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

Habit Stacking

I recently listened to a podcast where the guest speaker was discussing habit stacking. I was so intrigued that I searched out more resources on the topic and how I could make it work for me.

What it is

Habit stacking is something we probably do to a certain degree without even realizing it. But intentional habit stacking has the potential to make your day run smoother, help you hit more of your personal goals and be more efficient with your time management.

Habit Stacking is also an excellent way to incorporate new habits (or those that tend to get put off and excused away) into our daily routine.

Habit stacking is just what the name suggests – the stacking of certain habits with other habits so that they all become routine and get tackled. One important concept is that of an anchor – a habit that is already ingrained in your routine, that you can then attach new habits to. 

For example, if the first thing you do in the morning is make and drink a cup of coffee, tie a new habit (or several) to your coffee habit. Drink a glass of water and take any medications or supplements you need to take while your coffee brews or you wait for the kettle to heat up. Fill your water bottle(s) for the day.

One benefit is that it allows you to tackle more each day, and makes it more likely to hit those items on our To Do list that we tend to push off.

There are podcasts and books and websites talking about habit stacking, but how you incorporate it into your day will be personal. I am going to share how I am analyzing my personal schedule and how I am working to integrate habit tacking into my day. You may be inspired to try something that I mention here.

Identify your anchors

We all have anchor habits that already exist in our day. We may even have habits that are stacked with some of these anchors. Evaluate your typical daily routine, identifying these anchors. For me, my first anchor is waking up and turning the kettle on for coffee. Some days I’ll do a few things while I wait for the water to be ready, and others I sit and doze, waiting for the whistle.

It may be tempting to stack “Drink first cup of coffee” with the Make Coffee anchor, but for me, I like to consider it as a separate anchor, because there are several habits I can stack with Drinking coffee, separate from the habits I can stack with Making Coffee.

Identify your stacked habits

After I list out my anchor habits, I consider what habits are already stacked. We probably don’t consider them as stacked, but once we start incorporating this terminology into our planning and routine, it can make it that much easier to stick with these habits.

I’ll use my previously mentioned anchors for examples.

When I first wake up and turn the kettle on, there are several minutes of down time while I wait for my water to be ready. Most days, I tackle several early morning kitchen tasks while I wait, so these are already stacked.

I usually run the dishwasher right before I go to bed, so one of the first things I do in the morning is open the dishwasher to let any water air dry. I fill the Brita water pitcher, and fill  water bottles for my spouse and children to take with them when we go our separate ways.

A little later when I am drinking my first coffee, I go through my day planner for the day, reviewing what’s on the schedule and to-do list and adding anything else as needed. I also check email and the weather on my phone so I am prepared for the day.

Identify your unstacked habits

These are the habits that you fit in somewhere during the day, but they don’t have a permanent place in your routine, and as a result, may get pushed off. Exercising is a good example. You plan to work out, but you don’t have it scheduled and so it is easy to keep pushing it back and back until it’s too late in the day and you have to try again the next day.

Emptying the dishwasher is one habit I try to fit in where I can. Unfortunately this leads to some late nights getting the dishes done (or the occasional sink of dirty dishes the next morning). These are habits that don’t have an anchor but probably should.

After I list out my unstacked habits, I look at my anchors and where I can stack these to ensure they get done. This takes some planning and a realistic outlook on your day. I know I won’t have time to exercise before getting the kids off to school, and I already get up early, so adding it to one of my early morning anchors is a waste of time.

Identify the habits you want to create

Some people may find this part the most difficult step. Whereas the earlier steps involved identifying habits we already have, whether stacked or unstacked, this part of the process is determining new habits we want to establish.

This might be waking up earlier to get quiet time or Bible study done, or maybe it’s weekly meal planning, or twenty minutes of reading before bed.

Once we identify habits we’d like to establish, we can decide which anchor we can add it to, or even if it needs to be the anchor of a new stack.

For example, meal planning may not fit into my already established stacks. But, I can see making a new stack, with meal planning as the anchor. Compiling a detailed weekly shopping list, cleaning out the fridge and taking stock of pantry items can all be part of this stack. If you are a couponer, add cutting coupons and tossing expired coupons to this stack.

Using Prompts to Establish Habits

I’ve often heard it takes two weeks to form a habit. This is encouraging – you shouldn’t expect to remember all the items of your habit stacks right away. But what can we do to ensure we actually do the habits until they become engrained?

Prompts can be used to remind you to do the habit stacks, and also can list out the individual habits in a stack.

Some people are box checkers, and so a check list of items in a stack could be hung or posted somewhere. Something as simple as post it notes with habits in each stack can be posted where we can’t miss them. For example, a post it note with the habits stacked with making coffee in the morning would go on the kitchen cabinet near the stove. If a stack includes tackling several routine tasks online (bills, emails, etc), post a note on the computer screen.

Prompts can also be visual cues to remind you of the habit. For example, if you are wanting to read before bed, put the book next to the bed, and for those who wear glasses, put your glasses case on top of the book. Before you take your glasses off before bed, you are reminded to do you reading.

Prompts can also be a little more high tech. There are habit stacker apps available, but even using reminders or alarms on a smart phone could work as a prompt.

The most important thing to consider when choosing prompts, in my opinion, is to look for something that will work for YOU. Honestly, I most likely won’t respond to a habit tracking app, but a simple series of phone alarms, coupled with some post its or laminated check lists, would be something I am willing to stick with.

Habit stacking is a great way to accomplish more in your day, and establish habits that will become second nature. Consider making this tool work for you!