Tuesday, December 31, 2013

14 x 14 Reading Challenge in 2014

I love challenges, but it's been awhile since I really took one on.  Then my mother and I were talking about our reading piles for next year, and the idea was born for a 14 x 14 in 2014 challenge.  This is wildly ambitious and might just be impossible (that is 196 books, or about 2 days to read each book, and in 2013 I only read about 85 books), but we are both motivated rather than discouraged by Big Goals.

So the challenge details:

  • Pick 14 categories for your reading
  • Try to read 14 books in each category

The categories I've selected:

  1. Religion and Ethics
  2. Spirituality and Philosophy
  3. Work-Related
  4. Poetry
  5. Self-Improvement
  6. Parenting
  7. Homesteading
  8. Science
  9. History
  10. Literature
  11. Children's Lit
  12. Books Made Into Movies
  13. Recreational Reading
  14. Around the World

And let the reading begin!

Monday, December 30, 2013

2013: A Year in Books

Thanks to Goodreads, it's easier than ever for me to track all the books I read, so this year's Book Post goes like this:
  1.  Revisiting Relational Youth Ministry: From a Strategy of Influence to a Theology of Incarnation by Andrew Root (Theology, Youth Ministry)
  2.  Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein (Children's Lit)
  3. Chaos, Wonder, and the Spiritual Adventure of Parenting: An Anthology, Conover and Springberry, editors (Essays, Parenting)
  4. The Gift of Faith: Tending the Spiritual Lives of Children by Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar (Parenting, Religion)
  5. Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time by Marcus Borg (Religion)
  6. The Dance: Moving to the Rhythms of Your True Self by Oriah (Spirituality, Self-Management/Improvement, Memoir)
  7. Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan (Religion, History)
  8. Introduction to World Religions by Christopher Partridge (Religion)
  9. Sticky Faith: Youth Worker Edition by Kara Powell, Brad M. Griffin, Cheryl Crawford (Youth Ministry)
  10. The Time of Your Life: Self/Time Management for Pastors by Robert Randall (Self-Management/Improvement)
  11. Overdressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion by Elizabeth Cline (Journalistic, Non-Consumerism, Social Commentary)
  12. Help, Thanks, Wow by Anne Lamott (Essays, Memoir, Spirituality)
  13. A Hidden Wholeness by Parker Palmer (Spirituality, Self-Management/Improvement)
  14. Finding Nouf by Zoe Ferraris (Mystery)
  15. The Odyssey adapted by Gillian Cross (Children's Lit)
  16. The City of Ember, The People of Sparks, and The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau (Children's Lit)
  17. Cooked by Michael Pollan (Journalistic, Non-Consumerism, Social Commentary)
  18. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver (literature)
  19. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen (Children's Lit)
  20. Workshops: Designing and Facilitating Experiential Learning by Jeff E. Brooks-Harris (Teaching, Pedagogy)
  21. Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity by Andrew Solomon (Journalistic, Parenting)
  22. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley (mystery)
  23. Behind the Kitchen Door by Sarumathi Jayaramen (Journalistic, Social Commentary)
  24. Reading the Bible Again for the First Time: Taking the Bible Seriously but not Literally by Marcus Borg (Religion)
  25. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs (Book Length Essay)
  26. Justin Morgan Had a Horse by Marguerite Henry (Children's Lit)
  27. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (Literature)
  28. Wonder by R.J. Palacio (Children's Lit)
  29. Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad by Rosemary Sutcliff (Children's Lit)
  30. The Blessing of a Skinned Knee: Using Jewish Teachings to Raise Self-Reliant Children by Wendy Mogel (Religion, Parenting)
  31. Scat by Carl Hiaasen (Children's Lit)
  32. The Sacred Art of Listening by Kay Lindahl (Spirituality)
  33. How Children Succeed by Paul Tough (Journalistic, Pedagogy)
  34. Pastoral Care: An Essential Guide by John Patton (ministry)
  35. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (Journalistic, Social Commentary)
  36. The Borrowers by Mary Norton (Children's Lit)
  37. Talking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in a Digital Age by James P. Steyer (Parenting)
  38. The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (literature)
  39. Alanna, In the Hand of the Goddess, Woman Who Rides Like a Man, and Lioness Rampant by Tamora Pierce (YA Lit)
  40. Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean (Children's Lit)
  41. A Simpler Way by Margaret J. Wheatley (Self-Management/Improvement, Spirituality)
  42. When Women Were Birds by Terry Tempest Williams (memoir)
  43. Mind in the Making: Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs by Ellen Galinsky (Journalistic, Pedagogy)
  44. Theories of Development by William Crain (Pedagogy)
  45. Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now by Douglas Rushkoff (Journalistic, Book-Length Essay, Social Commentary)
  46. Matilda by Roald Dahl (Children's Lit)
  47. Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying by Emily Bazelon (Journalistic, Social Commentary)
  48. Chomp by Carl Hiaasen (Children's Lit)
  49. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg (Journalistic, Science)
  50. Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl by Susan Campbell (Religion, memoir)
  51. The Dirty Life: On Farming, Food, and Love by Kristin Kimball (memoir)
  52. Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other by Sherry Turkle (Journalistic, Social Commentary)
  53. God Believes in Love by Gene Robinson (Religion)
  54. We Have Been Believers by James H. Evans, Jr. (theology)
  55. Process Relational Philosophy: An Introduction to Alfred North Whitehead by C. Robert Mesle (theology)
  56. What Americans Really Believe by Rodney Stark (religion)
  57. Varieties of African American Religious Experience by Anthony Pinn (Religion, Theology)
  58. The Minimalist Vision of Transcendence by Jerome Stone (theology)
  59. Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl (Children's Lit)
  60. A Feminist Ethic of Risk by Sharon Welch (theology)
  61. Proverbs of Ashes by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker (theology)
  62. Religious Naturalism Today by Jerome Stone (theology)
  63. Making a Way Out of No Way: A Womanist Theology by Monica Coleman (theology)
  64. Reason and Reverence by William R. Murry (Theology)
  65. Making the Manifesto by William Schulz (history, theology)
  66. Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season by Gary D. Schmidt (editor) (spirituality, essays)
  67. On Religion by Schleiermacher (Religion, theology)
  68. D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths (Children's Lit)
  69. Everyday Spiritual Practice by Scott Alexander (editor) (spirituality, essays)
  70. Faithiest by Chris Stedman (religion, memoir)
  71. Faith Without Certainty by Paul Rasor (theology)
  72. The Eyre Affair by Jaspar Fforde (mystery)
  73. The Essex Conversations (pedagogy, religion)
  74. The World's Religions by Huston Smith (religion)
  75. Youth Ministry 3.0 by Mark Oestreicher (youth ministry)
  76. Getting to Calm by Laura Kastner (parenting)
  77. Letting Go by Roy D. Phillips (Ministry)
  78. Replenish by Lisa Grace Byrne

Sunday, December 29, 2013

How the Walking is Going

So you might remember that I (without really meaning to) laid down a new walking challenge for the kids.  The original threat intent was to hike Every Day.

Every Day is not possible, sadly.  There are so many days that are already overfull with Stuff To Do, or days when Someone Is Sick, or days when The Weather Sucks.

But we have managed to do at least one hike a week, and it's been good.

There has been a simple walk around the lake, with a quick sighting of an invasive species, the nutria:


And a quick hike on a loop trail in the city that provokes the question "what is that stuff growing on these sticks?" (really, if you know please tell me!)


There have been extremely cold hikes where we had to walk fast just to keep warm.


And hikes where a sign at the trailhead warning of a cougar sighting spooked my daughter out and made her jump at every rustling fern the whole way.

There have been many opportunities to learn more about our local ecosystems and do some nature study.


We even managed to do one of our hikes so quietly that a pileated woodpecker flew right up to us before it saw us and swerved.  The loud beats of its wings were startling in the quiet forest.


And the kids are impressing me.  They really didn't want to do this, and they were not good walkers.  Now, they have both developed better attitudes about it, become more interested in what there is to be seen along the way, and have better stamina.  This time together can be a great chance to talk, hold hands, indulge in imaginative storytelling about the landscape around us, and just be present to our own bodies and the nature around us without the distractions of toys, entertainment, books, etc or the self-consciousness that comes from being in society.


Walking is one of my new favorite things!

Friday, December 27, 2013

Winter Break Time

I wasn't planning on really taking a Winter Break in our little home school (we school year round, and take breaks that are convenient to us - such as when I am away at a conference for a week), BUT ... we were all pretty tired and the kids wanted a break so much I decided to go ahead and relax.


So we had a bit of time to add a personal touch to Christmas.  Cookie Cutter Gift Tags and Kid-Made Napkins and Napkin Rings.


I also had to create some time without kids around to finish up sewing new pajamas for each of them for Christmas.


And now, a week and a half more of break.  Time for me to plan the next few months in our homeschool.  (I can only plan two months at time or we get too far off the plan.  I don't know how folks do it who plan a Whole Year at once!)

A bit of down time will be good for us. (I'm also taking vacation time from work, so it's Really down time!)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Some more critters for us!


Christmas came early for my kids and two lucky critters rescued from the animal shelter.  My mom knew the kids were wanting a guinea pig and a rabbit, and then she got a message from her local animal shelter that they had maxed out capacity on small animals.  Each pet came with a cage, and she delivered them as an early surprise.

Meet OMSI (named after the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry) the guinea pig and Quicksand the rabbit.


We got books from the library on their care, and both kids are studying up on how to be good pet owners!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Museum Fun

Last weekend we took the train down to Portland, walked miles and miles, and spent a day loving the museums.

The Oregon Museum of Science and Industry is big fun.  We were in there for 3 1/2 hours and still had to pull the kids away when it was lunch time.  They could have spent all day exploring and doing the puzzles that are set up all over the museum.  I was really impressed with the "labs", areas where you could actually have a kid or a group of kids work through some hands on experiments - not just push buttons and watch stimulations but actually DO some science.

The Portland Art Museum was a surprisingly big hit with the kids.  My daughter especially was enraptured and inspired by all the art she saw.

I had a pad of lined paper in my purse, which she asked to draw on, but it would have been great if we had thought to bring her sketch book with us.  Next time.

Friday, December 13, 2013

taking a little break in our homeschool


In order to make holiday gifts and do some crafting!



Yet another reason I am grateful for a flexible schedule, and the ability to change our lifestyle as the seasons change.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Replenish and The Dance

In my quest to practice better self-care, I have just read two very different books on the subject of self-care for women:


Replenish by Lisa Grace Byrne is a practical step-by-step explanation of what the author calls the 7 Habits of Self-Care (Calm Mind, Sovereign Thoughts, Nourished Body, Restorative Rest, Joyful Movement, Anchored Quiet, and Authentic Connections).  Byrne's voice is very "motivational speaker"-ish, but in the good way - I think she would be a good motivational speaker and would get everyone pepped up about going home and taking better care of themselves.

One metaphor she uses that really struck me was to envision yourself as a children's wading pool, rather than a well.  To keep the water in the wading pool, you need at least one garden hose putting water in it.  Or, if you aren't getting enough water from that one source you could have several hoses, each just dripping in.  The water-level in your pool would stay steady, as long as it was getting at least some input from those hoses.  I like this because it takes away the idea of "deep-well-springs" that you are supposed to just possess, which always makes me feel bad when I feel all used up.


Oriah brings a very different voice to The Dance.  Rather than being a motivational-speaker or coach, she is a poet, asking more questions than she gives answers.  Throughout this conversational, personal, and melodic book she challenges the reader (and herself) to accept who you really are and engage with that self.

"What if the question is not why I am so infrequently the person I really want to be, but why do I so infrequently want to be the person I really am?"

Indeed - what if that is the question?  A provoking question that I would like the answer to!

"When we avoid the emptiness, when we fill the stillness with too much doing, we are often trying to outrun our sometimes unconscious conviction that who we are will never be enough.  The things we try to hang on to - our work, our relationships, our reputation and perspective - are the things we believe will make us worthy of life and love even though we fear we are basically and inherently flawed.  If we can simply be with the fear that we are not enough, and with the vastness of what we do not know, we discover an emptiness that is not our failure but is the very source of the fullness of who and what we are.  We discover that who we really are - compassionate, gentle beings capable of being with every moment - has always been enough. 

Simple.  But not easy."

Yes, decidedly not easy!

An interesting pairing, which I did not design ahead of time, but I liked the conversation these two authors had in my head this week.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

A new walking challenge


On Friday, as is our custom when we are home for the Thanksgiving holiday, we went on a family hike.  Not a big one - most of the really cool trails are already under snow and my kids are woefully lacking in proper gear right now - but still enough of an outdoor experience to refresh us after eating too much good food on Thursday.

It should have been no big deal: a nice wide graveled path, less than one mile round trip, with a scenic goal and a nice place to mess about before making the climb back up.  But it, apparently, was a big deal to my daughter, who was so distraught about walking she pitched a fit on the trail on the climb back up.

That hit some kind of crazy trigger for me, and I did what a parent needs to be careful about.  I Laid Down the Law.  "If you can't handle a small hike we are going to have to Hike Every Day.   STOP FUSSING."

Later, at lunch, she said (loudly, in a restaurant, earning me Mother-Of-the-Year in most of the patrons eyes, no doubt) "The only thing that would get me going is Mommy threatening me."

These are my cardinal parenting rules:

1.  Pick Your Battles.  (In other words, is this really important or not?  Think it through - don't make everything a battle of the wills.  Cooperate, delegate, vote, listen, negotiate, be flexible.)

2.  But Always Win.  (As a parent, you still need to maintain your authority.  Don't give the kids authority over you. Maybe it's a Win-Win, but just don't Lose your position as the Parent.  That's your job, to be the Parent.)

3.  Don't Go Back On Your Word.  (Sure, if you've really made a mistake, call a family meeting and admit your mistake and negotiate a change.  But never make an idle threat - never say something and then just pretend you didn't say it.)


I said it.  And we're living with it.


The next day we were back from the holiday, and we went on a short scenic walk in town.  And we made a goal: we are going to try and walk every day until we have logged 100 miles.

It will be good for us.  There are worse things to have lost my Mommy cool over.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

What I'm Grateful For

(Feeling grateful even for small harvests)

This month my Facebook newsfeed has been full of people posting their 30 Days of Gratitude.  I blogged my 30 Days of Gratitude last year.  But this year, I decided not to participate.

It's not that I'm against feeling grateful.  I'm not ... we should reflect on what we are grateful for and as a mindfulness practice I find it very helpful.  I think we should pause to note the abundance that we already have, especially in the season of harvest and before we hit Consumer-Christmas.

But, at the same time, the public naming of gratitude has a bit of the image-crafting problems that Facebook has brought into our online culture.  Although I'm sure folks are usually just being genuine with their gratitude, the over-all effect of everyone listing all the things they are grateful for is ... a bit braggy.  A bit off-putting.

Maybe it's just that, as Americans, we can turn even the 30 Days of Gratitude into a competition.

I found this quote in a book I'm reading right now:

If we only wanted to be happy, it would be easy: but we want to be happier than other people, which is almost always difficult, since we think them happier than they are.

--Charles de Montesquieu

When we edit our lives to highlight the best parts, we are projecting a fake life for all to see and admire.  It's something most people do all the time, and I do not believe it to be malicious.  It may even be appropriate to a large extent - airing our dirty laundry or complaining on the internet all the time would be a bit of a drag and show inappropriate boundaries.  But still .... cumulatively we are all guilty of raising the bar of expectations so high that now we can all feel like failures.  Cumulatively, mind, so please don't feel bad individually.

So, I'd like to say this about my own gratitude:

  • I am so grateful for the blessings I have received, which are many.
  • I love my family very much.
  • I can lose sight of my blessings when I think of all I want or all I should do.
  • It really is true, that it's not having what you want, but wanting what you have. 

I wish all a joyous and gratitude-filled Thanksgiving.  

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Patching Things Up


Stuff is breaking here at home: the dishwasher has been past using for 3 months now, our desktop computer broke this month, the dryer broke, and the well house sprung a leak and needed a new bump tank and all new piping.  Our major maintenance reserve fund wasn't large enough to deal with all of that at once, so I'm living without a dryer or a dishwasher.  That makes daily laundry and dishes a much larger chore than they were before.  But my priority is to rebuild that major maintenance reserve, so no big purchases for me for the foreseeable future.  Sigh.

It's also the time of year when the focus shifts from the outside to the indoors, and we spend these cold wet months on chores and mending that were neglected while the sun did shine.  My task for the last two weeks has been mending quilts.  Patching them, to be precise, as the holes had become so bad my fingers were punching through the quilts when I tried to fold them.

The quilt pictured above was sewn by hand by my great grandmother, and came down to me when my great uncle's home was being cleared out as he moved to a retirement community.  It's not a lovely quilt, but just a practical 9-patch made out of old clothes and backed with a weird green color.  My mom tells me that great-grandma worked as a seamstress at a department store, long before most women worked, and would sometimes get to bring home unwanted "throw away" fabric.  That green fabric might have been unwanted (the color points that way).

I've had the quilt for a few years now, and we use it.  We don't store it away, or display it: it's a practical quilt so we use it.  And now that it's wearing out, I'm sewing patches on it. Not fancy patches - just the bits of our worn out clothing and the scraps that I have in my "re-use/upcycle" basket.  I hope my great-grandmother would approve.

She was a practical woman who raised 11 younger siblings and lived through the Great Depression, after-all - a pretty awesome role-model for trying to live a practical and thrifty life.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

The November Blahs


OK - I've been feeling more than a little like this poor Jack O'Lantern pictured above looks - worn out, falling apart, molding, and sad.  I woke up one day recently, looked in the mirror, and saw Depression looking back at me.

I can list current "causes", and trace their vicious cycle.  In a nutshell:

  • People disappoint me.  I wish they would be one way, and they just won't be like that.  I expect them to step up, and then they don't.
  • I start to doubt myself, and to seek validation from those people - the ones who are disappointing me - and they don't validate me either.  They say unhelpful things, things like "people treat you the way you let them treat you".  I start to feel like everything is my fault, and that the only reason people disappoint me is because I just can't manage people properly.
  • I sit with this disappointment and discouragement for a few days, and think about things like just quitting my job or quitting homeschooling or quitting this organization or activity, because what's the point really?
  • Then I get mad. I reject this world view, and get pissed that people are basically trying to make me feel bad for clinging to the ideal that if one is nice to people, it will ripple effect into a nicer world.  
  • At which point anger burns out into depression, and I'm back to feeling disappointed, discouraged, depressed, etc.

But why now?  People are people all of the time, and frankly, they rarely measure up to my hopes for them.  I consistently want and expect the world to be a bit better than it actually turns out to be, and most of the time I consciously choose this stance.  I'm very fond of the idea that a pessimist may turn out to be right more often ... but an optimist gets more done.  I'd rather get more done through willful rosy-glasses thinking than be right about everything being crappy and just contribute to more crapiness. I know I'm choosing to be wrong, and I'm choosing it anyway, because that's the world I want to live in and I hope my choice will make it ever-so-slightly more real.

So why am I depressed now?  

I found comfort in this recent blog post from Simple Mom: Everyone Wants to Quit in November and February.  Aha!  Yes, it's just seasonal.  It's just the November Blahs.  Nothing else has changed, and I just need to put up some holiday lights, give myself a little extra rest, get re-inspired, and charge ahead.  

And I need to plan ahead for February so this doesn't jump out at me unexpectedly again.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Mr. Lemoncello's Library


Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein, is a fabulously delightful book.  Thoroughly modern but with an obvious love for classic children's literature, Mr. Lemoncello owes a big hat tip to Willy Wonka (and this is referenced and acknowledged in the book).

A town without a public library is suddenly getting one, thanks to an eccentric billionaire who has made his fortune on games - both board and video.  Children are selected to attend the grand opening, and are then locked in (with parental permission granted) and set to trying to escape the library, following all sorts of clever clues to find the way out.  Despite no real danger, the plot is still plenty exciting.  It's also funny and full of sly references to classic boardgames and children's books.

Boardgames and Books, and Libraries!  What's not to love?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

What We're Into Now: 2nd Grade


Here is the 2nd grade girl's edition of "What We're Into Now".  Right now, she into:

1.  The show Liberty's Kids.  It is a good launching off point for study of the Revolutionary War, as well.

2.  Playmobil has made a come-back in her life.  Lots of historical re-enactments as well as fanciful play.

3.  Drawing and coloring.  I finally just bought her a nice sketchbook and a pencil bag that we keep stocked with sharp colored pencils, and she loves to sketch and color all the time.

4.  YouTube videos of people playing Animal Crossing New Leaf.  Her brother owns this game (although I think he has lost it), but she is still in the process of saving up all her money to buy a 3DS and the game for herself.  This is a long process - that stuff is expensive - so she probably won't get to the goal amount until after Christmas.  But I'm not buying it for her.  The process of saving up for a goal is an important lesson.

That's just a bit of what she's into now.  Once again, I find a lot of what they choose to do with their free time to still have educational value.  Life is learning!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

What We're Into Now


Here's the 5th Grade Boy edition of 'What We're Into Now':

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe.  A gorgeous and fascinating look at the periodic table and all the stuff that makes up our universe, my son has been pouring over this book for weeks now.  I first got it from the library a few years ago, and he just wasn't all that into it then, but now that he's older he is fascinated by it.

Khan Academy.  He wanted to learn how to program, and I had heard the programming tutorials and exercises on Khan Academy were pretty good, so I showed that to him.  I guess they are pretty good, because he worked on them in all his free time for several weeks, and made a bunch of pretty cool things.

TED Talks.  I have enjoyed many TED Talks on their website, but now Netflix has them for streaming and my son has watched hours of it now.  He started off with the TED Talks for Kids but once he had watched those ten talks, he moved on to the other themes available.

Minecraft.  Still obsessed - this seems to have as much staying power as Legos.

Building Forts.  A classic, and I'm glad to see him out of the house carting off tarps, ropes, scrap lumber. :)

And that's a bit of what he's into now.  All of it has "educational value", and non of it is assigned or scheduled - and that's just another reason why I love the homeschooling lifestyle.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Zealot


After the author Reza Aslan appeared on The Daily Show for an interview that was almost fawning in how much interviewer John Oliver said he had loved the book, I put Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth on my TBR list.  Then there was his interview on Fox, which I heard all about (Buzzfeed calls it "the most embarrassing interview Fox has ever done").  All that buzz bumped it up my list and I bought it on kindle rather than wait in line for the copy from the public library.

And I wanted to really like it, I really really did.  It starts off with almost theatrical flair in an incredible prologue that describes the assassination of the high priest in the courtyard of the Temple in Jerusalem, and Aslan's writing is very engaging and has great storytelling value.

But that was the problem, too ... it was sooo dramatic and confident that I found myself wondering how much I could trust the historical validity of this book that is supposed to be about the historical Jesus.  And then Aslan presents a lot of analysis of the gospels as a way to read through them to the kernel of truth they were based off .... but once again there was so much confidence in the one interpretation without much (any?) discussion of how that interpretation can really be done like that.

In the end I find myself agreeing a lot with the review published in The Jewish Review of Books, which throws a lot of doubt on Aslan's overall serious scholarship, while agreeing that his writing is engaging and entertaining.  It was an interesting read, and definitely more entertaining than your average scholarly history book, but I don't know that I trust this interpretation of the historical Jesus all that far.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

In the Kitchen This Week: Toasted Pumpkin Seeds

Eating seasonally sometimes means that certain treats only come around once a year.

After this:


We were left with this:


So I boiled the seeds in salt water and toasted them with some olive oil and cumin, and got a delicious snack the whole family is happy to eat this week.  (I added the cumin to it, but otherwise it's this recipe)


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

An Annual Field Trip


Yesterday we made it out on a field trip we do once a year, to see the salmon run on a local creek, complete with docents who help us figure out what we are seeing.


Underwater cameras helped them see some cool salmon action, too.


A fun fall tradition for us. :)

Monday, November 4, 2013

Trying to Squeeze More From the Day


So we have just observed the annual practice of rolling our clocks back by one hour ... which gave us one "extra" hour this weekend.  I got one more hour of sleep before heading off to work on Sunday, but the price has been that the evenings are now terribly, terribly, dark all of a sudden.

And I have read more than one article this week that advocated that folks not adjust their sleep schedules, but instead stick to their previous rising times and get up an hour earlier than was their previous habit.  This, say authors such as happiness guru Gretchen Rubin, will give you "an extra hour a day".  Recommended uses for this hour include exercise, spiritual practice, working on a project, or just having an hour to yourself.

But, trick is, you then have to go to bed earlier.  Because we also know that sleep deprivation is not a good thing.  It's like Benjamin Franklin said - early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.  I do observe in my own life that mornings tend to be used more productively, and evenings are often frittered away on leisure, socializing, and "vegging out".

Back in the summer I wholeheartedly agreed that getting up early was the only way to go.  Now, perhaps just to be a contrarian (or because of seasonal affective disorder, take your pick), I find myself resisting this notion.  Right now, I don't want to squeeze another hour from the day.  I just want to go with the flow.  I want to wake up with the sun, and be winding down with the sun.  Dawn to dusk may sound impressive, but unfortunately that is now only 7am to 5pm in these parts.  And it will get worse.  But I just don't feel like being productive in the dark.

I still have plenty to do.  I don't know when I will do it all.  But, I'm going to sleep when my body seems to want to sleep.  There is no such thing as an "extra" hour.

p.s. Am I the only one that thinks that "seasonal affective disorder" is a weird name for a disorder?  Like we somehow shouldn't be affected by the seasons, even though it would be the natural course of evolution for living creatures to be affected by the seasonal shifts and to alter their behavior accordingly?  It's like "shift-worker syndrome" ... implying that somehow the problem of doing something totally unnatural to your body is a "syndrome" that should be treated by medication.  I don't know ... all symptoms of modern life I guess.  Modern Life Syndrome/Disorder.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Getting to Calm


One of the many books I've been reading this week is Getting to Calm: Cool-headed Strategies for Parenting Tweens and Teens by Kastner and Wyatt.  This book was recommended by a religious educator colleague who is parenting teens, and I agree with her - it's fabulous.

Part of this book is just reassuring parents that a certain amount of bad behavior and bad decision making is normal for adolescence, and that it does not mean parents did something wrong.  But how parents respond can make a difference - to the ongoing parent-child relationship, to the self-esteem of the teen, and whether or not everyone learns something from the situation.

With practical tips and examples of typical situations you may face while parenting an adolescent, this book will help you get to calm.  Getting teens to help around the house, what to do about dating, when parents don't agree and aren't parenting as a team, when teens are rude, when they lie, and more ... all covered here.

I'm not facing the task of parenting teens yet, but this is going to go on my parenting shelf now.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Balancing All the Extracurriculars


Horse Riding, Tap Dance, Swim Lessons, Chess Club, Basketball, Music Lessons ... the list can go on and on and on.  Add in some field-trips to pumpkin patches and museums (either with your local homeschool group or on your own).  Add in a casual social life, so you have a few playdates and birthday parties and so forth, and your life as a parent becomes a juggling act of running around all over town and spending more time in your car than you do at home.

I don't want to live like that.  I don't want to spend more time in my car than I do in my home.  And yet, I do want my kids to have some of it.  Some lessons, some social life, some field trip adventures.

We were trying to limit it to 2 extracurriculars per child.  Pick your two things you want to do - is chess club more important to you or is basketball?  But then things came up that I wanted them to stick with - music lessons can not just be started, stopped, and then started again because you wanted to try out a 6 week pottery class.  That isn't fair to the teacher and it's not a disciplined way to learn an instrument.  So we ended up with more than 2 activities per child.

And that rule wasn't helping me with field trips and play dates.  What is the right number there?  And is it fair to my kids to homeschool them and then deny them a chance to see their friends?

So I'm going to try something different.  Instead of putting limits on outside the home time, I'm going to lay out what I want to accomplish at home.  In other words, I'm starting with the positive vision of what I want rather than the negative vision of what I don't want.  I'm putting my time at home on my calendar.  How much time do we need for chores, schoolwork, family time, and resting?  I'm writing that all down on my calendar as though it were an appointment.  And then if there is space left on the calendar, it's fine to schedule all that other stuff in.  But at least I protected the time for what needed to be done at home.

How do you balance it all?  Share your ideas here!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

I'm Back!


I've been off in the land of Charlie Brown (St. Paul) attending a conference for work (I blogged about the conference over on my other blog).  It was a great week, with lots of professional networking, inspiring ideas and presentations, and time by myself in a hotel and eating out a lot.  As much as I love being a mom and a cook and a radical homemaker/small scale homesteader (while also working full time), it's still a nice break to go stay somewhere and have others clean up after me and feed me.

But what did I do with my kids for this week?  Well, this is one of those times that it's really good to have some other homeschooling mom friends.  We paid a friend to watch the kids during the days that my husband worked, and I left them for the week with frozen meals and activity bags packed and with a lot of worries and lists and all the laundry done and instructions for when kids needed to be where ...

And my husband ignored a lot of it and did things his own way and some of my prep was useful and they didn't get any schoolwork done and took an impromptu weekend trip away with my in-laws to the beach in Oregon ... and they were just fine without me.

Don't get me wrong - they were still very happy when I got home and I still feel needed.  My daughter said "thank goodness you're home because I need laundry washed!" and my son said "please make a salad for dinner because Daddy didn't feed me any vegetables all week!", but they also said they had fun and they obviously had some good bonding time with their dad, without me there to be the automatic first responder.

Absence may not make the heart grow fonder, but it really does give you some perspective and more appreciation for things often taken for granted.  Taking time away from my family does them no harm, and gets increasingly easier as they get older.

So don't be afraid to take some time away from your kids.  Your partner can handle it.  Really, they can.  We may want to be needed, but we should also let others go without us every now and then.  It gives them a chance to unfurl their wings and discover what they are capable of, and it gives everyone a chance to see you as more than a reliable caretaker.

Monday, October 14, 2013

In my Kitchen this week


As we continue to eat seasonally, this week has been busy with making dehydrated apple chips from the apples I harvested (we don't really know all the varieties we have).  I was gifted a very nice dehydrator for Christmas last year, but this is really the first crop I've had enough to dry some of it.


I have about 6 of these that I grew this year, and then I was also handed a bag of already peeled and chopped sugar pumpkin that was left-over from a church dinner.  So, it's time to bake with pumpkin!


My kids requested pumpkin muffins with cream cheese filling, and so I made a double batch this weekend, and then froze half of the muffins for later.  I had enough left-over pumpkin puree to end up freezing some of it too, so there is plenty more pumpkin in our dietary near future.

Going with the seasons and mostly cooking what needs using up right now. :)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Weekly Book Post: The Song of the Lioness

I don't have any pictures of books this week, but you'll forgive me a boring picture-less post, right?  It's like reading a book instead of watching a multimedia presentation. :)

An interesting article on the benefits of reading was posted to Huffington.  One of the claims is that reading literature may help you "read" people as well.  But not pop-fiction, it claims.  Hmmm.

But that article really has nothing to do with what I really sat down to write about, which is the current audiobook obsession going on in my household.

The Song of the Lioness Quartet  are four books by author Tamora Pierce, which I loved, loved, loved when I was a kid (I think I was about 9 or 10 years old when I read them).  This year I enjoyed reading them out loud to my kids, and there is nothing quite as sweet as having your children join you in loving something that you loved as a kid.

This is the story of Alanna, a girl living in a magical medieval type world, who dreams of being a knight and having great adventures (even though only boys can be knights).  She wants it so much that she and her twin brother switch places when it is time for them to go off to school, and she lives disguised as a boy in the palace, training to become a knight someday.

She doesn't just manage to meet the challenge - she is actually a great swords(wo)man and becomes the right hand (wo)man to the Prince.  She has to learn to balance her femininity and warrior-identity, she has to learn to love, and she has to find her place in the world.  There is an arch-villian to overcome, as well.

The first book covers her time as a page, and the second book covers her time as a squire culminating in her being revealed as a girl after she earns her knighthood.  The third book is her time as a wandering knight and spent mastering her magic, and then in the fourth book she quests and then returns to court as King's Champion.

Pierce says the books are for teens and adults, and there are mature themes (Alanna gets to have three love interests in her life, and although there are no explicit "sex scenes", you do know she's having sex.  And then there is, of course, violence, and some dark magic.)  However, my two kids were just fine with it.

So we read them earlier this year, and then they discovered that the library had them on audio CD.  That has been almost the last I saw of my daughter this week, as she spent days in her room just listening to the books straight through.  So fun!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Learning about the Moon


I'm using the Real Science Odyssey Earth Science Level One with my daughter (originally I thought it would work for both kids, but it was too basic for my older son).

We are crawling through it pretty slowly, because I like to enrich the basic program with lots of extras: extra library books (it's a weakness of the curriculum that no books or resources are recommended, despite only very basic content in the program itself), extra documentaries, extra kits and experiences.


For those extras, I turn primarily to the library and my netflix account (free is good when homeschooling).  After that, I have found Home Science Tools to be a great company for supplying me with my science tools.

For the moon study, there is a lot of fun stuff for us:

Moon in My Room can be programed to light up at night corresponding to the phases of the moon. A fun twist to a nightlight (although, of course, there will be no light when there is a new moon).

The Space Exploration Kit is proving fun so far.  My kids love a good science kit with fun experiments and things to build.

And we got a telescope to look at the moon through.


Fun and learning all at once!

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Over-Dressed


We've been hearing the story of sweatshop labor and outsourcing in the clothing industry for a very long time now.  And it's not that this story isn't important - it's very very important but we've mostly stopped listening. Every now and then something shocking happens that makes us pay attention to it again, but then we quickly go back to the status quo.

I borrowed the book Over-Dressed: The Shockingly High Cost of Cheap Fashion from the library because it was featured on The Non-Consumer Advocate, and because I have been mulling over ethical clothing choices since the latest Bangladesh factory tragedy.  I expected there would be talk about sweat shop labor, but the book covers more than that.

Cline covers the story of how we became addicted to fast fashion, how design and retail has become more generic, and what happens to all the clothing we discard (68 lbs of textiles per person go into the landfill in the US every year!), and what the environmental impact of manufacturing all that clothing is in the first place.

I found this book disturbing and compelling.  If you haven't even thought about how your cheap, fast, almost disposable clothing impacts the world, this will be eye-opening.  If you have been thinking about it, as I had been, this will add further breadth to the issue for you.  Overall, I think everyone who wears clothes should read at least part of this book.

(If you don't have time/inclination to read the book, there is also a good list of What We Can Do on the book's website.)

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

In My Kitchen Right Now


Homemade yogurt from milk we got from our next door neighbor's goats.  Sadly, it turns out I am the only one in the family who likes the taste of it, so I'm eating homemade yogurt with granola and homemade strawberry syrup for breakfast every day for a while, I guess.


Pears I harvested from a tree that was completely hidden by the blackberry bramble in the back field.  I worked hard to cut back blackberries, harvest the pears, and now I'm not sure what to do with them.  The kids don't like the taste of them as a raw snack .... Thinking we might make pear cider or maybe I'll make a pear crisp.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Time for More Indoors Activities

The fall weather is really starting to turn in our neck of the woods, with lots of downright stormy days and wet mushy ground even when the rain isn't falling.

It's hard on the kids, who were used to spending at least an hour a day outdoors playing with each other every day.  It's hard on me too, since now they and their noise and their mess are more under foot in the house.

Just time to adapt again, and get used to a more indoor life.


They are on the computers more, of course, but they are also playing more board games together. A friend loaned us a board game of Dungeons and Dragons, and that has been a huge hit.  The kids also spent almost three days well occupied by creating a card game together that seems to be half a sort of pokemon game (all the boys cards) and half a fairy warrior game (all the girls cards) but the two self-created decks interact with each other.  I think it was a masterpiece of cooperation.


It also calls for more "arts and crafts".  A recent quick stop in our local bookstore produced two good finds: the Klutz petal people kit and an "instructional comic" called Welcome to Your Awesome Robot. So we are living in a sea of little fragile fairies and bits and bobs of cardboard and duct tape in our house at the moment.

How do you adjust to more indoor time for your kids? Any good rainy day activities?


Monday, September 23, 2013

The Balancing Act: Homeschooling and Having Your Own Life Too


I've always known that I loved homeschooling - after all, I was homeschooled all the way through and I loved my own education and the lifestyle we had in my family.  But there is a twist when you know you love homeschooling, because most often that means that the mother would need to stay home and not have an outside career.

My mother balanced her need for income and her desire to homeschool us by running a home daycare. When we were little she could only take in a few kids, but by the time I was legally old enough to count as an assistant we were able to have 10 extra kids in our home all day long.  She spent 11 hour days supervising our schooling and all those babies, toddlers, and preschoolers, she did all the housework, and she took on lots of volunteer tasks for the community theater company that our entire family got heavily involved with.  She also continued to play the cello, which had been her pre-children passion.  She played for a community orchestra and in a string quartet.

Now, my mother has no regrets, other than this: she says she wishes she had taken more time for pursuing her own lifetime learning goals.  She wishes she had set herself more learning challenges and had homeschooled herself at the same time.

I am balancing my role as a homeschooling parent with a full-time job running the religious education program for a church, as well as with the housework, garden, animals, and all my crafty/homesteading experiments and hobbies.  And I am taking a cue from my mother's regret, and taking time to continue learning and reading for myself and not just for the kids.  It's a lot to balance, or I'm well-supported by the pillars of my life, depending on how you flip the organizational chart.  How do you balance your life?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

One of the Things I Love About Homeschooling: Studying What We Want To


I absolutely adore how we are free as homeschoolers to tailor our studies to the kids' interests.  Some kids are going to find certain things more enthralling than others ... and that's totally fine in my opinion. Yes, we need some breadth to our knowledge base, but life gets a lot more interesting when we have some depth in places too.

We had started studying colonial and revolutionary history here (this year I take sabbatical at work and I plan on taking the kids to Boston for about a month - a great chance to see all this history on the ground!), and then I saw the hook for my boy: Ben Franklin.  Oh, how he loves inventors and inventions (and he's studying electricity in physics right now so that's a good tie-in!)  My daughter is interested in him too, but more for his stories, sayings, and charisma that still gets conveyed through his writing, all these years later.

So we will be stopping here, indefinitely, until we feel well and truly done with the subject.  On our own time.

If we were tied into a learning plan, a scope and sequence, or (ack!) pushed to study for a particular test, we wouldn't have time for these sidetracks.  But we aren't tied into any of that - we are learning how we please.

Just another thing I love about homeschooling.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A walk around my home and garden






Fall is definitely here, but we are still enjoying the outdoors.  My husband has been finishing up projects that have been on "the list" for a long time, such as the pergola here.  I'm ready for our northwest rain to start up again, but these crisp fall days are lovely while they last.