Rx: Read two books and call me in the morning

How would you feel if you got the following prescription from your doctor?

Nature Prescription

A while ago, I saw an online story about a doctor that prescribes time in nature to his patients. Of course, I applauded this move without hesitation. There are so many physical and mental health reasons to increase time spent in nature. Among countless other things, it increases physical activity, improves attention and lowers stress.

Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods, Saving our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder, is promoting a prescription for “Vitamin N.”

Two articles about this:



This movement is picking up momentum.

Now, along somewhat similar lines, something new has come officially from the American Academy of Pediatrics. The AAP has a new policy asking its pediatricians to promote early literacy in families. You can read about it here. IMG_20140324_161559

Of course I believe you should read to your children, every day, all day, and twice before breakfast.

But, this policy made me pause.

Unless I suspected a serious impairment, I wouldn’t take my child to the doctor for help with reading any more than I would ask my child’s teacher for a prescription for antibiotics. That said, children don’t go to school for the first 3-4 years of life. Doctors are the first, and sometimes only, professionals dealing with parents of small children on a regular basis. They could, in fact, be the only people telling some parents to read to their children. But where do we draw the line when it comes to responsibilities?

General practitioners must know a little about everything, and “everything” is constantly changing. Between the births of my two children, it appeared that every rule, from swaddling, to nursing, to food introduction, had changed. These rules have, since two years ago, changed again. (You can now introduce allergens like shellfish and peanut butter as early as 6 months, believe it or not!)IMG_20140715_192326

The WHO (World Health Organization) definition of “health” is now: “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” So, doctors are now responsible for the complete well-being of their patients. This shift in the focus of health care requires a shift in the way it is delivered. It appears to me, that general practitioners are being asked to do too much. If we are shifting towards a whole-person definition of health, we are going to need a whole team of people who are equipped to deal with a broad range of issues, including early-years parenting practices, the promotion of literacy and suggestions about active living and exposure to nature.

In Canada, there is a promising movement to increase the number and availability of nurse practitioners. From the Canadian Nurses Association website: “The nurse practitioner role incorporates the advanced knowledge and preparation needed to diagnose and treat illnesses with the values and skills of nursing. Nurse Practitioners focus on health promotion and treating the whole patient physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.”

Here’s a video about nurse practitioners.

If we are going to keep adding to the responsibilities of our health care providers, it seems only logical that these responsibilities are distributed in such a way that IMG_20140715_192158they can be reasonably managed. Otherwise, I think we are going to see severe declines in any doctor’s ability to manage serious cases. An increase in the availability of nurse practitioners may be part of the solution.

I am very interested in hearing other opinions on this topic.

Does anyone out there in the health care industry have anything to say?



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It’s a rose! It’s a maple! No, it’s a Purple Flowering Raspberry!

I found this bush all over the place on a recent hike. The flowers looked kind of like wild roses, but the leaves were all wrong. The leaves looked like maple leaves, but I thought it roughly resembled a raspberry.

IMG_20140706_104747 IMG_20140706_104733

After a little quality time with Google, I found that it is a raspberry, a:

Purple Flowering Raspberry (Rubus odoratus), and our species of the week!

**Side note: as I was looking for good sources of information, I just landed on “Evergreen” and their list of native species. This is a good organization. I encourage you to visit them. They focus on school ground greening (among other things). http://www.evergreen.ca/**

Now, back to our regularly scheduled program.

The Purple Flowering Raspberry is native to Ontario, and the fruits are edible. As such, it is an excellent species for wildlife. It attracts bees, birds and butterflies (and the occasional human). It spreads underground, like all raspberries.

Flowers are large, with five purple (pinkish?) petals. The leaves are large, palmate, and resemble maple leaves (hence my confusion). In all of the pictures I’m finding of the fruits, they appear flatter than your typical varieties of garden raspberries. Some say they aren’t quite as tasty, but I couldn’t tell you, as the ones I found weren’t fruiting yet (darn it all). There’s a picture here.

All parts of this plant were used traditionally in all sorts of medicines (for example: as a diuretic, for treating toothaches and to make a wash for sores).

The hollow canes of raspberries provide an important habitat for overwintering bees. To help them out, you can bundle canes and leave them in the yard over the winter. Since we’re seeing a frightening decline in bees these days, why not give them a hand when you can?

As for me, I’m going back one of these days for a snack.



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A Most Useless Place: The Waiting Place

 “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

- John Lennon (adapted from Allen Saunders)

I’d like to continue talking about mindfulness for one more post. Today, let’s visit … The Present. Everyone I know seems to be waiting for something, counting the years, the days, the minutes until…

…. a vacationDPP_0064.

…. a new job.

…. retirement.

…. the end of a project.

…. the weekend.

Everything will be better then, right?

As elegantly stated by one of the wisest men of the 20th century, Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss), in his book, Oh, the Places You’ll Go:

“You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.

Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.”

Then …. what?DPP_0051

Start over? Find something else to wait for? Is living a life in limbo really living?

Wouldn’t it be immensely sad if happiness could only ever be found outside the realm of everyday life? I have often been guilty of this too, of course. However, I’m starting to understand how finding satisfaction in the present is a key component of good mental health.

 “You pile up enough tomorrows, and you’ll find you are left with nothing but a lot of empty yesterdays. I don’t know about you, but I’d like to make today worth remembering.”

– Meredith Willson (The Music Man)

If there is one thing that I am learning from reading about meditating and actually doing it (two very different things), it is how to let go of both the past and future. Mindfulness can help put you in touch with the present.

 “In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was within me, an invincible summer.”

– Albert Camus

Of course, there is nothing wrong with looking forward to something. There is nothing wrong with goals or having a purpose. Indeed, the pursuit of goals can be immensely enjoyable. But, the question remains:

How will you make The Present worth living?






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Strawberry fields, Nothing is real….

Let me take you down
‘Cause I’m going to Strawberry Fields
Nothing is real…

At first, I thought we had strawberries growing all over our yard. So, we encouraged them. Who wouldn’t want fresh backyard strawberries? After a year or two, it became clear these weren’t strawberries. They didn’t make fruit, and the flowers were wronIMG_20140705_182240g.

What we had was an abundance of this, our species of the week:

Rough Cinquefoil (Potentilla norvegica

Perhaps you can see why I had them mixed up.

Their leaves are palmate with groups of three leaflets, and are toothed all around (strawberries do not have teeth at the bottom of their leaves). Their stems are hairy and can grow a foot or two in height.

Rough Cinquefoil has tiny yellow flowers with five petals. The sepals (right under the petals) are just as long and point out between petals.IMG_20140705_192338 (In this picture, some of the petals fell off.)

Most importantly, they do not grow delicious red strawberries.

So, we had to plant our own strawberries. This year we were excited to see the beginnings of an extremely abundant crop. However, we ended up involuntarily donating every last one to the “feed the chipmunk” fund operating under our deck. Better luck (and better chipmunk-proofing) next year. Time to visit Herrle’s farm!





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Dancing in the Rain

Yesterday, as I drove the kids home from a visit with my sister, the rain started.

We watched it gradually change from “Oh good, now I won’t have to water the garden” to “I’d better check to make sure the sump pump is working” to “Is this one of the severe weather events the climate change experts are talking about?”

What was my first reaction?

“Ok, kids, let’s stay in the car for a minute until the rain lets up a little.”

That changed to “Ok, it’s not letting up, let’s make a run for it.”

And then ….

What the heck am I doing? What kind of example am I setting? I’m a mother of two little boys, we have nowhere to be and I have a blog on getting children into the outdoors!rain-ben.jpg

We grabbed our jackets (not much point in doing that, as it turned out), and rain boots (which just filled with water anyway), and ran out onto the street. We splashed up and down the road in rushing rivers of water. We watched waterfalls pouring into grates. We found the biggest puddles and made giant waves. The water was warm, and we were soaked head to toe. When we got back, we poured out boots, rang out socks and hung our clothing up.

We couldn’t have been happier.


I read this somewhere:

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Also, I don’t need to water the garden.


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Venturing into the Wide World of Health

Hello folks,

I have decided to expand my blog topic a little, and include discussions about health. Social health, physical health and mental health are all so closely linked to our communities, to nature and to the physical environment, that they fit well with my original topic. Much of my research, community volunteer work, and interests (not to mention parenting duties!) have focused on the subject of health as well.

The World Health Organization defines “Health” as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

I like this definition. For too long, health was simply defined as the latter (the absence of disease or infirmity). There are so many other elements of health to address. While I believe we are moving towards a more comprehensive approach to health, we still have a long way to go. Health cannot adequately be addressed by giving the sole responsibility to medical practitioners. A healthy community is the responsibility of our politicians, planners, teachers, business owners, police officers, parks managers, teenagers, voters … (ok, everyone!).

So, I hope you will bear with me.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this (or when I will even start), but it opens up the door for new topics!


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Serenity now! Children and Mindfulness

I am a scientist and a skeptic. Pseudoscience is one of my biggest pet peeves. However, when someone is able to demonstrate the scientific validity of a phenomenon, I am much more likely to sit up and pay attention.

Over the past year, as I searched for effective ways to deal with anxiety and stress, the words mindfulness and meditation kept appearing. While initially skeptical, I was happy to find plenty of scientific evidence for the effectiveness of meditation. Here is an article that provides an abundance of real studies demonstrating the benefits: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-it/201309/20-scientific-reasons-start-meditating-today

Mindfulness came out of Buddhism, but is gaining momentum in secular circles. Simply put, it is: “maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment.” (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition)

So, I have been (mindfully) meditating daily for the past 6 months. Although I am just a beginner, I feel it has made a real difference. I am calmer and able to deal with problems. I spend less time ruminating over nonexistent issues. The practice of repeatedly bringing myself back to the present moment is incredibly helpful. I can better control what IIMG_20140609_105019 spend time thinking about. I wish I had learned this a long time ago!

I’m not qualified to put instructions here. Perhaps look at this instead: http://secularbuddhism.org/meditation-support/basic-meditation-instructions/

There’s a reason “mindfulness” has become a pop psychology phenomenon over the past few years. It is a direct reaction to our culture of multi-tasking, to our preoccupation with constant entertainment and stimulation and to our increasingly urban lifestyles. We feel something is missing, and that something might just be “being in the moment.” Whether we are ruminating over the past, worrying about the future, or caught up in digital entertainment, we are rarely taking the time to really appreciate or reflect on our current situation.

So, what does this have to do with children?

I’ll tell you.

I think we are unintentionally robbing our children of mindfulness.

Young children are naturally mindful. Just watch a 2-year old follow an ant around on the DPP_0033ground. See how they carefully examine every leaf or rock along a path. They are seeing things for the first time, and they are paying attention. Then, as we rush them along, we teach them that the present isn’t important. We spend a great deal of time discussing future plans, and setting out lists of goals. We put them in front of screens for some peace and quiet, and they no longer need to be in the present moment. They are passively entertained. They forget about the journey.

So, as I continue on my personal journey, I am considering ways to help my children develop practices of mindfulness. It may help shield them against future anxiety, depression, stress, and a host of other problems.

There are many options and variations when it comes to mindfulness and meditation. I started with guided meditations, which I found as podcasts. I read books and websites, and gradually I decided I prefer to meditate silently (and ideally outdoors).

Related practices like yoga or tai chi probably have similar outcomes. Other ways of practicing mindfulness can involve listening to music or creating art. Drawing from life requires you to pay very close attention to your surroundings. Some recent research even demonstrates how activities like knitting have meditative effects.

I think time spent mindfully in nature is doubly beneficial. Walking meditation can be a truly pleasant experience. I also think that getting to know the flora and fauna of our local ecosystems can also help us pay closer attention to our surroundings (this is part of the reason for my “species of the week” blog entries!)

While it may be difficult (nay, impossible?) to have young children sit still for 20 minutes at a time, some of these other activities may come more naturally.

“Mindfulness” may be a popular buzz word right now, but there is probably a good reason. It is time we all started to pay attention.

This is all still fairly new to me. If you have any excellent resources, tips or information, please share!

Serenity now!


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