Monthly Archives: March 2017

Outside Breakfast

By Anna Van Devender

Sunrise

We eat our breakfast outside. Every summer morning around 6:30 my two young boys and I schlep a simple meal to the backyard, pick a place to sit, and celebrate the company of birds, opening blooms, and warming-up cicadas. After eating, the boys zoom around on their bikes or invent games that naturally combine toy cars and the fish pond. I water the butterfly garden, marvel at my kids’ energy, and guide that energy as the need arises.

We live in Tucson, Arizona. For a good three months of the year, the heat is uncomfortable by 8:00, exhausting by 9:00, and dangerous without extra precautions by noon. In prior summers, I felt trapped and defeated by the time it took to start the day with a toddler and preschooler while the slim hours of enjoyable weather baked away. Gardening, breathing fresh air, and simply being present for the sun rising over the mountains are core desires of mine. Feeding the kids, getting them dressed and “ready for the day” are equal needs. The challenge became to allow for both time in nature and time for other needs.

Barefoot gardener

Bare feet are OK in the mottled shadows of early morning. Shoes can wait. A muffin can be savored along with conversations about the clouds. Brushing teeth can wait. PJ pants actually help keep off the mosquitoes. Getting dressed can wait. These are the allowances I made starting last summer and have instilled daily in Summer 2016. Time has passed too. My now 3- and 6-year-olds are not only more capable, but also have come to expect breakfast outside.

Deadlines aren’t out the window. We take our selves and our stuff inside and resume preparations for the rest of the day by 8:00 a.m.. My kids’ behavior and my peace of mind depend on certain routines that some parents may feel more free to ease up on. That outside hour or so first thing, though, has become an important part of the daily routine. It is sometimes the only time outside until we emerge again after supper.

The result? My 3-year-old voluntarily practices the words “dove”, “hawk”, and “woodpecker”. My 6-year-old and I briefly speak the same language while checking on his sunflowers. I get my precious fresh air fix. Then, I can better manage myself and my kids inside during the day. My attention is less split while taking care of them or doing my own work. I still take myself outside for the satisfaction of gardening projects later in the morning, but I allow the kids a choice of whether to join me. Because we all got a good dose of “Vitamin N”, a pressure has been lifted from the rest of the day’s activities.

Modified from an essay submitted to Children & Nature Network in June 2016.  Check out www.childrenandnature.org for lots more Vitamin N resources.

Second Hand Meets Second Nature

I bought the purple paint new. The durable thrift easel became a custom marketing material, combined with the table, fabric, tote, and planting materials I already owned. Thank you, The Canyons at Linda Vista Trail, for the meet-and-greet opportunity!

By Anna Van Devender

Through Nature to You, I teach lessons that help people enjoy the stuff of nature: soft soil, singing birds, tough plants, diverse insects. My plans do require some man-made materials: pots for planting, books for illustrating animals, pens for taking notes, bug houses for engaging kids. Imagine my delight at finding used pots in all sizes on the clearance table at Rillito Nursery! And what satisfaction to find the lizard book on my list at Bookman’s, right where I expected to find it. One of my first Nature to You students inquired about the variety of containers and manipulatives her son was enjoying for their water lesson – all were thrift store finds from a day I had spend supporting 4 different local non-profits.

All these for $7 + a good scrubbing? Yes, please! Better yet, they include several matching pairs good for setting up survival experiments.

Teaching about the desert environment is second nature to me. I confess, so is shopping. It took a while to realize my shopping habit conflicted with my sizable desire to live responsibly. My first change was to buy products not tested on animals – and some of those Junior High-era choices stick today. During a college internship, I learned the concept of local food, a kick I’m still on even if only part time. It wasn’t until planning my wedding and then preparing for my first baby that my love for second-hand shopping took hold. I wanted pretty things for the ceremony. I wanted a well-appointed nursery. I enjoyed the challenge of budgeting both money and material resources. Dream dress at a resale bridal shop? Check. Tiny star-patterned onesies, tough-to-this-day waterproof pads, and treasured toy boats from consignment shops? Check. Getting to shop and reducing reliance on new products and packaging? Double check.

Grab on! This former dog kennel panel now supports snap pea vines in my backyard garden.

When you pick your project at the end of a Nature to You lesson, you play a part in both re-use and re-sale. First, you get to pick whether to use your own stuff or use my supplies. What do you already have that can be re-used? Old pavers for a new path? An old box for a new garden bed? An old fence for a new trellis? Would you like to turn terra cotta pots into ollas, or take-out containers into seed starters?

Second, the materials I have on hand vary monthly depending on what’s growing in my own yard and on my latest re-sale finds. Say we add a pollinator-friendly plant to your own pot or to one I provide at no extra charge. The plant could be sweet allysum today or bluebells in a few weeks, and always something in season. I’ll see if Goodwill still has the colorful set of plastic pots I just spotted if I use up my earth-toned selection soon. Whatever the project, we’ll use what you already have or that which someone else has given a second chance. You get to learn about your backyard environment, improve your use and enjoyment of it, and channel your creativity through intentional re-use.

These pavers change path as my use of the backyard changes. I re-set them last year to lead to propagation pots and raised veggie beds.