Archives for June 2009

Book Review: Above All, Be Kind by Zoe Weil

bekind I recently finished reading Zoe Weil’s book, Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times and find myself thinking a lot about the ideas contained within its pages. Weil’s book looks at parenting from a somewhat different angle than most parenting books. This book isn’t so much about discipline or potty training or how to get kids to eat healthy foods. It “begins with the end in mind” so to speak, in that it asks us, as parents, to consider the kind of adults we want our children to be and provides suggestions on how to get them there.

According to the back cover,

Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times offers solutions to the problems of apathy, materialism and dangerous peer influences by teaching parents how to raise their children to be humane in the broadest sense: to become not only more compassionate in their interactions with family and friends, but to grow up to make life choices that demonstrate respect for the environment, other species, and all people.

After having finished the book, I can honestly say, it delivers. Here’s a look at what’s inside:

◊ Definition of Humane. Weil begins the book by defining what it means to be humane. From page 3, being humane is “having what are considered the best qualities of human beings.” What follows is an expanded discussion of those qualities and what it means to possess them.

◊ Chapter 2 is titled: Tools to Raise a Humane Child: The Four Elements. These elements,

1. Providing information.
2. Teaching Critical Thinking.
3. Instilling reverence, respect and responsibility.
4. Offering positive choices.

serve as a blueprint for all the stages of a child’s life.

◊ Chapter 3 encourages parents to focus on their own lives for a bit and the extent to which we teach by example. One of the most resounding ideas from this book, for me, comes from this chapter. Weil mentions that a reporter once asked Mahatma Gandhi what his message was and he responded, “My life is my message,” which is the title of this chapter. I find myself thinking over and over about the extent to which my life is (or is not) reflective of the message I wish to convey.

◊ The next few chapters provide specific strategies for applying the Four Elements at different stages in a child’s life (The Early Years – Birth to Age 6, The Middle Years – Ages 7-12, Adolescence, and “The Child Becomes a Humane Adult”). These chapters are especially useful for dealing with age-related questions and concerns.

◊ At the end of the book is a thorough compilation of resources about a variety of issues, including environmental, human rights, animal, and socially responsible causes. There is also a “My Life is My Message Questionnaire” that is immensely thought-provoking. In addition, Weil has provided a series of facts and statistics, lists of companies and products that do not involve animal testing or sweatshop labor, and information on how to avoid genetically modified foods. There is also and extensive list of web resources for gathering even more information.

I came away from reading Above All, Be Kind: Raising a Humane Child in Challenging Times feeling like I had useful tools to help my children (and myself) become people who think about the consequences of their actions and who are more fully aware of the world around us. There’s no question that we live in “challenging times,” but Zoe Weil makes that journey a little easier.

For more information on Zoe Weil, visit or the Institute for Humane Education where she is the co-founder and President.

A Few Updates: The Garden, Our Trip & Things to Come

The Garden

The garden is coming along. We returned from Kentucky to find that things had really grown in the short time we were gone. The squash plant was a good bit larger, and we had beans ready to pick. Here are a few pictures that I took yesterday.

The squash plant:


A few little squash starting to grow:

little squash

Beans and herbs and a cucumber plant:


First flower on one of the tomato plants:

tomato flower

I remain pleased with the way things are going in the garden. It continues to be a lot of fun. I’d love to see pictures of your gardens if you have them. Feel free to leave a link to any garden posts on your own blog in the comments.

Our Trip

Our trip to Kentucky went well, in spite of a 10 hour car ride with two 3 year olds. 🙂 The girls handled it much better than I expected. They went fishing for the first time and had a blast. They also fed carrots to their aunt’s horses got to pet the baby quail she has on her farm.

coal We drove through West Virginia on the way there and were bombarded with billboards promoting “Clean Coal.” Most of the billboards were in an area where the interstate runs a long a river next to miles of coal yards. Looking at the mounds of coal, the plants with enormous smoke stacks blowing out large billowing streams of the stuff, and the filthy trucks driving all around the area, the “Clean Coal” billboards were nothing short of a paradox.

Now that we’re back home, I plan to post more regularly and I have some guest posts for other blogs in the works. I’ll be reviewing some great books I’ve just finished and there will be more updates on our garden, along with green summer fun ideas.

Thank you for reading.

Greener Father’s Day Gifts

fathers-day Father’s Day is coming up on June 21 in the US, Canada and the UK. This year, rather than buying dad another tie (unless he needs or wears a lot of ties), or something else that will sit around and collect dust, try giving a gift that is both thoughtful AND green. Most of the things that we buy consume a lot of resources just in the making and shipping of them. Why not consider a gift this year that’s consumable, or something that will improve the world a bit. I’m listing a few ideas below, but it would be great if you’d add any ideas you may have in the comments.

Plants. If your father is in to gardening, consider berries or fruit trees. They’ll provide food for him year after year. If he’s into yard improvements, consider a decorative shrub, tree, or perennial. It will be a reminder of you for years to come.

Event Tickets. Match the tickets to your dad’s interests. If he’s into sports, get tickets to a game. If he thinks Riverdance is cool, find out when the show is coming to his area. How about tickets to the symphony? The movies? Area museums? A season pass to state parks? The options are virtually unlimited.

Donations to Charitable Organizations. Appeal to your father’s inner philanthropist. For the man who has everything he needs and wants, consider a charitable donation that reflects his values and interests. Check out Charity Navigator for ideas.

An Experience. If there’s something your dad has always wanted to do, but didn’t want to spend the money on, consider footing the bill for the experience. Use Google to find companies in his area that allow you to purchase packages for skydiving, helicopter rides, and NASCAR driving to name a few.

Something of the Month Clubs. If there’s something your dad really enjoys, consider getting him a subscription to try a new version each month. There are beer of the month clubs as well as clubs for coffees, teas, wines, fruit, plants, books, etc.

Homemade Gifts. Never underestimate the meaning of homemade gifts. Take the time to make something that has special meaning for your father. Maybe it’s a scrapbook that includes memories from a particular time in his life, or a collection of photos, or maybe some coffee cuffs made from all those ties you’ve given him over the years.

Update: After I published this post, I thought of a few more ideas. . .

Food. How about a gift certificate to his favorite restaurant, or a restaurant he’s been wanting to try? An even better idea, which Vin left in the comments below, have grass-fed beef delivered to his door.

Classes or Individual Training Sessions. Pay for your dad to take a class in an area of interest to him. There are lots of options: cooking, woodworking, photography, computers, art. The list is nearly endless. As for training classes, you could go for a one-on-one session with a golf or tennis instructor, or if your father is interested in getting in better shape, try a session or two with a personal trainer or nutrition counselor.

The main thing is to think about something your father would really enjoy and try to find a related gift that he can actually use. Get creative. The fewer materials that go into a gift, the greener it is, and greener gifts can also be the most thoughtful.

Photo Credit: fauxto_digit

Square Foot Garden: First of June

Our garden is coming along. We’ve had a few stops and starts, but things are growing in spite of us. We’ve harvested a few onions and one radish. The radish really wasn’t big enough. I’ll leave the other ones alone a while longer.

I had some trouble with seed starting, but learned some things the first time around and had a more successful run the second time. I went ahead and bought some tomato and pepper transplants as a back-up, and not surprisingly, the transplants are coming along well. We recently added some strawberry plants in a galvanized tub container. Here’s a view from the other end of the garden area.


We added a raspberry bush that a neighbor gave us and a knock-out rose to the outside of the garden fence. You can see the raspberry bush to the right of the composters and wooden barrel in the photo below.


Fortunately, I have my garden helpers. The girls are really enjoying planting seeds and watching things grow. So far, the project has been meeting its intended purpose: to make us more aware of how things grow and where our food comes from. Getting to eat really good-tasting produce will be a welcome bonus.

garden-helpers2How are your garden projects coming along? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.