Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sadness...

I haven't posted in a while. Sadness sometimes drains a person of words. Thankfully, my sister-in-law, who is actually experiencing much more intense grief than I am, was able to put her thoughts to words. Here is a beautiful tribute of what has taken place in our family in the last couple weeks. The following was written by my sister-in-law about her 4-month-old daughter, Selah...

To Everyone We Love...
We're not sure what exactly everyone knows about this last week for our family and Selah, but we wanted to share a little about the last ten days with you.


Last Wed. when we went in for Selah's 4 month check up, we told our doctor that my dad (a family doctor) was concerned about her low muscle tone and had mentioned running a series of blood tests. Up to that point, we had expressed some concern about her slow/poor weight gain, but besides that, she was doing so well--constantly happy, always smiling, interacting, and sleeping really well. We could only take half of the blood needed for the tests because of her small size, so they asked us to return on Friday to complete the lab work. We tried to take blood on Friday, but they couldn't get what they needed, so sent us up to the hospital. On my way driving there, our doctor called because he had just reviewed the labs from Wednesday and three were abnormal so he told us to go up to children's hospital. From there we were admitted and the process of piecing together what was going on in Selah's little body began.


It soon became clear that for some reason, almost every organ and muscle they checked in her body was abnormal. We also learned that because of the affected muscles, she had been aspirating every time she had a bottle. The doctors were amazed that she had never had pneumonia nor any other major symptoms. Her heart was very enlarged and was causing her left lung to collapse. The doctors narrowed their predictions down to a genetic disease called Pompe. It is a very rare disease and the metabolic specialist from the medical school had only seen 7 patients with it before, world-wide there are 5,000-10,000. Basically there is no real proved treatment. There is an enzyme replacement that has shown possibilities of making a difference, but there isn't solid evidence of a restorative nature. Many of the doctors and nurses we came in contact with had never heard of it and had to look it up. This week, Monday through Thursday, it just seemed that Selah spiraled downwards with difficulties feeding (even with her NG feeding tube) and especially with breathing. She started running a temperature and by Thursday night, it was painful to watch her try to get a solid breath of air. She became completely limp and almost unresponsive. This morning, she really was starting to struggle and after talking with our pediatric team, we made the decision to give Selah medicine to keep her comfortable, but not to continue with extensive life-saving measures. Really, her little body made that decision for us. As a family we had time with Selah. They took out all of her tubes/wires except for the nasal oxygen and we just enjoyed holding her and cuddling her. Around noon, her breathing slowed down and then peacefully stopped while she was in Daddy's arms....and the doctors confirmed that Selah's life here was over.


Those are kind of the facts of what has been going on....but when we look back on this last week....there just is so much more. It's hard to adequately describe the pain and sadness we are feeling right now. It is a deep ache that hurts worse that anything we've felt before. At the hospital there was a sense of relief because it was so hard to watch her struggle to breath, but when we walked in the house, we were overwhelmed by grief....the empty crib, the piles of baby clothes, her favorite toys, and the photos of her everywhere, thinking of our other kiddos and their sadness. I weep as I write this...the pain is very deep and very real and the ache will probably be there for a while. C just said to me, "I miss Selah" and really that's what it is...Selah was such a complete joy to us...we already miss her.


In the midst of all the sad though, we have seen and felt such evidence of God's presence. There's no pretending that this week wasn't hard or that every bad test result wasn't crushing, but as we poured out our hearts to God, He gave us strength that doesn't even make sense and an overwhelming sense of His love. He gave us an amazing, consistent day nurse named Denise who showed us such love. He brought us a night nurse named Katie who is a Christian and she had her church praying for us. When we were overwhelmed by upcoming decisions about trying treatment or not, we prayed and that very morning, He brought along the head pediatrician, who helped walk us through the thought process and mainly just listened in a way that gave us strength to realize we had options and didn't necessarily have to choose treatment if it meant Selah's suffering would just be extended. We even prayed that He would take the decision about treatment out of our hands, and He allowed events to progress in such a way that even the research/metabolic doctors clearly saw where things were headed and we didn't feel pressured in any direction.


The whole week we felt such love at the hospital. The nurses and doctors wept with us and were so much more than medical professionals. We couldn't believe the kindness every doctor and specialist showed to us. After Selah died, the pediatric team even came back to our room to say goodbye and asked us to tell them when her memorial will be, so that they can possibly attend. Our family made sure our other three kiddos were doing okay and our dear friends picked up all the loose ends and took care of so many details, besides just being around to cry with us.


And God even answered our unspoken prayer. We were feeling a bit anxious and sad that our adoption of Selah was not yet finalized. It is a real process to terminate parental rights, even if the biological parent shows no resistance. May 8th was supposed to be our date for parental rights termination and then there is a waiting time before you usually can finalize. When our lawyer, Scott and friend/former social worker, Cathy saw where things were going, they worked together and Scott pulled some major strings talking to both adoption agencies, DHS and a judge so that one hour before Selah died, they delivered to the hospital our completed adoption papers and Selah officially became Selah ____. It was such a gift, something we hadn't even imagined would be possible.


When we officially decided to adopt, we sent out a letter in which we quoted John Piper as he wrote: "God is graciously involved in adoptions. He has done it Himself. He knows what it costs. And He stands ready to support us all the way to the end." So many times in life, you think you know what you believe, but you wonder if it will really hold true. This week we lived in God's gracious strength and love. We chose Selah's name because it means "to pause and value". In the Psalms it means that something coming up or something that was just said is very meaningful and worth pausing to reflect on. This week we felt like He gave us Psalm 62: 5-8 which starts and ends with Selah.


Selah


For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
for my hope is from Him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress;
I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
Trust in Him at all times, O people;
Pour out your heart before Him.
God is a refuge for us.


Selah


The sadness is so deep right now that it's hard to even read her name without weeping. We miss her. But we have felt so much love from you all and we know without a shadow of a doubt that God loves us and He loves little Selah. We know she is with Him in heaven now and we have no doubts or regrets. In our letter announcing adoption we also mentioned Randy Alcorn's book about Heaven. God providencially put it on our hearts to focus on Heaven with the kids last summer and fall. Our grief would be unbearable if we thought this was the end, but we truly believe that Selah is with Jesus in Heaven now.


My friend Rose received this from a friend and shared it with me:


The Japanese cherish the cherry tree for one simple fact; it's blossoms last for very brief moments each year. It is the brevity of the blossom that is celebrated. Some years the blossoms only last an hour or two because of wind or rain or because they are too fragile, yet often the glorious blossoms will last for up to six days. Regardless of the amount of time they last, life literally stops, in all aspects in all of Japan, to view these blossoms. Families gather together under the cherry trees in full bloom to bask in their beauty and joy. In literally every park, there is not one spare square inch of grass or dirt left, because each family reserves space by setting out their blankets and celebratory foods underneath these beautiful, fleeting blooms. Everyone here knows the blossoms, like all life, will not last; that their time is brief, that their beauty, grace, and joy they bring will soon be a cherished memory and one to celebrate with each passing year.


That truly is how these past months with Selah have been. She has been such a beautiful gift, a treasure to us. We know that Selah was chosen for our family and we were chosen for her. She brought so much joy and added so much meaning to our family. She will always be a part of our family.


Thank you for loving her with us and for weeping with us right now.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Chickens!!!

Hey, this is Anakin and I have a special announcement!!! We have CHICKS!!! We got six little chi- hold on ‘Lil dude just called me to tell me that the chicks are running a rampage through the house…… Ok I’m back, as I was saying we got six little chicks from the local farm store. I bet my sister, Lizzi, wishes she was homeschooled right now so she could stay home and hold the cute little chicks. The chicks are doing a great job of walking in the poop and pee and not avoiding it. My mother is doing a horrible good job turning these chicks into a science project. Well that’s about it, so long and may the force be with you!

-Anakin

P.S. Instead of buying eggs, we are going to use the chickens to produce eggs. It should take about six months until we get eggs.

Note: My dog is feeling very left out since we are all over with the chicks and she is all alone….




Monday, April 21, 2008

Sad Day...Pompe Disease

This is totally off-topic from my usual blogging...

I just learned that my niece, 4-months-old, may have Pompe Disease, a rare and often fatal disorder. She was adopted in December as a newborn. If you are a pray-er, please pray for both the baby and her family.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

What's Your Water Footprint?

Use this H2O calculator to figure out your water footprint.

Learn more in these two articles:

Not Enough Drops

Water footprint

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Human Footprint

A friend alerted me to a special by National Geographic...
"Find out in “Human Footprint” what an average American consumes — and discards — in a lifetime, all in one place at one time via a series of dramatic, revealing and informative visual demonstrations."

You can't view the whole show on-line (bummer since I don't have cable), but you can see a short video on the amount of trash we produce and another on the footprint of cars. Here's a related article on trash. Packaging alone counts for 33% of the trash we make. One obvious way to meet this challenge is to buy local and cook with fresh foods. In general, the less a food travels, the less packaging is involved. From garden to table is the shortest, least packaging route!

If anyone knows of a way to view this National Geographic special on-line, let me know. I'd like to watch it...without ordering it and creating more packaging/trash! ;)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

King Corn

King Corn airs TONIGHT locally. Check your local listings for opportunities to see this production in your area.

Behind America’s dollar hamburgers and 72-ounce sodas is a key ingredient that quietly fuels our fast-food nation: corn. In KING CORN, recent college graduates Ian Cheney and Curt Ellis leave the east coast for rural Iowa, where they decide to grow an acre of the nation’s most powerful crop.

Alarmed by signs of America’s bulging waistlines, the filmmakers arrive in the Midwest enthusiastic about their new endeavor. For their farm-to-be, they choose tiny Greene, Iowa—a place that, coincidentally, both Ian and Curt’s great-grandfathers called home three generations ago. They lease an acre of land from a skeptical landlord, fill out a pile of paperwork to sign up for subsidies and discover the U.S. government will pay them 28 dollars for their acre. Ian and Curt start the spring by injecting ammonia fertilizer, which promises to increase crop production four-fold. Then it’s planting time. With a rented high-tech tractor, they set 31,000 seeds in the ground in just 18 minutes. Their corn has also been genetically modified for another yield-increasing characteristic, herbicide resistance. When the seedlings sprout from Iowa’s black dirt, Ian and Curt apply a powerful herbicide to ensure that only their corn will thrive on their acre.


By summer, their modern farm is thriving, and the Corn Belt is moving toward a record harvest of 11 billion bushels of corn. But where will all that corn go? With their crop growing head-high, Ian and Curt leave the farm to see where America’s abundance of corn ends up. As they enter America’s industrial kitchen, they are forced to confront the realities of their crop’s future: sweetening the sodas of a diabetes-plagued neighborhood in Brooklyn, fattening the feed trough of a 100,000 head cattle feedlot in Colorado. Ian and Curt are increasingly troubled by how the abundance of corn is helping to make fast food cheap and consumers sick; driving animals into confinement and farmers off the land. Animal nutritionists confirm that corn feeding makes cows sick and beef fatty, but it also lets consumers have fast food. As feedlot operator Bob Bledsoe says in KING CORN, “Americans want cheap food.”


Almost everything Americans eat contains corn. High-fructose corn syrup, corn-fed meat, and corn-based processed foods are the staples of the modern diet. America’s record harvests of corn are supported by a government subsidy system that promotes corn production beyond all market demand. As Ian and Curt return to Iowa to watch their 10,000-pound harvest fill the combine’s hopper and make its way into America’s food, they realize their acre of land shouldn’t be planted in corn again—if they can help it.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Typical Day in the Life of Lizzi, Homeschool vs. Public

Guest post by Lizzi, 13, who just started her third week in public school after homeschooling the last seven years.

A typical day in the life of Lizzi comparison...

Homeschool-
  • Wake up, 7:30ish, meander down to the kitchen, read a book while slowly eating breakfast, then, if I feel like it, get dressed.
  • Start school 8:15-8:30, do math, music practice, history, writing, Spanish, and science, before 11:30, when we eat lunch.
  • After lunch, we have “Quiet Time,” for and hour or two while Lil’Dude takes a nap. During Quiet Time I read, draw, listen to music, do clay projects, scrapbook.
  • Come out 2:00ish, go outside if it’s nice, if not, we play inside and do our special interests, (clay, computer, art, etc.)
  • 4:00, watch Cyberchase, a great math show on PBS.
  • Sometime between 4:30 and 5:30, eat dinner, then play with Daddy and have family time till bed, at 8:30.
Public school-
  • 7:00, wake up, unless it’s a shower day, then it’s 6:45.
  • Eat breakfast, get dressed, put in contacts, get all school books together, grab lunch, do hair, brush teeth, attempt to finish a music lesson, all before 8:20ish, when I have to walk to the end of the road to catch the bus.
  • First period is math, where we normally spend about 50 minutes of the 80 minute period going over the math assignment from the day before, then send the rest of the time going over the assignment for the next day.
  • Second is geography or science, for 80 minutes.
  • After that is lunch.
  • Then it’s off to fiber arts, where we sit around and knit.
  • After that is language arts, P.E., then the second half of language arts.
  • Then is break, for nine minutes, before I go to computer ed, then leave to go home.
  • When I get home, I first eat a snack, then get my homework done. After that is dinner, then I spend the rest of my evening finishing up any other work I have, play with my dog, pack my lunch for the next day, and go to bed at 8:30, to read my 30 minutes of reading each day for language arts. Phew!

Eating Local Begins!!! (Kale)

Spring signals a new beginning...and with it comes new eatin'! Today I read about a challenge to enjoy local foods this summer! If you look around, I'm sure you can find similar resources in your area.

Tonight, we enjoyed locally grown chicken, a two-fold enjoyment of aroma and flavor. One child caught a whiff of the crockpot and started asking to eat at 2:30 this afternoon. Sara, our labradoodle, bounded out to the kitchen and started begging long before dinner was on the table. She finally got her share of scraps.

One of the side dishes consisted of this kale recipe which I lay over a bed of thinnings from our spring lettuce crop, still growing slowly but steadily under cold frame. The kale is still producing from the crop the kids planted under cold frame for the LegoRobotics competition last fall. I finally removed the cold frame on that bed because the kale outside seems to be doing better than the plants under glass. I guess it's finally warm enough to sustain early spring crops.

Two of my kiddos asked for seconds of "the green stuff." I'd offer you some, but it's all gone except the photos...



Thursday, April 10, 2008

Going Organic: the "Must Buy Dirty Dozen"

If you're like me, it's really hard to know when to spend the extra money to buy organic. Today I read a list in The Sneaky Chef in which the "dirty dozen," fruits and vegetables that the USDA Pesticide Data Program determined to be most contaminated by pesticides, are ranked. Here are the top twelve in order of most pesticide residue to least:

Peaches
Strawberries
Apples
Spinach
Nectarines
Celery
Pears
Cherries
Potatoes
Sweet bell peppers
Raspberries
Imported Grapes

It's highly recommended that these items be bought from organic sources. According to The Sneaky Chef,
"If you eat these foods on a regular basis, you are exposing yourself to more than twenty different pesticides per day."
Yikes.

We have a couple of apples trees, though they often don't do terribly well. We grow spinach, peppers, and strawberries. We only eat grapes when they are ripe off our vines in the fall. (I quit purchasing grapes awhile back when I stopped buying fresh produce grown out of the country.) We make grape juice as well. We've tried to grow potatoes but need to make a greater effort. A friend of mine grew celery in her garden last year with success, so I think I'll add it to my garden list for this year.

But as for the rest--peaches, nectarines, pears, cherries, and raspberries--SIGH. I guess it's time to look for a local organic source. I don't want to give up PEACHES!!!!

A couple noteworthy points from the article linked above:

How to protect yourself from “non-organic” pesticides:
Produce
  • Buy fresh vegetables and fruits in season. When long storage and long-distance shipping are not required, fewer pesticides are used.
  • Purchase only fruits and vegetables that are subject to USDA regulations. Produce imported from other countries is not grown under the same regulations as enforced by the USDA. Examples are strawberries and cantaloupes from Mexico.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Tomato Sauce Blues...and Buying Locally

I've got the blues... I've got tomato sauce blues...

It's GONE. All GONE! Summer better be here soon!!!

Last summer I had an abundance of extra tomatoes in the garden. I froze a substantial amount. Made salsa. Ate plenty fresh. But there were more...

So I made Basic Tomato Sauce (p. 168) from the Simply in Season cookbook. To preserve more nutrients, I froze it in pint size jars rather than canning. Although it was easiest when I removed it from the freezer a day ahead, I learned that it also wasn't difficult to pull out a jar, even right when it was time to start cooking, and defrost it in a bowl of warm water. The recipe has "hidden benefits" like carrots, green pepper, onion, garlic, and lots of fresh herbs.

When I first started using this strange new concoction, I wasn't sure what to think. It looked so "un-tomato saucy" compared to the canned stuff I was used to. But, oh, how good. I could actually SEE the ingredients. Flecks of carrot. Green pepper. Herbs. Wow! What a change! Tonight, sigh, for the first time, I had to resort back to the store boughten stuff. Now I think IT looks weird!!! Talk about processed!!!!!

While I was cooking dinner I was listening to a radio show about how dependent we are on China. The commentator talked about how our credit card, buy-it-cheap lifestyle started the ball rolling. And we are now so dependent that we couldn't NOT buy from China even if we wanted to.

It's so odd to think about. One hundred--even fifty years ago--we knew where our food came from. Today, when I look in my pantry, there are few things that I can trace back to an original source. I have no idea where that tomato sauce came from...the label only indicates where it was distributed.

Did you know that most apple juice comes from China? I live near one of the apple capitals of the U.S., but I can't find frozen apple juice in any local store with apples grown on this continent. If you're interested, look on the tippy top of the edge of your frozen juice carton. Up on the edge, under where the metal lid clamps down, you might find the "made in China" label. I wonder how those apples were grown? What pesticides or insecticides were used? How the people were treated who grew the apples? How much money those people were paid? And how much fuel it took for it to reach my table?

Can't wait for summer!

One Gal’s Trash…

I’m on a mission. Over the years, I’ve collected hundreds and hundreds of books and pieces of curriculum. I do not have room to put next year’s curriculum on the shelves. So I started sorting to sell.

I came up with several stacks of books that I no longer need. I used to sell books on Amazon—still do, occasionally—but got turned off by two things:

1. Amazon’s “cut” is rather large, IMO

2. A solitary fickle customer. The whole incident kinda creeped me out. I sold an out-of-print book that belongs to a popular homeschool curriculum. The book was clearly labeled as “adequate” condition (the lowest mark I could give it) and I meticulously listed all its flaws. I’ve always tended to err on the side of caution and make a book sound worse than it is. I don’t want people to be upset with the condition of their books.

So anyway, she bought it. I sent it. Then, out-of-the-blue, my husband gets a threatening phone call one Saturday morning when I’m gone. He couldn’t follow the story, but it had something to do with a book sale. I was to call back.

I called the number. The lady was very upset because the book was meant to replace one that her child had lost at school…and he was not allowed to use the school library until they replaced the book. But the one she’d received wasn’t in new condition. I explained the out-of-print status as well as the Amazon criteria and told her I was happy to refund her money. (She’d never even tried to do an Amazon refund.)

But the whole thing was creepy. She went to the trouble to find my phone number and act threatening on the phone for the price of a book???? Scary. Oh, and the book was returned in worse condition than I’d sent it in a box that was falling apart.

Anyway, in selling, here’s one tidbit…

Whenever possible, go straight to your customer. If there is a website or group or local sale that is specifically geared to whatever you’re selling, go there. You’ll find people who know what items are worth. You take out any middleman/commissions. And you can often put more money in your pocket and save your customer money at the same time.

For example, yesterday, I decided to sell books from the Five in a Row curriculum. I own a lot of the out-of-print books and wanted them to go to people who needed them. I checked Amazon to see what the books were currently listed for. I listed a couple and agreed to pay Amazon over 18% commission in the books sold. Ouch. Amazon would also collect $3.99/book for me to ship by Media Mail. I typically recycle packaging and can often ship by Media Mail for quite a bit less than $3.99, so I don’t need that much compensation from the buyer. If I go directly to my customer (and I can, at a site called FIARswap), I am able to offer my books for less than they’re offered on Amazon and charge less shipping. I still come out ahead (since I don't pay the commission) and my buyer definitely saves money. Within several hours of posting, I’d made two great sales.

Looking at my pile of books, I also considered what I’ve learned as a buyer:

1. Whenever possible, be SURE that it’s something you want before you order it on-line. In my pile were quite a few books that I’d bought because they sounded good or because they went with another book I was using (same author, same theme, etc…) Many times, I’d bought them on-line, sight (and content) unseen. When you’re considering an out-of-print book (as many of these are), you don’t have a lot of options. But sometimes I didn’t think long enough about how or when I was going to use the book. And sometimes I should have considered why I needed it in the first place. In several cases, I will lose money because I had to sell books for less than what I paid. However, it is nice to have that shelf space back! And profit on some books makes up for losses on others.

For myself, the lesson is…give yourself a few days before making a purchase. If you still want it after some time has passed, it might be worth it.

2. I am not a big buyer. But even I fall prey to advertising. And for me, it’s not usually the media that sells it. Not t.v., radio, or ads. Nope, it’s other families. Rave reviews from other moms. Thrilled looking kids. I remember going to a family reunion and being enchanted by how excitedly one boy played with his Thomas the Train engines. That’s how we started buying all those very expensive wooden trains …that later turned out to contain lead paint. We waited months for replacements. But I can’t say that my kids have ever played with the trains much. Certainly not enough to make them worth what we paid. As a side note, the most played-with toy in our house is a cheap, plastic basketball rim that perches on the edge of our coat closet. My boys play indoor basketball with it every single day!

Back to my books…

Monday, April 7, 2008

Cornbread Tamale Pie

'LilDude is very proud of this recipe. While we were waiting for Anakin to finish his guitar lesson, 'LilDude spotted this recipe in a magazine in the waiting area and asked if we could make it. This is now a family favorite!


Saute for 10 minutes:

1 lb ground beef
1 onion, chopped


Stir in:

1-2 c. canned black beans
1 c. or more corn (I use frozen)
1 c. tomato sauce (I use frozen, homemade from Simply in Season...YUM!)
1 c. water
1 T. chili powder
1/2 t. cumin
1 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper

Simmer 15 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside. Preheat oven to 425.


Mix:

3/4 c. cornmeal
1 T. flour (we use rice flour)
1 T. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt

Whisk separately:

1 egg
1/3 c. milk (we use rice milk)
1 T. oil

Pour egg mixture over cornmeal mixture and combine to make a batter.

Spread meat mixture into greased 3 qt. dish and cover with cornbread batter. Bake, uncovered, til cornbread browns, 20-25 minutes.

Lizzi's Social Life

Part III of Lizzi's school impressions...
By Lizzi, 13

Okay, I’m back! Some of you have asked about my social life, being the new kid in school. So here it is. I think I am very fortunate, because through things like kindergarten, so many years ago, soccer, basketball, LegoRobotics, outdoor school, and various other activities, I have somehow met over half of my 7th grade class. Most of the girls are my very close friends, and even my bus driver remembered me from kindergarten! I can’t say that all of us have hit it off; for instance, there is a girl that has the same birthday as me. In kindergarten, she made sure almost every day that I remembered she was five hours older. Believe me, I remembered! So she and I aren’t close in any way, shape, or form. I think overall, I have fit right in, and so far I haven’t had any of those stereotype “new kid in school,” incidents.

Tummy Crawling

The last several years, I've spent substantial time researching the effects of early stress on a young child's brain. 'Lil Dude, the catalyst to this amazing journey, began his life in a rather tumultuous way, separating from his birth mother and two foster mothers, all before the age of six months old. We now know that early stress can have an immense impact on neurodevelopment, causing the brain to flood with stress hormones and overwire areas dedicated to fight/flight. As we talked with other adoptive parents, we became aware of the widespread frustration that families experience as they seek help for their little ones.

In July 2004, 'LilDude began a program that replicated movements from the developmental sequence that children go through in infancy. When 'LilDude's tummy crawl was first assessed, his right leg was completely useless and immobile. Several parents whose children are just starting the program asked us to post a video of what our son's tummy crawl looks like now. As you can see, things have changed!

For more information on young children and adoption issues, visit: A4everFamily.org

To join a discussion on neurological interventions, visit: NEUROnetwork

[Please note that the intent of this video is NOT to show you how to make your child crawl. A child should not be taught how to crawl. Brain wiring occurs through the sequence of movements that develop as a child experiences the movement inherent with naturally learning how to crawl. It took us 2 1/2 years of tummy crawling--and a lot of other movements--to get to the point where 'LilDude could do this naturally.]

P.S. Someone asked me if 'LilDude is actually going this fast or whether the video is speeded up. Believe it or not, it's in actual time. We don't tell him to go that fast, he just does.


video

Free Homeschool & Household Helps!

Just wanted to mention a new link** (in pink on the right.) Donna Young's site is amazing. Free homeschool planners. All kinds of paper to print: handwriting, story, notetaking forms, timeline forms, math charts, graphs, clocks and more. She includes schedules for various homeschool curricula such as Apologia Science. Even if you're not homeschooling, you'll find quite a few household planners, lists, organizers, etc... that are very worthwhile.

**I don't get any kickbacks from linking her site...or even mentioning it for that matter. I just think it's great that she offers such a wide collection of homeschool resources for free.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Frugal Four-Eyes…An Oxymoron???

It’s not easy to be frugal when you’re as nearsighted as I am.

After almost 30 years of wearing contacts, I suddenly found myself with a bad case of dry eye that made contact wearing impossible. For a long time I couldn’t wear them at all. Now, if I’m lucky, I can wear them occasionally for a few hours, but I always pay for it the next day with extremely dry eyes.

I switched to wearing glasses. As any full-time glasses wearer knows, it’s important to have a back-up pair of glasses. A few months ago, mine broke. So I’ve been hoping that my sole frame doesn’t break before I need to do a presentation. I can’t quite fathom the embarrassment of standing in front of a large group with duct tape holding everything together.

I’m raising a very nearsighted family; five of the six of us are currently in glasses/contacts. The last time we received a bill from our optometrist, my husband and I went into shock. We couldn’t believe the cost. So we went in search of an alternative.

We tried Costco. We were pleased with the optometrist there. Likewise, the optical department filled our orders for contacts/glasses without any problem. Until it came to ME. At –8.0/-8.5, I am the most nearsighted member of our family. I tried two different lens materials in my glasses. Ironically, the third option was also the cheapest and had always given me perfect vision in the past. But Costco doesn’t carry this particular lens material for any prescription over –8.0, so they had nothing to offer me.

This week I called the optometrist we’ve used in the past. I couldn’t believe the difference. Here’s how it stacked up:

Frame (same one!)
Costco: $79.99
My doc: $195.00

Anti-Reflective Treatment
Costco: $29.99
My doc: $95.00

Lens
Costco:
Plastic, N/A (this is by far the cheapest and what I need, but it doesn’t come in anything over –8.0)
Sv Poly Aspheric, $43.99 (I tried it; doesn’t work for me)
Sv Hi-index Aspheric, $74.99 (Tried it; doesn’t work for me)
My doc: Plastic, $95.00

OUCH! I realize that my doctor is just trying to make ends meet like everyone else. And I hate seeing the little guy get overrun by the big guy (don't even get me started on a certain superstore!), but for a large family with several people that need vision correction, these prices are overwhelming.

While I know this isn’t necessarily the most economical solution (at least in the short-term), tomorrow I check into Lasik.

More Lizzi School Impressions...

Lizzi was getting her lunch ready for tomorrow. "I'm looking forward to going to school." All sorts of wonderful reasons went through my mind. Challenging math and science courses. Friends. A new genre of literature.

"Yeah," she continued, "I'm excited to go knit." (One of her electives is fiber arts.) "I'm going to ask the teacher if I can take my yarn home so I can finish untangling it."

Glad she's learning something that I wasn't able to teach her! :)


P.S. Lizzi plans on another guest post soon. Stay tuned... ;)

Friday, April 4, 2008

Lizzi's First School Impressions

Guest post by Lizzi, 13, who just completed her first week in 7th grade public school, after being homeschooled since the beginning of 1st grade.

Lizzi: Okay, my mom wants me to do this, and I didn’t have any homework, so I don’t have an excuse not to do it! So here it goes.

My first impressions of school:

~LOUD!!! It takes forever for the kids to be quiet!!! So it takes forever to start doing the lesson. Throughout the whole lesson the teacher has to keep reminding people to be quiet.

~Sad. I can get 10x as much work done at home in half as much time! (Okay, maybe that’s exaggerating a little bit, but only a LITTLE!!) In one class today—an 80 minute period—we corrected two previous papers, did a short problem solving activity and talked about what we are doing next week. At home it probably would have taken us half an hour.

~Frustrating! I cannot, for the life of me, get my STUPID LOCKER open! One of my friends has memorized my locker combo because she has done it for me so many times!

~Busy. Everything is on a very tight schedule. So when one of your teachers (not saying any names) doesn’t let you out on time, you have about two minutes to get changed out of your P.E. clothes before the bell rings!

~Free Time. I normally have 30 minutes of free time in the evening since I started school. I used to have about seven hours a day.

So, that’s about it. I can’t decide what I’m doing next year, because school’s not boring yet. It’s still a new thing.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

A Proactive Education, Part II

After posting, I was asked why we are considering public school. It’s a question that deserves an explanation.

When my kids were little I felt confident of my ability to meet their academic needs. As they reach the end of middle school, my confidence wanes. It started with math.

I asked to borrow the pre-algebra book from our local school. I quickly discovered that we had not explored many of the traditional models to nearly the extent that this publisher did. My children had spent hours looking at visual models and learning to think mathematically. That was my goal and I think we accomplished it. But we had not done nearly as much work with traditional algorithms. I proceeded to go on a rollercoaster ride akin to Magic Mountain’s worst. I alternately felt like raising my hands in exultation and puking….

Nervous Nelly: “My kids are behind. They’ll never catch up. It will destroy them. And I’ll look like an incompetent fool.”

Confident Carmen: “But the public school class is only half way through the book and there are only a couple months of school left. If you spent a few weeks you could easily cover what they’ve done this entire year.”

Nervous Nelly: “But what happens when they go to HIGH SCHOOL and haven’t covered some of this stuff? Then what? Huh, huh? You want them to fail? Be crying all over the doorstep of the high school? How are they ever going to survive in college?”

Confident Carmen: “Look, schmuck. You’ve done a good job. They know how to think. They know how to learn. If there are things you haven’t taught them, they’ll figure it out.”

Nervous Nelly: “But what if I’ve done it ALL WRONG for SEVEN YEARS? Then what? Huh?”

Confident Carmen: “Good grief, are you ever pathetic. Get over yourself.”

To a large extent, my thoughts about putting them in public school are REACTIVE.

1. I am not prepared to teach my children college-prep math and science courses. I realize that we could get those courses other places even while homeschooling. (Part-time at the high school, community college classes, on-line classes, video programs.) However, I’m not sure I want to spend the time, money, and effort to get those classes when they are being offered for free at our local high school. Not only are they free, but they are actually worth $$. See #3.

2. One scary thing is that I DON’T KNOW WHAT I DON’T KNOW. Let me explain…

I’ve recently been researching higher-level mathematics curriculum. The more research I do, the more confused I get. I know enough about pre-algebra/algebra to recognize that there are some significant holes in some of the homeschool programs I’ve looked at. Holes according to whom? Well, holes that would be a stumbling block should we ever choose to enter the public school system. Yes, the public school texts are FAR from flawless. However, they are in the MAJORITY. And if my children are going to take any college math classes, professors will expect students to be on par with what the majority has been exposed to…good or bad.

In algebra I recognize that there are holes in the homeschool curriculum that I’ve perused, but I don’t know how to fill them with any semblance of confidence. In the upper level classes (take calculus, for example), I wouldn’t recognize a hole if I fell into it and ended up in China. I do not have enough knowledge in this content area to be able to evaluate the strengths or weaknesses of a curriculum. Same goes for science.

3. My older daughter (who has spent all her years in public school) will graduate from high school with over 50 college credits. The credits were earned through our local community college in the college prep courses she took in high school. So by going to high school, she will end up saving us money in college. When you convert those credit hours to a private college, it equals a LOT of money.

I would like to have a PROACTIVE stance toward what we choose for high school. So what do I want for my kids?

1. I want them to continue to grow as learners and as human beings, developing emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. I want them to develop their critical thinking skills, while enjoying learning for learning’s sake.

2. I want them to continue to explore their gifts and talents and what makes each of them special and unique. They need time to do this. Time to explore. Time to be outside. Time to BE.

3. I want them to explore the world around them—nature, the environment, other peoples/cultures. I want them to know how incredibly important they are as human beings but also how small they are in the universe. They need to understand that the rest of the world doesn’t live in the privilege that we do; therefore, they are given a huge responsibility, one that needs to be cultivated with care.

I’m sure there’s more…

But I guess my great concern now is that I don’t know how to rectify my reactive stance with my proactive stance.

To end on a positive note, my daughter took the state test in math yesterday. Apparently, she did very well--"exceeding expectations"--despite not having spent the year studying from the pre-algebra book that about sent me over the edge. My confidence is restored, at least for the moment. But don’t hold your breath until tomorrow.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Proactive Education

I straddle a strange fence, a toe in two different worlds. On the one hand, I’m a professional educator. I taught public school and hold a K-12 teaching certificate, write curriculum and conduct teacher training workshops for public school teachers. My toe has been digging around in that world for almost twenty years.

Yet, on the other hand, I’m a mom. And as a mom, I’ve pursued the best possible educational scenario for my children, a picture that’s looked different for each of my four children. But the picture I need to explore today is homeschooling.

Almost seven years ago, we made the rather abrupt decision to homeschool our daughter after she completed one year of public school kindergarten. During that year, I’d slowly watched my bright, inquisitive daughter become rather apathetic. She observed that she could complete projects faster than other kids and made comments about how she didn’t have to work very hard because it was so easy for her. The camaraderie that she and her brother—just 16 months her junior—had once experienced was suddenly gone, since she was “older” and “a kindergartener.” After being identified as TAG (“talented and gifted”…not necessarily a helpful label), she started getting pulled out of class to work one-on-one with a teaching assistant on harder materials…an assistant that could have been helping the non-English speaking or the non-writing or the non-reading children in the room. When the assistant wasn’t available, she was provided with a stack of worksheets to complete. It just didn’t seem like the best educational environment for her.

The reasons that we began homeschooling are not nearly as important as the reasons we continued. As a teacher, one of my primary concerns was socialization. I’d always been under the impression that homeschool kids were a bit socially retarded. I guess I pictured them as holing up in their caves at home and only coming out for social air a couple times a year. The first year we homeschooled, I was thrilled to learn of educational and social opportunities for homeschoolers in our local community. I signed up. And up. And up. One day I realized that we were doing so much socializing that we weren’t left much time to school. So we cut back. But I noticed that each time my children had a social opportunity, they were often the first to make new friends; it was like the self-confidence they’d developed from extra time at home flowed over into peer time, giving them an advantage when it came time to be around other kids.

From the beginning of the homeschool experience, my kids knew that they could go to school if they wished. Each year they said no. I sometimes questioned whether we were doing the right thing. But by around 4th/5th grade I learned that if my daughter enrolled in school, she would be student number 35 or 36 in her class. As a public school teacher I’d always made the bull-headed comment that “I will never homeschool my kids!”…except for one condition…class size. I knew that if class sizes were out of control that I would consider it. As a teacher I knew far too well what a negative impact a large class size could have on the learning process. I was not going to send my 4th grader to a class of 35+ kids. So we continued.

Over the years, the benefits of homeschool have overwhelmed me. Here’s my short list…

1. My kids can complete “school” in just a few hours. In the early grades, they could finish in less than two hours, these days (middle school), in less than three. It's not hard to understand why. I read about a local kindergarten of over 30 students who have to spend upwards of 30 minutes to get everyone's shoes on and tied when they change into their regular shoes after P.E.

2. Because they’ve been homeschooled from such an early age, they are incredible innovators. They are always busy doing something educational, whether they realize it or not. My son (11) designs web pages (self-taught), mixes music on the computer, and is obsessed with playing the guitar. My daughter (13) makes polymer clay creatures to rival professionals. She writes poetry and stories for fun, submitting them to a kids’ writing circle group on-line. I remember as a public school student being “bored” when I had days off. I did love to read, but outside of that, my ability to do constructive things with free time was limited. I was used to other people dictating my every move. In contrast, my children are never bored. They are thrilled when “school” (supervised by mom) is done so they can “play." And interestingly enough, their “play” often ends up being educationally superior to “school.” (And they don’t watch t.v. or play computer games during the day.)

3. Because our day hasn’t been limited by someone else’s parameters, we’ve been able to do incredible amounts of “extra-curricular” activities: piano, violin, fiddle, orchestra, guitar, LegoRobotics, soccer, basketball, church activities, Shakespeare production, volunteering at preschool…the list goes on. They could have never done all these activities (many now at an advanced level) if they were on a public school schedule.

4. While they have many peer friends, they also have many friends who aren’t the same chronological age. In the homeschool world, age matters less than interests.

5. My children are very close to one another. Whether they want to admit it or not, they are each other’s best friends. Our family is extremely close.

6. We have a flexible schedule. If it's a nice spring day, we can go to the zoo or to a park. If it's 100 degrees in the middle of summer, we can have a normal school day in the comfort of our cool house.

7. We are able to spend large amounts of time outdoors...a huge bonus physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

All that to say…I put my daughter Lizzi (13) in public school this week.

We don’t know what’s best for her as she approaches 8th grade and high school. We feel that she needs to be heavily involved in the decision-making process, but she needs enough information to make that decision. So, on Monday, she entered public school.

I hope to have her write a guest blog about her impressions (they are many), but here are some tidbits from me…remember, the person who continues to ride that professional/mom fence.

On her first morning at school, the principal invited my daughter into her office to take a math placement test. As a teacher, I understand that test scores are the overriding force in today’s educational environment. What I wasn’t prepared for was the fact that nothing else mattered. Since my daughter was a homeschooler, we didn’t have file of student records to transfer from another school, but I was prepared to be asked questions about content she’s covered, strengths and weaknesses in her educational abilities, past test scores, or even current interests. I figured we’d be asked for work samples. I thought we’d be asked about her “story.” We weren’t. She took a 14-question math test and was placed. The principal didn’t review the test with her, so Lizzi didn’t know which ones she missed. When she got home, she asked us what “that mark with the squiggle” is and drew us a square root symbol. We’d briefly touched on the symbol years ago, but had thoroughly covered the concept of square root, exploring it with visual models. When we told her what the symbol stood for she immediately said, “Oh, so then the answer was ___.” She was right, but no one asked her any questions, so they don’t know what she knows.

Yesterday, the principal happened to substitute in her language arts class and gave the class the test to qualify to represent the school in the local spelling bee. My daughter thought the principal looked surprised when she learned that the new student placed 2nd. But, then again, the principal also doesn’t know that Lizzi just finished performing the role of Queen Margaret in Richard III. Neither does she know that this young fiddle player will be performing on a radio station on Saturday morning. (Although she was very concerned to learn that my daughter would sometimes miss the last period—an elective—because she has to attend music lessons.) She doesn’t know that Lizzi has won awards for her writing. She doesn’t know that she has been involved in field testing math curriculum. She doesn’t know that Lizzi’s team won second in the state in the LegoRobotics competition. But what’s sad is that it doesn’t matter.

In our school system today, what matters is testing. Yesterday, in 90 minutes, one of Lizzi’s classes was assigned only a handful of problems (what we would have normally done in minutes at home) because some students were pulled for testing. Lizzi’s testing number wasn’t ready yet so she’ll likely be pulled out today or tomorrow. And then at the end of the year, she’ll spend another two weeks—one in math and one in language arts—testing.

Let me make it clear that I do not fault teachers. If I were in their shoes, I would have no choice but to do what they’re doing. Our system is broken.

I’ve been following a series by Robert Cringely about education in America. It made me consider the idea of reactive vs. proactive education.

These days, much of our public school system is in the reactive mode. No Child Left Behind is a reaction to the perceived current state of affairs. Testing is a reaction. Many of our educational programs/bandaids are a reaction. We react to problems, thinking it’s the answer to producing better students.

Sometimes homeschoolers live in the reactive mode. We pull a child out of school in reaction to a public school curriculum we see as having an agenda. We hear about school shootings and react. We want to keep our children away from something—agendas, adults with whom we don’t agree, other children who may not be the right influence.

But then there’s the proactive agenda. It’s a desire to have something rather than a desire to get away from something. It's a movement toward an ideal rather than a movement away from a perceived threat. It’s a desire to talk with our children about ideas, to raise children who are innovative and creative and love a challenge. It’s children who can think mathematically about big concepts and not just answer the set of algorithms that “every 7th grader needs to know.”

As a professional AND as a parent, I look toward the day when we pro-actively educate all children, caring more about their stories than the answers they get on 14 math problems. In the article I linked, Cringlely writes, "Most people would see the Amish as an anomaly, but I don't. I see the Amish as a particularly successful minority that picks and chooses how it will participate in modern life. We see a lot of this, especially internationally. Yes, the Amish have no army, but then neither do, in practical terms, many countries including some of our old enemies. The Amish do not suffer from avoiding public schools OR McDonalds. They live the life they have chosen to create." So how will we choose to create our children's educational future? Will we choose to live the reactive or the proactive life? Is it possible to garner a proactive education in today's public schools? Stay tuned...
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