We’re making the most of a stretch of sparkling spring days with tea parties, egg hunts, and fun-packed afternoons with friends. I’m sure the rain will send us inside soon. See you then….
It’s gardening time again! It feels like it was the shortest winter in history (although I perhaps would not have said that mid-January). I planted a few of our beds a couple of weeks ago. It’s our seventh gardening season in our backyard, and I actually sort of know what I’m doing now. It helps that I have two eager little helpers. Ezra and Ira love the garden! Their faces light up at the very mention of planting.
Once we’re in the garden, our activities usually go like this: Ezra and I till a bed. Ira finds a “wormy.” Ezra and I spread fertilizer on a bed. Ira plays with the wormy. Ezra and I plant some seeds. Ira finds another wormy. Ira is enthusiastic about invertebrates.
We’re excitedly watching starts grow and seeds sprout, and we’re already harvesting a bit of lettuce and kale that self-started, perennial herbs, and lots of dandelion greens. Have I mentioned it’s prime dandelion harvesting season?
Wild foods tend to be much more nutritious than the produce in our supermarkets or even farmer’s markets. Jo Robinson, author of Eating on the Wild Side, explains that when we bred the bitterness out of our produce, we also lost nutrition. “The more palatable our fruits and vegetables became … the less advantageous they were for our health.”
Fortunately, despite many efforts to eradicate it, most of us have a wild edible green growing in abundance all around us, and it’s a nutritional powerhouse. A half pound of dandelion greens provides:
- 649% of your recommended daily allowance of vitamin K,
- 338% of your vitamin A,
- 58% of your vitamin C,
- 39% of your iron,
- 20% of your Riboflavin,
- 19% of your calcium,
- 19% of your vitamin B-6, and
- 9% of your dietary fiber
We’ll likely be seeing many more April showers, but you’ll hopefully find us sloshing around the garden playing with wormies or armed with a colander eying our neighbors’ weeds. Wishing you some similar spring time revelry.
Is it gardening season where you live? If so, what’s coming up in your garden? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
It’s the perfect time for me to read Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything, which author Laura Grace Weldon sent me for review consideration. My husband Aaron and I spent much of February visiting schools, because our five-year-old son Ezra will be eligible to attend kindergarten next year. Although we’re planning to enroll our boys in school, I’m glad I read Weldon’s book, which champions a way of homeschooling that verges considerably from what most public and private schools offer.
Weldon calls for highly individual, interest-led, experiential education that gives children lives full of “conversation, music, play, stories, struggles and overcoming struggles, chores, laughter and the excitement of examining in depth any of the rich wells of knowledge that humanity has to offer.” She’s critical of any system that “makes the child a passive recipient of education” whether its a public school or a homeschooling curriculum that prescribes conformity to standards. She doesn’t advocate any one prescribed style of homeschooling, but a flexible mix and match according to what best suits a family’s needs.
At 301 pages, published by Hohm Press, Free Range Learning looks like a textbook, but it’s not a dry read. Weldon’s writing is as clear and lively as on her popular blog, and she presents considerable eye-opening research about the value of homeschooling, like the following:
One study tested homeschooled as well as schooled children using the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales, a measure of social development. On this test, the homeschooled children scored higher in socialization, communication, daily living skills and maturity. Overall the mean score of the schooled children stood at the 23rd percentile. In contrast, the mean score for the homeschooled children stood at the 84th percentile.
Weldon also gives homeschooling parents and homeschooled students a voice in pages of anecdotes, like this one by Linda from Ohio:
I did not plan to stay home with Jeffrey. As a licensed occupational therapist, I’d been eager to get back to work in a hospital setting. But when we put him in school he did very poorly. They slapped three labels on him before he turned six. We put him in private school. That was worse. We could see school wasn’t an option for him. So Matt and I reassessed. Now I have a part-time practice at home. … I think our family is closer as a result of this style of education, and Jeffrey has no evidence of the problems the school pointed to. I’m glad our son didn’t adjust to school and we didn’t accept their labels.
When we chose not to send Ezra to preschool this year, I realized how counter-culture homeschooling is. “Which preschool does he go to?” we’re asked regularly when we’re out and about. When I reply that Ezra stays home, many well-meaning parents relay the importance of preschool for a child’s social skills and development. I’m quietly heartened that the research suggests that young kids who stay home with involved parents thrive. In the same vein, I imagine homeschooling parents breathe a sigh of relief when they read Weldon’s supportive research and case studies.
She devotes the second half of the book to providing reams of ideas for exploring different subjects with kids, including all of the usual school subjects as well as business and finance, volunteerism, and ethics. In nearly every chapter, she provides an abundance of resources, including lists of youth organizations, mentorship programs, learning communities, online courses, service travel agencies, etc.
Weldon’s ideas and resources are impressive, but her real gift is her compelling and joyful vision of what a quality home education can look like:
Among today’s homeschoolers are children who wonder aloud any time of day and whose questions are answered. Children who stay up late to stargaze, who eagerly practice the violin and study Latin, who slosh in the edges of a pond to see tadpoles, who design their own video games, who read books till noon in their pajamas. These children are empowered to be free range learners.
I was lucky to grow up with voracious lifelong learners, who were my greatest teachers. Books were stacked on every surface in our house. On weekends we visited ghost towns and museums, attended history lectures, and met all kinds of interesting writers and thinkers. My parents liked to joke that they homeschooled us, but we also went to school. I hope to follow in that tradition with my kids.
Truthfully, when my older sister went to school, I begged my parents to send me to preschool, and I loved school all the way through college. As an adult, though, I’m increasingly concerned about our approach to schooling. As Weldon points out, our standards-obsessed education system, with its focus on test scores and grades too often discourages creativity, curiosity, risk-taking, and initiative. As my first child embarks into kindergarten, I’m just as concerned as Weldon that “the very structure of school makes the child a passive recipient of education designed by others.”
My family is fortunate to live in a community with an abundance of school choice, and we’re planning to send Ezra to a public alternative school that favors interest-led, project-based learning and favors cooperation over competitiveness. I hope it’s a good fit for him and that he loves school as much as I did. If it’s not, we’ll re-evaluate and happily consider other options, including homeschooling. No matter what we end up doing, I’m thrilled to have Laura Grace Weldon’s beautifully written book at hand. It’s every parent’s job to create an enriching household that fosters a love of learning, and Weldon offers an invaluable resource for doing that.
Your mouth probably puckers at the thought of eating something bitter. But according to many experts, including clinical herbalist Guido Masé and integrative physician Tiearona Low Dog, a small dose of bitter can prevent and cure a litany of complaints.
Why do we need bitter foods?
Masé explains that plants developed bitter compounds to stop mammals from eating them. Then mammals developed detoxification systems, i.e. our livers, to deal with the bitter compounds. So bitters are the reason we have a liver, and it doesn’t work right when we don’t eat them.
Masé and Low Dog say ingesting more bitters, particularly before we eat, can:
- Improve digestion
When there’s no bitter flavor in our food, Masé says we run the risk of poor digestion. “We see fat and cholesterol synthesis problems in the liver. … We see food passing untouched through the digestive system.” He recommends that instead of trying to “restrict, restrict and remove, remove” for concerns like toxicity, chronic inflammation, liver dysfunction, and digestive complaints and sensitivity, we “reincorporate bitterness.” When we activate our taste buds with the bitter flavor before a meal, the pancreas secrets enzymes, the liver secretes bile, and the valves through the compartments of the gastrointestinal tract work better. “As a result, the drama of incomplete digestion is really tempered.”
- Nix heart burn
The mouth is not the only thing that puckers when we eat bitters. According to Masé, the valve at the bottom of the esophagus also scrunches up, keeping acid in place.
- Eliminate food allergies and excema in adults and children
“I’ve seen big changes in the skin when we focus on enhancing digestion and restoring the microflora in the gut,” writes Low Dog in her book Healthy at Home. She prescribes children’s bitters for kids with food allergies, to be taken a half an hour or so before dinner. She also recommends bitters for adults with seasonal and environmental allergies.
- Curb sugar cravings
According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, we shouldn’t seek to eliminate the sweet taste from our diet, but to balance all five tastes. In the same vein, Masé is convinced that ingesting more bitters is the solution to sugar addiction. “Just make sure you get a little bit of bitter every day and you’ll find that your relationship with sugar is a whole lot easier.” He carries a tincture of bitters in his car and takes a little bit before he goes to the grocery store. That way, he insists, it’s easier for him to keep the chips and sweets out of his basket.
5 ways to ingest more bitters:
One of my favorite foods — dandelion — is a bitter, and this is prime time to harvest the leaves. You can learn more about how awesome dandelion is in my (all-time most popular post) Dandelions are Super Foods.
Chicory, arugula, radicchio, escarole, turnip greens, mustard greens, watercress, endive, and other bitter greens also make delicious pre-dinner salads.
Dandelion root, burdock, milk thistle, hops, gentian and other bitter herbs make excellent pre-meal teas.
- Dark chocolate
Dark chocolate is a delicious way to add some bitterness to your diet, and it was featured in this week’s People’s Pharmacy because of its many other health benefits.
Do you like bitter foods and beverages? Have they helped you solve any health issues? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.
Finally . . . the first day of spring is March 20! Here are some simple ways to celebrate.
Go on a hike and identify wildflowers if some are sprouting in your area. Or visit a local farm and see if you can get a glimpse of calves, lambs, or chicks in the barnyard.
Fly a kite. Or make dandelion or clover chains and wear them as spring crowns.
Hunt for spring flowers, cherry buds, egg shells, a bird’s nest, and other signs of spring. Decorate the house with crocuses, daffodils, tulips, or dandelions.
Watch the sun rise and set. (You can find out what time it will rise here.)
Sow seeds. Have each family member pick a favorite flower to plant. Designate a special garden, and make a ceremony of it.
And don’t forget about the kids. Some of my family’s favorite spring picture-books are: Spring: An Alphabet Acrostic by Steven Schur, Spring by Ron Hirschi, and Home for a Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown. We also enjoy reading aloud from The Spring Equinox: Celebrating the Greening of the Earth by Ellen Jackson.
Make a spring feast with the first crops of the season. Dandelion leaves, steamed nettles, and asparagus are delicious spring greens. Other traditional spring foods include eggs, ham, and sweets. Eat outside if weather permits, or have a picnic on a blanket in the living room.
Or create your own traditions to welcome spring this Thursday.
Resources for seasonal celebrations:
The Artful Spring by Jean Van’t Hul
Ceremonies of the Seasons by Jennifer Cole
The Spring Equinox: Celebrate the Greening of the Earth by Ellen Jackson
Together: Creating Family Traditions by Rondi Hillstrom Davis and Janell Sewall Oakes
The Creative Family by Amanda Blake Soule
Do you have plans or ideas for how to celebrate spring this year? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.