Tuesday, December 10, 2013


Mother Nature seems to know just what we need. Work never slows and neither does my son growing up! Needless to so I am so grateful for the reprieve that snow can bring. Thanks to all the closures, E and I made our gingerbread house with a friend from the neighborhood and decorated our gingerbread cookies. There are sled tracks all over our yard and a little "snowkid", complete with carrot nose. More snow is falling as I write, so more adventures still await.

Because of our Christmas tree toppling yesterday (don't ask), we even got to decorate the tree twice! Hurray for the snow!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

giving thanks and sending love

You could say that moving from the adorable baby and toddler phases into the preschool years has been full of surprises. It was hard to imagine there would ever be a time when E would spontaneously say "thanks, mom!" or "I love you, mama". As his identity and independence grows stronger, he is becoming more aware of others. He's starting to understand how his actions affect other people and, in turn, how other people feel. Although there is plenty to learn about give-and-take with family and peers, I am amazed to see how he makes sense of things in his own four-year-old context.

Lately we've been having some interesting, unprompted dialogue. For example, if I say "brr! It's cold outside! Good thing we brought your mittens," he'll respond with "some kids don't have any mittens and that's sad."

Or if his daddy tucks him in and says "look at all those blankets! You look so nice and warm," E may say "and some kids don't have any blankets and that's sad."

You get the idea. He's becoming more aware of himself and the things that are basic needs and comforts to him. He drives his point home with food, toys, and even kitties. He's even chimed in that "some children don't have a mommy and daddy, and that's so sad. Isn't it, mom?"

We try to take advantage of these moments by helping him feel grateful about how fortunate we are for our family, a warm place to sleep, books to read, nourishing food, and toys to play with. But I want him to know that every family is different. To him it would be sad not to have his mommy or daddy because we've always been here. But as long as there is an adult to love and care for a child, families can look different, but still be full of love. It doesn't have to be "so sad".

Of course, understanding how family structures are different is not the same as trying to understand why some people don't have the basic things they need in order to live (food, clothes, and a safe, warm place to live). I think the idea of needing to be loved by his family is closely linked in his mind to other basic needs. Makes complete sense to my adult mind, but it's fascinating to watch him develop his own sense of this.

Given all this talk about how some children don't have all the things they need, I am feeling like this time is ripe for helping him understand why we give to others. (Up until this point, I wondered how much I've said or done has really sunk in.) Usually I go through his toys and clothes and give away things he doesn't need anymore. But now more than ever, I want to encourage him to help others by choosing the things he can part with. Although he is small, he can make a difference!

In Christine Carter's book Raising Happiness, a book that I absolutely love, she discusses the habits of happy people, statistically speaking. She describes being altruistic and a person's volunteerism as strong predictors of long-term happiness. She urges us all to foster opportunities for altruism and giving so our children learn to empathize with and help others. With the fast paced lives that we lead, this is way easier said than done. But I'm going to keep trying!

And actually, it appears that E is taking the lead anyhow.

We have our own little grateful routine and I wonder if it is part of where his concern for others has come from lately? Each night we send love. We think about who "needs to feel our love" and who could use a little extra. We talk about how we can always close our eyes and "feel the love coming back" from each other, especially when we are apart. I hope that this reflection about other people at night is helping him feel more grateful. It's important for children (and adults...) to stop focusing on themselves, their own problems, frustrations, and wants. E is such an amazing kid and a wonderful reminder to me that I also need to focus on others - and keep encouraging him to do the same.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Proud Mama

Proud on so many fronts, but today I am beaming. My little guy attended his first day at The Nature Preschool! Considering other tough transitions he's had away from me, I was relieved that he said good-bye without tears. Don't get me wrong, he was clenching my pinky finger and pulling away from the door as we approach the Nature Center. But as other families piled in, he reconsidered and followed suit.

We placed his belongings in his "oak tree class" cubby and donned his beautiful little tree cookie name tag. We looked at all the interesting activities in the classroom, everything from homemade play dough to wooden cars and blocks, to the chalkboard wall. The book nook was inviting, full of familiar books like "Nuts to You" by Lois Elhert. Children were busy at "work" all over the room.

And I knew, intimately, what the rest of the day would hold.

When I told him it was time for me to say good-bye with another hug and smooch, the teacher was there to help redirect him. Not because it's wrong for him to be cautious about this new setting or miss the comfort of mom - both are completely normal. But helping him go to school, on his own, helps him unlock what he is capable of when I'm not there. If mom or dad is always around, then how can a child learn who they are apart from the family unit?

Ultimately, I'm ecstatic to watch E's independence blossom with or without me around.

I founded The Nature Preschool (along with instrumental others) when E was only a twinkle in his daddy's eyes. Now in our fifth year as a licensed program, hundreds of other children are benefiting from our nature-based approach to child-centered learning. Indeed, I am very proud to share this with my sweet son today.

E dressed himself - with two t-shirts and backwards shorts.

After fixing his wardrobe malfunction, off we went. He was skeptical...

This is the entrance to his classroom at The Nature Preschool at Irvine.

I'm so proud of my little guy!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

on the tree tops

It didn't take long to go from lullabies to mud pies for my little boy. The most glaring example of just how "big" my baby has become is when he learned to climb his first tree. He literally went from not being able to climb it one day, to figuring out the very next. The huge smile of accomplishment was all over his face.

When I was a little girl our childhood home had a huge maple tree in the front yard. There was one strong, long, low branch perfect for me to shimmy up the trunk, cling and scoot out on the long branch, and then grab on with the back of my knees and hang. It was my thing to hang upsidedown like that all the time. Being in my tree felt liberating. Up there I was untouchable and surrounded by a lush, leafy world, a quiet place of peaceful observing.

Watching my own son have that experience fills me with pride and hope. Yes, I'm proud that E was determined enough to figure this out at the tender age of 3.5, but I'm also hopeful. I'm hopeful that he will find joy and solace in a tree of his own.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Hashem, Hannah and Flannery

Our Sunday started with a trip to Cromwell Valley Park to join the Baltimore Folk Music Society's Spring Faire. With mild 65 degree weather, it was the perfect (and cheap!) outing for me, my son and his Great Grandmother. Fiddles were going, May pole ribbons were streaming and the atmosphere was full of joy. We tried our hands at juggling and joined a madrigal song circle, too. The event was such a nice speed. E did somersaults on the lawn and we had a pleasant time.

E and his Great Grammy at the May pole.
The food left something to be desired, though the handmade crepes looked good. We needed a place to sit and rest...and somehow the lawn for great grammy didn't seem appropriate. So we headed to the Bel Loch Diner for lunch.

Entering the diner is like entering a time machine. The exterior has a funky art deco appearance. The turquoise blue seats atop the chrome bar stools lend a hip 60's retro vibe. The food is what you might expect, quick and tasty even for a vegetarian like me. The egg salad and sweet potato fries were delish!
Picture from the SouthernLiving website when the diner was featured in "Secrets of the South's Best Diners". 
What I really love about this place is the history. Great gram told me that she remembered this diner from when she and her late husband were married (it opened in 1964). I love that this old fashioned diner has been a staple in our community for over five decades.

Yeah, yeah it's charming, by now you get it. But here's where it's really like a time machine: I noticed a young guy bussing tables and I couldn't help but think that it was a boy that I taught some years before. I taught art in a local public middle school for four years and during that time I worked with over 1200 students. Needless to say I still run into them everywhere I go.

So great grammy decided to ask a waitress to grab the boy (embarrassing) so that I could find out if I was right - sure enough it was Hashem, a respectful young man that I always liked. But what happened next was just strange. Another girl came from out of the kitchen and said, "do you remember me? I'm Hannah, you were my art teacher in 6th grade." Of course! She was in my Gifted and Talented art class. She was still a meek, pretty girl with frizzy blond hair and once she said her name I knew exactly who she was.

And then a THIRD girl came from around the corner and said "do you remember me?" I thought for sure someone was pulling my leg but she said "My name is Flannery and..." and I immediately blurted out her last name. I remembered her, too! She was a studious, sweet girl now an outgoing waitress.

What were the chances that three of the diner employees were all my students almost ten years ago?

The time warp caught me completely off guard and in mommy mode. But it's brought back fond memories of my days in the classroom, teaching up to 36 students per class. Despite how hard those years were (working full-time at the school and part-time at the nature center), I stayed optimistic and tried to savor all the good times with the kids. I will always be grateful for those experiences and excited to run into more of my students as the years march on.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

DIY herb spiral

It's a proverbial glorious spring day, mild weather about 70 degrees and sunny skies. In my tireless quest to make the garden beautiful and useful, there is a new addition to the yard: the herb spiral.

What's an herb spiral? Research on these herb sprials is varied and all fascinating to me, the garden geek that I am. This invention came about in the 70's as a new take on "permaculture". The concept is that the plants at the top of the spiral-shaped raised bed will get the most sun and have the driest soil. Plants on one side will be partly shaded with slightly more moist soil. The plants at the bottom will have the most moisture since water will drain down and around the spiral. Therefore, you can grow a large number of plants that have many different soil and light conditions all in one space. Other advantages include the raised soil bed which provides easy access to everything and keeps plants away from nibbling critters. (Between the groundhogs and rabbits in our yard, I'll keep my fingers crossed.)

What should you plant? Typically herbs spirals are, well, for herbs that you cook with. They are placed in easy access of a kitchen or outdoor cooking area so that they will get lots of use. But you could grow all sorts of things on the spiral. Trailing fruits and veggies would work - squash, cucumber, watermelon - any would be fun to try. Flowers would be charming here, too, though many herbs will flower. My plant list includes:

-rosemary, two varieties
-French marigold (edible)
-thyme, two varieties
-chammomile, two varieties

Making it: First, mark off your circle somewhere around 5-6 feet in diameter (your call). Lay cardboard and/or landscape fabric down to kill weeds. (Avoid cardboard that may have lots of inks that could leach into edible plants.) Laying cardboard or landscape fabric is helpful especially if you're making the spiral right on top of a lawn. I used both, along with metal stakes to pin down landscape fabric.

Next you need to create the spiral. Some sources suggest that your spiral go clockwise (or counter) depending on what hemisphere you live in. Mine is clockwise starting from the center.

You can use rocks from the yard, bricks, even poured concrete if you really want to. I stacked local stone to form mine, but I also had random leftover pavers that I used at the bottom of the center spiral. Since they are hidden, I figured why not.

The goal is to make the center of the spiral about 3 feet tall. Remember, the idea is for the soil to be raised in the center, then spiral down to the lowest point at the end. This will make harvesting and weeding easy. Mine is just shy of three feet but if you're a perfectionist, grab your tape measure.

Now you're ready to add a thick layer of mulch. Again, this will help prevent weeds and also add nutrients that will break down over time. There are many different substrates you can use from this point, depending on how technical you want to be. In the truest sense, you would want to amend the soil with peat, use straw, and compost from your yard. This will create nutrient-rich soil and establish those distinctly different growing zones for permaculture described here. I used the layer of mulch, then a soil/compost mixture.

Finally, water down the soil to make sure you've filled in all the pockets. Now you are ready to plant!

Here is our new herb spiral, right by the kitchen door:

I'll repost once the plants fill in later this summer. I can't wait to start cooking!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

been so long

The last time I tried to post, I got a terrible message from blogger saying that I had exceeded my limit for uploading images. YIKES! So, I am making another attempt, sans photos, because I feel like I need a blogging fix.

My golden cub is asleep on the couch as I type this. We played for a couple of hours in the yard today because it is nothing short of glorious out there. Albeit only in the 50's, it sure does feel like spring is in the air. It's crazy, earlier this week forecasters were predicting the "snowquester" to keep us all inside for days with 6-12 inches of snow in our area. Instead it was a "no-quester" as there was only a couple of very slushy inches of snow that fell. Still a day off from work which is always nice.

With the sun shining and clocks about to be spring ahead, I am excited about gardening all over again. (Happens every year!) I've already ordered my non-GMO seeds from SeedsNow.com and have been cutting milk just to start seedlings outdoors any day now. I may do something a little different with raised beds this year and rake in more of my coffee grounds to help improve the soil. I saw a great post about growing carrots in huge pots, so I'm going to try that, too.

I made tons of progress on E's natural play space last year, but there's definitely more work to be done. Last year the focus was on removing all the English ivy along with other volunteer trees and invasives. We were able to lay out the bones of the space including a sand area, living nest structure, music wall, twig fort and trellis art easel. I planted several shrubs and ferns as well, but not nearly enough to cover the whole area.

So this year, I'm at it again. I'm ready to eat, plant and play in the yard. Hurry spring, hurry!

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!

Yes, peas are delicious - and funny!
Our little guy at 15 months, February 2011.