Thursday, 6 May 2010


One of our favourite books when the kids were a bit younger was Weslandia by Paul Fleischman. In it, a young boy creates a whole civilization based on a mystery plant he grows in his yard. A fun read in and of itself, it also lends itself well to the concepts of basic needs, the development of civilizations, and how creativity and "being different" can lead to great things.

When we pulled out the above ground pool in our backyard, we were left with a large circle of dirt. This was a goldmine for the kids that summer, who were then preschool/kindergarten ages. They used all of their digging tools and trucks and made paths and pits, waterways and dams, aqueducts and bridges and all kinds of "good stuff". It was their area, and I let them have complete control of it.

After a few weeks, some "mysterious plants" began to grow. In the spirit of Weslandia, the kids decided to let them grow. They grew all right--to about 7' high! The kids made paths and forts in there, and had an amazing time within their safe wilderness. Strangely enough, none of the neighbours complained at all. It was one of the best things we ever did with/for the kids.

I recently found these photos that show the area I'm talking about.

Amazingly, and to my own great relief, at the end of the season when the plants began to go to seed, it took less than an hour to pull it all to prepare the area for the veggie garden we started the following year. Never again did I see those plants in our yard though. I'd love to know what they were!

Since that time, I've become more relaxed at letting nature do some of the gardening. The veggies that grow from the compost always taste better, and the raspberry bushes supplied by nature give us enough to make jam to keep us going through the winter.

Milkweed, once shunned, is now appreciated for its importance to local ecology. So often we think we know better than nature, and she gently (or not so gently!) shows us how very wrong we were.

So thank you Paul Fleischman for showing us a world we would otherwise never have seen, and giving my kids and myself one of the best summers ever!

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Science calls

I'm not sure why it is, but the most interesting sites and resources I find tend to be somehow science related. I guess, when it comes down to it, most things are science related in some way.

I recently picked up powdered agar from a health food store. This is an incredibly versatile food. It can be used as vegetarian gelatin, with the unique characteristic that it can be melted down again and re-jelled if you wish to adjust the consistency etc. It can also be used as a culture medium for bacteria--the classic "ew" experiment!

Sometimes the "ew" factor can be a compelling motivator for kids.
borax slime experiment
Some of the favourite science activities our family has done include making kid concoctions such as: slime, ooblick, magic mud and silly putty (especially great for preschoolers/kindergarten kids), identifying animal scat on hikes, dissecting owl pellets (not gross at all in reality, but certainly popular and interesting!), examining insects, pond studies, vermicomposting / backyard composting and identification of decomposers, and exploring alkalinity with red cabbage water indicator (smelly but pretty to see!).

In the near future we'll be trying out some bacterial culturing and possibly some forensic experiments from here.

Early Spring

Our family went on a backpacking trip the weekend before last. By the end of the trip, we saw lots of blackflies (thankfully not biting so much yet!). Normally, if you go anytime up to about the 20th of May, you'll be able to avoid biting insects, so this was a month early.

We had walked the same trail a *few* years back at the same time of year. We needed to keep the water filter in a sleeping bag to keep it from freezing, and had to crack ice around the edges of the lake to pump water. Not so much this trip--we hiked in t-shirts and wished we'd brought shorts along.

I have noticed the same thing at home. The blossoms are about 3-4 weeks early, and the magnolia trees have blossomed and dropped their petals already. During March break, the weather here was warmer than in Florida.

I am not a winter person, and spring is one of my favourite times of year. I love being awakened by birds calling, I love the smell of the earth and the lilacs. I love the golden fields of dandelions. However, this is making me nervous. I'm not ready yet to do serious gardening, yet the early spring is demanding just that. It's really less about me and my preferences though. It's alarm at what is happening to our climate. Spring is coming earlier, not just this year, but with a visible change across decades. Weird weather is becoming the norm. There is a great deal of concern about our latest human-caused disaster, the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, which is absolutely horrible and terrifying in its destruction. There is also the acidification of the oceans. This is caused by the increased absorption of carbon, that is causing rapid loss of species and if left unchecked will destroy the world's coral reefs within the next few decades.
It would really take a great deal of determination to fail to see the connection between the health of our oceans and our own welfare.

There is so very little political will to do anything--it's all a game of quick profits and one-upmanship with not a trace of concern for the future, the planet or the basic needs of its inhabitants. The right-wingers laugh at the rest of us for caring, and go out of their way to make the problems worse. I find it difficult not to get discouraged.

And yet-
the birds are singing, the sun is shining, the lilacs are out and it's incredibly beautiful out there. Perhaps one of the most important things to do about it all is to enjoy it, now, and share that enjoyment with others.