New Year, New Start

I know 2020 has been rough for so many people. I think we are all hopeful and maybe even optimistic that 2021 has to be better.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions – they seem gimmicky and lose steam within weeks for most people.

But I think the start of a new year can be a great time to start strong and set the pace for a successful year.

I shared a photo yesterday on IG of my usual end-of-year task. I always end the year with clearing out my monthly due bills folder, prepping my monthly overview pages and organizing and filing the year’s documents. Twelve folders, actually thirteen including my 2020 Taxes folder, are prepped and ready to go. No monthly scramble to get organized, no misplaced paperwork. You can read a more detailed description of my Due Bills system here.

My goal for January is to tackle one task each day that will set the pace for the new year, that will help my family’s year be successful.

The tasks will cover administrative items, household items, sustainable living goals, and some cooking/healthy eating goals.

Here is what I have planned for the next several days:

January 1:  Laundry

We are a family of six, and so laundry piles up. I can stay on top of the washing, but the sorting and putting away part is where my laundry system (or lack of one…) breaks down. Additionally, with four growing kids I am overdue for a clothing purge.

My goal for today is to wash any dirty laundry, get all the clean laundry folded and put away, and while I work, sort clothing for either the trash bin or the donate bag.

January 2: Garage

My garage contains several zones, and it’s not unusual for one or more to get cluttered. My husband and I both have our own workbenches, we have our recycling sorting bins, food storage, and bikes. I plan to get each zone cleaned and organized. I’m tired of tripping over bikes, and I need to have my bench ready for seed trays soon.

January 3: My desk and admin area

I’m the administrator, and so my desk houses planners, file folders, office supplies, computer/printer, incoming mail, etc. In addition, I’m an avid reader and I keep my current reads at my desk as well. It gets out of hand pretty regularly, so it needs a good organizing and cleaning.

January 4: Back-to-school prep

The holiday break ends mid-week, and I want to give backpacks and lunch bags a deep clean. School items need to be rounded up and organized, and my snack bin replenished.

January 5: Outside cleanup

We spend a lot of time outside, and unfortunately it gets cluttered. Kids’ toys, gardening tools and planter pots, bins for animal feed, etc. I’ll be putting plants in the ground in February so I want to get my property tidied and ready for Spring.

January 6: Carpets

I hate carpets with every ounce of my being, but our house is wall-to-wall carpet, and redoing floors is a time-consuming and tedious process. While we do have some floor projects planned for the year, I can’t escape carpet care any time soon. With the kids back at school, I will be able to tackle vacuuming all the rooms and start shampooing. Realistically, the shampooing will go over several days, but the vacuuming and deep-clean prep will be done this day.

January 7: Living Room

We have counters and cabinets/drawers in our living room, and they get cluttered so fast. The drawers and cabinets start out organized but devolve into out-of-sight zones with some regularity. I want to go through and purge so my cabinets can be useful again. For example, I have a cabinet filled with craft items and I HATE crafts. I plan on a No mercy/No quarter approach to this particular decluttering project.

Check back in a week to see how my first seven days have gone, and what I have planned for the next week.

Playing with LEDs

Julian loves electronics, and so we are slowly putting together a tool kit for him to work with, Here he is showing off his new LED kit.

Review: nature’s best hope

I’ve just finished reading Douglas W. Tallamy’s Nature’s Best Hope, and I closed the book feeling inspired and motivated to walk my property and make a plan for adding a large variety of natives to support our local ecosystem. My general feeling is that, if a book leaves you wanting to do something, do more, make an impact, that is a sure sign of a good book!

Tallamy begins by discussing conservation efforts in this country, how they started and what they’ve accomplished. But he then points out that though it has helped preserve natural space, and protect threatened species, it isn’t enough. And more to the point, it can’t be enough.

He points out that “we cling to the notion that nature should be saved where nature remains, not where humans work, live, farm or play” and there is “the nearly universal belief that people are here and nature is somewhere else.” (p.20)

Tallamy then presents his vision of what he calls Homegrown National Park. If homeowners and communities would return some of their property to native plants, local ecosysytems could recover. There would be a significant number of acreage across the country that would together restore ecosystem and habitat for countless species of insects, mammals, reptiles, birds and more.

Tallamy makes the case for removing invasive, non-native plants and replacing with natives that are specific for our particular ecosystems. He describes how if we plant to meet the needs of specialists (those who only use a specific species of host plant, such as the monarch butterfly), we will also meet the needs of generalist species (those who are not so particular in their food choices).

The author is honest in his assessment that this conservation effort can and will require effort on our part, but that it is important and necessary. He also gives encouragement that it can be done, even in unlikely locations such as urban areas.

He recounts a story about a homeowner in Chicago who, over several years added trees and plants to her small urban backyard, and had seen increasing numbers of bird and butterfly species visit her yard. In another example, he describes The High Line, an old rail line in New York City that runs above the city streets, and which has been refurbished as a pedestrian walkway, with natives planted on either side. Tallamy describes his surprise when he spots four different native bee species that have returned to the city as a result.

This book follows Tallamy’s earlier publication of Bringing Nature Home: How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants. I have not read this book yet but have it on order. I’m looking forward to taking his advice to heart and making a difference in my own yard.

Review: Rain Reign

We get a lot of mileage out of our Audible membership. The kids listen to books daily, my husband has his favorites, and I’ve got my audible TBR stack that’s only a little more under control than my printed book pile.

I love all the member features offered by Audible – they now offer a Plus catalog of free listens, which I’m taking advantage of, especially for shorter listens for the kids. But one feature I was not aware of until recently was their lists and collections.

I recently got an email from Audible mentioning a collection put together by an Audible editor – books about or featuring neurodiversity. There are lists for memoirs, fiction titles, nonfiction titles, books for children and teens. It’s an incredible resource! I browsed a bit and decided on a fiction book from the Children and Teens lists.

We’ve spent the past week and a half listening to Rain Reign as part of our morning read aloud time. The kids and I have loved the story, and while I’ve tried to keep our time to just a couple of chapters so we can also fit in some of our other reading, on Friday we kept doing “one more chapter” as we were wrapped up in the story and wanted to finish.

This book is categorized as Children and Teens, but I think this story will impact any age group, especially if they have loved ones who are on the spectrum.

Rain Reign, written by Ann M. Martin and narrated by Laura Hamilton, is the story of a girl named Rose Howard. Rose, who has a diagnosis of (high functioning) autism, lives alone with her father and her dog Rain, and is obsessed with homonyms and following the rules.

The story is told from Rose’s point of view, and the narrator does a fantastic job bringing the story to life. I don’t think this book would have been as impactive if it hadn’t been from Rose’s point of view, to be honest. As you listen to the narrator, you can feel how Rose struggles with communication and understanding emotions, how her anxiety builds in different situations, and some of the ways she copes and self-regulates.

Rose is obsessed with homonyms, and so she is constantly thinking of them, wanting to talk about them, and you can see how her father (and others) react to this. As she is telling her story, she often interjects the spellings of words when she uses homonyms. When I was deciding on whether to buy this book, I listened to the sample and read some reviews. One reviewer actually commented that the narrator spelling the homonyms (as it is written in the book) disrupted the flow of the story. As we listened to the book, I thought about that reviewer’s comment. I think the homonyms DO disrupt the flow, but I also think that’s the point. As Rose goes through her daily routine, her thoughts often go to homonyms, and the way the author wrote the homonyms into the story makes the reader that much more able to put themselves into the mind of the character.

One thing that has really stuck with me is how important a support system is for helping kids on the spectrum reach their full potential. This support system may not necessarily include parents. In Rain Reign, Rose lives in a dysfunctional home with a father who doesn’t really acknowledge her diagnosis, has little patience for her behavioral issues that come with her diagnosis, and puts minimal effort into meeting her special needs. Thankfully she does have an advocate in her uncle, her school aide and her teacher.

We finished the book a couple of days ago, and I am still thinking about the story, the characters, the struggles. Stories told from the point of view of autistic characters (and other neurodiverse characters) are so important to building empathy. We may have loved ones on the spectrum, and be familiar with obsessions, fixations, rigidity, regulation, etc, but we are still looking at this from the outside. A story written from an autistic person’s point of view can let us see and experience (to an extent) what life on the spectrum is like on the inside.

This is an incredible book and I recommend listening or reading it with your children. It’s listed as middle grade level, suggested for grades 4-7. I think the grade level suggestion is reasonable – Rose’s father spends a lot of his time at the local bar, and loses his temper more than once during the story. At one point, Rose is called retarded by a school mate. My youngest is 6 years old, and enjoyed the book, but I did discuss some of this content as we came across it.

The audiobook is fantastic and I can’t recommend it enough. My oldest wants a hard copy to read on her own, so we will be ordering a paper copy of Rain Reign as well.

In Common – September 26, 2020

I keep telling myself I’m going to take a book-buying fast, but there are just so many good books out there!

I do think I should declare some sort of moratorium on book buying, and take some time to work through my TBR stack. I’m sure my husband would appreciate that!

I did manage to finally finish some of my slow reads – I finished up The Jewish Annotated New Testament. I found the commentary and footnotes throughout quite informative. The essays detailing Judaism, the rise of Christianity and its relationship to Judaism at different points in history, was worth the book purchase alone.

I am continuing through the New American Bible (Catholic) – I am reading slowly through the Old Testament. In addition, I am nearly finished with Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I am trying to stay on course to finish by end of October. I’ve got several other Christian theology/Christian living titles staring expectantly at me from the corner of the living room.

I’ve also got a small stack of books I’m reading on food and wellness. While we are longtime vegans, I am currently reading through The Vegan Starter Kit. I am putting together a Food and Wellness course for my 8th grader, and this is a great resource for new and seasoned vegans and vegetarians. I think when we raise our children with a certain lifestyle – in this case, following a whole-foods, plant-based diet – at some point they need to understand and embrace this lifestyle for themselves. This is especially true when the lifestyle is counter culture.

One book I am currently reading toward this goal is Salt Sugar Fat. It’s an expose of sorts of “how the food giants hooked us.” The author digs into how the food giants, such as Kraft and Cargill, use salt, sugar and fat to hook consumers on processed foods, with little or no regard to the public health crisis they are contributing to. From the introduction:

Inevitably, the manufacturers of processed food argue that they have allowed us to become the people we want to be, fast and busy, no longer slaves to the stove. But in their hands, the salt, sugar, and fat they have used to propel this social transformation are not nutrients as much as weapons – weapons they deploy, certainly to defeat their competitors but also to keep us coming back for more. (Salt Sugar Fat, p. xxx)

I am reading another book, Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas Tallamy. In this book he discusses his vision for a more grassroots, individual approach to conservation. In discussing Aldo Leopold, who spent years along with his family restoring sand plains in eastern Wisconsin, wrote about the need to develop a new land ethic, and unfortunately died before seeing the ultimate return of the sand cranes to the land, Tallamy comments:

Nevertheless, we cling to the notion that nature should be saved where nature remains, not where humans work, live, farm, or play. Though persuasive and moving, Aldo’s plea for a land ethic has thus far been unable to change the nearly universal belief that people are here and nature is somewhere else. (Nature’s Best Hope, p. 20)

I also wanted to share a great book resource. Living Book Press is releasing Anna Comstock’s Handbook of Nature Study, in sections AND with new color photos! I’ve already gotten the first book, covering Fish, Reptiles, Amphibians, Invertebrates. Birds has just been released and Insects is forthcoming. I’ve got the large volume (with the black cover), but of course I want to have these smaller volumes, with new photos added.

Current Personal Reads

New American Bible, Revised Edition

Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem

Make Your Home a Haven Bible Study by Courtney Joseph

The Key to Living By Faith (Hebrews) by Kay Arthur and Pete De Lacy

The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Bourne

Taking Charge of ADHD by Russell Barkley

The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson

Aspergirls by Rudy Simone

Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko

A Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola

Nature’s Best Hope by Douglas W. Tallamy

Salt Sugar Fat by Michael Moss

Magicians of the Gods by Graham Hancock

The Vegan Starter Kit by Neal D. Barnard (prereading for my teen)

The History of Christian Theology – The Great Courses (audible)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (audible)

Family Read Alouds

Harry Potter 7: The Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (audible, family listen)

The Mitchells: Five for Victory by Hilda Van Stockum