Get Outside And Play!

I recently picked up a book called Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder which details cutting-edge studies that link the lack of nature in children’s lives to the growing rise in obesity, attention disorders, and depression. The Author, Richard Louv, makes the case that direct exposure to nature is essential to a child’s healthy physical and emotional development. Additionally, he talks about how children today are so disconnected from where their food comes from and how the way we live effects the world we live in, that they may grow up to be adults who have less compassion for animals and nature. I began to wonder about my two city kids and how good a job I was doing in the nature-deficit department.

last-child-in-the-woodsGrowing up in an apartment in Brooklyn, NY in the 1970’s and 80’s I wouldn’t say that I had an overwhelming exposure to nature. But I do have some very clear memories that have to do with being outdoors and experiencing nature in a powerful way. My very early years were spent traveling throughout Europe with my hippie parents living in such far-flung places as Ibiza, Perugia, London and beyond. I have no real memories beyond the stories I was told, but the photos I have show a child completely free to run through fields, inspect bugs, gather flowers and spin tales of “friends” who lived in the woods. I have to believe that these experiences shaped the way I think in a fundamental way.

I do very clearly remember, however, walking through the woods in upstate New York with my dad as we searched for mushrooms. He had a book that detailed all the different types and which ones were OK to eat and so forth. We ate the small ones, sauteed in an omelette and my father carved the soft, white flesh of the giant mushrooms with intricate pictures, like scrimshaw, using a small knife. He sat with me and showed me the delicate spokes that fanned out from the stalk along the undersides; they seemed to me to be magical fairy umbrellas. I remember exploring the overgrown fields around my grandmother’s home, as we made our way down to the lake. We picked tiny, wild strawberries in her front yard and cucumbers and tomatoes from her garden. One of my favorite outdoor memories is of my father and I slipping through a broken chain link fence into a forgotten and overgrown garden at a nearby park where we would take our dogs for a walk. Once inside, we would sit beneath a shady tree in the tall grass and read from the book, Watership Down; one chapter at a time, hour after hour it seemed. Just the two of us, as the dogs ran free, and bumblebees buzzed lazily nearby. Even these infrequent, but special, moments spent outdoors taught me to respect nature and all that it provides.

So, although I was raised in the heart of one of the busiest cities in the world, I knew, from experience, the difference between the fun I might have, say, playing at a friend’s house or the enjoyment I got from watching TV, and the pure bliss I felt when I was exploring the world outside. Not that I ever became an outdoor adventure type, but I do recognize the rejuvenation and stress reduction I feel when I spend even a little time near water, the woods, listening to birds chatter, watching a sun set…I can only imagine it does the same for my children.

Last Child in the Woods begins with a powerful quote from Walt Whitman:

“There was a child went forth every day,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day,
Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.

The early lilacs became part of this child,
And grass and white and red morning glories, and white and red clover,
and the song of the phoebe-bird,
And the Third-month lambs and the sow’s pink-faint litter,
and the mare’s foal and the cow’s calf…”

Gina -Italy - 1970How can we expect a child who spends his days indoors, or so closely guarded by anxious parents, to understand this sense of oneness with the world? Richard Louv talks about how even in areas where outdoor play is accessible that “Countless communities have virtually outlawed unstructured outdoor nature play, often because of the threat of lawsuits, but also because of a growing obsession with order.” How much are children today missing by not having the opportunity to build a treehouse fort or explore a babbling stream? I know how lucky my children are that we live in Southern California and can explore the world most months of the year. But do I take full advantage of it? What more can I do?

Some ideas for getting your kids outdoors and loving it:

  • From Richard Louv’s book: “Tell your children stories about your special childhood places in nature. Then help them find their own: leaves beneath a backyard willow, the ditch behind the house, the meadow in the woods, the turn of a creek. In Washington State, the Wilderness Awareness School calls this a ‘sit spot’, recommending, ‘let this be a place where you learn to sit still — alone, often, and quietly…This will become your place of intimate connection with nature.’ ” The Wilderness Awareness School, by the way, looks amazing. If you have the opportunity, check it out!
  • Children & Nature Network. I love this site. From their bio: “The Children & Nature Network (C&NN) was created to encourage and support the people and organizations working nationally and internationally to reconnect children with nature. The network provides a critical link between researchers and individuals, educators and organizations dedicated to children’s health and well-being”.
  • Go Explore Nature A blog focused on, you guessed it, outdoor play!
  • Childhood 101 A great blog overall, this particular post is titled “24 Ideas For Family Fun In The Backyard”
  • Active Kids Club a great place for inspiration or to connect with parents in your area who want to create outdoor play groups.
  • Encourage your kids to go camping in the backyard. Join the National Wildlife Foundation’s Great American Backyard Campout.
  • Our 4-year old son has recently discovered a love of photography. It’s very easy to get him outdoors with a camera and he gets up close to bugs, leaves, dirt etc. Afterwards, we print out the ones he loves most and are making a book together. Then we can research information about the things he took pictures of. It gets him excited to go out and do it again!

These are just a few ideas, what do your kids love doing that gets them connected with nature? What are your thoughts about our children’s generation needing more time spent outdoors? And what are your favorite childhood memories of the outdoors that you would want to share with your children? I’d love to hear what you think.

Ask And You Shall Receive

I tried an experiment in mindfulness again over the last few days. After a particularly miserable day where I lost my temper too often and didn’t enjoy my day with the kids and argued with my husband, I woke up early the next morning. For once, no one else was up yet. As I lay in my dark room, listening to birds chirping outside and the muffled sounds of ocean waves playing on our children’s noise machine, my mind wandered. First it was full of thoughts about things needing to be done, but within a few moments the memory of creating my day popped into my head.

For those of you not familiar with this idea, I wrote about it previously in a post called Mindfulness Vs. Losing My Mind, and mentioned this clip of Dr. Joe Dispenza from the 2004 movie “What The (bleep) Do We Know?”:

In this clip, Dr. Dispenza describes the way he sets about creating his day and the pact he makes each morning:

“I am taking this time to create my day. And I am infecting the quantum field. Now, if in fact the observer is watching me the whole time that I am doing this, and there is a spiritual aspect to myself, then show me a sign today that you paid attention to any one of these things that I created. And bring them in a way that I won’t expect, so I am as surprised at my ability to be able to experience these things. And make it so that I have no doubt that it’s come from You.”

So, I lay in bed, and groggily tried to envision how I wanted the day ahead to be. I knew I wanted to be more patient. I wanted my children not to fight and to get along well. I wanted to be more connected to my husband. Just those four, little things. Oh yeah, and if it’s not too much trouble, make sure you send me some sort of sign, God.


The kids woke up and our day started much the same as usual. Somewhere between our children doing their chores and my making their breakfast, I decided to check my email quickly. As I scrolled through the 20 or 30 emails I had gotten since I went to bed the night before, I speedily deleted many of the ones I knew I didn’t need to read. Often, these days those include daily digest compilations from Peachhead which is, for those not in Los Angeles, an online parents’ chat board with 12,000 or so members. Once upon a time, I used to read every message posted, but these days I just delete the daily digest because I simply don’t have time for it anymore. For some reason, without thinking, that morning I opened one up and my eyes fell on a message that was titled “U.S. Post Office – MUST READ”. And so I did. It was a story I had actually read a few years ago about a girl who sent a letter to God after her beloved dog had died and received a letter back. Included in that letter from God was this quote:

“What a wonderful mother you have. I picked her especially for you. I send my blessing every day and remember that I love you very much. By the way, I’m easy to find, I am wherever there is love. Love, God”.

I stopped in my tracks. What had compelled me to read that Peachhead email today of all days? And of the 25 emails contained in that digest why did I choose to read one about the Post Office? But here, in that innocuously titled email was a message that for me, was clear. You asked for a sign, here I am.

The rest of that day was remarkably peaceful. Not so much because my children were perfect angels, but because I seemed to see them differently. As they reacted to events, I was better able to see things through their eyes and remember that they are only 4 years old. I felt frustration arise and dissipate. I noticed that I was happier, had a smile on my face and surprisingly had more pleasant interactions with strangers that day. I was more present and had more patience. This, naturally led me to have a better connection with my husband throughout the day because he is so often adversely affected by my foul moods (Can you blame him?).

j and dadThe next morning, I once again woke before my children and thought I would try this experiment again. Once again I decided that the main thing I wanted to create was a day with me having more patience with my children. I wondered how my “message” would appear and then worried that I was somehow testing God’s existence instead of focusing on creating my day. See how my crazy brain works? Once again, I turned on my computer that morning and the first email I opened was a post from a blog I love called Zen Family Habits. The title of that post? Patience With Parenting.

As Dr. Dispenza says:

“When I create my day and out of nowhere little things happen that are so unexplainable, I know that they are the process, or the result, of my creation. And the more I do that, the more I build a neuro-net in my brain that I accept that that’s possible. [That] gives me the power and the incentive to do it [again]the next day.”

Now, I don’t know if there really is an “observer” (although I like to think so), or if these messages came to my attention simply because I was focused on being more mindful. I don’t know if simply being mindful is what allowed me to have the type of days I said I was going to have, or if I had truly created my day. Whatever the case is, the simple act of taking under 2 minutes at the start of my day to focus on what type of day I planned to have and to ask for “proof”, if you will, that this would work, remarkably changed the days I had.

What would happen if I could do this every day? I believe that this simple act would radically improve the amount of joy I would feel in parenting (or frankly, in life). I wonder if I could actually commit to doing it. I’d like to try. Anyone else want to try it with me?

What’s Really In That Food You’re Eating?

Last night I went to hear Kim Gerber, of Out Of The Box Food, speak. I’ve been a fan of Kim’s site for a while now and was very excited when she agreed to talk to our parents of multiples club. Kim is a mom of twins, home-cook and Children’s Nutrition Advocate with a focus on feeding children healthy, unprocessed food. Several years ago, Kim noticed a decided difference in mood and behavior immediately following her children’s consumption of processed food. She then began researching and experimenting with recipes to duplicate these foods using healthy, fresh ingredients. Her website offers simple, cost-effective alternatives for like-minded parents who are looking for a way out of the “kid food” conundrum.

What is really in the food we eat?

Kim began the meeting by discussing her passion, which is deciphering and eliminating the additives in the food we feed our children. She told our group how she used to love to take her boys to McDonald’s, but began to notice a drastic change in the level of aggression one of her boys would exhibit within a very short time after eating there. She then went on to talk about common foods we all give our kids such as chicken nuggets, ice cream sandwiches, microwave popcorn and chewy granola bars that contain ingredients you would never ingest if you really knew what they were. Included in that list were:


Carrageenan is actually an extract from seaweed, but this doesn’t mean it’s necessarily good for you. This extract used to be found in baby formula but was deemed unsafe and ordered to be removed. So, it’s not safe for infants, but it is somehow safe in yogurt, ice cream, soy milk and more? In fact, carrageenan is believed to be a carcinogen in animals and may also have a role in intestinal inflammation and possibly inflammatory bowel disease in humans. I went through my fridge this morning and found carrageenan in Kozy Shack Chocolate Pudding (whaaa, I am seriously crying about this one) and Trader Joe’s Organic Low Fat Yogurt Squishers. *sigh*

Sodium Benzoate

Research published in 2007 for the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA) suggests that certain artificial colors, when paired with sodium benzoate may be linked to hyperactive behavior. Additionally, this preservative, often used in acidic foods such as salad dressings, is also used in fireworks! According to Kim’s research Sodium Benzoate has been shown to have caused birth defects in animals and may be toxic to genes. Sodium Benzoate can also be found in such varied items as bleached wheat flour and Maple Syrup.

TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone)

reese's peanut butter cupsTBHQ is a preservative found in foods such as Eggo Buttermilk Waffles, Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and microwave popcorn. From Michael Pollan’s book, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: “But perhaps the most alarming ingredient in a Chicken McNugget is tertiary butylhydroquinone, or TBHQ, an antioxidant derived from petroleum that is either sprayed directly on the nugget or the inside of the box it comes in to ‘help preserve freshness.’ According to A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, TBHQ is a form of butane (i.e. lighter fluid) the FDA allows processors to use sparingly in our food: It can comprise no more than 0.02 percent of the oil in a nugget. Which is probably just as well, considering that ingesting a single gram of TBHQ can cause ‘nausea, vomiting, ringing in the ears, delirium, a sense of suffocation, and collapse.’ Ingesting five grams of TBHQ can kill.” Have you ever seen how many nuggets a kid can consume? Do you really want any amount of lighter fluid going in your kid’s body?

Food Coloring And Dyes

There has been a lot of talk, especially lately, about food dyes and their possible link to things such as hyperactivity, ADHD, cancers, reproductive disorders and so forth. In its infinite wisdom, the FDA has decided that the studies conducted are inconclusive and more tests are needed. When it’s so easily possible to color food naturally (with things like beet juice, for example), why do we need FD&C Red #40? Additionally, FD&C Yellow #5 is a coal derivative which more than half of aspirin-sensitive people have an intolerance to.


Sorbitol is a sugar substitute that may aggravate irritable bowel syndrome and similar gastrointestinal conditions, resulting in severe abdominal pain for those affected, even from small amounts ingested. According to Kim’s research, it also has been shown to alter the absorption of other drugs.

BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene)/BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole)

BHT is is a fat-soluble organic compound that is primarily used as an antioxidant food additive in things like Quaker Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars, Chex Mix as well as an antioxidant additive in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, jet fuels, rubber, petroleum products, electrical transformer oil and embalming fluid. Uh….granola bars and embalming fluid??? Gross! There was some research done in the 1970’s that found that BHT could play a role in hyperactivity and possibly cancer. After this, some manufacturers voluntarily removed BHT and have replaced it with the less studied BHA. From Wikipedia: “The US National Institutes of Health report that BHA is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen based on evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals”. Hmmm. It doesn’t sound a whole lot better, does it?

So what can I feed my kids that’s healthy and they’ll still love?

Kim’s website, Out Of The Box Food is filled with recipes for things kids love to eat, like chicken nuggets, fruit roll ups, fruit yogurt and more. Kim deconstructs popular brands so you can see exactly what is in them, and then offers her own version to try at home. One point she made last night is that for kids, a lot of the selling is in the presentation. So, if you can make a fruit roll up at home that looks as cool as the chemical filled one you buy in the store, they are more likely to eat the healthy one! Also, involving your kids in the process helps them get invested in eating well instead of feeling that they’re being deprived.

Eye-opening Reading

Food RulesKim’s list of books to take a look at if you want a deeper understanding of what is being consumed by your family:

How does all of this affect my family?

Kim simply suggests doing an internet search on any of the following topics to see why what she is so passionate about should be of major importance to you:

  • Do food dyes affect kids’ behavior?
  • Food dyes and behavior
  • Common food additives doubles kids’ hyperactivity
  • Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children
  • Chocolate The Bittersweet Treat
  • In the News: Dark Chocolate for Health
  • Early puberty for girls is raising health concerns
  • So what really is in a McDonald’s Chicken Nugget?

Additional resources and reads

Our terrific club members had so many questions and offered up lots of ideas as well on how to make healthy eating simpler for busy parents. Here is a summary of their ideas along with more of Kim’s:

  • Why Can’t My Child Behave?: Why Can’t She Cope? Why Can’t He Learn?, by Jane Hersey – if you suspect your child has a form of hyperactivity, this is a book that may help change his or her life just by changing the food you serve.
  • Where Is My Milk From? – many people don’t realize that different brands of milk come from the same dairy. Find out where your milk is from, support your local economy and make sure your milk comes from dairy that does not support the use of added hormones.
  • ewg guide to pesticidesEWG’s Shopper Guide To Pesticides – a wallet guide to the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” (foods to make sure you buy organic) and the “Clean 15” (foods that are lowest in pesticides)
  • Substitute Whole Wheat Pastry Flour for any recipes where flour is called for. It bakes better than whole wheat flour and is healthier for you than enriched white flour. Reduce the amount of sugar recipes call for – there is almost always more sugar than necessary in recipes. Substitute applesauce for oil in recipes.
  • There are some great, healthy products from companies such as Applegate Farms, Kashi, Annie’s and Dr. Praeger’s.
  • Using iPhone apps such as Fooducate, which is free, or the Center For Science In The Public Interest’s (CSPI) new 99¢ app called Chemical Cuisine can help make a trip to the market a lot easier. I’ve had Fooducate for a while and use it all the time. It’s super easy and has been really eye-opening and helpful. I just downloaded Chemical Cuisine so I need a little more time to play with it before I can comment.
  • The Feingold Diet – a test to determine if certain foods or food additives are triggering particular symptoms (especially Add/ADHD/Autism etc.).
  • Moms Rising – An organization that brings important motherhood and family issues to the forefront of the country’s awareness. They work to create both cultural and legislative change, on both the national and state levels.

In the end, Kim’s advice was one of balance. As busy parents juggling family, work and the pressures of every day life, it can feel overwhelming to take on a subject as complex as overhauling the way our families eat. Kim’s suggestion is to find the area you are passionate about and start there. Is it having more organics in your diet? Is it offering more home cooked meals? Is it eliminating processed foods? Whatever it is, take that first step because this subject is profoundly important.

Has this discussion changed the way you look at some of the foods you would normally buy? Was any of this surprising to you? What are your best tips for helping our families eat better? Leave a comment below, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Taking The Love Of Reading On The Road: Audio Stories!

I have written often about my personal love for reading and the type of home I grew up in that inspired it. My husband and I read to our children every night and have books everywhere – from bedroom to bathroom. We’ve always had books in our car, too, but since our kids don’t know how to read by themselves yet, they’re more for the pictures than the stories.

Now, we live in Los Angeles and anyone who lives here, or who has visited, knows that this means we are in our car a lot! It recently dawned on me that I was missing a big opportunity to share story time with the kids and began to check out the idea of audio books. Lots of books these days come with CDs included so kids can “read” along with the story, but I had simply never thought to put them in the car to entertain the kids!

Well, let me tell you that my kids now think I am a genius and can’t get enough of this idea. Which has, of course, presented me with a new conundrum: how to keep up with their appetite for new stories without breaking the bank? As with many parenting questions, I hit the web and began my research. So, here I present to you, my findings for the best places to find audio stories for kids (some free) and our picks for the best stories (at least according to my kids):

  1. Storynory is a free collection of audio books for kids. Many of them are classics (The Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland etc.), some are originals, and they even include Greek Myths and Bible Stories if you are so inclined. I downloaded a few easily, and the woman who reads them has a lovely voice, but the stories I chose were a bit above my 4-year olds’ comprehension. However, if you have older children, I think this is a wonderful site.
  2. I found Ambling Books by checking out my Twitter friend, Pragmatic Mom’s website. She’s a terrific resource for all things having to do with literacy, parenting and education. Ambling Books has free stories for download so you can find many classics there. They also sell audio recordings so you can find great books such as Legends of The Guardian, The Reluctant Dragon or The Secret Garden. Again, all of the books I looked at on this site seemed above my children’s age range, but I am bookmarking it for future reference as they have some of my favorites from childhood and I am looking forward to sharing them with our kids in a few years.
  3. Skippyjon Jones is a favorite in our house. The silly songs, nonsense “Spanish” and a Siamese cat who thinks he’s a chihuahua make up a perfect recipe for a really fun series of books. The books are read by the author, Judy Schachner, and she does a great job at voicing the mischievous kitty. We love Skippyjon Jones and The Big Bones and Skippyjon Jones in The Dog House, and I have a couple more in the series that I’m holding on to for our next road trip.
  4. Magic Treehouse Collection books 1 – 8. This is a terrific series of books aimed at kids ages 4 – 8 and read by the author, Mary Pope Osborne. Each book is 10 chapters, each one a cliff hanger. The stories take the brother and sister on adventures all over the world and throughout time from the age of dinosaurs to the Amazon rainforest to a pirate adventure. My kids LOVE these stories and while there are a few words or concepts they don’t know, the basic theme of the stories is repetitive enough that they easily follow along, even without having a picture book in their hands. I believe there are 45 books in the series, so if your kids like them you’re set for a long time!
  5. Tikki Tikki Tembo was a new find, recommended by a friend, that my daughter (in particular) can’t get enough of. A retelling of an old Chinese folktale about how the people of China came to give their children short names after traditionally giving their “first and honored” sons grand, long names. The book is full of beautiful illustrations and the story is told by the fabulous Marcia Gay Harden.
  6. For some reason we are a bit slow in coming to love Dr. Seuss, but my son has always found Green Eggs and Ham hilarious. So, when I found the audio version, read by the hilarious Jason Alexander, I gave it a try. I love watching our son following along with with a grin on his face as he matches the words to the pictures. We also have Fox In Sox. For some reason, having the story read by David Hyde Pierce seems to have made this book much more appealing to the kids than when I do it myself. I’m not sure what that says about me! Anyway, the Seuss books are almost all on CD and each one is read by a terrific actor, so they are definitely worth checking out.

We are heading out for a road trip next week as our Spring Break starts. I am so happy to have discovered books on CD for the kids and plan to be listening to many hours of Magic Treehouse and more. How about you? Have you tried audio stories yet? Which ones do you love? Do you have some good sites to suggest for downloads?

Did You Know It’s Our Anniversary?

Anniversaries are a big deal usually. They mark the passing of time, commemorate a special event and are cause for looking back on what has happened over the year gone by. Today is an anniversary of sorts. One year ago today, I started this blog. I guess that makes it a blogiversary? Anyway, I felt I ought to write to mark this occasion, but mostly I wanted to write to say a huge thank you to all of you.

When I began this blog I did it mostly as an addition to the coaching work I was doing with expectant parents of twins. I thought I would put some of my tips and strategies here and send my clients over to see them. In very little time, the blog morphed into something unexpected. It became a place for me to work through my own parenting struggles, a place to expand upon my thinking about parenting methods and research in child development, and a place to figure out ways to make parenting joyful whether you have twins, triplets or singletons.

Along the way, you have found me. I’m not always sure how, but I am so grateful. I love reading your comments and getting your emails. I love knowing that you relate to what I write and to what I am going through and I love knowing that I have helped some of you through difficult stages in your own parenting journey. In that respect, you have all helped me so much as I learn how to be a better and more joyful parent.

I am very well aware of how many blogs there are on the web and how busy all of your lives are. Because of that, I would love to know what you would like to see on The Twin Coach in the coming year. One of the areas I’m particularly interested in exploring is the sibling relationship. As my children have gotten older, this special dynamic has evolved (and grown more difficult) and I plan to write more about how we are working on that. When you have a minute, think about what topics you are most interested in, what areas you have the biggest struggles with or what you’ve read here and would like more of. I love feedback!