The Battle of the Sexes

We wondered when it would happen. It hadn’t been a problem up until now, but it had to happen one day….

As I have mentioned before, we live on a friendly street and have many good friends here. Our children have grown up together. Some of my son’s best friends, as a result of this arrangement, happen to be girls. This past weekend, one of the girls rang our doorbell and asked him to come and play. He happily skipped out the door and ran to her driveway, only to find that they were playing with …Gasp! …Oh no! Dolls!

Now, as a side note, we don’t believe in “boy toys” and “girl toys.” We never labelled these things, and encourage our children in (almost) anything they choose. But, there are cultural norms that we simply have no control over. That said, I never really played with dolls either (although I am female). I always found Cabbage Patch kids and Barbies equally repulsive.

So, back to the story…. my son, understandably, was at a loss when he arrived at the house. After a few minutes of awkwardly hanging around while the girls brushed hair and changed outfits, he sadly turned around and went home. He returned with a ball and some scoops, hoping to coax at least one of them into a game of catch. No luck. This time, he returned to our house in tears.

DSC00252Then, with a stroke of what I can only call parenting genius, my husband came up with a plan. He loaded up a wagon with scraps of wood and sent him back down the street. He said…”go build those girls a dollhouse.” Our little guy arrived with the wood, and the girls cheered! The dolls were promptly dropped and all of the kids worked on building structures together.

Give that man a medal! He may have missed his calling as a mediator!

 

 

That wood has since been requested for other driveways for similar purposes. Wonderful!

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This also brings to mind adventure playgrounds and the theory of loose parts. Check these out if you’re interested:

http://playgroundology.wordpress.com/category/a-guide-for-educators-to-move-beyond-conventional-school-playgrounds/

http://earthplay.net/adventure-playgrounds/

AND, if you live in my area, look what’s coming:

http://www.kitchener.ca/en/livinginkitchener/HuronNaturalAreaPlayscapesProject.asp

Sounds like fun, right?

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To Vote or Not to Vote: Is That Even a Question?

In my house we watch elections like most Canadians watch hockey. We have multiple websites streaming news, and various forms of social media open and running. We yell at the screens and write indignant or celebratory posts on Facebook and Twitter. Why do we do this? We happen to be a family that actually believes these things matter. (Plus, since we don’t watch hockey, we need something to get excited about.)

voteWe have a local election coming up, so I will be watching debates and reading candidate profiles and their responses to questions in the paper. We have a large number of people to choose: city councillor, mayor, regional chair, regional councillors, and school board trustees. That means there is a plethora of ugly signs adorning the streets of our community (for the record, I really wish we could eliminate election signs altogether).

I just found out yesterday that we typically get a municipal election turnout of something like 20-30%. Unbelievable! I’m amazed at the number of people who can’t be bothered to learn anything about candidates or important issues.

So, why put this all on a blog about children, nature and community? Let me say this again: “I BELIEVE ELECTIONS MATTER!” Our elected representatives make decisions about schools, parks, neighbourhoods, programs, healthcare, planning, the environment … the list is really quite long, so let’s just stop there for now. It’s probably safe to say you care about at least one of these things. I serve on an advisory committee for the city, and through that process, I get to watch the direct influence these people have over our community’s well-being.

Yes, you can easily be jaded by the system. Yes, there are problems with how our government works. No, you will not always agree with your favourite candidate’s decisions. Yes, government can move slower than a geriatric snail. But, at least we get the opportunity to have a say. That certainly isn’t the case everywhere. There are also plenty of other ways to get involved in municipal politics. There are committees to join, surveys to answer and public consultations to attend. Heck, if you’re so inclined (and have a thick skin), you can even run for office.

When1 I vote, I really like to bring my children along. I want them to believe that elections matter too. I want them to feel that they have the opportunity to make a difference; that every voice counts. (However, last election, I did have a seriously disappointed 2 year old when he found out we were going to VOTE, rather than on a BOAT (which is what he thought he heard)).

Anyhow, if you are one of those people who can’t be bothered to cast your vote, I urge you to think again. ELECTIONS MATTER. (Plus, you still have time to learn about the issues. The election isn’t until the end of the month.)

Rant over.

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The Times, They Are A-Changin’

In today’s news: September 24, 2014: “Chad becomes 37th African state to seek ban on homosexuality”

In Canada, LGBT rights are some of the most advanced in the world. Our children will be relatively safe in this country, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity. But, this has not always been the case, and in many places around the world, homosexuality continues to be a crime, sometimes punishable by death. But, when it comes to LGBT rights, “the times, they are a-changin’.” And, they are a-changin’ quickly.

With these changing times come changes in the way we explain the world to our children. I was fortunate to be raised in a family that believed in equality and respect for all people, so I am happy to see these values reflected in Canadian policies. My husband and I have gay-rights-same-sex-marriage-symbols-rainbow-flag-jpgalways made a concerted effort to explain to our children that marriage is a union between two people who love each other, period. We refuse to use words like “normal.” But, we will also need to teach them the harsh realities of the world. Same-sex marriage is not legal in most countries. Some countries are even creating stricter laws against homosexuality. There are still parents who disown their gay children and bullying still happens….a lot.

When I was a teenager, Ellen shocked the world by coming out on television. It was a time when offensive phrases like “that’s so gay” were thrown about with reckless abandon. It was a time when my health teacher got angry at the class and refused to answer when she read the anonymously submitted question: “How do gay people have sex?”

I like to think that these things have changed, but I’m not sure how much they have. Our provincial government has stalled on implementing a new sex education curriculum, as the old one is very outdated. There is still substantial resistance from a number of parents who would prefer their children not learn about diverse types of families, or how to help fight homophobia. Children are obviously already exposed to many messages through the media. Popular television shows have done a lot to “normalize” different types of relationships. However, children also see a lot of violence, hate and fear.

We can’t rely on the schools or the media to send the right messages. I want my children to have a broad definition of family and to live in a world where same sex couples can hold hands in public without a second thought. I want them to believe that “coming out” is no longer a necessity because the closet never existed in the first place. We still have a long way to go. But, we are one of the first generations who can proudly teach our children a new definition of marriage. These are new lessons. These definitions weren’t in my school curricula, the shows I watched growing up or the books I read. We must come up with our own ways of teaching this information.

I still stumble over definitions. Recently, I was speaking with someone about a common acquaintance who is transsexual. When I knew this person, he was male, and now she is IMG_20140210_091054female. I struggled with pronouns, and was embarrassed by my awkwardness. This makes me wonder what kind of example I can possibly set for my kids. Even while writing this post, I kept wondering: “Should I be using LGBTQ instead of LGBT now?” “Am I using the correct terms?” But, while I may stumble, I have to hope that my intentions come through.

Last week, I read an online article about a family where both parents were transsexual. They were discussing how they would reveal this information to their children. Too many of the comments that followed the article were hateful, ignorant, and some, downright shocking. Living, as I do, in a bubble of liberal family, neighbours and friends, I am shocked when I encounter attitudes like this.

At various points in my life, I have had gay neighbours, roommates and friends. It always makes me sad that when people I meet “come out” to me, there is a wariness in their eyes as they wait for a response. You can always tell that they have been burned one too many times.

I applaud those of you who fight for LGBT rights, from youth leading gay-straight alliances in local high schools, to stable, loving, same-sex families hoping to adopt children in Utah, to those facing the death penalty for “homosexual acts” in the Middle East. I hope you know how many of us are standing behind you, trying to raise a generation that thinks about love in a new, more inclusive way.

Our job is not finished until blog posts such as this one no longer make sense.

Love is love.

“It takes no compromise to give people their rights…it takes no money to respect the individual. It takes no political deal to give people freedom. It takes no survey to remove repression.”
Harvey Milk

 

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Yo Ho! Yo Ho! A pirate’s life for me! (Geocaching 101)

Do you remember how excited you used to get when some adult mentioned the words “Treasure Hunt?” What if I told you that millions, yes millions, of people are setting up treasure hunts all around the world (many of which are probably right in your neighbourhood), and are just waiting for you to participate?

Yes, I’m talking about Geocaching, and if you haven’t tried it yet, you really need to give it a shot. Before kids, my husband and I went all the time. Then we had pregnancy, and babies and strollers and wobbly toddlers and extreme exhaustion. Now that we have kid-sized kids, we can easily go again! Yay!

What is Geocaching?IMG_3084

I’m glad you asked.

You didn’t?

Oh.

I’m telling you anyway.

According to the geocaching website, there are around 2.5 million geocaches and 6 million players worldwide. In basic terms, a geocache is container that is hidden somewhere (like a hole in a tree stump in a forest). The cache usually contains a log book, some instructions, and a few  small tokens or toys. (Note: if you’re a real pirate and in this for profit … look elsewhere). The location of the cache is recorded in a database on the web using GPS coordinates.

Players use a GPS unit to locate the cache, then they can trade tokens, log their visit, and return it to the hiding spot. There are many variations, such as multi-caches (which require you to find a series of caches which lead to each other), or puzzle caches (which require players to solve clues to get the correct coordinates). There are varying levels, and extremely diverse locations. There are caches on the tops of mountains, and ones that require scuba gear. There are caches in your neighbourhood park and caches in Kazakhstan (well, as far as I know, your neighbourhood might be IN Kazakhstan… but you get my point).

Since the last time we did it, Geocaching has become exponentially easier. Before, we had to look up caches individually online at home and enter coordinates one number at a time using a joystick-like device on an old GPS unit. (Then we took our horse and buggy, uphill both ways, in three feet of snow…..)DSC00142

Anyhow, now there’s an app for that.

All you need to do is whip out your smartphone, click on a geocaching app and it will download the locations of all nearby caches. Pick the one you want, and it will direct you there. You can even log your successful finds and add photos.

In my view, Geocaching is a very effective way of integrating nature-time and computer technology. Can you think of an easier way of getting kids into nature? “Hey kids, let’s go play with satellite technology and look for hidden treasure.” I don’t think there are manyDSC00137 children who would turn down this kind of adventure. Also, it is a fabulous way to find all the best hidden greenspaces in your community. We found so many beautiful places while geocaching, some of which we would never have found otherwise.

So, whether you’re a pirate wannabe or simply a nature enthusiast, give it a try! If you know me personally, I’d be happy to show you sometime.

Happy Caching!

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Patience Young Grasshopper! You have much to learn.

I got this picture, and couldn’t resist doing a blog post to show off my mad camera-phone skills. Ok, a fluke maybe, but I’m still happy with it.

IMG_20140810_160341I’m going to go (not very far) out on a limb here and say this is most likely the “Red Legged Grasshopper.” However, I could be wrong. Apparently there are a number of look-alike species but this is one of the most common grasshoppers in Southern Canada.

Species of the Week:

Red Legged Grasshopper

(Melanoplus femurrubrum)

Red Legged Grasshoppers grow up to about an inch in length, and can fly up to 40 feet. They are typically found in grassy, weedy areas, as grasses and weeds are their primary food source. Found across all of North America, they can be devastating crop pests. They will do variable damage in a particular year depending on the population size. (In case you didn’t know, grasshoppers and locusts are the same thing. The plague of locusts from the bible? … grasshoppers.)

This is interesting: they have hearing organs on their abdomens!

Just now, I was looking for clips of grasshopper sounds, and found out that they’ve been the ones making the noises that I’ve always heard in tall grasses and could never identify. And now … I think there’s one outside my window going crazy. I might have accidentally called it over with my computer. I wonder what I said. Here’s the sound clip of a grasshopper (different species): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nyglT-rWE5c

In many parts of the world, grasshoppers are an important protein source. I haven’t tried them myself, although I have tried crickets. (Not too bad, but the legs get stuck in your teeth.) Here’s a recipe for grasshopper. Let me know how it goes! http://mexicanfood.about.com/od/authenticfamilyrecipes/r/chapulines.htm

 

Sources:

http://mdc.mo.gov/discover-nature/field-guide/red-legged-grasshopper

http://www.americaninsects.net/o/melanoplus-femurrubrum.html

http://bugguide.net/node/view/151116

http://insects.about.com/od/grasshoppersandcrickets/a/10-Cool-Facts-About-Grasshoppers.htm

 

 

 

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Into the West

“Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You’ve come to journey’s end”

         – Annie Lennox (Lord of the Rings Soundtrack)

This is Frodo.

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He was named Frodo because of my affinity for Tolkein’s works, but he lived up to his name with his adventurous spirit and tenacity.

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He was trouble from the beginning, but we loved him to pieces. He could leap tall furniture in a single bound and open drawkittenupcloseers and jewelry boxes with finger-like dexterity. He had an obsession with elastic bands, and would go to remarkable lengths to retrieve them. He also loved to fit himself into the smallest boxes he could find. Once he got over his clumsy kitten phase, he was very graceful and he had the softest coat and the most stunning eyes I have ever seen. Look at this:

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Frodo was intensely affectionate and playful and would befriend anyone with a willing lap. He put up with my two little ones and their early tail-pulling experiments, and eventually formed quite a strong bond with our youngest.

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While Frodo was an indoor cat, he spent a great deal of time trying to prove he was meant to be otherwise. One time, he got out and spent three days missing, until someone from a neighbouring street saw our posters. A guest’s arrival at our house was always accompanied by our frantic shouts of “CAT! The cat’s coming!! Close the door!” Leaving or entering the house usually meant squeezing through the narrowly opened door while holding him back with one foot (and still often ended with us chasing him down and pulling him from under a bush).

I believe that pets are wonderful teachers for children and adults alike. They teach responsibility, gentleness, compassion, friendship, patience and the importance of caring for those who are smaller and less able than we are. They can also serve as an important symbol of the interconnectedness and similarities between all creatures on earth. Frodo helped teach me tDSC00270hese things.

While we are on the topic of cats, I’d like to link you to Data’s “Ode to Spot” from Star Trek TNG. It’s brilliant: http://en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/Ode_to_Spot (I would love to post it directly, but I don’t own the rights).

But I digress ….

Two days ago, we had to say goodbye to our beloved Frodo, and my heart broke. It will be a long time before I can open a door without looking around first, or leave a hair elastic on a counter. I keep thinking I see him out of the corner of my eye, and my heart sinks once again when I realize it’s not him.

I didn’t think a few more cat pictures would break the internet, and I wanted to share his story with you. So, I hope you don’t mind if it was a little off-topic and sentimental.

Frodo was my constant companion and friend for ten years. I lost him too soon, but he will never be forgotten.

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The tale of the campground chipmunks

I confess, as a child and young teenager, I would spend hours watching, following, and feeding peanuts to chipmunks at our campsite in Algonquin Park. So, it is partly my fault that the campground chipmunks have learned (or have been naturally selected perhaps?) to be terribly, terribly tame. Sadly, I know better now, and my kids are not allowed to feed the chipmunks. *Sigh* It truly was one of the highlights of the camping experience for me.

But, given the constant exposure to disobedient campers, these chipmunks have taken up permanent residency as campsite pets (like it or not). On our most recent trip, we watched them foraging in our dining tent, jumping in and out of our cars and climbing onto our feet. One, with some sort of death wish, would run up in front of my husband every time he started splitting logs with an axe. The kids loved all this! (Ok, so did I.) All you had to do for some instant chipmunk love was assume a crouching position. Please note: that is a STICK my son is holding in the photo. Chippy had to check it out anyway.

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My son, NOT feeding a chipmunk. That is a stick.

Despite the fact that we weren’t actively feeding the chipmunks, they may have realized that our two-year old is somewhat less than coordinated with his food. He tends to leave a trail of cereal, nuts and other snacks behind him wherever he goes. (Perhaps this will be useful should he get lost in the woods. It’s less helpful indoors at home.) So, we had constant chipmunk company. There is also a plethora of red squirrels in the park, which are more vocal, but also decidedly less friendly.

Now, here’s a question. Last year, when we went camping on the same site, the weather was normal, but something was very different. I noticed it immediately. There was not a single chipmunk or squirrel to be seen the entire time we were there. I found it incredibly eerie, as if their absence was a precursor to some sort of impending environmental disaster. There were no red squirrels whipping pine cones down at the tarps, or having chattering arguments in the early morning. There were no chipmunks filling their cheeks or dashing across the site. Where were they all?

I was relieved to find them there this year, but I still don’t have an answer. If anyone has any suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

Anyhow, please don’t feed the wildlife. It’s bad for their health, and it’s bad for them to develop too much dependency on humans. (I’ve said it before…here. I also offer some alternatives to animal feeding in this post.) But they sure are fun to watch!

See you little guys next year (hopefully)!

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