Monday, July 28, 2014

What I'm Reading: Plath, The Book Thief, and All Joy, No Fun


A glimpse into my recent life as a Reader.

The Collected Poems by Sylvia Plath were interesting.  As the collection is organized chronologically, I wasn't sure whether I was just warming to her as I plowed through the collection or whether I was noticing her own maturation as a poet - but the beginning of the collection did not impress me and I had to read many poems before I started to warm to them.  Her reputation is so huge, but I've never read the actual poems before, so it was good to actually go to the source material.

Meanwhile, The Book Thief took me a ridiculously long time to finish because I bought it on my kindle ... which the kids keep "borrowing" and not bringing back to me.  When I did get a chance to read it, though, I loved it.  Narrated by Death and set in Nazi Germany, the book could have been one huge cliche.  It escaped that fate, however, and managed to both surprise me and bring me to tears.  So, so good.

And finally, I managed to finish All Joy, No Fun this week.  The author set out to write a book about parenting with a different question: instead of asking what effect it has on the kids, what effect does modern parenting have on the parents?  Riffing off a study that showed that parents had lowered rates of happiness and well-being compared to peers without children, the book explores many of the issues of modern parenting through both qualitative case studies and reviews of more quantitative data.  There are some very thought-provoking things in this book if you are a parent, especially a parent of the middle-class variety (which the author does state in a disclaimer was her primary focus).  I was left with some deep musings about the modern phenomenon of the "useless" child - the child who does not contribute to society or the family through labor of any kind but is instead the receiver of care, goods, resources, etc.  I might have more to say about that in another post.

The reading continues!

Friday, July 25, 2014

A New Family Fitness Plan

Family PE Class

I would really like for my kids to grow up fit and healthy, and I know that a big part of that is building habits.  My husband and I have very different fitness habits - he grew up without any exercise habit and never participated in sports while I grew up with heavy participation in dance and a daily home fitness routine.  Although we are both capable of falling into a slump of inactivity for months on end, I'm still about 300 times more likely to choose to exercise than he is.  The habits I built early on in my life are still pretty easy to pick back up again.

But despite knowing what did work for me, so far in my kids lives I've focused more on giving them what I didn't have in my childhood - team sports.  As a homeschooled child, I didn't have easy access to school sports, and my parents don't enjoy sports so they didn't go out of their way to find them for me as a child.  Dance, gymnastics, rhythmic gymnastics, and martial arts were all physically demanding activities that filled my time as a child, but I never had a team and I never was very good at the hand-eye coordination needed for ball sports (you'd think rhythmic gymnastics would have helped - it should have - I wasn't very good at it).  I felt like there was a lack in my own life, so for my own kids I've made sure they had a chance to try out team sports while they were young.

It may have been a good thing to get the early exposure, but it hasn't taken off with either of them.  My son has said flat out that he is "done with sports" as he enters middle school.  My daughter still has some sports on her (way too long) list of extracurriculars she wants to fit into her schedule (and out of my educational budget) but her interests are veering toward theater and arts and we all agree the money and time would be better spent giving her those opportunities.

Hence the need for fitness that doesn't cost anything and can be done on our own, or in other words we're going back to my roots.  Using my exercise habits and history as a model, we are getting up a bit earlier at least three mornings a week for a Family PE Class at 6:30 am.  This early hour lets my husband participate and still have time to shower and rush to work on time.  For 30 minutes we are doing a little cardio, a little calisthenics, maybe some yoga, and some stretching.  I'm making each morning a bit different by adding in things like:

  • Running laps around our house (opening all the gates made an awkward but adequate loop path)
  • trampoline jumping 
  • rotation stations with hand weights and resistance bands (I only own one set of equipment, so we had to rotate)
  • Videos
  • Grass Drills, army style
  • Crazy Dance Party
  • Playing the Fit Deck game 
The beauty of this is that not only is it free, but it's getting the whole family more fit at once.  It's time we spend together, we're modeling the good habits, and it's the sort of habit that the kids can carry on in their lives no matter where they live or what resources they have access to.  Going to a gym is very nice, and I've always enjoyed when I have a gym membership and when it has been convenient to find time to go there, but you can't top working out at home for convenience and likelihood that you'll actually do it.  

So now I'm adding fitness coach to my job description as a homeschooling mom!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Plastic Free Challenge: Week 3

plastic challenge week 3

For the month of July I signed on to the Plastic Free July challenge.  The idea is to avoid all single-use plastic that just goes straight into the trash, and what you can't avoid keep for a "dilemma bag" and display.

Here are the results of the third week of the challenge, minus the plastic trash that was generated by my family eating at the local summer fair this week.  I just didn't much care to keep the dirty forks and cups in my purse for hours just to bring home and wash later for display.  I think we used three disposable forks and two straws and plastic lids and one snow cone cup on that day, and the rest was paper (which was collected for compost at the fair).

So my family of four made this much plastic trash this week:

  1. The vacuum bag that we sealed one of our home-raised turkeys in last fall for freezing.  When we thawed out and ate the bird this week the bag became trash.
  2. One bag that held cotton candy (from that day at the fair).
  3. The plastic seal from a tub of salsa (I can get salsa in glass jars, but we really like this local salsa company that packages its fresh salsa in plastic tubs.  Local, fresh, and organic or packaged in glass?)
  4. The end of the plastic wrap on a brick of cheddar cheese (the rest of the wrapper will probably appear in next weeks photo).
  5. A package of mini-marshmallows that were used in a chemistry lab by my son, building molecules out of marshmallows and toothpicks.
  6. The packaging from a new set of headphones I bought this week.
  7. Two plastic lids from sodas.
  8. Four plastic coffee straws that I didn't notice my kids sticking into their reusable cups at the coffee shop.  They really like to drink out of straws, so I've started saving and washing out straws, but these little coffee ones are too small to really wash out.
  9. Four bags from pasta we cooked this week.

In the spirit of full confession, my trash this week also contained two styrofoam carry out containers and two of those weird foil/plastic/I don't know what this is bags that chips come in.

Overall, though, I do think we are reducing how much trash we put out, and it's definitely making us think about it more.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What I'm Reading: Finding Higher Ground


Climate change is a depressing topic, let's be honest.  Whenever I read another book about it, I typically feel guilty, sad, mad, fearful, and depressed.  And yet, I can't stick my head in the sand and pretend this isn't happening - it's real, it's here, it's happening, and what are we going to do about it?

Finding Higher Ground: Adaptation in the Age of Warming by Amy Seidl was a different kind of climate change book.  Here, there is very little doom and gloom and more tales of fascinating adaptations that are already taking place in the natural world, and the challenge for more adaptation in our cultural world.  Seidl tells us about drought resistance evolving in plants, about changing migration patterns for birds and butterflies, and about folks experimenting with rice farming in Vermont.  She looks at solar energy and local food sheds, and challenges the reader to think of their own higher ground.

A quote from the book:

But higher ground also lies in territory beyond these pragmatic actions.  it is in our determination to care about what we love, to protect life that is threatened, to grieve for what is lost, and to believe that we can endure the Age of Warming.  The biological and cultural environments that we have depended upon in the past will undoubtedly change.  But the adaptations we bring into existence will be the very makings of our persistence.

I highly recommend this book!

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Plastic Confessions, Week 2

plastic confessions week 2

Another week of the Plastic Free July Challenge, and here is what my family of four produced in the way of plastic trash (I am not logging the plastic that can be recycled in our area, or the plastic that I wash and reuse).

Top left: the plastic wrapping around a chicken we ate this week, the neck wrap on a bottle of teriyaki sauce, and a cup and two lids from two milkshakes that my husband bought this week.

Bottom left: the unnecessary inner plastic packaging from a bag of gluten free bread (I reuse bread bags to buy produce and bulk food in, but this can't be anything but trash), a package of apple slices that came with the kids meal at a local sub shop (why?! Apples do not need packaging!), the seal ring from a frozen juice container, and the plastic seals from a tub of cottage cheese and a tub of salsa.

Top Right: my son ordered a practice sword and it came in a plastic sleeve in the mail, and we opened a new level of Math U See and the DVD and books were plastic wrapped, the plastic lid from an olive oil bottle, and I let my daughter order her ice cream in a cone because I thought that would avoid plastic but no - they had a plastic drip guard on the cone!

Bottom Right: my son bought a bag of candy with his allowance this week, two more plastic lids from milk and sauce bottles, one bag of pasta, and the plastic "organically grown" sticker that wrapped around a cabbage.

It seems to be about the same volume as last week, so we didn't manage to reduce this week.  Major culprits were the ice cream/milk shake stops that have been inspired by our hotter-than-usual weather this week.  Other factors I see as being pretty huge are the wrapping on meat and what you get as shipping packaging when you mail order something.

But it also seems like there is just so much plastic everywhere that it will be highly unlikely that my family can make itself truly Plastic Free.  But we can still use this as an aspiration, and do the best we can.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Workshop Weekends


My son had a great idea recently, which he named "Workshop Weekends".  Basically, he thought it would be cool if his dad spent some time on the weekend making stuff with the kids.

Now, my husband is no craftsman. He's thrown together some raised garden beds and some animal housing and so forth, but he's still learning too.  But the stuff they end up making isn't the point of the exercise, at all.

The first weekend of this produced wooden swords and shields and a little fairy house.  I can't wait to see if this continues!

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Year Round Homeschooling and the First Day of School

first day of school

We school year round, and it often has felt like we just didn't notice the transition from one grade to another (which is all rather arbitrary, and neither of my kids ever finishes all their subjects at the same time).

Then I would see all my public school  and homeschool friends posting their "First Day of School" pictures in September, and feel a bit bummed that I hadn't create a transition ritual for my own kids.

So we did something to mark the turning point this year.  We wrapped up last year with testing and assessment days, then we put away last year's portfolio and records in the filing cabinet.  One year put to bed.

A week of summer camps for both kids was a nice "summer break", and then yesterday we had our "First Day of School".  New empty three ring binders all ready to be filled with this year's portfolio samples. A new year, full of potential and promise.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Plastic Confessions

Plastic Confessions

This week, for No Plastic July, we didn't exactly manage to avoid all the plastic.  Here is one week's worth of plastic waste for my family of four, from left to right and top to bottom:

I had ordered something from Amazon and when it arrived it had those inflated plastic bag packing fill.

We had a weinie-roast for the 4th of July, and I had a choice between trying to get sausages from the meat counter without the plastic waste, or of getting the certified ethically raised and grass fed beef hotdogs.  In this case, my feelings about humanely raised meat won out over the plastic issue.

Packaging for some deli meat I had bought for packing the kids lunches to camp this week (I bought it before I signed up for the challenge).

The rest of the plastic there on the upper right was all packaging around the small batch of fireworks we did at home for the 4th.

Two packages of the kind of gluten-free pasta we like the best.

The little plastic seals wrapped around salad dressing and vitamin bottles, the plastic seal around a frozen juice concentrate, a plastic cap from a jug of juice, another from a creamer container, and the plastic film sealed over a tub of salsa.

Plastic cling wrap that was around a block of cheese I bought at the co-op.

Three clam shells that held strawberries and blueberries I bought to make my red-white-and-blue dessert for the 4th.  Unfortunately, we can't recycle clam shells and I hate to buy berries in them, but it was all I could find.

And, finally, the plastic straw, lid, and cup from a Starbucks stop during a 2+ hour drive to visit my family.  I forgot to pack reusable cups for the drive, and when my husband really wanted a coffee stop we had to go for it.  The kids and I did without since we didn't have our cups, but he had an iced coffee.

Let's see if I can do better next week!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Half-Way There Reading Challenge Review

reading post

As of the end of June, half of my 2014 reading year is up.  How am I doing on my 14 x 14 in 2014 Reading Challenge?

One Category Finished: Children's Lit

What fourteen children's books did I read (with my kids)?

  1. Children's Lit
    1. Squire by Tamora Pierce
    2. Lady Knight by Tamora Pierce
    3. The Burning Bridge by John Flanagan
    4. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate
    5. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
    6. A Dog Called Homeless by Sarah Lean
    7. Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo
    8. The Red Pyramid by Rick Riordan
    9. Throne of Fire by Rick Riordan
    10. Shadow of the Serpent by Rick Riordan
    11. Summer of the Gypsy Moths by Sara Pennypacker
    12. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
    13. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood
    14. The Icebound Land by John Flanagan
Of these, my favorites were The One and Only Ivan  and Summer of the Gypsy Moths, both because they were about real life issues of home, independence, and relationships and both because they were heartfelt without being too maudlin.  A Dog Called Homeless was also very heartfelt (and it made me cry while I read it out loud) but it was a bit too obvious in its emotional manipulations.  Flora and Ulysses was quirky and adorable, and a really fun book that had us all saying what is this book about?  What is going on!? but in a good way.  The Incorrigible Children series is great silly fun and a great vocabulary builder - it's one of those books that uses the big words and then also explains what they mean to the kids but it makes sense and doesn't break up the flow of the narrative.  The rest on the list were also good, but pretty standard fantasy adventure fare.  Not that I don't enjoy fantasy adventure - I do!  

One Category Half-Finished (so on track, I guess): Books Made Into Movies 

  1. Books Made Into Movies
    1. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
    2. Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
    3. Horns by Joe Hill
    4. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway (*double dipper)
    5. Divergent by Veronica Roth
    6. Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell *(double dipper)
    7. The Fault In Our Stars by John Green
This turns out to be a diverse collection - lots of different sorts of books get made into movies!  I'm also trying to watch the movies after I read the books, but I haven't seen the newest (not available on netflix yet) from this list. I did not like the adaptation of Ender's Game into a movie - the book was much better.  I did like the adaptation of Cloud Atlas (a crazy book to even try to adapt into a movie!) and the movie of The Old Man and the Sea is so faithful to the book I could say lines out loud right before the narrator said them on the movie.  Oh - and I watch both versions of Great Gatsby.  Gotta go with Robert Redford on this one!

None of the other categories are on track, although many are very close at either five or six books read:

1.  Religion, Ethics, Philosophy, and Spirituality
2.  Self-Improvement and Lifestyle
3.  Work Related
4.  Science and Psychology
5.  History
6.  Just for Fun Reads

And then some are really trailing at only 3 or 4 books read:

1.  Parenting
2.  Women's Studies
3.  Poetry
4.  Books to Read Before You Die
5.  My Favorite Detectives
6.  Around the World, in Alphabetical Order

For the full lists, you can look at my Challenge Page.   OK - enough blogging, I need to get back to reading!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Attempting the Plastic Free July Challenge

plastic free july

I'm accepting the challenge for this month, to refuse single use plastics as much as possible.

Here's the description of the challenge:

The Challenge

The challenge is quite simple. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July.
"Single-use" includes plastic shopping bags, plastic cups, straws, plastic packaging...basically anything that's intended only to be used once and then discarded. If refusing ALL single-use plastic sounds too daunting this time, try the TOP 4 challenge (straws, plastic bags, plastic bottles &coffee cup lids).

The rules

  1. Attempt to refuse single-use plastic during July.
  2. Remember it's not going to be easy! It is a challenge, not a competition so don't worry about being perfect.
  3. Collect any unavoidable single-use plastic you buy. Keep in a dilemma bag and share it with us at the end of the challenge.
  4. It's up to you regarding how long you participate. You might decide to go plastic-free for a day, a week, a month or longer! However long you choose will still make a contribution.
I'd love if others joined me in this!  You can sign up for the challenge at