Having an Herbarium (an Emily Dickinson Inspiration)

Emily Dickinson is my people. I first came across her poetry when I was about 12 or 13, reading the height of ‘80s teen romantic literature, a series called “Sweet Dreams”. Anybody else remember those books? Did you read them with New Kids on the Block muzak coming from your cassette player? Anyhow, I’ve lost my copies of those along with many other books from my youth, which really makes me sad and explains why I don’t lend books anymore.

The Sweet Dreams stories I distinctly remember as the ones that sparked my fascination in Emily Dickinson are called “The Right Combination” and “Love Lines”. I remember the titles and the story lines like I read them yesterday. I would give anything to own traditional copies of these books again… okay, maybe just a hundred pesos each, so if you have them, please consider selling them to me.

This post isn’t about Sweet Dreams, but about Emily Dickinson and how, decades after she grabbed me with lines like “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” (fodder for my reclusive, angst-ridden, popularity-loathing teen self), she’s still finding ways to remind me that she’s a kindred soul.

Consistent with my fangirl leanings, I already know a lot about Emily Dickinson. I did my high school senior year research paper on her (my teacher actually groaned at the breadth of the folder I’d turned in), as I did my Comm 2 research paper in my first year of college, with focus on Emily’s love life (the professor was amused and delighted with my enthusiasm, saying that I’d actually already created a mini-thesis and I could just develop and expound on what I had for my actual thesis – yeah, that was three years away and I couldn’t connect the topic with my actual major, which was Spanish).

So, the recent pleasurable fellow feeling I’ve had in relation to Emily stemmed from an article about her herbaria. I knew she studied botany and was an avid gardener, but I failed to home in on that information as something of significance when I was young. I’m very much interested in botany, but have never actively pursued the study, except casually in gardening and reading for the purpose of gardening and homeopathy. I figured it was time to put some system and structure into the interest.

With the feature on her herbaria, I found another way to not-so-subtly re-introduce her to my homeschooler (of course, my daughter is already familiar with some of Emily’s poems, thanks to her obsessed mother). With the poet as inspiration, we started working on our own herbarium.

We basically took a scrapbook, onion paper, and white label stickers (all of which were already in our supplies and miscellaneous drawers), and then we started clipping from our own garden. Let me tell you, our herbarium smells lovely. It’s not limited to our own garden plants, of course. When we see something pretty or interesting in our nature walks, we clip a sample and put it in a baggie to be researched and added to the herbarium later. Don’t worry; in our foraging and wildcrafting jaunts, we’re always careful not to overharvest.

What information do we usually jot down in our herbarium to accompany the cuttings?

  • Common name, location where it was found
  • Scientific name
  • Description
  • Practical function

Doing this reminds me of the 100 Species Challenge I participated in on my other blog, which was kind of like working on an online herbarium, using pictures instead of actual clippings. Virtual or actual, I find creating an herbarium fascinating and really fun. Now, I understand how this interest can leave others cold, but if you like botany and find pursuits like this incredibly satisfying, make your presence known in the comments section. Do the same if you love Emily Dickinson. 🙂

5 Wonderful Lessons Garage Sales Teach Our Kids

We recently participated in a multi-family garage sale held to raise funds for a fellow homeschooler who fell gravely ill with meningoencephalitis. While this dear little boy is thankfully now out of the woods, we still wanted to help with the expenses his hospitalization and continued treatment racked up.

My own family is no stranger to garage sales. We’ve held at least one every year and also regularly contribute to our church’s annual (now biannual) yard sale. There are obvious perks to holding garage sales. For one, you get to de-clutter your home. For another, you get to earn some money. If you involve your children, you can be sure that they benefit from the experience in many wonderful ways.

What are our young ones’ expected takeaways from doing garage sales?

  1. Material things are temporary. They get broken, lost, or outgrown. With garage sales, they learn to choose to not to be too attached to their possessions. They can be grateful for their time with something, but once it’s no longer useful to them, it’s time to let somebody else enjoy it.
  2. Value is twofold. An item’s worth goes beyond the price tag. They learn about cost depreciation and going rates in pricing, but they also learn to attribute appropriate value. Heirlooms, things of profound sentimental value, and other important items stay in the family. Everything else is dispensable.
  3. Pre-loved is a green choice. It’s best to keep your stuff away from the landfills. Your things are better off being reused or repurposed.
  4. A de-cluttered home feels lighter. Things can crowd them and weigh them down. Lessons in minimalism are best learned while young. They equip children to make smarter choices – wisdom beyond their years.
  5. Garage sales are Business 101. They involve the fundamentals of business, from organizing to pricing, to marketing, to mental math, to negotiating, to customer service, to teamwork, etc., and general life lessons about responsibility, safety, preparedness… And if your garage sale is actually for a cause, then there’s also the lesson of charity.

In a nutshell, a garage sale is a great idea, the benefits of which, are magnified when children are involved.

Do you like holding or going to garage sales? How do you feel about buying pre-loved items? Let us know in the comments.

Introducing the Joy of Friluftsliv to Our Kids

Last year, the word du jour was hygge (pronounced hoo-ga). Everybody was hygge-ing it up with their warm drinks, home-baked goodies, and candles, trying to create the sense of coziness that the philosophy embodies.

I personally embrace the concept. I’m an introverted, albeit family-oriented homebody, so my personality is pretty much designed to revel in all that warm, intimate togetherness. In the-ber months here in the Philippines, it can be cool enough so hot cocoas, frequent cuddles, and a perpetually steaming, cinnamon-scented kitchen become even more enjoyable.  Take note, I said more enjoyable – that means we’re a people who are used to hot dishes and drinks as well as cozy snuggles in varying degrees of tropical heat.

This year, however, another Scandinavian word is working its way into popular consciousness. Friluftsliv, an ancient Nordic philosophy that literally translates to “free air life”, is about spending time outdoors and connecting with nature.

Unlike hygge, which is easy enough to say even for my untrained tongue, friluftsliv is quite the mouthful, and it will trip my tongue and tangle it up if I say it without proper preparation. It also takes similar effort for me to get behind it, not because I don’t agree with it since I wholeheartedly do, but because my mental conditioning tries to limit me to comfy, air-conditioned, wildlife-free interiors.

It’s all a lie, though, I’ve discovered. I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors. The problem is that I have a tendency to be lazy and finicky, an inclination I used to frequently indulge, which unfortunately led me to turning down opportunities to get out there and choosing to stay comfortably ensconced within the confines of my home. I’ve found though that when I did step out of my comfort zone, my effort was always rewarded. Being out there in nature never failed to enrich me.

Being a parent in this day and age, I have to be even more diligent about making that conscious effort to spend time outdoors. It was author Richard Louv who coined the term “nature-deficit disorder”, and it’s a truly alarming condition, considering so many children are happy to vegetate at home, staring at a screen for hours on end. This activity, and I use the word with irony, is something that has been associated to the exacerbation of mental and emotional disorders, so parents really have to be vigilant in qualifying and quantifying the exposure that their children get. In my opinion, and I’ve been to known to have reasonable ones, the natural world is as fine an exposure as children can get.

Spending a lot of time in nature, as what friluftsliv advocates, is important to a person’s wellbeing. Human beings were meant to live in it and not in the artificial setting we’ve come to fashion for ourselves. Something integrally within us seeks out the natural world and connects with it. That’s why when we give ourselves a healthy dose of nature, we feel revived. We get that kind of energy from a living, breathing world.

They might not have called it friluftsliv, but the experts have been pushing us to ingrain it into the lifestyle of our families. It is quite easy and cheap to do too. Contrary to popular expectation, outdoor recreation does not have to be extremely rugged. You don’t have to go rappelling, spelunking, whitewater rafting, scuba diving, etc.

You don’t have to travel a long distance either to experience nature. Where I live, a stroll around the neighborhood is sufficient. There are nearby parks that also serve quite well. Nearby university campuses have also nice offerings in the way of greenery. Graveyards have also been known to work for us. When we want to be in the thick of wildlife, we fortunately only need to go for a short drive. We live in a river valley and the mountains surrounding us have plenty to offer that bears exploring.

What do we hope to gain by observing friluftsliv? The benefits include increased physical activity, lower stress levels, and seriously quality time spent either alone or with company. And you get to achieve all of them amid the beauty of God’s creation, which is unparalleled.

Do you feel the lure of nature? What do you do to make sure that you and  your family regularly get to connect with it?

6 Easy Ways to Make Easter Eggs

For Christians, Easter is all about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Nonetheless, like many religious holidays, the celebration  has pagan elements in it, a result of cross-cultural influences.

With Easter coinciding with the beginning of spring in many countries, the Resurrection matched the concept of rebirth that ancient cultures associated with the time of the year. Easter eggs were a result of the fusion of traditions.

Traditionally, eggs were a symbol of fertility and rebirth. The early Christians adopted this element to signify something related to the Resurrection. Some liken the cracking of the egg open to the empty tomb of Jesus. Others see the egg as a symbol of resurrection, of life springing from something dormant.

Easter definitely has a tremendous message, and it’s important to prioritize that, but it’s understandable that we also can’t help but be excited over the frivolous side of the holiday. In my case, I always look forward to Easter egg decorating and hunting.

Decorating Easter eggs has been a tradition in my family, and through the years, we’ve tried several different ways to do it. Here are some of the methods I’ve found to be fun and easy to do with kids. Note: Be sure to use hard boiled eggs.

1. Markers – You don’t need to be a gifted artist to make an egg pretty with flowers, hearts, stars, or even polka dots. I like doing a mosaic pattern, though, and coming up with a design that alludes to the true essence of Easter.

2. White crayon and dye – This is an old trick. First, you draw something with a white crayon (I’m going with swirls) and then dip the egg in food color.

3. Water color – Again, it doesn’t take much artsy chops to paint an egg. Even random splotches would do, but I thought I’d work toward an ombre look this time.

4. Rubber stamp – You can stamp a variety of designs on an egg, but because I have an alphabet set, I decided to stamp my youngest child’s name on this one. I also rolled the egg on the ink pad beforehand. That ink has a shimmer that doesn’t show in the photo.

5. Stickers – I wanted to do a glittery polka dot design, but I didn’t want to use glue and glitter (or glitter glue), so I used a single hole puncher to cut out dots from the border of a sparkly sticker pad. I also used washi tape to hide the crack on this egg.

6. Dye over sticker – It’s like the opposite of stenciling. For this one, I made a cross using Scotch tape and then dipped the egg in dye.

Do you still decorate Easter eggs or do you just use those plastic eggs? What’s your favorite method of making Easter eggs? Please share in the comments.

Seven Wonderful Ways You Benefit from Having Penpals

pen pal letters

My grandmother used to subscribe to all the weekly women’s magazines, which, of course, I voraciously read. On the last page of most of these magazines were ads. Two of the staples were an ad for international correspondence courses and an ad for an international pen pal club.

Sometime when I was thirteen, I learned that my friend Michelle had signed up with the pen pal club and was already exchanging letters with a fourteen-year old boy from Germany. She let me read one of his letters, and I found the idea fascinating. There was this kid all the way on the other side of the world telling my friend about himself and his life where he was. I checked out the photo he enclosed. He was pretty cute too.

I didn’t waste any more time. I joined the club, got a list of names and addresses, and penned off a few letters right away. The first reply dismayed me a bit. I was expecting to hear from a kid like myself, but the writer was a 55-year-old woman from Sekiu, Washington.

I thought that was weird. She was the same age as my grandmother, and, apparently, I was about the same age as her granddaughter who also liked New Kids on the Block. She had been married two times, had grown children, and several grandchildren. She liked to knit and fish! How was a 13-year-old brat like me supposed to relate to that?

She sounded really sweet though and definitely fascinating. She wrote back to me even if I had written a lot of silly juvenile things. I decided to pursue that correspondence, and that was definitely a smart decision. She was funny, wise, thoughtful, and very good about answering letters. Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good about that myself. By the time I was 15, I was going through some pretty severe growing pains (mental and emotional) and gradually stopped writing.

In the years I did write though, I really enjoyed exchanging letters with my pen pals. In hindsight, I could also see better how the experience benefitted me. This is why I encouraged my daughter to give it a whirl a year and a half ago when she was 9. As her mom, I can see how the exercise benefits her even more than it did me. In any case, she’s still at it and gaining more pen friends as she goes.

different US stamps

What are these benefits that I’m talking about?

  1. You experience delayed gratification. There is the thrill of anticipation in waiting for a letter to arrive, after which, there is also the excitement, of course, of getting something in the mail. The experience means so much at this time when practically everything is done electronically and the end desired is achieved almost instantaneously. Email has its purpose, but engaging in snail mail actually helps build character. Writing by hand takes longer. Mailing (especially here where we need to go to the post office to send letters) takes longer. Transit definitely takes longer. You get a better grasp of having to work patiently toward results.
  2. You learn to express yourself with care and sensitivity. The written word can so easily be misconstrued since the reader doesn’t have facial expressions and vocal inflections to work with. Without hearing the intonation, a teasing phrase meant in harmless fun could be taken as something mean and snide. You become better aware of what you’re saying and how you can be misunderstood. In relation to this, you also learn to practice cultural sensitivity. You register that there are different people in the world and that they operate according to different values and standards.
  3. You improve your penmanship and composition skills. There’s just more satisfaction and joy in creating a neat and interesting letter. You want your recipients to have an easy time reading and understanding your letters. You become adept at following the introduction-body-conclusion sequence and you hone your thought organization and development process without even registering it.
  4. You become more creative. You want your letters to have a nice appearance. You also want them to be more substantial. You want to decorate accordingly either with drawings or stickers and, from time to time, maybe even enclose a poem you wrote, a picture you drew, a little craft project you worked on, etc.
  5. You develop a healthy form of curiosity. Your interest in your pen pals will lead you to find out more about their background and, in the process, learn lots of new things. If someone said that she’s a member of the Church of England, you find out what that means. It’s easier now with the Internet, but, back then, we had to turn to the encyclopedias. You also learn to read between the lines since letters are all you have. If your pen pal wrote, “I’m making a kippah for my brother,” and you have no idea what that means, then you might want to look it up and then, from there, make some logical inferences, such as their family is Jewish, she knows how to sew, she’s nice to her brother, etc. You get lots of exercise for that probing mind.
  6. You are compelled to start collections. You invest in stationery because you acknowledge the convenience of having different writing implements, pretty paper, greeting cards, stickers, rubber stamps, etc. That practical consideration soon develops into an outright collection. Also, from getting different postcards, postage stamps, mementoes, etc. you can unintentionally start new collections as well.
  7. You make true friends. They may not be near you but your pen pals are happy to get to know you, and as you continue exchanging letters, you’ll grow to care about each other. Soon, you’ll be sharing confidences, gaining precious insight into each other’s personalities, becoming a part of each other’s lives, and providing each other encouragement and support.

different European stamps

Did/Do you have a pen pal? What has it been like for you?

Do you want to get started on a pen pal exchange? You might be interested to watch this video of my daughter sharing pen pal tales and tips.

Get Inspiration from Last Year’s Summer Bucket List

I saw a bunch of “things your kids can do in Manila” type of posts on my Facebook news feed, mainly stuff you have to pay for like lessons and camps, but, still, it got me thinking about this summer’s bucket list.

Okay, two things.

First, I know the term “bucket list” is supposed to refer to a life list and not a to-do list for a limited period of time since it stems from the expression “kick the bucket”, but I’m okay with using the term incorrectly, so moving on.

Second, I’m a chronic list maker. I make lists for everything. And I have a compulsion to make my lists as long as possible (I really have to curb this inclination when making the grocery list), so when I make bucket lists, they tend to be ridiculously long.

These two points serve as a sort of disclaimer as I’m about to share our family’s 2016 summer bucket list. It’s nothing fancy, just a colorful Word doc that I copied and pasted onto Paint, so I can share it as an image here on the blog. I obviously have mad tech skills, lol. My husband, who’s a techie, is probably cringing in embarrassment as he goes through this post.

I could have, of course, scanned the printout I had posted on the fridge all through summer of last year, but that’s kind of grungy with smeared ink, dirty fingerprints, and other stains, not to mention non-matching highlighters used to strike through accomplished items. Also, it’s now glued to the kids’ smashbook (it’s actually my smashbook, but it’s about the kids, so… yeah) and it would be a wonky scan.

Anyway, here it is.

You probably noticed the rather excessive number of items, but that’s just how I am. I like to aim high, so even if I didn’t accomplish everything, I’d still have done a lot. I also like to be thorough so my list can be as long as I can make it. I also put in a lot of “sure bets” because I like crossing things off the list. Don’t judge. It’s not that freaky. There are lots of silly list-makers out there. At least, I don’t add things to the original list for the purpose of having something to cross out, although I can understand how that can be fun and satisfying too.

Why am I sharing our old list? I thought it might provide some inspiration in case you want to make your own summer bucket list. Some of the items on this list are quite specific to our family’s preferences, but many are pretty generic to the season too. In any case, I’m making a new list for this year, and I can see that I’ll be keeping many of the items, but I’ll be weeding out a couple of things I’m not interested in at the moment. I might even come up with a free printable of a generic summer list, but that really depends on whether my husband has time to make something cute. I’m not about to give you something I made on Word and pasted on Paint. 🙂

Do you make bucket lists as well? What are your traditions and must-dos for summer? I would love to hear your ideas. They might even end up on the printable. Don’t worry; I’ll credit you.

How to Clean Crayon Marks from Walls

Yesterday was the first time National Homeschool Day was celebrated here in the Philippines. My family celebrated by meeting up with other homeschool families in our area.

Homeschooling, no matter how outsiders view it, is a brave choice. The challenges it presents are tremendously tough. You get the sense that you can’t afford to screw up because you’ll only have yourself to blame, and how can you live with that?

Well, obviously, with a lot of self-directed mercy. More often than not, we’re our own harshest critics, but well-seasoned parenthood is peppered with mistakes. That’s a confused application of figurative language, but anyway… Veteran parenting is the kind that seems easy, that suggests you’ve arrived at expert level but – hah! –   I’m not holding my breath trying to get to that point of parenting bliss.

I get the feeling that it doesn’t really ever become easier. The challenges are new and just as intense as we graduate to new stages. If it really does feel somewhat lighter, perhaps what basically changed is our attitude. We’ve learned to be more forgiving of ourselves. We’ve learned to choose our battles. We’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff, like crayon marks on the walls.

That was some segue, lol. At any rate…

We have cream walls in our home, the perfect canvas for a small, exploring hand wielding a crayon (or a pencil, or a marker, or my favorite eyeliner…).

Who needs wallpaper when you have little vandals running loose and wild inside your house, right? I have veritable murals.

I comfort myself with the knowledge that they’ll eventually learn not to draw on the walls. While they haven’t yet, I’ll just have to enjoy a little bit of toddler graffiti at home.

We could, of course, clean up those wall scribbles, but if you’re like me and a little bit lackadaisical in keeping the house presentable, it would probably take you months before you get around to it. 😀 Why bother, right? A neat and immaculate home lasts all of ten seconds. It’s a losing battle I just don’t have the energy or will for, lol.

Through the years, I’ve learned to be happy with “relatively clean and tidy”. There are maybe two times a year when I think I want ten seconds of an uncluttered, spotless home and make the effort. That’s sporadic enough for me to convince myself that crayon-marked walls have a certain charm to them. 😀

If you can’t live with those crayon marks, however, of if you’re finally getting around to erasing them, here are some ways you can go about it.

You’ll need a wash rag or a tea towel for every method, but the main cleaning ingredients are:

  • Method 1 – milk
  • Method 2 – toothpaste
  • Method 3 – baby oil
  • Method 4 – water and baking soda

Watch how successful my daughter and I were with each one in this video.

As it turned out, crayon marks aren’t that hard to erase from walls. After we made this video, we also tried with some plain water and soap, and the marks came off pretty easily as well.

Basically, we learned that we didn’t need to make a big production of getting rid of those crayon marks. The high difficulty level of the task was all in my head. Now, I don’t know about markers and pen ink. We’ll attack those marks next.

Btw, the video. It was our first video-making effort, which you can probably tell. It’s one of the skills my daughter is interested in acquiring (she says she wants her own YouTube channel), so we’re exploring it together. Just from this one, she has learned to use so many features of a basic video editing program. She was definitely more comfortable and knowledgeable in navigating her way through it than me.

She wanted to do a bunch of other fancy things, but I convinced her to keep it simple this first time. We also removed the music we’d initially put in because we learned that there’s a certain caveat if you use something from the YouTube audio library. I don’t understand it all that well yet, so I thought we’d better not use any music for now. I didn’t want to use music from elsewhere either until I look into copyright issues, so it’s just our voices and the hum of the AC, lol.

I promise, next time, we’ll use a better camera, a tripod, a mic, and my husband’s help. He actually knows how to edit videos, but he’s been busy. In any case, my daughter and I had a lot of fun floundering our way through this experience. 😀

That’s it for this post. What’s your attitude toward toddler graffiti? What method do you use for removing them? Any advice on video-making? Let us know.

Fun and Fascinating Ways to Celebrate Dr. Seuss’ Birthday

Dr. Seuss Day is tomorrow, March 2. On this day in 1904, the beloved children’s book author Dr Seuss was born Theodor Seuss Geisel in Springfield, Massachussetts. He adopted his pen name Dr. Seuss when he was still a university student in Dartmouth. That’s what he is most known for, although he also used other pseudonyms such as Theo LeSieg, Rosetta Stone, and Theophrastus Seuss.

From his name, Dr. Seuss is obviously of German descent, and if you know the most basic of the German language, you’ll know that Seuss should rhyme with choice and not choose; however, Dr. Seuss didn’t mind the anglicized pronunciation it popularly took on since it rhymed with Mother Goose. 🙂

I grew up loving Dr. Seuss books, even if the Cat in the Hat often stressed me out. 😀 Now, I’m happy to share the “obSeussion” with my kids. My 10-year old daughter, who’s all about being silly, can’t get enough of the rhymes. The two younger boys love the cadence of these rhymes when being read to, and they definitely also enjoy flipping through the pages and looking at the illustration.

In our family, children’s books do not remain in pristine condition. They also usually don’t stay in the bookcase either. I’m not one for keeping things that were meant for my kids out of their reach. Unfortunately, this means that some pages have rips, scribbles, drool marks, etc. Even the board books are far from damage-proof. This means that our Dr. Seuss books all bear the evidence of my kids’ fondness for them. See?

seuss books

And I wouldn’t have it any other way. But that’s just me. Different families, different values, different ways of doing things. 🙂

To celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday, the US assigned the date National Read across America Day. We’re not in the US, so we can’t observe that. 😀 Having said that, we’d definitely be reading our copies of Dr. Seuss’ books. We’d do other activities as well.  The day’s going to be pretty full. I should’ve made it Dr. Seuss week instead. Here are some of the things I’m including in the day’s program:

green eggs

  • Breakfast of green eggs and ham while listening and probably singing along to songs from Seussical the Musical. (I can paint the ham, but I think I’ll limit the food dye to the eggs. If you want to use something natural – although mine is store-bought “natural” food color – you could puree broccoli and mix it with beaten eggs for a green omelet.)

  • Dr. Seuss books read-aloud from my ten-year-old and our homeschool puppets. (save One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish for later)
  • Visit to Seussville.com for games.
  • First movie (Cat in the Hat).
  • Crafts: truffula trees (pipe cleaners and yarn pompoms), oobleck (homemade slime, basically), Cat in the Hat mask (construction paper and markers).


seuss-oobleck

  • Afternoon snack of homemade goldfish crackers while reading One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. (makeshift mold using a strip cut from a foil dish or soda can)
  • Second movie (The Lorax).

That’s going to be it for our Dr. Seuss Day, which I think is already plenty, but we love Dr. Seuss, so it’s all good.

Do you plan to celebrate Dr. Seuss’ birthday? What activities will you do? How do you make your green eggs and ham? What’s your favorite Dr. Seuss book? Mine is Oh, the Places You’ll Go! Let us know in the comments section.

 

6 Excellent Reasons Why Birdwatching Is Worth Your While

Java Sparrow in Intramuros

We went birdwatching in Intramuros the other day. This was the third time we took advantage of the free guided birding trips periodically offered by the Wild Bird Club of the Philippines. Not only that, I finally signed up to become a member. I’ve been wanting to join the club for the longest time and I finally did it. Yay, me! It only took me seven years.

My primary reason for joining is that I’ve always enjoyed birdwatching. I’m as much a “Look at that bird” person as a “Look at the moon” one, I suppose. 😀 My spark bird (the one that ignited the interest in birdwatching) was a bee hummingbird I spotted one morning while I was vacationing at my aunt’s home in Southern California.

During that trip, I also frequently saw bluebirds, seagulls, crows, and Pelicans. For a girl who’d never seen anything but Eurasian tree sparrows (maya) and pigeons freely flying about (I was wrong about this, btw), seeing different kinds of birds in the wild (well, suburban wild) was a huge deal.

Birdwatching is definitely an activity that I want to share with my family. It’s my own interest, but I believe that my kids can benefit so much from engaging in it as well. Let me list the obvious perks that come with birdwatching.

  1. You learn about nature and appreciate how full of wonders it is. Different aspects of nature are intertwined, so the knowledge gained won’t be limited to birds. The impact on your kids could also be that, from being exposed to nature, they won’t be easily impressed by materialistic goods. If you’re a homeschooler, you could also integrate birdwatching into nature walks, make creating a safe habitat for birds a project, etc.
  2. You get yourself outdoors. Have you ever heard of Nature-Deficit Disorder? Child advocacy expert Richard Louv coined the term, which refers to the condition in which human beings, particularly the young, spend less time outdoors, resulting in various behavioral problems. It’s important to get yourself and your family outdoors. If you’re kind of a homebody, you can start with your backyard, gradually move on to the park, and then move on to easy nature hikes. Perhaps you can venture farther and attempt something even more outdoorsy from there. You get to enjoy the fresh air, soak up the recommended daily dosage of Vitamin D, and have an adventure.
  3. You get some great exercise – So engrossed in watching birds, you won’t notice that you’re walking miles at a time. This gives you a solid cardio workout. You also build up the strength of your upper arms, having to lug around spotting scopes as well as lift binoculars and hold them steadily.
  4. You effectively develop skills necessary to slow living. You learn to be more patient since birdwatching is not an exercise in instant gratification. Sometimes you have to wait hours (or years) to spot the bird you want to see. Besides that, birdwatching can also be a meditative activity and provide you with plenty of opportunity for contemplation and introspection.
  5. You hone quick reflexes and mental alertness at the same time that you develop patience. Birds won’t stop and pose for you while you scramble for your binoculars and focus them accordingly. You also need to be fast at spotting clues of a bird’s presence and identifying its kind based on the features you saw, no matter how fleetingly.
  6. You become a member of a special community. By becoming a birdwatcher, not only do you gain the physical and mental benefits of the activity, you also boost your social health. It’s a great way to meet kindred spirits, both offline and online.

Do you love birdwatching? Do you find it interesting and see yourself taking it up? Or do you think it’s, well, for the birds? Let us know your thoughts on this and tell us which birds you frequently see in your neighborhood.

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Practical Ways to Make Use of the Lavender in Your Garden

lavender

We don’t have a lot of outdoor space so we make do with container and vertical gardens. We don’t really have any ornamental plants at the moment, just ones that offer medicinal, gastronomic, and culinary value. I’d say that they are still pleasing to the eye even if they’re not strictly decorative.

Generally, we can eat or cook our plants. This is probably the reason why my husband, as he rearranged the pots hanging from our wall grid, asked me what the lavender was for.

I’m not sure what his intent was in asking that, if it was out of idle curiosity or if it was more pointed, but it got my back up and made me defensive.

I knew lavender was useful in so many ways, but at that moment, my brain shut down and I couldn’t come up with one practical purpose the plant has. As I fitfully stammered my way into a passable reply, my husband cut in, “Besides smelling nice.”

Rats! Aromatherapy was going to be my first point too. My mind hummed. It cried, “Food! He cares about that!” I knew lavender was added to cakes and other sweets, but I regret to say that I wasn’t able to make my case for lavender that day. I don’t remember why. Our children are master disruptors. No conversation between my husband and myself doesn’t get interrupted sooner or later.

The next time he asks though, I’ll be prepared. With bullet points too.

Having lavender in our tiny garden is smart because we can use it for:

  • Lavender tea – It calms you down, soothing anxiety and relieving stress.
  • Lavender-infused desserts – This may sound like eating something that tastes of soap or perfume, but did you know that lavender is actually one of the ingredients in herbes de provence? I also got to try a vanilla-lavender-honey ice cream in France and it was absolutely divine.
  • Lavender sachets – These are for scenting drawers and closets, especially where I place the kids’ pajamas. Lavender is known for inducing sleep and relaxation, so it helps to have their sleepwear smelling of it. I personally don’t need it as I pretty much pass out from exhaustion every night. What I need are stimulatory scents that help keep you awake such as mint and cinnamon.
  • Lavender nosegays – They not only serve as home décor placed in vases or hanging from a hook somewhere, they also make the house smell lovely. Lavender keeps on looking fresh even after it dries.
  • Lavender beauty and health aids – If you need to calm down, try rubbing lavender between your fingers and then massaging your temples. You could also use lavender and water as a facial mist. Honestly, there are so many benefits offered by lavender that there is an abundance of possibilities when it comes to its use.

Now that I’ve got my answer prepared, I can pretty much guarantee that the question of lavender’s relevance shall never arise again.

What about you? Do you have a lavender plant? Where and how do you use it?

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