Monday, April 28, 2014

Geography Lessons on the Road

Practical Geography Lessons

This road trip has been the best way to learn about American geography!  Besides just the fun of watching for the "Welcome to (Insert State Name)" signs on the highway, or having the kids try to follow along on the road atlas as we drive, we've also been reading the state facts and a tiny bit of history for each state that we have passed through.

Now, how can we learn about the southern parts of the country?  Maybe, someday, we'll have the time to drive through the South.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Weekly Book Post: Notes from a Blue Bike


I was sitting on the beach in Indiana Dunes State Park, watching my kids play in the sand, when I finished Notes From a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World by Tsh Oxenreider.

It was both a perfect and a frustrating vacation read: perfect because as the author talked about traveling with her kids as part of her intentional life I could nod along and say, "yes, it's a wonderful bonding experience"; and frustrating because discussions of food choices and budgeting made me want to make intentional changes in our life in those areas, and we can't really do that in the midst of a road trip.

This memoir, by the author/editor of the community blog The Art of Simple, encourages us all to choose how our families will live, rather than be swept along by our culture.  Oxenreider was inspired by her experience living in Turkey with her young children to seriously reflect on how we live in the U.S., and decide to carve a countercultural path for her family.  The book is divided into sections based on the major life-issues the author has had to grapple with: food, work, education, travel.  Their choices are very different from mine (for instance, they can't even keep a pet because it would interfere with traveling - I find traveling nerve-wracking and am torn over the carbon-footprint of air travel and I have 20 chickens and 6 goats, etc. back at my home place), but it makes me wonder about what my major areas of intentional living are.

The book reads like an extended blog post from the author's blog.  If you are a fan of the blog, you might enjoy this extended version and the big picture frame it gives to Oxenreider's journey.  If you are looking for something more in-depth or with practical how-to's, you will need to look elsewhere.  Oxenreider doesn't try to give directions to others for their intentional lives - she acknowledges that everyone's choices will be different.  Instead, this is a personal tale told with the hopes of inspiring others.  I was inspired - you might be too!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Road Trip Part 3: The Midwest, a Study in Contrasts


We've been in the Midwest for the last five days, and it has been a study in contrasts.  We found snow, in April.  There have also been many hours and miles of farmland, with neat and tidy looking farm complexes with nice barns and silos.

A google search of what was coming on the road ahead revealed that Wisconsin Dells is "The Water Park Capital of the World", and as we had not found any swimming opportunities on this trip yet I booked us into an indoor water park resort.  We were amazed driving through Wisconsin Dells - it must be a crazy place in the summer time when all the outdoor parks are open and there isn't snow on the ground.


Next we went to Chicago, which we had read was known for "museums and architecture".


We also wanted to have some pizza there, even though we are gluten free.  We went ahead and ate the deep dish pizza (and didn't get too sick).  It was pretty good, but we don't have much to compare it to.


The Field Museum started off thrilling, but before we had even done one wing my daughter was in tears.  "It's just too much - I can't see it all!" she cried and had to be comforted.  We did three exhibits (Animals, Ancient Egypt, and Evolving Planet) and were wiped. out.  In hindsight, I should have planned a whole day in the Field.


The Willis Tower (tallest structure in the world if you count radio towers on top of the building - which I'm not sure I do) was a hit.  When the elevator speeds up 103 floors and your ears pop, it's pretty exciting.  And they have put glass boxes out the side of the building, called "The Ledge".  Standing on glass and looking down was very exciting!

The Art Institute of Chicago, which is an amazing art museum, was probably too much for me to tack onto the end of a long day of sightseeing.  The kids liked the ancient art, but were unimpressed by American Modern.


I have to thank the security guard who saw the us trudging out of the Christopher Wool exhibit and asked me if I had taken them to see "the dollhouse".  She told me to go down to the lower level, to the miniature room.  What we found there was a whole series of magical miniature interiors, which rallied and delighted my children.


The Indiana Sand Dunes were our next stop, for something completely different.  The State Park has a really nice little Nature Center that was friendly and fun, and some good fun trails.


The beach was also a nice treat.  Looking at the lovely beach and then seeing the heavy industry on the horizon in each direction I gave thanks to the people who fought to preserve this natural gem.


And then the kids had asked to stop at a "really good zoo", and I looked up the top 10 zoos in the US and two of them were in Ohio, sort of on our way.  So we went to the Columbus Zoo today, which we were impressed with.  It's huge, and I thought they did a good job of balancing crowd and traffic control, educational elements, the needs of the animals, and fun for kids.


Tomorrow we will drive through Cuyahoga Valley National Park on our way to Buffalo, New York.  At some point in there I expect we will say goodbye to the Midwest.  It has been a fun study in contrasts for us.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Really Big Field Trip: The American West


For the last several days of our trip we have been in the West.  We have visited the National Bison Range, which we prepared for at home by reading several books about the Bison and the efforts to save them.  The Range is probably more impressive in the summer, when you can drive the ridge line road and look out over the whole range, but even in this off season it was a lovely place and we saw wildlife up close.  Here we saw the effort to preserve a bit of the heritage of the West.

Then we went to a place that marks the sad history of western expansion: Little Bighorn Battlefield Memorial.  I was unprepared for how incredibly sad it felt to be there.




We also did the scenic route to the Crazy Horse Mountain and Mt. Rushmore, which took us through some old towns and then up through the Black Hills Forest.


I find the urge to carve mountains up baffles me.  Both of these monuments just seem - sad.


Various tourist stops that capitalize on the "Old West" made good pit stops.


And then we had a very cold and windy jaunt through the Badlands.  The visitor center at Badlands National Park is excellent, by the way.


Somewhere in far eastern South Dakota, we noticed a change in the scenery, and by the time we crossed the border into Minnesota we knew we were leaving the West behind.

Friday, April 11, 2014

RoadTrip Adventure


We are off on our adventure: one mom, two kids, one small car, 5 weeks, and 6,000 miles round trip.

So far, so good!  We are moving along at a reasonable pace for one driver, and taking interesting stops every day.  I have camping equipment, but this early in the season the campgrounds aren't even open yet so for now we are staying in motels each night.  A restaurant lunch stop to break up the day is turning out to be enough "real" meals, and we are just eating out of our cooler for breakfast and dinner. These are still "school" days, so in addition to seeing the country and doing cool "field trips" we also have our literature books on audio CD, our history text books on audiobook, our foreign language CD's, and the kids are doing basic math and language arts workbooks each evening in the motel rooms.  I also got us some geography workbooks for the USA - what better time to learn US geography than when you are driving cross country?


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Weekly Book Post: Six Degrees, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and the House on Mango Street


Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet by Mark Lynas scared the c**p out of me.  This is a detailed (graphic even) account of what might happen (based on the many scientific studies out there) as the planet warms by one, then two, three, four, five, and six degrees (Celsius).  The writing is good, but I had to force myself to finish the book.  It's just too sad, too depressing, what the future may bring. And yet the author does a good job of arguing that we cannot let ourselves be paralyzed by that depression, that the only moral thing to do is to fight tooth and nail, to not go silently into the future or be complicit in the end of our one precious life-giving planet.

I am very motivated to live a lower carbon-lifestyle, and to advocate for larger changes.  More about that in a later post.

Another book I finished last week: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman.  This slim book is hard to categorize - magical, lyrical, about children and yet not appropriate for children.  It is like the dark truth about childhood, and how children see the shadow or magical side of life but then forget.  But it's a lovely and captivating book, for those willing to take the strange journey with it.

And then there is The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  Cisneros sets out to tell the story of her childhood, and to represent those who were not able to leave that world as she did.  In subject matter it reminded me of a Latina A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Her narrative (or lack thereof) style was at first disorienting, and then just perfect.  Each tiny chapter is just a vignette, and frequently the "story" was just getting going when it was left behind, like a letter or a journal entry. A very quick read, but one that will stay with me.

Happy Reading!

Monday, April 7, 2014

Early Spring Gardening Notes


I am about to set off on a very long road-trip adventure with my kids, so I am sad to know that I will miss some of the best time in the garden.  But at least the tulips bloomed for me before I leave.


I don't know about other gardeners, but I have been accumulating a lot of partially used seed envelopes over the years.  This year I am not buying any new seed until I plant all the seed I already have ... some of it may have lost its potency, but it's worth a try anyway.  During the winter I inventoried and sorted, and now I can pull out these wads of seeds - this is all bush bean seed pictured above.


I've got my onion starts in. (What- doesn't everybody bury their white wine in the garden so it doesn't fall over in between sips?  It's a great way to garden on a puttering Sunday afternoon.)


Moving one of our chicken yards around the yard onto fresh grass results in bare spots that we are then covering with new raised beds.  I'm going to have a border of raised beds all around my back yard in a couple years (and then have to think of a new method for moving the chickens around, or just plop them down on top of a bed to give it some fertilizer directly - we'll see!)


I've got carrots, turnips, pole beans, broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, and potatoes planted in the new beds, and after I harvested the over-wintered kale I planted bush beans in that older bed.  The marigolds are because they seem to discourage the cats using the beds as litter boxes.


My garlic was planted in November, and it's looking pretty good.


Peas and Radishes are making an appearance!


And the bleeding hearts are in bloom.


Hopefully some of that seed I put in will make it, and I'll be back at the gardening in mid-May.  I'll miss it while I'm gone! (My husband and then some house-sitters will be caring for the place, and I've left them with watering instructions if there is no rain, but otherwise it's all just waiting for me.)

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Things I Learned in March

lessons learned in march

I'm a few days late with this, but here is my look back at the last month to see what I learned from it.

1.  I stopped ordering from Amazon this month, after deciding I could no longer support their employment practices, and I learned that I could do without it except for hard-to-find used books, which is going back to the original Amazon business model.  All the other odds and ends I had gotten into the habit of ordering through them can be found in local shops, ordered from different online businesses, or we can simply do without them.

2. This lenten season my husband and I gave up alcohol for Lent, and learned just how much alcohol is part of the normal social life. I had expected to find it difficult to not enjoy a glass of wine or a cocktail in the evening with my husband, but I had not thought about the times when drinking is part of social interactions with others. Whether it is beer at soccer games, wine at a professional gathering, or drinks with a nice dinner at a restaurant, we just hadn't noticed how much alcohol moves the social scene.  I have a whole new sympathy for those struggling with alcoholism or who simply do not drink, when it seems to be so saturated in our culture.

3.  Reading the book Six Degrees has been horrifying and galvanizing, and I've been reminded yet again that I need to dedicate myself to a low-carbon lifestyle and advocating for a collective shift to a low-carbon society.

4.  My mother and I studied the Psalms this month in our Mother-Daughter Bible Study, and learned that we were both disappointed by the psalms and disturbed by how much "my enemy" language they contain.  I still struggle to pull the religion of universal love out of the religion of tribal loyalties and judgment.


5.  I learned that the kale I planted in August was able to overwinter and is perfectly lovely to eat in March.  I also relearned just how much I love my land and my garden and life here once we are past the winter.  The sun really does come back and spring returns and I can happily live here without ever leaving the gates of my own property.


6.  I had heard it was possible, but this month I verified that I can sprout leeks from the cut off bottoms of other leeks.  I kept the bottoms from some grocery store leeks, started them in my kitchen window, and then planted them in the kitchen garden after they were a few inches tall.  Now how well they fare will be the April learning. :)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

37 Educational Goals For My Children

I was visiting with some homeschooling friends today and mentioned that I had "non-optional" educational goals for my kids.  I misremembered them as being a huge number (107 I said confidently), but later in the day I looked back through my journal and discovered a much more reasonable number: 37.

So here are my thirty-seven educational goals for my children, which I wrote down in 2010 when they were seven and 4 years old:

1.  Have lifelong fitness and healthy habits
2. Know how to find the knowledge that they need
3. Feel OK joining in on a pick-up ball game
4. Know the basics of riding horses
5.  Be able to ride a bike and drive a car - both safely in traffic
6.  Feel compassion for others
7.  Take personal responsibility
8.  Be honest, of good repute, and trustworthy
9.  Be happy and self-aware
10.  Understand science and how things work
11.  Love nature and be nature-wise
12.  Be able to make plans and set goals and follow through on them
13.  Read and write well enough
14.  Understand statistics
15.  Be math competent
16.  Know history well enough
17.  Love literature and story
18.  Be able to defend self and be safe
19.  Be able to cook
20.  Be able to grow food
21.  Be able to "keep house"
22.  Dress well-enough and be able to take care of clothing (clean and repair)
23.  Speak at least a bit of other language(s)
24.  Perform the basic home maintenance tasks
25.  Perform the basic car maintenance tasks
26.  Have a sense of family and close family ties
27.  Appreciate beauty, wonder, and awe
28.  Be a healthy sexual being
29.  Have good manners
30.  Appreciate community and work well in it
31.  Swim well
32.  Play a musical instrument (well enough)
33.  Understand geography and appreciate world cultures
34.  Have some "woodcraft" and survival skills
35.  Have spiritual depth and grounding
36.  Possess good communication and interpersonal skills
37.  Have good gun safety and competency

Looking back, it is a pretty good list. :)  I think I might refine some of these a bit, with what I know now, but overall, this still holds strong and describes my priorities for my children well.