what I’m interested in right now

Some things that currently fascinate me and grab at my attention, in no particular order:

  • How novelists work and think, how writers write, how imagination and intellect function within the limitations and mess of real life. Where do novels come from, Mommy?
  • How to take care of a house and yard. Okay, this does not fascinate me. But I genuinely wish I knew more about it! And it’s something we’re gradually figuring out (and outfitting ourselves for: you need a lot of stuff for this business, it turns out).
  • The breastfeeding parents who feel judged and unwelcome in public, and the formula-feeding parents who feel judged and unwelcome in like the universe, and the bizarre reality that this is so often framed/experienced/lived as Breastfeeders vs. Bottle-feeders when really this is a jumble of Mothers Can’t Do Shit Right No Matter What, misogyny, the continuing power of separate spheres ideology (women/family/home/private are and should be utterly different & separate from men/industry/work/public), terrible public & workplace policies, and crappy science reporting. I’ve cared about the lack of support and good information around infant feeding for a long time, but in recent years the strange staging of (and silences in/around) the conversation have really struck me.
  • Victorian fairy painting and illustration, and fairy lore/culture more generally.
  • Learning, watching learning happen, discovering how Noah learns, trying to make learning happen for myself in various ways (especially trying to be patient but active as I try to acquire some French, and drafting my first novel).
  • Plants, insects, birds, and other creatures of Minnesota. I’m learning the names and rhythms of our adopted home along with Noah, and it’s just great.
  • Everything about Simon. The way he phrases and pronounces things. His laugh. His belly. All the details.
  • Coffee. Drinking the hell out of that shit. It fascinates me. Mmm.
  • What would it be like to sleep and have free time? I hear that will happen to me at some point in the future, and used to happen to me in the past. MIND BLOWN.

recent-ish reads: short reviews of books for young people

Quick reviews of two middle-grade novels and a short story collection, originally posted at Goodreads.

Fortunately, The Milk, Neil Gaiman

     Silly. Fun. Professor Steg is pretty great.

The Pinhoe Egg, Diana Wynne Jones

My favorite of the Chrestomanci books, which is saying something! (Now that I’ve read them all, I’d like to go back to most of them a second time.) The Pinhoe Egg sticks together well and features a compelling girl main character alongside the magically-talented boy lead so common in Jones’s novels. The mundane, domestic interactions and the magical world furl together beautifully here. A real pleasure.

Mixed Magics: Four Tales of Chrestomanci, Diana Wynne Jones

These–especially the first three stories–are made of everything that’s good about the Chrestomanci novels. Lots of fun to visit with the characters again (and I’m generally a longform rather than short story person, so I was a little surprised to find them so thoroughly enjoyable).

what we’ve really been teaching Noah: our secret homeschooling curriculum, grades 1-3

When we started homeschooling a little over two years ago, we saw it as probably very temporary: a one-year thing. But we took the thing seriously anyway.

Eric and I put together a (possibly quirky) list of subject areas that we saw as important. We also reviewed our local school district’s grades 1, 2, and 3 curricula and intended learning outcomes.

We know ourselves and our fatigue level all too well, and I guess we didn’t want to resurface a year later and go “Oh crap! We totally forgot about [math/art/whatever!]”

Our list was what you’d expect, if you know anything about us: reading and literature, writing and storytelling, math, arts and crafts, music, science, history, social justice and civics, geography, second language learning, and practical skills (cooking, sewing, telling time, tying knots, navigating, and understanding money, weights, and other measures, …).

We’ve explored and practiced in all those areas during the past couple years, for sure.

But I’m not sure we ever actually referred back to the list.

Here’s one thing we’ve learned through the months and years of homeschooling so far: The stuff in that list isn’t what we’re really teaching Noah (and Simon, too, increasingly). We’re also not really teaching and learning about the specific topics we choose to explore together: weather, coral reefs, artists, composers, fossils, birds, our state, and the like. We know our children won’t remember any of this stuff as adults or even as middle school students, unless they happen to stay fascinated by and continue learning about particular topics and skills. (Do you remember the details of what you learned in the second grade?)

Instead, we have a secret curriculum, one we did not discuss in advance and have never really articulated. And it probably looks something like this:

  • Learning, observing, reading, creating, and asking questions are  amazing activities that we can enjoy our whole lives. We’re nerds, so modeling this approach comes naturally to us. Yay books learning fun! And it’s not exactly a hard sell with curious, engaged children. This part is why homeschooling is such a joy for us.
  • Here’s how to learn. This is what I really learned in my doctoral program, along with the ‘how to find information’ point below. How do you, personally, learn? What are the options for learning particular skills or information? If something is really really not working, is there some other approach you could try or some help you could get? Also, 1) you have to be absolutely terrible at lots of things before you can be good at them and 2) you are fully capable of getting good at them, if you keep showing up and trying. Those last two parts are tough to learn in your bones–especially in our “you’re either born smart/talented or you’re not” culture–but they’re so important.
  • Here’s how you can find any information you want or need. We constantly model how books work (as a reference librarian, I seriously met many college students who DID NOT KNOW HOW TO USE AN INDEX AND TABLE OF CONTENTS or even what those were, and that is a huge and unnecessary hurdle between you and information! he’s also been using field guides and similar reference books a lot lately, learning to read the “How to Use This Book” section so he can understand the entries and abbreviations), how to find an expert though our social network or in our community (Can’t quite identify that plant in our yard? Let’s email a photo to our friend’s horticulturalist friend and see if he knows!), how to ask librarians for help (knowing they’re willing to assist, but also being specific and assertive, like when we recently convinced a librarian that books for adult coin collectors would serve Noah’s purpose better than the children’s books she really wanted him to want), how to evaluate information in books and online (he knows how to find and think about publication dates, to trust his gut when something seems questionable and in need of fact-checking, and that we usually check multiple online sources to see whether they agree), and so on. We’re working on the basics of online searching, too: “what search terms should I try to find that out?,” I’ll ask before just finding the answer.
  • You get to ask questions and stick up for yourself; your feelings, needs, interests, and opinions matter. This subtext of the learner-led approach matters a lot to us.
  • Here’s how to compromise, negotiate with sensitivity, and consider other people’s needs and abilities. Learning to learn around an infant and then a very high-energy and risk-taking toddler, and around a parent who also works from home and is easily overstimulated, is pretty much going to promote these skills. If we don’t want anybody’s head to explode.
  • We care about other people and about injustice and unkindness. We talk about this stuff, constantly, in honest ways that don’t overwhelm Noah where he is right now. It’s funny, because I think we talk far less about disturbing news items than many parents of eight-year-olds but also talk far more openly and often than most about racism, sexism, poverty and classism, privilege, religious beliefs and differences, power, parenting approaches, general societal rudeness toward children, and our culture’s problematic attitudes toward sex and sexuality and fat and dis/ability and the like. It’s the mix that works best for us and for him right now.

This is, of course, a lot of what we do as parents, not just as homeschooling parents. And that’s another thing we’ve learned: it’s just parenting, just part of our relationships, just answering questions and compromising and thinking about what our children want and need. The parts of homeschooling that suck are the parts of parenting that suck; the parts of homeschooling that are awesome are the parts of parenting that are awesome.

recent-ish reads: short reviews of books for young people

Quick reviews of two middle-grade novels and a young adult one, originally posted at Goodreads.

Poppy, Avi

Poppy is a likeable mouse, and her changing perception of the manipulative owl Mr. Ocax makes for an interesting story. Ereth the porcupine is excellent: his love of salt, his grumpiness, the whole deal.

The 7-year-old and I both found Poppy engaging. I kept feeling like there could be … more … somehow, but I don’t have any particular complaints to lodge: perhaps it just felt a bit slight?

I thought about reading this one a year or so ago, and I’m glad I didn’t: the death of Poppy’s boyfriend at the very beginning (and some tense scenes when Poppy is in danger) would have really bothered him then, and ruined the book. So, for those of you with sensitive readers: there’s some scary stuff in here.

The Tale of Despereaux, Kate DiCamillo

What a beautiful and rhythmic story, great for reading aloud. It’s very very dark in some ways, though, what with the child abuse and the mouse and human corpses and the tormented prisoners and the comments on this sad world and all, so not for sensitive readers. (My eight-year-old, who is one of those, would not have enjoyed this book One Bit a year or even six months ago.)

A Mad, Wicked Folly, Sharon Biggs Waller

First off: I had a hard time putting this book down and found it very very engaging.

It’s fun, too, to see a story for young people about the suffrage movement and sexism. The main drawback: historical background information is inserted in sooooooo many places with a heavy-handed clunkiness that kept pulling me out of the narrative (I do get why the author and/or an editor could feel the target audience needs help getting their bearings, but still).

hello-to-autumn applesauce; goodbye-to-summer honey ice cream (incl. recipes)

We celebrate the equinoxes and solstices in small ways each year, slowly creating traditions. Nothing big, but moments of noticing and enjoying the changing seasons.

(As a matter of fact, I’m currently writing a four-article series about celebrating these seasonal moments at Green Child Magazine. The first piece, on the autumnal equinox, is online here.)

This year, we bought about three pounds of apples at our farmers’ market and made applesauce together. It’s simple and delicious:

  • Put about half an inch of water, a pinch of salt, and a couple pinches of sugar (if you want) in the bottom of a pot.
  • Quarter, core, and peel the apples, adding them to the pot.
  • Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook, stirring and smooshing from time to time, until mushy. Add a bit more water and/or turn down the heat as necessary to prevent browning.

That’s it. Enjoy your applesauce, warm or cold, with or without cinnamon.

A week after saying hello to autumn with the equinox, we had a sunny weekend with temperatures in the 80s–and took advantage of the opportunity to say goodbye to summer again. Supper outside, kicking a ball around the yard, and homemade honey ice cream that we’ve been meaning to make for months.

  • In a heavy-bottomed pot, mix together 3/4 cup honey, 3 tablespoons sugar, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1 cup milk, and 1 cup heavy cream [buy a pint; you'll add the rest a bit later]. Heat just to a simmer over medium heat, stirring often, and then remove from heat.
  • Beat six egg yolks in a medium mixing bowl.
  • Whisking, add about 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture. Keep whisking and add another 1/4 cup. Then whisk in all the rest of the hot mixture.
  • Put all that back in the pot and heat, stirring often, over medium-low heat until it reaches 170 degrees.
  • Stir in the remaining cup of heavy cream.
  • Cool to room temperature in a jar, and then refrigerate until very cold (we did overnight).
  • Freeze in ice cream maker.
  • Drizzle with honey and eat!

it’s general life update time!

I haven’t written many personal updates here lately. So, in case you’re curious, a nice smattering …

  • Autumn where I live is gorgeous. I love this warm golden light and all the breezes. And it’s the autumnal equinox already!!!
  • Noah‘s a third-grader now, still homeschooling (well, unschooling, really). Working on getting more comfortable with handwriting, continuing to practice and play with math, lots of science and nature stuff (we are definitely little naturalists over here!), trying out typing again with a different free typing program, learning French as a family, watching largely nature-y videos, using some free and cheap iPad apps that I should write about here sometime, drawing, collecting and learning ALL ABOUT coins, playing soccer for the first time, and reading reading reading (together and alone, fiction and nonfiction, we all just love reading). We also found a regular-meet-up sort of playgroup that actually feels like a good fit for us, for the first time.
  • Simon‘s closing in on two and a half. He is so cute I cannot even. Which is good, because he’s also a freaking handful. Five or six handfuls. Hands full? Whatever, he’s lively and full of terrible ideas that he thinks are just fabulous ideas. He gives great hugs, though, and has not yet burned down the house. You should see him go.
  • The house! I mentioned here that we bought a house and moved back in May. After four months here, we are all thoroughly in love with our house and our neighborhood. Moving here was a really good call.
  • And the book. I submitted a book proposal and sample chapters to a few small publishing houses that seemed like the best fits for the feminist parenting guide project. I learned so much drafting a big chunk of the project and writing up the proposal!
  • Right around finishing the proposal package, I realized I wasn’t getting paid work for the fall semester. We therefore can’t afford any childcare for my writing/research time. I therefore can’t actually write any more of the book: and, given my time/money/energy resources, it’s become clear that self-publishing would be a terrible idea for me anyway. So, if an editor expresses interest, I hope the book will indeed come into the world and arrive on your shelves. If not, I’ll set it aside and move on with the rest of my life.
  • Also because of the zero-childcare thing, I’m now shooting for one post a week at this blog. I like this space, I’ve been here for quite a while (so have some of you, dear readers), and it’s been interesting to see how many different rhythms I’ve had with it over the months and years.
  • In the meantime: fiction! I am enjoying making some up! This is something I’ve wanted to do ever since I started reading novels, but (in that nearly quarter-century) the time has never been right. Now I’m letting myself do some of that work, in the 60-90 minutes an afternoon I have to myself these days. It is the most deeply satisfying writing and thinking I’ve ever done.
  • And I’ve continued doing some freelance writing.
  • And hanging out on Twitter, of course. At Twitter? Via Twitter? Whatever. I like it there.
  • It’s so weird not to have a clear career plan or professional identity right now. Our society is so oriented toward wage labor (and, for women who are parents, the “mother” identity) that there is no culturally legible narrative for who I am or what I’m doing. In other words, there seems to be no possible answer to “what do you do?” that would actually make the other person picture even roughly what I really do and why or who I really am. That has never been true for me before, and I have to say, it’s not my favorite.

So yeah. How are you? What’s up these days?

A Feminist Parenting, Pregnancy/Birth, & Books Blog