Sunday, May 27, 2012

In Memoriam

The American Memorial Day holiday used to simply mean the beginning of summer to me. This US holiday (formerly "Decoration Day") came about after the Civil War as a day to decorate the graves of those who died at war. When I came to this country, I quickly learned that to most Americans, summer officially starts with Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, and ends with Labor Day, the first Monday in September. If I asked wasn't Labour Day on the 1st of May, I was told "well, that's communist!" -- few Americans know that May Day (a.k.a. International Workers Day) is the commemoration of the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago.

But I digress. To me, Memorial Day is no longer merely the beginning of the summer camping season. Exactly a year ago, a young friend of our family tragically died in an alcohol-related incident on a Memorial Day camping trip. Fletcher and my son had met and become best friends in Kindergarten when we first moved here some 13 years ago. After Kindergarten, the two boys went to different schools, but continued their friendship -- although gradually drifting apart over time. This May, Fletcher would have graduated from High School.

I cannot approach to understand what grief his parents must be feeling every single day since that tragic day. We were on our annual Memorial Day weekend camping trip when we heard the news a year ago. In fact, we were at Summit Lake, the same spot we had once spent a wonderful weekend camping together with Fletcher's family 10 years ago.

I have fond memories from that trip: the weather was amazingly sunny (it was actually hot, well maybe it reached 80F that day)-- the kids even went splashing in the lake! Fletcher and Wulfi were playing at our campsite "climbing" young spruce trees until they completely bent over: the boys would disappear and the tree bounce back! The two of them could keep themselves occupied for hours with imaginary play, and they were mostly pretty good about including "little" sis in their games. I remember how Wulfi and Fletcher would make their own swords, bows and arrows (sometimes even appropriating bamboo poles from my gardening supply). I also sewed quite a few props for their games back then: capes, quivers, and sheaves for their wooden swords...

Now that innocent age seems long gone. I'm just filled with sorrow when I reflect on how Fletcher's parents don't get to see their son grown and go off into the world. All they have left now are memories. I wish I wasn't at such a loss on how to reach out to them on this anniversary of his death -- I know it's difficult for them to be around our family when our children are such painful reminders of their loss.

God bless Fletcher's family on this Memorial Day.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Wolf turns 18!

My baby boy turned 18 and graduated from High School! It seems like yesterday when he was just a little guy -- where did the time go???
Wolf, we feel so lucky to have you in our family -- you're such an amazing young man, brother and son. You're a delight to be around: a gifted musician and composer, a truly kind person, and always have something thoughtful to say. But most of all, you're my son, and I'm so proud to be your mother.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dirt Therapy

Tonight was the first time this year that I dug in my garden -- got dirt under my fingernails and loving it! I was mixing compost from my winter wormbox into my garden soil, planting rows of lettuce, and general tidying up after half a year of neglect (not to mention 134 inches of snow!). It was a nice warm sunny spring evening: should I even mention that this past weekend it was in the 30's and low 40's and we had snowflakes (WRONG, it was technically "graupel", which is pseudo-snow)!

Aaaaah -- SPRING is finally here. About time, given that school's out in 2 days and we're going camping next week.
The leaves on the trees are the size of squirrel's ears -- in some parts of the US that's when you plant your corn -- here it means it finally safe to direct-seed vegetables that say on the seed package: Plant after all danger of frost is past.
My family surprised me with a greenhouse for Mother's Day!!! It's still in the box, but I'm super-excited and already dreaming of harvesting tomatoes that actually turn red.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Snipe in my backyard

At dinner tonight (during a lively geophysical discussion between the prof and the kids about the earth's magnetic field, which I admit was somewhat lost on me) I spotted a snipe in our backyard -- it seemed to have descended on our wet lawn, thinking it had found a marsh! Yes, around our house the snow is indeed mostly melted now (BTW, we did break the record with 137 inches this winter)!

Snipes do nest in the wetlands at the Nature Center, but this is a first sighting at my house -- we're a good way above the valley floor... I'm sure he'll move on soon, although he did stick around (staying perfectly still) while I was fussing about the flowerbeds -- now that the snow is gone, I was fishing out the candles that had fallen down from the deck (ice-lanterns at Winter solstice). This past winter, at one point, we could practically sled from the deck into the backyard -- that's an advantage of never having built a railing and being able to dump the snow directly off the side... Now it's time for me to dig out the planter boxes for a visual edge, and start hinting to hubby that maybe this summer we should think about building that railing after all !?! Rail sightings being rare around here (hee hee).

Yup, spring is here!

photo credit:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Winter Blahs

It's been a year since I last posted! Where did the time go?
Well, since this blog is just a hobby, I never feel obliged to blog if I don't feel like it -- so, yes, I got bored with it (as often happens after a year or two), and, well, LIFE got in the way. This last year was busy, crazy & full of stress factors (health and otherwise) -- perhaps someday I will blog about them, and perhaps not...
We're past the Spring Equinox, but it still looks like winter. Everybody is TIRED of SNOW. We've had near record-breaking cold and snowpack this past winter-- anybody who doubts that spring will ever get here -- patience! THE SUN IS OUR FRIEND and always wins this time of year. Just look at the clear blue sky and feel that solar power: it's bound to melt all that snow before long-- June, July?!!!

I leave you with a picture of a bunch of kids (my own plus a few borrowed ones) on a Nature Center outing several years ago: we're on the frozen Eagle River in mid to late March -- the peak in the middle is Polar Bear Peak.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Parenting and Economic Incentives

We recently watched the movie Freakonomics, which I found quite interesting.
Economist Stephen Levitt and journalist Steven Dubner (there is also a book and a Freakonomics blog) study how economic incentives influence human behavior?

Sin taxes have been around for a long time, such as the cigarette tax to influence people to smoke less. Positive incentives abound too: remember tax credits for installing solar panels after the first energy crisis in Billy Carter days, or more recently, health care plans offering rewards if you join a gym...

One of the experiments done in "Freakonomics" was to see if paying money for good grades (an economic incentive) would work to improve school performance of 9th graders who were failing.
The experiment was set up by the Economics Dept of the University of Chicago: the students were paid $50 if they kept all their grades at C and above, plus a chance to win an even bigger prize ($500) plus a classy limousine ride.
Interestingly enough, the program did not work as well as some might have expected. There were some improvements in grades, but really not as much as they predicted/hoped. The researchers were wondering if perhaps it was already too late for these 9th-graders -- would the experiment have worked better in elementary school? Is it even the right approach?

It made me wonder about the role of incentives in parenting -- how much do parents use incentives in raising their kids? And is it even a good idea?
We all have heard not only of parents that pay for chores and good grades, but even earlier in life, use candy as rewards for everything from potty-training to eating broccoli.
I call that "bribing", and I personally do not think it is such a good idea. Why -- what's wrong with a little bribery? OK, maybe a "wee" little bit, occasionally, is probably ok. But what if it's overused? Do incentives rob kids of the chance for self-motivation?
Kids start expecting something (money, candy) for things that really should be done as a matter of course -- eating your vegetables, clearing the dishes, doing your homework -- isn't that simply part of being a member of family/society?
True, when first introducing a toddler to something new, like potty-training, parents often resort to incentives. The Freakonomics team told the story of potty-training Levitt's 3-year-old daughter: M&M's for going on the potty. Sure, for the first 3 days it worked like a charm, but smart little Amanda had soon learned to game the system: a few dribbles for a handful of M&Ms, then back to the potty for a few more dribbles... you get the idea! The incentive program had back-fired: the parents had become a slave to the M&M payment system.

So what's a desperate parent to do? For potty-training it's probably pretty harmless to try incentives (I remember we used stickers at some point) -- as with so many things in life, when the kid is ready, he/she will start using the toilet (Digression: I remember a Kindergarten teacher once reassuring me that she's never had a child arrive in her class in diapers: "Honey, your kid will get there, eventually, on his own!").

But what about later in life? Especially during the tweens and teens? How can parents motivate them to "do the right thing?", especially when the kids seem to be immune to parental words of wisdom and/or even pleading? If you ask your teen to help clean the house or car before grandma gets picked up at the airport, and they won't do it unless there is compensation negotiated first, then something is wrong in how that family works.
Like the researchers in the Chicago experiment mentioned above, effective parenting needs to have started at a much younger age!

A friend with a toddler asked my husband and I recently about how we raised our kids -- did we use incentives? Not much at all, we realized, other than perhaps the incentive of love & praise. Kids naturally want to please their parents, and if they are rewarded for doing the right thing ("Thank you", "You're such a big help", "I'm so proud of you."), that seems to work well in most cases. Admittedly, raising children is not always smooth sailing -- sometimes there are situations where material incentives might well be appropriate.

Remember when the toddler wanted to help with everything, and you know that it will end up a great deal messier than if you just did it by yourself? Somewhere along the line, their eagerness to help disappears, becoming "work" rather than "fun". Getting the kid to pitch in becomes a battle of wills, bribes, and punishments in some families -- what happened?

In an ideal world, parents can raise their children with the expectation that this is what family members do to help each other out. They've made it about love, trust, cooperation, rather than about "what will I get out of it?". I'm not saying it's always easy, but it's certainly worth trying to start without material incentives!

I'm afraid that using candy and money for incentives leads to selfishness. And in my book, raising a child that think first about "How's that going to benefit me?" is not a good thing -- unless of course they're headed for Wall Street...


Sunday, March 20, 2011

Kitten updates

First of all, the male kitten is no longer fully male -- he's an "itten". Poor guy was "cryptorchid" (from the Greek, meaning "hidden orchids"). The neutering operation was actually quite a serious abdominal surgery -- his incision went from where the goods should have been to where the vet finally found them next to the kidney. Yikes!
His name has now settled on Gomer (as in Gomer Pyle USMC).
The female (whom we now frequently refer to as "Victim" on account of her schizoid personality) was spayed a few weeks later. She was a brave little toaster, and both have recovered well.