What is Sustainability?

What is Sustainability? Sustainability is about a lot more than what we buy - it's about community. (Photo: A tree with red berries)

Pushing my son on the biggest tree swing I’ve ever seen, he declared, “This is fun!” As I half-listened to a talk on medicinal plants, I had to agree. We were at the second annual Paw Paw Festival at Long Creek Homestead, the home of a local family who grows much of their own food based on ecological principles. While we go to these events because they’re fun, it’s much more than that. I bring my family to these events so we can have a little glimpse into a possible potential, beautiful future. That’s because these kind of community events embody social and environmental sustainability to me.

Sustainability has become such a buzzword it’s easy to lose the true meaning. Companies sell us “green living” via labels on products that promise they will be safer for your family. (Never mind anyone else’s family.) But to create a just world that offers opportunities to all people in a way that’s environmentally sound, we have to go deeper.

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How to Talk to People Who Disagree With Your Parenting or Lifestyle Choices

How to Talk to People Who Disagree with Your Parenting or Lifestyle Choices. Have family & neighbors questioning what you're choosing for your family? Try these science-based tips to help reduce conflict while still stating your mind. (Photo: A set Thanksgiving table.)

Sitting around the Thanksgiving table, I struggled to describe my job to my conservative aunt and her even more conservative neighbor. I wasn’t in the mood at the moment for a throw-down on climate change. More importantly, I wanted them to see my job – telling people about fuel-efficient and electric cars – as a good thing.  I finally settled on the energy security angle.

“I tell people about how they can use less oil in their cars. Eventually it’s going to run out, so it’s best if we can use as little as possible,” I explained.

“Well, you know, some of those old oil things, they go back to and there’s more there,” the neighbor responded.

As I stared at her and my husband tried to explain that away, she continued, “Oil has to build up faster than scientists say it does to get the amount we have, since the world’s only 8,000 years old.” I was so surprised that I had nothing to say. To put it lightly, that’s a very rare situation for me.

While this conversation was about science and my job, it could have easily been about parenting choices, green living, or politically progressive points of view. Eating a vegetarian diet, choosing not to use time-outs on your stubborn or strong-willed kid, or attending a climate change rally with your family are even more likely to draw unwanted commentary. It’s easy to want to avoid people who hold radically different perspectives, but that’s not always possible. Plus, if a topic is near and dear to your heart, you may want to try to change their mind on a topic, even if you have to talk people who disagree on it.

Here’s some tips for talking to people who disagree with your parenting, lifestyle or just point of view. Most of this is from the social science literature, so I’ve tried to link to good summaries of that literature when possible. Just as a warning – this may not be relevant for all situations. There may be times when you want to straight-up call someone out, like if they tell a racist or sexist joke.

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The 10 Things Parents Must Teach Gifted Children

The 10 Things Parents Must Teach Gifted Children. Are you the parent of a gifted child and wondering what they need to know? Here's 10 things that you need to teach them to be successful. (Photo: A boy with a blue backpack walking away down a road.)

Sitting in the private school’s admissions office, my mom faced a choice about her gifted daughter’s education. The admissions officer told her how much smaller the classes were than public school, how girls felt less pressure when they didn’t compete for boys’ attention, and how much more they could meet her needs.

But the tuition was as expensive as you would expect for a private school. We were a solidly upper-middle-class family, but a salesman’s and teacher’s salaries added together meant we weren’t exactly rolling in the dough. Private school meant no new house. No vacations for years. Hardly any luxuries at all.

But wasn’t her daughter’s education worth it? Wasn’t public school going to hold her back? Would she be able to fulfill her potential?

As the daughter in question, I now know my mom made the right decision. With more hoopla these days than ever about the beauty and struggles of raising “gifted” kids, it feels odd to me. Wasn’t this stuff we should have figured out 20 years ago?

As a “gifted” kid who had lots of gifted friends growing up and is now an adult, I’ve thought a lot about what society does and doesn’t do well in terms of how we treat “smart” kids. From my experience and reading, here’s what parents must teach gifted children:

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10 Easy Tips to Go Green that Make a Big Difference

10 Easy Tips to Go Green that Make a Big Difference. Overwhelmed by the list of possible things to do to be more green? Check out these tips that give you the biggest bang for your time and energy. (Photos: Wind turbine in a grassy field, cloth diaper with owls on it on a table, basket of vegetables, ceiling fan)

As I scroll through the to-do list on my phone (yes, it’s that long), I breathe out a big, honking sigh. “Check to see if there’s anything else we can do from the energy audit” has been on there for more than a year. For God’s sake, that to-do item is older than my younger son. While I’m still not giving up on my dream of installing more insulation, I do like quick-hit, easy tips to go green.

In addition to drawing on my own knowledge, I asked some fellow green bloggers for their best tips to go green. Here are some ways you can get the biggest bang for the least time and effort:

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Why White Parents Must Confront White Supremacy

Why White Parents Must Confront White Supremacy. The racism on display at the events in Charlottesville require a response - here's some things parents can do. (Photo: Sign saying "The Answer to Whether We'd Have Marched in the Civil Rights Era is Whether We're Marching in This Civil Rights Era)

When I was a teenager in the late 1990s, I thought I was born in the wrong time. In my mind, I should have been coming of age in the 1960s, the height of the Civil Rights era. I imagined myself as a fierce crusader for the rights of others, on the front lines of the marches and sit-ins to confront white supremacy.

Dear Lord, I was a fool.

Admittedly, that’s pretty common among teenagers. But this was a special kind of foolishness. One that seems especially relevant in this rather terrible time in our nation’s history. This past weekend, a white supremacist plowed a car into a group of anti-racist protestors. There are three people dead (one protester and two police officers in a related accident) and many others in the hospital.

To me, this incident highlights how ignorant I was back then and yet how common my views still are. My naivety illustrates everything about why white parents need to talk to their kids about white supremacy. (By which I don’t mean just the literal Nazis, but also the cultural aspect of valuing white people and white culture above all others.)

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How Parents Can Go Out and Not Hire a Babysitter

How Parents Can Go Out and Avoid Hiring a Babysitter. (Photo of a doll babysitter who looks vaguely grumpy and has a small child clinging to her leg.)

Reading a party invitation, I look up at my husband and ask, “Whose turn is it this time?” We both struggle to remember who went out last. In the end, we just pick one of us, figuring that even if it’s wrong, it’ll work out in the end. And it always does. Paying a babysitter would be easier, but we’ve never gotten around to hiring one.

While we’re too busy to have extensively vetted a babysitter and too cheap to pay one anyway, we’ve remained committed to seeing our friends on a regular basis. Here’s some of the ways we’ve managed to maintain those relationships, our wallets and our sanity:

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Here’s What We Should Do About Phthalates in Mac and Cheese Instead of Food Shaming Parents

What We Should Do About Phthalates in Mac and Cheese. (Photo: Rows of boxes of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese on a shelf.)

Photo courtesy of Mike Mozart on Flickr.

“So now we can’t eat mac and cheese. Is there anything we can feed our kids?!” That was the cry heard across the land from moms and dads who read the Scary Mommy or New York Times articles on phthalates in mac and cheese.  Both of the articles are based on a report put out by a coalition of environmental groups concerned about toxic chemicals in processed food. (If you want to be super data-geeky, here’s the actual data.)

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7 Tips for Bringing Kids to Ethnic Restaurants and Others Without Children’s Menus

7 Tips for Bringing Kids to Ethnic and Other Restaurants without Kids Menus. Want to bring your kids to more restaurants but uncertain if they'll eat anything or be able to sit still? Check out these tips! (Photo: Ethiopian food in background)

“Where do you want to eat?” Anyone who has ever gone to a restaurant with their family has faced this question, probably followed by a drawn-out conversation about likes, dislikes, convenience, and whatever dish you got there last time. If you have young children, you may automatically exclude whole categories from consideration. You may never even consider bringing kids to ethnic restaurants and others without children’s menus.

But if you’ve always longed to check out that new Indian place but don’t want to spend money on a babysitter, there may be hope. It’s actually easier to bring kids to restaurants that don’t specifically cater to families than you think.

While it may seem intimidating, I’ve successfully brought my toddler to restaurants that specialize in a variety of cuisines, including fancy Italian, Ethiopian, Peruvian, and Japanese food.

Here are a few tips that can help:

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How We Built a Raised Bed Children’s Garden

How We Built a Raised Bed Children's Garden for Our Young Kids. Want your kids to have somewhere to dig and plant flowers? Here's how we build a raised bed to accommodate them. (Photo: Boy with a giant shovel digging in a large wooden box.)

As a child, I’d spend hours in my backyard poking around in the dirt. I’d pretend specific plants were magical and “mix” up concoctions. I could be alone with my imagination, whether under the giant pine tree or next to my mom’s garden bed.

But our yard doesn’t offer the same experience for our kids. It’s on a corner heavy with foot traffic and no clear place for them to play in the dirt. So I wanted to make them one – somewhere that was set-aside, just for them. After more than a year of planning – raising a new baby took a higher priority – we finally started building it this spring.

The children’s garden isn’t anything complicated. While there are some amazing outdoor play spaces on Pinterest, we had neither the space or need for anything that elaborate. We just wanted to build something that could hold some dirt. It’s really just a box. Or in fancy garden terms, a raised bed children’s garden.

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A Call to Action for Parents on Climate Change

A Call to Action for Parents on Climate Change; Photo: Painting of the Lorax in front of the White House

As I scrolled through Facebook the day President Trump announced America was leaving the Paris accords to address climate change, I couldn’t do anything but sigh and shake my head. As a long time climate change activist, I increasingly identify with the climate scientists sinking into despair the same way the West Antarctic ice sheet is. As there was nothing else I could do, I posted a screenshot of the Weather Channel that made me laugh. That evening, I stood out on my back deck, stared at the stars, and wondered what the hell we’re doing to our children’s future.

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