Friday, 2 April 2010

Eggs, birds and other signs of spring

Today we went for a walk along the nearby river and saw lots of bird activity. Where we live, there are lots of birds--I am no birder, but I have seen finches, red-winged blackbirds, robins, starlings, geese, crows, ducks, chickadees, sparrows, cardinals and grackles in large numbers over the past couple of days. With the unseasonable warm weather lately, the gnats and other insects are out now, so the bird activity has increased accordingly. As usual, I forgot to bring along my camera.
We've also been watching Molly the barn owl live streaming (link in "wildlife links" post). Four of her brood have hatched and the last egg was expected to hatch a couple of days ago, so the kids are especially interested in watching.
Did you know that only fertilized eggs can grow to become baby birds? The chicken eggs we eat are not fertilized. When birds hatch, they first make an air hole in the shell called a "pip hole".
We have dyed our eggs with natural dyes this year. The blueberry, onion and beet ones turned out especially well. Our blender is out of commission at the moment, so I wasn't able to puree the spinach enough for the colour to transfer. The carrots were more subtle than in the past.
If you want your eggs to be shiny, let the dyes dry then rub a little vegetable oil over the shell.
For the dye recipes as well as ways to marbleize and tie-dye eggs, see my spring crafts page here:

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Happy April Fools' Day

I have to say I both love and hate this day. It is a bit of a time waster, but when the jokes are in good taste, clever and work, it is a lot of fun too!
I didn't plan anything much this year, and since it is 5 pm, I think I managed to get off lightly this year.

What are your favourite pranks?
I like the kid-friendly food pranks on the Family Fun website, although my family found them first so I haven't been able to use them. We played the "elastic band on the kitchen sprayer" trick on my husband two years in a row. Fell for it both times too!
Another good one was way back in uni when I put yellow food colouring on my roommate's toothbrush. Or when my roommate and her friend sewed my current DH's clothing all together in a long chain. Or when I labelled my DH's underwear with labels of various, um, sayings, some of which he missed and wore to the hockey locker room before finding.

The best was when my SIL held her annual Good Friday (which was April 1st that year) kite flying party. DH had a co-worker call her and pretend to be a DJ from a major radio station checking the details for their community happenings update. He was very convincing, suggesting that he'd heard it from other media sources, and even asked the details about the chili lunch at her place afterward. At the time she lived in a small apartment--how the heck was she going to house and feed members of the general public?! She caught on, but not immediately.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Easter Gifts

This is probably a bit late, but maybe some of you have been procrastinating like me :).

We all know that the chocolate that is bought for Easter (and other holidays) is not very environmentally friendly. Even if it is fair trade and organic, it is not even close to locally grown (at least, not for most of the consumers who buy it). And the deforestation that comes from the palm kernel oil found in the cheaper brands is deplorable. Even if you choose other candy, like jellybeans, there are similar issues with the sugar.

But what are the alternatives?

Instead of buying pounds and pound of it, buy just a small amount of high-quality chocolate and/or candy, then add some other gifts to the stash, such as:
- vegetable and flower seeds
- insect nets
- bubbles
- a sport ball, frizbee and/or kite
- a sun hat
- a skipping rope
- a sketching book and sketching pencils (for nature walks)
- a bandana
- school supplies (which are often running out at this time of year!)
- a magnifying glass
- a mini herb garden
- sidewalk chalk
- a hula hoop
- a nature field guide
- homemade slime or playdough (recipes can be found here)

For older kids:
- sports balls
- bus tickets/bus pass
- bike accessories
- t-shirt
- a memory stick
- camera memory
- rechargeable batteries
- Itunes store credit
- SPF lip balm
- a novel

This is also a good time to check to see if any outdoor sports equipment needs repair or replacement, and to check to ensure that everyone's bike helmet still fits.

Have a great holiday everyone!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

It Takes a Village

It takes a village to raise a child, but the villages have been pillaged and the survivors have all fled to the city.

Sometimes, as a parent it feels this way. As our lives get busier, the neighbourhood and family supports that used to be there for children have all but disappeared. It is more and more common for parents to live far from siblings and their own parents when they become parents. Parents who do live close may find that relatives are too busy to take on an active role in their children's lives. If parents find they need help, chances are that they will need to seek it from a stranger rather than a relative or trusted friend. On warm spring and summer evenings, when we walk through our neighbourhoods, we find the streets are strangely empty of children and families, who are busy working late or at organized, structured programs instead.

This makes it even more important to connect with other parents when you are expecting and when your children are young. The Ontario Early Years Centres helped me meet some friends in similar situations. It is helpful to know there is someone you can trust with your children in an emergency. It is good for the kids to get to know other families (not just other kids they see at daycare in structured situations). More drop-in style, informal, neighbourhood-based programs where parents (not just the moms) can meet, talk, and bring their children are crucial.

It's time to be the village our children need. This means connecting with neighbours, helping each other out, tuning in to your children and to the children they meet. It means supporting other families without judging or imposing your own will on them. It means slowing down to listen. It means slowing down! It means being there for yourself, your children and your community. It may mean changing your priorities, and clearing time off your schedule.

As a society, we need to make a stronger effort to bring the focus away from commerce and back to the family and especially the children. We need neighbourhoods in which the kids play outside, with their parents, and sometimes without. We need to get to know our neighbours and our extended family (and no, an annual update on the back of a Christmas cards does not count!). We need to value kids for who they are at the moment. We need to start putting them first. We need to create bonds with others beyond the nuclear family unit so that kids have room to learn and grow without being stifled. We need to care about not just our own children, but all children. We need to drop the competitiveness that keeps this from happening, and begin to work together and create community. We need to recognize our true needs and work for those, rather than only the material goods our society so covets.

We need to start placing a much higher value on those who choose to spend their time working with children, whether they be the endangered stay-at-home parent, the daycare worker, or the primary teacher. We hear about women's groups espousing more and better daycare funding, but I'd like to see better support for full-time moms and dads and extended family members who are primary caregivers. I choose feminism over women's lib I guess.
We also hear about increased support for working families--when what is really meant isn't "families that work" in the sense that they encourage the inner growth of all members, but families in which both of the adults dedicate a huge portion of their time to improving the economy. While we do need material things, and we need to ensure that business and commerce runs smoothly, we have a much higher obligation to keep from neglecting our other needs in our current obsession with "more".

I am not going to argue against families in which both adults work full-time and have children; I am arguing that this is only one option and isn't necessarily the best one for most families for the long term good of society. Yet it is the one that has become most respected and mainstream.

We have all read or at least heard about the studies that claim that the first 6 years of a child's life are the most crucial, yet we still continue to recklessly bulldoze our way through them. We allow others to make decisions on our children's (and often the entire family's) behalf. If we all took an active role in the care of our children, our focus on the children would help us deal with the world's problems with a clearer perspective.

These are my views, and happen to be quite similar to the philosophy behind Raffi's Child Honouring (see earlier post) although he is somewhat less "political" about it than I am.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Nature and Places

I have always become easily attached to wild spaces. There is something that resonates within me when I am surrounded by nature. When I am surrounded by nature, I find I gain a better perspective on life. I become more real, and at the same time, feel my own smallness within the vast universe.

Here is a photo I took last summer, of a log island in a lake that I like to call "Gaia".  On the log there is an abundance of life growing--mosses, lichen, grasses and more. This tiny log has become a home to a vast array of life.

Maybe your are not familiar with the term Gaia. I first encountered it when reading the science fiction of Isaac Asimov. It's a strange place to find an idea that strikes a deep chord of familiar inner truth, I'll admit, but there you have it. Gaia refers to the idea that the earth is one large system, or organism, of which all things of and upon it are a part. Since we (all life) are obviously all interconnected and cannot survive without each other, it isn't a very far stretch of the imagination to see how this would work. Don't buy it? Without plants, we cannot eat. Even purely carnivorous people rely on plants that their food (cows, pigs, rabbits, goats, chickens etc.) requires. Take a look at any food chain to get a better picture of this. And food chains do not tend to exist in isolation from each other, hence the term "food web" that has become increasingly popular.

Then there is waste. Even the most toxic substances we can create will eventually return to the earth in a benign state, given enough time (even nuclear waste will, given a sufficient, albeit extremely long time). If it came from the earth, it belongs to the earth and the earth will recycle it. The earth is quite efficient at doing this--from the water cycle, to the life/death cycle of plants and animals to geology. The surface of the earth is at varying ages depending on where you are, when the most recent volcanic or seismic activity was etc. Land is recycled just as water and life are.

Whether you take it literally or metaphorically, it is an interesting idea, and one worth considering in the larger context. After all, we are all in this together.


We've been experimenting with natural dyes for eggs over the years. This year we've used onion skins (proven favourite!), blueberries, coffee and carrot peels. I will be doing some cranberry or beet eggs as well to round it out colour-wise.

You can find instructions on my spring crafts page here. There are also instructions for making tie-dyed and marbelized eggs, and making your own food colouring-based dyes.

If you are new to my website, you may not have found the strange science page, which also features some egg experiments, including dissolving eggshells in vinegar (with pictures of ours that we did with a raw egg, leaving only the membrane holding it together), and some info about Herve This and his experiments on unboiling an egg.

Did you know that the shape of an eggshell makes it incredibly strong? An egg can support an impressive amount of weight. Try putting four eggs in egg holders, then gently and slowly pile on some heavy books one at a time. You may wish to put some beneath the books to protect them, and also on your work surface. How much weight can your eggs take before they are crushed (or you decide to stop)?

You can also try holding an egg drop. Provide various materials, and have students make a container that will hold and (hopefully) protect a raw egg when it is dropped from a height. Challenge students to make ordinary materials, such as newspapers, into something that will absorb shock by using them in creative ways. Once the containers are finished, try them out. Did the egg break? Which design aspects worked, and which did not? To expand the activity, take a look at how automobile manufacturers increase crash safety in their car designs.
Or try following one of the several live streaming sites which feature birds nesting and hatching new eggs.