Category Archives: Community

Community Engagement. Environmental Stewardship. Sustainability. Green Living. These are important terms that should be more than part of an informed vocabulary.

Growing things together with your kids outdoors

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If you’re anything like me, I’m on some level always feeling that I’m not spending quality time with my kids like I want to. But at the same time, I’m also somewhat incapacitated. Between work, the stuff on the calendar, and meeting the kids’ basic needs, I often collapse at the end of the day in one exhausted heap.

One thing we’ve started doing as a family is working outdoors together. From planting a garden to landscaping to planting new trees on our property, I’ve found it rewarding.

The nature of gardening and landscaping is that it is an ongoing process, not a one-time thing. You’re planting new life. It needs water, sunlight, and care. So at the outset, you’re committed. You’re going to get out there with the kids on a regular basis.

If you’re like me and can only handle so much (or not any) playing dollhouse or Star Wars light-saber fights or painful “Fine” responses as you try to engage your teen, this is a game-changer. I’m going to lay out 3 important lessons that getting outside as a family instills in your kids.

IMG_0012PATIENCE

Unless you were born with a green thumb, working with plants is going to take patience. You’ll need to learn how to plant and care for plant life.

Getting a garden started takes persistence and patience. It’s not done in an hour. You have to prepare the soil, plant the produce and herbs you are going to grow, and prune and water what you’ve planted.

It can be tedious at times. In a world in which research papers are as easy as a google search and in which 200+ tv shows and movies are at my kids’ fingertips on Netflix at any given moment, working outdoors is a valuable character-builder.

Not everything worth having, can be acquired quickly. Often those things of greatest value take time and patience. It’s not always as easy as Tweeting an acquaintance for a job recommendation. Sometimes it is, but I want my children to be prepared for the times when it’s not. For those times when waiting is required in order to see results.

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THE IMPORTANCE OF FAMILY

Your children know what is most important to you, by how you spend your time. Spending quality time with them will show them that they are important to you.

Working together with your spouse and kids will deepen the bond you all have. It will draw you closer. And this close bond will create trust.

When my girls are in the face of intense peer pressure, this foundation of trust will assure them I will always be there for them. That no matter what, I have been there and will be there for them.

Having a supportive and dependable family structure is vital for kids. These traits are indicators for success down the road. This falls on your shoulders.

HARD WORK

My kids are skilled at finding the path of least resistance. Left to themselves, they would play video games all day, never bathe or change their clothes, and never clean up after themselves. An onlooker may wonder if the chores we subject our kids to our actually physically painful to them, judging from the sighs and grunts that leave their mouths.

All that to say, diligence and hard work do not come naturally. In part, it is up to us as parents to help foster these quality traits in them. They may hate us for it at the time, but in the long-run, they will thank us.

The most effective way to teach your kids to have a good work ethic, is not just to force them to work hard, but to get in there and work with them. Set an example. Get your hands dirty. Show them how it’s done.

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CONCLUSION

Whether you are planting a garden in the spring or taking a Saturday morning to plant a tree to shade your front porch, these are projects that will guarantee family time and teaching opportunities in days to come.

Make the most of your time. Take advantage of those opportunities. You will blink, and these years will be passed. Slow down and determine what you want to instill in your kids now.

How about you? What benefits have you found from working outdoors with your family?

Five Reasons To Plant a Fruit Tree With Your Family

There are probably a hundred or more good reasons to plant a fruit tree with your family, here are five.  Familial aspects aside, all of this falls into a greater green world order and general coming-of-age by an environmentally apologetic humanity.  The greenest people of earth are the children; they’re part of a hyper carbon conscious future that embraces Garden City Transformations.  Kids know that fruit trees are one of six Elements Needed to Make a Garden City in Toronto and elsewhere, in every metropolitan center, in every country, in every continent all over the world.

kid_fruit_tree1Planting fruit trees in a big city is sometimes restricted by municipal bylaws. The city doesn’t plant apples, pears or cherries by choice, and property developers are restricted from planting them by city ordinances for a whole lot of reasons; maintenance and liability are the predominant arguments against city planners planting fruit bearing species along streets and sidewalks.  Homeowners can plant anything they want in their backyards however, and can obtain fruit trees in nurseries here in Canada, and in Ontario and those include Henry Fields Nurseries and Sheridan Nurseries, neither of which specialize in any particular fruit tree varietals (like most nurseries in Europe do) nor will they deliver to your residential property.

One of the secrets of planting trees in the city is to also buy a big bag of soil and make a burm around the seedling. This helps the small tree survive the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Professional tree planters dig a deep hole and then fill it with black garden earth from vegetable composting programs and then put the original soil back on top. In Toronto you can buy a big bag of soil from Weedaway for about $120, and have it delivered right to your home.

Five Reasons to Plant a Fruit Tree with a Young Family

1.  The fruit tree will grow as your family grows and the memory of planting the tree becomes a powerful growth myth that will be part of each child’s psyche – the memory of planting the tree becomes synonymous with making an investment and nurturing growth and performing small physical improvements over time. The tree can be sourced locally or bought from an online vendor that will deliver in Europe and the USA, but no such businesses exist in Canada.

2. The fruit tree is handy biological reference to study and explain, and it can take on the characteristics of a pet with almost no maintenance or additional expense of keeping an animal – so its the perfect family member.  The tree’s first blossoms make it easier to talk about nature’s many and various reproductive systems. Registering the tree, means the kids can volunteer later on at charities that visit private homes and tour city parks picking fruit for charity driven gourmet baking initiatives and wildscaping programs. Los Angeles has a fruit picking outreach program for kids called Fallen Fruit, and Portland Oregon has an apple tree harvesting program for their inner city youth that is famous because it at has been featured in motion pictures.

apple press is fun exercise for kids3. The fruit tree is part of the fabric of nature and has lovely blossoms in the spring that attract buzzing pollinators and floral photographers. A fruit tree  in the springtime is a lovely photo backdrop and the fertility metaphor is a subtle and strong reminder of the promise of prosperity.

4. A  fruit tree attracts cool wildlife and colourful birds. A robust apple tree will bring deer out of the woods, and cherry trees attract squirrels and other storyfull rouges. This is good for kids as animals sell adventure- good for adults as sophisticated songbirds serenade our souls.

5. You can make fruit juice with family members many years later, maybe your grandchildren.    Juicing is great way to get vitamin C into a child’s body, and most kids LOVE IT.  Fresh juice is amazingly more healthy than canned juice and way more fun- it can be frozen into ice cubes and kept as treats for rainy days and they won’t even know it’s good for them. But more importantly its the activity as a unique and productive exercise that they remember all their lives.

Picking the fruit and making juice completes the investment metaphor. Kids doing work under the tree completes the life metaphor. Watching kids work with specialized equipment is a concept for a new TV series.  Kids making fresh juice in the backyard is pure fun and drinking that juice is one of life’s greatest rewards.

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on Teaching Gratitude to Children

Hi Dads!

I am so thrilled and excited to be here with you all, and to be able to write for HeadsUpDad.

In fact, I feel so grateful about it that I think I’d like to write about Gratitude. Gratitude and Appreciation are enormously important qualities for parents to instill in their kids, but most often all that folks can manage to teach them is polite manners. And while it’s nice to see a kid say “Thanks” when someone passes him the butter, that’s not exactly what I mean here. This is especially true today, because parents don’t spend as much effort teaching polite behavior as they once did.  But your grandparents probably didn’t care too much about how deeply their kids felt appreciation – they just washed your parents’ mouths out with soap if they happened to not use the right words at the right times! No, this generation really tends to care a lot more about teaching values, rather than just prescribed behavior. But the problem is, how can anyone teach that?! The crazy answer is – you really can’t. Kids are kids, and there’s a certain level of unthinking selfishness that just comes with the territory (along with incredible sweetness, as you know). And if little Julie finds exactly what she wanted under her Christmas tree, she’s going to be a lot more interested in the immediate joy of playing with it than she is in the deeper pleasure of writing a beautiful thank you letter for it!

Your job, since you can’t really teach gratitude, is to help foster a growth of that sense for when the child matures.

Here are a few suggestions on how to do just that:

1. Teach by example.

Papas, you’ll hear me say this one over and over and over.  About 90% of what kids learn from their parents comes from observation (which is, of course, how kids manage to learn to walk and talk, two of the most astounding achievements of any human’s life).  If you live with a sense of gratitude, your children will pick up on that. When your babysitter makes the kids dinner because you forgot to leave something in the fridge, do you just accept that, or really thank her for going the extra mile?  When someone in traffic lets you cut in, do you give a ‘thank you’ wave?  Your kid will see what you do, and learn from it.  And even more importantly, do you show gratitude to your kid when they do something kind?  That’s the best lesson of all.

2. Talk about Gratitude when it is expressed by others.

When you throw a poker party for some buddies, and one of them emails you the next morning to thank you for it, mention to your kid how good that made you feel.

3. Let them help you with acts of gratefulness.

I know this is a bit phony, but it’s still good:  Let’s say you want to send out a bunch of letters thanking people who’ve helped you in your work this year.  Have your kid stuff the envelopes or put the stamps on.  They’ll get the idea that thank you letters are what cool grownups like Daddy do.

4. Apologize when you forget to be grateful yourself.

All humans make mistakes, and there will always be times when you forget to thank someone, or even to feel as grateful as you should. Let your child see you catch yourself in that error. And let them see you apologize and try to make up for it. That’s a huge teacher.

5. Teach them gratitude by rote.

Okay, and the boring one: Yes, I’m saying that you should teach your ungrateful little brats to say “Thank You” for getting the butter passed to them, and to write letters thanking Aunt Martha for the boring book she gave them, and even to thank their teacher for giving them extra homework to help them master something they’re having trouble with in school.  No, they won’t feel the gratitude at all.  But they will learn the right ways and times to express it when they do.

And then, I also want to add a big “Don’t” to this list.  Do Not Guilt Trip!  Children live in a world that’s all about themselves.  They’ll grow out of it, and you should encourage that, but don’t make them feel bad for not being there yet.  Telling them things like “You ought to feel more grateful” or “You’re too self-centered,” or worst of all “You’re spoiled, you got too many presents” don’t teach Gratitude; they teach Shame, which is the total opposite (If you really feel your kid got too many presents for her birthday, then be the adult and tell her there’s simply been a mistake, and she needs to give five of her toys to others.  It’s not her fault!).

Then, of course, the best role model any kid can ever have for Gratitude is one of us!  We dogs will show how much we appreciate every treat, every scratch on the head, and every time you let us in the house – every time!  And oh do we let you know we appreciate you humans when you come home from school or work!  And the more that your kid sees us do that, and senses how much they love the way our gratitude makes them feel (yes I’m emphasizing that thought!), the sooner they’ll develop a healthy sense of empathy, which will lead them to the true sense of gratitude you want them to own.

So those are my thoughts. Good luck with them. And in the meantime, from the bottom of my heart…

Thanks for reading!

 

About the author:

Shirelle is a busy dog. In between her posts from the Dog House at HeadsUpDad, she hosts a great web site offering friendly, down-to-earth advice for kids, teens, and parents called AskShirelle. Please check it out.

 

 

Fun for Kids at the Toronto Christmas Market

Toronto Christmas Market in the Distillery DistrictWho said a Winter Wonderland needs snow? If the crowds at the Distillery District’s Toronto Christmas Market opening ceremonies are any indication, the spirit of Christmas prevails with or without the fluffy white stuff.

This relatively new city tradition (inspired by the Christmas Markets in Germany and now in its second year) is a welcome addition to the holiday activities available to Torontonians in December. Every Christmas delight is covered, from a stand where you can purchase a Christmas tree for your home, to miniature cottages spread throughout the Distillery selling gifts and snacks, to a neighbourhood-wide liquor license (take your pick between beer or mulled wine), to the spectacular 45-foot Christmas tree (donated by Trees Ontario) and decorated with mint green sashes, shiny red ornaments and more than 12,000 reed switch component Christmas light bulbs.

Sound like fun? Ferris Wheel at the Toronto Christmas MarketYour kids will think so too–this is one Christmas event in Toronto for the whole family, and it is in continuous improvement in this regard. This event is so kid-friendly, it may come as a shock to your children! My advice would be to tell them you’re all going out to pick a Christmas tree, and let them discover the ferris wheel and the carousel for themselves. That’s Christmas magic.

On top of the tremendous novelty of outdoor carnival rides in winter, your kids will love the free candy canes, hot chocolate, fudge, and other ‘sugar plums’ on offer; though they won’t enjoy the subsequent trip to a Toronto dentist as much, ’tis the seaon!

Make this Christmas season a magical one for your kids by attending the FREE Toronto Christmas Market. For the occasion, one of the cobblestone streets in the Distillery has been renamed Santa’s Lane. Father Christmases of all cultures and customs will be present to tell their traditional stories and fill hearts with cheer, but to get to Santa’s house children must first find their way through a maze made out of small pine trees.

– Santa will be in the Distillery on weekdays from 2 p.m.7 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. until 7 p.m., with a reindeer petting zoo on location during weekend hours.

-There will be daily reading of Grimm Brothers classics, and real-life characters Father Christmas and the Christmas Angel walking around.

– Write the North Pole via Santa Mail! Canada Post is providing two letter boxes from which letters will be shipped express to Santa. Kids can write Carollers at the Toronto Christmas Marketletters in Santa’s Workshop (indoors) as well as make crafts, stocking stuffers and play Christmas games with other children. With so much to see and do, you might want to make a whole day out of it, bringing lunch containers or opting to try some of the German street fare (like hot pretzels or schnitzel) available.

– Finally, take photographs! Lenzr.com is sponsoring a Toronto Christmas Market photo contest, rewarding the best photograph taken of the market with $250. 2nd place will receive a $250 restaurant gift certificate, and third place will receive a $100 gift certificate courtesy of the Distillery District.

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Six Reasons Dads Should Attend Word11

Blogging has grown up since the early days of the internet, but it has never ceased being part of a larger conversation. Unfortunately, most of this conversation can be found on, well, blogs.

Word11 wants to show bloggers how much they can learn from the plain old art of conversation. As the world’s first 24-hour blogging event, it has combined keynote speakers with tons of opportunities for informal discussion.

Here’s 6 reasons why dad bloggers should attend the event:

1) Open to veterans and newcomers alikeWord11

You won’t have to be an expert in social media to find a worthwhile conversation at Word11. There’s over 37,000 bloggers in Toronto, so there’s a good chance you’ll find someone with similar interests. Or maybe you’re looking for an expert. In that case, you might find them here.

2) Relaxed, informal setting

Word11 understands that some bloggers already have jobs and don’t want to engage in the tedium of “networking.” The 24-hour nature of the event encourages attendees to mingle freely and even let their conversations spill into the neighbouring areas of downtown Toronto. Oh, and you can bet there’ll be a trending topic on Twitter to discuss all of the ongoing meetups.

3) Presentation streams

The conference has been divided into three “streams” to better accommodate attendees. Each stream is targetted toward bloggers with different levels of experience, from complete novices to seasoned veterans.

The biggest strength of streams is that they place you with similar people, making conversations much easier to start. Sure you’ll hear from 13 high profile bloggers, but insight from a person in a similar situation can be even more valuable.

4) Accommodating schedule

Word11 is a 24-hour event, so you can expect things to be happening at all points in the day. Even if you come late, Word11 is hosting an all-nighter, which they can only describe as an “outdoor campground for bloggers.” For your convenience, the event is taking place on a Saturday.

5) It’s easy to find out who’s going

Chances are most people attending this event will broadcast that fact on their different social networks. If your favourite blogger isn’t going, use the event as an excuse to meet them! There’s also a chance Word11 will publish the registration list, showing who is confirmed guest.

 

6) Convenient location (downtown Toronto)

Word11 is being hosted at two venues in downtown Toronto: one in the morning and one in the evening. Fortunately, both are within walking distance of each other and are easily accessible by public transit. For anyone driving, there are ample parking spots near both venues.

Word11’s mix of formal speakers and informal discussions is set to make the event a valuable learning experience for all bloggers. So call up your babysitter and tell your kids you’re headed for a day of personal enrichment!

For those interested, here’s a handy itinerary of the event:

http://word11.com/itinerary/

 

FLOWING WITH THE GOOD GUYS

It was with great sadness that I read about the recent Norwegian terrorist attacks. A tragic ordeal for any country to have to experience, yet there was a point in the story where I found one Norwegian’s comment to be equally absurd as the attacks were cruel. A woman’s response to the killings was, “Why are they killing us? We’re the good guys!” Most of us think the same way; we are the good guys, the ones who know what’s best or what is right. Adolf Hitler was convinced that his Nazi movement was the best solution for the world’s problems. And through his eyes, it was. The same can be said for Osama Bin Laden or George W. Bush and it is with this lack of awareness upon which most of mankind operates.

Albeit slowly, an increasing number of the world’s population is adopting a different viewpoint (or philosophy, or truth) that there is no right and no wrong, there simply is. This is not to say that whatever happens in the world is acceptable. It is to understand that only the flow of nature exists and that everything happening is a part of that flow. It is the understanding that there are no shoulds or shouldn’ts, only choices. The difference is that should’s and shouldn’t’s are constructs of our mind, while clear choices (I will or I won’t) come from the heart.

I recently witnessed a parent become very frustrated, claiming that her toddler was supposed to listen to her, as if it were her child’s job. In reality, her child’s only job is to act naturally, which is to be aware in some moments and unaware in other moments. If the mother chooses to parent consciously, then it is in fact her job to find a way to be in relationship with her child, discovering ways to flow with both her child’s awareness and lack thereof.

Essentially, life is about relationships, or how we relate to each of our experiences. Have you ever experienced physical pain and thought “This shouldn’t be happening!”? When we don’t flow with nature, believing that something should or shouldn’t be happening, we create suffering for ourselves. A common reaction I’ve seen after reading of earthquakes is “Why would God make such a thing happen!?” Conversely I recall many comments made of the Japanese response to their recent earthquake/tsunami experience, as they largely exemplified acceptance around what happened, while then responding to what needed attention. When we flow with nature, working with what is, we create more ease for ourselves.

Consider that all the ‘unnatural’ deaths that have ever occurred are serving to build our global collective pain that is now bringing about our planet’s current shift in consciousness. Consider that every cubic ton of pollution we’ve created thus far is serving to awaken us to the point where we once again realize the true value of our planet. Many sacrifices have been made in order to create the opportunity that lies before us all. Consider that there is no right and no wrong—only countless opportunities to, through awareness, healthfully flow with what is. After all, we’re all the good guys, each of us sharing a common desire: to be happy, as each of us does our best to find our way.