need to keep the dialogue going and support them rather than alienate them when they need us the most.

My original article on this subject can be found here.