Posted in book lists, sqt

{sqt} – reading highlights of 2018

I’m joining up with the seven quick takes linkup again this week, for the first time in a while, with a fitting theme for the last Friday of the year: 2018 favorites! My focus is going to be on the books I’ve read this year; with my end-of-the-year detour into fan fiction my booklist is shorter than it was in 2017, but it is still full of books I loved and want to share.

Parenting: Differently Wired, by Deborah Reber

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If you were following my blog this summer, this favorite should come as no surprise! This is one of the best books I have found for parents of neurodivergent children – one that honors their differences and supports parents in helping their children to remain authentically themselves while also learning to live in a world that is often critical of who they are. For a more in-depth review, see this post leading up to its release this summer. (You may notice I tried to run a giveaway for the book; well, no one entered, so if you feel this book would be relevant or helpful for you, let me know… I still have the extra copy 🙂 )

Science: The Emperor of All Maladies: a Biography of Cancer, by Siddhartha Mukherjee

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This book offers an interesting take on cancer, as it examines the history of human interaction with cancer in all its ethical and political context rather than focusing solely the medical manifestations of the illness (though it delves quite deeply into the biology of cancer as well). I learned a lot and was deeply fascinated through the entire book (but as it was a library book, I can’t go back to pull up any awesome quotes for this post, unfortunately!). While it is very long, I think it is definitely worth the time and effort to read it, especially for anyone interested in biology, pathology, bioethics, or science policy.

Other Non-Fiction: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson

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When you grow up in a privileged environment, it can be challenging to learn about corruption and brokenness in systems skewed in your favor. This book was difficult to read primarily because of the nature of its topic, and the injustices it exposed – whose depths I had no idea existed beforehand (even though I was aware of the biases in our judicial system, I was not aware of the extent of those biases, particularly in certain areas of the country). I picked up this book last Christmas on the recommendation of Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times, for both myself and my grandma, and both of us agree that it was a powerful and moving book, containing invaluable context for understanding (and hopefully healing) some of the racial and cultural divides in our nation. (For more of my thoughts, and some quotes, see this post from April.)

General Fiction: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, by Helen Simonson

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In this novel, an old British major slowly falls in love with a Pakistani shopkeeper (both widowed), to the general consternation of her extended family and their entire village. The interactions between them on both individual and sociocultural levels are simultaneously awkward, amusing, and enlightening (in other words, fairly realistic for two very different people from very different backgrounds thrown into contact with one another); and the twists and turns of the plot are both somewhat unexpected and very satisfying. Major Pettigrew especially, as a slightly cynical and cantankerous old British man finding himself in ludicrously unprecedented circumstances, is quite a wonderful character 🙂

Dystopia: American War, by Omar El Akkad

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I’m surprised I didn’t post about this book back in July! Dystopia is one of my favorite genres, and this one hit particularly close to home. It is set in the southern United States, in a future in which climate change catalyzes a second Civil War; with Northern forces applying external pressure and international agents internally taking advantage of hatred and discontent, the book follows one individual from poverty, through a refugee camp, to indoctrination and grooming in a shadowy terrorist cell. The methods and circumstances are drawn from the actual history of civil war and terrorism in the Middle East, but the culture and setting are undeniably American, and the juxtaposition reinforces both the humanity of people our culture often labels as “other” and the very real possibility that our nation too could be ravaged by the dark side of that shared humanity. I highly recommend it, but it is not a comfortable read.

Science Fiction: Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. LeGuin

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LeGuin is an exceptional world-builder, and I have enjoyed all of her works, but this is in my opinion one of her best, exploring aspects of nationalism, humanity, and gender. How arbitrary are the categories with which we identify ourselves? When one of those categories is rendered meaningless, how do we cope with our own self-understanding, or refashion the image we present to others? How far can one stray from the center of a category and still be considered part of it, by either themselves or by others? And of course all of these questions are not so much discussed as illustrated and implied as the two main characters seek (in both the context of two different nations, as well as in almost total isolation) to accomplish a mission with global and even universal consequences.

Fantasy: Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

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The story here, as wonderfully epic and convoluted and fascinating as it is, in a world with magic and music and legend coming to life, isn’t even the main reason I have to choose this book (and its sequel) as my top fantasy book of the year. Rarely have I encountered an author who can make their prose sing as beautifully as Rothfuss manages to do here. My only disappointment is that the third book in the trilogy has not yet been published, so while each book so far has a definite story arc and is still satisfying to read, the overall story is incomplete.

What are some of your favorite books from this year? Please share in the comments – I always love to hear about good books to read!

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday episode 6

Just a short one today, since I haven’t taken pictures of some of our bigger things: we are learning that books hold the answers to our questions! This is such an important concept for a pre-reader! Especially for my pre-reader who asks me questions constantly all day long, this is going to be a significant source of motivation for learning how to read 🙂

Here’s how it went down.

I asked Rondel to shut the back door this evening because he was letting the bugs in. He did so, then asked me why the bugs wanted to come in. I told him that a lot of bugs are attracted to the light. Being his infinitely curious self, he then asked me why the bugs were attracted to the light – and I had to tell him that I didn’t know, that it wasn’t something I ever researched or learned about. He paused for a moment, and then said, “Would a book say why bugs like the light? Do we have a book about bugs?” I wasn’t sure if we did or not, so he went to look through our science crate to find out (and got distracted and came back with a book about elephants, but still).

We never did find out why bugs are attracted to light… a quick Google search in lieu of finding a book only reveals that scientists have conflicting and unproven theories but no answers, so I suppose it’s fortunate that he did get distracted! But the larger concept is something I was so happy to hear from him 🙂

Posted in wwlw

what we’re learning wednesday: episode 1

As a way to document our unschooling journey in case we need records or information for doubtful friends and family, as well as for our own memories, I’m going to showcase once a week some of the things we’ve been learning. It may be through conversations, books, TV, exploration, or more (and I’ll try to mix it up week to week!), since our goal is to be whole-life learners. Hopefully it may also provide some ideas for others, especially when I’m sharing resources we love!

 

In a search for a new animal documentary that Rondel “hadn’t even seen one of yet!”, we discovered BBC’s show Hidden Kingdoms.

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I know this show generated a bit of controversy because it is more scripted and less observational than a typical nature documentary – but almost because of that it is an excellent introduction to these animals for people (especially young children) who may not have enough background information about them to appreciate something purely observational. These episodes showcase the unique abilities and challenges faced by its “stars” in a very compelling way, while still remaining biologically accurate. And the extra feature at the end of each episode, explaining how they filmed parts of the show, is fascinating in its own right!

Some of our favorite facts:

African sengis create trails in the grass for themselves to make it easier to run away from predators or catch prey – it is essentially a maze that they know by heart. (All of Rondel’s current imaginary animals are now building trails for themselves in the grass too.)

Arizona grasshopper mice are immune to scorpion venom and will fight, kill, and eat scorpions! They also howl to claim their territory, somewhat like wolves. (All three kids will now run through the house howling in a very high and squeaky way, telling me they are grasshopper mice.)

When chipmunks fight, they move so fast that the human eye can barely make out what is going on, but in slow motion you can see incredible twists and turns they are performing in midair. It’s absolutely amazing.

Marmosets (monkeys small enough to sit in your hand) who live in cities are often pursued by street cats, but are typically agile enough to escape. (Rondel uses stuffed animals to imitate this, constantly telling me how so-and-so escaped through his “amazing agility”.)

All small animals move at a much faster pace than large animals. They run faster compared to their body size, their metabolism is faster, and so on.

Without dung beetles, the African savanna would be pretty disgusting! It’s so neat that a creature exists whose purpose is simply to clean up (and eat) other animals’ poop, making the world better for everyone. They may appear small and lowly, but they are determined, strong, resourceful, and crucial for the ecosystem. Hmm… that may be a good object lesson someday 😉

What have you been learning this week? I’d love to hear about any fascinating, weird, exciting, or unexpected fact you’ve learned – or about any great resource that has facilitated your learning!

Posted in musings

thoughts on humanity

The single most important thing about any person is their humanity.

No matter what other characteristics define them – their race, gender, age, neurotype, health, sexual preference, career, level of education, immigration status, religion, whatever – every single person is human, and by virtue of being human they are entitled to respect and dignity.

Years ago, I stumbled across a few MRA and white supremacy outposts online; I remember reading through their blog archives in a kind of shocked daze, disbelieving that people could actually hold the opinions presented there. Authors attempted to use social and biological science to prove racist tenets, or to claim the superiority of the “alpha male” type over women and more “feminine” men (often just decent and courteous men). Careful rational examination of their source material could show where they were wrong, but the sheer volume of output would make that a full-time job – with little or no reward, given that they’ve already shown their disregard for real science or actual facts.

Since then, the hidden (and not-so-hidden) biases against the old and sick (e.g., assisted suicide), the LGBTQA community, the homeless (e.g., park bench design), illegal (and often legal) immigrants, and Muslims have risen and fallen through the headlines of the news cycle. Every time there is a group of people who try to make themselves appear and feel superior and, more malevolently, entitled by virtue of that superiority to demean, belittle, and discriminate against groups they deem inferior. We, the employed, do not wish to see or even think about the unemployed; we can provide for ourselves, they cannot so they must be lazy and shiftless, and thus do not even deserve to sleep on a bench where we might see them. We, the citizens, obviously deserved to be born in this nation with all the opportunities we have; those immigrants who were so stupid as to have been born elsewhere shouldn’t be allowed to come here and steal our opportunities. We, the heterosexual, are so uncomfortable with trans and homosexual individuals that we must clearly be the only natural and moral beings here – never mind our promiscuity and infidelity, we are the ones following God’s sexual plan for humanity, and those who disagree should be silenced and kept apart from each other.

And recently, as I’ve been reading through the online communities dedicated to respectful parenting and disability advocacy, I’ve begun to encounter childism and ableism in all their ugliness.

This week, when the horrible story of the Turpin family came to light, the comments I read on the New York Times were straightforward and predictable: this is why homeschooling should be prohibited, or, at least, more strictly regulated. My own coworkers have made the same comments in response to the simple fact that Arizona requires no academic testing of homeschooled students. Similarly, in the past, when horrible stories of bullying or sexual abuse perpetrated by teachers have surfaced, or when poor curriculum choices are exposed, the comments in the homeschooling community are equally predictable: this is why you should never send your children to public school! The issue at the heart of many of these comments is: who is entitled to control children. Does the state get to control children’s activities, in an attempt to create productive future citizens? Or does the family get to control their children, as the creators of and providers for those children during their development? In other words, both sides are coming from a position of childism, even as they claim to have children’s best interests at heart.

The whole philosophy of unschooling, in contrast, rests on the premise that children are not partial persons, or potential persons, but full persons deserving of the same respect and autonomy as adult persons (recognizing of course their individual needs and limitations). As fellow humans, they should have freedom to pursue their own interests and develop their own talents, instead of being forced into a one-size-fits-all standardized education or into the molds envisioned by their parents. They should have the liberty to use their time as they choose, to eat the foods they like when they are hungry, to sleep when they are tired, to play outside learning to control their own words and actions instead of sitting inside following adult directions all day.

(If you instantly picture children running wild, gorging on junk food, playing violent video games, watching stupid cartoons, and staying up all night, you may have some internalized childism or an incomplete understanding of unschooling. Children who are exposed to beauty and goodness, and given the opportunity to develop maturity and moral character, will resonate with those things just like adults will, since they are equally made in the image of the God of beauty, righteousness, and truth.)

But even in the unschooling community, there is uncertainty when it comes to children with special needs. Since my son most likely has autism or another developmental disorder, I noticed the number of parents commenting that they were unsure of how to maintain that level of freedom and respect while making sure that their children accessed all of the “services” and therapies needed to help them fit in and appear neurotypical. I noticed it even more in the public school setting, where an extremely strong emphasis was placed on accessing services now so that my son would be “caught up” to his peers in time for kindergarten. I picked up on it in the special needs ministry at my church, when the parents’ support group had a meeting about “grieving” over your child’s autism diagnosis as if there was some loss to you in not having a neurotypical child. And I discovered it for myself when I found a thousand support groups for parents of autistic children but hardly any communities for autistic adults. Their voices went unheard.

And in some dark corners of the Internet, some people made it even worse by painting adults with Asperger’s/autism as narcissists and psychopaths, incapable of parenting without emotionally neglecting or abusing their children, and inherently capable of committing the next mass shooting. Maybe they vented some frustration or boosted their own sense of self-worth by saying these horrible and untrue things about others, I don’t know. But I don’t really care. I think of Morenike, the autistic mother of autistic children who loves and advocates for them fearlessly and tirelessly, and who almost had her children removed several years ago, and I wonder what role this type of ableist stigma played in her situation.

And I am thankful beyond words for Ally Grace, another autistic mother of autistic children, who is an unschooler on top of that, and whose stories have helped give me the courage to let my children develop at their own pace and in their own way, with the pressure of needing to conform to some external, arbitrary, socially-defined metric – as well as the courage to be an unschooling parent despite my own social limitations.

I think as all the different “-isms” of discrimination come to light, society will slowly be forced into being more respectful and more accepting of those who are different, of those who may need more help or accommodation given the way the world is set up, but in the meantime there is a fairly vicious backlash of those who seem to think accepting the other somehow diminishes their own status or worth. They are the ones who create the websites in the dark underbelly of the Internet, and they are wrong. To receive another human being with dignity and respect, with courtesy and kindness, regardless of the differences between you and them, allows your own humanity – the image of God within you – to shine forth in beauty and power, even as it elevates their humanity. We can ascend together; we do not need to climb to the heavens on the downtrodden backs of the other.

Posted in fiction

Rondel’s imagination

Here in Arizona, an intrepid zoologist has discovered a new species of bear: the Gong bear.

The Gong bear lives in rocky places, preferably on granite, and is purely vegetarian – in fact, this bear will stand up on two feet to eat the leaves off of trees! Its digestive system isn’t equipped to handle meat, so it is limited to plants.

In contrast to the Wood bear, which prefers to live in cold wooded places (and thus is only found in small numbers in Arizona, mostly in the northern parts of the state), the Gong bear can only be found in Arizona as it is a dedicated desert dweller. Interestingly, while one might expect this bear to be light brown to blend in with its environment, it is white. One can only surmise that this coloring is the most heat-resistant – and that the Gong bear, as a large animal with no natural predators and as an herbivore with no need to stalk prey, is not evolutionarily pressured towards camouflage.

The Gong bear is an elusive creature, which is probably why no one had previously discovered it, but it is a noble and friendly animal and I hope we continue to learn more about it!

Posted in family life

when a little boy turns three…

He knows birthdays involve cake, so he comes to you in tears with his sad tiny voice telling you he’s hungry, and when you ask him what he’s hungry for he answers, “cake!”

(You may have stayed up until 11:30 the night before baking said cake and want to cut into it just as much as he does! But these things must wait for the proper moment!)

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Six layer cakes require a ludicrous amount of buttercream frosting – as in, I used a whole pound of butter…

He may be so excited about being the center of the family circle, with everyone singing happy birthday to him, that he literally cannot contain his joy, and bounces up and down laughing the entire time.

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He may love rainbows so much that when the cake is cut and he sees for the first time the colorful layers within he may just squeal with delight!

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A rainbow cake is really the only appropriate choice for a child who has stayed up late with me pondering on the wavelength of different colors of light, how some colors can mix together to create others, and how white light can split apart into all the colors

He may be such a generous and inclusive little soul that he lets not only his beloved older brother but even the pushy and interfering (from his perspective) baby sister help unwrap his birthday presents.

And he may be so happy with his gifts that he spends the rest of the afternoon contentedly playing with them, with the family that he loves.

Happy birthday to a boy who is curious, intelligent, and observant like a scientist; who finds pleasure in order, symmetry, and patterns; who adapts his desires and whims to accommodate his siblings with a grace and maturity far beyond his years; who can be rough and wild with Rondel but gentle and protective with Aubade; who grows more independent every day and always loves to help and learn; and who still loves to snuggle with his mommy for any reason and no reason at all. It is such a joy to watch him grow – to see his understanding (emotional and intellectual) deepen and the lines of his personality and character emerge.

Posted in family life, Uncategorized

oobleck!

After discovering Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss, by sheer random luck at the library last week, and enjoying it on the basis of its story alone for several days, I told Rondel that oobleck was actually something we could make at home. I wasn’t sure if he would want to, but he spent the whole next day (while I was at work) telling my husband how he was going to get to make oobleck with Mommy, so at that point it was going to have to happen!

And happen it did:

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Oobleck is, in its simplest form, a mixture of cornstarch and water. We added some food coloring to try to make it green like it is in the Dr. Seuss book, but we obviously should have added more! The proportions of the two ingredients have to be just right (approximately a 1:2 water:cornstarch ratio), but when they are, the mixture stops behaving like a liquid or a solid and becomes a non-Newtonian fluid. In other words, the way it responds is based on the force you apply. Let your hand sink down slowly into the bowl and it feels like water; try to pull your hand back out quickly and the substance instantly hardens around you. (For a good overview of the science, check out this article from Cornell).

I spent a lot of time just playing around with it on my own before I could convince the boys to touch it, but after they got over the initial weirdness of it they didn’t want to stop. Rondel in particular enjoyed the odd sensation of it and kept immersing his hands in and pulling them out again over and over and over. In fact, because our air is so dry, I had to keep adding water to the oobleck so he could keep playing with it as long as his interest held – which ended up being about an hour and a half, and would have been longer if we hadn’t desperately needed to put Limerick down for a nap.

Oobleck is definitely a messy activity. Because of the way it sticks to your skin, it’s not going to stay nicely contained in a mixing bowl! However, since it’s just cornstarch, it does hose off of everything fairly easily (much to my neighbors’ relief… the newly returned snowbirds aren’t used to the kids playing in the common area and were worried about the mess). It will also dry out your skin, so it might be good to have lotion on hand for after the clean-up. This was my first time playing with it as well, although I’ve read about it before, and I highly recommend it (and the book!) for both you and your kids!