I love snow days.  Outdoors and indoors.

Indoors, the quiet play of my girls, background music by Taylor Swift and remnants of a cozy breakfast…..warm cinnamon rolls and hot chocolate…on the table.  They are homebodies, my girls.  To them (and to me), a snow day is a gift.  A day they can stay under the toasty covers a few more minutes and wake at their own pace.  A day Mom isn’t rushing them through breakfast and tooth-brushing to make it to school before the bell rings.  A day they don’t have to worry about doing or saying the right thing in class.

I watch the outdoors from the kitchen table as I write.  Wind-whipped snowflakes rush to blanket the grass, while a pair of juncos and a house sparrow take turns at the birdfeeder.  Much to our kitty’s chagrin, I don’t think we’ll see too many more, as the winds continue to pick up.

Soon it will be time to start clearing the driveway and sidewalks, a task I don’t mind in the hush of snowfall, interrupted only by the simple scrapes of my shovel.  Once the jarring sound of snowblowers breaks that silence, it becomes a chore.

I am grateful for another day.  One that happens to be a snow day.

Over the years, my husband and I have found that both of us and both of our children find great serenity while immersed in nature.  It is the thing that centers us and renews us.  And, to that end, we decided that it is of greatest importance that we spend some time in nature every weekend.  The daily stresses and sensory overload that we encounter during the school/work week dissolve as we step into nature.

Last weekend, we used our nature escape to say goodbye to summer and to welcome autumn. It was a very warm day for the end of September, but the breeze was delicious and the morning sun was beautiful filtering through the treetops.

 

Our plan was to hike all morning and stop at 10:49am to say goodbye to summer and to welcome autumn.  This wasn’t my idea.  This wasn’t my husband’s idea.  The two kids.  It was all them.

But as we hiked, we encountered some very cool wildlife and sights.  The first was an eastern box turtle, quickly identified by my fabulous husband.  He loves all things reptilian.

 

When we stopped hiking at 10:47am to say goodbye to summer, we were in a dried creek bed, exploring what might be found in such a spot.  Here we came upon a little frog.  If you look closely at the back end of the frog (is it a pickerel frog?), there is a small orange-red protrusion.  We assumed it was an egg sac, but as we were unsure, please feel free to comment the correct answer, if you know!  WE would love to know.  Another amazing hiking find.

At this moment, our children each took a turn saying a tearful goodbye to summer, one blowing a kiss and one giving an air-hug.  It’s always said that we can learn so much from our children.  Living in the moment is one of the greatest of these lessons.  And there it was again as they cheered a welcome to fall.

And we continued on our hike.  My favorite nature find that day, although kind of gross, was this owl pellet.  For anyone who doesn’t already know, when an owl eats, it digests what it can of the creature it has eaten and then throws up the bones, fur and whatever else it cannot digest.  These are known as owl pellets.  We had never discovered one on our own, so this was pretty exciting for us!

 

It was an amazing day.  One I won’t soon forget.  We hiked for TWO HOURS with a nine-year old and a six-year old!!  I witnessed my children’s intense sentimentality, and we all came away from it centered, contented and ready to face the week.  What an amazing escape.

 

Here we are.  Summer is over and school has begun.

But I am not happy about it.  Sure, the cooler weather is refreshing and I love those crisply blue autumn skies that greet us most days.  And who can’t deny the joy of crunching toasty brown leaves beneath her feet?  You would think I’d be ecstatic.

The truth of the matter is that I’m devastated.  We sent our youngest daughter to kindergarten this year.  Yes, I know it’s “only a half-day” and I hear those who echo “think of all you’ll get done”.  But all of that is irrelevant to me.  This is the year that begins the hurtling through childhood.  Because, one day my house will be spotless.  Everything done in a timely manner.  But those relaxed, laid-back days of early childhood are saying goodbye, never to return.  Those days of picking up and heading to a playground at our leisure…gone.  Or picking strawberries or apples mid-week to avoid the weekend rush…gone.  Upon us are the days of rushing here and there….to school to drop off….to school to pick up….to ballet….to the dentist.  And I hate that.

But the one thing of it all is that I am grateful that I stayed home with both of my children through this early part of their childhood.  Grateful that I didn’t miss all of their firsts.  Grateful that mine were the arms that picked them up when they fell and hugged them tightly.  Grateful that I was the one who sat with them to enjoy breakfast and lunch.  Grateful that my husband and I have always shared the same vision of our children growing up with a parent at home.  Grateful to that same amazing husband who made it happen.  It was a tough road for many years but well worth the struggles.

And so as we send our daughters off to the same school for the first time ever, my heart alternatively aches and soars.  Aches for the end of one era and soars for the littlest, as she finds her way to the next.

I’m a little late writing this post, as Memorial Day was a little over a week ago, yet my thoughts on it keep stirring…and I cannot make peace with them.

It seems a time in history that our American society focuses more on our own happiness and self-gratification than on making contributions to improve humanity.  It seems a time that we focus more on the celebration aspect of holidays than on the true meaning.

Every Memorial Day, my husband and I take our two daughters (who are currently 4 and 7 years old) to our local Memorial Day parade.  And every year we explain exactly what Memorial Day means.  Memorial Day is a time to remember those who have sacrificed all that they have for our country, for the values we hold dear.  In a word, freedom.  For us, it isn’t about trips to the beach or barbecues, it really is about the sacrifice.  Although neither of us has served, we come from families that have and know those who do.

So as we watch the parade make its way up the hill in our little town, we teach our children to stand as the first American flag of the parade approaches, right hand upon heart….to stand as the veterans pass us in historic cars or Jeeps….to clap and cheer for the World War II veterans who may or may not make it to the next Memorial Day parade….to wave and thank all veterans who pass us, solemnly aware of why they are in fact in the parade.  And we hope that we remind them of the cost of all that we have today.

I know I’ve already talked about how much I love our Landis market.  Each time I shop there, I’m reminded how truly remarkable small-town living is.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything…except maybe a few acres we could homestead.  But that’s another post.

Yesterday, I stopped at Landis with the kids just to pick up a few things.  As we were checking out, the cashier, a kind older gentleman, smiled at the kids and asked “How would you like to see some bubbles?”  I don’t think any of us could have anticipated what he was going to do, but he pulled out a small bottle of bubbles from his apron and began blowing them for the kids!  So as he was ringing up our groceries, the kids were laughing and popping bubbles with such joy.  Such an unexpected simple pleasure from our local grocery store.  That wouldn’t happen at any of the bigger chain supermarkets or “super” center department stores.

I love it.

Everyone I talk to seems to concede that America’s children are spending too much time with media.  But how much exactly is that?  There finally are some answers.

The daily use of media among children and teens Kaiser Family Foundation recently released information about a study it conducted on the daily media use among children and teens.  According to the study, “most youth say they have no rules about how much time they can spend with TV, video games, or computers”.

The results of the study stunned me.  Who could have imagined that our children consume so much media in one day?  I suspected the number was rather high, but I never guessed 7 hours and 38 minutes.  A day.  ONE DAY.  The study was conducted among children ages 8-18 and included all types of media: tv, computer, music/audio, print, video games and movies.
TIME TO UNPLUG.  At least for a few hours a day.

Previously published on Practically Unplugged Kids in January 2010.

So, in our house, we have eliminated television for the kids.  Well, practically.  We started in the beginning of the summer, when its curtailment would be easy and go relatively unnoticed by our children.  With many days spent at the pool, there simply was no time for tv.  By summer’s end, they had all but forgotten about it.

Once school started, I anticipated many requests, denials and arguments with the kids.  But they haven’t happened.  Occasionally, one of them will ask, but they can usually find something else fun to do.

But I’m realistic.  I enjoy tv and don’t want to completely deny them that indulgence.  Once a week, we have something called “Movie Friday” at home.  For fun, the kids get to choose a movie to watch to end the week. We do it up with popcorn and candy or some other fun snack.  Like maybe milkshakes.

It isn’t really that television is all that terrible.  I mean, some of it is, but there is programming out there that has redeeming qualities.  It’s more that television (and computers and video games…even scheduled activities) has taken over so much of the time that kids used to spend playing unstructured….nurturing their imaginations and entertaining themselves.

Minimizing the amount of television the kids watch has been phenomenal for them.  My husband and I are constantly marveling at their imaginations.  And they are, simply put, happier kids.

For an interesting article on tv and its impact on childhood, I like this link:  <a href=”http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/pdf/susanexchange.pdf”>http://www.commercialfreechildhood.org/pdf/susanexchange.pdf</a&gt;

Previously published on Practically Unplugged Kids in January 2010.