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I’m hosting a book giveaway contest at my author blog, annkroeker.com.

You get to help name the boy!

Check out contest headquarters HERE.

This opinion piece in The New York Times describes Detroit’s potential to transform its deserted, motor-free streets into a bicycle utopia. Wouldn’t that be an interesting evolution? It may qualify as situational irony if “Motor City” would turn into a place known for being “Pedal Powered.”

Our area is gradually becoming more bicycle friendly. We have a few more bike paths than we used to, and I’ve even spotted an occasional bike lane. That’s great progress, and I’d like to see more intentional steps toward accepting, even encouraging and embracing, bikes as a viable transportation option.

We’re trying to use our own bikes more and more. We’re wimpy enough that a little bad weather discourages our efforts and we end up back in the minivan again, but on pretty days we’ve traveled on bike to the library, Goodwill, Target, Barnes & Noble, an outdoor shopping mall, Officemax, the grocery store, Whole Foods, and the farmer’s market. We’re conveniently located close to a long bike path that provides a safe and direct line to some interesting destinations. The kids frequently request a trip to an ice cream shop situated right next to the path.

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Bikes are something to experiment with, if you’re trying to slow down. It takes some planning ahead to allow enough time for a bike trip that would normally be taken by car. If you start to bike to stores, you’ll also want to experiment with how to carry the stuff.

You can’t tell in this photo, but I have a basket attached to the front of my bike that can handle small packages. For slightly bigger stuff, I use a back pack. The photo does show that for large purchases—or in this case plentiful donations—I pack a lot of bags into a pull-behind Burley trailer.

It all works pretty well for me.

In the summertime.

I know the bicycle won’t work for everyone in every setting, but I nevertheless pose these questions (to myself as well as readers):

  • Can we slow down enough to turn to bicycles as a regular or even primary form of transportation?
    I’m trying to incorporate it into my life more and more, as are the kids, but we still rely on the minivan for most outings.
  • And can we commit to it in all kinds of weather?
    Personally, I’m a bit of a wimp. When it turns cold, I resist getting out there on the bike. The kids, however, are bolder. In fact, I’m happy to report that while I was composing this very post, two of my kids came in and asked if they could ride bikes through the neighborhood. The weather today: cool and rainy.

Learn more about The Slow Bicycle Movement (founded in Copenhagen) HERE and on Facebook. They say:

Only decades ago the bicycle was considered a normal way to get around. It still is in Denmark, Holland, Japan and many European cities but returning the bicycle to its rightful place as a feasible transport option in the rest of the world is a noble goal.

The time is ripe for Slow Bicycle … We figure the Slow Bicycle Movement is all about the journey, not the destination … It’s about riding your bicycle. To work, to play. Casually, in a relaxed manner. With time to enjoy the self-propelled movement that you and you alone generate. And, of course, to look around and see the landscape – urban or not – that you pass by at your leisurely pace.

It’s time to take cycling back and place it firmly in the category “normal way to get to work, to the shops, to the cinema”. Indeed, “normal things to do”. This is for those who enjoy the ride.

The Slow Bicycle Movement is a celebration of the bicycle. Not as a speed machine or a tool for tribal membership but merely as an enjoyable way to get around.

To inspire and amuse you, I found a charming little homemade YouTube video—for background music, they use a song by Yves Montand called “A Bicyclette” that makes me want to hop on my bike and take off toting a picnic blanket, some boursin and a baguette.

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If you have five minutes, take time to watch a segment on “Slow Parenting” that aired on The Today Show a couple of months ago. They touch on some of the topics I explore in the pages of Not So Fast.

To view, CLICK HERE

(photo credit: Kuba Rola, stock.xchng)

I can’t let too much time go by on the NotSoFastBook.com blog without letting Simon & Garfunkel remind us all to slow down and relax.

If you haven’t heard this song for a while, it’ll stick in your head. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

[Updated: I accidentally posted old videos that were no longer active–now updated and ready to view]

I like this first version, except the intense red lighting doesn’t really fit the mood or theme of the song. But, hey, it was 1967, and everyone was so laid back, so groovy, that I suppose nobody was thinking much about the lighting.

And here they are much later, as groovy as ever.

Tomorrow morning at breakfast, I dare you not to start humming this.

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David C. Cook Publishing made sure I received a copy of my very own to have, hold, hug, smell, flip through, gape at, and blog about.

The official release date is just a few days away: August 1st.

Ask your local bookstore to bring it in for you!

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Get to know Ann Kroeker better at annkroeker.com

feetinstream

The other day, a friend was bringing over her son (almost 9) and daughter (almost 12) to swim at our neighborhood pool.

But the weather was on the cool side—cool enough for long sleeves or even a sweater in the shade. The sky was a bit cloudy, too, so there wasn’t enough sun to warm us up.

“My kids won’t last long at a pool in this weather,” she said. “Would you like to come over here, or meet somewhere else?”

One of my kids overheard the conversation and called out, “How about the park?”

So we packed up some lunches and met at a woodsy park with a creek running through it.

We arrived, enjoyed lunch, then headed down a path to the creek.

Within seconds, everyone but my friend’s daughter had kicked off their shoes to wade. They spotted a line of rocks and wondered if they could add enough to dam up that spot. For the next half-hour or so, they worked together to build up the “dam,” and then started walking farther downstream.

Eventually, even the daughter headed down to join them. The whole crew invented games with mud and clay from the bottom of the creek and played with sticks.

My friend and I sat on a bench swing that had been installed by the water’s edge, watching while talking.

When we had to leave, I drove home thinking about the afternoon, the creek, the imagination, the activity and play. We enjoy going to our neighborhood pool—it’s a great way for the kids to cool off in hot weather and get great exercise. They meet up with friends and play Marco Polo and dive for pennies. A day at the pool with our friends would have been perfectly lovely.

But the day at the park was something more. We all—kids and adults alike—could use a few afternoons walking under a thick canopy of deep-green leaves, settling by a creek, wading, even building something out of rocks. In another part of the park, maybe they would have constructed a fort out of branches, logs, and sticks. Days like those, in a natural, outdoor setting working with basic, natural materials, feed something inside of me. Judging from the breathless reports coming to us from the creek, the relaxed grins, and the requests to return to the park, I think days like those feed something in the kids, as well.

I appreciated a story I read online in a Madison (WI) paper, talking about getting kids out in nature.

At a children’s park in the city, the author said the kids she took to play had spotted a pile of dead branches with a hand-lettered sign sticking out: “These materials may be used in the park for forts and other structures.” The kids went wild with delight, dragging the branches around to construct a giant teepee-like structure.

The article quotes psychologist Katie Watermolen: “Nature stimulates that sense of wonder. …When kids are outside, they are less anxious, more creative, more relaxed. All that leads to improved mental health.”

Surely great news like that has lots of people outside wading in creeks and constructing forts out of branches, right?

Sam Dennis, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, reports that “free play in nature is a vanishing pastime, even in nature-friendly Madison.”

“Nationally,” he said, “we’re finding that most kids spend their free time indoors. And when they are outside, very often they are tied up in some structured activity.”

Soccer. Swimming. Baseball. Football. These activities get kids outdoors in a healthy, team-building activity—they can be very good things. But after those hours of physical exertion outdoors training for a team sport, parents and kids are both tired and ready to head home. Thus, structured activities often replace outside free play.

When do kids get creative and invent? When are they free from step-by-step instructions from adults? Where do they go to dig in the dirt or even just walk through a natural setting and make their own observations? When do they make up their own ideas for play?

Jill Steinberg, who teaches a popular class on play in the UW’s Human Development and Family Studies program, said: “True play doesn’t have a goal … Children choose freely. They can set a goal if they want to, but they don’t have to.” The article adds this:

A 2007 report released by the American Academy of Pediatrics says free and unstructured play is healthy and, in fact, essential for helping children reach important social, emotional and cognitive developmental milestones as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.

Also, these thoughts from Richard Louv, author of Last Child in the Woods:

“A kid today can likely tell you about the Amazon rain forest — but not about the last time he or she explored the woods in solitude, or lay in a field listening to the wind,” writes Louv. “Yet, at the very moment that the bond is breaking between the young and the natural world, a growing body of research links our mental, physical, and spiritual health directly to our association with nature — in positive ways.”

The article touched on parental fears that keep kids inside (fear of the unknown, fear of abductions or stranger interactions, fear of the kids getting hurt). Kids, through parents, can develop anxiety about nature that keeps them inside where life is stranger-free, bug-free, mud-free, and relatively scratch-free. Some of these fears are founded on very real situations and experiences; others are irrational fears. The article only touches on this; other articles, books and Web sites deal with this angle in detail.

Overall, this article provided a thorough discussion of getting kids to rediscover the great outdoors, touching on a lot of the issues that come up when discussing free play outside in nature. I recommend it … and more importantly, I recommend taking kids to a park for an afternoon in a creek.

http://www.madison.com/tct/news/stories/456757

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Someone made a music video for “Slow Down,” by Christian rock band Third Day.

The song is a prayer, with the singer asking (I’m paraphrasing), “God, tell me to slow down if You know that the road I’m on is going nowhere, if I’m going too fast for my own good, or if the way I’m on is leading to a dead-end.”

The song expresses in the chorus how hard it is to change, how we don’t want to slow down or even look around.

So it asks for the Lord’s help:

Help me, God.

Help me to slow down.

Complete lyrics to “Slow Down” available at this link.

I just realized that the entire “Consuming Kids: The Commercialization of Childhood” documentary I mentioned the other day (I posted the trailer) can be viewed on YouTube in 10-minute segments.

Most kids’ childhoods are saturated in corporate marketing specifically targeted to their particular life stage and interests. The onslaught of messages accelerates kids’ spending, turning them into temporarily satisfied—or, rather, perpetually discontented—consumers. In the process, researchers and doctors are seeing health problems abound and the se^u*aliz^tion (I’m using symbols for letters to discourage unwanted spam) of young girls speed up as questionable values are promoted.

Watch.

Decide for yourself if there are action points you want to take.

You may not agree with the analysis provided by the counselors, doctors, and spokespeople from not-for-profit family organizations who explain their concerns in the film.

But at least it may generate some healthy discussion among family members.

Consider how to slow down childhood in a commercialized culture.

Part 1: Children’s own personal purchasing power totaling $40 billion/year and children’s purchasing influence of $700 billion/year motivate corporations to aggressively market specifically to kids, encouraging the “nag factor” and convincing kids that life is about buying and getting.

Part 2: 1980s government deregulation freed up companies to create television programs and movies specifically to sell products like junk food, toys, bed linens, backpacks, and clothing that reinforce the characters in the programs; also, kids ignore product placement, not realizing how they’re being influenced.

Part 3: Marketing is much more than commercials—now in schools, on cell phones and on Internet, micro-targeting kids by following preferences. Also, marketers use research to get inside the minds of kids to discover their preferences.

Part 4: The study of kids using tools such as MRIs and blink tests to determine response to ad stimulus, discovering precise combination of shapes, characters, color, etc. It’s not just products being marketed, but values. Also, age compression (kids getting/growing older faster).

Part 5: (disclaimer/warning: clips in this segment illustrating a sampling of the violent images geared toward kids–especially toward boys–are disturbing, though common enough you might not be shocked; also, a clip from a PG-13 movie shows a raunchy stand-up comedy routine) This segment covers a lot of ground, including the trend of accelerating learning with “good” media.

Part 6: Some of this segment deals with creative flee play (marketing says to kids that their imagination is not good enough and essentially takes play out of children’s hands); also, research suggests that increased media input in kids correlates with increase in psychological and physical problems.

Part 7:  In the future, what’s the role of government/FTC? It is the parents’ responsibility to choose what children watch, eat, and buy, but parents are up against a multi-billion-dollar industry specifically targeting their kids. Should a policy be in place to protect children when the marketplace doesn’t?

Extra Feature: What Parents Can Do

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enterkeysmall

[T]ake note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen,

slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:19).

Twitter, Facebook, blogging, e-mail, texting, and IMing all provide super-fast ways to communicate. I’m trying to figure them all out. Slowly.

Their advantages are many. I’ve discovered that they can allow us to follow responses to a live event in pretty much real time, keep us connected, and point us to great resources. They encourage spontaneity, while training us to be brief and relevant. I’ve seen many positive uses so far.

But I’ve also seen how they can also tempt us to be slow to listen, quick to speak and quick to become angry—the exact opposite of what we read in James.

People tap out angry or insulting tweets or Facebook updates without thinking through the tone or consequences before publishing. Rants are rampant and snarky responses abound.

The strength of these forms of communication is their immediacy. But immediacy doesn’t build in adequate time for the slow reflection that enhances meaningful communication. In fact, the immediacy of Twitter or Facebook doesn’t even build in time for basic editing; so often I’ve been aggravated with myself for misspellings or even missing words in my tweets.

So as I explore and enjoy these communication tools, I have to remind myself to go slow; to tap on the mental brakes long enough to think through my words and ideas—and consider how they might be received.

How can I slow it all down?

  1. I’ve prayed that the Lord would warn me when I need to edit myself or delete something inappropriate. More than once I’ve sensed a small warning—kind of an internal niggle or red flag—that caused me to hesitate before clicking “send,” “update” or “publish.” In those instances, I rewrote or deleted that particular post.
  2. Something as simple as setting a timer for a minimum of one-minute after composing a thought (before publishing or going live) builds in some cushion to think it through. One minute feels like an eternity in Twitter-time, but isn’t that long in actuality.
  3. Set a limit for the number of Facebook or Twitter updates per day or the number of minutes spent on those sites.
  4. Schedule certain times of day to be on certain sites instead of popping in and out throughout the day—the quick checks get me in a quick mood for quick words that may not be fully thought through.
  5. Spend time in devotions, prayer, Bible reading, Bible study, etc., before starting to Twitter, blog, etc. Spending time with the Lord resets my mind and sets a healthier tone for all interactions, online or off.

I want to listen carefully, monitor my emotions, and slow down my “speaking,” whether in person, on the phone, or typed out via these high-tech platforms. For the person steeped in social networking, the verse from James might read something like this:

Everyone should be quick to read, slow to tweet, and slow to rant and rave.

photo credit: Janusz Hylinski, via stock.xchng

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The world is pushing our kids to grow up fast in so many ways.

One way is through marketers developing in kids a lifelong pattern of discontentment and product-desire. They’re creating consumers, trying to get kids to start spending as early in life and as often as possible.

They’re speeding up spending.

Cradle-to-grave brand loyalty is a goal of many companies that discover ways to expose infants to their brand so that its images become ingrained in their earliest memories.

Those infants turn into consumer-oriented toddlers and preschoolers capable of nagging the caregiver who has the purchasing power to buy what the kids want.

Eventually those children grow up eager to spend their hefty tween and teen allowances and gift cards, and marketers focus intense efforts on how to reach kids at each of those stages.

I do want to take a minute here to defend certain companies within that industry, however, because a close relative of mine works in advertising. Through him and even through writing projects that I myself have done, I know that there are fine firms and individuals who seek to support their clients with the integrity of honest messaging.

But there are others.

This 5-and-a-half-minute trailer for a new documentary called “Consuming Kids” reveals kid-centric marketing strategies and techniques.

For a chapter called “Slowing Down Spending” in Not So Fast, I read numerous articles and books on consumerism and marketing to kids. In particular, I appreciated the research and insights captured in a book by Susan Linn, which has the same name as the documentary, Consuming Kids.

Also, you may want to explore a website called Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. The articles and links on their resource page are especially helpful for parents wondering how to combat the consumer mindset and raise kids who can resist the lure of advertising and marketing schemes and instead set their minds and hearts on higher, more noble desires than the latest iGadget.

The trailer serves as a sobering reminder to continue talking with our kids about the temptation to continually upgrade vs. the power of gratitude and contentment.

This hits home at this very moment for me.

In spite of our relatively commercial-free lifestyle, my daughter is convinced she needs to upgrade her hand-held gaming device—a device we resisted for years. We eventually let the kids work and save their own money to purchase them. Now she’s wanting to trade in her “old” one for credit and pay the difference with her own money.

And not long ago, I myself was hankering for some kind of portable Internet device like an iPhone, BlackBerry or Palm Pre. I’m not sure how I’ll handle my daughter’s hand-held game, but I managed to resist the iPhone craving.

As we all know, thanks to nonstop marketing efforts, there’s no end to the stuff we could buy.

We must be one of those voices for our children, slowing them down and reminding them—and ourselves—that there is more to life than the next new thing.

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