Hopeful Weekend Links

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Get Ready! A tetrad of lunar eclipses, beginning in April - Earth Sky

Why do we make students sit still in class? – Carolina Blatt-Gross

How to Save Money on Food by Wasting Less – Lindsay Wilson, Shrink That Footprint

The Overprotected Kid – Hannah Rosin, The Atlantic

The Hard Alphabet – Sara Bir, Full Grown People

Ideas for Making Small Spaces More Efficient – Amazing Oasis

Free Range Learning: Book Review

natural learning, holistic education, homeschooling, unschooling

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.

Hopeful Weekend Links

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New Parenting Study Released - Sarah Miller, The New Yorker

Science Compard Every Diet, and the Winner is Real Food – James Hamblin, The Atlantic

The Wonders and Eternal Shelf Life of Honey - Natasha Geiling, Smithsonian

When Mothers Get Moving, Children are More Active Too – Linda Poon, NPR

The Simplest Thing that Makes the Happiest People in the World So Happy – Eric Barcer, Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Lessons in Organic Urbanism from India – Taz Loomans, Blooming Rock

Why You Might Need More Bitterness

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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:

  • Greens

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.

  • Teas

Dandelion root, burdock, milk thistle, hops, gentian and other bitter herbs make excellent pre-meal teas.

  • Tinctures

Urban Moonshine, Herb Pharm, and other companies make bitter tinctures and tonics that you can take with a glass of water as a quick before meal ritual.

  • 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.

  • Cocktails

Bitters are a common bar ingredient. Look for bitters at your grocery store and learn how to mix up a Manhattan, Rob Roy or Old-fashioned.

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.

Hopeful Weekend Links

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Become a Radical Pragmatist – Alan Webber, Do Lectures

Top 16 TED Talks for Foodists – Darya Rose, Summer Tomato

Guide to Seasonal Living: Spring – Mother Earth News Living

Oregon Moves to Help Disappearing Honey Bees – Jodi Peterson, High Country News

How Finland created the best education system in the world – Christine Gross-Loh, The Atlantic

Cure “plant deficiency syndrome” with the wild medicine solution – Guido Masé, Herb Mentor Radio

Celebrate the First Day of Spring

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Finally . . . the first day of spring is March 20! Here are some simple ways to celebrate.

Explore

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.

Play

Fly a kite. Or make dandelion or clover chains and wear them as spring crowns.

Gather

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.

Observe

Watch the sun rise and set. (You can find out what time it will rise here.)

Plant

Sow seeds. Have each family member pick a favorite flower to plant. Designate a special garden, and make a ceremony of it.

Read

Check out this list of novels “where the characters blossom and where there is hope in the midst of struggles, like flowers on bare branches.”

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.

Eat

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.

Make

Attract birds to your yard by making these easy Audubon-approved bird feeders out of peanut butter and bird seed.

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.

Hopeful Weekend Links

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What Happens in One Minute Around the World – Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic

Farm-to-Table Living Takes Root – Kate Murphy, New York Times

Freedom in 704 Square Feet – Sandy Keenan, New York Times

Help Kids Learn About Business and Finance : 60+ Resources – Laura Grace Weldon

Americans Are Riding Public Transit in Record Numbers – Justin Prichard, Associated Press

‘Genius Hour’ : What Kids Can Learn From Failure - Emanuella Grinberg, CNN

Why Spring is the Best Time for Birthing Projects

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“Then there are those rare days … that dawn with a clarity that muscles its way into every home and studio and office, lending a crispness and cogency to almost every thought. … There’s a delicious radiance that seems to come from the things themselves, from even the tables and the plush rug, and when we step outside we can taste it in the air and in the way a few fluffed clouds rest, almost motionless, in the crystal lens of the sky. How far our vision travels on such days!” – David Abram

We experienced our first spring-like day this weekend — birds singing, sun shining, daffodils in full bloom, windows open. Ahhh.

All day I was bursting with ideas and creativity. For most of us, our employers, clients, or the accumulating bills insist that we keep making our to-do lists and checking off items right on through the darkest, coldest months. In many of my former workplaces, summer and winter were interchangeable. Not once did a manager suggest we adjust our work to be more in sync with our natural seasonal inclinations.

But these first spring days have a way of showing us how stubbornly linked our minds and moods remain with the seasons.

One of my friends manages an organic farm, and not surprisingly his life is more in sync with nature than most of ours. In the winter he rests or travels. Then in the early spring he starts working, gradually increasing his hours with the longer days.

But you don’t have to trade your computer for a hoe to get more in tune with nature. One independent author realized that winter was an excellent time to stay inside writing, whereas spring was the ideal time for book releases, so that’s how he arranges his life now. Some companies have started giving employees extra time off during the summer, since that’s when people want to be outside and with family. My dad, a freelance writer, took nearly every afternoon off in September for fall hikes.

I’m fortunate to have some flexibility in my working life, so I try to pay attention to nature’s cycles and adjust my life and work accordingly. But it’s not easy, because our modern lifestyle — climate controlled houses and vehicles, cities lit up around the clock, ripe tomatoes available year round — are so adept at inoculating us from nature’s whims. Planting a garden helps, since I have to pay attention to and cooperate with nature from spring to early fall.

But every spring I realize how hard I’ve pushed myself to keep running, biking, producing and working at full capacity right through the winter elements. I suspect winter colds and influenza may be nature’s way of saying, “Enough. Rest already,” since many of us are bad at heeding the weather’s hints.

It’s noteworthy that until relatively recently, many cultures observed the new year in March. These early spring days, with their “delicious radiance” do seem a perfect time for making resolutions, for birthing books into the world, and perhaps for opening new businesses and starting ventures. What might the rest of our work lives look like if could take our natural seasonal inclinations into account?

Do you adjust your work with the seasons? Could you? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Pause. Relax. Breathe. Plan.

Photo: Rennett Stowe

Photo: Rennett Stowe

 

Last week, I realized I lost a lot of images in my blog conversion. It was an awful feeling to scan through my older posts and see years of pictures wiped out. I spent a night feeling pretty devastated.

But the next day, as I scrolled through old blog posts looking at the damage, I couldn’t help but look at the other things too, like all of these words I’ve worked so hard to write week after week, year after year. All these stories, memories, and ideas. How much my kids have changed. How much I’ve changed.

So often we don’t take these moments to pause and reflect on how we’ve evolved and where we’re going. We keep navigating forward, one foot in front of the other, without stepping back to reflect, analyze, brainstorm, and strategize.

That’s why I’ve decided to see The Case of the Missing Photos (Have I mentioned Ezra is crazy about mystery novels right now?) as a message to do just that.

So for the next two weeks, I’ll be taking my own little managing retreat to think about my business, my writing, and my short and long term goals. I’ll be pausing, relaxing, breathing, and planning.

It feels like the perfect time to think about the future and growth, with the sun shining and the flowers and trees just starting to come to life here.

As for all of those lost images, I’ve thankfully recovered quite a few and have some tricks to pursue for the rest. I’m ever hopeful, and I’ll see you back here in a couple weeks!

Have you taken time to pause, relax, breathe, and plan lately? Do you need to? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Hopeful Weekend Links

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These two young artists quit their jobs to build this glass house for $500 – Ilyce R. Glink, Yahoo News

We Warp Time – Laura Grace Weldon

Clean naturally with essential oils – Mother Earth Living

How cooking can change your life – Michael Pollan, RSA Shorts

Tiger Mom, Helicopter Dad, you both have it wrong – Melinda Blau, Shareable

The benefits of biking – Kelly McCartney, Shareable