If you have any heart for the outdoors, spring will fill that heart with elation. Summer and fall, even winter, have their charms, but spring is the rebirth of hope. It is that time of year when the gates of ice and snow are opened and the long-imprisoned molecules of water are released into the world in a riot of babbling brooks, cresting creeks, and muddy roads.

frogI’ve been reading Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection by Robert F. Capon. He rightly locates water on the map of significance: “Admittedly, the Scriptures begin and end with water. There is a river in Eden, and there is a river in the Heavenly Jerusalem: All life comes from the sea. Equally certainly, without water, no life is possible in between. No man can praise it enough. It is the root of freshness, the sign of purity, the means of grace. Most of all, it is the element that makes earth Earth, the principal ornament of the round world, the blue mantle of what must be a stunning planet indeed…. But for all that, plain water is not the world’s best gift to a stew.”

Two days ago, I opened our bedroom window and heard the faint hint of spring peepers on the wind. Yesterday, the lascivious call could be heard through the walls. For the next several months, these amorous amphibians will be guaranteeing fresh voices for next year. Spring peepers live about three years, so they fornicate like… frogs, I guess, in the short time they have.

This week is spring break, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. It’s the first week of the year where coats are not a necessity, and the kids can play outside without the twenty-minute ritual of snow pants, boots, hats, gloves, blah, blah, blah. Tater’s preschool teacher assigned some homework this week: Go outside and collect some nature. I love that.

Hopefully you and yours are getting to do the same.

Happy spring, everybody!

John Muir was the founder of the Sierra Club. He died on Christmas Eve in 1914. He’d lobbied the government for what became Yosemite National Park. Thus, many call him the “father of the national parks.” When they made those statehood quarters awhile back, California’s featured John Muir. As such, and having been entertained lately by one of his books, I will present a short quote as often as I can to get his writing out to the very people he’d most like to reach, at least in my imagination of him.

muir stamp“I like to watch the squirrels. There are two species here, the large California gray, and the Douglas. The latter is the brightest of all the squirrels I have ever seen, a hot spark of life, making every tree tingle with his prickly toes, a condensed nugget of fresh mountain vigor and valor… He seems to think the mountains belong to him, and at first tried to drive away the whole flock of sheep, as well as the shepherd and dogs. How he scolds, and what faces he makes, all eyes, teeth, and whiskers! If not so comically small, he would indeed be a dreadful fellow. I should like to know more about his bringing up, his life in the home knot-hole.”

p. 68–69, My First Summer In The Sierra, John Muir.

 

My house is crazy with books. Right now I am trying to read a book on landscaping with native plants (specific to Michigan) as well as one for folks with tiny lots who want to homestead. There’s also What the Robin Knows, Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants, The Library at Night by Alberto Manguel, and Colonel Roosevelt by Edmund Morris—just to name a few from the stack next to my bed.

collage2Eventually this current reading obsession will wear off. I can already feel my bones aching for action. There are, of course, the usual chores to be attended to. The garage needs cleaning; I need to build shelves in the workroom, clad our roughed-in staircase, and finish the entry hall. The crawl space needs to be cleaned out, and a vapor barrier needs to be laid down. And this summer has me painting the house, landscaping and gardening, and tending to so much yard work I am almost overwhelmed already.

I am also hoping to try my hand at hard cider. Bought some of the equipment last week, and now I am gearing up for a slow brew. My dream project this summer would be to recreate Thoreau’s cabin as a workroom/seasonal office on our property. I’ve been researching plans online, and I think I can score materials relatively cheaply, but it’s likely a pipe dream on my part.

And then there’s the writing, the most strenuous task of all. Writing projects are constantly on my mind. Back road guides to Michigan and Ohio are on the to-do list, but I also have a few more ambitious projects are also in the works. These later ones are more work and less sure, but a guy’s got to dream, right?

All of this is part of an underlying desire to push back somewhat against the onslaught of modernity. (I don’t find it ironic at all that I am posting this on the Internet, since you asked.) Having read Neil Postman’s Building a Bridge to the 18th Century a few years back, I increasingly find myself trying to create a less technological atmosphere for our family. A big part of that is getting outside as much as possible, but it also means finding joy in simple cooking, reading books, and projects that keep the hands busy.

So, what are you doing this winter? What are your plans for warmer weather? I’d love to hear what you’re reading and what the underlying philosophy is that guides your daily lives these days?

“The dorado did a most extraordinary thing as it died: it began to flash all kinds of colors in rapid succession. Blue, green, red, gold, and violet flickered and shimmered neon-like on its surface as it struggled. I felt like I was beating a rainbow to death” —Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Maybe once upon a time, Americans felt that they had to fight against nature. Just after they hopped off the Mayflower, perhaps. Or that first winter in Jamestown. Along the Oregon Trail. (although, if they’d asked the people that were already living here, they might’ve learned different, but that’s another column). For most of us, it’s no longer like that. Unless a disaster happens. Like it does to the main character of Life of Pi, by Yann Martel.

What I do want to do is examine this book on two fronts with you. Because Pi is unique because it is a book about both religion and nature. Our relationship with God, and our relationship with creation.

On the most basic level this is a story about a shipwreck. But there’s so much more to it than that (and why does every book I read this summer have a shipwreck in it, anyway?). Pi endures grief and fear of nature (the ship sank and he’s drifting on a lifeboat with a Bengal Tiger). But he also experiences transcendence through both nature in general and the tiger himself. He sees the stars from the middle of the ocean. He realizes that without the tiger in front of him keeping his focus, he would be forced to face his very real grief.

But I can’t quote the whole book for you. Read it if you’d like. Instead, let’s use the story as a launching point to think quickly about our own relationship to both God and nature. And since we tend to focus on parenting around here, let’s take that into consideration too.

Is nature something to conquer, or something to enjoy? Before you answer, think again. How many times have you gone mountain biking and talked throughout about how it’s you “against” the trail? Or climbed to the summit of a mountain and spoken of how you’ve “defeated” it? Victory!

Just exactly what is it we feel about nature, anyway? It makes a person wonder just how much of those pioneer forebears we still have “inside” our heads, shaking in their homemade shoes as wolves howl outside the door of their log cabin from the seemingly endless woods.

This is, essentially, what the title character faces in the scene that gives this post its title. Hunger and tiger danger are the wolves in this case, but regardless, Pi—a vegetarian his whole life, and a passivist one at that—needs to eat and needs to feed the tiger, lest it see him as food. So he does what he has to do to survive. Like those pioneers might’ve.

But the thing is, we’re not them. That’s not to diminish the real danger of nature, still. There are people who get lost on Mt. Washington or Denali, and some die. God rest their souls, but on another level, thank goodness we still have enough nature left that they can get lost in. That said, though, the point still stands: the USA has been completely explored and domesticated at this point (with the possible exception of Alaska). Not totally, no—but there are no wolves outside our door. Not mine, anyway.

And so, we stand before our children as their role models. How do we relate to the outdoors? Are they a challenge? Sure. But do they need to be a challenger? Do we need to speak of doing battle against it? Of course not.

And here’s where spirituality comes into play. Might we not do better to portray nature for our little ones as a gift from a higher power—call It what you will—that we are here on earth to care for? Dare I say, that we are here to be stewards of? (which implies to me a little more active caretaking).

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden�to work it and take care of it.” —Genesis 2:15

My daughter is slightly obsessed with “If a Tree Falls” by Bruce Cockburn. So I wanted to do a bit of a hyperlink experiment with the song. The results follow. Stay tuned afterwards for my thoughts on how this ties into the experience of all of us with our kids, outdoors.

****************************************************

IF A TREE FALLS

Rain forest:

Mist and mystery
Teeming green
Green brain facing lobotomy
Climate control centre for the world
Ancient cord of coexistence
Hacked by parasitic greedhead scam
From Sarawak to Amazonas
Costa Rica to mangy B.C. hills
Cortege rhythm of falling timber.

What kind of currency grows in these new deserts,
These brand new flood plains?

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
Anybody hear the forest fall?

Cut and move on
Cut and move on
Take out trees
Take out wildlife at a rate of species every single day
Take out people who’ve lived with this for 100,000 years
Inject a billion burgers worth of beef
Grain eaters — methane dispensers.

Through thinning ozone,
Waves fall on wrinkled earth
Gravity, light, ancient refuse of stars,
Speak of a drowning
But this, this is something other.
Busy monster eats dark holes in the spirit world
Where wild things have to go
To disappear
Forever

If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
If a tree falls in the forest does anybody hear?
Anybody hear the forest fall?

***************

This is of course only one—rather pedantic, but beloved—song that could be used to teach your kids about the outdoors. But there are so many other directions to take this idea:

This is a topic that could be taken in at least three different directions that I’ll discuss here, but I’m sure if you think about it, you’ll come up with many more.

The first is represented by Cockburn’s song. That is listening to adult music with your child and helping them to process it. Jack Johnson’s “The 3 R’s” is a good example of this.

Another path is music created specifically for children. It is slightly easier to find songs that relate to the outdoors in this genre. SteveSongs, “The Water Cycle” or “Spyrtle the Turtle” are great examples, as are many of the songs They Might Be Giants have been putting out for kids lately, particularly on Here Comes Science. “Electric Car” comes quickly to mind.

A third path would be songs that are related tangentially to the outdoors. A song about the plight of Native Americans could bring up great discussion with your child about how they feel about the earth. A song about mythical beings like fairies, mermaids, or the Loch Ness monster might provoke quite a discussion about what all might be out there in nature that we are simply unaware of… which brings us back to the rainforest, where new creatures are discovered all the time.

 

Give this article some life: respond in the comments below how you might use music to teach your child about nature, and I’ll incorporate it into the article itself!

I recently read a book about surfing by Peter Heller. Except that it wasn’t just about surfing. In fact, for me it was hardly about that sport at all.

What it was about (that concerns us here) is love. Love of the ocean. Love of significant others. And love of surfing. And how these three learn to play nice with one another.

There are no kids in the book. Very few at all. But here’s the thing: having children isn’t only about the children. Sometimes it is, of course. By necessity. But generally, we have another relationship to maintain that is also vital to our children: our relationship to their other parent. And that is why I’m recommending this book.

In a way, it was like reading Duncan’s Brothers K. That book was about baseball, but the moment I finished it, I went out and rode my bike even though it was long after dark and foggy. Love.

Parallel to his discussion of learning to surf (Heller’s goal stated at the start is to go from a beginner surfer to a bona-fide big wave tube rider in 6 months), Peter mulls over his relationship with and, ultimately, the decision to marry, his wife, “Kim” (which may, or may not, be her real name). He becomes obsessed with surfing and in the beginning of the narrative ditches Kim to follow his 6 mo. plan. But he finds himself lonely, and once she comes along, he learns progressively what a jerk he is. That may not sound uplifting, but in fact it reads that way.

There are poignant moments where Heller realizes what this hunt for surf is costing Kim. She likes to surf, but is far from obsessed with it. She patiently and methodically gets ready to head out on the water again and again, and each time Heller freaks out, afraid that the waves will disappear before she’s ready. He doesn’t paint himself as a patient man. He throws temper tantrums and even ditches her at times, which leads to one of his biggest epiphanies, where she is in some danger, in pain, and breaking down in tears, while Heller watches from the waves (he comes to her aid). It crystallizes the realizations that make this much more than a simple book about waves.

It also helps that Heller is a dyed-in-the-wool environmentalist. You see, this is sort of his “fun” book. He is known to youif he isfor his book The Whale Warriors, which follows the struggle for life of cetaceans, and thus the ocean itself.

So, mixed in with the struggle to commit to his girlfriend/wife, and the struggle to commit as a middle-aged man to truly humbling himself and learning from both the waves and locals, is a love of the ocean and also the communities which surround some of these wonderful waves.

Most of Heller’s trip is in Baja, Mexico. It turns out that developers really love to build resorts and theme restaurants in beautiful oceanfront spots. One town, where a developer puts up a chainlink fence in front of a public beach with a narrow gate and a sign reading “public welcome” sums up the social situation Heller describes. Sure, it’s public, but the fact that there’s a sign implies the right can be revoked…

If you have special natural places, you can appreciate what some of these Mexicans must feel like when rich people come out of nowhere and build an Applebees…

But all of that is simply prologue. Of course, when we are moved by a book like this, it is not because we care overly much about Peter Heller. Or for that matter, because we empathize that much with his wife.

It is because he’s hit a nerve and he is (seemingly) talking about each of us. It’s not HIS wife I’m concerned about, it is my own. It’s not his mid-life-crisis I’m concerned with, but mine. When he struggles to learn, I don’t truly worry that he won’t make itclearly, there’s a book written about it. Everything turns out OK for Heller. What I’m really asking iscould I do this? Could I learn something like this at my age? Is there a way for me to learn to love my wife better when I’m being an impatient jerk?

These are the answers that kept me turning the pages of Kook. As with all books, I can’t honestly say whether I found them. There was no moment when I was hit by lightning and a booming voice spoke from Heaven.

But this, too, goes along with the struggle Peter Heller describes. Each wave is a learning experience. Each person he meets can change the whole face of his project. Like when, 3/4 of the way through the book, a pro surfer who’s helping Heller to learn to use a shortboard tells him he’s paddling all wrong. More than half his time, he’s been catching waves totally wrong!

For me, this summarizes the fact that we’re always learning, that there’s a world out there we can’t even imagine. I was talking to my wife the other day about this.

I finally started listening to The Decemberists. A band I now love. And people had told me for years they were good. But somehow I wasn’t ready. It makes my brain go a little fuzzy to think that these songs were there in plain sight, but I wouldn’t open my eyes to see them.

All fine and good, but as when you “discover” a fantastic book, it leaves you feeling: What else is out there, like this? What else am I missing? What is the paddling lesson that I need to learn, and when is it going to happen?

In the end, what does this all mean? Perhaps that the main solution of or to midlife-crisis is to remain flexible. Open. To new books. To new music. To new ideas. To new methods.

To life.

I’d like to think at this point in my life, that I’m some sort of amateur naturalist. After all, I started reading Ranger Rick magazine when I was about 7 years old, and have been aware of animals ever since.

Add to that all the hours I’ve spent watching deer with my mother (“Be QUIET!! And don’t move. In another hour or so, the deer will come out…”) and surely I’m some sort of authority.

All joking aside, I just thought in today’s post we could talk about what a fascinating animal the beaver is. I know of two places here in MA that we have active beaver lodges. I can’t say for sure if you have beavers near you. But there’s a good chance.

I also can’t guarantee you’ll see any if you go and visit the pile of sticks they live in. As you might imagine from my comment about my mom above, I’m not the type to sit still and hope nature comes to me. I’d rather simply appreciate what I happen to see. With that in mind, I’ve seen a beaver once. One time.

Nevertheless, today I stood near a lodge for awhile after a bike ride, and took this picture of their home. As you may be aware, they enter it from under the water. It’s made of sticks and mud and is a pretty safe and predator proof structure.

But did you know that beavers build their dams and therefore lakes so that they’re surrounded by the element they’re most comfortable in? So that they’re safe? That is roughly equal to a gazelle chopping down trees and digging up rocks because it’s best at running in a straight line.

Or, did you know that beavers are instinctually drawn to the sound of running water? That they HAVE to stop it? This explains why no matter how many times people tear down their dams, they don’t go away or give up. This becomes in issue if beavers move into the small stream that runs through your condominium complex. ‘Aaargh! Why don’t they give up?!’ You say as you tear your hair out. But they simply can’t. It’s part of their DNA. As I read on one website, to the beaver, a culvert under a road is simply a big hole in a perfectly good dam.

That’s where devices like the beaver deceiver come in. Put simply, this is a device built with angled sides and a small hold in front, like a triangle with the wide part touching the road/culvert/drainage and the narrow part stretching out into the water. The angled sides are unnatural to the beaver and prevent it from damming those. The narrow inlet is too small for most of the sticks a beaver would use to fit through. This device is often combined with a fence that surrounds the drainage pipe, thus confusing the beavers into damming the fence, rather than the actual drainage. It must drive them crazy.

The flooding beavers do may be inconvenient for us humans, but like so many other animal behaviors, it benefits us in the longer run to leave them to their work. The wetlands created by beavers provide a safe home for many animals, not just beavers. It is said that these wetlands rival rainforests for the amount of life they support. They also help to filter groundwater and prevent erosion.

Beavers weigh up to 40 lbs. That’s about the weight of a six-year old child. And according to the sources I consulted, they are known for adaptive learning and practical jokes. (no kidding!)

Finally, when you’re watching them with your children you might mention these final two facts: in their third year, beavers mate for life. And both parents take care of the beaver kits. Those jokers.

As we continue through March, you can sort of rest assured that theres a few rainy days ahead. ‘Cat-in-the-hat’ days. So whats an outdoors-oriented parent to do on a day like that? Well, one could make a case for being outdoors in all weathers with your kids (as I will, later). Or a person could tell you that is the time to read the internet, like youre doing right this moment.

But I won’t say those things. Instead, in the style of this post, Im here to suggest indoor things you can do with your kids that will make the outdoors more enjoyable later.

Im hoping these 5 will be so inspiring youll want to get to them immediately, so lets keep this list short.

  1. Organization. Kids love to organize. Ask anyone. Even yourself, if you think about it for a second. So, get a big plastic storage box, and use that rainy day to get all your camping gear together in one place. The tent stakes from the trunk of the car (well, maybe not those- if its raining), the camp stove, the tent, the sleeping bags, whatever. All that stuff thats scattered all over the house. Why not take this time to save all the running around later? Add some music and keep this fun!
  2. Consolidation. This is a close relative of #1, but not exactly the same thing. In my house, this would mean getting all the unused bike parts into one place. One receptacle. Or it could mean cleaning out those old peanut butter jars from the recycling and getting all the nuts and bolts in one jar so you dont have to search around. Also, so they dont junk up your house. Another thing that might fall under consolidation in my house would be gathering up my tools from the various drawers and back porches theyve migrated to and returning them to my toolbox.
  3. Cleaning. Now, of course I dont mean actual practical housecleaning. Oh my, oh my no! Im talking about obscure tasks like degreasing bike chains, re-lubing said chains, and things like that. But that may be just a bit dirty and/or boring and/or unsafe for kids to take part in- so lets think of other applications of this idea they might enjoy more. The amazing effect that aluminum polish has on all metal surfaces comes to mind. Or, you might mix salt and vinegar and stick some old dirty pennies in there- an amazing science trick AND you get clean pennies out of the deal. Hours of fun. Sweeping/reorganizing, and painting or decorating a backyard shed could also count as indoors and cleaning, but be infinitely more fun than doing the dishes. Especially if you let the kids sweep with a leafblower! (Careful not to do this too long- esp. if gas powered: fumes!)
  4. Planning. Get out the maps, its time to plan our next adventure! This could literally take all day, be a time of learning geography, and what to do with a map, even if you never do in fact go on that walk north to the Arctic Circle. Heck, plan your family vacations for the next decade. You may never follow the plan, but youll likely remember the day you all came up with it.
  5. Sorry. I cant resist. Even though I promised 5 things indoors to prepare you for the outdoors, what are you still doing inside? What do we teach our kids doing this? Yes, if its too cold, or icy, or whatever, use common sense. But we do our kids a greater service (especially girls- I believe) taking them out and getting them wet, muddy, and slightly uncomfortable, than we would by keeping them comfortable and safe. Is there a better feeling than a warm shower and dry clothes after a day like that? I think not. But first you have to experience the discomfort. And, I daresay, enjoy it. Do you remember how much you loved sledding as a kid? Now realize how wet, cold, and tired you were- at the same time you were having a wonderful time. Good memory, right? So let your kids have the same.

Generally, I have contempt for these “end of the year” countdown posts. But in the spirit of the “season,” I’m going to set that aside and think positive. Lots of people have had a stinky 2011. Here are five reasons why 2012 is going to be better…

5. The rise of public bicycles.

First, it was the pragmatic bike craze. Everyone sprouted fenders and racks. But what about people that aren’t ready to commit hundreds of dollars (minimum) to be a part of this movement?

For those sort of people, systems like those in Europe where you pay to use a bike temporarily (like the carts at the airport) are quite helpfulsort of like the public transportation version of owning a car, y’know?

2011 saw systems debuted in Boston and NYC. One hopes that with success in these two cities, 2012 will see more cities debuting their own systems.

As parents trying to encourage our kids to get outside, this is hopeful news for the future. Not only because of the at-face-value coolness of being able to rent bikes, but also because of the cultural force this represents. Every time a person sees one of these stations, it is like a commercial for healthy, human-powered transportation. Personally, that’s the future I’d like to imagine for myself and my child. Rather than smaller and smaller “smart” cars or segway scooters…

4. “Apocalypse Novs. An Ancient Mayan Prophecy.

Read this blog post from earlier this fall by Richard Louv (I know, I know, we seem to always be cheerleaders for Louv, but it’s only because his mission in life seems to dovetail so well with ours.) As I alluded to in #5, the future is only what we choose to do with our lives. In the post, Louv offers many reasons for hope.

What is up with the 2012 thing, anyway? The Mayans suggested long ago that the world would end this December, according to…. someone. And now lots of people seem to take it for some sort of fact, with no research whatsoever. Despite the Spanish subjugation of the Mayans (don’t even get me started on the justice or lack of it in that situation) by 1697, here on the cusp of 2012, they know all about what will happen? (Too bad we didn’t pay as much attention to their culture in the 1600’s as we do in 2011)

“Scenarios suggested for the end of the world include the arrival of the next solar maximum, or Earth’s collision with a black hole, passing asteroid or a planet called Nibiru” (Wikipedia).

But this isn’t even ABOUT Mayans. This is one of those nonsensical movements. Mayan scholars have dismissed this “prophecy” as a misrepresentation of Mayan culture. Astronomers have pointed out that simple observations debunk the idea of black holes or asteroids (not even giving enough credence to “Nibiru” to discuss it).

So, my advice is to set your mind (and of course, the minds of your children) on the real things that are happening this year, not on the “madness of crowds” (click the link, it’ll make sense).

3. The Slow Food Movement.

I’m taking one of the reasons for hope out of Louv’s blog on #4, but I do it because I think this one in particular represents hope and could fire up all of our thinking about other possibilities.

I hope they don’t mind if I quote from their manifesto:

“Born and nurtured under the sign of Industrialization, this century first invented the machine and then modelled its lifestyle after it. Speed became our shackles. We fell prey to the same virus: ‘the fast life’ that fractures our customs and assails us even in our own homes…

..Against thoseor, rather, the vast majoritywho confuse efficiency with frenzy, we propose the vaccine of an adequate portion of sensual …pleasures, to be taken with slow and prolonged enjoyment.

Appropriately, we will start in the kitchen, with Slow Food…
In the name of productivity, the fast life has changed our lifestyle and now threatens our environment and our land (and city) scapes. Slow Food is the alternative…

…we can begin by cultivating taste, rather than impoverishing it, by stimulating progress, by encouraging international exchange …by defending old-fashioned food traditions.

Slow Food assures us of a better quality lifestyle. With a snail purposely chosen as its patron and symbol…”

Of course, though these folks (rightfully) focus on food and what the modern world has done to eating, what I want to focus on is the larger idea that they represent. What other old-fashioned traditions have been left by the wayside as our lives become ever faster and faster? As you know, the more efficient we become (we can check our email ANYWHERE now!) the more leisure or at least rest it should provide us. And yet we seem to only speed up.

So where do YOU want to slow down this year? Maybe it IS in food. Our family needs to learn to sit down and enjoy eating around the table together. Or maybe it’s something else, like taking the time to walk in the woods each day and thus returning nature into your family’s DNA?

2. Global Warming Good News from “Science” Journal. There was a report released this week which I can barely understand, but it showed that the rate of water vapor in the atmosphere, which rose dramatically in the 80’s and 90’s, has fallen since 2000.

This of course doesn’t mean that GW is stopped or reversed, but it is a small ray of light in a subject that many of us have been trained to think is without any hope at all.

The article itself is HERE. Good luck. For the New York Times explanation of what it means, go HERE.

1. Happy Xmas War Is Over!

One billion dollars per week (about $2 billion/week in 2006?2008) according to these statistics from the Center for Defense Information was spent on the war in Iraq. We are not here to debate politics about the United States time there. We have withdrawn now.

And one parent to another, the first happiness of this news must be safe troops, parents returning to their children, children returning to their parents, spouses reunited. I know it’s not QUITE that simple, but even by moving from combat into safety, these soldiers are in an early sense “returning” to their families.

Economically speaking, though, the second cause for hope here is that one would imagine (hope, dream?) that this money will now be available to fund projects in our own country, projects that have been sorely in need. (One thinks of the old bumper stickerI can’t wait for the day that they have to have bake sales to buy a new bomber or something along those lines.) The first project that pops into my mind is of course THIS ONE, but there are so many positive things that could start happening with this money, that would incidentally also stimulate our own economy.

So, there’s my list. Maybe not all rainbows and unicorns, but it’s made me feel better just compiling this list. I hope you draw some hope from it, too- and my sincere wish for all of our readers is that you and your children would have a wonderful, meaningful, year of learning, loving, and living.

Thanks for reading this website this year! See you in 2012!

The word pining comes from the Latin, poena, which means “to suffer.” And even though it seems natural to us this time of year that the word should be related somehow to the name of the conifer, pine and to pine come from very different sources.

In either case, we’re pining for the pines, so to speak. The weather here in Colorado is especially delicious for getting outside, and yet we have a full schedule to execute in a short amount of time, and that leaves precious few hours for getting outside.

What do you do on vacation to get your kids outside when the plan doesn’t really call for a lot of outdoor time?

Tell us your ideas, please!

I have this suspicion that very little of human communication is original. There seem to be “scripts” for a huge variety of situations, and they are odd individuals who deviate from the lines we know that are expected of us. No one really answers the passing “How are you?” Chatting with a stranger almost always leads to observations on the weather. And at Christmas time, the script tells us that we are to talk about how busy we are and how stressed the holidays make us.

Personally, I don’t get it, but then maybe I am one of those odd individuals. Even though I will be packing up a car with presents and kids and then driving 2,000 miles to celebrate Christmas in Colorado, we’re not stressed. Road trips are fun. Christmas morning with kids is fun. Blowing off work for a week and hanging out with family? More fun.

What about shopping?, you might ask. We’ve never been a family to overdo it on presents. When my daughter was three, she got a sleeping bag. We set up a tent in the family room and played the whole day. We’ve learned that we need to do a little more than that, but not much. Throw in a book and Frisbee, and as a five-year-old she’s ecstatic. Did I have to brave holiday traffic and crowds? Heck no. I got online before Thanksgiving, placed my orders and waited for the UPS guy. Generic gifts: Amazon. Personal gifts: Etsy. Vintage gifts: eBay.

That’s not to say that this is a “no brainer.” We’ve worked very hard to get to this place. Lean years, when we weretoo broke to buy presents, changed our understanding of what a happy Christmas requires. A purposeful attempt to avoid crowds led to my commitment to avoid the mall at all costs from Black Friday in January.

But at the center has been a desire to appreciate the season. We spread it out by celebrating Advent, not just Christmas. We try to find ways for our kids to give. And, you might have seen this coming, we try to spend time together… outside. (That’s the plug that ties my conversation to the mission of the site.)

So what’s all this have to do with my Christmas list? Everything. At the top of my list is “Time spent together as a family.” Then come other things like “Adventurous children” and “Memories that don’t need editing.” If I can keep those on my list, and work as hard at that as people did finding Tickle-Me Elmo back in the day, then it all seems to fall together nicely.

I hope to have more time to post over the holidays, but in case I don’t see you before, Merry Christmas! And a blessed New Year! (completely from the heart, unscripted).

I leave you with this thoughtful video from Advent Conspiracy:

[AC] Promo 2011 from Advent Conspiracy on Vimeo.

 

(A thousand apologies for the title swiping from Amy Grant. But I saw my opportunity, and I took it.)