Here are a couple of easy ideas for giving your mom (or partner) a special homemade gift she will actually use.
It’s not too soon to start thinking about a Father’s Day DIY gift, and this Bay Rum aftershave is my new favorite thing to make. You can even just stop after making the Bay Rum and gift it as a great smelling cologne. Here’s the How To: https://botanicalalchemyandapothecary.com/bay-rum-aftershave-and-toner
Students have special requirements whether they are in middle school or working on their PhD. Herbs and other supplements can help with optimal brain functioning and also with the stress of schoolwork. Read more on how to help them in their studies here.
For something that lives in our gut, our intestinal bacteria are sure getting a lot of time on stage lately. It’s their time to shine I guess, now that the anti-bacterial obsession has begun to wane (thank you science) and awareness about what problems arise when we lack our good bacteria is on the rise. (Thank you once again, science.) There’s a new book about germs and bacteria and what little gems some germs actually are, and there’s never been a time riper for this information. It seems aimed at parents, in hopes of encouraging them to raise children with rich microbiomes and immune systems, but it sounds like anyone who’s ever wondered if they should wash their hands yet again, or eat that last bit of chocolate that fell on their floor, would appreciate this book. It’s called Let Them Eat Dirt and it’s by B. Brett Finlay, PhD and Marie-Claire Arrieta, PhD and although I haven’t read it yet, I heard an interview with Dr. Finlay and am putting it on my rather long can’t-wait-to-read list. On their website, there’s a link to a scientific study of probiotics and what diseases the specific brands help. Check it out! I was surprised to see my favorite brand on there, but not surprised to see it listed as helpful in multiple disease situations. This list also serves as more evidence to support switching up your brands since you can see that not all probiotics are meant for all cases.
In other news, Whole Foods is hard at work rolling out their 365 stores and I had the opportunity to visit one today which just opened in Bellevue. When my friend told me it was already open I was quite surprised because I had only just started hearing peeps and rumors about a 365 opening in Bellevue and certainly didn’t expect to see one up and going so quickly. It’s at Bellevue Square and has a more urban feel to it than the Whole Foods Markets nearby. The selection is smaller, but the brands are mostly familiar, and there seems to be an emphasis on grab-and-go foods. The salad bar was packed with the lunch crowd, there was pizza to buy by the slice, and a multitude of other packaged items to go. I’ll be curious to see how these do.
I hope everyone is enjoying their fall so far.
That two word phrase keeps popping up in my mind now that the first week of school is underway, because schools are such a great place to view a community’s cultural norms. The first thing that is blatantly apparent is the fact that walking or biking to school is not a norm in this community, or maybe this generation. I’m not sure how widespread it is but I do think this greater Seattle area in general has an overzealous relationship with cars. When I read Elizabeth Gilbert‘s book Eat, Pray, Love and she talked about how each city has one word that defines it, I thought that this area’s word would be ‘drive’. Not only for the literal drive a car meaning, although that is certainly part of it, but also the drive that means pushing people to work harder, longer hours than ever before, driving kids to start sports at an earlier age or else lose out on it as well as other extracurricular activities~ music, dance, chess, stem-activities, the list is endless. Not that being ‘driven’ as an innate trait is bad, of course it’s good to be focused and hardworking, and there’s plenty of that around here too, but mostly it seems like a rather overly driven culture here and the actual driving exemplifies the mental and emotional aspects. My older son is in middle school which does not have bus services for the kids that live within a mile or maybe a mile and a half, and they say it’s because those kids can easily walk or bike to school. OK, I absolutely agree that they can indeed walk or bike that far, my earlier posts attest to that here and here, but the thing is, no one actually lets their kid do that. Everyone drives their child to school and the traffic could rival a boy band concert at an all girls’ high school, and yet parents still prefer to put up with the frustration of sitting in traffic, and planning their mornings and afternoons around drop off and pick-up times that take a ridiculous amount of time rather than have their kid walk or bike. It just isn’t done. So, how do you turn around a cultural norm like that? Or should the school accept the fact that they could get a handle on their traffic mess, and it is a problem about which we get regular emails so it’s definitely an issue, by adding another bus or two and picking up most of the car riders? Or should they fight the cultural norm with setting up groups so kids can walk or bike together, perhaps get parent volunteers to escort the kids for the first week until they are used to it, somehow reward the students who show up on bike or by walking, or I don’t know….do something. Because the problem with just adding another bus or two is that we are branding that cultural norm into kids’ heads~ one does not walk or bike to a place that is less than a mile away. One takes a vehicle. Is that really what we want kids learning? Is that remotely healthy for any single person much less the earth as a whole? I don’t think so.
Another cultural norm on display at schools is the food. Oh dear. The cafeteria at my son’s middle school is packed with a dazzling array of junk food they can buy day in and day out~ donuts, chips as diverse as the languages spoken in the hallways, candy of all stripes, and sugar wrapped in a thousand disguises. The main offerings are mediocre at best (nutritionally, visually, taste-wise) and the salad bar offers unappetizing raw veggies which are probably as nutrient dense as the composition notebooks found in the kids’ backpacks. Again, is this how we want kids to learn to eat? What they expect from mealtimes is absolutely going to be influenced by the meals they have five days a week, even if the other mealtimes are different, they are still learning that the norm is to eat junk food. My friend from Israel was so surprised to find that here in the U.S. sandwiches routinely come with chips or fries. In her country sandwiches came with salad or a vegetable, or nothing. We don’t have to accept these norms just because they exist around us~ I often think of the Jane Austens and E.M.Forsters out there that have always written about the ridiculousness of their own cultural norms and eventually those norms did change. We can imprint our kids with healthy habits on a cultural level, or not. It just needs to be enough people’s priority I guess. It starts with recognizing the daily habits they we all partake in, sometimes mindlessly, sometimes joyfully, but all the time repetitively.
The boys were excited to plant vegetables and herbs in the garden for Earth Day. I hope they are just as excited to eat them this summer. My older one will be for sure. If you are wondering which one is older, look for the blue stripes and boss-man brow. More and more people are asking me if they are twins, much to their chagrin. One thing about my younger son, though he be picky he is still growing like a weed. Or it might be better to say, growing like a misunderstood wild herb. Little dandy lions.
It’s January and I’ve not been writing or cooking much, mostly because we got a dog and I seem to spending all my spare time walking her.
She is a working breed (why did we get a working breed?! We are not an employment agency!) who needs a lot of activity and so we walk. A lot. The good thing about this is I’m up and outside at times I normally would not be, so I’m getting to hear more birds sing their morning songs, see the early fog lift slowly uncovering a waking world, and nod acquaintance with the other slaves to leashes out, their one free hand wrapped around a doggie bag. (Not the good kind.) My favorite part of being out in the morning though is seeing the stillness slowly come alive.
When I walk my boys to school we stay where a lot of commuters are headed to work so it seems like we are jumping into a busy day, already needing to catch up with the fast-moving current. After we say our goodbyes at school and our dog goes into hysterics that we are leaving the boys and no longer all together (bark bark whine whine) then we move onto a trail where the quiet seeps in and the early stillness of morning still resides. It’s beautiful.
Later hours often find us walking around town too, but morning is my favorite time to be out with her, when the air smells heavier with sweetness and damp and as we glide through it we are part of magical time before the day really starts. I actually didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions and in fact have been kind of on an anti-resolution kick if one judges by the amount of time I’ve spent at the gym. What I’ve had to do is change my routines and I’m trying to do it gracefully instead fighting every moment of it. We got this dog for the kids and they love and adore her, but of course it’s my responsibility to give her enough exercise, take her out enough, feed her enough. After all the ‘enoughs’ I’m also trying to accept the changes to my routines with grace and appreciate the pup for all her quirks and yes, adore her too. This January has not been about calorie counting, new exercise classes, or trying new food fads. For me, it’s been about accepting the fact that for the next few years at least, I’ll be spending a lot of my time just… walking. (Unless we move to a sheep farm which actually doesn’t sound like a bad idea.) For now though, if you want to find me you might check the trails in Redmond~ I’ll be the one trying to keep up with my working dog.
Halloween is a mixed-emotion day for anyone with food allergies or intolerances. It’s hard to be a kid and go from the excitement of having a bag full of candy to the disappointment of setting aside all the forbidden ones. Luckily Halloween has always been more about the dressing up than the candy for my kids , but it’s still always a big let-down when they sort their goodies. I try to have extra gluten-free, dairy-free candy here that the can trade for the stuff in their bags, including some of their favorite chocolates that they are certainly not going to find trick-or-treating. It helps. And it also gives them some character really, to have to show some judgment, understand consequences, give up some things that are hard to give up because it’s the healthier choice for them. They get to learn it isn’t the end of the world to part with some candy and that is a lesson in emotional maturity that I can be thankful for. They handle it, and so do I. Let’s enjoy this day everyone! Be safe and have fun.
This is a little bit off topic from my norm here, but an old English major can only go so long without writing about books. Isn’t there a saying~ “You can graduate the English major from school but you can’t take the schooling out of the English major”….or something along those lines. My boys have been reading their own books, often in bed but also on lazy afternoons and rainy Saturdays for years now, but I have continued to also read them bedtime stories which means finding a book they both want to hear. This isn’t actually too hard since they are less than two years apart and share many interests but still takes some hunting. Plus we also listen to books in the car, sometimes the same one as we are reading aloud but usually not, so we have been exposed to quite a lot of children’s literature. My oldest the other day asked me what had been my favorite book so far in our reading aloud category and it got me thinking of all the amazing stories out there that really have been a pleasure to share with my little guys, so I thought I’d compile a list here of some of those favorites to share with anyone looking for ideas for their own family or classrooms.
These aren’t in any particular order other than what my memory coughs up, and I’m going to add links to amazon just for convenience sake. We got most of these from our local library ourselves.:
1. Nurk by Ursula Vernon This book is about a shrew (!) who goes on an adventure. The suspense, relationships, and vocabulary are all pitch perfect. He grows in believable ways through understandable adversities that aren’t kid-ified. Vernon also wrote the Dragonbreath series which I didn’t read but it was the first series that really captured my youngest’s fancy and made him into a real reader on his own time. Ages 5-9
2. Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr It seriously takes an exceptional book to keep my sons’ interests if the main character is a girl. They loved this book where this young girl is on an island all by herself and shows a degree of intelligence and self-reliance that is not often seen in this age of helicopter parenting. There is also a bit of animal communication which is always appealing to at least my own kids, and the author keeps the child-like perspective in mind the whole time without ever being condescending, silly, or forced. Well done. Best guess~ 6-9 year olds.
3. Stuart Little by E.B. White How did I get through childhood without reading this one? My kids tell me all the time that they aren’t “in” to classics but both loved this one. It’s a classic for a reason. And ageless.
4. Circle of Doom by Tim Kennemore Despite the dark sounding title, this is a laugh-out-loud book, especially if you have a big family, are from a big family, or have a connection to a big family. The hilarity revolves around the family dynamics of the three siblings who each think they are outwitting the others. The parents make pretty funny appearances as well. Kennemore has done a fabulous job taking archetypal family members that anyone can recognize and making them seriously funny. 7-13~ really easy read but there are a couple of bad words (like the ‘d’ word) so when reading aloud I just changed them. I feel like I should clarify, when I say “easy read” that doesn’t account for the fact that a lot of the hilarity is nuanced and I actually laughed more than my kids did because of that aspect, so maybe the age recommendation should actually be 7-39.
5. The Silverwing Trilogy by Kenneth Oppel We actually listened to the first book of this in our car (on CD) and now my boys are reading the second book themselves. This is told from the point of view of a silverwing bat and the drama that he and his friends and family go through is epic, exciting, sometimes gruesome and other times beautiful. There are also lessons in religious fanaticism layered in and several mythologies made up entirely by Oppel. He is an extremely creative author and this trilogy is an award winner. We’ve read two other books by him, The Boundless and Airborn, which my sons liked though I think they are better read by a slightly older reader (12+) due to the romantic relationships and the fact that Oppel makes his bad guys excruciatingly evil. He does this in Silverwing too, but somehow the evil bats are not quite as hard to take as the evil people. Ages 8-12.
6. Of course the crème de la crème is Harry Potter. We have read these aloud, listened to them in the car, my oldest has read and reread the books 2-4 times each and my youngest has read them at least once. Oh yes, and watched the movies. J.K. Rowling is brilliant. Enough said. Ageless.
Some other books worth mentioning:
My youngest adored My Father’s Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett. I didn’t read it so can’t say why, but it is an award winner with a lot of great reviews.
He also loved Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms by Lissa Evans, but again, I didn’t read it so cannot say why it was so captivating.
He is also a fan of the Dragons of Wayward Crescent series by Chris D’Lacey. These are unique in that there are smaller chapter books for the starter readers, and also bigger books for the more advanced. I did read one or two of these aloud and found them charmingly suspenseful, and perfectly suited to a child’s imagination. Ages 6-12, depending on the book.
Both my boys (and therefore I have too) have listened to all of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jacksons and Heroes stories in the car on CD. They have passed the time on many long car trips but I have to say my sons have enjoyed them more than I have. Even they will point out similarities to Harry Potter story lines though, not that he copied but if you are writing after Rowling, you might want to make an effort to keep it as different as possible when you have two boys and a girl going on missions and the main character is a reluctant hero who had no idea of his special-ness up until book one.
For lighter reads, both my boys like the Aldo Zelnick series by Karla Oceanak. These seem to have a similar reading experience as Wimpy Kid with a more likeable main character. Ages 7-12
I will probably keep adding to this list but I will stop for now. OK, just two more~ we just started the Molly Moon series by Georgia Byng and it alternates between funny and suspenseful in an ever delightful way. And if my sons were writing this post they would include Lantern Sam and the Blue Streak Bandits by Michael D. Beil. This alternates between two narrators, a boy and a cat. As I said, my boys would recommend it, not sure it’s in my top 10, well yes I am sure and it isn’t. But it’s all about keeping the kids interested in reading, right?
Did you know that flies actually live a lot longer than 24 hours? They can apparently live for about a month, which is closer to 720 hours. It must be true, I found this out on the internet. Sarcasm aside, it really must be a myth about the 24 hours because we’ve had the biggest, freakiest fly in our house for three days now, and it has made itself known all 72 hours it’s been visiting us. It’s so fat that my oldest can’t believe how fast it is, he thinks it should be like a Garfield Fly where it sleeps all the time and waits to be served lasagna. I told him maybe it is all muscle and some kind of super fly, a hero in the insect world. He said no, it just seems to want to be our pet. I have to agree, it follows us upstairs and downstairs, in and out of rooms, noisily adding a buzzing soundtrack to our home life and stealthily remaining just out of arms reach, or rolled up magazine reach to be more honest. We are trying to encourage it to go outside, I don’t want to kill it b/c it would make such a nasty mess I can’t even imagine, so we are leaving doors open and swatting it towards them, but that just never works and we end up feeling frustrated and foolish, Superfly laughing haughtily in the corner. Anyway, despite the new ever-present presence in the house, I did want to share a good news infographic from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, by way of the Edible Schoolyard Project. It shows improvement in kids’ lunches but I think the real news is that when kids actually have healthy choices they are more likely to eat healthy foods. It’s another myth that kids will always choose the pizza over the salad bar. Just like adults, kids want to make healthy choices, maybe not all the time, but if there is no healthy choice, then it will be none of the time. And that’s no myth.