Thursday, August 29, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Flight Behavior and Cooked


Both Barbara Kingsolver and Michael Pollan are on my short list of favorite authors.  In fact, if I was going to have a fantasy dinner party, these two would be some of the guests.  (Who else?  Wendell Berry, Wangari Maathai, Desmond Tutu).  So taking these books on family vacation with me was an obvious choice.

Flight Behavior is Kingsolver's latest novel.  I was first introduced to Kingsolver with The Poisonwood Bible, and I still consider that her greatest work.  This latest book is not as good, but it's still a lovely and well-written book.  Set in the mountain country of Tennessee, this is a tale of global climate-change, told from the point of view of a compelling main-character who combines natural curiosity and intelligence with stifling poverty and lack-of-education.  Many parts of the novel seem to have been written as a thought experiment - a way to create a conversation between the rural "reds" and the urban educated "blues" of our increasingly polarized society - but even if the conversations seem contrived they are still really good.  So the work feels a bit like the story took back seat to the political agenda, but I still enjoyed it.

Cooked is Pollan's latest book about food.  Here, he delves deeply and romantically/sentimentally into four types of cooking: cooking meat on a fire, cooking slowly in water, baking bread, and fermenting things.  Along the way, he coaxes, exhorts, begs, cajoles, and generally just tries to convince us all that we should be doing more cooking from scratch and rely less on industrial-processed foods/food-like-substances.  Although I agree with his point, and I found many parts of the book excellent, I also found myself laughing at some of his hyperbole (particularly in the section about BBQ, which he compares to ancient animal sacrifice to the gods and goes on a very poetic bent about man's control of fire).  But really, some giggles and quibbles aside, Pollan has once again delivered an important piece of the argument about how we should eat, and what is wrong with our modern consumer society.  And the arguments that this book is anti-woman are ridiculous to me - he goes out of his way to point out that preparing food for us is a human task, not a woman's task, and that the industrial system dismantled home cooking, not the woman's movement.  But I have my issues with the whole domesticity/feminism dichotomy, anyway.

I'd recommend both books, while not claiming them to be the best works of either author.  But when you this awesome, even your lesser works are worthy of our time to read. :)

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Things found in our garden this week


Our silkies are such good parents, and they've managed to hatch out 5 more chicks.  They are adorable, and the chickens and rooster are being really good and protective parents.


I missed the main blackberry harvest time this year, but there are still a lot out there.  I've been working to gather enough to try my hand at making blackberry wine.


We're harvesting and eating a few cabbages from the garden, as well.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Pickling





Another year's pickles!  I made 25 jars, so we can eat about two jars a month. :)

Monday, August 26, 2013

(Not) Back to School Time


It's the Back to School crazy time, with every school age family seeming to be engaged in both squeezing the last bit of fun out of summer and trying to get ready for going back to school this week or next.  All the fun places to go with kids are packed, and the stores are full of shoppers, and the roads are full of cars stuffed full of camping gear.

Not us.  We aren't at a transition point in our year - in fact we've logged in 30 school days already in July and August and September will just be more of the same.  I did let the kids pick out some new art stuff when I was out shopping for birthday presents, but that's it for the new school supplies, too.

When all the kids are getting out of school in the summer, my kids complain "it's not fair" because of our year-round schedule.  Now we come to the flip-side, and they are happy to tell their friends who go to school "I don't have to go back to school" when their friends complain.  Now they feel lucky, watching the school bus go past.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Weekly Book Post (Hatchet, The Odyssey, Witch of Blackbird Pond)


It's been more than a week since I last did a Weekly Book post, so I have a lot of books to mention.  This week I'm just going to talk about the children's books.

We're at the stage now where it would be easy to lose the habit of reading together as a family.  My son is able to read independently now, and will settle down with an Encyclopedia Brown or a Choose Your Own Adventure if no one is around to read to him.  And, of course, there are plenty of other distractions from reading: ds games, Minecraft, youtube videos (of people playing Minecraft, mostly), Wii, netflix, Pokemon, board games, are the current interests around here.

So I am both grateful that my children still want to be read to and careful to still nurture this family habit.  We read out loud before bed most nights, during our longer "school" days, and we take full advantage of audio books to fill in time in the car and to listen to as children fall asleep.

Hatchet was a good book for my son.  At first I was put off by the style of the author, with lots of short, curt sentences and repetition.  But style-aside, the story is top-notch.  Not only is the young hero thrown  into danger right away with tense and thrilling detail, but then he also embarks on an adventure of survival and personal discovery and growth.  My daughter begged off after a scene in which the young boy eats some turtle eggs (she's awful sensitive about animals), but my son was on the edge of his seat the whole way through.


Our little journey through Homer's epics has ended with this fabulously illustrated re-telling of The Odyssey.    I've always been fond of The Odyssey, and I enjoyed this version immensely.  The kids liked it too. :)

On our road trip we listened to four audio books: The Secret History of Tom Trueheart, Coraline, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and City of Ember.  All were good.  I loved Neil Gaiman's narration of his own book - not every author makes a good reader but he really does.  Coraline is a bit spooky - just scary enough for my kiddos but it was on the line.  Tom Trueheart is a twisted fairytale, and I am growing weary of that cliched genre.  However, it was a decent showing for this type of story.  Witch of Blackbird Pond was one of my favorites as a child, and I always find it delightful when I have a chance to share a book I loved with my kids and see them loving it too.

I hope to enjoy many more years of sharing books together!

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Field Trips vs. Vacations


(Chaco Canyon, New Mexico)

Field trips are a staple of our educational system.  The chance to go see something for real, rather than just read about it or see it on a screen, gives the topic relevance, scale, and an experiential quality that is necessary for most (if not all) learners.


(Arches National Park, Utah)

A family vacation just makes it possible for us to do field trips that are farther away!  Trips and traveling are of great educational value, and the only downside is the difficulty I have in figuring out how many hours to log as "school" hours.

What I've settled on is only logging the time that I can imagine a school field trip group doing, and not counting time spent: eating at local restaurants, driving, swimming, or relaxing.  That is the vacation time!

Monday, August 19, 2013

Unplanned Pond Studies


 A clever "fish trap" the kids made themselves.  They caught fish (even a blue gill), a turtle, and were investigated by this snake.  All were released unharmed back into the pond.


We're just back from our visit to Arkansas, to remember and celebrate the life of my kids' Poppy.  Poppy and his wife lived/continue to live on 30 acres, with a pond, and the kids really love it there.  But they are far braver about the wildlife than I think I would be!  After seeing the snake pictured above almost go into their little fish trap they had built, they were still up for a swim!


Tuesday, August 13, 2013



We've been on the road, on some version of the Great American Family Roadtrip.  Some beautiful sights, some tedium, some family bickering, some bonding.  This kind of traveling can be dull and tiring, but there really are things you will never see unless you drive.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

My Garlic Harvest

I have a ridiculous level of gardening insecurity.  Since we bought this place, I've been largely unsuccessful at growing edibles, which was kind of the whole point of buying the place at all.  A fantasy of being a hobby farmer/suburban homesteader is one thing, but the harsh reality is something else entirely.  Not enough time, not enough built-in infrastructure, don't own the expensive tools that would make it easier, don't know the soil here, don't know the drainage here, making mistakes, etc.  Sure, I'm learning, but geez - I wish it just was more impressive.

But, look, something worked out OK this year: garlic!


The end result of our work back in November.


I didn't have time to make pretty braids.  But I've got plenty of garlic hanging in my kitchen.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Small Victories


 Sometimes the trick is to break life down into small bites. An overstuffed linen closet is frustrating because you can never find the right sized sheets for the various beds in your household? It took me 30 minutes to pull all the sheets out and sort them and decide which to donate so the closet isn't so full. Some bags I already had lying around served to hold all the queen sheets in one bag, double sheets in another, twin in a third, and pillow cases in a fourth.


Or maybe it's the office at work that is dirty, cluttered, and driving you crazy?


A good use of summer slow down time at church is to clean that office all up!


They were actually small investments of energy in the big picture, but I am feeling so relieved and happy with these little victories.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Weekly Book Post: Far From the Tree

We are finding time to read, and I love when I catch my children reading (when they don't have to)!


Reading is such an important part of who I am, that of course I dream of my own children growing up to be big readers and that someday I'll have mother-son or mother-daughter book clubs with them and they'll come visit me when I'm old and we'll talk about what we've been reading.


But what if they grow up to not like to read?  What if they naturally are sports fans, or something else that I don't really understand and wouldn't naturally be able to relate to?  How could I learn to relate to the people they really are, rather than the expected copies of myself I was probably hoping for?

This is a very minor example of the sort of parental expectation --> disorientation --> reorientation that author Andrew Solomon exhaustively investigates in his latest book Far From the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity.


It is a HUGE book, but really really don't let that discourage you.  Solomon's writing is beautiful, and his story of identities - "vertical" that are inherited from parents and "horizontal" that are different from the family and require finding a community of peers to establish identity - and of the power of love to reach across difference was incredibly powerful.

Solomon interviewed parents: parents of children with autism, dwarfism, deafness, conceived in rape, prodigies, and more.  What he found was that the challenge of parenting a child with special needs can deepen and enrich life.  He found stories of incredible joy and love in the face of what many would find a horrible tragedy.  And his descriptions of different identities changed my understanding of what it means to have a disability - for instance several people made comments such as "if everyone could fly, not flying would be a disability", and I see better some of the social construction of disability.

But what is brilliant about Solomon's book is that he doesn't just paint the rosy happy picture.  It's complicated, without easy answers or clear paths to follow, and what works for one family or one person doesn't for another.  It's a truly human story he tells.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A bit of Colonial History


We continue to study American Colonial history, and I am finding it pretty illuminating to try to consciously avoid the mythologized history of our nation's origins.  We are still using some resources such as the Felicity books and movie from the American Girl Dolls, but I've also appreciated these resources:

Building a New Land: African Americans in Colonial America by James Haskins

New World: Nightmare in Jamestown by National Geographic

Colonial House 

A Young People's History of the United States

A History of US by Joy Hakim

American history may be the most difficult subject to grapple with, actually.  Our history is not a happy perfect heroic story, as we have tried to depict it to be.  And the kids are upset when they learn about slavery, genocide, and oppression, so it involves a lot of discussion and processing.  And that's what we are doing in our homeschool.