How We Came to Home School: Guest Post

I’m currently on hiatus from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but want to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

This guest post comes from a good personal friend of mine named Jen who blogs at The Evolving Homemaker.

How We Came to Home School

I had always been fascinated in the idea that kids could learn MORE than what they learned in conventional classrooms.  I think the first time I had ever heard about homeschooling I was in college and heard about a little girl who was attempting to fly across the country solo.  While the trip ended in tragedy, I started to wonder why it was we arbitrarily sent our kids to school and how much more excited they might be about learning, if they had a little flexibility, more time to explore things they were interested in, and more freedom to discover themselves.

As I was becoming a new Mommy, I thought for sure we would home school.  I had lofty dreams of how our days would be and how much smarter my kids would be than so many others.


And then motherhood gave me a reality check.  Toddler-hood.  Woah.  Would my kids learn from me?  Was I patient enough to teach them?  Patient enough for even the hard days? Was I creative enough?  Organized enough?  Would I be able to still do laundry, home school, and have any iota of a personality and passions to call my own?

Then I started being haunted by panic attacks.  I was under a lot of stress and doing a lot at the time.  I was volunteering, heavily involved in the political season, lobbying, and raising two small children and trying to be a ‘good enough’ house goddess too.  Whatever it is that looks like.

So I sent my son to kindergarten at a local Montessori that had just opened.  I was sure they would be able to do it better than I could.  After all, they certainly knew more than I did about educating young minds, this would be better for him.

Except it wasn’t.

He began to show signs of anxiety.  He wasn’t learning to read there.  I sat in one day to find him not partaking in the ‘works’ but playing ‘cars’ with the tape dispenser instead.  He didn’t like to go.  Every morning he would ask, “Is today a school day?” and if I said, “Yes.” he would yell, cry, and be mean to his sister.  He would come in the car in the afternoon like a pressure cooker and burst in a fit of energy.

With two weeks left in the school year, they told us he should be held back in Kindergarten.

We decided instead to try it at home like we always thought we would.  With both kids.

It has been fantastic.  And hard.  And scary.  And frustrating.  And fun.  They both have time to play, they are learning to read, and they are exploring their own interests.  We are all learning more about ourselves and our passions.  I am learning that I can do it, that doubt and fear are not infallible.  That I am a ‘good enough’ Mom, and that yes they need math, but they also need my presence.

I wanted to home school because I wanted my kids to learn to think outside of the box.  That life isn’t just about going to school, getting a job, and then working for 50 years, retiring, but all the while hoping you make it to retirement without a heart attack or cancer.  Nope, the marrow of life is at their fingertips any second they decide to find it.  That is what I want them to learn, that they are the creators in their own journey, and while we use some textbooks, I don’t think they need a textbook to understand that.

Jen Parsons is Mama bear to two babes 7 and 5.  While she would like to be better at parenting, crafting, farming, sewing, ceramic scouring, knitting, homeschooling, travelling, book writing, domestic laundering,  boxing refereeing, spousal engagement, etc., she is learning to realize she cannot do it all but blogs about the journey at

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Portrait of a Home Birthing Couple: Guest Post

I’m currently on hiatus from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but want to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

This guest post comes from Courtney who blogs at A Life Sustained.

Portrait of a Home Birthing Couple

If you had asked me a year ago to envision a “home birthing couple” I probably would have described a pair of long-haired back-to-the-land hippies living in a cabin in the woods and shunning any and all medical advances. That, or some sort of religious extremists. I definitely wouldn’t have described myself or my husband, we’re far too run-of-the-mill, but that’s exactly what we’ve become. As of this February we have become a home birthing couple.

I’ll fully admit that I never really gave much thought to what my birth experience might look like. I assumed that I would go to the hospital, scream a lot like they do on TV, and then be handed a swaddled little bundle o’ joy. But by the time I got around to seriously considering having a child, my life had begun to change in much larger ways. After a quarter century or so of flitting from one thing to another, never having a real job, and pretty much just coasting through life, I decided that that was no longer how I wanted to live. I was desperate for something deeper. More meaningful. I wanted to take more responsibility and make actual decisions rather than just falling into the next stage. Words like “mindful,” “sustainable,” and “deliberate” took on new and profound meanings for me. All elements of my life were suddenly under a critical lens and my plans for childbirth were no exception.

My mother was 30 years old when she gave birth to me. She wasn’t particularly planning on having a natural birth, but ended up with one because the window of opportunity for any drugs had already closed. After a very short labor, I was handed to her still covered in vernix and she had an intense urge to lick me clean. She held me to her chest, drank in my new-baby smell and was immediately ready to have another one, she said. This is the story of my birth and it has completely shaped my notions of what a “normal” birth looks like. I thought that all births looked this way.

It was at a fundraiser for my local women’s clinic that I saw the film The Business of Being Born. It didn’t necessarily convince me that I wanted to birth at home, but it did show me that I had made a lot of assumptions about attitudes and practices towards birth in the hospital setting. It also made me realize that if I thought my birth experience was an important thing, and I did, then I needed to take responsibility for that experience, educate myself, and come up with a plan.

After much, much reading and visiting with other soon-to-be-mamas, I took the easy way out. That’s right. I chose a home birth because, for me, it was the easy option. I knew that I wanted a natural water birth. I also knew that I cave easily under pressure and all it would take would be a stern word from anyone in a white coat and I would abandon my plan. Even just a “why don’t you get that epidural, honey,” I knew, would cause me to falter and I just didn’t want to deal with that pressure. I talked it over with my husband, who, although skeptical, trusted me to make an informed decision and was willing to surrender to the fact that I was the one giving birth and so I should be the one to have the final say in where that birth took place.

Not too long after I turned 30, I got pregnant. And I panicked. What should I do? Who should I call? I didn’t even know how to go about finding a midwife who would attend a home birth (Direct Entry Midwives, those who usually attend home births, cannot legally practice in my state, making finding care a bit more challenging). I did, however, remember that a friend of a friend was a doula (a word whose definition I didn’t even know a year prior). Even though I didn’t know her very well at that time and I am incredibly shy, I contacted her, shared our good news, and begged her for help. She, like most midwives and doulas that I’ve met, was incredibly kind and compassionate and she set up a time for us to meet with her and the midwife with whom she works.

We met in the warm and welcoming environment of her home and I knew immediately that these two women (well, and my husband) were the only people that I needed next to me when I went into labor. I didn’t need time to think it over. It just felt right.

Over the next nine months they provided in-depth and personalized care. There was no waiting in waiting rooms and each appointment lasted at least an hour. During this time, the midwives did all that would be done at a prenatal appointment at the hospital (check weight, blood pressure, urine, listen for fetal heart tones, etc.) plus a lot of time was spent giving full answers to our many questions. A lot of time was also spent laughing. These women were fun and they helped me to see that labor, although an intense experience, could actually be enjoyable, something to look forward to, and nothing to fear.

I should have known that I would soon be going into labor because I stereotypically cleaned my house from top to bottom. I justified this uncharacteristic behavior, however, with the fact that we had a prenatal the following day and I didn’t want the midwives to see just how lackadaisical we really were with housework. At 1:00 A.M. I woke up with contractions, although I didn’t really recognize them as such. I was more annoyed than anything because for the first time in three months I was actually comfortable and was having a fantastic night’s sleep, but then these cramps just kept waking me up.

In denial that this was it, I labored alone for three hours and let my husband sleep. When I finally needed some help coping with the contractions I woke him up. Even at that point I didn’t really think that I would be giving birth that day. My contractions were 5 minutes apart and a minute long, so we called the midwife to let her know. Normally this would be the point when things are just getting rolling, but when she heard the vocalizations I was making, she said that she would be right over.

Because I was at home I was able to move around as I wanted. I spent most of my time in a half bend over a waist-high dresser, but also spent some time on the floor and kneeling on the bed. I felt completely free to make as much noise as I needed to (which turned out to be quite a bit) without feeling self-conscious. I believe both of these things were really key in how quickly and easily I dilated. I felt safe and my body took that as permission to do what it needed to do.

My water broke three hours later after which I got into the tub and after two hours of pushing my son was born and laid naked on my chest. He was perfect and I was without words. I’m pretty sure the first thing I said was, “it’s a baby!” and of course, I cried.

Throughout most of the labor my midwives mostly just stayed out of my way. They offered constant reassurance and support, but they let me move and proceed as instinct dictated, offering gentle suggestions on how to modify what I was already doing to make it more effective. They monitored the safety of the situation, intermittently checking fetal heart tones and came prepared with emergency equipment. At no point did I ever feel that this wasn’t a safe decision. I was confident, and I still am, that birth is a natural process that our bodies are perfectly designed to cope with.

For the 90% of pregnancies that are low risk, like mine, birthing at home is such an opportunity. It was an opportunity for me to find out how strong I am. To share an intimate experience with my husband. To bring my son into the world in a manner that was calm, gentle, safe, warm, and loving. After we were all cleaned up, the midwives tucked the three of us into bed, made us breakfast, and started a load of laundry. They came back to the house to check on us (Housecalls! I didn’t have to figure out how to transport a newborn to the doctor’s office in the dead of winter!) the next day and again at one week, two weeks, and six weeks.

Our home birth was such a positive experience, but it was also so…normal. When people ask us about it, I think they expect to hear some long nail-biting tale in which we “almost didn’t make it” or for me to start talking about what a moon goddess that I am. They are always surprised by how simple and straightforward the whole thing was; exactly as it should be.

Courtney is a Midwestern mama who is striving to create a home that is simple, mindful, and full of nature and beauty. She is passionate about treading lightly on the Earth, supporting local craftspeople, and all things natural and handmade. She blogs about her transition to living a more sustainable life as well as her transition to motherhood at A Life Sustained.

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Make Your Own Dirt From Scratch: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

This guest post comes from Julie who blogs at Terminal Verbosity.

Make Your Own Dirt From Scratch

I was hoping to start my own carnival of sorts with “Make Your Own Monday,” but it looks like the folks over at Stop the Ride have beaten me to it with their Make it from Scratch Carnival. So OK, I’ll play and cross-post at BlogHer

I’m starting with something that I’ve been doing for some time, which I know, strictly speaking, is not playing by the MIFS rules (sorry). But I’ve had a lot of questions recently about compost, about how to fertilize without chemicals, and I’ve seen a lot of comments posted on green blogs that indicate that people are confused and bewildered by trying to compost. So my first installment in the Make it from Scratch carnival is making your own dirt, i.e. composting!

What is compost?

Compost is, literally, fertile dirt. That is to say, not the barren gray top soil you’ll find on a building site or in a conventional farmer’s field. This is the good black stuff that smells sweet and makes nice little crumbly clumps. It contains the perfect balance of nutrients that your plants need to be healthy and that the microorganisms and beneficial insects like earth worms–key components of healthy soil–need to thrive.

You can make it yourself using common kitchen and yard wastes that would otherwise go in the landfill using a process Mother Nature has used to recycle things in the natural world since time began. Want a list of things you can put in the compost bin? Plantea lists 163 of them! Then you can use it in place of expensive mulches and chemical fertilizers. As a mulch, compost helps retain moisture and shade a plant’s roots. As a soil amendment, compost breaks up heavy clay soils, allowing more water and air to penetrate to the root zone of garden plants and, if added in high enough quantities over time to keep the organic matter of the garden soil at 4-5%, can provide sufficient nutrients for even nitrogen-hungry vegetable growth.

I love Journey To Forever’s thoughts on Nature’s conspiracy to make more soil:

If you watch carefully to see what nature does as she goes about her daily round of chores, it’s quite easy to start believing that the whole thing is a complicated, secretive conspiracy by soil micro-organisms to beget more soil micro-organisms. Nature’s first concern is always to build more topsoil, and to protect it. It’s easy to see why: no topsoil, not much nature either. The Earth’s green carpet of living things is really just the Soil Creature’s skin.

OK, how do I start?

Now is a great time to start because it’s the beginning of the season and building a pile now will keep the growing season’s clippings and cuttings out of the trash. If you are cramped for space, live in an apartment, or are particularly interested in vermiculture, worm composting might be for you. I’ve never tried this before myself, but it can be effective if you have a smaller quantity of waste (like only kitchen scraps because you live in an apartment) because there is a limit to how much the worms can eat. Check out the great resources at WormCompostingTips:

Worm composting (also known as vermicomposting) is the art of using worms to help you break down the organic waste you produce at home to create fertilizer for your garden. The worms will produce both a liquid fertilizer, and worm castings. Worm castings are a solid, odor free byproduct of worm digestion. You can collect your worm castings periodically and use them as a soil addition, soil conditioner, or even light mulch.

If you have more space, even a patio space for a small compost tumbler, this method will allow you to process a lot more waste. I’m really a fan of worm composting, but our family of four needs between 3-4 5 cubic foot compost bins to make sure we always have space for both food scraps and yard waste, so that quantity would not be feasible for worms.

To make a successful compost pile you need a balance of green materials like grass clippings and food scraps or brown materials like shredded paper, dried leaves, or sawdust. You simply make a bin, either in one of the many commercially available compost bins, in a wooden or chicken wire box somewhere in the neighborhood of 3-6? wide and no more than 3 feet high, or in a pit dug into the ground. If you need more space, build two bins, don’t make one big one or it will be harder to manage and ultimately take too long to break down. We’ve used a combination of these different pile-types all with fairly good success. The most important thing is keeping your bin close enough to the kitchen & yard that are producing the inputs that you’ll actually use the bin as much as possible.

Adding material to your new bin

Here’s where the science behind composting can turn people off. Some books and articles provide diagrams with detailed information on how thick each layer of green and brown material should be, suggest alternating the layers with dirt to speed the process along, and recommend near-daily turning. This can be labor-intensive and frustrating, especially to the beginner. And it’s just not necessary. That’s not to say that those who follow the labor-intensive processes don’t get good compost–they do, and they probably get it quicker than I do, but I spend much less time on my piles and always have plenty of compost for my garden each spring despite my lazy and unscientific methods. ;)

Now, you’re supposed to add two parts green material to one part brown material. However, the fact of the matter is if you are trying to compost all of your yard and kitchen scraps, you will almost always have more nitrogen (green materials) and not enough carbon (brown materials). Then, if you get really excited about the prospects of reducing waste, you’ll start composting things like office paper (shredded works best), junk mail (no glossy colored paper, please, it can contain heavy metal inks), tissues, cotton balls, paper towels, and just about anything else you can get your hands on (paper plates after a picnic, egg cartons, drier lint). In fact, you can compost just about anything with the exception of what VegWeb lists here. But I’m getting ahead of myself!

A site in part shade conserves moisture while lending a bit of the sun’s warmth in cooler weather, which helps the pile continue to cook down. This is necessary here in Colorado, but if you’re in a really wet, warm climate, you may actually want a lid to keep water out.

Water, heat, and oxygen are the other essentials for composting. Compost should maintain the dampness of a wrung-out sponge, which in dry areas means supplemental water at least during the hot summer months. Consider running a drip irrigation line straight into the bin, but don’t forget to move it aside before stirring or emptying the bin!

Speaking of stirring, while occasional stirring allows the compost to break down faster by allowing good oxygen penetration and the mixing of the carbon and nitrogen plant materials, daily or even weekly stirring is not a requirement to produce compost. A frequently-stirred pile may break down in 4-6 weeks, while an unstirred pile may have to wait until the following spring to be used. I use the no- or low-stir method and the end product is the same, it just takes longer to get there, which is fine by me. Also beware of over-stirring: in the winter months stirring compost allows heat to escape the pile and may stop the break-down if the center of the pile falls below 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

If you need a few more scientific tips on composting, the folks at CSU’s Cooperative Extension offer this great fact sheet: Composting Your Yard Waste.

I hope I’ve demystified compost a bit for you and shown you how easy it can be! We literally spend the minute it takes us to walk out our sliding glass door and deposit the day’s food scraps into the bin and spin the tumblers (we purchased tumblers for the winter because food scraps are almost all nitrogen and can get stinky without some turning & additions of copious amounts of shredded junk mail) and each spring we’re rewarded with the best fertilizer nature can provide–no petrochemicals (yes, the stuff you buy at Home Depot, unless it says otherwise, comes from petroleum), no waste in the landfill, very little effort. So go make it from scratch!

Photo credit: Flickr suavehouse113 and normanack

Julie Artz lives in Helsinki, Finland, with her husband, two children, and geriatric cat. She endures the cold by dreaming about her garden in Lyons, Colorado, and writing about life in Finland and anything else that comes to mind on her blog Terminal Verbosity.

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Newly Identified Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Leach into Food Packaging: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. For a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

Today’s guest post is from Alicia Voorhies who blogs at The Soft Landing.
Post image for Newly Identified Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Leach into Food Packaging

Newly Identified Endocrine Disrupting Chemicals Leach into Food Packaging

Emily Barrett of Environmental Health Perspectives recently provided a great synopsis of an updated review of food contact materials and their potential to leach endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC’s) into our food.

Author of the review, Jane Muncke, didn’t mince words when issuing her findings, calling into question the current means of estimating the true level of exposure to EDC’s through food contact materials.  Her conclusions included the following major points:

  • Food packaging is an underestimated source of chemical food contamination
  • Migration into dry foods can be considerable
  • Substances of concern, like endocrine disrupting chemicals, are widely used in food contact materials
  • Risk assessment of endocrine disrupting chemical food contamination is challenging because exposure and effect assessment are not always straight forward

Muncke’s insights have caused me to carefully reconsider which food packaging I choose for my own growing children. Based on her article, I’ll be investigating benzophenones (a known carcinogen) and organotins, two groups of suspected EDC’s, which are legally used in the United States and European Union.

And as Barrett pointed out, we now have even more motivation to choose fresh foods over processed ones.

The guidelines do not consider the collective numbers and toxicity – alone or in combination – of all of the chemicals that can leach from the packaging, the author points out.* In a chemical mix, individual health effects may be magnified. Printing, ink, adhesives, recycled cardboard and the plastic containers can all introduce unwanted chemicals into a single food product, creating a mix with additive or synergystic effects. What’s more, the chemicals may degrade over time or form new compounds that migrate into food. These can go entirely unmeasured since it is nearly impossible to identify and test for them all.

Kids may be at particular risk. Not only are their bodies still developing and hence susceptible to environmental insults, but they tend to eat more packaged foods, a more limited diet and more food for their body weight than adults do. There are similar concerns for pregnant women and their fetuses, as well as obese adults, whose bodies may process these chemicals differently from their trimmer counterparts.

Tips for Reducing Your Exposure to EDC’s in Food Packaging

  1. Avoid PVC in plastic food wrap:  ask your butcher to prepare the cuts of meat you want and wrap it in paper.  Most butcher or freezer paper is coated with wax or polyethylene which are better alternatives. As for blocks of cheese, look for packages with Ziplok style closures, and plastic packages that have been heat-sealed, because most of these bags are made from polyethylene.
  2. Buy fresh or frozen produce packaged in polyethylene bags:  BPA is found in most epoxy linings of aluminum cans, glass jar lids and the bottom of some frozen cardboard boxes – although there a few BPA-free options available
  3. Choose jarred foods when possible – especially those with space between the lid and the food
  4. If you do choose to purchase foods packaged in plastic, do not reuse, cook or heat food in them – even if recommended by the manufacturer; this may include some microwavable meals, so just remove them from the plastic container and heat in glass
  5. Look for non-recycled cardboard boxes when ordering takeout meals like pizza, as they are less likely to contain BPA.
  6. Bring your own reusable coffee cups and to-go containers for leftovers and skip Styrofoam altogether

>> Read the complete research study: Endocrine disrupting chemicals and other substances of concern in food contact materials: An updated review of exposure, effect and risk assessment in the Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology.

>> Related link: The Breast Cancer Fund has recently released a new study about BPA in food containers.

Photo Source: Flickr via _anh

Alicia Voorhies is a Registered Nurse who left the rat race to pursue her dream of owning a business. She traded working as Director of Nursing in an organization for disabled adults to relax and enjoy her love of medical research in alternative health ideas. She was immediately attracted to the mysteries of toxic plastics and their effect on children and quickly learned that avoiding endocrine-disrupting chemical in common household products can be overwhelming.  While searching for safe alternatives, she quickly realized how limited the available information for parents was – and that’s how her education-based company, The Soft Landing, was born.

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