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?

Valuable Old School Life Skills to Gift Our Kids with

You can probably tell that digital dependence is a favorite gripe of mine, so let me clarify right off the bat that I’m not against the technologies enjoyed today. They’re extremely helpful. I actually use them a lot. I just don’t want my family to feel debilitated without them. I don’t want our daily vista to mostly consist of a digital screen. I don’t want my children to think that they’ll be bored without a gadget. I don’t want them to choose phones and tablets over people and forget common courtesy while they’re at it. I don’t want us to think that we’ll flounder and sink without our digital tools and the ability to connect to the virtual world.

We’re a homeschooling family, and it’s easy to rely on digital devices and the Internet for our learning and entertainment needs, or, even, for contact with other people (We’re socialized just fine!). For this reason, I’ve convinced myself to make a better effort to turn to other options for these, such as crafts, imaginative games, practical arts, snail mail correspondence, etc. I’ve also decided to ensure that my husband and I impart traditional life skills that do not require the aid of a digital tool. What are some of these?

  1. Navigation skills. You can’t always count on your car’s GPS. There have been a few times that we lost signal going through a remote mountain or country road. When I was growing up, my dad always had at least two maps in the glove compartment, and I know that they served him really well both in his job and in his ministry. Being able to read maps is invaluable even in this day and age. If I were visiting a new place, I’d be quick to get a map from the tourism office or from a kiosk, if the town or city is a popular destination.
  2. ‘80s phone skills. It’s not just about phone manners, which are important, of course. The phone was a huge thing when I was growing up. A math-phobic, I used to say that the only numbers I was good with were phone numbers. I had all my friends’ (and then some) numbers memorized. Sadly, the only one I have down to memory these days is my own mobile number. I even have to check my contacts for our land line number. That has to change. I’d be in a pickle if I have to call somebody and can’t check my contacts for the necessary information. I should go back to jotting down phone numbers in my planner as well.
  3. Handwriting skills. This covers a few sub-skills. I love a beautiful, elegant script. Mine is a lovely pseudo-Spencerian, if I do say so myself. It’s not exactly Spencerian, but it has a Spencerian air. Okay, that sounded just as dumb in my head, but I still went ahead and wrote it. Many people might think it’s pointless to learn script, but it says a lot about a person who took the time to develop a nice cursive. It’s not a genteel time, so things of refinement are even more special. It’s an uphill task thus far with my daughter, but we’ll get there. I remember a meme on Facebook saying “Us old folks will use cursive writing as a secret code.” I certainly hope it never reaches that point. Of course, handwriting is also associated with composition skills. There’s no spell and grammar check to count on.
  4. Offline research skills. It’s so easy to just google everything, but I’m teaching my kids how to consult the dictionary and other reference books, including the phone directory (have I got some stories for them about my use of phone directories when I was young and stalker- stalkerly? Stalkerish?) and the yellow pages, as well as how to use the index and glossary. We love libraries and are fortunate to have a librarian cousin, so we can spend time learning in a nice one.
  5. Mental computation skills. They’re not only necessary for when we don’t have a calculator handy (dead phone), but they’re great for keeping our minds sharp and logical. No matter how skittish I am about math, I have to accept that it’s important and extremely useful in practical life.
  6. Face-to-face social skills. This involves learning to take turns in conversation, actually listening, and reading social cues. I’m afraid my daughter has a tendency to keep on talking as long as she has something to say. Since she never runs out, she’s usually full-speed ahead. It may not seem as obnoxious in online chats, but she has to moderate herself in real life. That’s something that she’s working on. Children are also usually sensitive to emotions, but they won’t be able to hold on to this keen sense if they start looking to emoticons for clue.
  7. Self-entertainment skills. Children, for the longest time, have complained about being bored, and parents, for just as long a time, have either threatened to give them something to do or urged them to think of something to entertain themselves with. Back during my childhood, it was either watch TV, which had all of five channels, or go out to play. Good thing I loved to read and daydream. We weren’t allowed to read in a moving car, so for long car rides, my sister and I had to come up with games to play or content ourselves with singing along to the radio. These days, children have a tendency to depend on a mobile device to keep entertained. It’s important to me to show mine that they have the ability to come up with many other choices for enjoying themselves, especially out in nature.

EXTRA: Scouting skills. Reading a compass, building a campfire, foraging, setting up a shelter, tying proper knots… These are all basic survival skills that I’d like my children to acquire. I was a girl scout for several years and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I’d love for my kids to join the scouts as well. A fellow homeschooler told me that the national scouting organization is open to homeschoolers joining, provided they have a trained and certified scoutmaster lead them. I’m looking into the options we have here.

These are skills we were fortunate to develop growing up in a less high-tech time. It would definitely benefit our kids to acquire them too.

Can you think of any more old school life skills that would diminish the inclination toward digital dependence?

10 Effective Tips on How to Relish Parenthood

As parents, we tend to get bogged down by responsibilities and worries that we forget what a gift parenthood is. Consequently, we often fail to enjoy the privileges that come with it. Such tendencies could very well lead to a loss so great, it’s tragic.

While we never stop being parents, our children don’t get to be young forever. Their childhood is so precious, so special, and, unfortunately, also so fleeting that it’s important to remember to relish this stage of our life as parents. Unfortunately, when we’re living from paycheck to paycheck, facing a mountain of tasks, and fretting over the choices we’ve made for our family, it’s easy to lose the joy.

When we feel like being a parent is more of a burden than a gift, we should take the time to step back from our routine pursuits and remind ourselves how much we love our children and how important it is not only to ensure that they always feel that love, but that we enjoy their presence in our lives. Here are some tips for stirring up all the right sentiments about parenthood and spending meaningful moments with our children:

  1. Do “Hug Time”. The trolls had the right idea. While it doesn’t have to be scheduled, make sure that you make time for hugs several times a day. Especially enjoy it now when they’re cuddly and willing. Hopefully, they don’t outgrow the habit and will continue to welcome hugs and cuddles all their life.
  2. Inhale their baby scent. That doesn’t last very long. Soon, they’ll be smelling of sweat, sun, and, well, whatever else they’re exposed to. If your nose doesn’t appreciate this particular scent of childhood, then time breathing their scent in for after baths.
  3. Savor their gestures of affection. When she was a toddler, my eldest child used to go on walks with her Nannie (my mom) and come back with flowers she’d picked along the way for me. When she was learning to write, she also loved leaving me notes to find around the house (I miss that!). Of course, everything is cherished and preserved, the flowers, tucked between the pages of my Bible, and the notes, in a special box.
  4. Indulge in silliness. Have a dance-off, teach them funny songs (yes, I was the one who taught my kids the infamous “Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit” and “Great Green Globs”), switch roles for an hour, tell jokes… Just laugh, laugh, laugh with them.
  5. Snuggle in bed together. You could read books, watch a movie, tell stories, or just be. Forget the heat! Warm fuzzies in your chest that cozying up with your kids brings aren’t just for cold weather. They might not be interested in doing that anymore when they’re bigger, so do it as much as you can now.
  6. Capture the mundane. Fuss over the milestones, sure, but make the time as well to enjoy the daily details. For instance, when watching videos on my laptop, my youngest lies down on his tummy with his lower legs up and kicking in time to the music and his fingers drumming on the frame of my keyboard (and picking at the keys when I’m not looking). It’s really cute and I always pause to take the adorable image in. I’ve since committed it to memory, so I can summon it up in my mind when he’s all grown. While he still does it, I watch and feel my heart swell.
  7. Regularly spend unplugged time with them. Being fully conscious of each other without the disruption of electronics amps the quality of time spent together instantly and significantly. You tend to listen better, make better and longer eye contact, and, thus, connect more deeply.
  8. Share something you really enjoy with them. It’s good for them to see you cultivating your interests, and it’s even better when they can share your likes with you. Be it gardening, fishing, reading, or even just eating, you get opportunities to bond with your children on the kindred level, a truly delightful feeling.
  9. Experience new things with them. As fun as it is to impart your standing interests to them, it’s even more fascinating to explore new territories together. You would be starting out on even footing, something that they would probably find intriguing and appreciate.
  10. Break one of your own rules with them. These are truly special moments that usually serve you well when you really need to lighten up. When you’re weighed down by all that you require of yourself to be a good parent, allowing yourself to flout one of your own rules is a way for you to satisfy any urge to rebel, to take things a little easier, and to give the kids a break or a treat in case they had a particularly stressful day. For instance, if I had enough of my day, I’d tell the kids that we’re having cake for dinner in the bedroom while watching a movie (even though it’s not movie night) or if homeschooling was rough that day, I’d let my daughter experiment with my makeup; she’s usually not allowed beyond a bit of tinted lip balm.

I find that I need to consciously set out to do these things or I might end up simply going through the motions, resenting the overwhelming list of tasks that need to get done while taking care of hearth and home, and consequently failing to enjoy the infinitely precious blessing bestowed upon me.

The love is always there in our hearts, but it might fail to manifest, consumed as we are by all the daily details. That would definitely be regrettable.

What do you do to steer yourself away from a path of negativity and wasted opportunities as a parent?

The First Time I Share About Our Autism Experience

Puzzle ribbon

Now that Autism Awareness Month is over, I wonder just how much more aware people are of the condition. I have a feeling those who bothered to read posts and watch videos were mostly those who were already aware and probably dealing with it in some capacity. Those who shared a witty slogan or two were likely happy to leave their contribution at that. Did you wear or decorate with blue? Yeah, that was supposed to mean something.

I don’t know that I’m ready to write about autism. I don’t know that I have anything sensible, let alone helpful, to say. When it comes to my son’s condition, I still have no answers, no Eureka moments that other families dealing with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) have been blessed with.

You can say that I’m still floundering. It’s not even being back to square one. At square one, I thought the solution was definitive. The developmental pediatrician had made her diagnosis and subsequent prescription, so I expected to see significant results in time. That was very naïve of me. Autism does a magnificent job at confounding the most logical and learned minds. Is it neurology, nutrition, genetics…? I don’t know. Nobody actually knows. Experts, non-experts, and people with barely a nodding acquaintance with the subject all have their theories, but autism remains an enigma. I’m still not comfortable with that. I don’t think I ever will be.

But it’s my reality and I’m learning how to cope. I still alternate between acceptance and anger. And guilt. There are people who are great at playing victims, and then there are people like me, who would claim responsibility for causing the decline of modern civilization. My natural inclination is to spend an unhealthy amount of time blaming myself for the ills of my personal world.  These days, my son’s autism is almost always at the top of that list. At the end of the day, however, no matter my frame of mind, I have no choice but to take things a day at a time.

My second child was diagnosed to be on the spectrum two years ago. He had just turned three. He’s a handsome boy with a charming cleft chin and a gorgeous gaze that snared you whenever he deigned to bless you with eye contact, which was a rare treat indeed.

It just seemed like he was too cool for us, something that didn’t fit with toddler behavior. He didn’t want to listen to you. He didn’t respond to his name. Nonetheless, he didn’t walk on tiptoes. He didn’t exhibit any propensity for stimming. His verbal communication was minimal, but there were enough bursts of language to make us hope that it couldn’t possibly be.

Still, there were very clear delays in speech and social interaction, so my husband and I decided to take him to a developmental pediatrician. No blood was drawn. No lab test was conducted. There was a checklist though. My husband and I were interviewed, and then, finally, the doctor assessed our boy through play. An hour or so later, we had a diagnosis: he exhibited developmental progress of a 1.5-year-old and manifested autistic behavior.

When I finally had that official confirmation, I spent a whole lot of time in denial and in ignorance. I thought we could beat autism. We would therapy the heck out of our boy so he’d get caught up in areas wherein he exhibited delay. I would make it my main mission in life and would not rest until my son was developmentally caught-up.

Them’s fighting words. The fervor, however, fizzled as my plate teetered with all my other responsibilities. I was working, nursing an infant, homeschooling, doing what I could so the house didn’t completely fall apart… The solid effort I imagined putting in to power through the challenge I had such a laughably simplistic view of never materialized.

It wasn’t just my pitiful effort to the initial intent to railroad autism out of our lives; it was autism itself. There’s a name for it, but, oh wow, what an unknown entity it remains. The more you try to understand, the more you see that you can’t really fully know. That spectrum is a jumble of overlapping variables. The compartments are but an illusion. Expectations are not encouraged.

Still, we had to do something. We followed expert instruction and sent our boy to occupational and speech therapy twice a week for over a year. Unfortunately, results were minimal. While it’s true that we sucked at supplementing therapy at home, I just felt in my gut that this wasn’t the right approach for helping our son.

He had some good therapists, usually the older and more experienced ones, and he had some who were unsatisfactory. For instance, one was always rushing through the session and ending it with 10 to 15 minutes more to spare. That was obviously a great way to not give us value for our money, so I requested a different therapist after I’d noted the pattern.

Another therapist frequently gave negative feedback on my boy’s performance. When I got to observe a session with him, I noticed that he spent a lot of time on massage that was supposed to calm my son down. That showed itself to be a problem. First, I’m not comfortable paying occupational therapy fees for sessions that were half-massage. Second, he was using a product that I hadn’t approved of. My son has very sensitive skin and many products, even the hypoallergenic baby variety, make him itch. Third, all that massage made my boy sleepy. No wonder he was cranky and reluctant to perform.

This same therapist also asked me about play, and I replied that my son was really taken with straws. That gave him a pause, and with a look of concerned censure, he informed me that that was not developmentally appropriate. At that time, all I could do was shoot him a confused WTH look. “Duuuuuuuude, are you aware that you’re dealing with kids who were sent to you precisely because of their developmental delays?” In retrospect, there were other red flags I’d caught from that conversation. He just didn’t seem to know much about autism, so we decided that one wasn’t getting our hard-earned money either.

And then there was the front desk clerk. There was a time when I picked up my son a couple of minutes late. Unfortunately, this was during the time of the therapist who liked to cut her sessions short, so it’s possible that my son had already been waiting 10 or more minutes. I was amazed to see my boy sitting quietly beside her. That’s pretty much unheard of. He’s not one to sit still without something truly fascinating engaging his attention, and even then, he’d still feel the urge to move around. As we walked to the car, I noticed that my son was upset – not meltdown-upset, but more timid-upset, something also quite unheard of. The alarm bells began clanging in my head. I didn’t know how to find out if she’d bullied my child in any way to make him stay put, but I resolved to keep my eye on her and to never be late ever again.

After more than a year in, we didn’t see any marked difference in our child. His therapists would eagerly report his progress, saying now he could do or say this or that, and I’d have to pop their excited bubble and say that he could already do those things even before. I don’t mean to deprive them of any credit at all because there were some new things he did learn, but in my mind, I’m wondering if they could be attributed more to natural progression than anything else.

In the end, we decided to pull him out from the center and regroup. It was temporary at that time, but now I’m pretty sure we’re not going to use that place again. While in therapy hiatus, I’m researching all I can and trying out different approaches that speak to me. ABA, which was what the center practiced, didn’t feel right to me. If it were a medical treatment, I’d call it invasive. I’m always one for a more holistic and gentler approach. In autism, Son-Rise seems to fit that bill. The program’s crazy expensive, but I plan to order the starter kit. If it brings forth signs of the miracle I’ve been praying for, then we’ll try to raise funds for the intensive program, which includes staying in Massachusetts for a short period of time.

Besides therapy options, I’m also looking into diets we could try. GFCF (gluten-free, casein-free) seems to be easier than the Feingold one. All those natural salicylate restrictions threw me, but I might give it a whirl if others don’t make any difference. I’ll probably begin with the easiest diet and hopefully it will already work wonders so I don’t have to try anything else.

For now, this is my contribution to the autism awareness cause. Some contribution. It’s purely anecdotal.  It’s rough and random. Any comfort or enlightenment derived from it is unintentional. I don’t want to pretend any wisdom on my part. I don’t want to pretend to have already come to terms with my son’s autism. I still want it gone.

I know the “right” attitude to have, but if I’m not feeling it, I’m not going to pretend otherwise. Does this mean that I’m not fully loving my son because I want his autism gone? No. He is loved and cherished no matter what, but it’s because I love him so much that I don’t want him to suffer through the challenges the condition brings. If your child had a disorder, wouldn’t you just rather he didn’t have it, whatever it might be? It’s not about being realistic, but about your heart’s desire. After all, I believe in a God who makes all things possible, so I’m not going to put a limit on what I can hope for. In the meantime, we do what we can to make the best of our situation.

Through it all, I pray. Despite the emotional and mental roller coaster ride, I find rest in the fact that nobody loves my child as much as the Lord does. Autism is just another symptom of this fallen world, but I trust God’s love for us to be perfect despite our imperfections. His hand is on our family. I don’t know what to expect from our journey with autism, but I know to expect goodness, faithfulness, and wonderful works from God.

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.

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.

*This post has affiliate links.

How You Get More from Doodling

Zentangle Our Lemonade Days

I don’t know how things work in classrooms now with all the technology available. Do students still use notebooks or do they just record the lecture in their mobile devices? Hmm, I wouldn’t like that at all. When I was teaching, I didn’t allow my students to have their phones, ipods, or laptops out, except for very few and select instances. Gadgets weren’t as rampantly used back then, so I didn’t want some students to have an unfair advantage over the others by using one.

Since I homeschool my kids, they can’t clue me in either on what learning in a traditional classroom is like these days. In our eclectic homeschool setup, my daughter doesn’t have to take down notes. She does copywork, but she doesn’t note down important details when I’m explaining things to her. I think that’s a pity because I’ve found note-taking to be a very beneficial skill.

I was great at taking down notes. Classmates were forever borrowing mine to photocopy back in the day. They were practically written in shorthand, but were mostly legible, so the borrowers patiently put up with my penmanship.

I do have a nice cursive, if I do say so myself, but it’s hard to maintain it when you’re trying to catch and jot down all the salient points that the teacher is saying.

My chicken scratch wasn’t the only thing they had to deal with when using copies of my notes. I doodled in between actual note-taking, so they were treated to a lot of swirls, flowers, butterflies, paisley patterns, and Spencerian script practice lettering along the margin.

Doodling was frowned upon in my school. Notebooks were to stay neat. Also, I suppose if you were supposed to be listening to the teacher and taking down notes, but were doodling instead, it would seem as though you were being inattentive.

Doodling advocate Sunni Brown, however, proposes that the activity is more than just mindless drawing. She says it’s deep-thinking in disguise and is an effective problem-solving tool. There is also research that indicates that doodling actually aids memory retention.

Now, I may not have an eidetic memory, but I was the kind of student who remembered what she learned in class. If I had been paying attention, I would have been taking notes and doodling. Even if I never got around to reviewing my notes, I would still do well in tests.

Outside the classroom, doodling often helped me pass the time. I don’t have any remarkable drawing skills, but I have to admit liking the results of my doodling, which tended to look psychedelic. I had the habit of starting from a simple shape and then building up from that. You could tell that I was partial to swirls, polka dots, and paisleys. That was my natural doodling style. It was certainly a surprise to me to learn that there was a name for it: Zentangle®.

Described to be a purposeful and structured style of drawing similar to doodling, Zentangle® supposedly supports a mindful state of being (as opposed to mindless doodling). It is said to be a meditative art form that promotes relaxation and stress-reduction as well as improves mood and self-control.

Like my doodles, Zentangle® consists of repetitive patterns of straight lines, dots, curves, and shading. The Zentangler is allowed to be as creative and free-form in her use of these patterns.

I looked at examples of Zentangle® images and, wow, there are really gifted Zentanglers out there. A lot of the pieces I’ve seen are really intricate. Some people are even selling their creations.

My own doodles are pretty simple, and like I said, I’m not really particularly gifted when it comes to drawing, but I can come up with a pretty picture from putting together patterns of simple swirls, dots, and lines – nothing that anybody would want to pay money for, but the satisfaction derived from the creation process and the pleasure from the result make pretty good compensation as well.

I don’t know about traditional schools, but doodling totally passes as an art lesson in our home school. I introduced the concept of Zentangle® to my daughter and now she enjoys putting together easy patterns, usually inside alphabet letters. I’m grateful that she finds it engaging and that I can include it in my list of suggestions for replying to declarations of boredom. Also, she likes to include drawings and small craft projects in her letters to her pen pals, so for the next batch of mail, she’ll be enclosing their names done in Zentangle®.

Zentangle Midge

I think most people would cotton to the activity. It is simple, creative, and soothing. If your feelings are in some kind of turmoil, you might want to try some aimless zentangling and see if you’ll calm down. You can check out this Pinterest board for some easy patterns to get you started.

There’s obviously more to doodling than meets the eye. Are you a chronic and pathological doodler like me? What’s your doodling style? Have you tried zentangling before? Did you find it enjoyable? Go ahead and share photos of your efforts.

We’re Back – with Bells on!

Let’s pretend that I didn’t have a three-almost four-year break in blogging. Let’s pretend that we’re continuing the conversation we had yesterday. Can we do that?

I’ll zip through the reason: deleted files in the server – it’s still a mystery how that happened. Since my blog wasn’t a paying client, it didn’t get priority. I lost momentum. I was pissed by the unnecessary interruption, so I decided to rage-quit blogging, my return to it, indefinite. It became clear to me that life was easier without the added task and responsibility. Later on, I convinced myself that I really just didn’t have time for it.

Of late, I always found myself wracked with guilt, grief, and desperation over my situation. I was constantly overwhelmed with work, chores, and motherhood. I felt like a piece of flotsam buoyed by the waves, with no control of my direction. I was constantly behind schedule, my performance in all my present roles were not up to my usual standards, and there was a distinct lack of joy and contentment. That basically means that I had once again succumbed to my negative and perfectionist nature.

Nobody’s harsher than me when it came to judging and punishing myself, so…

A mentality overhaul was in order. Yet again. Also, experimenting with different time management, life organization hacks, and whatnot. Perfectionist urge aside, I really do need to be more efficient and more intentional. I want better quality time with the people who matter most to me. I also need to take better care of myself. Blogging helped me do these in the past. Writing about my efforts and experiences allowed me to introspect and regularly check if I was being true to my ideals and living purposefully.

With the re-birth of Our Lemonade Days, I’ll continue with the old categories and add a new one. Two years ago, my second child was diagnosed to be on the autism spectrum, so I’ve decided to also use this blog to reach out to other families living with ASD, sharing ideas for at-home occupational and speech therapy activities as well as other tips for helping our ASD loved ones cope with this neurotypical world. Hopefully, this blog can offer support and extend some level of comfort to others in a similar situation.

We’re also going to be experimenting with a YouTube channel. When I say we, I mean my daughter and I. She’s 10 years old now (Time just zipped by!). In any case, we plan to produce videos to accompany some (not all) of our posts here, especially ones that involve tutorials.

By the way, sometime during this blogging hiatus, we were blessed with our third child, Sawyer. He just turned two in January. He has a stunning smile, a quick temper, and no plans of getting weaned any time soon.

I’ve also updated Spinning Lovely Days, so you might want to check that out.

That’s it for the re-intro. I’m excited to get back on the horse. Here’s praying that this blog enjoy an abundance of helpful, worthwhile content and suffer no glitches and hitches this time around, technical or otherwise.

Joseph_Jefferson_as_Ripvanwinkle_by_Napoleon_SArony_(1821-1896)

Screen-free Week: Unplug Your Kids

Screen-free Week is almost halfway over, but if you haven’t been observing it, there’s still plenty of time to practice being screen-free, or at the very least, considerably unplugged. Being a writer in this age, and a blogger, at that, the most I can do without sacrificing work is to significantly lessen my time in front of the screen. Thankfully, my cell phone gave up the ghost a couple of months back and I have yet to find the motivation to replace it. We also don’t have the usual video games and we’re not getting any ever as long as I have anything to say about it. But we do have a tablet; my daughter uses it for watching movies and playing a few educational games, including taking care of that pet poop-like creature Pou… I can tell that I’m about to go off on an angry tangent about technology since I’m part-Amish and part-Greg Kinnear’s character in You’ve Got Mail, so I’m wrenching myself away from that particular train of thought. In any case, I’m definitely not one to talk since, as much as I disapprove, I do find much practical use in these digital devices, including the tablet, which I mostly use for reading those free ebooks I’ve been hoarding in my Cloud reader.

But if you are interested in the idea behind Screen-free Week, here are some helpful resources for suggestions on alternative activities to do, inspiration for being unplugged, etc.

Screen-free Week Online Resources:

The Slacker’s Guide to Screen-Free Week (activity suggestions divided into Morning, Afternoon, and Evening)

Get Ready for Screen-Free Week: 30 Great Activities and Printables (screen-time statistics, tips for enjoying Screen-free Week better, activity suggestions divided into Fun with Reading, Active Fun, Outdoor Fun, Arts and Crafts, In the Kitchen, Family Time, and Dinner Time Printables)

National Screen-Free Week: A Survival Guide (11 suggestions, plus a link to a Snow Day Survival Guide, which might also apply)

75 Activities for Screen-Free Week (a family’s set of rules for observing Screen-free Week, a downloadable/printable list of suggested activities)

Family Goes Screen-Free, Stays Screen-Free (a mother’s account of how observing Screen-free Week led to generally screen-free kids)

Screen-Free Week: 2012 Recap (I love this post – please take the time to read it. We focus too much on the kids going screen-free that we fail to notice if we’re applying the same principle to ourselves.)

Take the Screen-Free Challenge (lays down research-based premise for diminishing screen-time)

 

How about some ebooks?

Finding Educational Activities in the Most Unexpected Places: 200+ Activities for Young Children Using Common Household Objects

Unplugged Play: No Batteries. No Plugs. Pure Fun.

Beginning Montessori With Infants and Tots Birth to 24 Months

 

Or traditional books?

Goodnight iPad: a Parody for the next generation

The Creative Family: How to Encourage Imagination and Nurture Family Connections

Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

 

Sometime during Screen-free Week, we’ll be working on many of the items on our summer 2013 bucket list, one of which is to make lots of fairy houses. Marguerite rediscovered this old favorite going through my other blog. We also have many arts and crafts projects lined up for this week, as well as some activities Marguerite saw on Pinterest (we browse through boards together) and wants to do. Cameron is sure to be a cheerful participant in all these.

fairyhouse

What about you? Are you going to observe Screen-free Week? Do you have your own ideas for making the experience extra special? Please share.

 Our Lemonade Days is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.

The Unrelenting Pursuit of an Extraordinary Life: I’m Inspired to Blog Because…

Waldorf star lanternsThe baby – he’s halfway done with his second year, but he’ll be THE baby for a long time – stirs in his sleep, restlessly pecking at my arm, indicating his intent to feed. I wait a few seconds before acquiescing, whereupon the tiny being beside me escalates his message of demand by grabbing my top in resolute search of the source of his nourishment and comfort. I look at the time. It’s half past four. I start to weigh my chances of being able to get some more sleep and end up running a mental list of all the things I need to do instead. At the top of my mind is my part-time work. I have a noon deadline and still have all 3 articles to write. Now is the time to get those out of the way. As soon as the baby unlatches, I turn on my computer from hibernate mode, and tiptoe to the bathroom for my morning ritual. Afterward, as I reacquaint myself with the various tabs I left open the night before, I whip out my devotional, have a quick read, and utter a short prayer. Most of the time, it’s a silent wail for help. In the silence of the morning, the day still so fresh and unspent, I sag at the weight of the expected demands of the day. However, assured by God’s promise of help, I buck up and get started on tasks that can be done simultaneously. Basically, I alternate between writing and nursing, and then writing and getting the baby’s and my breakfast. Later, I juggle writing with attending to the needs of two more people who have now woken up. I know I should have done my writing the night before, but the kids were bent on sabotage and didn’t go to sleep until I was so exhausted that all I could do was open a couple of references. And even then my head kept on pathetically bobbing forward in fits and spurts of persistent slumber. Time is gold, however, and there’s none available for ruing last night’s inability to get any work done. I do a desperate task edit to see if there’s any chance I can get baths done this morning, mine included preferably. I dismiss the hope and resolve to schedule baths right after lunch. In the interim, I alternate writing, entertaining the baby, and homeschooling my daughter. It’s not even 9:30am and the day is not about to let up… How dare I try to fit blogging into that crazy schedule!?!

“Why do you blog?” That’s a pretty loaded question. It comes with unspoken judgment. There’s no need for it. With all that I already have to do in a day, blogging just seems like a poor choice – nothing more than pure indulgence. However, I love to write, and since I can’t muster the energy, concentration, and commitment to regularly write fiction and poetry like I used to, blogging seems to me the next best thing; I get to choose what to write and how to write it.

But it’s not only about sating the writer’s soul. If I were to finally be blessed with my own house, I would resolve to make it a place from which goodness emanates. The same applies to my blog, even if it’s merely virtual real estate. I’ve previously mentioned my natural tendency to be negative. I may have the propensity to always regard and react as though I were perpetually having a Jonah Day (I have the possibly annoying habit of sourcing my language from the Anne of Green Gables series), but I believe I’ve attained sufficient maturity to realize that there’s a better way of living my life. For this reason, I created this blog to be a consciously positive space.

But, yet again, it’s not only about that deliberate effort to have a positive element in my life. Our Lemonade Days is, more than anything else, a tool. On our wedding day, I vowed to my husband to always bring beauty, poetry, wonder, etc. into our life. When each of our children was born, I made a similar promise to the newborn I held in my arms. As a matter of fact, I believe I made an extraordinary life filled with joy and creativity a personal goal long before I even got married. Definitely, the conviction to homeschool came upon me pre-marriage and pre-children as well. Somehow, the goal and the conviction are intertwined, probably stemming from the same propulsor in my genetic makeup. The thing about life is that it’s so easy to neglect such noble aspirations as one gets lost in the pursuit of mundane matters. In my case, I find that blogging induces introspection, an evaluation of my efforts, and an honest assessment of the life I’m making for myself, which certainly influences that of my family.

Many people blog to reach out and be included in a community of like-minded individuals. That’s also my intent. Mommy bloggers wish to have a concrete record of their children’s precious moments. Again, I have the same hope. Our Lemonade Days is, indeed, a chronicle of our days. To me, this is paramount. Don’t you find it sheer agony to fail at bringing to mind a face or a moment in time with perfect clarity? While a blog is an efficient documentation tool that can be browsed through with the purpose of recalling memories, capturing nuances of time, etc., it’s definitely more than that for me. It is the fuel for consistent refocusing, for making sure that I have the right perspective in place. With it, I’m able to keep within the path I should be taking if I want to make good on the promises I’d made. In a nutshell, I am inspired to blog because I and, consequently, my family greatly benefit from it.

When I find myself succumbing to my negative nature, when I find myself drowning in the mundane and inessential, my blog leads me back to the right path, reminding me, “These are the things that are truly important to you, and this is the life that you want.”

*This post is my entry to DaintyMom.com’s Blogaversary Giveaway Contest.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...