Snow Day!

We finally got some snow Tuesday night! It’s about time!

At about 10 pm, we got an automated phone call telling us there would be no school Wednesday. So the kids and I had a good old fashioned snow day, complete with shoveling, snow ball fights, sledding, and hot cocoa made the old fashioned way with real milk.

Here are some photos for you to enjoy. Merry Christmas!

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Technology in Balance

This is the final post of a three-part series about technology addiction. Part I focuses on technology addiction in adults. Part 2 focuses on technology addiction in children. This post, Part 3, focuses on technology’s effect on society and how to achieve a healthy balance.

In a recent Ted talk, Juan Enriquez asked the question, Will our kids be a different species? The talk is about the evolution of the human species, which seems on the surface to be unrelated to technology addiction. But near the end of the talk, Enriquez suggests that the human brain is rapidly evolving right now. Information overload is one of several possible reasons he suggests for this development, noting that people today are taking in as much information in a day as people used to take in during a lifetime.

To support his argument, Enriquez points to the extraordinary increase in the number of people with Autism, which he says has increased 78% in less than 10 years. Autism creates individuals who are hyper-perceptive, hyper-mnemonic, and hyper-active—just what we might need to deal with information overload. Enriquez suggests that increases in the numbers of people with schizophrenia, photographic memory, and other types of unusual mental capabilities could be additional signs of our evolution.

When you think about it, it only makes sense that the human brain would be working hard to find a way to deal with the bombardment of information it is receiving on a daily basis. After all, our adaptability is the reason that we still exist on this planet. We must continue to evolve, but what will we evolve into?

Enriquez suggests that we are evolving into Homo Evolutis, which he describes as a species that “directly and deliberately controls its own evolution and that of many other species.” (Note: If you want to read more about Juan Enriquez’s theories, check out his book on the topic, Homo Evolutis.)

Is this frightening? I’m not sure. In some ways, we have been moving in this direction for a long time. Consider, for example, all of the different breeds of dogs and varieties of fruits and vegetables that did not exist before humans began domesticating and “improving” them. After all, broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts all came from cabbage because of human selection and cultivation.

From there, it is not such a leap to say that because of the technologies we have invented and the information overload we experience, we are changing our own brains.

 “I can’t go back to yesterday because I was a different person then.”
(Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland)

Someone recently told me that our attention to iPhones is no different than reading the newspaper was years ago. But people generally read the paper in the morning, with a cup of coffee, and then they were done. They did not check back for updates while driving, having dinner with friends, watching a championship baseball game, or having a baby. They were not addicted to the newspaper.

I know we can’t go back. We are different now. Our own technology has changed us. We need constant input and crave instant gratification. But all is not lost…we have some control, remember? We have free will. We can change our behaviors. We don’t have to become cyborgs. We must figure out how to help our children (and ourselves) find a healthy balance between technology use and interacting with the physical world and each other.

Like many other pleasures in our world, exciting new technologies are not bad. They only become a problem when they are overused and abused. Cell phones, Facebook, and Twitter can be used to stay in touch and truly be helpful. But they must be used in moderation, to encourage and support relationships rather than distract us from each other.

With that in mind, here are some suggestions for establishing a healthy balance for yourself and your family:

  1. Get outside. Spend time in nature, or at least outside in the backyard or at a nearby park. Research shows that time spent in natural settings has many positive effects on both adults and children. And of course we all know that children need to spend time with their parents. If you need help thinking of activities to do outside in your area, check out The Children & Nature Network’s nature clubs for families. You can join an existing group in your area or use their support materials to start a new group. If you are more adventurous, plan a backpacking or camping trip to a national park. Remember, no cell phones or iPods allowed!
  2. Limit screen time. Set specific limits for video game, TV, computer, and iPhone time – for yourself and for your kids. If you are imposing limits on your children but still checking email on your iPhone at the dinner table, you need to change your habits. Children will follow your example better than your rules. Consider canceling your cable TV subscription. Since we canceled ours last April, I’ve seen my children fight less and play more imaginative games together. We have even played board games as a family a few times. We get news through the Internet, and we still have our big screen TV for movies. You don’t have to go “cold turkey;” you just need to find a healthy balance.
  3. Go to Church. Church is not just about religion; it is also about community. Yes, you can listen to sermons on your iPod now, but it doesn’t compare to being there. If you have not attended church for a while, it might feel awkward at first. But remember you are doing this to reconnect to God and to your community. And you are doing it for your children too. Consider introducing your children to a youth group if one is available.
  4. Join the 26 Acts of Kindness movement. After the Sandy Hook Elementary School Shooting last week, Ann Curry started an idea that has spread quickly – doing an act of kindness in memory of each victim. Though this is not necessarily related to technology addiction, doing this with your children (or on your own) is a great way to reconnect with people and practice compassion. It certainly could help battle technology addiction, especially if acts of kindness become a habit after the 26 acts are done. If you would like to take this step, here is a Word document I created with one card to pass out with each act of kindness. Each card includes a victim’s name and a number so that you can easily see your progress. The cards also have a note to the receiver to encourage them to do an act of kindness for someone else.
  5. Volunteer. I know it is hard to find time to volunteer when you are working and raising children. But maybe you can find just two or three days a year that you could volunteer for a few hours with your children. You can plant trees, help neighbors, or serve food at a soup kitchen. Any little bit will help you and your children connect with people and balance out your connection to machines.
  6. Join Scouts. I know the Boy Scouts have had some legal issues lately, but if you have a son, I encourage you to at least investigate your local scout troop and consider participating in scouts. Scouting encourages boys to take action: to build, hike, and help. It teaches strong morals and values. And it also provides activities that are very hands on—and not on a keypad.
  7. Have a Game Night. Buy a couple of fun, family board games and choose one night a week (or month) as family game night. Leave the television and iPad off, and play games for an hour or two. Enjoy your family.
  8. Build a Fort. Fort building is great fun and kids of almost all ages love it. You can get fancy and build an awesome tree house together, or you can just spend an hour putting together a simple fort in the back yard. Indoor forts are fun too. If you don’t have time, remember that sometimes kids just need you to make a suggestion to get them started.
  9. Walk the Dog. The dog needs a walk and so do you. Use the time you walk the dog to unplug. Don’t put on your iPod or check text messages while you are walking. It’s your time. If you can, invite your spouse, children, or friend to join you. This can be a time to connect, rather than a necessary chore. (Try hiking, jogging, or trail running for variation!)
  10. Romance Your Spouse. The pace of life is so fast today that parents—and even single people—often don’t make time for romance. Romance is showing someone that you care. It is a connection. It does not have to be expensive. Simply taking a walk hand in hand or sharing a quiet moment by the first can be romantic. Make a pledge to do something romantic with your spouse or significant other—with no electronics allowed—once a week.

Since it would be difficult to do all of these at once, just choose a few that best fit your needs and the needs of your family. Then pass these ideas on to your friends and neighbors. Let’s fight technology addiction by limiting our use and connecting to our families, God, nature, and our community.

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Raising Cyborgs

This is the second of a three-part series I am writing on technology addiction. Part I focuses on technology addiction in adults. This post, Part 2, focuses on technology addiction in children. Part 3 will focus on how we can break technology addiction.

As parents, I feel we are in a quandary. We want our children to be able to communicate and compete in the technological world we believe they will inherit. But we also want them to become well-adjusted adults who can establish healthy, face-to-face relationships with each other. Sometimes it feels like these two goals are mutually exclusive.

Many kids today are missing meals and sleep because they are preoccupied with texting, Facebook, Twitter, or video games. Bullying is being driven out of schools, only to resurface on social media. Stressed parents of two-year-olds hand over their iPhones rather than teaching their children how to wait patiently in line at the grocery store. How will these kids cope with the frustrations of life and relationships when they grow up?

“But the wild things cried, ‘Oh please don’t go–we’ll eat you up–we love you so!'” (Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are)

If you don’t think technology addiction is a real problem for children, consider the fact that there is now a rehab clinic in the UK for children addicted to technology. In Japan, children who don’t respond to text messages on their cell phones within thirty minutes are ridiculed by their peers; and the government is asking manufacturers to limit features on phones made for children to voice calls and navigation. Closer to home, the American Psychological Association may soon be adding Internet Use Disorder (IUD) to the Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V).

According to the American Psychiatric Association, the crafters of the DSM-V, a person with IUD will experience “preoccupation” with the internet or internet gaming, withdrawal symptoms when the substance (internet) is no longer available, tolerance (the need to spend more and more time on the internet to achieve the same “high”), loss of other interests, unsuccessful attempts to quit, and use of the internet to improve or escape dysphoric mood. (Internet Addiction: The New Mental Health Disorder, Forbes, 10/2/12)

So what effect is this obsession with technology, the Internet, and social media having on our children?

We don’t know.

Amber Case, a self-described cyborg anthropologist, claims that we are all cyborgs. She defines a cyborg as a person who interacts with a machine, rather than a being that is physically part human and part machine. Yet she does not see our obsession with technology as threatening or even unhealthy.

I hope she is right.

But so many children are so lonely and isolated. Childhood depression, drug use, alcohol abuse, and suicide are national issues. Granted, these were problems long before the Internet. But shutting off from each other will only make them worse and bring us closer to becoming the unfeeling cyborgs of science fiction.

Schools.com recently created an infographic asking the question, “Is Social Media Making Us Socially Awkward?” Here are two disturbing statistics from their graphic:

  • 24% of respondents have missed experiencing important events because they were too busy reporting them on social media
  •  39% of respondents spend more time socializing online than in person

It appears that their statistics are the results of a survey. While I can’t determine the ages of the respondents, or the reliability or validity of the results, these two statistics and others I have seen concern me – more for my children than for myself.

Relationships are hard enough already. While technology makes it easier to connect to more people, the relationships are usually shallow. How will our children relate personally to their friends and lovers? Will they even try? Will they face someone, apologize, and give them a hug? Will they tell someone they love them, and get down on one knee?

Or will they send a text message?

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The Chains of Habit

This is the first of a three-part series I am writing on technology addiction. Part I focuses on technology addiction in adults. Part 2 focuses on technology addiction in children; and Part 3 will focus on how to break technology addiction.

Are you addicted to technology? Do you find it difficult to leave your iPod or smart phone at home when you walk your dog, take a hike, or go to dinner with family or friends? If so, what effect is your addiction having on your relationships? What effect will it have on your children and society as a whole?

These questions have been bothering me for some time now. I often see people in the backcountry listening to their iPods while hiking. They are out there, but they are not really there. They are not having a full experience.

I have a friend who works as a waitress and has told me about families who sit down in the restaurant, each with their own devices. They barely acknowledge her when she asks for their orders. Mothers have to physically touch their children to get their attention because repeating the question, “What would you like to eat?” three times louder does not work.

“The chains of habit are generally too small to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” Samuel Johnson

For the past week, I have been participating in a free, online Coursera course called Drugs and the Brain. I have also read a couple of books about addiction. Though I am far from being an expert, and my own addictions are limited to sugar and caffeine, I have learned a lot about how addictive drugs function.

Scientifically, it has not yet been determined whether constant technology use creates a chemical dependency in the brain that convinces the person they must have it to survive like highly addictive drugs. However, if you Google ‘technology addiction’ you will find lots of anecdotal stories about people who act as if they are addicted to their iPhones—they can’t put them down. In fact, several people have been so disconnected from their immediate surroundings that they have been hit by cars or trains while focused on their devices.

“It amazes me sometimes that humans still exist. We’re just animals, after all. And how can an animal get so removed from nature that it loses the instinct to keep itself alive?” Clean, Amy Reed

In a recent Outside Magazine article, “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning,” Florence Williams describes the effects of too much technology this way:

“According to Nicholas Carr’s 2010 book The Shallows, the average American spends at least eight hours a day looking at some sort of electronic screen. Then we try to relax by watching TV. Bad idea. Research shows that this only makes us crabbier. Logan asserts that, since the age of the Internet, North Americans have become more aggressive, more narcissistic, more distracted, more depressed, and less cognitively nimble. Oh yeah, and fatter.”

Williams’ article describes scientific research underway in Japan to determine the effects of nature on the human brain and body. Preliminary results suggest that spending time in natural environments reduces blood pressure and increases natural killer immune cells that attack tumors. Williams goes as far as to suggest that spending time in nature might reduce your chances of developing cancer. While the research is not yet definitive, there is a growing body of evidence that practices such as the ‘forest bathing’ described in the article have beneficial effects.

If you think you are addicted to technology (or getting there), you might want to read the article “Get Your Mind Dirty,” by Richard Louv. Louv is the author of Last Child in the Woods and The Nature Principle, and he is known for coining the term nature-deficit disorder. This is not a clinical term but a descriptive one, suggesting that too little time in nature causes us to become irritable, frustrated, and less able to cope with stress.

The more high-tech our lives become, the more nature we need.” Richard Louv

Though the terms ‘ecopsychology’ and ‘ecotherapy’ are relatively new, the concepts are ancient. From the Tao Te Ching to the Holy Bible, and in thousands of books since then, the power of nature to heal has been a recurring theme. The only reason it has yet to be scientifically proven beyond a shadow of a doubt is that until recently we have been unable to measure its effects on the brain, the nervous system, and other body functions. But will scientific proof change our behavior?

Intuitively, we all know that putting down our cell phones periodically and getting out in nature will help us relax and think more clearly. We know that playing a game with our kids or having a real, face-to-face conversation with someone we love will improve our relationships. So why don’t we do it?

The five colors blind the eye.
The five tones deafen the ear.
The five flavors dull the taste.
Racing and hunting madden the mind.
Precious things lead one astray.

Therefore the sage is guided by what
he feels and not by what he sees.
He lets go of that and chooses this.”
  Chapter 12, Tao Te Ching

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Liebster Blog Nominees

Last week Kat who writes Travel.Garden.Eat nominated Backpacking Kids as a Liebster Blog. I didn’t know what “liebster” meant at the time, but I have since learned that it comes from a German word meaning “dearest.” I know there are a LOT of blogs out there, and new ones starting every day. Sometimes is it hard to stay motivated to write when you think about the “competition” out there for our attention. So I am grateful to Kat for her kind comments and recognition.

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The Liebster Blog award is for blogs with fewer than 200 followers. Here are the rules for the award:

  • Link back to the blogger who gave you this award
  • Post the award to your blog
  • Answer the 11 questions asked of you.
  • Nominate 11 people you think deserve the award and link to them from your post.
  • Go to their pages and tell them they have been chosen (no tag backs).

I have already responded to the first three items in the list above (see post It’s a Major Award). So now I need to follow through with the last two items, nominating other blogs and letting them know about the award.

Though there are many blogs I follow that deserve recognition, I tried to choose those I enjoy that appear to have fewer followers. In some cases, I am not certain that they meet the fewer than 200 criteria, as numbers of followers are not listed on all blogs. So without further delay, here are my nominees:

  • No I Will Not Carry That Rock, Alisa writes entertaining stories of her adventures with and without her children. This is also my favorite title of any blog. If you have ever hiked or backpacked with kids, you know exactly why it is so funny—and so true!
  • Virtually Nomadic, Cathy writes of her travels across the U.S., and takes beautiful and inspiring photographs. I want to be like her when I grow up.
  • Backpacking with Boo, Birch writes about hiking and backpacking with her toddler, Boo. I love how Boo’s personality really comes across on this blog.
  • Outtherekids, This blog is inspiring because the trips they take are more diverse and seem more exotic than the trips I take with my kids here in CO. I love reading about all the places they go and dreaming of going there myself one day.
  • Bearpacking, This is a very honest, to the point blog by a young man who likes his gear. Since I have to buy gear for three spending as little as possible, I often get my gear fix vicariously through him.
  • Proactive Outside, This blog wins my vote for the best tagline of any blog, “Because life is too short to be an indoor cat.” Awesome, isn’t it? Wish I had thought of that! Don’t miss Bob’s inspirational post about his brother, Remembering Mike.

OK, so I only came up with six nominees instead of 11. That’s just because I don’t have as much time as I would like to discover new blogs, and many of the ones I read clearly have a larger following. Also, Kat already nominated a couple of others I would have nominated!

For the nominees, here are the 11 questions to answer about yourself:

  • What is your dream vacation?
  • Where do you plan to travel in 2013?
  • What is your favorite piece of outdoor gear?
  • Why do you blog?
  • What is your favorite movie, book?
  • What do you do for a living?
  • What is on your favorite coffee mug?
  • What is one of your favorite quotes?
  • What is your favorite trail/backpacking recipe (in full or via link)?
  • If you could invite anyone to join you for dinner — fictional or real, from the past or the present — who would you invite and why?
  • What is your favorite blog post — from your blog?

Thank you for enriching my life, Liebster Blog nominees. Please keep writing!

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Car Camping Compromise

New head lampI was planning a short backpacking trip for the weekend after Thanksgiving when I realized that the annual “Catch the Glow” Christmas parade was scheduled for that Friday, and the 4th of July fireworks that were postponed due to high fire danger last summer were scheduled for Saturday night. Knowing that my kids would not want to miss those events, I came up with a compromise that made everyone happy.

IMG_0500Instead of backpacking, we camped in Rocky Mountain National Park at Moraine Park Campground and drove back into town for both the parade and the fireworks. We were able to spend two nights in our tent (my kids’ favorite part of backpacking, I think), roast marshmallows over a campfire, take a nice hike up the Lawn Lake Trail, and still see the parade and the best fireworks show ever (according to my son).

IMG_0508Saturday night we warmed left-over Thanksgiving turkey, green beans, and parsnips in tin foil over the fire. The moisture from the beans and parsnips made the turkey nice and juicy. It was wonderful camp food! But just a couple of miles from the campground, the Fern Lake Fire was burning. We could see the smoke in the steep valley across the wide, flat valley. It made me extra vigilant about putting out the campfire.

IMG_0507After dinner we went to town for the fireworks. There were so few people around that I thought perhaps we had the wrong night. But then I saw a small crowd forming in an area that us usually too packed for us to even get close to, so I pulled in there and we set up for the show. It was definitely the closest we’ve ever been, and the fireworks were spectacular. (Sorry, I have no fireworks pictures!)

But before the show was over, chatter started on my husband’s fire radio. Small fires were starting on the other side of the lake due to embers from the fireworks. Firefighters were on patrolling and were stomping out the fires. But the fire chief stopped the fireworks, and they ended with a whimper rather than with the usual loud grand finale.

Still, it was a great weekend. Sometimes you need to give up what you really want to do (in this case, backpacking) and make a compromise for your kids. There are so many ways to enjoy the outdoors. You don’t have to be hardcore. Doing “kid” things like watching parades and fireworks can make you feel young again, fill you with a sense of wonder and excitement. Or at the very least, make you smile as you watch the joy on your kids’ faces.

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Footnote: The Fern Lake Fire has been burning for two months. The park service let it burn because it was in steep terrain with many dead trees due to pine beetles. Though the campground had been evacuated initially, it had been open for several weeks when we visited. Little did we know it would be evacuated again in less than a week as the fire suddenly gained new ground.

Moraine Park burning

The wildfire suddenly doubled last Friday night, burning up the moraine but sparing the campground itself (so far). Firefighters (including my husband who took the picture above) back-burned some areas and patrolled the road just to the south of the campground to keep the fire from crossing. They also evacuated more than 500 people from homes, businesses, and a large YMCA campus, and kept the fire from spreading outside the park boundary. It is hoped that most of the evacuees will be able to return home this week.

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It’s a Major Award!

To my surprise, Kat who writes Travel.Garden.Eat and includes absolutely fabulous pictures in her posts, has nominated Backpacking Kids as a Liebster Blog. I’m not exactly sure what “Liebster” means, but I am honored that Kat finds my effort so far worthy of mention. Thank you, Kat! (And yes, the title of this post is an intentional reference to the movie, A Christmas Story, since it is that time of year.)

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To keep the fun going, I am supposed to answer 11 questions Kat posted on her blog, and then choose 11 other blogs to nominate and post 11 questions of my own for those bloggers to answer. It may take me some time to do the other steps since I need to choose blogs with under 200 followers for this award, so I will post my nominees and my questions for them in a separate post later this week. In the meantime, here are my answers to Kat’s 11 questions:

  • A place you have never traveled to that is on your travel bucket list? Alaska. I have wanted to travel to Alaska since reading James Michener’s novel on Alaska in college. I actually planned a trip there once, but my boyfriend at the time who was planning to go with me broke his ankle shortly before the trip. I still have all of the materials (maps, itinerary, etc.) from that trip in a shoe box in my closet. Perhaps one day I will re-use them. It was a great trip plan!
  • Book you are currently reading? I just picked up The Secret Life of Bees from the library yesterday. Looking forward to it!
  • Have you ever bungee-jumped? No, and I have no desire to do that or sky-dive. I once watched a boyfriend sky dive and his parachute did not open as quickly as I expected. Apparently he had to spin around a bit to untangle it. It was scary to watch from the ground. I like being up high on a mountain, but I like to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground. I don’t like flying.
  • Morning bird or night owl? Morning bird, definitely. I am usually up by 5:30 or 6 am, usually in bed by 9:30 or 10 (unless I am reading a really good book!)
  • How long have you been blogging? I have blogged (is that a word?) a bit off and on. I had a blog at my previous place of employment a few years ago, and a write a blog currently for my husband’s software company. But Backpacking Kids is my first blog for fun. I just started it about three months ago.
  • Which movie can you watch again and again? The Matrix and Star Wars
  • One of your favorite quotes? “Happiness is not in our circumstance but in ourselves. It is not something we see, like a rainbow, or feel, like the heat of a fire. Happiness is something we are.” John B. Sheerin
  • Your favorite recipe (in full or via link)? Polish Sausage Soup. My mom made this in the winter while I was growing up. It was always a favorite, and my kids and husband love it too. I often can’t wait until winter to make it. Maybe that is one of the reasons I live in CO…I can make this as early as September/October and as late as April!
Polish Sausage Soup
2 Tbsp. butter or olive oil
1 lb. polish sausage (I often use 1 1/2 or 2 lbs!)
1 c. onion, chopped
2 c. celery with leaves, chopped
4 c. cabbage, shredded
2 c. carrots, sliced
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp. thyme
2 Tbsp. vinegar
1 Tbsp. salt (optional)
1 1/2 c. beef stock
5 c. water
3 c. potatoes, cubedIn a large kettle, add sausage, onions and celery. Cook until onions and celery are tender. Add remaining ingredients except potatoes. Cover and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Add potatoes and simmer 20 more minutes, covered. Soup is very good the first day, and even better left over!

  • Pet peeve? My husband leaves every cabinet open in the kitchen and many times leaves things out on the counter (milk, half & half, etc.). I can always tell what he had to eat! Unfortunately, my son is starting to follow in his footsteps with this–I’m trying to nip it in the bud. It drives me nuts!
  • If you could invite anyone to join you for dinner — fictional or real, from the past or the present — who would you invite? My mom and dad. They live in Florida (where I grew up), and I miss them very much. I wish they lived in CO, but I just can’t bring myself to leave the mountains. Can’t wait to see them at Christmas!
  • Your favorite blog post — from your blog! My favorite blog post from my blog is I Walk Slow. It really gets to the whole reason I started this blog, to encourage parents to spend more time with their children outdoors. Hiking, backpacking, and other outdoor activities take some planning, and parents often have to be patient with children as their skills and willingness to participate slowly build. But it is so very worth it!
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