Monday, April 29, 2013

Does this Outfit Make Me Look Heartless?


Like many others, I have been horrified by the collapse of a garment factory in Bangladesh last week - with a death toll now over 300 people.  I saw a political cartoon this week, which I now cannot find again, that showed a woman holding up a garment to herself in a department store and saying "does this make me look like I'm oblivious to global working conditions?"  I'm just horrified that the real price for our cheap and semi-disposable clothing is being paid by low-wage and high-risk workers in poor nations.

I decided to do a little look through our clothing to try and figure out where most of it was made.  These two piles of my children's clothing are pretty typical: a mix of one homemade item, a few gifts, a few hand-me-downs, lots of stuff bought in thrift shops or on ebay, and a few things bought new from Lands End or Costco.  They were made in:

The Philippines
Sri Lanka
My homemade item that was made right here
and one item said "Made in the USA"

I can't personally travel to all these places to see how workers are treated in each country, but I tried googling it to get an idea.  It was actually very difficult to get any sort of information, other than a disquieting sense that, no, it's not good in any poor nation with minimal government regulations.

So what to do?  I'll keep doing some of what I have been doing anyway (for other reasons).

1.  Reduce.  There's a reason it comes first in the "reduce, reuse, recycle" mantra.  Just reducing the amount of clothing that my family purchases and owns is the best step to take for the environment, my wallet, and my laundry load.  It also would mean less contribution to the exploitation of workers.  My grandma used to say "buy quality, not quantity", and she was right.  I'm thinking about the notion of the Minimalist Wardrobe, as well.

2.  Reuse.  A lot of that clothing shown above was purchased used.  (In fact, in those laundry piles only the socks, underwear, two pairs of pants, and one pair of pajamas were purchased new.)  Yes, it was originally made cheaply, but reusing it still is better for the environment, my wallet, and my contribution to worker-exploitation.

3.  Mend what you have, or upcycle it (or when that fails use it as a cloth rag).  When clothing gets worn out around here, I fix it, or it gets upcycled into hats, rugs, quilts, etc.  When all else has been tried, it gets used as a cloth rag.  We don't use any disposable paper products here except toilet paper. However, this post isn't about disposable paper.  But mending and upcycling can extend the lifespan of an article of clothing, thereby reducing the impact to environment, wallet, and worker-exploitation.

4.  Buy Fair Trade.  This would be ideal.  But I've done a bit of internet searching about fair trade options this week and I find them slim for men and almost non-existent for kids.  I can probably dress myself Fairly, but that's partly because in my work setting and living in the Pacific Northwest I can get away with a certain "hippy" look to my fashion.  My favorite Fair Trade sources:

  • Maggie's Organics is my usual source for women's socks, tights, and leggings.  My local food co-op carries them, as well as the Fair Trade store in town.
  • Mata Traders is a Fair Trade line that is carried in the store in town, and I've purchased two sundresses from them that I'm very happy with.
  • Fair Indigo carries a good selection (for women), and I always check them out, although I have yet to purchase anything.
  • We're really lucky to have a Fair Trade store in town, that sources from all around the world but can tell you the "story" of every item in the store.  I've bought many things there and will continue to do so (such as Ethletic shoes).
Fair trade is usually better for the environment (most is organic as well as fair trade) and it's definitely better for the workers.  It is NOT better for my wallet.

5.  Buy Made in the USA.  It's really hard to find anything Made in the USA in the box stores.  But there are some websites that specialize, so that is helpful.  A cursory search, however, leaves me with the impression that I'll only be able to buy really basic clothing and stuff more suited to outdoor work or camping.  Which is fine - we need that stuff too - but it won't be a complete source.  Buying USA made is probably not really better for the environment (maybe less factory pollution because of regulations, maybe less energy used to transport it here to me?), but it is better for worker conditions and for our own economy.  Not better on my wallet.

6.  Make it myself.  I enjoy sewing, but this isn't going to become the main source of our wardrobes.  For one thing, I just don't have time.  For another, I can't make some of the stuff we need: socks, underwear, my husband's button-up shirts for work (he's particular), or jeans. And where does the fabric come from?  I like to order from Near Sea Naturals,  but if I only get my fabric there this is once gain Good for the Environment, Good for Workers (well, it's more work for me, but ) But NOT good for my wallet, or my time.

So that is my Six-Point Plan: Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Fair Trade, Buy USA, Make it Myself.  I'm really going to miss my Lands End core wardrobe staples, though.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Our Weekend in a Parade


Our community does a really cool parade each year for Earth Day, with real grassroots community involvement and a theme of "Procession of the Species".  This year my daughter wanted to participate, and chose Pink Flamingoes as our species to be.  I bought the supplies, but they each put together their own costumes and I made myself a flamingo head staff that I was pretty proud of.  My husband was a good sport and along for the walk in the pink shirt, visor, and boa I bought for him.  It was a very fun project, and although the route was a bit long and tiring, we all had a good time.

Other cool things from the Procession:





Friday, April 26, 2013

Learning Outside Textbooks

We don't do much with text books here in our homeschool.  Of course, the kids are pretty young still. But we also only use a few workbook programs.  Instead we use:

Board Games!


We have an (ever growing) collection of educational-type board games, and on our two block-schedule days each week there is a time set aside for "Game Time".  The kids choose what game we'll play.

Documentary Movies

Depending on what we're studying, there could be some great film resources.  When Carbon chose to study World War I and then II, there were so many history channel shows, documentary films, and even old classic fictional movies we could use.  I'd get him a selection, and the rule was he had to give it 15 minutes to see if he liked it or not.

Living (Library) Books


We always have a stack of books from the library - some I have chosen some the kids have chosen.  Besides the bedtime read-aloud that we do every night, we also have "Read Aloud Time" scheduled on each of the Block-Schedule days.  I like to do Read Aloud first thing in the morning, because it frequently inspires projects the kids take on during their unstructured Project Time.  Besides those uses of the books, the kids also read the books on their own, either out loud to me or to themselves.  Carbon alternates Reading and Writing on our more traditional learning days.

Project Time


Time is one of the most precious resources we have.  The kids can't take on their own learning projects if they don't have any time or they're too tired or distracted to do it.  So on our block-schedule days we have "Project Time" or sometimes "Making Time" or "Art Time".  They try a lot of interesting things in their project time (such as this piece of music Carbon wrote and played on the piano after we had read about Mozart), or if they aren't inspired in particular that day they have ongoing knitting and sewing projects, or they could just build legos or so on.

"Playing School"


We don't do it too often, because then the fun would wear off, but sometimes the kids enjoy setting up as if we were at "school" and doing our work on the white board.  After we listened to Matilda, the kids actually wanted to reproduce the scene where the terrible Miss Trunchbull is quizzing children on their times tables and spelling (and then pulling them up by their hair and shaking them if they get it wrong).  We skipped the abuse, but did the quiz and they wrote their answers on the board.

It's an ever-changing mix, and that's part of the fun!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

At long last, another Book Post


It has been such a long time since I wrote a Book Post!  It's not that I haven't been reading, but I didn't think my blog readers would be all that interested in the theology books I spent the first three months of this year drowning in.

Now my class is done and I find myself with time to read a more diverse selection again.  (I'm also reading a few things you wouldn't be interested in, such as Letting Go: Transforming Congregations for Ministry or Theories of Development , but they are balanced out).

A few books have really captured by attention more than others:

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg is a fascinating read.  It's part new brain research and part an eclectic bunch of stories from the worlds of sports, advertising, AA, and more.  If you wonder why we seem to do so much on auto-pilot, and how we can work with that, this book has part of the answer.

Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl is a book I saw in the UUA bookstore at General Assembly this year, and the title was instantly interesting to me.  Unfortunately, my local library system doesn't carry it, and that is how I get almost all my books.  In the end I bought it on Kindle as a reward to myself for getting through all that theology reading.  Susan Campbell grew up in a very conservative fundamentalist church and family, but was always bothered by the fact that as a girl she was only allowed a limited role in her church.  The parts of the book that recount Campbell's childhood are fascinating and poignant and some of her writing was beautiful, sad, and funny all the same time.  But then it loses steam and focus when she moves into her adult life.  By the end I found the book very anticlimactic, as I guess her life didn't wrap up into a nice little "and the moral of the story was" ... honest but not necessarily great reading.

And then we've enjoyed some very good audiobooks:

Chomp by Carl Hiaasen was a hit with the whole family.  The kids loved the adventure and the setting in a survivalist show (they like "Man vs Wild" and spent a lot of time saying "surely Man vs. Wild isn't faked like this!") while my husband and I loved the dry-edging-to-ridiculous humor.

Matilda by Roald Dahl is the latest of our adventures with Dahl.  For some reason I never read any Roald Dahl as a child (I think my mother probably doesn't like him) but I have enjoyed them a lot as an adult, and my kids have loved them.  Hypatia in particular is a Roald Dahl fan.  That said, I find this to be one of Dahl's weaker books, with a pair of anti-climactic resolutions to the two main difficulties facing our young prodigy of a heroine.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Earth Day and Every Day


What do we do every day to give back to the Earth?

1.  The Outdoor Hour - something relatively new (and weather dependent) is that I'm requiring my kids to go play outside for one hour a day.  They spend the time doing a variety of things, but mostly they are connecting with our back yard and (I hope) nature.

2.  Green power.  I pay slightly more for our electricity to know that we are getting it from all "green" sources.  It's not perfect - hydro is a big part of our "green power" and dams still effect rivers - but it's a lot better than coal.

3.  Conserve power.  Turn the heat down, only run full loads in cleaning appliances, line dry clothing, turn off stuff you're not using, drive less, consume less stuff (because it used power to make it).

4.  Be careful with the chemicals.  We don't use herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers, and we use simple and safe home cleaning recipes.  I also properly dispose of light bulbs, and we use only rechargeable batteries.

5.  Reduce waste.  When I'm shopping, I try to avoid packaging and trash. I carry my re-usable shopping bags and re-use tubs and bags for produce and bulk bin foods.  I wash out and re-use sandwich bags, bread bags, etc when I do end up with packaging.  I keep a bag of plastic tubs in my car so that when I need a carry-out container from a restaurant I use one of my re-usable ones and not styrofoam.

6.  Buy used.  Buying used books, clothing, and anything else you can saves waste and all the energy that would be used to make something new.

7.  Eat local, organic, and as sustainably as we can.  We're not vegetarians, but we try to eat less meat and to mostly just eat what we raise ourselves.

8.  Support conservation organizations and laws.

9.  Convey an appreciation of nature and ecology to others.

10.  Consider the impact of each action.

It's not perfect, and I still want to improve our impact, but for today this is my love letter to our Mother Earth.

Friday, April 19, 2013

So Many Great Resources


This week our homeschool group got to attend a three-hour class at the Department of Health, taught by the Drinking Water program director.  Although it was more "school-like" than my kids are used to, it was also really well done and full of useful information.  I was very glad that we got this resource - I'm always so grateful that our community is literally full of people and resources for our children!



Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Dirty Life, and why I don't measure up


I just recently finished reading The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball.  Kimball is a writer and farmer, and this is the story of her love affair with the farmer she marries and the farming lifestyle she adopts.  She leaves her rent-controled apartment in New York and her career getting paid to travel and write about it, and goes off to work grueling physical labor scratching out an uncertain living off the land.

I envy her so much.

And I also don't.

You see, it's been a dream for me and my family (first my family of origin and then my husband and I) to have "a bit of land" and to "farm a bit" or just "have animals and a big garden".

And a year and a half ago my husband and I fulfilled a big part of that dream and bought a lovely little place: four acres with a nice house and a mini-barn on it.  It's not too far out of town also, so we don't have to commute in for our jobs.

Because we both have full-time jobs.  That's how we can afford the land and the house in the first place.  But despite already being very busy with a full-time job and the full-time role of homeschooling mom, I also added on the expectation that I'd be at least a Weekend Homesteader.

Now each time someone asks me how the garden is going or something like that I feel a stab of guilt and inadequacy.  Never mind that at our last house I only expanded the garden one raised bed per year that we were there, and then had all that infrastructure to build off.  Never mind that we don't have the funds to buy any labor-saving tools or equipment, so it's really just me with a hoe and a shovel.  Never mind that I also added on a huge professional training project that further took away time I would have for homesteading.

I expect myself to just do it all.  Perfectly.  All the time, all the tasks, all the roles, without dropping any balls.

Kimball doesn't do that.  She does accomplish an amazing amount on the farm she works with her husband, but she is also incredibly honest about what doesn't get done.  Basically, nothing else gets done.  They had one focus, one job to do, and they got it done.

I can't give up my other jobs.  They came first, and I love them.  This land, this idea of growing your own, is my third (or fourth) instrument in this silly one-man-band that I'm marching around banging on.

I'm not going to be able to dive into farming or homesteading and still keep my other foot on the path of church-work or education-work.  So I guess I'll have to just be OK with what I can do around here, and stop letting it bother me that I can't do it all.


Sunday, April 14, 2013

Unstructured Music Time


We are trying something new, which we are calling our "Block Schedule Days".  On these two days out of the week, I set a schedule for our day, but only for categories of activity.  What exactly the kids do with that activity type during that time is up to them.  One category I wasn't exactly sure how they would handle was Music, so I lumped it together as one half-hour of "Art and Music".

See, normally I have to stand there and help them practice.  I've been doing a lot of coaxing to get Hypatia to do her violin, and there have even been tears some days.  And I was afraid they just wouldn't do their music at all given the option not to.

Instead, with their music time they each played, happily, for the other.  Hypatia tried to teach Carbon how to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, which is her never-ending violin piece (Suzuki!) so they could do a duet.  They got bogged down by the fact that she hasn't learned to read music and is instead memorizing finger positions and singing her pieces to herself to learn them, and Carbon's piano book still gives him finger numbers so he also is pretty weak on reading notes.  But they struggled through it, playing by ear to figure out what notes on the piano went with the notes she was playing on the violin.

Then they switched it up and Carbon taught Hypatia how to play one of his piano pieces, and they did piano together for awhile.

Then they started doing rhythm games together.

It was amazing.  This is the kind of learning and exploring that has time to flourish when they have more time and freedom.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Budgets, Smudgets


Hello, I am an American Adult and I have a Money Problem.  No matter that I'm not the only one - I'm just tired of being in debt and living pay check to pay check, and I've made a commitment to myself that I'm going to get this under control.  I want to be out of debt by 2016 (I don't mean Mortgage-Free, but everything else).  That would give me two or three years to establish a personal savings and get ready to start paying for my kids to go to college.

But big money goals turn out to be made up of lots of small decisions.  Sure, there are big decisions, but we've mostly made those and can't really change very many of them (house we bought, car, student loans, etc.).  So I'm trying to work with the living budget.

We had previously done a really tight budget with LOTS of categories.  I found it impossible to stick to.  Life never really matched those categories we had established, and we'd start by trying to shift funds about and then when it got too complicated we would just bag it all and let the budget fail.

The process was going to have to be simpler and more flexible if we were going to stick with it.

At the start of this calendar year, I tried something new.  I sat down and did something very simple: I took our total monthly income and just subtracted all the fixed bills and expenses from it.  In that first go-through, I didn't evaluate any of those expenses, I just laid them out as a given.

The magical result of that simple exercise was how much money we had left for non-fixed expenses.  Conveniently, this turned out to be a round number well-suited to be divided three-ways for

1.  Food (both groceries and eating out)
2.  Credit Card payments
3.  Everything Else

That last category is the sticky-wicket (what does that even mean?  I digress).

To keep track of our spending in the "Everything Else" category we have started writing the Big Number on the kitchen whiteboard at the beginning of the month, then writing down every expenditure and subtracting it so the total keeps changing to say "$ Left".  That big "$200 Left" or whatever is a real wake-up call when we see it right there.

It's right out there where we (and anyone else visiting our home) can see it.  I'm trying to break the acculturation that says I can't talk about money and need to just always act like I have plenty of it (even if I don't).  That's part of what got us into debt in the first place.

It's working better than anything else we've tried.  There are still many challenges, but I have some hope that six months from now I'll be able to report progress.

I'm inspired to see more people talking honestly about money and debt.  This post at Simple Kids is an example.  There are plenty of people like me out there, trying to get it under control.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Our Week of Learning in Hawaii

We're just back from a trip to Hawaii that the kids and I took with my mom.  It was a Spring Break trip, to celebrate my mom's 60th birthday.  She hasn't gone on a vacation (other than trips to see her parents in Kansas) in so long we can't remember - it may have been 20 years!

But this trip was also a great educational experience:


We (mildly) hiked and saw some amazing things.



We toured a macadamia nut orchard and factory, and a coffee farm.  This is coffee being grown like wine grapes:


The coffee was good!


We were interested in all the cool birds, and bought some guide books to use throughout the week.  The botanical gardens were also really interesting and lovely.  The birds moved to fast for me to photograph, but the flowers stood still. :)


A submarine trip took us to see the marine life and the coral reefs.



There was interesting history to learn and see, and we're going to need to read more about the native Hawaiians.




The Imiloa planetarium in Hilo is amazing, there is also a rainforest zoo, and then there is the active volcano to see as well!