Giving a Gift to The Earth - Week 1

While writing last week's column I realised that the idea of a Gift to the Earth wasn't something I just wanted to pay lip service to. It's not just important at Christmas, but as Amanda Soule suggests in The Creative Family, something that should be continued throughout the year through small gestures and activities.

Just as you find yourself doing a little something special for a family member or friend each day, we should all be doing something special for The Earth. By that, I don't mean just the planet, but the whole Earth and its inhabitants. Like we think of our friends and family members and their special wants and needs, we should think of The Earth.

What better way to encourage our children to grow into responsible world citizens and stewards of the great gift of life, than by involving them in gift-giving to The Earth.

So, I've deicded to launch a 16 week challenge for my readers. It's a challenge I hope you'll take into your lives and continue once the "contest" is over. Each week, I'll post a new way in which we can "give back." It's up to you to interpret that as you will, together with your family and children, concentrating your efforts on what's important to you. All you have to do is leave a comment to let us know what you've done that fulfills the challenge.

Every family that participates in each family challenge will get a certificate that your children can proudly display. One lucky family will receive a Gift to The Earth prize pack with a copy of The Creative Family as well as Keepers of Life and Keepers of The Earth (and perhaps a few other items too).

So, to start the challenge, this week I ask you to consider food. Not the way we feed ourselves (that will come later), but the way we can feed others. Donating to a local food bank or SPCA; baking a loaf of bread or cookies for a neighbour; nourishing the soil with compost; purchasing a "gift" through Oxfam Unwrapped - these are all ways in which we can nourish others. There are, of course, more abstract ways, for food is not just physical but emotional and spiritual too.

I challenge your family to work together to find one concrete act you can perform this week that will feed another. Once you've done it, comment here to let me know. You have until Friday, January 08th to complete this part of the challenge.


Sure They Say Thank You, But Do They Mean It?

When you’re a parent, there’s nothing like hearing your child complimented. It reaffirms your faith in your parenting and proves that your child is the wonder you think he or she is. My husband and I are always receiving compliments on how polite our children are.

Our five year old and our three year old almost always say “May I please” when asking for something. The baby isn’t talking yet, but I’m sure he’ll follow suit. Without fail they say “thank you.” They are learning the more subtle ways of being polite too – keeping their opinions to themselves and not talking about others.

I’m really proud of them for their aptitude in this arena. But some days I wonder: do they know what it all means?

Specifically, do they know the true meaning of “thank you?” Have they learned gratitude?

Gratitude is important always, but this time of year it seems especially important. Christmas is a time when children are bombarded with gifts and also with messages about those less fortunate. So it seems the ideal time to make a little lesson in gratitude.

My son was complaining the other day that we weren’t buying him a toy he wanted. Fed up with this refrain, I led him to the computer where I found images online of impoverished children. I showed him pictures of children as young as him working at making bricks; pictures of families living in scrap huts; pictures of children with torn rags for clothes; even a picture of a child dying of starvation.

I explained to him that all the things he takes for granted each day - food, clothing, shelter, the freedom to play, the right to an education – were things many children don’t have. I snapped my fingers, counted to three, snapped them again and repeated. I then explained to him that each time I snapped my fingers, a child died. They died because they had no food or no medicine or because their parents couldn’t keep them safe.

He sat on my lap, wide-eyed and listening, asking questions about what he saw. I then showed him pictures of children receiving the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. I pointed out the joy on their faces. I explained to him that they were so happy for a little shoebox that was filled mostly with things like a toothbrush and a facecloth, maybe a couple of small toys or some hard candies. I explained that the little treats like a small toy or candy that he asks for, and often gets, every Saturday are received by these children once a year – at most.

I said “look how happy they are, and for so little. Do you think you could be happy too?”

“I’m mostly happy,” he replied. “If I had just one more toy I know I would be all happy.”

Sigh. A lesson learned? I know he listened and he’s asked about those pictures since, but I have to wonder how much sunk in.

My column next week will be about teaching your child gratitude. I have some ideas of my own, but I wonder what you have to say? Do you think your child understands gratitude? How do you teach your child to be truly thankful?

Christmas Traditions

The most heart-warming part of Christmas for me is the little things. The family traditions, the routines we go through, give that sense of comfort and warmth.

We always had some traditions growing up. We opened one present on Chrismas Eve and then set off to the evening service. We ALWAYS had a real tree. Usually one we had cut ourselves off in the woods somewhere. We had our advent wreath, our advent calendar, our nativity set. There were decorations that came out every year and went in the exact same space every year. On Christmas morning, we got up early and went down to just look at our stockings. We weren't allowed to open anything until Mom and Dad got up but the three of us would stand there, excited and trembling, at least four feet back from the stockings (if we got too close we knew we'd succumb to temptation). Sometimes our parents would let us open the items under our stocking before the got up. Or even in our stocking. But the presents under the tree we weren't allowed to touch.

We'd all rush through the gift opening, even Mom. But Dad took his time. It enraged Mom that he'd sometimes still have presents under the tree 3 and 4 days after Christmas. As I got older I tried to emulate him, leaving at least one present until just before bed. Sometimes I even managed to leave one or two for Boxing Day.

I loved doing that because I hated the way Christmas just ended. Boxing Day came and then it was all about the New Year. We always left our tree up until Old Christmas Day (January 6) and sometimes I even managed to convinve my parents to leave it up until my birthday (January 11). But other than that, Christmas was over. Leftover fruitcake and a shedding tree didn't have that same warmth and feeling of tradition.

Our kids are still young and we're trying to sort out what we want our traditions to be. This year my parents gave us the Nativity Set and creche I grew up with. I shed a couple of tears as I set it up with my own daughter yesterday. Last year, we celebrated a mini Christmas on Old Christmas Day. I held back a couple of items and gave the kids a second celebration. This year we're dedicated to not buying into commercial toys. I think that's a tradition we'll continue. Harrison has one Hot Wheels car and Teaghan has a Barbie Doll but the rest of the presents are craft supples, handmade items, books and puzzles. We've also been handmaking felt ornaments over the past few weeks. And we'll definitely be continuing that tradition.

And I've decided to add something else this year. Rather than having Christmas on Dec. 25th and a mini-Christmas on Jan 06 we will be celebrating the 12 days of Christmas. So those craft supplies I've bought for the kids will end up in their stockings starting Boxing Day.

I have:
1 art smock
A pair of scissors
3 packs of stickers
4 glue sticks
5 paint brushes
6 pots of paint
7 little notebooks
8 colors of paper
9 skeins of wool
10 drawing pencils
11 scraps of fabric
12 crayons in a roll.

On January 06th they'll also each receive their art tote and their portfolio box for keeping their finished products in. And some other little items to help them in their artistic endeavours. Some home-made playdough and moon sand perhaps.

The baby is a little young for this, but I'm thinking of things I can tuck in his stocking.

Over the past couple of years my husband and I have become very disenamoured with our commercial culture and all those darn toys that break in 10 minutes. Art supplies are something our kids love and doing crafts together means we'll get to share that warm togetherness of Christmas all year round. And this is a tradition we can continue each year, replenishing their supplies and adding more sophisticated ones as they grow.

It's also a present that gives back to us. I can't wait to see all the wonderful creations they'll make and give to us!

What are your traditions? Have you made any new traditions for your family? What's most important to you this season?


The Many Sides of Santa

NB: This is the entirety of the column published in The Western Star. Because it was not available in their online version, I'm reposting her. I'll post a blog later about my thoughts writing this column.

“Readily A Parent” by Dara Squires

The Many Sides of Santa

Any public figure, whether celebrity, politician, religious figure, or hero becomes open to the scrutiny - sometimes scorn, sometimes adulation - of the public they serve.. Some of the most documented surrounds that public figure known in most circles as Santa Claus. He goes by other names such as Kris Kringle and St. Nick.

Because of all the exposure Santa receives, we as parents have to think constantly about what questions or controversies our child will overhear or read. It is all too easy for them to be exposed to ideas about Santa that go against our personal and family beliefs – whatever they are. We need to be prepared to talk about this with them. The only way to prepare ourselves is to know what they might come across.

The questions swirl about this public figure. Does he have magical powers? Can he really tell who’s naughty and who’s nice? And most importantly, does he exist at all?

There are books, movies, websites and documentaries dedicated to these questions. I am sure I have nothing new to add. It just may be interesting, though, to look at the various sides.

In this age of the internet, mass publishing and multicultural television, it’s possible our children could read or hear things about Santa Claus that we didn’t expect. As parents we are responsible for evaluating the ideas our children will be exposed to; we must be ready to present our own to them. Whatever our beliefs are, it’s important to understand the beliefs of others too.

Your believing child may have a classmate who doesn’t celebrate Christmas for religious reasons. Santa is one of the symbols of a Christian holiday. There are many non-Christians who neither celebrate Christmas nor believe in the existence of Santa Claus. Conversely, your non-believing child may be a minority in a classroom full of traditional believers.

A Baha’i family in Torbay says “we celebrate a different set of holidays. For that simple reason, our family doesn’t celebrate Christmas and Santa, except when we gather with friends and family to share in their celebration of Christmas.” They go on to state, though, that it is central to their faith to respect others’ beliefs, and that “the fundamental purpose of the Baha'i Faith is to seek to create unity. As such our family fully participates in the Christmas fun with our friends and family who are not Baha’i.”

You’ll often see many people of other faiths celebrating Christmas alongside Christians, most often in school where they participate in concerts and parties while still maintaining their own beliefs. They very rarely attack the beliefs of the Christians around them. And the opposite is true too. Non-Christians are rarely ridiculed for not celebrating Christmas or Santa.

Some Christians feel very strongly about Christmas and the celebration of Santa Claus. There are those Christians who celebrate Christmas but choose to leave Santa out of it. They believe he detracts from the importance of Jesus as the central figure of Christmas. To them, Santa is just another symbol of the secularization of a Christian celebration.

Some Christians do not celebrate Christmas at all. They believe it has no biblical basis - Jesus never having said to celebrate his birth. They see Christmas as a pagan holiday that was adopted into the Christian mind. Christmas, to them, is false worship and forbidden by the bible.

Then there are those who seek answers only through science. Because they cannot rationalize how Santa can fly around the world, with multiple stops, in one night only, it must therefore be impossible and the entirety of Santa must be a myth. By contrast, there are also those who use scientific theory to prove the existence of Santa Claus.

If your child types “Santa Claus” into a search engine such as Google, they may come across sites like Wikipedia that discuss the Santa Claus “myth.” Another result would be the official NORAD Santa tracker that not only reaffirms the faith in Santa but also tracks his “movements” in the days leading up to and including Christmas day. Further searches will present them with conflicting scientific proofs for and against the existence of Santa.

Hopefully your child will, at some point, ask you, the parents, what to believe. Hopefully, you will be prepared to defend your beliefs either way. After all, what’s most important is not your child’s faith in Santa or not, but his or her faith in you.

I’ve enjoyed reading your comments on previous columns. Please keep in mind when commenting on this column that children may be reading. You can contact me personally at readilyaparent@gmail.com. And you’re always welcome to visit the facebook page at www.facebook.com/readilyaparent or the blog at www.readilyaparent.com


Walking a mile

I was listening to the news today as they discussed the search for James Delory, an autistic seven year old boy who has gone missing, along with his dog, in Cape Breton. He's been missing for two days but I had a busy weekend and this was the first I had heard.

I found it difficult to swallow and the tears welled up as I listened to the story. My first thought was: That poor boy must be terrified; his parents must be terrified.

Sadly my second and third thoughts were:

  • Why was he alone in the yard? He's severly autistic for crying out loud!

  • Why wasn't the dog tied on? If the dog were tied on it wouldn't have wandered and he wouldn't have followed it.

  • I'm happy to say my fourth thought was: shame on you! (meaning myself)

    I like to think of myself as a tolerant person. I like to think that I advocate for and support all well-meaning parents instead of railing against them. The truth is that those same thoughts that inflame me when I read them as online comments after such news articles also run through my mind.

    Usually, though, I don't voice these thoughts. (I only do now as an example.) After all, who do they help really? Like his parents aren't already thinking this? Like everyone else hearing the story isn't thinking the same thing? Would saying such things prevent another parent from having their child go missing?

    I doubt it. After all as parents we are forced to take calculated risks every day.

    Haven't you done it?
    I left the baby in his car seat in the care of his older brother, age 4,near the front doors of Walmart. It sounds ridiculous when I write it that simply.

    It sounds like I was the worst parent ever. If something had happened to either one of them you would have read in the news that a mother had left her infant in the care of her four year old at the front of Walmart. You would have thought the neglectful mother had gone back to finish her shopping or go to the bathroom. You would have completely blamed her.

    I had no choice, though. Or at least not one I could come up with at the time. With the full story you just might understand.

    I took the kids to Walmart. It had been a hectic day and we hadn't eaten lunch, so I decided that rather than drag three hungry kids through the store I would take them to McDonalds. I got our cart, put the baby in it, put our coats and diaper bag in it and headed straight to McDonalds. It was a very busy day. The aisles were crowded so I told my big boy he had to stand on the back of the cart and I put my daughter in the cart. I was worried that we might get seperateed in the crowds. We got to McDonalds and I removed everything but the coats and diaper bag.

    We sat down. We ate. My oldest got restless and began to try leaving the table and acting out. I got a little frustrated but overall we were fine. Then when we go to leave I discover someone had taken my cart. They took the coats out, threw them on the floor and took my cart.

    So here I am with two kids, four coats, and a heavy infant in a car seat. I was upset. Why would someone do that? It seemed so needlessly cruel. They could see by the items in the cart that I had a baby and two kids. Why would they think they needed that cart more than me. Yes it was a busy day. Yes the carts were in demand. But that was just nasty.

    So I sling my arm through the carrier handle, throw the coats in the crook of my other elbow and take one child by each hand. Back to the front to get another cart. It's so crowded though that it's difficult navigating through with the infant seat sticking out at my side the big bundle of coats and us walking three across. No one will let us through. Instead they're giving me dirty looks for getting in their way.

    And then it happens.

    My two year old daughter rips free of my hand and takes off. We're close to the doors. I try to turn us all around and go after her, but I'm being hemmed in. There's a Salvation Army kettle by the doors manned by a nice lady I've talked to before. She knows the kids and always says hello to them. So despite the fact that she's talking with someone else and I can't get her attention, I throw down our coats, stand Harrison next to her, put Emerson at his feet and say "stay here. Tell the nice lady that Mommy will be right back. Keep an eye on your brother."

    Unladen of the car seat, coats and kid I can run. I search frantically for my daughter and finally find her hiding in a rack of men's pants. She tries to run again so I grab her. She screams. I rush, carrying her, back to the front.

    Meanwhile there's a middle aged lady walking lazily along, leaning on an empty cart. She's in no hurry and she has another woman on either side of her, blocking the aisle. They stop to talk. They block the aisle more. I can't get through.

    "Excuse me," I say.
    Then a bit louder.
    And again.

    They look at me and ignore me.

    My baby is crying. I can hear him and I know my child's cry.

    "Excuse me!" I say. I'm a little nasty this time.

    Again ignored.

    "Look lady my baby is at the front of the store and he's crying!"

    She stares at me. She wrinkles her nose. She takes in the screaming child in my arms.

    "You shouldn't have left him then, should you."

    At which point I push her aside and run to the front. "Walk a mile, lady." I say as I breeze past her.

    Politeness leaves and I push people out of my way to get to my crying baby.

    He's fine. His big brother is fine. He's crouched next to the seat, rocking it while the nice Salvation Army lady - whose name I really should have learned - looks on smiling.

    She looks at me. "He's such a good big brother, isn't he."

    "Yes I say," near tears, "yes he is."

    "He told me you'd be back soon and asked if I could watch them, but he's doing such a good job watching his brother himself." She smiles.

    "Thank you," I say and make sure we put all our change in the kettle (which we usually do anyway). Her smile calms me, though I still feel particularly embittered towards rude and nasty middle-aged women.

    "She knows how to walk a mile," I say under my breath.

    If something had happened and this was a story in the news, how quickly would we have thought:
    Why did she leave the children alone? How irresponsible is she?

    If I hadn't left the boys and something had happened to my daughter we would have thought:
    Why didn't she drop everything and search for her daughter? How irresponsible is she?

    With the full story, what do you think?

    Perhaps James' mother went inside to get a drink. Perhaps she had another child that took her attention. Perhaps she didn't know he was in the front yard, he had snuck out the front door. Perhaps the stress of raising an autistic seven year old that hardly speaks while also caring for other members of the family and at least one pet had gotten to her and she had, just for a moment, put her head in her hands and cried a little.

    We don't know.

    I really doubt, though, that she's an irresponsible parent.

    And I'm sincerly sorry that even for a moment I thought she was. And I hope and pray her son and dog come home safe.


    What is it about Malls that Bring out the Worst in Our Kids?

    The second column is up today. I'm sure I'll get another batch of comments insisting that I'm going about everything wrong. I hope so. At least it means people are reading it! Plus I've planned a column discussing how parents judge each other for after Christmas, so all these comments help.

    The idea for this column came a couple of weeks ago. A good friend of mine came into town to go shopping and called to ask if I could join. I think it was my first time shopping without the kids in over a year. And even before that it was a pretty rare occassion.

    Not having my own kids there distracting me, I was able to notice more. Like, I had no idea so many clothing stores had started supplying toys, crayons and colouring books, etc for kids!

    I noticed how thirsty I got so quickly and felt horribly guilty about the last time we were shopping and I refused to buy my oldest a bottle of water he was whining for because he was - well - whining.

    I also noticed all the children. Contrary to what you might think, it wasn't the whining, running, screaming children I noticed. It was the well-behaved ones. One little girl who couldn't have been more than two was just sitting nicely in the cart, thumb in her mouth, while her mother shopped for and even tried on clothes!

    I wondered why some children could act like that and some screamed and shouted through an entire shopping trip. Some of it is personality, for sure, but at least part of it has to be the parent's approach. Which is why I asked my facebook fans for their advice.

    It seems a lot of us try the same things. Which tells me that a lot of us experience the same things.

    That's funny, because when it's your child misbehaving you feel like yours is the only one and all eyes are on you. And you act accordingly. Many parents in that situation decide they have to show their child - and their perceived audience of fellow shopper - who's boss. They draw even more attention to themselves by yelling commands at their child or angrily storming away, pulling the child behind, to administer a firm lecture or, sometimes, a slap on the hand. I know. I've been that parent.

    I've also been the audience and, to tell you the truth, what kids often are doing to upset their parents so much is nothing great - perhaps running around a little, poking at stuff, maybe playing innapropriately.

    John Hoffman, author of Uncommon Sense in Today's Parent magazine says the way children behave to encourage the parent's reaction is "nothing hugely obnoxious, but the sort of behaviour that makes parents feel the eyes of the world are on them." (For more, read his column)

    So why do we react so strongly? Is it because we also are tired and somewhat cranky and this is the end of the line for our patience? Is it because we see the children as "always" behaving that way and want to teach them a lesson? Or is it because of the audience; we're embarrased and feel like the world is watching, expecting us to do something?

    What do you think?


    The Search for a healthy chocolate chip cookie - Part 1

    Sorry no photos. I'm sure I have photos somewhere!

    This makes a large batch. Without the chocolate chips there would be virtually no fat and low sugar. The chocolate chips add a bit of both, but all in all it's a balanced baked treat. It came out definitely sweet enough. I reduced by more than half the amount of sugar called for in the recipe I based this on - I think it could be reduced even more.

    It's based loosely upon this recipe http://allrecipes.com/Recipe/The-Best-Oatmeal-Cookies/Detail.aspx


    4 eggs
    1 1/2 cups raisins
    1 1/2 tsp vanilla

    1 medium sweet potato
    2 TBSP shortening
    1 loose cup brown sugar (don't pack, just pour)
    1/4 cup honey

    2 cups all purpose flour
    1/2 cup oat bran
    1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
    6 tsp baking powder (or 3 tsp baking soda plus a pinch of salt)
    2 tsp cinnamon (adds just a hint of cinnamon flavour - for stronger flavour add more)

    2 cups large flake oats
    1 cup chocolate chips (plus an extra handful for good measure.)


    1. Beat eggs with fork. Add raisins and vanilla. Stir. Cover and put in fridge.

    2. Peel and dice sweet potato. Put in pot with enough water to cover. Boil approx. 15 minutes or until slightly tender. Remove from water and place in blender. Blend until smooth. Add a small amount of cooking liquid if neccessary (I used about 1 TBSP). Should yeild approx 1 1/2 cups puree. (If not enough and you don't want to cook more sweet potato, you can add applesauce or any other fruit or vegetable puree to reach the right amount. You can also use butter/margarine, etc to achieve the right amount. However a medium sweet potato outght to yeild enough).

    3. Cut shortening in small pieces. Place in blender with sweet potato (again, could use butter or margarine instead - I find shortening a better butter substitute than margarine for cookies. Could use olive oil but your cookies might not rise as much. that said this are fluffy cookies and could probably handle it). Blend until smooth.

    4. Add brown sugar and honey. Blend again

    At this point preheat your oven to 350.

    5. In large bowl whisk together flours, baking powder and cinnamon. Stir well.

    6. Make well in flour mixture. Pour in sweet potato mixture. Stir well. It will be stiff. Try to incorporate throroughly.

    7. Remove egg mixture from fridge. Stir into flour/sweet potato mix. Stir well.

    8. Add oats and chocolate chips. Stir until just incorporated.

    9. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto baking sheet. I line with parchment paper but that's not neccessary, just easier for reusing the sheet. Bake approx. 10 minutes or until edges are golder. Remove from oven and let sit for about 5 minutes. Remove to cooling rack. Bake next batch.

    Should make approximately 6 dozen cookies. Mine aren't finished yet, so I can't say for sure.

    *UPDATE - it made about 5 1/2 dozen.