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.


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!


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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.


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.


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:









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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The Frog Blog

I’m going to cheat a little here. I know I said for Species of the Week that I would choose a new species and learn to identify it, but I got such a great picture, I couldn’t resist. “How is this cheating?” you may ask. I did my Master’s thesis in Environmental Studies on this particular species (Northern Leopard Frog: Rana pipiens).


But, to keep things interesting, I will bring you this edition of “Species of the Week” in the form of a song (feel free to sing along):


Northern Leopard Frogs (Rana pipiens) are medium sized (5-9 cm), green or brown and have dark spots with lighter edges. They have prominent ridges along their backs. While there are other species of leopard frogs, NLFs are the only ones found in Canada.


Northern Leopard Frogs can be found in a wide variety of habitats. You can find them in prairies, woodlands and swamps.


Northern Leopard Frogs eat mostly invertebrates, like spiders and insects, but also smaller frogs, snails and a variety of larvae.

“…YUM, YUM!”

You can hear their call here: (You can also hear spring peepers in the background, but the leopard frog makes the louder croak.) Some have likened the sound to rubbing a wet finger on an inflated balloon.


Northern Leopard Frogs breed in ponds in mid-spring. Females lay “globs” of a few thousand eggs each, which attach themselves to submerged vegetation.


While summers can be spent far from water, Northern Leopard Frogs hibernate through the winter in mud at the bottom of bodies of water that don’t freeze all the way through.


Frogs are good indicator species for habitat health, as they are sensitive to contamination and habitat changes. They may also be affected by climate change and a variety of diseases. Currently, they are still widespread in Ontario, but have been seriously declining in Western Canada. In B.C., they are listed as endangered.


One thing I learned from my research: Northern Leopard Frogs are very hard to catch, and my frog catching skills are definitely sub-par. My son is already doing better than I did.


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The problem with “Stranger Danger”

A certain amount of fear is a good thing. It’s adaptive. If we didn’t have a healthy fear of things like bears, snakes or cliffs, our evolutionary history would have been cut short a long time ago. But, at what point is fear maladaptive?

Through exaggerated media reports and the rapid dispersal of news, the North American culture has developed a sense of fear that is out of proportion with reality. Even the remotest chance of death, injury, discomfort or even inconvenience has led us to put stricter and stricter limits on ourselves and our children. How about this one:

“Don’t talk to strangers.”

Who started this campaign?IMG_20131108_131254

While a certain amount of caution around suspicious figures following a child in a van and handing out candy is well-warranted, generally adults can be trusted. Statistics show that the vast majority (3/4 according to data cited in this article) of abductions are done by someone the child already knows. At this point, the “stranger” caution becomes moot.

It occurs to me that generations of people who grew up with this rule have extended this fear (or at least discomfort) into adulthood. Do you talk to strangers? Do you walk around avoiding eye contact, or do you pass strangers with a friendly smile and a “good morning?” It can take a lot of extra effort, but I think it’s worth it. As people isolate themselves even further with their headphones and smartphones, for many this would be a significant cultural shift. What would the world be like if everyone DID talk to strangers? I’d wager that it would be a much friendlier, more helpful, more tolerant place.

IMG_20130717_103818So, what is the correct level of caution for a child? Clearly it is unwise for children to go around chatting with every adult they see. But, there are situations where a child will be lost or in trouble and must rely on strangers for help. Strangers may be police, doctors, teachers, storekeepers or firefighters. There was one case, where a lost boy scout ran away from rescuers because he was afraid of being kidnapped.

I remember being quite small and in a store with my Dad. He was around the corner and out of sight, and I was entirely convinced that two men I saw talking quietly were plotting to kidnap me. It sounds quite ridiculous now, but I wonder how my active little imagination came to that conclusion.

That said, other recommendations make a lot more sense. For example: “don’t accept gifts from strangers,” “never get in a car with a stranger,” “adults should not be asking children for help,” or “you may speak to strangers if you are with a safe adult.”

It takes a village to raise a child, and I don’t want my children to grow up afraid of their village. I want them to see it as a place full of diverse and interesting people, and that a IMG_0184stranger is just a friend they haven’t met yet. A general sense of fear and distrust of the unknown does not make for a positive sense of place in the community. Also, it is a great idea for children to form a large network of adults that they know and trust in their neighbourhoods. We have many neighbours and family members that my son knows he can trust for anything, including school pick-ups and emergencies. These are his “safe adults.”

Where I live, we have a “Say Hi” campaign, which is working towards making a safer, more welcoming, friendly community. Isn’t it absurd that we actually need something like that? But we do.

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A Story in Pictures

IMG_20120825_152501 IMG_20120825_152853 IMG_20130821_153935IMG_20130821_153844

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