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    Nature, Technology, and Being Human





    Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives.
    ~Thomas Berry (The Dream of the Earth)

     

    In late August, early September, we went to Maine for a week. I didn’t really blog much about it at the time; but, more on that later. While on that trip, at the base of Mount Washington, actually, I came across a book called, Last Child in the Woods.  Though I didn’t end up buying it, I did thumb through it a bit, and added it to my “to read” list. It caught my attention because it draws on a point I make to myself, and worry over, frequently as a parent; particularly as a parent raising children in a condo in the most densely populated state of the United States. That point is: Are our children, and are WE, as humans, getting so far removed from nature, and so dependent on technology, that we’re… damaging ourselves?


    (my kids, digging by the lake in Maine)

     

    I don’t mean just physical damage like carpel tunnel syndrome or losing muscle tone or gaining weight from so many hours in front of the computer (though those are important, too). I mean more that we’ve evolved WITH nature – for thousands, millions of years – and it’s only been in the last couple of centuries – particularly the last couple of decades where we’ve left our codependency with nature in favor of codependency with technology. Televisions, video games, computers, cars,  smartphones... Our food is techno-fied, our travel is techno-fied, even our books are techno-fied. I feel like in our day-to-day lives, we’re really losing touch with our earth; we’re emotionally disconnected from nature; that must have an effect on how we ARE.

     

    I’m not anti-technology. Far from it, being that I’m here writing this on my laptop, to be published on my blog, which I’ll read on my iPhone, which is up on the internet; which is also the home of our retail websites (which are our livelihood as a family). And, once finished writing this, I will very likely hop on my treadmill, to be followed by viewing a movie on Netflix. Heck, I’m far from being anti-technology; I love technology. 

     

    But I also love the earth. I vividly remember playing in the grass and the sand and the trees and the dirt as a kid. Hours spent in the garden, and just being outside in the summertime, the Spring, the Fall, and even the Winter. As a young kid, we were outside all. the. time. (Until, of course, my parents caved, and finally bought a Nintendo. I spent a lot more time indoors after, say, 1986 or so. Still, I rode my bike to school.)

     

    It’s different for my children. Of course, I want to believe they too love the earth.  In the Spring, Summer, and Fall, we go hiking as much as we can, and we tend towards nature-loving vacations, when we take them.  We container garden in the Summer, and visit the Farmer’s Market on the weekends. But, in spite of that, the reality for my children is that there has never been Life Without Cellphones. They know how to turn on their computer, open a browser and surf the internet. They know how many “friends” I have on Facebook. (And how many their dad and grandmother have, too). We’ve never had a newspaper delivered.  I’m not sure they’ve ever seen a payphone in person, nor had to wait for film to be developed. Email, online, download, Twitter, blog – all of these words are seamlessly part of their lexicon.

     

    I think it’s easy as adults who have grown up with a mix of nature & technology, to feel okay about our own children having simple access to technology. Afterall, we grew up on Sesame Street and Walkmen, and Ataris, and we’re okay, right? At times, I find it effortless – and fascinating – as adults, who are ourselves immersed in technology, to watch our children so easily adapt to computers, internet, iPhones.  But I am afraid in that ease, we forget that as kids ourselves, we really were outside. A LOT. And when we were outside, we were out there without cellphones. That outside time, that meshing with and growing up in nature, was important. Feeling grass on our feet, dirt under our nails, sun on our shoulders (without even sunscreen, OMG), tree bark against our legs as we climbed… that was necessary. All that time outside wasn’t useless, wasn’t just getting us out from under our mothers’ feet, it was teaching us about this earth from where we came, and where we’ll return.  The smells of the earth, the rain, the plants, helped to develop our senses.  The sun helped set our internal clock (not to mention made sure our vitamin D levels were on the right track – without supplements, OMG). Getting lost, then finding our way home, without GPS, helped us learn to rely on ourselves, to pay attention to our surroundings in order to orient ourselves. “Going out to play” helped us meet people, learn how to make friends, play games, share, make up rules, win, lose. I knew where food came from because we had a garden, and we got any produce we didn’t grow from the local farm; the grocery store was a much less-frequented destination. It’s just different for our kids.


    (my kids, exploring the trees in the woods in New Jersey)

     

    Anyhow, back to Maine, for a moment, and then, I’ll close up my thoughts. We drove up to Maine in the wake of Hurricane Irene. It was the clearest I’ve ever seen 95 – there was hardly a soul on the road – it was the fastest we’ve made it through New York City, ever. Upon arriving at our cabin, we realized that Irene had taken out the electricity on our road. We spent the next five days of our vacation without electricity or running water. Which also meant: No lights. And… no computers. Also, no alarm clocks (though I woke with the sunrise every morning). No microwaves. No movies. We bathed in the lake water and cooked over a fire. We read books and played board games in the evening by candlelight. We sang and roasted marshmallows around the campfire before bed. And during the day, we went swimming, canoeing, hiking, exploring, and just playing outside. All day. Until the sun went down. While I can’t say I wasn’t grateful when the electricity finally came back on the day before we were set to leave, it was mostly because I got to actually flush the toilet and wash my face with hot water, NOT because I could turn on my computer and update my blog (okay, though I did do that).  Adam and I, and the kids, say this was our best vacation yet. I can’t help but believe it’s because we all FELT SOMETHING we’d been missing – that full-on connection with nature, that we don’t really ever get anymore in our technology-dependent lives, at least not in such large doses as we experienced that week.

     

    Richard Louv, the author of Last Child in the Woods, says, “biologically we are still hunters and gatherers and we need, at some level we don't fully understand, direct involvement in nature. We need to see natural shapes in the horizon. And when we don't get that, we don't do so well.” 

     

    I want my children to have that direct involvement in nature. I want to get back to that myself. I think it’s imperative.

     

    In the neighborhood where we are, and in this climate of high-technology, it’s just. so. tempting. (and easy) to occupy ourselves virtually.  But the more I read about so-called nature deficit disorder (I just recently read a great article about it this past week in Newsweek), the more time I spend away from nature, the more I realize we NEED to get back to the natural world. We ALL need to take more hikes. We ALL need to plant more gardens. We ALL need to take the more challenging route, and close our laptops for a while, put our cellphones down, and get out in the woods. It isn’t just to avoid turning into Wall-E-type humans living just for the next techo-fied meal and virtual shopping experience, it’s to continue to BE human. We’re a part of nature, we always have been, and need to keep that bond alive, in order to survive, and thrive.

     

    Do you find yourself connected with nature? How do you – and your children – stay in touch with the natural world?

    Posted: Nov 07 2011, 00:17 by kelly | Comments (1) RSS comment feed |
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    Vegan Strawberry Cream Smoothie





    Two days ago, we went cherry & strawberry picking! The cherries were gone within 24 hours - we ate every last delicious one of them! The strawberries, however, being small & at the end of the season, were not so tasty. As of this morning, they were ready to either be made into a smoothie, or tossed out to the woods for the squirrels. We decided to go for a smoothie - and I'm glad we did! Here's the super-simple, healthy recipe I threw together. It turned out so yummy, the kids asked for MORE! Too bad we were out of strawberries!

    INGREDIENTS:

    1 cup of fresh Strawberries

    10oz of Coconut Milk (we used vanilla-flavored)

    Ice

     

    PREPARATION:

    Put the ingredients into a blender and blend well! Serve immediately & ENJOY! This recipe made approximately 2 8oz servings.


    PS: I'm sure you could add whatever fruits - or even veggies - that suit your fancy & this would still taste delicious. The sugar in the vanilla coconut milk added just enough sweetness to the smoothie, though I'm sure you could add a bit of agave nectar or honey if you like it sweeter. I found the richness of the coconut milk made the smoothie just the right creamy consistency - but I'm sure yogurt or whole milk would work well too, if you prefer dairy. Please let me know if you make this smoothie & end up adding anything to it. We'll definitely be making this one again in the future & I'm always open to suggestions!

    Posted: Jun 18 2011, 15:50 by kelly | Comments (4) RSS comment feed |
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    Berry Picking & Blackberry Cobbler





    This weekend, we took the kids blackberry & blueberry picking.  After being turned away from one farm due to over-picking, and another because of the heat (it was upper 90s – low 100s this week), we stumbled late in the afternoon on an organic farm!  It was an amazing place – in the middle of the densest density of New Jersey’s Philadelphia suburbs – down a hidden dirt road marked with handmade signs proclaiming, “organic veggies this way” leading through a forest to an idyllic farm on the river that you’d have no idea from the road was even there.  There was a map of the trails and fields, a little notepad to record how many berries you picked, and a (unlocked) wood box in which to leave your money.  Looking back on it, traveling down that road was a bit like going back in time. 

    The blueberries were at the end of the dirt road, covered in netting to keep out the birds.  To get to the blueberry bushes, you had to climb inside and under the netting, held up by support arches, barely inches above my head.  Once inside, we were immersed in nature: tall bushes, bursting with berries, green to blue. Insects buzzing, birds chirping, gentle sounds of the water lapping up against the shore. The blackberry bushes were expansive, full of berries, and free from thorns! It was unreal.  Yet, above all, the wonder in our children’s faces at being able to pick, and yes, eat – without even washing first – fruit right from the bushes, was the best part of the experience! Except for the incredible heat, and the mosquitoes, I didn’t feel in any hurry to leave.

    Yet, leave we had to, back to our suburban lives. But 6 organic pints of berries, and an afternoon of family togetherness richer. I want to go back!

    Here, the literal fruits of our labor:


    Picking blueberries:
     

    And blackberries:
     

     

    If you happen to have the opportunity to go berry picking yourself, here’s a blackberry cobbler recipe I threw together with the berries we didn’t manage to finish eating on the drive home! 

     

    3 pints of blackberries

    3 Tbs of melted butter

    1/2 cup of flour

    1/3 cup of brown sugar

    1 Tbs of maple syrup

    1/2 tsp of vanilla extract

     

    Preheat oven to 350F. Place the berries in a dish & pour maple syrup & vanilla over top. In a separate dish, mix the butter, flour, and sugar until combined.  Crumble over top of the blackberries. Cover and bake until the juice starts to bubble, and the top starts to brown. Enjoy!

     

    Before:

     

    And... after:
     

    Posted: Jul 10 2010, 00:32 by kelly | Comments (0) RSS comment feed |
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    Neighborhood Nature





    Welcome to the June Carnival of Natural Parenting: Outdoor fun

    This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month our participants have shared their stories and tips for playing outside with kids. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

    ***

    I am happiest in nature.  Whether barefooted in our garden, or hiking up a wooded trail.  The best place for me is outside, surrounded by my family. As a child, my most fond memories are of being outside: climbing trees, exploring, gardening, waiting for the big rainfalls that would flood our backyard and turn it into an amazing imaginary rain forest through which my sisters and I could paddle our pool floats.  Now that I’m nearly 6 years into being a parent, hardly a day goes by where we’re not outside.  Even on the most inclement days, we often find ways to spend a few moments with nature. There’s something about being close to the earth, the plants, the trees, which recharges your energy.  Nature connects you, in a world where people, so close in proximity, can be so disconnected from each other and the world. I want my children to be one with the planet – to feel energy that we all share.  I want them to love being outside as much as I do. The best way to do this, quite simply, is getting outside as much as we can.

    Right now, we live in a small condo in New Jersey, without much land to ourselves.  Sometimes I feel sad about this, and yearn for a big backyard – for the acres of woods, and clean streams and lakes we had in Maine, where my daughter was born.  In our current space, we have a small front flower garden and an enclosed back yard – both of which we’ve filled with flowers, plants, and as of this year, tomatoes & strawberries too! I know that we are fortunate to have our backyard right up against a bit of woods where we routinely see deer, squirrels, and other wildlife.  When I tend to the plants and flowers in my little garden, with my children playing around me, it is easier to come to terms with the realization that the best place I am, we are, is where we are – right now.  I realize that there is no sense in feeling sadness, when there’s so much to be grateful for. So, for today, we treasure being in, around, and enjoying the nature we DO have access to; realizing that many people live in places without such nearby access to wildlife. 

    I’d love to share a photo story of a typical after-school afternoon around our place doing our favorite things – outdoors:

     


    My son, filling the birdbath – one of his favorite outdoor tasks!

     


    My daughter, watering the annuals out front (which she helped to plant).

     


    My son, lovingly watering the tomato (he talks to her while he waters).

     


    Heading out to the woods – feeling the soft, long grasses.

     


    Stopping to taste the wild honeysuckle!

     


    My daughter, finding (and later chasing) a ladybug!

     


    My daughter climbing a very large, almost prehistoric-looking vine!

     


    My son, hanging from a neighborhood tree.

    In all, it was a lovely day.  One of many ahead as the weather gets more and more lovely, and we spend much of our waking hours outside.  I truly hope that by spending time outdoors playing and working, my children will take with them as they grow, a love and respect for nature and all she has to share with us! 

    ***

    Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

    Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

    Posted: Jun 08 2010, 01:07 by kelly | Comments (7) RSS comment feed |
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    Birth: Things I Did Differently





    I've given birth twice.  There are moments of both of my births that feel somewhat unsettled and disempowered, moments that feel triumphant and strong, and moments that are simply amazing.  While I feel mostly at peace with my birth stories, something in me wants to share what I did differently from one birth to the next, or what I could do differently, if I could do it again (note: two children is just the perfect amount for Adam & I!) Maybe it’s the birth activist in me.  Or, the natural-minded mama.  Or maybe it’s simply that hindsight is 20/20. I just wish that every woman could feel successful and glorious and proud no matter how she gives birth.  I’m hoping that by sharing some of the things I’ve learned, I might help another woman reach that place of peace with her birth.

     

    So, with no further ado… the things I’d do (or in the case of my 2nd birth, did) differently:

    #1 – Study up on & practice birth positioning. 

    I think one of the most important factors in an easier labor is having optimal fetal positioning.  That is, having a baby who is heads-down, facing mom’s back, with his back lying along one side of the front of mom’s tummy – in other words, Left Occiput Anterior.  Why is fetal positioning so important? A baby who is occiput anterior will have his chin tucked to his chest, and be able to present the smallest part of his head to the cervix.  What this means is that a baby in the right position will likely be born more quickly and more easily – less pain for mom, and less stress for baby.  A baby not in the correct position (malpositioned) won’t put as much pressure on the cervix, so labor may not start naturally.  Malpositioning may cause labor to be more painful, and baby may have a difficult time exiting, because their head isn’t presenting in a fully flexed position.

    Case in point:  My first baby was Occiput Posterior after being frank breech for the vast majority of my pregnancy.  She turned in the week before she was born.  My labor was long, extremely painful, and ended in a c-section for failure of decent – due to malposition (posterior brow presentation). I understand now this is a very rare position.  Online I found an interesting case study in which the baby was previously breech, turned via ECV (external cephalic version – which was attempted with my daughter, unsuccessfully), the mom went into spontaneous labor, the baby descended in a forehead presentation, and was delivered using a vacuum & repositioning. I found this study interesting because it was done in Australia in 1998, and even then the author mentioned that the decision to rotate baby & deliver via suction (as opposed to c-section) was a tricky one, not easily reached.  In my case, I’d gotten to 10cm (or nearly so – my midwife indicated that I had an anterior lip) pushed for hours in many different positions, and my midwife had attempted to reposition my daughter, but she was “stuck”. A c-section was decided on after much deliberation – part of which included my doctor not being comfortable with suctioning due to my daughter’s forehead presentation, and the other part being that my water had broken 31 hours previously, and I had developed a fever.   

    I want to clarify that I do believe, after much research, in spite of the best efforts given by myself, my midwife, the nurses, my husband, and my doctor, the c-section was warranted.  Unfortunately, I still feel a lingering sense of disappointment and “what-if-itis”:  what if I’d been able to hang on just a bit longer and try a few more positions again (we’d tried hands & knees, standing, birthing stool, lying back with stirrups, half-sitting with a birthing bar, kneeling & leaning forward on my elbows on the drop-end bed… you know, everything), what if I’d waited a little bit longer before getting an epidural (I got one somewhere around 20hrs after my water had broken – my detail memory is spotty throughout my birth story with my first – because it was so long, because I was in so much pain, because my midwife didn’t do many internal checks, and because I don’t have my medical records in front of me), what if I’d stayed home a bit longer (I headed in when my contractions were about 5 minutes apart for an hour – the hospital was 45 minutes away), what if we’d hired a doula who could have helped me understand that staying home a bit longer was okay, or who could have helped me hold out a bit more before getting an epidural, what if baby had been correctly positioned in the first place… the latter the cause for my listing optimal fetal positioning as my #1 do-over.

    There are many ways to affect fetal positioning before labor starts – walking regularly, practicing prenatal yoga (which I did the 2nd time around), chiropractic visits, doing inversions, sitting on an exercise ball, sitting forward instead of lying back in the couch with feet up,  doing regular pelvic tilts.

    Some awesome resources, which I found during my second pregnancy, after learning about the importance of baby’s position in-utero:

    http://www.homebirth.org.uk/ofp.htm

    http://www.spinningbabies.com/

    Take your baby’s position seriously.  It really can mean the difference between an easier or a more difficult labor and birth.

     

    (on my birthing ball during my labor with my daughter – still smiling)

     

    #2 – Hire a doula. 

    With my second pregnancy, nearly the first thing I did after realizing I was pregnant was hire a doula. The first time around, I didn’t really understand what a doula did, why they were so important – so CRITICAL – to birth – particularly when you have no previous birth experience yourself, and you’ve chosen a hospital birth.   I remember wondering why a doula was necessary if you had a supportive partner.  Wouldn’t your partner feel left out?  What exactly would a doula DO if you already had a husband there?

    I now know differently.  Firstly, a doula is familiar with birth – with the stages, the process, the pain and how to cope.  She’s familiar with hospital staff and policy (and which “rules” can be bent or broken). She’s there to help navigate the turbulent and unfamiliar waters of anxious soon-to-be parents, impatient doctors, pushy nurses, and crowding friends & family members.  She can help a mom dedicated to a natural birth plan remember, in the midst of the worst pain of her life, why she wanted to go natural in the first place.  She helps a dad know how best to help.  She’s able to help the laboring mom clarify and state her needs and desires to staff.  She can help a new mom latch her baby on – and this is critical, especially in hospitals who don’t have full-time lactation consultants on staff.  Perhaps best of all, and what I missed the most by not having a doula the first time around, is the certainty with which an experienced doula can tell mom in the midst of a very long labor: “yes, this is normal”, and “yes, you CAN do it”.  Though my second birth ended with a necessary emergent cesarean (olighydramnios + breech + previous C) at 36 weeks, I was still grateful for my doula.  She helped me make clear my needs post-surgery, and helped me with nursing. She set the stage for making me feel empowered in my birth, even while the best laid plans for a natural VBAC were quickly and unexpectedly unraveled. Hire a doula – you won’t regret the money spent.

     

    (me and my doula - before my son's birth)

     

    #3 – Put EVERYTHING in your birth plan. 

    Not just the good stuff, but the not-so-good stuff too.  From early labor right through to the days after baby is born.  While creating my first birth plan, I barely scratched the surface of things I didn’t think would ever happen (i.e. an IV, constant fetal monitoring, pitocin, nubane, epidurals, and a c-section).  Naively, I really didn’t imagine anything would go any way other than as planned. While that type of thinking may have set my mind for success, by doing so, I unfortunately missed out on educating and preparing myself for the “what ifs”.  I didn’t fully research the process of c-sections because I assumed I’d never need one.  I didn’t look into alternatives to pitocin, nor the side effects of it, because I assumed labor would move along just fine.  Yes, I’d read about the “cascade of interventions” and how consenting to meds could lead down a path more likely to culminate in a c-section.  Yet, in my head, I wasn’t going to have a cesarean section, and I wasn’t going to need any interventions, so I needn’t put any further thought into it.  Why plan for a disaster when it’s not even on your horizon, right? Except… when I hadn’t slept for 24 hours, and hadn’t made any progress… in spite of my “birth planned” walking, standing, bouncing on a ball, showering, breathing, visualization, all without continual monitoring… and when the pain in my back from my daughter’s posterior position became unbearable… only then, I realized I really had no game plan.   I hadn’t thought of the what ifs.  Because they weren’t going to happen.  Yet… there they were.

    To put it simply: being informed of the side effects of pain meds when you’re nearly out of your mind with pain and anxiety and tiredness isn’t really being informed. It’s certainly not the optimal time in which to be making decisions. And being completely immobilized on the operating table doesn’t lend itself well to making your desires and needs known for post-surgery care for yourself and your new baby.

    So make your plans – all of them – ideal birth AND less than ideal – beforehand.  Put them in writing, and share them with your support people.

     

    (getting sewn up, with my son on my chest)

     

    #4 – Be ready with lactation support. 

    I was lucky the first time around. The hospital where I gave birth was working on “baby-friendly” designation at the time, so, there was a lactation consultant on staff at all times.  Rooming in was strongly encouraged – they didn’t even have a nursery set up for non-urgent care infants.  There were no free formula samples, no bottles or pacifiers given, and all the neonatal nurses were educated and supportive about breastfeeding. But personally, I had only read a few things online and in books about breastfeeding.  I knew my mother and mother-in-law had breastfed, and I planned to do so myself.  But that was the extent of my preparation for breastfeeding. Again, like with the c-section, I never imagined that things could or would go other than “as planned” – so I didn’t have any alternate plans. Had I not had the amazing support of the staff lactation consultant, I’m not sure I’d have been able to make it through delayed milk coming in, an extremely jaundiced baby (due to ABO incompatibility) in the hospital for a week, and the complexities and frustrations of using an SNS and pump.  At the time, I didn’t know anyone in La Leche League – in fact, I’m not sure I’d even heard of LLL.  I didn’t have any friends in real life who had breastfed.  So, really, in the case of successful breastfeeding, I was just plain lucky.  The second time around, I was prepared with a doula, my LLL contact, a lactation consultant, and friends in my phone.  Not to mention the experience of successfully breastfeeding my first.  Don’t leave your breastfeeding relationship to luck.  Be prepared.  

     

    (my milking machine & SNS - my constant companions in the hospital after my daughter's birth)

    What I’ve learned through two pregnancies and births is that you can’t control everything.  There’s always an element of the unknown; the unknowable.  Yet the more information you have, the stronger you will be.  The more able you’ll be to make real informed choices; to feel empowered; to have a plan and make your plan known.  There’s a sense of calm that comes from preparation, and with that you’ll be better able to craft your birth in a way that is more altogether more comfortable, safe, and satisfying in the end. Here’s to better birthing!

    Posted: May 18 2010, 08:20 by kelly | Comments (9) RSS comment feed |
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