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?

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.

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.

A Pocket Full of Poetry

Emily Dickinson coverHello! Did you know that April is Poetry Month? As a homeschooler and poetry lover, I’m excited to observe it. If a whole month is too much of a commitment for you, you can concentrate your celebration on the 18th which is Poem in Your Pocket Day. As it is, I’ve introduced Emily Dickinson, my favorite poet from girlhood to my daughter. I voraciously read Dickinson in my early teens, thanks to her “I Am Nobody? Who Are You?”, which really resonated with me back then. Here’s a candid confession… High brow literature elitists wouldn’t approve, but I discovered Dickinson via those ubiquitous (back in the ’80s and ’90s anyway) Sweet Dreams teen romance novels. I vividly remember those two influential  books. I still know their titles and their plot. I could probably even detail some of the scenes. Here’s some more candid confession – I’m also trying to locate copies. As expected, my own copies were borrowed by loathsome creatures who didn’t have a nodding acquaintance with the word “return”. So, if you find copies of “The Right Combination” by Jahnna Beecham and “Love Lines” by Frances Hurley Grimes, please send them over this way; I promise to reimburse you. In any case, I haven’t exactly outgrown Dickinson, but my horizons have broadened some. These days, I tend to prefer reading Isabella Gardner; I love her use of language and the imagery she paints with her words.

Hope page
Going back to Poetry Month, I’m saving “I Am Nobody…” for later and starting Marguerite on “Hope (is the thing with feathers)”. Also, instead of regular stories, we’re reading children’s poems at bedtime. Marguerite really enjoys the Dr. Seuss ones. She’s a big one for silliness, that girl. Incidentally, lots of famous bedtime prayers rhyme, so if you want your kids to memorize something, going with a prayer will be much like hitting two birds with one stone. I personally love this one and have taught it to Marguerite –

Father, We Thank Thee

Father, we thank thee for the night,
And for the pleasant morning light;
For rest and food and loving care,
And all that makes the day so fair.

Help us to do the things we should,
To be to others kind and good;
In all we do, in work or play,
To grow more loving every day.

Rebecca Weston – 1890

There are so many ways to celebrate Poetry Month. If you’re a homeschooler who wishes to instill the love of poetry in your kids, a parent whose child won’t be celebrating Poetry Month at his or her school, or somebody who simply enjoys poetry, the following are some suggestions on how you can make the most of this month:

  • If you have a business, offer discounts or a freebie to those carrying poems in their pockets on the 18th.
  • Post short verses on Facebook or Twitter.
  • Handwrite verses on Post-its and stick them all over the house. Or the neighborhood.
  • Distribute bookmarks with your favorite verses.
  • Post a poem on your blog.
  • Text a poem to friends (but not while driving).
  • Revisit your favorite poet from childhood with your kids.
  • Include a poem in your kid’s lunch bag.
  • Organize a poetry reading.
  • Assign poems for copywork.
  • Using chalk, write poems on sidewalks.
  • Watch a movie that involves poetry. Take care to make sure that all content is suitable for kids. Even “Dead Poets Society” is PG. Perhaps “A Child’s Garden of Poetry” if you can find a copy?
  • Write poems for your kids, with your kids… just write. You can even take a single sheet of paper and pass it around (if you have more than one child) or back and forth, putting in a word or two during your turn. Once the paper is filled, you’ll have something akin to Dadaist poetry.

For sure there are more ideas out there. You can check out these Pinterest pages for other possible activities. Happy Poetry Month!

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