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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100th Postiversary!

Hello Readers,

WordPress tells me that this will be my 100th post!

I have really been enjoying writing this blog and, as a result, connecting with some very interesting people. This project has also forced me to look closely at my own family life and change some of my habits.

I decided to take this opportunity to look back at the last 99 posts, and link here to the most popular ones, just for fun. If you’ve been with me since the beginning, thank you for sticking around! If you’re just joining me, welcome, and I hope you’ll take this opportunity to look around.

So, without further ado, here are the ten most popular posts, according to WordPress statistics:

 

Kate’s Place for Everyone: An Accessible Playground

Bad Things Come in Big Packages: The Real Costs of Costco

Trees vs. Toys

A Little Free Library: Open for Business

The Fairy Doors of Central Frederick

10 Ways that Sesame Street Demonstrates Community

The Mud Kitchen

Embracing Our Inner Squirrels

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly: Public Art

Secret Gardens to Truffula Trees: Nature in Children’s Literature

 

I hope you will continue to follow my blog, and see what the next 100 posts will bring.

May you always find acorns in your pockets and pine needles in your shoes!

Cathy

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Get your kids to eat healthy food in one easy step!!

The tomatoes have arrived!   

So, for a few weeks anyway, no more preparing snacks. I can happily send out my two little offspring to pluck away and fill their cheeks. As most gardeners who are also parents know, there is no IMG_20140808_093734better way to get your children to eat vegetables and fruit than to grow them yourself. Watching a two year old plucking ripe tomatoes with two hands, and stuffing them into his face until the seeds drip down his shirt is probably worth the effort.

We have had mixed luck with tomato-growing. Last year, all the leaves turned yellow and fell off, and the fruit was bland. The year before, however, some sort of magical cross pollination accident surprised us with delicious yellow candy-like tomatoes that we had most certainly not planted.

This year, my husband went all out. He IMG_20140813_122834put in about 12 plants of different varieties, and even looked up how to properly string them up and deal with suckers. He put all the labels in so we would know which we liked best. (Unfortunately, 2-year-olds have little regard for things like “information” and removed every tag.) The cherry tomatoes have grown like weeds, and are at least eight feet tall. Now, they are starting to ripen in buckets.

During a recent neighbourhood barbecue, I found my older son with his friend sitting in the living room surrounded by a circle of kale and parsley, happily nibbling away. Forget about the hot dogs, chips and cupcakes outside. Why were they doing this? The kale and parsley had come from Grandma’s garden. I do suspect that grocery store kale and parsley could not possibly have played a role in this strIMG_20130705_152409ange game.

There are many things to eat in Grandma’s garden. This particular little bear cub learned to explore the berry patch last year.

So, even if you have to fight off the real wildlife to keep some produce for you and your family, it is probably worth your time. Next year, chipmunks, be ready. Our strawberry patch will not be so easily defeated.

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So what is the one step to get your kids to eat healthy food? Grow your own produce. (Ok, admittedly, you’re going to have to prepare the soil, water and weed and stuff.  I guess that’s more than one step, but maybe you wouldn’t have opened this link if you knew that.)

Happy Gardening!

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Troll Fingers

When we go walking in the woods, we always ask the kids to go across any bridges first to check for trolls. Self-sacrificing children that they are, they have never questioned this request. Fortunately, they haven’t found any so far. If they do, I may be forced to question my parenting skills.

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Despite the apparent dearth of trolls under our local bridges, the children always have their eyes open for fairies, trolls or other evidence of magical beings.

One day, our eldest called us over.

“There’s someone under this stump!” he yelled.

This is what we saw:

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Clearly, these are troll fingers. Is there really any question?

We have other theories about what these might be, but sometimes, the simplest explanation is the most interesting.

We went back the next week, and the whole stump, the fingers, and any evidence of trolls was gone, and replaced by a pile of dirt.

Magic is fleeting.

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