Friday, December 11, 2009

reflection on busyness

The end of one holiday, grades coming due, another important holiday coming, more responsibilities and shortened daytime hours have left me feeling like I need to have my soul recharged a bit. The plan... go to the woods.

My favorite poet, Mary Oliver describes how I feel perfectly:

The Old Poets of China

Wherever I am, the world comes after me.
If offers me its busyness. It does not believe
that I do not want it. Now I understand
why the old poets of China went so far and high
into the mountains, then crept into the pale mist.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

thinking about "stuff"

Yesterday, my YES magazine came in the mail with an issue dedicated to environmental impact. I love that the magazine arrived at the same time I am thinking about the consumerist side of one of my favorite holidays. I love many things about Christmas: the family gatherings, the food, the magic of the nativity story and Santa, the singing of carols, the tree and its trimmings, but I am turned off by the focus on shopping as a way to celebrate.

There is an article in YES by Annie Leonard who made The Story of Stuff, a short, web-based film that explores the social and environmental costs of consumerism. I show this this film to my Environmental Science students and for some of them it is the first time they have looked at consumerism with a critical lens and it changes them. Parents talk about it when I meet them on open house night and some teachers in more conservative parts of the country have gotten in trouble for showing it, so it must be good!

So, as I think about the shopping and celebrating we are going to do for Christmas, I am thinking of ways to increase the meaning and decrease the eco-footprint of our holiday season. I am thinking of the craftiness of Nan's family in making homemade gifts and the thriftiness of Katie's family in re-purposing everything. They both inspire me!

So, here are my ideas for a greener Christmas that is rich in fun and celebration:
  • Give gifts that are edible or otherwise consumable (a yoga class, massage, etc)
  • For holiday parties or family gatherings, use a grab bag (one gift per person) or white elephant gifts for everyone. To really minimize impact, have the gifts be items people already own brought from home. These gift exchanges usually end up being very funny and much less pressure for the people buying the gifts. This year we will try this for the cousins.
  • Buy gifts that are homemade by local people or make gifts yourself. Since I have very limited crafting abilities, some of my past gifts have included a cookbook of my recipes or calendars made with family photos for the grandmas.
  • Cultivate family traditions that don't revolve around gifts: three of my favorites are singing carols as part of nightly story time every night in December, visiting Santaland at Macy's on 34th Street (its free!!) and and having my husband's family over on Christmas day.
  • Recycle gift wrap(or make your own out of stamped brown paper bags) and bows. Or you could use newspaper to wrap gifts. I did this for a few years and my parents don't let me forget it.
  • Make your own gift tags out of recycled holiday cards (I got this idea from Nan).
  • Donate old, unused toys to charity or hand them down to family and friends.
  • Find gifts at thrift shops, on or Craig's list
  • Limit gifts to items that are meaningful and well-made.
I think the most important thing to remember is to only do things that you find meaningful. Changes in consumption habits should make you feel freer, less burdened and more creative.

Monday, November 30, 2009


A house full of people and lots of eating!!

Thanksgiving shows at the kid's schools

A lot of special moments spent with grandparents and good friends

Making and launching water rockets

Digging in the sand and looking for algae and barnacles

Black Friday spent at the Bronx Zoo

Last week was a much needed chance to slow down and enjoy the people we love

Sunday, November 15, 2009

these days

These days there is a lot of sibling love around here. Jove occasionally offers Miranda his lap during dinner. Now that the night comes earlier, a lot more time is spent playing indoors, making up games. They have spent the last couple of days cooking playdoh in the toy kitchen: making playdoh cookies, pancakes, etc. It melts my heart when they look to each other for comfort and invite each other to play along.

These days Jupiter and I are both really enjoying Radio Lab on NPR. These highly, entertaining radio broadcasts talk about science and society. I assign them to my students as extra credit. And they like them, too. My favorite so far is the one on parasites.

These days I finally feel a sense of balance between my outside the house life and my inside the house life. My goal is to stay as emotionally present as possible when I am with my family and not worry about undone job related work and, likewise, to focus on work at work and not drift into guilt about not being home. I am grateful that I truly love both responsibilities and I have a lot of help.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fall Fun

Everyone in the house is asleep right now as I blog. We are all tired from all of the Halloween festivities. Both Jove and Miranda were very excited about trick-or-treating and we had to stop a couple of times en route to eat candy.

All of us had Halloween events at our schools: the kids had parades and class parties, Jup did a bunch of cool dry ice demos and was part of a science department thematic costume as gruesome chefs and I dressed as a tree and showed my classic Halloween video "Bloody Suckers" about blood sucking parasites. We did a lot of dry ice experiments at home and had a few failed attempts at trying to blow up a rotten pumpkin in the backyard.

I took the kids to the Botanical Garden for their festivities last week: a parade, cider pressing, pumpkin decorating and other plant crafts. It was a beautiful, warm fall day. The leaf color is peaking right now and we are trying to enjoy it as much as possible.

I have been doing a lot of outdoor labs with my students lately, which is fun for them and for me. I always take my environmental science students many times a year for different labs, but this was my first time taking my earth science students. We hiked to a rock formation which shows features of metamorphic rocks.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

why I teach

I found this illustration on Elsa Mora's blog and I thought it pretty much summed up how amazing it can be to spend my days with young people (including my own children).

She says
"Emotional growth also has a lot to do with being a good observer, with paying attention to other people's pains and needs. Observation leads you to noticing important things and this, at the same time, inspires you to take action. Then, when your action (even a tiny action) makes a difference in someone else's life, you grow a little, and you get to feel better about yourself as a person."

Amazing insight.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

garden science and a good bowl of popcorn

Jove is always experimenting and often the experiments involve plants and dirt. Last spring, Jove decided to germinate some popcorn seeds from our own stash of popcorn. He has perfected his germination technique, a single layer of seeds is placed in a wet paper towel inside of a covered dish. A few days later, the seeds have sprouted. We transplanted the seedlings out into Jove's garden and cared for them all summer. The corn stalks grew and eventually flowered and each stalk produced one ear of corn. We waited for the ears to dry on the stalk and then Jove harvested them. He shucked the seeds off the ears and we waited for them to firm up a little more. We tried popping them once, but they didn't expand enough. We waited a couple of more weeks and then today we popped a big bowl of Jove's popcorn. He was very excited and it was yummy.

So, in the process of growing corn for the first time I learned quite a bit about how corn plants reproduce that I hadn't really given much thought to before. I will share my discoveries here with you because I am sure you are all dying to know how corn reproduce. Humor me... All fruit bearing plants (each kernel of corn is a fruit) make flowers that have pollen (from the male part) and stigma (the female part) that is sticky and receives the pollen and transports it to the unfertilized egg. In corn, the male pollen bearing flowers on the top of the plant are called the tassel and the silk are the female flowers. The amazing thing that I noticed with our corn was that each silk strand connects to an individual kernel of corn. That means each pollen grain travels down the entire strand of silk to carry its DNA to the unfertilized kernel to allow it to grow into a fertile seed. If you ever see shriveled corn kernels, they would be the unfertilized eggs. Amazing.

Jove learned quite a bit, too. Jove asks a lot of questions related to evolution and my answers often involve discussions of variation within a species. So when our four corn plants are growing, he noticed that the silk on two of them and part of the husk were tinged purple and he says, "Look! Variation." Aha!!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

the everyday and the exhilirating

We have settled into our new routine around here. Most weekdays all four of us are at school all day and then we have our evening hours to eat, play, dance and read together. Occasionally, there is an after-school adventure: a class, a trip to the playground or a biking/running outing. My new form of exercise consists of Jove biking while I run chasing him with Miranda in the jogging stroller; I am sure it looks pretty funny, but it works for all of us.

Miranda and Jove both greatly enjoy the time they spend at their schools. I am very happy with Jove's teacher and it seems to be right at the level where Jove is learning new skills that build upon what he already knows and building his confidence both socially and academically. Schools here in the Northeast can be very competitive and over-the-top pushing early academics and we specifically chose a school that we felt would have a less competitive pace. The school is the only ethnically diverse elementary school in Jup's district which is something we value greatly. So far, so good with kindergarten....

Miranda loves her toddler Montessori program. They do a lot of music making, singing and dancing which are some of Miranda's favorite activities. They have a lot of free play time which Miranda's teacher tells me she mainly spends playing with dinosaurs or in the play house with the dollies. There are only 5-7 toddlers in the program, depending on the day, and they seem to really enjoy being together. They go outside a couple of times a day, do Montessori activities: pouring, rolling, putting shapes in size order and they do art everyday. It is an amazing place and Miranda is very happy to go.

At home, Jove and Miranda spend their time building, drawing and coloring, role playing, crafting, reading and dressing up. The most entertaining part of Miranda's play right now is the time she spends arranging her plastic animals, having them talk to each other and feeding them playdoh. Hilarious!

Our weekends are spent getting together with friends and family and spending time hiking, biking and gardening. While it is still relatively warm and the leaves are BEAUTIFUL we are spending as much time in the forest as possible. We had a geo-caching (GPS treasure hunt) in the woods near a farm last weekend and Jup and I spent the day yesterday hiking in Minnewaska State Park which about 90 miles north of the city. This place is a gem and it was my first time there. The lake is part of a group of sky lakes that were carved out by glaciers. We hiked along cliff edges, crossed brooks and looked out over valleys and farms. The midwest and its Great Lakes will always have my heart, but the mountains of the Northeast have my soul.

Saturday, September 26, 2009


"The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution.”

Paul Cezanne

Carrots are so different than other vegetables- when harvest day comes you have no way of knowing what the carrot will look like. This may not seem like a lot of excitement to some people but around here it is a major source of entertainment. Jove squeals when he finds really long or really fat carrots. Miranda wants the "baby" ones and proceeds to make dirt houses for them so they will be happy.

And, the taste--quite unlike a store-bought carrot.

Sweet and tender.

I will always plant carrots.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

These days

These days I am enjoying the fruits of my labor (and Jove's): daily cucumbers, a few butternut squashes, popcorn (three ears to be exact), the last of the tomatoes and basil and hopefully salad greens and snap peas 6 weeks from now if my fall garden behaves. I was supposed to plant the peas and the greens 3 weeks ago, but I have been SO BUSY with going back to work it didn't happen until this morning.

These days I am grateful for outings with the extended family on sunny, fall days. The fridge is full of apples and raspberries picked yesterday during our annual pilgrimage to Hurds Family Farm. I love this place. I know I have mentioned the cow train before. I love it. The tractor driver was particularly entertaining: steering with his leg, driving standing up and, of course, hooting and hollering. We all went twice.

These days I am occasionally unable to sleep because my to do list won't let me, so I get up at four in the morning and get a ton of things done. Its crazy, I know, but somehow I feel better being exhausted than getting a couple of more hours of sleep and being behind on my work.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

new beginnings

This week we all went back to school: Jove started Kindergarten in Jupiter's district, Miranda went to her toddler program at a Montessori School and Jupiter and I are back in our high school science classrooms. The kids are happy, but tired. I feel like I have earned a merit badge in lunch making and backpack notes.

I feel VERY good being back in the classroom. I truly love the work of planning and teaching lessons. My students are great and I expect a great year.

Jupiter and I went to his cousin's wedding in Phoenix, Arizona over labor day weekend. It was a beautiful wedding and a great chance for us to be together before the school year starts. I love the desert landscape and all of the cacti. We will definitely go back with the whole family to explore and make it up to the Grand Canyon

Monday, August 17, 2009


We returned yesterday from an enchanting vacation exploring the coast of Maine. I have really wanted to go to Maine for a few years now; ever since I read Rachel Carson's biography, I have dreamed of Maine's foggy, rocky shoreline, its tide pools and coniferous forests.

We spent a few days in Southern Maine at the beach. The hotel we stayed at was family run and had toys and books for the kids, laundry, fresh-baked cookies and a kitchen. It felt like a home away from home. We had beautiful, sunny days and so much fun at the beach: building, body surfing, chasing Miranda, making friends and relaxing.

We went hiking to a nearby place my friend Sara recommended. We saw a lot of wildlife: a harbor seal (he's hiding in that picture above), a downy woodpecker and lots of other birds and bugs. We explored the tide pools.

The town near where we stayed had a historic pier with a small amusement park right on the beach. Miranda went on her first rides and was a champ. We also explored Old Port and the Children's Museum in Portland and I kept hoping to see Soulemama on the street, one of my favorite bloggers.

We camped for four days in Acadia National Park which is located farther up the Maine coast. The park is breathtaking and we will definitely go back. The town of Bar Harbor and a few smaller towns share Mt. Desert Island with the National Park. We hiked, went to the beach in the park, admired the view from the top of Cadillac Mountain, tide pooled and went to some programs given by the Park Rangers.

Jove worked on his Junior Ranger Badge and got it the last day we were there. He is very proud. We found wild blueberries all over and would stop to pick them. I tried lobster for the first time.

The whales, puffins and moose will have to wait until we come back.

Back home, happily, after a lot of adventures. A few weeks left of summer to relax, swim and enjoy each other before we are all back to school

I am going to take a little break from blogging until the school year starts so that I can prepare.