Raising Science-y Kids on the Cheap

raising science nerds, raising STEM kids,

Electron microscope image of an Arabidopsis thaliana leaf. It’s all how you see it. (CC by 3.0 CSIRO)

I’ve gotten a little weary (and wary) of STEM-promoted toys, kits, classes, and camps. I’m sure they’re wonderfully engaging but they make it seem as if parents have to spend a lot to raise kids who love science. That’s not the case. I’ve raised four very science-y kids while scraping along on a not-so-great income.

My husband and I don’t work in science fields. But we’ve found that keeping scientific curiosity alive isn’t hard. Instead it’s about saying “yes.” Projects that are messy, time-consuming, and have uncertain outcomes are a form of experimentation. They are real science in action. This sort of curiosity-driven learning can’t be contained in a kit or prescribed by a class. As Neil DeGrasse Tyson says,

Parents come up to me, “How do I get my kids interested in science?” They’re already interested in science. Just stop beating it out of them…We tell them to shut up and sit down after spending a year telling them how to walk and talk. We teach them how to walk and talk, and they start touching things — “Oh, don’t touch that, Junior. Sit down. Stop making noise. Stop banging on the pots and pans.” Every one of those is an experiment.

When a kid wants to know, they want to find out. Not later, not next week, but right away. Finding out is engaging. It leads to ever widening curiosity. In our family this process of discovery-to-mastery started early.

When my oldest was just a baby he was horrified by vacuums. Even the sight of one made him scream with This Will Kill Me volume. So we let him learn he could control the “off” and “on” switch. His horror turned to fascination, leading him toward ever greater curiosity heading in all sorts of directions. He’s the four-year-old who, learning that bones have Latin names, became obsessed with memorizing them. He’s the eight-year-old who inspired our friends to save all sorts of broken appliances and equipment because he liked to take things apart. He’s the twelve-year-old who insisted on joining a model railroad club even though all the members were decades older than he was. He developed the passions, we simply facilitated them.

When my daughter was barely able to walk, around 11 months old, she was fascinated by the stones at the end of our driveway. Day after day she wanted to toddle close to the street just to pick up those stones. It occurred to me that it would be a lot easier to satisfy her curiosity than to keep saying no and turning her back toward the house. So she and I went there together and sat in those stones. She was enthralled. I marveled at all the different ways she chose to experience them. Holding, dropping, picking up one at a time then grabbing handfuls, handing them to me and taking them back, rubbing the smooth ones and, once I showed her, holding them up to the light. Sometimes she’d raise a stone to her mouth, then shake her head, reminding herself that stones weren’t for eating. Once or twice a stone did touch her lips. The result? I told her we were all done, picked her up, and went back to the safety of the lawn near the house. She remembered. I let her investigate stones day after day until she was done, her desire to know satisfied. (She’s now a biologist.)

When my third child was three he was entranced by the lighters and matches his grandmother used to light her cigarettes. Since she lived with us and sometimes unintentionally left fire generating devices out, his intense curiosity concerned me. He knew that children shouldn’t touch anything that makes fire, but he was so active (I’ve already described his chimpanzee-like abilities as a toddler) that I knew it was a matter of time before her forgetfulness might collide with his need for some hands-on experience. So, explaining this was only okay to do with an adult, I stood him on a stool at a sink full of water, letting him light match after match to drop in the water. He was a little afraid. His fingers were almost singed a few times. He also conquered the fascination with flame. He asked a few times over a period of months to do this again. Then he was done. Warning about danger doesn’t have the same effect as a child getting close enough to know that matches do burn. It also helps to know you can find out what you want to know, even about scary stuff, in the presence of a parent. (He’s now a year’s classes away from a geology degree.)

Some experiments shouldn’t have happened. One of my little boys quietly carved a small hole in the drywall of his closet, then attempted to spackle it with the unlikely combination of toothpaste covered by an ostrich feather he’d saved from a field trip. We didn’t discover it until we were emptying that closet as he packed for college. We still laugh about that one. (He’ll soon be graduating with honors as a mechanical engineer.)

Sometimes our science-y obsessions are entirely nonsense, such as a typical dinner table conversation about how many citrus batteries it might take to start a car. Ideas were proposed for this never-to-occur project, including the use of lemon juice instead of whole fruit.

Sometimes that science is pseudo-educational, such as the time we swabbed between our toes and let the bacteria grow in petri dishes. The “winner’s” dish had such virulent growth that she felt sure it deserved to live. She gave it a name and tried feeding it extra glucose and agar. It quite effectively kept her siblings out of her room. I insisted she throw it away when it began creeping past the lid. I am still blamed for the demise of this biological fright.

raising kids to love science,

A glorious backyard arachnid/ (image: L. Weldon)

Sometimes it goes on and on. My offspring seem driven to find out. They can’t spot a spider without observing it, wanting to identify it, and then going on about the hydraulic features that are basic arachnid operating equipment. Then there was a certain months-long project that involved observing and sketching the decomposition of a muskrat. They have to discuss all possible angles of a problem, often in such depth that my far more superficial mind drifts off. They tend to walk into a room announcing odd factoids which invariably leads to strange conversations about recently de-classified Russian research, turbocharged engines, or riparian ecology. Or all three. Woe to me if I question a postulate put forth by one of my kids. They will entertain my doubts playfully, as a cat toys with a mouse, then bombard me with facts proving their points. Lots of facts. I’ve tried to uphold my side in science disputes but it’s like using a spork to battle a light saber.

making math relevant, raising young scientists,

Other family homes probably have video game controllers. Our house has stacks of books and periodicals (who took the neutrino issue of New Scientist, someone yells); tubs overflowing with one son’s beakers, tubing, and flasks; culturing products in the kitchen (like the jar with a note that says “Leave me alone, I am becoming sauerkraut”); and random sounds of saws, welders, and air compressors as something entirely uncommon is being constructed or deconstructed. I know other families have nice normal pictures on their refrigerators. Ours tends to post odd information. The longest-running fridge feature here is a card listing the head circumference of every person in the family.

Then there’s the front yard. A headstone leans by the garage door. It’s not left over from Halloween. Our youngest is teaching himself stone carving using hand tools. This stemmed from his interest in ancient Norse language and myth and lifestyles. That led to a study of runes, leading to old runic carvings, well, you get the idea. He’s already carved runes in a few stones. So of course his brother got him a headstone as a birthday gift. Entirely natural.

Handmade Trumpet Man, yes, still wearing a Santa hat. (image: L. Weldon)

Handmade Trumpet Man, yes, still wearing a Santa hat. (image: L. Weldon)

Also in the yard, a giant sculpture another son welded out of scrap metal. He’s never taken a welding course, or an art course for that matter. No problem. He measured his own limbs to translate into the correct human form. We call the resulting sculpture our Trumpet Man.

And recently my daughter spent the afternoon in front of the house cleaning an entire deer skeleton she found in our woods. She was entirely happy identifying bones, scrubbing, and assembling it into the likeness of a very hungry  deer. (Maybe our front yard is why our mail carrier seems a little wary.)

Sure, my kids have known from their earliest days that I have a bias toward learning. They know I’m much less likely to nag them if they’re reading or working on a project of their own because I don’t want to mess with anyone’s state of flow.  My kids are much more science-savvy than I’ll ever be, but more importantly, they’re capable Makers and doers eager to get their hands into whatever they want to learn.

Raising Citizens of the World

Raising kids on a small farm has left us without the time or the means to travel. But we want our children to be global citizens. We want them to truly understand how fully they are linked to their fellow beings on this beautiful blue/green planet.

When they were small, we read the stories, ate the foods, played the games, and celebrated the festivals of far-off lands. As they got older, we paid close attention to a rich variety of in-depth materials that helped us discover the global fibers that run through history, art, science, literature; really through any field of interest.

More than any materials we introduce, the connections my kids find most pivotal are those they make on their own, person-to-person across any distance. For example, one of my musician sons got interested in acoustics. He joined special interest forums to talk with fellow aficionados around the world about the technical details of repairing historic microphones, the artistic nuances of found sound recordings, and other topics. Friendships developed. Now they converse about everything from politics to movies. Some day, when he travels overseas, he plans to take them up on their offers to stay in New Zealand, Finland, Brazil, and elsewhere. Already he’s visited friends made online in the U.S., finding the rapport they developed holds fast in person as well.

Belarus, mapped. (Wikimedia Commons)

Perhaps the most important connections any of us can make are lasting, caring relationships with people who live far away. For our family, one of the most enduring relationships we made was with an effervescent girl from Belarus named Tatiana. She came as part of the medical program Children of Chernobyl. Even in her first week here, the strength of her personality more than made up for the few words of English she knew and our poor pronunciation of Russian words we thought we knew. Tatiana was horrified by my vegetarian meals, refused to participate in the activities my outdoor-loving children preferred and let us know that she hadn’t traveled so far to live like a peasant. She wanted to be entertained! Like anthropologists to our own culture, we explored shopping malls and tourist sites, we bought kids’ fast food meals for the prizes, and went to amusement parks rather than wilderness areas. Tatiana displayed her brilliance in many ways, typically beating any of us at the board games we’d played for years and she’d just learned. Tatiana lived with us for five summers. She became a member of our family, a family which feels to us as if it extends to Belarus.

Each relationship made of understanding and caring warms our planet—but in a good way. Which leads me to recommend two excellent books to help you raise global citizens.

Growing Up Global: Raising Children to Be At Home in the World by Homa Sabet Tavangar is packed with enrichment ideas, games, service activities, and resources to help raise children with the world in mind. Here are some great ideas from Tavangar’s book.

  • Boost cultural understanding and fun by listening to pop music from around the world.  (I suggest using online translation to figure out the lyrics.)
  • Talk about the origins and trading routes of products used every day in your home. Try tracing back a chocolate bar or T-shirt.
  • Discover what foods are said to heal common health conditions. Lime juice in armpits is recommended in Paraguay to solve odor, ginger and green onion tea is recommended in China to cure a cold.
  • Learn about practices for welcoming newborn babies into the family and community. Consider adapting customs to commemorate a new arrival in your family.

For a vigorous “go there” perspective, read The New Global Student: Skip the SAT, Save Thousands on Tuition, and Get a Truly International Education by Maya Frost. A cure for any but the worst helicopter parents, Frost shows how learning in other countries best prepares today’s teens for the real global workplace. That means choices resulting in self-reliant, confident, and bold adults.

Here are five important things you can gain from Frost’s book.

  • Real-life accounts by young people who live and study abroad. Frost calls them “bold statements” and they offer invigorating examples of what travel can provide.
  • Why the Rotary International Youth Exchange program offers the best exchange programs. Frost says it has to do with the network of volunteers around the globe providing support to families and students, the affordable price, and the commitment to humanitarian work.
  • The stage of life between 15 and 20, when pivotal life skills are being developed, the reach of our young people tends to be limited. As Frost writes, “They zero in on the fit of their jeans rather than on the fit of a cultural identity within a larger population, and they devote hours to enhancing the clarity of their skin instead of the clarity of their thinking. They are digging into a plate of pettiness because that is precisely what we’ve served them. They deserve—and are ready for—so much more.”
  • How to arrange study abroad credits outside of university-affiliated programs for more freedom and frugality.
  • Ways to connect with helpful people in countries around the world.

Want more ideas?

May your children become global learners. May our shared home be one of peace and goodwill.

Safe & Warm Car Seat Solutions: 7 AM Enfant

7 am Enfant, safe car seat warmth,

Olivia safely snuggled in her car seat. (Photo: Nikole Weldon)

We now know that putting little ones in a car seat when they’re bundled in puffy winter coats or snowsuits can be dangerous. That’s because the fluff of outerwear changes the way car seat straps sit on a child’s body while also making the straps seem correctly tightened when they aren’t. If a crash occurs, it can significantly compress the material, flinging a child forward or even ejecting her from the seat entirely. The forces on a child during a 30 mph collision are akin to jumping out a third story window to the pavement.

The Car Seat Lady site (actually the work of three very dedicated women) has been instrumental in teaching parents about safe car seat installation as well as the importance of finding alternatives to winterwear “fluff.”

 

The Car Seat Lady worked with 7 AM Enfant, a parent-responsive design company, to create warmth that’s safe for on-the-go babies and toddlers in the car and also useful in a stroller or baby seat. 7 AM Enfant offers more than a dozen car seat cover choices, complete with videos to demonstrate how they’re used. Here are a few options:
Pookie Poncho (7amenfant.com)

Pookie Poncho (7amenfant.com)

Pookie Poncho, for ages newborn to four years, comes in five colors. It has two interchangeable hoods for maximum usability.

Cygnet (7amenfant.com)

Cygnet (7amenfant.com)

Cygnet comes in five color combinations and, thanks to adjustable features, it fits children from newborn to 4 years.

Nido (7amenfant.com)

Nido (7amenfant.com)

Nido is an adjustable wrap with leg areas for room to grow. It comes comes in five colors and two sizes, small for newborn to 6 months of age and large for 6 months to 18 months of age.

Cocoon (7amenfant.com)

Cocoon (7amenfant.com)

Cocoon slips simply over the car seat with a snug, elasticized contour. It comes in nine colors and is suited for newborn to babies 12 months of age.

Easy Cover Fleece (7amenfant.com)

Easy Cover Fleece (7amenfant.com)

Easy Cover Fleece comes in three colors. Size small fits children 12 months to 3 years, large from 3 years to 6 years. This design has front sleeves to keep a child’s hands free plus a kanga pocket for warmth.

The youngest member of our extended family, one-year-old Olivia, has been testing out the Nido car seat cover. She settles happily into her car seat, gets strapped in, then the Nido’s comfy softness is wrapped over her. It keeps her snug and warm even in this winter’s frigid temperatures. Her review? A big toothy smile, often followed by a peaceful in-transit snooze.

GeekMom received a sample of this product for review purposes.

Hack Your Candy Conversation Hearts

conversation heart hacks,

Hearts can say whatever you want (CC by 2.0 1lenore)

Valentine candy conversation hearts don’t have much to say. Unless “Be Mine” is exactly the sentiment you’re trying to get across. And really, who wants to eat what tastes like flavored chalk? Here are some ways to subvert upgrade the conversation hearts experience.

1. Sand off the unoriginal words with a microplane. Then on the other (smooth) side,  use food markers to write more unique messages.

2. Consider a metaphorical message. Carefully arrange a whole bag of candy hearts into one heap resembling a large heart and bake it in the oven. It will fuse together in a bizarre you-melt-me sort of way. Unless you don’t follow the instructions exactly, in which case your heart will break before it ever cools down completely.

3. Use candy hearts to write your sentiments where everyone can see them—on the sidewalk. These candies not only taste like calcium supplements, they also work as somewhat usable chalk although the colors (disappointingly) aren’t really noticeable.

4. Turn them into a rebus message. Glue a few conversation hearts on some sturdy paper and write between them, incorporating the hearts’ words into a larger message.

5. Devote some kitchen time to making homemade conversation hearts. This way, candy hearts will actually have the size and flavors you choose. You can also cut them into any shape that warms your geeky heart: Minecraft, Pac-ManStar Trekninja, or zombie. Make them big enough, and you might have room for the perfectly geeky Valentine quotes suggested by GeekMom Lisa Tate.

6. Toss them. Do it with some maker flair by flinging them across the room with a craft stick catapult. Here’s a version that’s easy for kids to make, or construct a catapult clever enough to take to the office.

Get all heart-melty. (CC by 2.0 oskay)

Get all heart-melty. (CC by 2.0 oskay)

 

We Love Language Maps

a

Hear a word in dozens of languages. (wordmap.co)

I’m a word geek. You may be one too. Common symptoms include large vocabularies, the tendency to laugh at grammar jokes, taking delight in obscure terms, and yes, ostracism in some social situations. Many of us also, for word-ish reasons, adore maps.

So it’s no surprise that my word nerd friends and I are enthused about Word Map. Enter any word you’d like and a salmon-hued Google map populates with the word’s translations. As it appears over each country you can hear it pronounced in dozens of languages including Hindi, Swahili, Arabic, Dutch, Mongolian, Javanese, and Urdu. Once the map is filled, lines connect countries with common languages. Click on any of the spellings and a pop-up box appears with information about the region and language spoken there. It does a great job with common words like “mother,” not so well with less common words like “bumfuzzle.” No matter, it’s still fun.

Here are a few more alluring sites, in case you love language maps too.

Lexicalist scans through millions of words shared on the net, analyzing the way different demographics talk and what they talk about. This information is broken down into three kinds of demographics: age, gender, and geography. By typing in the word “inspiration” I discovered people in the U.S. are talking about inspiration 42% more today than they were a few weeks ago, on average using it once every 21,275 words (although they use OMG once every 1,822 words). I also learned that “xióng māo yǎn,” which means “having dark under eye circles, eyes like a panda,” is trending among women in China.

Joshua Katz created amazing visualizations based on research conducted by Bert Vaux and Scott Golder in the Harvard Dialect Survey. Here are 22 maps showing linguistic divides in the U.S. Do you belong to the “crawdad, crayfish, or crawfish” part of the country?

Take the NYT dialect test, also based on the above research. Your personal dialect results show up with each answer you provide to questions like the one asking if you use two syllables or three to pronounce “caramel.”

For additional word wonders, check out “The Best Language Maps,” a list compiled by high school teacher and author, Larry Ferlazzo.

How to Get Kids Involved in the Community

active role

Here’s how we do it. Image re-do: L. Weldon.

I figured that my baby was as good as a dog.

I’d read that nursing home residents benefited enormously from contact with therapy dogs. During and after dog visits, these elders were more alert and in better moods. So I figured, why not bring my baby to a nursing home?

I contacted a nursing home around the corner. The administrator was enthusiastic. Then, I talked my Le Leche League friends into forming a nursing home-based playgroup for our infants and toddlers. They were somewhat wary, but agreed to give it a try. Finally, I got a local store to donate a carpet remnant for our little ones to crawl and play on. Between visits, the nursing home could roll it up for storage. We were ready. We were also apprehensive, although our concerns were quickly eased.

We met regularly at that nursing home for several years. Our babies grew into toddlers, the elders became our friends. Residents’ families and staff members often told us that our visits stimulated memories, generated activity, and even inspired people who were mostly mute to say a few words. We were awed. Something as simple as our presence, sitting on the carpet playing with our children, made a difference to people whose once full lives were now constricted. We benefited, too. We learned the value of advice given by people older than our grandparents. And we noticed how our toddlers completely accepted the physical and mental differences around them with natural grace.

I’m still not sure why the very old and young are kept apart from life on the commons. Vital and engaged communities are made up of all ages. And children have fewer opportunities to take an active part than almost any adult. This shortchanges everyone.

Throughout history, the young of our species have learned by getting involved. Children long to take on real responsibilities and make useful contributions. This is how they advance in skill and maturity. That is, unless we restrict them to child-centered activities.

Young people are also drawn to seek mentors. They want to see how all sorts of people handle crises, start new enterprises, settle disputes, and stay in love. But today’s young people are largely kept from meaningful engagement with the wider community. They’re segregated by age not only in daycare and school, but also in most spheres of recreation, religion, and enrichment. When we keep kids from purposeful and interesting involvement with people of all ages, they are pushed to find satisfaction in other (often less beneficial) ways. Meanwhile, our communities are deprived of their youthful energy and innovative outlook.

It doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to reconnect children with our communities.

Involve young people by giving them real input and responsibility in civic groups, churches, co-ops, CSAs, arts organizations, clubs, and neighborhood organizations. What about a child who is a dedicated rock enthusiast, but the local lapidary club only accepts adult members? Propose a joint adult/child membership, giving that child the same (age factored) opportunities to build social capital in the club. A similar approach can be taken with organizations that refuse to take youthful volunteers. Offer to give your time in partnership with the child, a two-for-one volunteer bargain. Adult advocates are often necessary to pave the way for genuine youth involvement in many groups.

Give kids contact with the workaday world. They need to know people with a range of hobbies and careers. Seek out those who are passionate about chemistry, bird watching, farming, the Civil War, engineering, astronomy,  geology, blacksmithing, wood carving, well, you get the idea. Something vital is transmitted when one person’s enthusiasm sets off a spark of interest in a child. We’re rarely turned down when we ask to learn from others. People who love what they do can’t help but inspire kids and, they often tell me, the kids reignite their hope for the future of their work.

Help local businesses tune in to children’s interests. For example, a bakery might hang children’s art on the walls, make meeting space available for a kids’ chess club, host Invent A Cookie contests, open the kitchen for tours, offer apprenticeships to aspiring young pastry chefs, teach parent-child baking classes, invite speakers to explain the science of yeast and flour, give cupcakes as prizes for youth community volunteer hours, etc. Businesses that are truly engaged in this way inspire loyal customers, they also enliven the community.

Create age-bridging partnerships, as we did with babies and nursing home residents. Non-profit organizations are great places to start. One successful program called Girlfriend Circle started due to complaints. A group of women at a senior center often told a volunteer that they had no hope for the future because children “nowadays” are rude. The volunteer offered to set up a tea party for the ladies that included her daughters and their friends. At that first event, the girls were seated between their older hostesses. Everyone enjoyed a lesson in napkin origami. Then they took part in a Q&A to learn about one another. After sharing refreshments, both age groups were eager to meet again. The Girlfriend Circle met bi-monthly for several years, finding their friendships instructive and rewarding.

Include young people in civic affairs, giving them genuine input into programs and policies. This works in Hampton, Virginia. Young people take leadership roles by holding conferences and open forums, advising municipal divisions, and helping to run the Hampton Youth Teen Center. City administration also includes a Youth Commission, with 24 youth commissioners, 3 youth planners, and one youth secretary–all high school age.

Develop a tradition of service starting at an early age. Need ideas? Here are 40 ways kids can volunteer, toddler to teen.

This comes full circle for me, right back to dogs and volunteering. A boy who had been a pint-sized member of the playgroup we held at the nursing home talked his family into raising puppies to be trained as service dogs. By the time he was 12 years old, this boy gave promotional talks about this program to clubs and schools. I attended one of his speeches. He started off with some anecdotes about exasperating puppies. Then he went on to describe the generosity and hope his family felt each time they attended graduation ceremonies for fully trained dogs, ready to serve. I tend to think community involvement is a path to wholeness. I’m convinced it has a lot to do with this boy’s smile.

Portions of this piece excerpted from Free Range Learning.

Hide Your Spoons

playing spoons, musical spoons,

Spoons incite us to tap them. Image: L. Weldon.

If anyone in your household is lured into the obscure art of spoon playing, beware. You may have to give up soup, cereal, and other comestibles best eaten using that humble utensil. That’s because spoon playing is surprisingly addictive. All it takes is a sense of rhythm and a pair of ordinary spoons.

First an aspiring player needs to test out spoon pairings for sound and hand grip. Backup spoons as well as spoons with different tones may also be filched from your supply. Such favored spoons will never be relegated to the lowly silverware drawer again. Cheap, instrument-wise. Annoying, hunger-wise.

Spoon players themselves, if YouTube provides a representative sampling, seem to be passionate aficionados well out of the mainstream. You know, geeks of the music world. Consider this bit of evidence:

Of course, those with actual geek cred play the spoons too. Sylvester McCoy, fondly remembered as The Seventh Doctor during his tenure on Doctor Who as well as Radagast in the Hobbit films, is a spoon player.

Spoon-shaped objects used as musical instruments go way back in history and are still part of folk music in many parts of the world. Playing the spoons is an art kids can master. In fact, kids under 10 regularly win the junior division of various competitions, each claiming to be “world” championships.

How-to videos tend to be basic. Like this one:

Some are a bit more complex, but still encouraging:

What inspires potential spoon thieves musicians at my house is this strange vintage video with a spoon player tapping on other people’s heads.

Now go hide your spoons. You’ve been warned.

Gift Guide to Offbeat Valentine’s Day Surprises

Sasquatch-heart

Wild about you. Photo: etsy.com/shop/BossysFeltworks.

Say it with Sasquatch. ($45) An adorable needle-felted Sasquatch made by the women of Bossy Feltworks. They’ve got two different versions of this tiny hairy handmade guy, including My Heart is Yours and I Brought You Daisies.

A toast! (gonereading.com)

A toast! Photo: gonereading.com.

Great Drinkers in Literature from GoneReading.com. ($16.95) Drink with the great writers and great drinkers of literary history, including Dorothy Parker, Oscar Wilde, and W.B. Yeats. There are many more enticements offered by GoneReading.com, including literary action figures, journals, book lights, and games. Better yet, 100 percent of their net profits are donated to reading-related charities.

Give these with a nice bottle of something. (amazon.com)

Colorize the relationship. Images Archie McPhee, Dover Publications, CreateSpace, and Plume.

Coloring Books. ($3.99 to $9) What, you don’t expect coloring books for Valentine’s Day? They’re a hoot. Pour some drinks, grab some crayons, and color together! Boy, do we have recommendations. Try Unicorns Are JerksThe Existential Coloring Book, Super Awesome Coloring BookMer World ProblemsColor Your Own Classic Movie PostersSea Monsters Coloring BookArt Masterpieces to Color: 60 Great Paintings from Botticelli to PicassoSteampunk Designs Coloring Book, and Coloring for Grown-Ups: The Adult Activity Book

Molecular adornment. (etsy.com/shop/MoleculENecklacE)

Molecular adornment. Photo: etsy.com/shop/MoleculENecklacE.

Oxytocin. This is a hormone that’s got a lot to do with the neuroanatomy of intimacy. Now you can wear a necklace version ($48), thanks to the Etsy shop MoleculENecklacE.

Photo: etsy.com/shop/Theresa Pytell.

DNA Earrings. ($58) Or say how precious a loved one is to you with pair of beautiful DNA earrings handcrafted by Theresa Pytell, whose Etsy shop also offers gorgeous bracelets, rings, and other jewelry inspired by science and nature.

Because we all get grumpy. (gund.com)

Because we all get grumpy. Photo: gund.com.

Grumpy Cat Plush. ($15.30) This may actually cajole your partner into believing grumpy can be adorable.

Astronomical adornment. (uncommongoods.com)

Astronomical adornment. Photo: uncommongoods.com.

Milky Way Scarf.($65) What better way to say “you mean the galaxy to me” than with a Hubble Telescope Milky Way scarf? Digitally printed with a vivid Hubble telescope image of the Cat’s Paw nebula, this featherweight wool scarf is a stellar gift.

Create the trendiest drinks at home. (molecule-r.com)

Create the trendiest drinks at home. Photo: molecule-r.com.

Molecular Mixology Kit. ($34.95) Bite into a layered martini, add lime foam to tequila, make mojitos in a bubble that will burst in your mouth with the Molecular Mixology Kit. Science plus drinking, what could go wrong?

Say it with a tattoo. (litographs.com)

Say it with a tattoo. Photo: litographs.com.

Literary Tattoos. ($5 for a set of two) Inscribe your feelings on your flesh, temporarily, with Litograph literary tattoos.

Share a love of cephalopods. (bkartonline.com)

Share a love of cephalopods. (bkartonline.com)

Octopus Books. ($23 each) Find mutual fascination with the steampunkery of Victorian adventuress Victoria Prismall and her pet land octopus Otto. Brian Kesinger’s collectible ink-on-paper art is now available in delightful hardbound books, Walking Your Octopus: A Guidebook to the Domesticated Cephalopod and Traveling With Your Octopus.

Because you are one. (Diamond Publishing)

Because you are one. Photo: Diamond Publishing.

Robes. ($48) Oh yes. DC Bombshell robes will be available through specialty comic book stores (find one near you). The robes feature some of the leading ladies of DC Comics such as Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Poison Ivy, and more in a collection of colors representing each character. Available in small/medium and large/x-large sizes.

What would yours say? Photo: converse.com.

Custom Converse. Converse now has a customize option on their shoes, making them even more fun to wear. These customizable shoes range from $50 (for kids’ sizes) to $100, although most fall into the $75 to $80 range. This includes the high-top Chuck Taylor with DC Arkham City canvas options. One of the best parts of this is the option to personalize these on the heel stripe (up to 10 characters); it’s ideal for a name or a simple “I love you.”

Dark brown and yummy. (columbiaempirefarms.com)

Dark brown and yummy. Photo: columbiaempirefarms.com.

Poop. ($5.99) Give a gift handcrafted in Oregon on sustainable Columbia Empire Farms. Naturally, we’re talking about chocolate hazelnut toffee packaged as poo. You can get all conventional with Cupid Poop or Lovebirds Poop. Or branch out a bit with Cow Pies, Bigfoot Poop, or any of their other varieties.

Make and name your own hot sauce. (storey.com)

Make and name your own hot sauce. (storey.com)

Hot Sauce Book. ($10.50) Need a hot idea for the hot person in your life? Try Hot Sauce!: Techniques for Making Signature Hot Sauces, with 32 Recipes to Get You Started by Jennifer Trainer Thompson.

Calibrate your own heat. (amazon.com)

Calibrate your own heat. Photo: amazon.com.

Or grab the Some Like It Hot! Make Your Own Hot Sauce kit ($37.99) with everything you need to make three of your own blends.

Tie on some equations. (ties.com)

Tie on some equations. Photo: ties.com.

Mathematics Silk Tie. ($23.95) It’s red, 100-percent silk, and riddled with tempting equations.

(weiofchocolate.com}

Photo: weiofchocolate.com.

Chocolate isn’t really negotiable. Try something a little different, like the Wei Delightful Organic Dark Chocolate Gift Box – Red ($32) with 16 pieces of organic, Fair Trade chocolate including Himalayan pink salt infused, peppermint infused, extra dark, and citrus infused. It’s a reasonable indulgence, since each one has only 2 grams of carbs and 30 calories per piece.

Get it for the tin. (BostonAmerica.com)

Get it for the tin. Photo: BostonAmerica.com.

Wii Candy. ($8.45) Get whimsical with a peppermint gum-filled Nintendo Wii Controller candy tin. Once the contents are chewed, the tin is great to store all those tiny things that get away.

I want to consume you. (bostonamerica.com)

I want to consume you. Photo: bostonamerica.com.

Candy Brains. ($2.99) Or avoid sweet sentimentality with Refleshmints, a zombie tin packed with pink brain-shaped mints.

Read the best parts aloud. (Baen Books, CreateSpace)

Read the best parts aloud. Photo: Baen Books, CreateSpace.

Books. Let those eyeballs linger on romantic words—lots of them, in book form.  Yes, we have recommendations.

For historical romance, the Brother’s Sinister series by Courtney Milan. For fandom in-jokes and castle-y romance, the Castles Ever After series by Tessa Dare. For historical/fantasy romance try Daughter of Mystery by Heather Rose Jones. For spies, Napoleonic wars, and romance try The Spymaster series by Joanna Bourne.

For sci-fi adventure with great romantic subplots, try the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. For sci-fi try Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi and Line and Orbit by Sunny Moiraine. For fantasy (including amorous gods!), try The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemisin.

Our best book recommendations, however, feature romance-tinged adventure written by our own founders, Natania Barron and Corrina Lawson.

Steampunk meets goddess worship. (candlemarkandgleam.com)

Steampunk meets goddess worship. Photo: candlemarkandgleam.com.

Natania’s Pilgrim of the Sky follows love stories through alternative worlds with plenty of adventure. A little steampunk, a lot of sexy allure.
So, so sexy. (samhainpublishing.com)

So, so sexy. Photo: samhainpublishing.com.

Corrina is the author of several imaginative, action-packed, and quite erotic series. We’re talking Phoenix Institute, The Steampunk Detectives, and several alternative-history timeline books. The Phoenix Institute series stars people with extraordinary abilities, from telekinesis to ghost-walking, who find themselves tasked with doing whatever it takes to make a difference. The Curse of the Brimstone Contract is her first book in The Steampunk Detectives series, which revolves around magic, love, and plenty of smart sleuthing. And don’t miss richly her richly evocative books Freya’s Gift, Eagle of Senecaand Dinah of Seneca.

Oddest Place You’ve Changed a Diaper

There's no putting off a dirty diaper. (CC by 2.0 Thorsten Trotzenberg's flickr photostream)

There’s no putting off a dirty diaper. (CC by 2.0 Thorsten Trotzenberg’s flickr photostream)

When my third child was eight months old, I took him along with his two older siblings to do some errands. We weren’t going to be gone long. Yet in a short time, my darling baby managed to blast through all the diapers I had with me as well as through all the outfits I’d stuffed in the diaper bag.

There we were in a store aisle when suddenly this adorable baby was unspeakably befouled. I had no supplies left to diaper or dress him. So I cleaned him up using what seemed like several hundred wipes, then went up to the counter to ask for a shopping bag. I cut leg holes in the bag and put his naked little butt in it. My older kids were scandalized. The baby, however, was thrilled. He wiggled and kicked his legs in the car seat all the way home just to hear his temporary garment crinkle.

When I shared this diaper confession (or diaperless confession) on the Free Range Learning community page people admitted the strange places where they too had been forced to change a diaper. My fellow GeekMoms also had stories to share. So here’s a sample of location-challenging diaper changing places. Please share yours in the comments!

Felicia: Cat exam table at the vet’s.

Lydia: Steps of the Harvard faculty club.

Carrie:  On the forest floor when hiking and camping.

Caroline: The park, under the slide.

Betty: On the floor at Hearst Castle.

Misty:  Squatting on the Santa Cruz pier with the baby on my knees. The bathroom was too dirty to even step inside.

Brisja: On the top of the most sacred mountain in China.

Mindi: On a rock in Bryce Canyon park.

Liaan: On a mat on the side of a ski slope, sunny day.

Rebecca: Bon Jovi concert.

Mary: On my lap at my daughter’s wedding.

Ariane: On my lap while sitting (fully clothed) on a toilet in the bathroom because there were no changing tables.

Cathe: In the car trunk.

Sarah: On the table of a Tim Hortons just outside of Bangor, Maine. They had a power cut so no lights, AND no changing table in the bathroom. In a booth at a Burger King, because they didn’t have a changing table in the bathroom! In the trunk of my car. This becomes a normal place in the summer. On a big boulder in Acadia National Park. In a Radio Flyer wagon while at a ten-mile yard sale in Northern Maine.

Lisa: Every roadside overlook between here and California one year…. Her first car trip, and it was like clockwork almost on the hour.

Patricia: In a Maya sling on an airline seat back tray, flying from Orlando to Atlanta. Baby did not exit the sling the entire trip, which was a combination of wonderful and strange.

Jackie: On the floor of a hipster Brooklyn restaurant bathroom (Brooklyn doesn’t seem to believe in changing tables). In the patterns section at JoAnn fabrics. On the grass next to Stonehenge. Right on the other side of airport security after her diaper exploded as I carried her through. I tried to be a genius once and change her in her car seat, but she just ended up upside down and super confused.

20 Quirky Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

quirky Valentine's Day celebrations, heart art, commit anonymous good deeds, give Valentine's experiences,

Un-cliché your Valentine’s Day. Photo: public domain, morguefile.com.

Valentine’s Day may be about love, but it’s too often expressed with clichéd sentiments and perfunctory presents. Last year, U.S. Valentine’s Day spending was estimated to be $17.3 billion. Yes, billion.

I propose other ways to celebrate. That doesn’t mean giving up on cards, chocolate, and flowers, if these expressions truly touch your heart. It means we can do more with the love we feel for people, our communities, and for the natural world—any day of the year. Consider adding one of these 20 ideas to your Valentine’s Day celebration.

Art-oriented

Find hearts everywhere. You can stop by a gallery or museum, finding hearts and other representations of love. Or challenge yourself to photograph hearts you see in nature and everyday objects.

Make original hearts. Create a heart out of something unexpected. Try Legos or charger cables or red peppers. Then photograph it. Send it out via social media or print the image on cards. For a wealth of inspiration, check out Monday Hearts for Madalene.

Learn about symbolism of the heart. This shape has been painted on cave walls by Cro-Magnon people, showed up in ancient Minoan art, and appeared on 15th century playing cards. Assign loving symbolism to some other shape and use it as your secret language.

Kindness-oriented

Appreciate people in your community. Use children’s drawings as wrapping paper, tucking inside each one a piece of wrapped candy or other goodie, along with a note like “thanks for being so nice” or “you made my day.” Then, stay on the lookout for a cheery cashier, helpful librarian, or kind friend and hand them the surprise package. Find more ways kids can perform community service, toddler to teen, here.

Put dollars to work. Hand money out to your family and friends, with a caveat. Challenge recipients to do as much good as they can with $10 (or whatever denomination you choose), then report back with the results by a certain deadline. You can even set up a Facebook event page for this, so their ideas are shared. (There are side benefits. This boosts the happiness of the givers, too.)

Say thanks. Get in touch with Great Aunt Betty to say you appreciate the advice she gave you decades ago, send a note of appreciation to a teacher who made a difference, or call your parents to share a sweet memory from your childhood. (Again, side benefit, gratitude boosts your own health.)

Volunteer. Walk dogs at a shelter, assemble backpacks for homeless people and hand them out, or deliver Meals on Wheels. For more ideas, check out VolunteerMatch.

Commit good deeds anonymously.  Valentine’s week is also Random Act of Kindness week. Ideas? Smile at five strangers, leave quarters at the laundromat or in the change slot of vending machines, do someone else’s chore secretly, pay the tab for the next customer, or clean up someone else’s mess.

Gift-oriented

Make a scratch-off card. It takes paint and dish soap; that’s it. Make a love list card or one that reveals a surprise or come up with your own design.

Give gift certificates from locally owned businesses and organizations like a greenhouse, restaurant or coffee shop, massage therapist, art gallery, sports shop, or bookstore. Or pay for a few hours for a local worker who specializes in home repair, house cleaning, or landscaping.

Give experiences. Go to the theater, take tai chi or weaving lessons, go horseback riding, attend a concert of music new to you, take a city tour, head to a skating rink, or rent a houseboat.

Give gifts for a good cause. There are all sorts of nonprofit stores and charitable shopping sites. Try Water.org, One World Futbol, FreewatersSerrvGreater Good, Ten Thousand Villages, and ASPCA. Or get a gift from the gift shop of a nonprofit in your area.

Nature-oriented

Plant something. Start seeds indoors for your garden. You can even start extras to set up a seed or plant exchange.

Get out there. Picnic outside no matter what the weather, hike somewhere new to you, or go outside after dark to look at the stars.

Build together. Make a fairy house in the woods using nearby sticks and rocks. Build a snow fort. Make a hideout in the attic, backyard, or anywhere you can enter the magic of hidden spaces.

Re-experience childhood delights. Swing on the swings, climb a tree, run a footrace, cook marshmallows over a campfire, or play outdoor games.

Romance-oriented

Revive the mix-tape tradition. Put together a collection of tunes that says what you feel. In this instance, sappy is good. For an even better reaction, put together a sexy playlist.

Do something that scares you, together. Go bungee jumping or rock climbing or whatever gets your heart racing. Even a scary movie can be good for the love life.

Talk about first loves. Maybe just first crushes. It’s a way of tenderly exploring the inner world of your partner’s earliest years.

Make date night fascinatingly unexpected. Try an alternative identity date. Make up your own triathlon (for example—competing in air hockey, tongue twisters, and onion-ring eating). Participate in a mud run. Here are 35 ideas for never dull dates.

Scarf From Hell

Beauty can be deceiving. (image: L. Weldon)

Beauty can be deceiving. (Image: L. Weldon)

I’m all about buying handmade things. I like the idea that my money supports people who pursue their passions. It’s a feel-good way to buy lovely gifts and grab some loot for myself. I’ve always been happy with my purchases. That is, until I came across the Scarf From Hell for sale at an urban pop-up craft fair. Its softness was devilishly enticing and it came in all sorts of lush colors, with a hand-written tag noting the yarns were spun from reclaimed silk saris. Definitely my kind of thing. I bought two, one to give as a gift and one for me.

I mailed one scarf to a friend as a birthday present. She got back to me with effusive thanks, no hint that the scarf had yet wreaked havoc in her life.*

I didn’t break out the other one until I was leaving for a weekend conference. As I put on my black wool jacket I thought, in a last minute inspiration, I’d wear my new scarf.

After a few hours of travel time I got to the conference. I talked to a keynote presenter and greeted fellow attendees. I may have registered a few what’s-wrong-with-her glances but attributed them to my own overactive insecurity. Before the first workshop started I dashed off to the restroom. I gasped in horror as the mirror revealed the depths of my scarf’s treachery.

Hundreds of tiny, vividly colored yarn bits had pulled away from the scarf and were clinging to my coat like burrs. As I leaned over the sink more yarn confetti fell. These shreds were also in my hair and clinging with static determination to my neck. Picking them off successfully meant grabbing one strand at a time. I did what I could to clean up, then folded my jacket over my arm hoping I’d have time later to de-fuzz it. When I left the bathroom, scarf tucked into my tote bag, I noticed that a trail of yarn detritus marked every step I’d taken. The conference hallway looked like a knitter’s Hansel and Gretel re-enactment.

It was a long weekend. The cold weather meant I couldn’t go without my yarn-spangled jacket. Every time I thought I’d nearly picked it clean I found more lurking under the collar, inside my pockets, even clinging in strands to the sleeve undersides. The yarn invasion was so drastic that fibers were even evident when I blew my nose.

Strangely, I haven’t thrown the scarf out. It still lurks in the yarn-wrecked tote bag. I may need a secret weapon some day. This is fair warning. Don’t mess with me or I’ll pull the Scarf From Hell out of hiding to wrap around your neck.

 

*My friend insists her scarf is fine. I’m guessing she either suffers from a serious case of politeness or she’s so traumatized by her own Scarf From Hell experience that she’s repressed all memory of it.

Celebrate Slacker New Year’s Eve

Party by unpartying. (CC by 2.0 davejdoe's flickr photostream)

Party by unpartying. Image: CC by 2.0 davejdoe’s flickr photostream.

Slacker New Year’s Eve is a tradition we started years ago. No more loud, crowded events. No more babysitting nightmares. And no more driving back home in the early morning hours on icy roads. What a relief.

Instead, we stay home with the kids. We put lots of goodies on the table, including snacks that are rarely seen in our fussy-about-nutrition household. We get out amusements like board games and videos, build a fire in the fireplace, and basically slouch around together. It’s fantastic. After all the holiday rush, it feels downright indulgent.

A key element of Slacker New Year’s Eve is the no-bedtime promise. On this one night, we’ve always told our kids they can stay up all night if they want. For years, our kids have tucked us in bed not long after midnight, then done their best to stay up until dawn. A few times, they’ve made it. Then, they sleep in at least till noon. That tends to result in a nice quiet New Year’s Day morning for mom and dad.

Tonight, I’m looking forward to warm jammies, chilled champagne, and hanging out with the people I love. This isn’t about renouncing anything. Slacker New Year’s Eve lets the old year slide out without a fuss and celebrates the upcoming year without effort. Ahhh.

Ads on Pinterest, Sigh

business.pinterest.com

Will Pinterest put ads on your boards? (image: business.pinterest.com)

~It’s hubbub free. No personal dramas. No time-draining conversations. Pinterest has such a peaceful vibe it’s like moseying through a quiet gallery where the pictures wait to tell you more with a click.
~It’s built entirely out of widely varied enthusiasms. Your own pins can help you find the article you saved about gut microbiome, the DIY chandelier you want to make, and the song that teaches your kids about the periodic table. Going through other pinners’ boards is like flipping through magazines made of each person’s delights.
~It’s a way of sharing who we are while at the same time, by organizing what appeals to us, we make it easier for other people to find interesting ideas and images.
A look at the everything front page indicates that users aren’t necessarily on Pinterest to share consumer recommendations, although there are plenty of tempting pins for fashion and home décor products. They’re using it to share inspiring ways to live: with more humor and less angst, with beauty found in an evocative landscape, with clever ideas for raising kids or making dinner or building a garden shed. This in itself makes Pinterest seem like a blessed relief from the endless marketing found online.

That is, until now.

Pinterest is opening its boards to advertisement from major consumer brands, specifically from companies that can cough up commitments in the range of one million to two million. It’s not entirely clear if sponsored pins will appear on users’ curated boards. During very successful beta testing, ads only appeared in search results and category feed, not on individual boards. Yet according to a recent New York Times article, these ads will appear on relevant boards.

For example, a Promoted Pin from Kraft Foods, one of Pinterest’s early partners, could show up on a Pinterest board of chili recipes collected and browsed by someone who is on a mobile phone while grocery shopping.

I’m not thrilled to think that my board robots made of junk might soon include an ad for Rust-Oleum, my board of gardening hints might include a promotional pin for Round-Up, or my collection of articles on learning might be spattered with ads for educational apps. It remains to be seen if advertising will change the Pinterest experience. But I find it heartening to see how responsive Pinterest is to their pinners. They’re even soliciting feedback from pinners. Tell them what you think!

Hidden Gems Are the Perfect Appetizers

Extra-crunch version made with almond meal. (image: L. Weldon)

Extra-crunch version made with almond meal. (image: L. Weldon)

Life is full of appetizer moments. Parties, potlucks, birthdays, holidays, and those events that have no name but yet persistently land on the calendar as if your social life were an ongoing Doctor Who series. I’m here to offer you a panacea—an appetizer you can customize for every event. It’s crusty, savory, and durable. Better yet, you can make it in advance. Even freeze it in advance. Just imagine the culinary possibilities.  “Mmm, I wonder…Aha!”

 

Hidden Gem Appetizer 

 

Appetizer Ingredients

35 stuffed olives (garlic-stuffed olives are particularly excellent) patted dry OR other filling*

1 cup flour (white or gluten-free mix or almond flour**)

generous dash salt

3/4 teaspoon black pepper

3/4 teaspoon paprika

dash cayenne pepper

1 1/2 cups grated cheese, try sharp cheddar or gouda

2 Tablespoons butter

1 egg, beaten

dash Worcestershire sauce or hot sauce

~~~~~~

Dip Ingredients

3/4 cups sour cream or veggie dip

2 Tablespoons chipotle in adobo sauce or hot sauce

 

Directions

Roll olives or other chosen filling on a dish towel or paper towel to dry.

In a food processor or with a pastry cutter, mix flour, salt, pepper, paprika, and cayenne. Add cheese and butter, cutting in till mixture resembles crumbs. Mix in egg and sauce. If you have time, chill this mixture.

Coat a jelly roll pan or cookie sheet with non-stick spray. Taking about 2 teaspoons of dough, use your hands to roll it into a rough ball, flatten the ball, then form the dough around an olive or other filling of your choice.  Place each one on the prepared pan, cover, and chill for an hour or up to two days. At this point the pan can be wrapped tightly and frozen if desired.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Bake trays of appetizers until they’re golden brown and crusty, about 20 to 25 minutes. It’s best if you flip them over with a spatula halfway through the baking time.

Mix the dip ingredients. Serve appetizers hot, with dip in the middle of your serving tray. You might want to double the recipe. They warm up nicely the next day or two as well. Hidden gems really are amazing.

 

*Try 1″ pieces of andouille sausage, smoked tofu, cooked mushrooms, chorizo sausage, artichoke hearts, shrimp, or anything you’re inspired to roll in a pastry crust. (Cheese isn’t a satisfactory choice, sorry to say, because it likes to ooze out of the dough.)

**Almond flour is a great choice, especially for low-carb folks. The dough tends to slump a little rather than hold its shape in this recipe, but it tastes even better than the flour versions. Both pictures here show appetizers made with almond flour.

 

Hidden Gems, ready for the oven (image: L. Weldon)

Hidden Gems, ready for the oven (image: L. Weldon)

Cooper, Hunter, Parker: Vocation Names For Boys

Cooper? Hunter? Parker?  (CC0 public domain pixabay.com)

Cooper? Hunter? Parker? (CC0 public domain pixabay.com)

I’m fascinated by connections between disparate things. It’s the curse of a strange mind and has gotten me into many improbable discussions. So I may not be on to anything here. But it strikes me that popular names for baby boys are increasingly names of vocations. Nearly all these occupations are obscure or long gone, so we don’t associate them with the work they once described.

Names have a powerful effect on a child’s future. I wonder if we’re unconsciously hearkening back to a time when a man was known by what he did, known for his expertise and good reputation. In a time of warp speed change and uncertainty, these are indeed strong names to send our boys into manhood.

Here’s a partial list, along with definition and popularity rank. (Keep in mind, even names without current rankings may be trending.) How many names are becoming more common among kids you know?

Baxter: bread baker
Banner: flag bearer
Barker: lumberjack, carnival announcer
Booker: book binder
Brewster: brewer

Chandler: candle maker (429)
Cooper: barrel maker (84)

Deacon: church official (441)

Ferris: iron worker
Fletcher: arrow maker, arrowsmith (790)
Foster: woodsman (937)

Gardener: gardener
Granger: farmer, overseer of farm laborers

Harper: harp musician (660)
Hunter: huntsman (36)

Jagger: wheel maker  (698)

Marshall: groomsman, farrier, high military rank (328)
Mason: brick layer, stone worker (4)
Miller: miller, mill owner (943)
Major: military rank, mayor (366)

Palmer: palm bearer, pilgrim
Parker: park guard, gamekeeper (74)
Porter: carrier of loads, gatekeeper (385)
Prentice: apprentice to tradesman
Pryor: a prior, leader of monastery

Reeve: bailiff, senior official, manager
Rex: king (632)

Sadler: saddle maker
Sawyer: wood cutter (120)
Spencer: steward, shop keeper (251)
Stewart/Stuart: steward, estate manager
Sumner: officer who summons people to court

Taylor: tailor (371)
Tanner: leather worker (197)
Thatcher: roof builder (992)
Tucker: clothing maker (180)
Turner: wood turner, wood worker (886)
Tyler: tile maker (63)

Vance: thresher (866)
Warner: warden, guard
Weaver: weaver
Wilder: woodsman

The Swear Word You Say

slow down, unbusy,

Can’t keep up with your life? (CC by 2.0 flik’s Flickr photostream)

We hear it all the time. We probably say it all the time. I swear (hah!) it’s the curse of our era.

What’s up with you?

Busy

How’s work?

Busy

How are the kids?

Busy

What was your vacation like?

Busy

What’s next week like for you?

Busy

Ack!

We are busy, pulled in so many directions that we don’t have words powerful enough to describe how time starved we feel. Swamped, hectic, rushed, hurried, or slammed can’t come close. And around the holidays we’re crazy busy.

I suspect that we aren’t busier, in terms of obligations using up our time, than someone might have been 100 years ago. Chances are those folks kept the house warm with coal shoveled into a furnace; worked long hours for poor pay in factories, mines, slaughterhouses, or worse; traveled at low speeds to get where they were going; struggled to stay healthy in a population easily ravaged by flu, tuberculosis, polio, and other diseases; and put a lot of hands-on hours looking after their homes and families. Talk about busy.

But there’s something going on, because so many of us are constantly overwhelmed. I planned to have some handy studies to cite but the library books I meant to consult, The Distraction Addiction and Time Warpedwere overdue before I’d gotten more than a few chapters in. Hey, I didn’t have time!

Since the sun’s magnetic field is flipping I’d be happy to blame our time hunger on a wavering magnetic sheet and extra cosmic rays but science tells us there’s not a noticeable effect.

Mostly, I’m tempted to point the finger at all those things fracturing our attention. I’m pretty sure that ample time for daydreaming and contemplation is essential to a sense of peace, no matter what’s going on in our lives. I’m also pretty sure most of us suffer from a daydream deficit.

Which gets me back to the curse word of our times: busy. I’ve decided that using it is a form of negative self-talk. So, I’m not saying it anymore. I hereby banish it from my vocabulary.

My friend Margaret tells me that our perception of time will slow down to a more manageable pace if we replace our usual frantically busy words with words that describe a slower, more relaxed attitude. Maybe then our lives will slow down, too. She suggests words like,

meander

amble

mosey

saunter

dawdle

You may be flinging yourself from place to place to get errands done. But consider describing it to yourself as strolling through stores, pondering some purchases, relaxing in check-out lines. A time-shift may just happen.

But give that attitude shift some time. It’s hard to fit it in a busy* life.

not busy,

Alright, lets meander, stroll, and amble already. (CC by 2.0 Transformer18‘s flickr photostream)

*Dammit, I used that word again.

GeoToys: Smart Playtime Plus a 20% Discount for GeekMom Readers

geography blocks, GeoBlocks,

Blocks with purpose. (geotoystore.com)

Although we have more access to information than ever before, it appears most of us suffer from geographical illiteracy. A Roper poll showed half of young adults in the U.S. are unable to locate New York on a map and only 37% of young Americans can find Iraq. A more recent survey found only one in six Americans could correctly identify Ukraine. Facts like this spur us to do something about it.

That’s what motivated Bob Galinsky, an inveterate traveler who wanted to help his kids learn about geography by making it fun. Back in 2005 he used a map and scissors to create a puzzle of Europe with pieces shaped like individual countries. Next he cut maps of Africa, Asia, and the Americas into puzzles. Paper maps became real puzzles when he launched Geotoys. Now, award-winning GeoPuzzles are available worldwide and have been translated into a dozen languages. In addition to puzzles, Geotoys offers geography games and gifts.

Now our readers can get 20% off all Geotoys items from December 1st to December 31st . Just use the code GEEKMOM20 at geotoystore.com.

Try GeoBlocks, a set of 20 blocks made from sustainably harvested wood. Perfect for a two-year-old to stack, even more interesting for an older child.

Build the world. (geotoystore.com)

Build the world. (geotoystore.com)

Check the selection of inflatables including globes, dinosaurs, and wild animals.

Toss the planet around. (geotoystore.com)

Toss the planet around. (geotoystore.com)

Choose from all sorts of puzzles including different areas of the world, foreign languages, animals, dinosaurs, solar system, and history.

All sorts of puzzles. (geotoystore.com)

All sorts of puzzles. (geotoystore.com)

And browse through a selection of 14 card games such as Medieval History Go Fish, GeoCards Europe, Constitution Go Fish,  and Flag Frenzy.

Smart play. (geotoystore.com)

Smart play. (geotoystore.com)

 

That deal again? Get 20% off all Geotoys items from December 1st to December 31st . Just use the code GEEKMOM20 at geotoystore.com.

GeekMoms’ Favorite Offbeat Gift Experiences

unusual gifts, favorite gifts, family gifts,

Pick something different. Image: artteacher, publicdomain, pixabay.com.

Here at GeekMom, we’ve been talking about gifts as we plan for our family holidays. Many of us are trying to cut down on the “stuff overload” as well as seeking ways to make our gifts more personal, which led us to share favorite presents we’ve given or received.

Jackie: When I was 23 and in that flat-broke stage of post-college single life, my mom gave me a calendar with small gift cards clipped to every month. Starbucks here, my favorite yarn store there. I’d save them as a treat each month. Still one of my favorite ever gifts.

Ariane: When my brother and I reached adulthood (and finally decent paychecks), we were buying our parents more and more material presents. Eventually, they told us that they would prefer “experiences” over “stuff,” so we started putting our gift budgets together to buy them tickets to shows. They’ve given us permission to buy tickets for things out of town even, so now I try to find tickets to a good show in a city not too far away so they have an excuse to take a weekend vacation. I try to put some thought into not only the show we are buying tickets for, but also what city they might enjoy, the time of year, and what other fun events they might be able to catch that weekend. It’s a little bit like playing travel agent!

Laura: We’ve traditionally asked extended family members to give toy alternatives. It’s not a hard and fast rule, just a suggestion. Over the years, this has resulted in great gifts like magazine subscriptions (everything from New Moon Girls to Muse), passes to the science center and natural history museum, experiences like skating/skiing/concerts/live theater, as well as a few contributions to some larger group gifts like outdoor climbing equipment. Better yet, we’ve encouraged relatives to give time together as their gift, just child and aunt or child and grandparent, like a movie night or wilderness hike or whatever is mutually fun. This has given our kids a wealth of experiences, built stronger relationships, and saved my four-kid house from a junk overload.

Judy: My favorite unique idea came from my dad, but isn’t holiday-related. He turned 70 a few years ago and ahead of time, he sent an envelope of cash to all five of his kids. The note said something like, “In a few weeks, I turn 70. I don’t need any more gifts. I’m very comfortable and happy in life. But I’m realizing more and more that life is about memories. So as your gift to me this year, I’d love for you each to take this $70 and go make a family memory. All I ask is that you send me a note afterward and tell me about your new memories.”  We loved it. Our kids were older teens, so we used the money to buy a bike rack for the car and spent the day down in NYC, riding through amazing neighborhoods and along the amazing greenway they had recently built along the river. We had just moved to NY and always had to rent bikes before that day. From then on, we had the bike rack and were able to go whenever we wanted with our own bikes and enjoy the experience, over and over. Greatest gift ever! My dad loved it!

Rachel: Twice now, I have given meals. My sister-in-law lives with my mother-in-law, so one year, I gave them 10 homemade coupons for dinners. It was basically 10 meals for 10 weeks. Each week, I would email them selections they could pick from… like a menu! Then, I would drop off the meal to them. Sometimes, it would be something all prepped and they would have to put it into the oven. Other times, I would put it in the crockpot, so it would be ready when they got home from work. Some weeks, I included homemade bread and/or ice cream.  It worked out so well, I did it for another family member another year.

Sarah: This year, I’m giving Ben an envelope each month, setting aside a game night for a particular game. With the two little kids, we don’t get that time as often as we’d like. So it’ll be gift cards to coffee shops or pizza coupons for staying in and playing Catan in January, Risk in February, Quarriors in March, etc.

Ariane : At every special family dinner (birthdays, holidays, special occasions), my mom sets the table and puts a little gift bag or box on everyone’s plate. It’s not usually anything expensive, but just a little something that she thought we would like. Our favorite candy, cute accessories, a gift card to our favorite places, etc. It really makes me feel like she put a lot of time thinking about each of us and what would make us happy!

Judy : I’m doing small photo magnets for the cousins this year. Pics from our reunion in NH this summer made into small magnets that Shutterfly often has for about five bucks. They’ve been a huge hit in years past.

Lisa: I made Molly a “gift card” bouquet one year, about five $20 cards from Barnes & Noble, GameStop…all her favorite haunts. She loved it so much, she had me make one for Rick for his birthday.

Laura:  After it became difficult for my husband’s grandmother to shop, we gave her a year’s supply of greeting cards each Christmas. She loved to send cards, so we customized the selection to include birthday cards specifically for each of her siblings, kids, and grandkids, plus plenty of cards for friends, and sadly, sympathy cards too. We included some lovely blank cards and stationery, plus enough stamps to send every card.

Cathe: We are repeating a gift from last year by making organic candy buttons (recipe isn’t for organic, but it’s easy to do) and giving them to everyone. A batch makes enough for about 30 people. They make great stocking stuffers and most moms are okay with giving their kids plant dyes and real flavors.

Rachel:  I love, love, love getting homemade jam for Christmas. Every year, my sister-in-law gives us jam and we love it. My son especially loves it, but I love that it’s fresh and delicious. And it’s something we use regularly. Plus, it’s made with love. One year, I gave a bunch of hot pepper jelly that I had made and paired with crackers. Crazy delicious.

Kay: My MIL loved giving magazine subscriptions. I got a needlecraft magazine subscription from her for decades and every time that showed up in the mailbox, I thought of her and her thoughtfulness even though she was half the continent away.  She also gave all the grandkids a natural science mag, Ranger Rick, then National Geographic. And she sponsored our subscription to Science News until we were making enough to pay for it. I never heard of it before that and now I love it.

Cathe: A constant hit with the grandparents is a set of magnets with pictures of the grandkids.

Judy:  I plan to do a “movie night” box for my grown daughter in Nashville with a Redbox gift card, popcorn, candy, etc. Cheap date night!

Kay: A good gift is a membership to a fun destination, if your kid or family will really go there. The local zoo or science center, natural history, tech, aviation, train, performing arts, museum, or other activity can be a gift that keeps on giving, and counteracts a video game sit-still impulse. My best friend and I both were gifted horseback-riding lessons one year!!

Judy: My MIL still sends a check this time of year for my kids to get ski passes. Because we are locals, we get them pretty cheap here in CO and she loves helping to pay for many weekends of skiing. That way, we “only” have to worry about keeping equipment current.

Rachel: One year, my son received Puzzle Buzz from my brother and his family. It’s by the same people as Highlights and it would come every month. It was awesome. Tons of mazes, stickers, and other activities.

Patricia: My husband came home from an Iraq deployment at 2:00 a.m. on Christmas Eve 2003. His parents didn’t know. The plan was for the family to get together at Dave’s brother’s house in Tampa for Christmas dinner, even without Dave. We drove in from about two hours away. Dave’s parents flew down from NY to FL.  My toddler, Jacob, and I showed up with Dave in tow and gave Dave’s parents quite the shock! Dave’s mom had picked up Jacob (age 15 mo.) for a greeting before seeing Dave and she dropped Jacob nearly to the ground upon seeing him. That’s our family’s coolest immaterial Christmas gift ever.

Lisa: Material gift: Not long after Rick and I were married, he gave me an Elenstar replica pendant. It wasn’t expensive, but he gave it to me via a “treasure hunt” of hints that led me throughout the house to an old tin container hidden in the kitchen. We are both huge Tolkien fans and it still means so much to me.

Lisa: Immaterial gift: It took us nine years to have Molly, so we figured that was all the children we would have, but seven years later—one year after the sudden death of my mom—we learned I was pregnant with Erin. Call it fate, call it coincidence, or call it God’s timing; it turned what would have been a sad time for all of us, especially my dad, into a reason to celebrate a new and beautiful life.

Let Your Girls Grow Up to Be Cowgirls

“Always saddle your own horse. Always know what you’re doing. And go in the direction you are heading.” —Connie Reeves

Living on a farm, I know something about cows. But all I know about cowgirls are movie stereotypes. There’s much more to know. These women defied convention by training horses, riding, doing hard physical labor, and constantly proving themselves capable well before women commonly wore pants. Or had the right to vote. It may be no coincidence that western states and territories passed women’s suffrage laws long before the Nineteenth Amendment granted that same right in the rest of the country.

There are plenty of stereotype-busting cowgirl examples to inspire our daughters, like Connie Reeves, who paved the way for women everywhere she went. Although she was one of the first women to study law at the University of Texas, when tuition money came up short during the Depression she took a job teaching high school. There she started a girls’ drill team, one of the first in the state (and now a passion in Texas). Then she began teaching horseback riding. Over the years this horsewoman taught riding along with her own brand of confidence to an estimated 36,000 children.

The documentary American Cowgirl shows 101-year-old Ms. Reeves riding, assisting at a girls’ summer camp, and trying to keep herself from cussing on camera. As she said, “There’s nothing as expressive as profanity.” The woman described as America’s oldest cowgirl said, “My life’s not important to very many people. But what I have done may be something that will motivate someone else. I hope so.”  Less than a year after being filmed, she was thrown from her favorite horse, a 28-year-old named Dr. Pepper, and died of cardiac arrest. Her spirited example lives on.

cowgirl role models, grow up to be cowgirls,

Cowgirls are role models too. (Gifford Photographic Collection, public domain)

To learn about other inspiring cowgirls, check out:

Cowgirls: Women of the Wild West by Elizabeth Clair Flood and Willam Manns. This photo-packed resource is a tribute to women including those who worked the land and cattle, competed in early rodeos, and starred as cowgirls in Hollywood. It also surveys the impact of cowgirls on gear as well as fashion.

The Cowgirls by Joyce Gibson Roach. A stirring historical account of women who outsmarted desperadoes, discovered cures, took on the government, plus created new works of art in song, story, verse, and performance.

Cowgirls: Stories of Trick Riders, Sharp Shooters, and Untamed Women by Erin H. Turner. Learn about cowgirl history through the stories of 12 fascinatingly different women.

Cowgirls: Women of the American West by Teresa Jordan. Enjoy accounts of today’s cowgirls working on ranches and rodeos across the west.

Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest by Sandra Day O’Connor. We may not consider our Supreme Court Justice a cowgirl, but her vivid memoir gives us a glimpse of childhood on a hardworking ranch.

The Cowgirl Way: Hats Off to America’s Women of the West by Holly George-Warren. Aimed at readers 9 and up but interesting to all ages, this entertaining book provides a wealth of visuals and information.

Born to Be a Cowgirl: A Spirited Ride Through the Old West by Candace C. Savage. This book for tweens includes girls as well as women in a wide-ranging and well-illustrated glimpse of cowgirl history.

Why My Son is a Cooking Geek

cooking geek, kids who cook,

Oh the bliss, a culinary geek in the house! (image: JessicaGale morguefile)

Two of my four kids have always been picky eaters. They don’t even want to smell foods they don’t like. My family’s food prejudices grant me some perks. All I have to do to eat in blissful solitude is concoct a spicy curry. Peace and quiet smells like turmeric to me.

But as any of you who suffer with picky eaters know, there’s a downside. When sautéing onions and garlic I have to blend them to a pulp if I expect these two kids to eat the resulting sauce, soup, or casserole. Otherwise they dissect the food with a fork to find the offending bits. And a clamor goes up when I forget who hates what. My daughter plans to make me a chart so I’ll remember which kid expects to be spared nuts, cumin, green peppers, bananas, and other atrocities.

Imagine my surprise when one of my fussy eaters started cooking. I’ll admit, it didn’t happen until he went away to college so if you have a picky eater, a good tactic might simply be to bide your time.

Aside from the motive of providing himself food more edible than the starch that passes for cafeteria fare, he had greater incentives. The joy of making foods formerly unattainable at home and the pleasure of proving nutrition-geek Mom wrong.

My picky eater, I should say formerly picky eater, was raised in a house that never contained such everyday edibles as white bread, lunch meat, soda, or Twinkies. After celebrating his freedom by indulging in these gustatory delights he realized I’d ruined him for good because preferred home-made food. He just wanted something beyond his mother’s vegetarian fare brimming with freshly picked veggies, topped with ground flax and Brazil nuts. He wanted to make his own “real food.” Understandable.

So he started concocting. Sure, he made a few dishes that seemed designed to horrify his mother, like the one that involved weaving a pound of bacon around sausage patties and cheese. He took photos illustrating each stage of the process, probably to see if he could gross me out.

But it didn’t take him long to get as geeked out about cooking as he is about his other interests. He’s experimenting and learning in all sorts of culinary directions. He pays attention to the science behind the perfect burger and as a result prefers grass-fed beef ordered in a coarse grind.

Cooking geek burger. (image: L. Weldon)

Cooking geek burger. (image: L. Weldon)

He makes no-knead bread that takes a 20 hours to rise. Already he’s modified the recipe. He uses half whole grain flour and half unbleached flour using a sourdough starter he developed after delving into the long history of fermentation.

No-knead bread. (image: K. Weldon)

No-knead bread. (image: K. Weldon)

He follows blogs like Smitten Kitchen and Goons With Spoons. He finds not-your-ordinary cooking videos and replicates the dishes (one of his current favorites features director Robert Rodriguez making Puerco Pibil).

His part-time wages have been spent on cast iron pans, a spice grinder, good knives. And perhaps most satisfying to him, he’s winning nutrition debates with me. To catch up, I’m reading science-based blogs he recommends. Today I spent nearly an hour on the archives of Whole Health Source, entirely my son’s fault.

Now my formerly picky eater shows me the best way to chop onions. He rhapsodizes about roasting whole heads of garlic in oil to spread on crusty bread. While he’s away at school I try to avoid telling him how much I miss him. But I do tell my fellow cooking geek I wish he were here to cook with me.

Music For the Whole Family: Nightlight Daylight

Muriel Anderson, kid music for adults,

Music to steal from your kids. (image: murielanderson.com)

Nightlight Daylight is a 30-song double CD set for children from infancy on up. But don’t make the mistake of thinking this is exclusively for the smaller set. It’s a masterful production by brilliant guitarist Muriel Anderson featuring complex but quietly soothing music on the Nightlight CD that flows seamlessly into lively sophisticated tunes on the Daylight CD.

Anderson collaborates with some of the world’s best musicians including Earl Klugh, Mark Kibble (Take 6), Phil Keaggy, Stanley Jordan, Roy (Futureman) Wooten, Danny Gottlieb, Raughi Ebert and Leo Henrichs (Tierra Negra), members of the Nashville Symphony, and many more. Acoustic guitar weaves in and out through cello, African drum, piano, mandolin, electric guitar, and vocals to create music that’s not only great for kids but also perfect for everything from meditation to dancing.

Listeners won’t even notice how the music makes use of the golden mean, ancient A432 tuning, or complex meters that evoke calm and joy. As Anderson says, “Good music with the intention of of love, joy, healing, and wellness embedded in its DNA is increasingly important in our world, for kids as well as adults.”

The set has already won numerous awards. Take a listen.

But there’s more. It’s packaged with a lovely fiber optic illuminated cover. Push the moon to see stars and fireflies light up. Enticed by the twinkling stars, kids will ask to play it. Once they do, the music will entice the whole family.

 

15 Alternatives to Trick-or-Treat Candy

Trick-or-Treat alternatives. (amazon.com images)

Trick-or-Treat alternatives. (amazon.com images)

When my kids were tiny we successfully avoided Halloween’s trick-or-treat. We hosted costume parties with their toddler friends. We let our kids stand at the door to pass out non-candy treats on Halloween night. One year we set up a wildly inventive Halloween scavenger hunt with our other health-conscious friends, watching three and four-year-olds dash all over our shared yards to find treasures like packages of vitamin C gum, cloth bags with blocks, and carob candy spheres wrapped to look like tiny planets. These tactics all worked well until the oldest in each family went to school. Then the lure of roving house to house on a dark night, shouting “trick-or-treat,” was too great. The tradition is clearly an inescapable part of a child’s Halloween.

Still, we aren’t fond of handing out corn syrupy candies or, as suggested in so many “alternatives to Halloween candy” lists, a bunch of cheap themed plastic toys destined for the trash. Here are our suggestions, with prices.

Ka Boom Comics  (Thanks to GeekMom Jenn for this hint.) 50 kids’ comics for $19.99  Last day to order!

Monster Tattoos 72 for $5.05

YumEarth Organic Lollipops 5 pound bag for $28.28

Halloween Temporary Tattoos 144 for $7.95

Book Grab Bag. Start picking up kids’ books from thrift stores, garage sales, and library sales to hand out.

Glow Stick Bracelets  100 for $10.98

Pirate’s Booty, Aged White Cheddar snacks 60/ 0.5 ounce bags for $28.94

Play-Doh  15 mini tubs for $8.99

Make Your Own Halloween Pumpkins Stickers 75 sticker sets for $6.29

Endangered Species Chimp Mints 64/ 0.35 ounce packages for $38.52

Annie’s Homegrown Organic Bunny Fruit Snacks 24 pouches for $16.88

Annie’s Homegrown Organic Vegan Fruit Snacks  36/ 0.8 ounce pouches for $27.76

Snyders of Hanover Variety Pretzel Snacks  36/ 1.5 ounce bags for $17.93

LED Finger Lights  80 for $15.99

Jack o’Lantern face oranges.  Use a permanent marker to decorate Clementine or regular-sized orange.

Citrus Jack o'Lanterns. (image: instructables.com)

Citrus Jack o’Lanterns. (image: instructables.com)

 

Yes, There’s a Connection Between Diet and Behavior

research diet and behavior, food intolerance and mood, food intolerance and school problems,  USDA Commons

Food intolerance and “difficult” behavior. (Image: USDA Commons)

I’m one of those annoying people. I grow enough organic produce to put up hundreds of jars of home canned goods each year. I bake with weird flours like buckwheat and almond, use coconut oil instead of canola, sometimes even make my own herbal tinctures. I was probably a little nutty about nutrition before I had kids. I got a lot nuttier afterwards.

All of my health-foodie ways didn’t ward off my third child’s problems. He was born with a hole in his heart. Even after that was resolved he rarely seemed completely healthy. He had asthma, chronic skin irritations, an ever-stuffy nose, and low resistance to any passing germ. He never complained and his disposition was so sunny that we believed doctors when they told us there was no reason to worry. I reassured myself that my child’s life was full of good food, wonderful experiences, and plenty of nurturing from our close extended family.

But that sunny disposition didn’t ease the way for him at school.

His kindergarten teacher said he was cheerful but she complained that he preferred helping other kids to completing his own work.  The next year it got worse. His first grade teacher said he was distracted, didn’t get his work done, and tended to sit with his hands folded over his head in a posture that enraged her. At her insistence we took him to a psychologist. He was diagnosed with ADD.

I was sure we could find a solution, maybe further perfecting his already healthy diet. So we took him to a pediatric allergist for a series of tests. The outcome shocked us. My little boy reacted strongly to nearly everything I’d been feeding him. Worse, the doctor warned us that our son’s breathing was dangerously impaired during and after the test, which indicated that his food allergies were serious. Final test results showed that my son was allergic to soy, to nearly a dozen fruits, and to every grain but rice. The foods I had long suspected, including chocolate and dairy, were not a problem at all. The doctor was so concerned by my son’s asthma flare up that he advised the gold standard, an elimination test to uncover additional food intolerances.

We went home with a long list of dietary and environmental allergens to avoid. My son’s dinner that night was a bowl of rice cereal. Ever the optimist, my son noted that he didn’t react to dairy or chocolate, so he’d happily live on chocolate milk.

For decades, experts have denounced any link between diet and behavior problems. They poo poo’d a connection between common health problems and food as well. Back in the 1970s, parents who insisted their children thrived on the Feingold Diet were told the evidence was entirely anecdotal. Studies that disproved diet and behavior links, despite questionable procedures, were widely publicized. One such study examined children’s reaction to food dyes. Both the experimental and control group of children were given beverages containing sweeteners and artificial flavoring, only the experimental group’s beverage also contained food dye. Both groups of children behaved similarly after the drink. Claims for a connection between diet and behavior were then denounced although press releases rarely mentioned how the tests were conducted.

But scientific evidence is accumulating to prove what parents have suspected all along.

Our children’s minds and bodies are built by what they eat. Some children (like mine) are much more sensitive than others. Previous studies have shown that even children who are not diagnosed with ADHD or other behavioral disorders react to drinks containing artificial color and sodium benzoate. Not just a mild reaction. They typically increase their activity levels by one-half to two-thirds, in league with their ADHD peers.

But everywhere our kids turn, marketers push processed and nutritionally devoid foods at them. In fact, more than a third of the calories U.S. children consume now come from junk food. Is it worth fighting the battle against these overwhelming influences?

Certainly seems that way.

More and more data is piling up to prove the point. And it’s compelling. Research shows that a junk food diet is linked to a lower IQ and a greater likelihood of school failure.

And it’s not just junk food.

We might feed our kids the healthiest foods, but if they don’t tolerate these foods well, chances are they will react. A new study took a close look at the way ADHD behavioral problems may be caused or accelerated by diet. One hundred children with ADHD symptoms, ages 4 to 8, took part. Fifty of the children and their parents were counseled about healthful diets. The other fifty children were put on diets limited to foods unlikely to cause reactions: rice, turkey, lamb, carrots, lettuce, pears, and other hypoallergenic items.

By the study’s end the majority of the children on the limited diet showed significant improvement on a variety of behavioral ratings. Before the diet their symptoms put them in the moderate to severe range of ADHD, but diet intervention reduced to symptoms to those classified as mild or non-clinical.

That’s big news.

In my son’s case, changing his diet wasn’t easy. But we could see the difference in a week’s time. His stuffy nose cleared. The bumps on his skin smoothed out. And we discovered that he kept his arms folded over his head so often because it expanded his lungs and help him breathe, something he didn’t need to do as his asthma got better.

My son didn’t stick with all the new dietary limitations all the time, especially as he got older.

And a restricted diet wasn’t the whole answer. Together we learned that school wasn’t the right place for his particular gifts to flourish. Once we started homeschooling we were free to explore more natural learning. Without the pressure of cafeteria lunches, classroom snacks, and school parties it was much easier to feed him the foods his body tolerated well.

Including chocolate milk. Being the nut I am, I took even chocolate milk to the extreme. Now we have dairy cows.

No, you don’t have to raise your own dairy cattle. (Image: Bit of Earth Farm)

 

Let’s Warp Time

perceived time, time acceleration, mindfulness to slow time,

Clocked lives. Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Remember the way school recess was over in an instant?  Remember how your tenth birthday took almost forever to arrive? Yeah, that was childhood. Now months zip by with such speed that it’s becoming obvious why the oldest people cling so fiercely to handrails—because time is practically knocking them down as it whips past.

This concept is brilliantly depicted at Wait But Why.

waitbutwhy.com/2013/08/putting-time-in-perspective.html

Time’s slippery slope. (image:waitbutwhy.com)

See how our perspective of time changes as the years go by?

Researcher Robert Lemlich studied the way we perceive time’s passage. According to him, 80-year-olds have gone through 71 percent of their subjective experience of time by the age of 40, making the years between ages 60 and 80 seem like 13 percent of their lives. By his calculations, when we’re 20 years old we’re halfway through the felt experience of our lives, meaning that 60 additional years will seem to pass as quickly as the first 20. That’s a nasty blow.

It makes me wonder how the youngest among us sense time. If a baby cries when a parent leaves, does it feel like an eternity of sorrow to him? If a toddler’s plaything is grabbed by another toddler, does that frustration seem to stretch out forever? Maybe that’s not far from the truth.

Our experience of time isn’t entirely explained by the proportional theory. If we think about it, we realize our perception of time has a great deal to do with what we’re experiencing. Time actually warps. Notice that it moves grindingly slow when we’re in physical or emotional pain. Time also elongates (far more wonderfully) when we’re fully present,  making even the most ordinary moments—a child’s squeal of laughter or the first sip of a cold drink on a hot day—into something larger. It stretches even further when we’re immersed in a wholly new experience—say first love or scuba diving.

Far too often, our personal time warp goes in one direction—hurtling down a chronological slide. It gathers speed because we’re busy, we’re multitasking, we’re in a rut, and thus less mindful of the passing moments that make up our days, weeks, and years.

We can get all quantum-y about it. There’s an experiment that seems to explain why time moves slower and faster according to our perception. But we don’t really need to study entangled photons to figure it out. We want to fully live the time we’re allotted on this planet.

I’m convinced we can swing time’s warpable dimensions in our favor. I hope to make time stretch by carving out screen free time, pausing between bites when I eat, and by walking outside every night to look at the stars. Even if my best intentions happen only occasionally, it may make a difference. How do you stretch your sense of time?

time perception, time mindfulness,

Taking it back. (CC by 2.0 Sean MacEntee’s flickr photostream)

Great Food Your Family Will Eat From Budget Bytes

Breakfast Parfaits (image courtesy of budgetbytes.com)

Breakfast Parfaits (image courtesy of budgetbytes.com)

I don’t know about your family, but eaters at my house have very specific tastes. One is suspicious of food containing “weird stuff.” One doesn’t like things new to her. Some are vegetarians, others are not. This makes mealtime complicated, especially when frugality is an absolute necessity for us.

For those reasons and more, I follow Beth Moncel’s blog Budget Bytes. Her emphasis is on healthy, low cost, reasonably quick recipes. Many have become favorites in our house—like No Knead Pan PizzaAfrican Peanut Stew, and Homemade Naan. These you have to try!

I’m thrilled that her book is finally out. Budget Bytes: Over 100 Easy, Delicious Recipes to Slash Your Grocery Bill in Half is packed with great food and plenty of money-saving tips. Everything we’ve tried has been family pleasing and low-fuss. As many of us do, I modify recipes to meet my family’s tastes as I cook. When I make Budget Bytes Pad Thai I keep the cilantro and green onions on the side so my family can add as they please, plus I put Siracha sauce and chili paste on the table for those of us who appreciate extra heat. When I make Beef Taquitos I fill and roll another pan of taquitos with black beans, peppers, and cheese as a meatless option. No problem, because Budget Bytes recipes are simple, making them simple to modify too.

Beth graciously agreed to share some recipes (and tempting photos) with GeekMom readers.

Beef & Bean Taquitos (budgetbytes.com)

Beef & Bean Taquitos (budgetbytes.com)

Beef & Bean Taquitos

Makes 12 taquitos

These little taquitos are so much fun to eat. They make a great main dish or party appetizer and are a welcome change to chicken wings or takeout pizza for game day get-togethers. You can dip these taquitos in sour cream and salsa, or be the star of the show and make your own Creamy Cilantro-Lime Dressing (page 000). Show up to a party with homemade taquitos and creamy cilantro dipping sauce, and I guarantee you’ll be invited back to every party in the future.

Ingredients

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 pound lean ground beef

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1/2 tablespoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon cornstarch

Pinch of cayenne pepper

1/4 teaspoon salt

12 (6-inch) yellow corn tortillas

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until the garlic begins to soften. Add the ground beef and continue to cook until the beef is thoroughly browned, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the beans, chili powder, cornstarch, cayenne pepper, salt, and ½ cup of water to the skillet and stir to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is thick and bubbly. Mash the beans slightly while the mixture simmers, as this will help hold the taquito filling together.

Stack the tortillas on a large plate and microwave for about 45 seconds, or until they are hot, steamy, and very pliable. This will prevent the tortillas from splitting open as you roll the taquitos.

Place about 1/4 cup of the filling in each tortilla and roll the tortilla tightly into a cigar-shaped taquito. Place the rolled taquitos, seam side down, on the lined baking sheet.

Brush the remaining 2 tablespoons vegetable oil over the rolled taquitos, making sure to coat them well on all sides.

Bake the taquitos for 20 minutes, or until golden brown and crispy. Serve hot with salsa, sour cream, or Creamy Cilantro-Lime Dressing for dipping.

Budget Byte: Because ground beef is not usually sold in ½-pound packages, I simply divide a 1-pound package in half and freeze the rest for use in another recipe. Just remember to label and date your freezer bags!

Apricot-Walnut Bars (image courtesy of budgetbytes.com)

Apricot-Walnut Bars (image courtesy of budgetbytes.com)

Apricot-Walnut Bars

Serves 9

I try so hard to be good, so hard. But sometimes I just need something sweet to nosh on. The subtle sweetness of the dried apricots, bananas, and a touch of brown sugar is just enough to quiet my sweet tooth, while oats and walnuts leave my belly full and my hunger squashed. Whether it’s an after-dinner treat or a mid-morning snack, these granola-like Apricot-Walnut Bars work double-duty as a dessert or mini meal. You can customize these bars to use whatever dried fruit or nuts you have on hand, but I’m partial to golden apricots and rich walnuts!

Ingredients

1 cup mashed ripe bananas (2 to 3 medium bananas)

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup chopped dried apricots

1/3 cup chopped walnuts

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

Instructions

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Line an 8-by-8-inch casserole dish with parchment paper.

In a medium bowl, combine the bananas, vanilla, brown sugar, and salt and stir to evenly combine.

Stir the apricots and walnuts into the banana mixture. Finally, stir in the oats.

Press the oat mixture evenly into the bottom of the prepared dish. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges are golden brown. Remove from the baking dish and set on a wire rack to cool, then cut into 9 equal bars, and enjoy.

Easy Pad Thai (image courtesy of budgetbytes.com)

Easy Pad Thai 

Serves 4

I’m probably not supposed to play favorites, but this recipe is definitely my favorite. Pad thai is the epitome of simple ingredients creating dazzling flavor. It’s fresh, light, exotic, and faster than any takeout (unless, of course, you happen to live above a restaurant that delivers). Fresh lime is key to creating the unique flavor, but one lime should be enough for a single or even double batch of this noodle dish. Fish sauce, which you can find in the Asian section of most major grocery stores or at Asian markets, gives this pasta a more authentic flavor, but if you can’t find any, skip it; this dish will still rock your world.

Ingredients

8 ounces pad thai or lo mein noodles

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 clove garlic, minced

2 large eggs

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

Juice of 1 medium lime

2 tablespoons brown sugar

1 teaspoon fish sauce

1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes

3 green onions, sliced

1/4 bunch fresh cilantro, leaves only, roughly chopped

1/4 cup chopped, unsalted peanuts

Instructions

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add the noodles and cook for 7 to 10 minutes, or until tender. Drain the noodles and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 minutes, or until tender.

Whisk the eggs lightly with a fork. Pour them into the skillet and cook just until they solidify, but are still moist, moving the eggs around the skillet slightly as they cook so that they lightly scramble. When the eggs are cooked, remove the skillet from the heat and set aside.

In a small bowl, stir together the soy sauce, lime juice, sugar, fish sauce, and red pepper flakes. Pour the sauce into the skillet with the scrambled eggs. Add the noodles and toss to coat in the sauce.

Sprinkle the green onions, cilantro, and peanuts over the noodles. Toss lightly to combine. Serve warm.

Budget Byte: Pad thai noodles have a unique flavor and texture, but if you can’t find them in your area, try substituting another flat pasta like linguine.

Chef’s Tip: To get the most juice from your lime, roll it on your countertop while applying pressure before cutting it open. This causes the juice capsules to burst and release more juice.

Breakfast Parfaits (image courtesy of budgetbytes.com)

Breakfast Parfaits 

Makes 5

Hot oatmeal is fantastic, but in the dead of summer, a cold breakfast is more appealing. I like to prepare four or five of these on Sunday night and then have breakfast ready and waiting for me in the fridge every morning. As these parfaits refrigerate, the oats absorb moisture from the yogurt and fruit, giving them a unique, chewy texture. In turn, the yogurt thickens up to a creamy Greek yogurt–like consistency. You can customize these parfaits to include just about any fruit or nut you like, but the combination of blueberry, pineapple, almond, and flaxseed is my favorite!

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups plain or vanilla  yogurt

1 2/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

5 tablespoons ground flaxseed

5 tablespoons sliced almonds

1 1/4 cups frozen blueberries

1 (15-ounce) can pineapple chunks in juice, drained, juice reserved (see Budget Byte, below)

Instructions

In each of 5 12-ounce lidded  mason jars, layer 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/3 cup oats, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, 1 tablespoon flaxseed, and 1 tablespoon sliced almonds.

Add 1/4 cup of the blueberries to each jar. Divide the pineapple chunks evenly among the jars.

Refrigerate the jars overnight before serving to allow the oats to absorb moisture and soften. Stir just before eating.

Chef’s Tip: Mason jars are perfect for these parfaits because they’re portable and reusable, and the chilled glass will keep the parfait cold as you eat.

Budget Byte: The leftover pineapple juice is excellent for making smoothies. Store the juice in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Disclaimer: GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Tutorial: Say It With Sock Monsters

 

handmade sock monsters,

Sock monsters are soft fun. (all images: L. Weldon)

A while back I made and sold dozens of sock monsters in order to donate money to my favorite cause, Collateral Repair Project. This non-profit aids Iraqis and Syrians fleeing violence in the Middle East through community building, education, and emergency aid. I sat in my comfortable house night each evening listening to podcasts on science or culture as I stitched these soft toys. My dogs slept on the rug nearby. When my kids came in the room I solicited their ideas for the next sock monster’s face. I hadn’t taken on larger monsters in the world, but I could channel my concerns into soft monsters.

These little creatures required very little in the way of new materials other than stuffing and socks. Their features were created out of vintage buttons, embroidery floss, rick rack, and thread so old it was wrapped around wooden spools. This made them extra special because these notions were left to me by my mother and grandmother.

(If you’re making sock monsters as a toy for any child under five, do not use buttons or other sewn-on feature that could be pulled or bitten off.)

How To Make Sock Monsters

1. Select a baby or toddler-sized sock. The larger the sock, the larger the monster. You can use solid colorpatterned, striped, or solid color on bottom—just be sure that the socks aren’t emblazoned with the company logo unless you want the monster to feature those words.

2. Cut an inch or so strip from the open end of the sock.

This is the space between the ears.

This is the space between the ears.

3. Position the sock heel up. Snip open a small space at the toe, about an inch or less.  If you choose, you can also make a small slit at the heel where you can sew in a tongue or tasty morsel that the monster might want to chew on.

Go ahead, cut. Socks are forgiving. (image: L. Weldon)

Go ahead, cut. Socks are forgiving.

4. Turn the sock inside-out. Sew the ends and sides of the ears closed in a continuous seam. Try making one shorter than the other or angled or otherwise unique.

Add personality as you go. Mistakes add it too.

 

Trim the seam.

5. If you made a slit in the sock’s heel back in step two, you can add mouth features now. This little guy’s tongue is a sewn-in pouch made from leftover bits of sock, although a strip of felt would work too. (It’s shown already stuffed and finished.)

What a heel.

What a heel.

6. Stuff the sock tightly with polyfill or old pillow contents or dryer lint or whatever you’ve got. Start with the ears and work your way down.  Leave the bottom end open for now, as you may want to stitch through this opening as you add features.

Get in my belly!

Get in my belly!

7. Now it’s time to add unique features. Remember, if you’re making a sock monster for a baby or young child, the safest features are those drawn or securely embroidered on.

Try some scary felt teeth.

Ask any dental professional. Green teeth are terrifying.

A silly sideways felted mouth and giant button eyes.

Socks with colored ribbing at the top make cheerful monster ears.

Perhaps a bright patch of embroidery floss hair.

This guy also has a braided green tail.

Or ring glasses.

Tight stuffing and asymmetrical ears improve this monster’s look.

8. Sew the open end, your monster’s rear, closed. You may choose to seam the sides together for a simple bottom, which looks like toes on this head-standing sock monster.

Hand sewing lends, um, charm?

Or insert a circle of sock fabric and sew the opening shut, making a somewhat more stable monster.

Round butts help them sit securely. That’s my excuse too.

9. Try experimenting with feet, hands, and wings. Peaceful diversity in the sock monster world. It’s a start.

handmade sock monster,

Handmade sock monster takes on the world.

35 Ways To Make Summer Linger

family fun, outdoor fun, family traditions,

Summer isn’t over till you say it is! (CC by 2.0 Ano Lobb on flickr)

Summer is NOT over. Oh, it may feel like it now that school has started and Halloween accouterments are on store shelves. But it’s officially still summer until September 22nd.

There’s still plenty of time to fit in summer-y pleasure for your family. Not pricey get-your-ticket, wait-in-line amusements, just the sort of fun that stretches a barefoot, carefree feeling well into autumn’s first chill.

 

Do something messy outside.

1. Take a meal outdoors and sit on the grass to enjoy it. In our family, at least once every summer, we eat directly from the plate without hands or utensils. We call this “trough feeding.” Bet you can’t do it without laughing through the whole meal.

2. Designate an area of the yard where kids can play right in the dirt. They might want to use it to build mountains and valleys for their toy dinosaurs, cars, or action figures. They might want to dig holes, perhaps looking for archaeological finds using Hands-On Archaeology: Real-Life Activities for Kids as a guide. For a real mess, give them enough water to make a mud pit. Your status as an epic parent will linger (so will the stains).

3. Mix up some washable paint, then let the kids paint designs on the driveway.

4. Make drip castles at the beach or in the sandbox.

5. Throw a BYOB party. This is cheap, imagination-driven fun. Guests are charged with one simple task: Bring. Your. Own. Box. Together kids can construct a fort or spaceship or whatever they please out of the boxes, then spend hours playing in it. There are plenty of other ways to amuse kids with cardboard boxes too.

6. Roast or boil fresh corn at your next picnic, tossing cobs over your shoulder as you finish. When it’s time to clean up, offer a prize for whoever picks up the most cobs. (A great prize is offering to read a few extra chapters aloud in the book you’re doing together.)

7. Form bubble snakes using old mismatched socks.

8. Make sponge bombs out of household sponges, then soak and use for tossing games. Unlike water balloons, these are reusable. They also make a lovely smacking sound when dropped on an unsuspecting sibling from the top of a slide. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

 

Get some exercise. 

9. Make foam swords. For peace of mind you may also want to make foam-covered shields, foam body pads, and operate on a no-running-hits/no-face-hits rule. Any violation and parents get to use the swords. Or simply fence with cardboard tubes. The Cardboard Tube Fighting League rules are worthy indeed.

10. Go hiking. Before leaving, decide what each of you will keep your eyes open to see. Your son might decide to look for things that fly. Your daughter might decide to look for the color red. You might keep an eye out for poison ivy. It’s interesting how much more cued all of you will be to your surroundings when really looking.

11. Set up a bike, trike, or scooter obstacle course. Mark the course with sidewalk chalk or masking tape. The course may lead them around cones, through a sprinkler, under crepe paper streamers hanging from a tree branch, and on to a finish line. Next, encourage them to set up their own obstacle courses.

12. Find out how advanced hooping has become and how to get your kids started. You’ll want to provide a good example of hula hoop enthusiasm. Here’s how to make a hoop that will fit your, ahem, grown-up hips.

13. Take  after-dark walks. Kids enjoy this even more when they are in charge of the flashlights.

14. Set up relay races. It’s a great way to get your loved ones to hop in sacks and crawl with laundry baskets. When summer is gone you’ll want those photos.

15. Go on a camera scavenger hunt. First choose a theme, like Ten Things That Move or A Dozen Yellow Things. Then send kids out with cameras (disposable, digital, or cell phone cameras) to grab some images. Encourage them to find creative, funny, and unusual ways to interpret the theme. Pop the photos up on the computer screen or take disposable cameras to a one-hour processing shop.

16. Set up backyard bowling. Save 10 empty plastic bottles, set them up in a triangular pattern, then roll a ball toward them. This makes a satisfying clatter on the driveway. For a bigger challenge, fill the bottles a third to half full. Teach older kids how to keep score.

17.  Ask the oldest people you know to tell you about games they played when they were growing up. Then play them. Better yet, play them with those elders.

 

Make something tasty together. 

18. Anything cooked outside tastes better whether on the grill, over a fire pit, or over a real campfire. Slice a few inches open on an unpeeled banana, stuff in a dollop of peanut butter and a few miniature marshmallows, then grill till it becomes a warm pudding in its own banana container. Bake brownies or cake inside hollowed out oranges over a fire pit.  For more ideas check out Campfire CookingScout’s Outdoor Cookbookand Easy Campfire Cooking

19. Stick pasta salad on a skewer.

20. Make homemade, corn syrup-free marshmallows.

21. Write a message or draw a picture on the skin of a banana using a toothpick or pencil. It’ll darken within an hour.

22. Make ice cream in a bag.

23. Keep fruits like bananas, mangoes, pineapple, strawberries, and peaches in separate containers in the freezer. On different days let each child take a turn concocting a smoothie for the family by blending his or her choice of fruit with juice and/or yogurt in the blender. Serve in tiny cups for taste testing. Encourage the creator to come up with a name for the frozen delight,

24.  Make burp juice. Show kids how to mix a quarter cup or so of juice concentrate (undiluted) into eight ounces of unsweetened seltzer water. Adjust to taste with more juice or seltzer. Add ice cubes, then drink. It has the same carbonation level as soda without sugar or food coloring. We call it burp juice in our house because quick gulps bring on burps.

25. If you’ve got a food dehydrator and some monster zucchini, make zuke gummi fruit. Surprisingly tasty and surely a zillion times healthier. Remember, when kids help they’re much more likely to eat the results.

 

Engage in some science. 

26. Make rock candy that actually works.

27. Create your own eclipse.

28. Engage in some nephology.

29. Draw the solar system with sidewalk chalk.

30. Do some ice cube experiments.

31. Race balloon rockets.

 

Make it an adventure. 

32. Camp out in the backyard. Tell stories, play hide and seek in the dark, let kids use flashlights as they please.

33. Get retro and experience a drive-in movie with your kids. You can search this database to find one nearest you. If there’s no hope of finding one remotely close by, set up a backyard movie theater. You might want to invite the neighborhood for an 80’s film fest. To give it that drive-in vibe, kids can make their own cars out of cardboard boxes. That way during the movie they can sit with their feet up on a cardboard dash and spill popcorn all over the cardboard interior without anyone bugging them about it.

34. Give the kids a budget and let them plan what they family will do next Saturday.

35. Most important of all, leave time for make-believe, daydreams, and on-the-spot fun.

Engage in Counter-Tourism

My kids staged a revolt after one too many visits to historical sites.

We were touring a restoration village; you know, the sort of place featuring a blacksmith shop, one room schoolhouse, mill, general store, and a few homes. Normally we stroll around on our own at heritage sites, looking and talking and speculating as we let curiosity lead us. But this time we came with a group of parents and children, so we politely followed a docent as she gave a series of memorized talks meant to educate the sweaty masses. It was hot and stuffy in those small buildings. The docent droned about the historic significance of various items, never changing her patter to meet a child’s interests. Worse, every time she was asked a question she went back to the beginning of her particular speech rather than jump back in where she’d stopped.

It was slow torture of the instructional kind.

If only we’d visited as counter-tourists. For well over a decade Phil Smith, aka Crab Man, has encouraged people to bend tourism into their own unique experiences.  He asks us to look past the official versions provided by guide books, limited by entrance fees, and structured around prohibited areas. Right beyond, we can experience these places playfully.

Tactics he shares in Counter-Tourism: A Pocketbook: 50 Odd Things to Do in a Heritage Site may seem silly to the uninitiated. But they are, at the very core, a way of stepping past approved viewpoints to freshly explore and discover new stories.

 

Counter-Tourism: A Pocketbook by Crab Man

 

Counter-Tourism: A Pocketbook by Crab Man

 

Counter-Tourism: A Pocketbook by Crab Man

It’s an approach that sidesteps the homogenization that Dr. Smith terms “mythogeography” or “the past on life support,” and instead celebrates the open-ended meaning found in every heritage site as a form of play.

Thanks to suggestions in Counter-Tourism: A Pocketbook: 50 Odd Things to Do in a Heritage Site we might make some new earthworks in the back yard after visiting a prehistoric site or visit a shopping mall as if it were a post-apocalyptic artifact.

Thanks to suggestions in his larger-scale work Counter-Tourism: The Handbook we might leave notes in graveyards, kiss statues, photograph mold and stains, knock on doors in search of our ancestor’s homes, or use a dream symbolism book to interpret a heritage site. (He invites you to submit your own counter-tourism hacks, too.)

This can get as complicated as you’d like because Dr. Smith is a complex guy. He’s written over 100 plays, does site-specific performances in unconventional setting, creates “mis-guides” and counter-tours, and authored books such as On Walking and Mythogeography.

We’re taking his work at the most basic level. If I can talk my family into checking out another heritage site, we’ll follow one of his suggestions. Maybe we’ll all wear pirate eye patches.

When You’re Having a Crappy Day

mood contagion, positive attitude,

Digging into the roots of bad moods. Image credit: EmiNguyen.

I’m having one of those days; a steaming pile of crap sort of day. You know how it is.

We all have them. A bad mood isn’t far behind when we wake to the same old challenging circumstances, especially when spilled coffee or an angry tailgater adds to our problems. Negativity has a ripple effect. We’re grumpy, so we complain to others. This tips conversational topics toward what annoys us. Worse, a negative outlook sets our personal radar to scan for more difficulty on the horizon. Such days rarely improve.

Sure, some of us hold out a little longer by emphasizing the positive. This is a useful tactic because moods are downright contagious. Studies show an individual’s emotions can influence entire groups (families, playgrounds, workplaces). Positive contagion leads to more cooperation and less conflict. Negative contagion—well, you know how fun that can be. Apparently, moods spread like that pink goo from The Cat in the Hat Comes Back.

No one is upbeat all the time. It’s inauthentic (and probably why chronically perky people inspire loathing). But we can choose  what attitude we bring to life’s ups and downs. It’s certainly easy to focus on five minutes of difficulty rather than overall smooth progress. We do it all the time. A child’s angry outburst overshadows hours of sunny cooperation. A colleague’s late return from lunch somehow reflects badly on a week’s worth of work. Or a whole slew of minor problems start to look like a steaming pile.

I discovered while reading Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom that we’re fighting a hardwired tendency. Our brains pay more attention to the negative than the positive. That was probably helpful when saber-toothed tigers threatened our early ancestors. It’s not so helpful these days.

Fortunately, I live on a small farm, where the cows produce loads of actual crap. So I know what to expect from it. Whether mixed into garden beds or left in a heap, eventually it fosters blooming new life.

The same potential lies dormant in our worst days. No matter what, we’re still in charge of our own attitudes. Because shit happens is only one way to look at it.

Compost happens  too.

good moods, contagious good moods, positivity,

Compost happens. Image: Leanan87.

DIY: Monster Style Pants Repair

Huge, pants-wrecking rip. (image L. Weldon)

Huge, pants-wrecking rip. (image L. Weldon)

Although my son wears heavyweight and durable pants, he still manages to stain, rip, and fray them to shreds. I used to amuse myself by cutting patches from old jeans in the shape of dinosaurs to sew over ripped knees, but he’s way too old for that. He still destroys pants and I still like to amuse myself with stitchery. So this time, rather than sew on a plain square patch or cut the pants into shorts, I made a quick repair—monster style.

I got the idea from Samantha at By Meikk (you’ll have to hit the “translate” button to read her blog, which appears to be written in Dutch). She uses fleece and felt backed with fusible webbing to cleverly patch a hole with a monster face.

Monster Knee repair (www.bymiekk.nl)

Monster Knee repair (www.bymiekk.nl)

I took a quicker route.

I positioned a contrasting color iron-on patch over the hole from the inside, making sure that the shiny fusible coating faced the outside of the pants. Before ironing in place, I cut jagged teeth from a white iron-on patch and positioned the fusible side in toward the other patch. I covered it all with a piece of parchment paper to keep it from sticking to the iron. Then I held the iron, turned up to the hottest setting, on the patch area and fused it for about 45 seconds.

Next I cut eyes from a left-over piece of contrast color iron-on patch and ironed them shiny side down on the outside of the fabric.

monster patch repair,

Monster patch repair in progress. (image: L. Weldon)

I know these patches tend to loosen after a few go-rounds in the washing machine, so I sewed around the edges with primitive Frankenstein-like stitches.

Hand sewing to ensure patches stay in place. (image: L. Weldon)

Hand sewing to ensure patches stay in place. (image: L. Weldon)

Then I colored a pupil in each eye with a fabric marker.

make a monster jeans patch,

Adding some monster personality. (image: L. Weldon)

The whole process took less than ten minutes. I folded the pants along with my son’s other clean laundry, anticipating that he’d be surprised when he put them on. That didn’t happen. His siblings found my repair job so silly that they informed him he now owned monstrous pants. I wasn’t sure he’d approve but he looked, laughed, and came over to hug me. Apparently our kids can outgrow all sorts of things but retain a lingering affection for whimsical mothers.