The Suburban Buffet

My husband likes to grow food.IMG_20140808_093734

Now, when I say “grow food,” I don’t mean a tomato plant or two. This year, he has been working on (with varying levels of success) strawberries, rhubarb, beets, radishes, zucchini, beans, peas, carrots, turnips, green peppers, grapes, blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and yes, tomatoes (and I look after the herbs). Did I miss any?

We love that the children will happily eat out of the garden, and there is just something special about freshly picked produce. It tastes better, and you know exactly what went into growing and storing it.

You’d think with this level of farming, even on our suburban lot, that we’d be feeding ourselves all summer with nary a trip to the grocery store. Not so. Some crops just inexplicably failed (seriously….who can’t grow zucchini?), some fall victim to insects, but the majority have become an unauthorized, well stocked food bank for a veritable zoo of local fauna.

woodchuck.jpgNow, when I say “zoo”….I don’t mean a squirrel or two. In the past year, we have repeatedly had mice, chipmunks, a whole family of raccoons, countless squirrels, every type of local bird, rabbits, toads, snails, neighbourhood cats and a groundhog (who is nearing size of a small bear and lives under the deck.). I won’t even try to list the insect infestations.IMG_20140716_095310

My husband has tried a variety of half-hearted attempts at deterring the animals, from applying cayenne to the tomatoes, to building a cage for the strawberries. But, to be honest, I kind of enjoy seeing all these animals hanging out in our yard. Tomatoes don’t provide much entertainment value. On the other hand, watching my husband quietly stalking the groundhog with a big cardboard box, with the intention of running out and pouncing on it, is pretty damn funny. (What he planned to do if he actually caught it is beyond me).

Politicians in our community are considering a ban on “feeding wildlife” (with the exception of well-maintained birdfeeders). Uh oh. I hope they mean intentional feeding.

I’m thinking if we want a return on our investment of gardening supplies, effort and timeIMG_20130625_182241, we are going to have to take up hunting small mammals instead. How does pesticide-free, garden-fed, locally-grown, free-range groundhog sound? And, I’m about to go all Mr. McGregor on those rabbits.

At least they left us some rhubarb.

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The Kid at the Back    

I’ve decided to take a minute and dedicate this post to a special group of people.

Here goes: A big high five, a handshake, a hug and a sincere THANK YOU, to all the teachers, camp counsellors, children’s performers (and so on) who make the effort to notice the kid at the back of the crowd.

Which kid is that?

Perhaps….

  • One who is battling anxiety or depression.boy-843484_640
  • One who just moved here and doesn’t speak English very well.
  • One who feels uncomfortable in large groups and is more at home with a book.
  • One who doesn’t like physical confrontation and doesn’t like the pushing that happens at the front.
  • One who is scared by loud noises.
  • One who has been taught to be generous and to let others go first.

But still know that….

  • he would also really like the corner piece of cake. You know….the one with the extra frosting and the biggest flower?kid back 1
  • she would really enjoy being chosen to shake a maraca during the song.
  • he loves red popsicles and is tired of getting stuck with the leftover purple ones.
  • she would really like to be invited to the party too.
  • they could really use a friend right now.
  • he deserves just as much, and maybe more, than the noisy kids shoving their way to the front.

I think we can agree that the world needs a little more gentleness, kindness and kid back30generosity, and a little less yelling, shoving and selfishness; a little less “ME FIRST!” and a little more “No, after YOU.” The kids at the back of the crowd need to know how much they mean to the world.

As an instructor or performer, it is easy to feed off the energy of noisy, enthusiastic kids. Your performance depends on them, after all.

It’s not always easy to look after the kid at the back, but it’s harder to be that kid. So, when you learn his name, give her the first balloon animal, notice his timid half-hand raise or take the time to get to know them, it sometimes means the world.

And for those that make that effort…

Thank you.

fear4

 

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Fear is the Path to the Dark Side

fear1There’s a short moment before I open the newspaper when I brace myself for the worst. What’s going to be on the front page today? Another school shooting? A suicide bombing? Political unrest? Donald Trump rising in the polls?

Along with this feeling comes one of complete and utter helplessness. When terrible things happen, I can’t help but wonder how in the world we are supposed to protect ourselves and our families. And, how can I possibly effectively teach my children about kindness, sharing and inclusion when bad things keep happening and powerful politicians react by preaching the building of walls, racial discrimination and promoting homo- and trans-phobic policies?

So, after yet another mass shooting at a bar in Orlando, Facebook erupts with “thoughts and prayers” for the victims and their friends and families. What else can we offer? Indeed, these messages are infused with the best of intentions, and provide an element of support in difficult times, but admittedly sound a little hollow in the face of this stream of constant tragedies. What else can we do?

As a wise muppet once said:fear5

“Fear is the path to the dark side

…fear leads to anger

…anger leads to hate

…hate leads to suffering.”

 – Yoda

When our kids are small, we encourage them to make new friends and try new things. We tell them Kindergarten will be great, that they’ll make so many new friends and learn sofear4 much. We bring them to a playground and encourage them to play with the lonely child in the sandbox. Then, we promptly turn around, retreat into our comfortable little exclusive circles and look away when something or someone makes us uncomfortable or tests our boundaries.

This. Must. Stop.

I FIRMLY BELIEVE THAT THE SINGLE MOST EFFECTIVE ACTION WE CAN TAKE IN THE FACE OF THESE TRAGEDIES IS TO EXAMINE OUR OWN IRRATIONAL BIASES, CONFIDENTLY STEP OVER THEM AND EMBRACE DIFFERENCES WITH OPEN ARMS.

Of course we all have biases and prejudices. They are part of human nature, and there’s actually an evolutionary purpose behind them. But, it is up to us to determine if our biases are based on reality or on ignorance.  This takes work. For those of us who haven’t been directly affected by these issues, it is nice to pretend that prejudices don’t exist in our communities, but they do, and things can get worse. It is time to figure out what makes us uncomfortable, and meet it face on.

Who makes you uncomfortable? Teenagers? Gay People? Americans? Old people? Dentists? Christians? Atheists? Homeless people? Women? Muslims? Then, I suggest it is time to go meet some (Yes, even the dentist. Your teeth will thank you.). There are countless opportunities for volunteer work that can put you in touch with people from different fear3cultures, income brackets, religions and ages. There are countless opportunities to welcome neighbours from different cultures, to start a conversation at a bus stop or to learn a little more about someone’s belief system. You don’t have to agree with everyone’s worldview or lifestyle, but a little understanding goes a long way towards conquering fear and building peace. I don’t teach my children about tolerance. I don’t like that word. I teach diversity and acceptance. Tolerance implies that differences are to be tolerated rather than celebrated. Tolerance implies superiority.

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.

Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”

-Marie Curie

When we are afraid, we can’t just build walls, or hand out assault rifles or discriminate against innocent people. We can’t just look away. We figure out the root of the problem. We embrace the beauty in diversity. We learn as much as we can. We do everything in our fear2power make every single person feel welcome, comfortable, supported and included and we hold on for dear life to the hope that others will follow our example.

THIS is the way through fear. THIS is lesson that I want my children to learn.

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

-Franklin D. Roosevelt

p.s.

Check out this community initiative:

http://webelongwr.ca/take-action/pledge/

 

 

 

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Playgrounds: And the winner is…….

Every once in a blue moon, someone does something so incredibly well, that you just have to sit down at your computer and write a blog post about it. Here I am.

When I originally saw the plans for a natural playscape at Huron Natural Area in Kitchener, I got pretty excited.  Given that my doctoral research revolved around reconnecting children with nature in urban settings, and the fact that I have two children…oh heck, let’s be honest….I just wanted to go and play there myself!

Huron Natural Area (HNA) is probably the loveliest nearby green area we have found. The trails are well-marked, and boast diverse landscapes, including ponds, fields, dense forests and streams.  When you’re in the heart of it, you feel completely separated from the city. I love to take the kids hiking there, and the addition of a natural playground makes it all the more appealing for them.

Now, I have mentioned before that I don’t like standard playgrounds. Most lack imagination, have no loose parts, all look the same, and frankly, the kids get bored. I suspect most were built by planners looking in a brochure, pointing to a picture, and saying “that one.” I have seen other attempts at “natural playgrounds” that appear to be built more for adults than children, and offer little to no challenge, loose parts, or creativity. But, let’s not dwell on those.

Not this time. This time, someone got it right.

At the HNA playground, there are places to hide, plenty of loose bits and pieces to play with, a giant sand pit with a water pump and a plethora of shovels, buckets and hollowed out log troughs to move around. There is a giant climbing structure with a net underneath (and…gasp…high places where kids can climb and potentially fall from). There are trails of logs and stones to climb and hop across and a slide in a hillside. There are little touches, like paths of animal footprints to follow in the sidewalk, and hollowed conversation benches. There is even one seemingly unintentional pile of huge logs that looks like it was just dumped there (I’m pretty sure it wasn’t). That was my son’s favourite part (sadly, I didn’t get a picture of it this time). Elementary schools come to visit HNA frequently, and when they do, there is a trailer that gets opened that is chock full of bits and pieces to build and explore with. This is really hard to capture in a photo, and it is even harder to visualize how it will look when all of the planted trees and shrubs fill in, but I know it will be spectacular.

This playground took a great deal of knowledge about how children learn and develop, how they like to play, and how to help them reconnect with nature. It is also beautifully designed to integrate with the landscape.

I do not know the people who built this playground, but I am delighted that they did.

If one of the people involved in the project happens to come upon this post, THANK YOU! This is something we desperately needed here, and serves as a beautiful example and inspiration for future projects.

You can see the plans and more pictures (which were taken earlier than mine) here:

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

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The Littlest Birds

There’s nothing like gardening to turn you into a lover of spring. There’s something about
watching the first buds emerging on the trees, seeing tiny bunnies hop away into the bushes and hearing the first IMG_20160510_144550238_HDRsounds of neighbourhood children playing outside after an ugly, wet, miserable winter.

Right, parenting also makes you appreciate spring. Boots, hats, coats, scarves, snowpants and mitts: be gone!

I love to watch tightly wrapped buds gradually unfurl, making way for wrinkled, crumpled leaves that start to offer a hint of their future magnificence. In the past two weeks, the trees were just starting to put on their underwear (as members of my family sometimes call it), and BAM! Two days later, we had leafy canopies.

But, speaking of gardens and spring and parenting, we were also granted a particularly entertaining piece of luck this season. A couple of cardinals decided to take up residence in our garden and start a family.  Using a ladder, my husband found their nest safely tucked into the tangled top of our mulberry bush, filled with three squeaking, hideously adorable little babies. Nearby, mom and dad hopped from tree to tree, chirping their dissatisfaction with us.IMG_6488.jpg

IMG_20160512_100814090.jpgAfter a couple of days, all the babies had left and we thought they were gone, until my husband heard noises and saw bright red cardinal daddy swooping around. In the dark, with a flashlight, he found one fledgling, looking slightly stunned, sitting by the side of the house. Later, IMG_20160512_142229520they graduated to our back yard, where one particular little one spent a few days hopping between our climbing structure, the hammock and our naturalized area, as he learned to fly in longer and longer spurts. Mom and dad took turns watching out for him. Of course, shortly after, once he had mastered flight and could make it up and over the fence, they were gone.

Safe travels little birds! Come back and
visit sometime!

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Science: A Safe and Effective Cure for Homeopathy

Once in a while I like to step away from my typical themes, and address an issue that I feel deserves attention. Today, that issue is Homeopathy.

Now, I do realize that this article is going to make some people uncomfortable, and others will entirely disagree with me. I urge you to keep reading, please don’t dismiss this post outright, consider the evidence presented here, do your own independent research, and come to your own conclusions.

Homeopathy is one specific branch of Naturopathic medicine. Let me make this abundantly clear: I am NOT talking about the entire field of Naturopathic medicine, which I believe has much to offer people seeking complementary, holistic, alternative health treatments. Homeopathy is ONE branch.

In this post, I will explain why I feel that homeopathy is not only a sham and a waste of money, but also a dangerous and irresponsible system of alternative treatment. That said, I believe most of the practitioners who are prescribing homeopathic treatments are doing so with good intentions, and incredibly bad science.

When it comes to health, it can be really difficult to know who to trust. Sometimes, homeopathy4conventional treatments come with side effects that can be as bad as the symptoms of the illness. Pharmaceutical companies have a bad reputation of being motivated only by money, and of pressuring doctors to promote their products. Often, doctors have little time to deal with patients thoroughly and in a holistic manner, often missing things or dismissing patient concerns. It is easy to understand why people would  lose faith in the system and seek alternatives. These are some of the reasons why alternative health care has gained so much momentum.

When we find a remedy on the drugstore shelf labelled as “Safe and Effective,” how many people would question that? When we see that Health Canada has assigned a Drug Identification Number which technically requires the substance to be “safe and effective,” who are we to argue?

Most wouldn’t, and one source states that over $2.9 Billion was spent in 2007 on Homeopathic products in the USA, and that number has continued to increase dramatically. I couldn’t find a more current number that didn’t conflate all natural products and homeopathic remedies, but you can bet it is much higher.

What is Homeopathy?

(This description of homeopathy comes from the website of the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicinehomeopathy1

Homeopathy was conceived by Samuel Hahnemann in the late 1700s. It is based on something called the “law of similars.” Overall, homeopathic medicine is intended to stimulate the body to heal itself. The way practitioners claims it can do this, is by exposing the body to a minute amount of the problematic substance, and letting the body figure it out from there.

(It sounds almost logical, until you look closely at the actual mechanism.)

A common example is the remedy for insomnia. The theory is that if large doses of caffeine cause sleeplessness, then minute amounts will do the reverse.  The amounts are so minute that there will be no side effects or addiction.

Now, let me explain what they mean by “minute.”

Serial Dilutions

Here is an instructional page for practitioners on how to dilute a substance. 

When you look at a label on a remedy, 1C (sometimes written 1CH) means that 1 part of the “mother tincture” is combined thoroughly with 99 parts water and alcohol. 2C would add 1 part of the 1C dilution to 99 parts water and alcohol, and mixed thoroughly. 3C = 1 part of that to 99 water and alcohol…and so on.homeopathy3

A label of 200C means this dilution procedure was repeated 200 times. According to homeopathic practitioners, the higher the C value, the more potent the substance becomes.

 

Here is a direct quote: “By the time the homeopathic remedy has been potentised to the stage of 12C or 24X it is impossible to detect any molecular trace of the original substance within it. It has become a “sub-molecular” medicine free of chemical side effects.“   Remedies are often diluted thousands of times more.

No. Molecular. Trace.

Alarm bells going off yet?

homeopathy9

THERE ARE NO ACTIVE INGREDIENTS IN HOMEOPATHIC MEDICINE, and the less likely it is to contain active ingredients, the stronger it is.

Still following? Just wait for it….

Water Memory

This brings us to “water memory,” or the idea that water retains a memory of the substance it was originally in contact with. A drop of the water is dripped onto a sugar pill and then allowed to evaporate.

These sugar pills are what you buy in the store. Safe? Yes. homeopathy10They are sugar pills. Side effects? No. They are sugar pills. Effective? They are sugar pills. You tell me.

Interestingly, the Canadian College of Homeopathic Medicine links directly to a Wikipedia page to describe the founder and his work. Wikipedia goes on to completely discredit homeopathy. (I find that amusing.) Look here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeopathy  While I don’t use Wikipedia as a perfect source of information, it is a useful tool for finding relevant links to good sources.

The principles on which Homeopathy is based contradict basic principles of modern medicine, chemistry and physics.  

Are Homeopathic Remedies Effective?

There are plenty of things in the world that we don’t understand that still work. Let’s suspend our disbelief of the mechanism for a moment, and take a look at efficacy. If double-blind, randomized clinical trials were to establish efficacy, that could indicate there is something at work here we simply don’t understand.

But, unfortunately for homeopathy, actual science screams NO. You can search for the evidence if you like (please look at both sides), but a massive meta-study, published in Australia in 2015, concluded: “Based on the assessment of the evidence of effectiveness of homeopathy, NHMRC concludes that there are no health conditions for which there is reliable evidence that homeopathy is effective.”

Why do people think they work?homeopathy2

 Many theories have been postulated about why people think homeopathic remedies work. The most common is the placebo effect. If people think they are receiving an effective treatment, they are likely to feel better. This is basic psychology. Article on placebos. They are also often paired with reassuring images.

This article concludes that the better the scientific methodology in a study, the lower the evidence for homeopathy’s effectiveness. Poor science can lead people to false conclusions, and more opportunities to have results that are tainted by bias. There is also a common problem in journals, where positive outcomes are published, and negative outcomes are not. This also leads to inflated perceptions of positive effects (even for real medicine).

homeopathy7In addition, holistic medical practitioners are more likely to spend longer with patients, address many issues at once, and look at the whole body as a system. This type of attention goes a long way toward making a person feel better, and should definitely be incorporated into mainstream medicine. Too many things are missed by doctors focusing only on one particular symptom or system in the body. The expensive remedies prescribed and often sold by homeopathic practitioners have nothing to do with this, but it would be easy to make that mistake.

So people waste their money and think they feel better. What is the harm?

People waste their money on all sorts of questionable things. Justin Bieber’s hair clippings sold on e-bay in 2011 for $40,668. How is this different?homeopathy6

I believe that people should know what they are buying. I suspect that the person buying Justin Bieber’s hair might be upset if they found out it was just some water from Lake Huron, where he probably went swimming once, and would therefore have a memory of his hair.

Also, homeopathic remedies are often prescribed for serious life-threatening illnesses, as an alternative to actual medicines. See here: http://www.cancure.org/12-links-page/121-homeopathy. These “treatments” may be perceived as preferable to unpleasant treatments such as radiation or chemotherapy, because they have no side effects (for obvious reasons). But, in these cases, avoiding or delaying real treatment is dangerous and irresponsible on the part of the practitioner.

homeopathy5Homeopathic “alternatives” to vaccines are called “nosodes.” These are made by diluting infected specimens (such as infected saliva or feces) to undetectable levels. When these are administered in place of actual vaccines, children run the risk of catching and spreading diseases that can be effectively avoided with traditional vaccines. The anti-vaccine movement has been responsible for the alarming resurgence of diseases such as measles.The Canadian pediatric society agrees nosodes are no substitute.

Aren’t they approved by the government?

There is a great deal of debate about how homeopathic remedies in general should be regulated or tested by the government. I found that Health Canada is surprisingly lenient when it comes to natural remedies. Health Canada approves natural remedies with very little evidence, provided the substances pose no harm to consumers. Efficacy is not tested.

Nosodes are NOT approved by Health Canada as an alternative to vaccines, and there are certain rules about labeling the products. However, I strongly believe, like this journalist, that the government should be banning these substances altogether.

Here are some very disturbing videos by CBC Marketplace that shed light on the industry:

In the following episode link, Marketplace journalists set out to get approval from Health Canada for an entirely made-up “remedy.” http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2014-2015/drugstore-remedies-licence-to-deceive.

This episode describes Homeopathy in detail: http://www.cbc.ca/marketplace/episodes/2011-episodes/cure-or-con

In Conclusion

After all of this, I hope you will examine the evidence further. There are plenty of people claiming to offer evidence for homeopathy’s effectiveness, but their methods, controls and sample sizes should be carefully evaluated. Systematic reviews that evaluate results and methodologies across many studies are often the best way of determining real effects.

PLEASE DO NOT SIMPLY TAKE MY WORD FOR IT. I am not a medical doctor, and am not qualified to offer medical advice. I am only hoping to shed some light on an issue that I feel is not well understood.  But, in my opinion, Homeopathy is something best left in the history books, along with bloodletting, heroin-laced cough syrup, and rubbing mercury on cuts and bruises.

Live long and prosper, my friends!

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“That Don’t Impress Me Much”

From the first time we try to convince our toddlers that the toy INSIDE the cardboard box is, in fact, the real present, we are imposing our value system on them. We tell them what is important, what is interesting, and how they should be spending their time and attention.IMG_20130204_125905.jpg

And at every turn, despite our best efforts, they defy us.

We spend years carefully crafting homemade dinners, Hallowe’en costumes, and birthday party favours, only to have them rejected in disgust for the “more desirable” store-bought, mass-produced versions.

It can be hard to impress kids, particularly if you’re their parents. Whether you’re trying to show off your  awesome swing dance moves, your fabulous cooking skills or your ability to sing all the lyrics to “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” chances are these talents will go unappreciated if you seek the wrong audience. We take them to our favourite places, and they whine “can we go home now?”

Why are kids so hard to impress?

This was illustrated perfectly for my husband and me on Easter weekend. We had a tremendous ice storm, which led to treacherous roads, power outages, downed tree limbs, and the most spectacular, dazzling, ice-covered enchanted wonderland of a city. This only happens once every couple of years or so. My husband and I stood by the windows in delight, fascinated by the glittering trees, and jumped outside with the camera whenever the sun would peek through the clouds. Each twig was encased in crystal.

We dressed up the kids to take them out to the local woodlot. It would have been a truly magical experience, if it hadn’t been thoroughly ruined by a 4-year old who promptly sat down on the sidewalk and cried about an imaginary injury that had paralyzed his legs. (A note to the more caring and sympathetic parents among you: This “injury” has been popping up every time he doesn’t want to do something.) We kept going, enduring constant howls and declarations of injustice. (If anyone can explain how walking in the woods is “unfair,” I’d like to know.) But, we pushed on, “Can’t you see the magic?”

Last weekend, we took them to the Science Centre. The best part of the day for my youngest? The escalator. I kid you not. We could have saved $100 and gone to Sears instead.

And, by the time they’re cynical teenagers, forget it.

The only thing we can really hope is that some of our intentions rub off on them by the time they grow up. And, I do have hope. It would be easy to say that it’s just this generation of children, that they don’t appreciate what they have and only are entertained by screens these days. But, I’m not convinced of that. Here’s why: I remember desperately wanting the plastic store-bought Hallowe’en costume. I remember being dragged on family car trips, bickering with my sister, and, in general, complaining a lot. I remember being entirely unimpressed by a lot of things. Sorry Mom and Dad.

But, I grew up, and somewhere along the way, I grew to understand the value of the homemade dinners and the time in nature, and to develop an appreciation for the beauty of the world.

So, here’s my plan: I will accept that my children have the right to choose what makes them happy, and where they find value in the world. I’m going to stop worrying about impressing them, but I will continue to revel in the beauty of nature, to cook elaborate homemade meals, and to sing the Fresh Prince lyrics with abandon, because these things make ME happy.

Maybe one day, some of the same things will make them happy too.

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