Monthly Archives: August 2010
Here in the desert, everyone gets stir-crazy ’round this time of year. Truly, unless you’re doing something water-oriented, there are about four solid months when you just cannot take a step outdoors.
Each morning, I try for a few minutes (my goal is 30 minutes… it’s usually more like 5 or 10 before someone pops their head out the back door) of peace outside on the back patio — praying, reading Scripture, watching birds, hoping for a fresh breeze… From May through August, even at 7 a.m., it’s over 90°F, many times significantly warmer. It’s hot in the summer, but I encourage myself by thinking, “It’s going to be so much hotter in a just a few hours. Enjoy the warmth before it turns into unbearable heat.” Thus tricked into believing that 95° isn’t so bad, I stay outside.
We all simply long… Or, maybe it’s just me. *I* just long for the days to cool, so that we can spend time outdoors without it feeling like a blast furnace. I don’t like being cooped up indoors, and I don’t like my kids to be, either.
This was taken by my hubby, yesterday early evening, as I was trying to prepare dinner quickly. The best remedy to the constant interruptions proved to be taking the kids to the park. :) They came back hot and sweaty, but at least it was do-able.
This morning, per the 7:00 regimen, I stepped outdoors. Then with a wee jolt, stepped back in. Then, out. Then, back in. Could it be?? Is the outside actually cooler than the inside?? (We keep the thermostat at 79°.)
Six things that have struck me or interested me in recent weeks, with no theme:
- For those of you who asked me, via comment or e-mail, for the reading list of recommendations from my friend Kathy, it’s here! (I mentioned it in a post where I lamented the state of current teen fiction.) My precious friend Kathy posted an intro to her list of 100 or so pre-teen and teen books, as well as a handy, printable pdf, with title, author, and a wee commentary on each one!! (from the P14 Ministries blog)
- For those of you, like me, who have been alternately intrigued and frustrated by the recent upsurge in Gluten-Free Everything: A great (and fairly lengthy) look at the pros and cons of the recent trendiness of the gluten-free diet. (from the Triumph Dining blog)
- Please read this beautifully written paean to family and the Midwest entitled Has the Mail Gone? by Cloth Mother upon the passing of her beloved 94-year-old grandmother. As I was reading it, I thought, “This woman must have lived in Illinois.” I pulled out a map Google-mapped a town name, and sure enough… right in the heart of the farm country in which my parents were raised. When I took my children to Illinois 3½ years ago, on our way back to the airport, from Quincy to Chicago, I purposefully avoided large highways and instead, meandered, taking every teensy two-lane blacktop, passing through small town after small town, treasuring the scenery and the ambiance of the land that tugs so at my heart. Of all the hamlets through which we passed, my favorite was a little spot called Henry. I could easily imagine myself there, raising a family in a century-old two-story on a sleepy, tree-lined avenue. It took a considerable amount of strength and a sharp intake of breath to drive away from Henry… Henry is only about four miles up the Illinois River from the author’s town of Lacon. Feeling a connection there, and because the piece was so beautifully written, I felt like I had to comment. But, I didn’t. The story was so personal, and all the commenters knew Grandma Florence. But, reading the story will make you wish she had been your grandmother, too.
- I must confess that I am not particularly emotional. I mean, I have emotions, but I don’t cry easily, and I don’t really enjoy crying. However, I simply wept at this post by Nicole Deggins, and I absolutely did not regret it. Nicole, a certified nurse midwife, wrote a searingly honest account of her unexpected pregnancy, then the loss of her hours-old baby daughter, whom she nicknamed Peanut, birthed at 24 weeks’ gestation. (I have loved Nicole’s blog for more than a year… two years?… and am angry, actually, that an organization which has a copyrighted name similar to that of her blog, sued her, and now she has to disband the blog.)
- I have recently felt compelled to stop lamenting how few ingredients that my 22-month-old daughter can eat, and stop using that as an excuse to not be creative with Fiala-safe ingredients in the kitchen. When most grains, corn, rice, potatoes, most fruits, a great many vegetables, most meats, dairy, and even most herbs and seasonings are off the ingredient-list, I’ve found it too easy to resort to the few things that I know she can have, like blueberry oatmeal with cinnamon and farinata with fresh rosemary, each of which she has virtually every day of her life. This post by Kimberly at Affairs of Living really inspired me. It’s for grain-free Chocolate Pumpkinseed Bread. Now, Fiala can’t yet have either chocolate or pumpkin seeds (and yes, I’ve tried both). However, reading about the bread, and looking at the scrumptious results of the recipe — not to mention her link to the corn-free baking powder recipe — really kicked me in the culinary rear, so to speak… it got the wheels turning, and I’m starting to look at what is POSSIBLE on Fiala’s diet, rather than just biding my time until she can eat more.
- I have been a reader of Living and Learning for a couple of years. Sue is a homeschooling mother of four, married to a native of Japan. She blogs with beauty, honesty, graciousness, and a bit of whimsy. I find myself refreshed by her writing. I had never had much interest in visiting Japan before reading her blog… However, I find myself very compelled by her photography of the flora and landscape of the area around her home, not to mention the stories of her family. This Summer Check-In post is typical: filled with lovely photos, family togetherness, and things of interest — even peculiarity — to an American who has really no other acquaintance with Japan.
Click and enjoy!
About six weeks ago, the manuscript I ghost-wrote* was accepted, ten days after receipt by the first publisher to whom we (the author and I) sent it, which was, not coincidentally, our first choice. We were handed over to a “book acquisition” man (B.A.M.) who, it appears, has the job of making sure a book is complete before it is recommended by him to those who draw up the contracts. (I don’t know if all/most publishers do this, or if it’s just for first-time authors, or what.) The BAM had several suggestions for new chapters and for beefing up the existing material.**
Although I had been content with the material we had, prior to the “beefing up”, I must now admit that Mr. BAM knows what he’s talking about; I am profoundly happy with the new material written, and am now deeply pleased with the result. It was, indeed, what the book needed.
The author mailed a CD*** of the manuscript — now 12,000+ words longer — on Monday. It was received by Mr. BAM on Wednesday, who then said that he’d reply by next Friday with his thoughts on the book.
Instead, we heard from him yesterday, a mere 24 hours after he received the book, with this:
“I’ll be honest with you. I hope we can be the ones to publish it. I love it. Now it’s a book that someone like me can read. … This book is FUN!!!!!“
So, next is contract negotiation. If you’re reading this, and especially if you know me in real life, and even more if you know the author in real life, please be praying that she is presented with a reasonable, solid contract. It’s not like she’s expecting to get rich off of the book, but I do so want her to be treated fairly. Well, actually, I want the publisher to be generous with her, but that might be too great an expectation. But, we continue to have favor with both God and man, which is very exciting (and has led me, in recent weeks, on a study of Nehemiah — who also had both — but that’s another topic altogether…), and leaves me with hope and an expectation that God will not let my dear friend down.
*Ghost writing varies a lot. In our case, all of the ideas (or a good 98% of them) were the original author’s. All of the teaching is hers. All of the stories are hers. I took her work, organized it, edited it, honed the focus in places, expanded it in others, and re-wrote virtually every word. My express goal was to have her read it and exclaim, “Yes! That is exactly what I was trying to say! Only now it sounds even better!” Mr. BAM said it this way: my friend is the author, and I am the writer.
**Daja, several of his suggestions were the same (or similar) to yours. So, by the time I got the manuscript that you had marked up, I was so pleased to read many of your comments and say to myself, “Already done!” It increased my confidence in Mr. BAM, in your own insight, and that, truly, all of us ARE hearing from God’s heart on this project. The same Spirit speaks the same things…
***Normally, mss are just e-mailed, but since this one contains a lot of pictures, the file was too large.
I was going to start school on the 23rd of August, the same 23rd that has already come and gone. Historically, I start to obsess about curriculum and plans for each school year, oh, in March, if not sooner. But, I tell ya, for better or worse, having my boys take the Iowa Test back in May, and having them do so well, has really mellowed me out. I’m not panicking about their educational future. That said, I don’t want to be so relaxed that I lose all focus…
Mostly because of the book I’m ghostwriting, I was just not ready for school on the 23rd. But, that’s done with, for now, until we get some edits back, when more changes/additions will have to be done. It went to the publisher on Monday…
This week, I have been doing a little bit of placement-testing, and ordering of materials.
My biggest joy has been over Wesley. He has been my slowest learner: Literally, this past school year was the first one — at third grade, age eight — that he could consistently remember how to spell his whole first and last name. He also had a terrible time with handwriting. Evidence is showing though, that perhaps he is/was a slow starter, and not necessarily having a hard time learning in general:
- His composite ITBS grade equivalency was 4.7, nearly a year advanced.
- I decided to switch him to Teaching Textbooks (switching over from Singapore) this school year, and he got a near-perfect score on the 4th grade placement test, so I had him take the 5th grade one, and on the first section, he got 14/15, and on the second section, he scored an 8/15. (He needed a 10/15 and an 8/15 to pass.) Some people say that TT is easier than many homeschooling math curricula, and that their children routinely place higher than their grade level. Still, this has NEVER happened with Wesley, and I’m so proud of him. We have been celebrating his success all week.
- Last year, as Wesley was literally unable to spell rule-following three-letter words, I didn’t even attempt to place him for spelling. We simply worked a LOT on phonics, sight-spelling, and pronunciation. (He has some auditory processing issues — if you don’t hear a word correctly, you won’t say it correctly, and you certainly won’t spell it correctly. Wes has particular trouble discerning soft vowel sounds.) With the spelling issue and with handwriting trouble, Wes was one to two years behind on virtually every aspect of English. Today, I did a Spelling Power placement test with him, and he scored at 3rd grade 5th month. I was SO VERY encouraged by this!! You have no idea how amazing it is to me to have him only be a half-year behind in spelling. He correctly spelled words like going, paths, and fish, stumbling on words like picked, dollar, and when. In one year, progressing from, “Mom, how do you spell my name?” to spelling paths, is, in my opinion, a HUGE leap.
I haven’t finished spelling with Ethan and Grant — we did the first 25 of 50 words this morning, and they both haven’t had a misspelled word yet. For math, Grant, who is in 6th grade, qualified for 8th-grade Pre-Algebra, which was unsurprising, as he did Math 7 last year. Ethan got a near-perfect score on the Pre-Algebra placement test, which would lead me to believe that he could successfully navigate Algebra in this, his 8th grade year. But, he doesn’t want to, and I’m fine with that. He’d rather grow and stretch gradually, rather than jumping ahead at every opportunity; he’s cautious in general. And, I’ve seen him, before, get over his head in math, and it’s not pleasant for either of us. So, I completely support his desire to take the easier path.
And, today, I sorted through the homeschooling closet, putting away last year’s workbooks and folders and notebooks, and otherwise getting things in order.
Audrey, who turned four in April, wants to do school. We’ll pick up in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons — she’s completed 40 of them or so. And, I found some occupational therapy-related stuff that I’ll probably do with her… Not that she needs OT; just to work on fine and gross motor stuff, and so that she can feel like she’s doing something. ;)
I’ll be trying Easy Grammar for the first time this year. I’m going to do Easy Grammar 4 with Wesley and Easy Grammar Plus with both Grant and Ethan. We’ll see how that works. I have done Rod & Staff in the past, but I’m finding that a tad too… pedantic. Yet, I don’t want to drop parts of speech altogether, which many current English Grammar currics now do. I’m hoping Easy Grammar is a happy medium. From what I understand, Easy Grammar starts with having the student memorize all the prepositions to assist in ID’ing the other parts of speech, and to help break down sentence structure. I think that is a good approach.
We’re also slowly working our way through Sonlight Cores. Ethan and Grant are weeks away from finishing Core 4, and Wesley has a bit yet to go in Core 2. Once Wes is ready for Core 3, I’ll have Grant jump back down to doing school with Wes, since I had him skip Core 3 earlier, in order to join up with Ethan. (If that made sense to you, I congratulate you; you must be trying to combine schoolwork with a passel of your own!) In general, Grant is always a challenge for me: book-smart, but without the maturity required for more advanced reasoning and focused learning and working. So, I have him jump back and forth between working with his younger brother, and working Ethan, who is two years older.
OK! That’s it for now. Must run, as my little one, Fiala, is waking. :)
I have been making my own laundry detergent for more than a year. I started with a basic “recipe” I found online, but discovered that I kept altering to it to get it to be really effective. After a year of tinkering, I finally have a concoction with which I’m really happy; it gets clothes clean, and makes them smell fresh (fresh-clean, not fresh-like-a-fake-air-freshener).
More information is found here, in my original post from April ’09: ingredients, cost, etc.
I find that this recipe lasts my family of seven for two months, give or take a week, which is approximately 65 loads. My recipe uses significantly more detergent than many homemade recipes — a number of them call for a minuscule 1 Tbsp per load! I tried this, though, and have concluded that those who can effectively use 1 Tbsp per load do not have five children who actually get clothes dirty. We do have soft water; if yours is hard, you may have to increase the amount used per load.
- You must dissolve this soap in a bit of hot water first. Either start each load with hot water, and add the soap, mix to dissolve, then switch to cold (or the appropriate temperature) and add the clothes. OR, fill the washer with water and clothes, and dissolve the soap in a separate container of 2-4 cups of very hot water, and add to the wash.
- This laundry detergent will not take out deep stains, just normal, daily dirt. For stains, I wet the area in question, and rub it with a bar of Fels Naptha laundry soap, then let it set until laundered — a few minutes to a few days. For particularly greasy stains, I dissolve 1/2 cup washing soda in a gallon or so of hot water, and let the item soak overnight (this effectively removed a HUGE amount of Vaseline from jeans and a red cotton shirt, which belong to my rascally toddler).
- I strongly suggest letting your whites soak overnight every month or so: Simply fill the washer, dissolve the detergent, and add the clothes, but don’t let it go through the cycle. In the morning, let the cycle continue. This will keep your whites bright.
- I also strongly suggest that you separate colors, and use appropriate temps. Personally, I do darks (cold), lights (hot), reds (cold), and whites (chot). This may seem self-evident, but I am consistently surprised by the number of people who do not do either.
- Lastly, I very strongly suggest running an extra rinse when your wash cycle is done, adding 1/2 cup of white vinegar to the rinse water. The acid of the vinegar removes the traces of alkaline soap (and other detergent ingredients, which are ALL alkaline — alkalinity increases the “wetness” of water, helping it dissolve dirt and grease).
Homemade Laundry Detergent
- 6 cups finely grated castile soap
- I use Kirk’s Original Coco Castile, which is $3.39 for three bars at my local grocery store — each bar makes 2 cups of grated soap. You must use real, traditional, pure soap made of saponified fat, not the detergent-based “soap” that is prevalent on today’s market. Other fairly inexpensive soap is found at Trader Joe’s. You will need four bars, possibly more, of their house-branded bar bathsoap, like Oatmeal & Honey, $1.99 for two bars. You can also use Fels Naptha laundry soap, but I find it too expensive and too highly-scented.
- The most time-consuming portion of this recipe is grating the soap I have heard that some people use a food processor to do this portion, but I don’t have one. My 11yo son actually likes the job of grating the soap!
- 6 cups Twenty Mule Team Borax
- 6 cups washing soda
- a.k.a. pure sodium carbonate — either Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda, or find sodium carbonate with pool care chemicals, as an alkalizer — check the ingredients
- 12 cups baking soda
- I buy mine at Costco, which is about $3.50 for a large, 14-pound bag of Arm & Hammer.
Mix carefully but thoroughly. Store in an air-tight container, especially if you live in a humid climate. (Borax loses its effectiveness if it is exposed to water in humid air.) I use a 2 gallon, lidded pail.
Use 1/3 cup per large load, dissolved in hot water first. (See note above.)
Lately, every time I have concocted something with which I’ve been especially pleased, and I intend to post a recipe, it has stayed firmly rooted in the Land of Intention, never to venture out into Reality. Part of me wants to hold of on posting this until it is a real recipe with measured quantities, but I know that, given my track record from the last several months, that plan doesn’t bode well of success.
Not that it matters so much to you, but I am delighted that this recipe is Fiala-safe (I think). She still has an extremely limited diet, but she can eat g.f. oats, olive oil, cinnamon, and blueberries. She can eat cranberries, too, — they’re related to blueberries — though I limit them, as dried cranberries contain sugar, and fresh cranberries are too tart. But, for this recipe… I’m splurging, partly because her skin has been better this past week than it has been in months**, and I think her system can weather a little extra sugar. This granola is certainly not high-sugar, but it’s more sugar than Fi would typically eat. She loved it, and ate three toddler-sized bowls with oat milk.
So, here’s my non-recipe. It’s a non-recipe, as I did not actually measure anything; I simply sloshed it in, and the amounts specified are based upon my (educated) guesses.
Quick Granola (GFCF)
- about 1/4 cup olive (or other) oil
- about 2 cups gluten-free rolled oats
- about 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 cup brown sugar (or a bit less)
- two handfuls dried fruit (I used blueberries and cranberries)
- 2-3 Tbsp roasted sunflower seeds (or raw*)
Onto the countertop, spread a sheet of aluminum foil.
In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. When fragrant, stir in the oats. Stir very frequently until the oats are medium golden brown. Add cinnamon and brown sugar, and stir until brown sugar is melted, about one minute.
Quickly (so that the sugar does not burn), pour oat mixture onto the sheet of aluminum foil, and spread it so it can cool. When oats are cool (or nearly so), add the fruit and seeds.
When completely cooled, store in an air-tight container.
*If you want to use raw sunflower seeds, add them with the oats into the hot oil.
**We even introduced pineapple this past week, and she passed with FLYING COLORS. This is the first food that she’s definitely passed as a trial in literally months. The week before, she failed mango. She also recently failed chocolate (I know, bad call; I had mercy on her pleas for “tsok-ah-LOT???”, and I shouldn’t have caved). She MAY be all right with almonds; they don’t seem to mess up her skin at all, but they make for super-crazy-stinky diapers, which, as I type, strikes me as TMI for a recipe post…
- Today, we completed four errands in just under three hours: bank, library, Costco, and post office. We got back in time for lunch, which was my goal. I am now exhausted. It’s the heat, I think. And just having five kids in tow, two of them in carseats. It just wears on me. But, it was a good outing, and only one of the children got into any significant trouble, which, by the odds, isn’t so bad. :) I can’t wait until it’s cooler, and we can add hiking, or at least a trip to the park, back into to our Fridays.
- I’m finishing up the additions to the manuscript I’ve been working on. The “book acquisition” guy at our publisher liked the draft, but wanted more of it, and had several good ideas to expand the book. His suggestions, plus some other stuff that the Holy Spirit “downloaded” to Marietta (as she describes it), have accounted for some wonderful new content. Every year, my church hosts an international leadership summit. In its first years, when it was smaller, Marietta (the book’s author) would paint a watercolor with the theme of the retreat, one for each attendee. The last few years, as our numbers have grown to 50+, she has done one watercolor, and given everyone a nice, framed print. This week, she mentioned that she is so hoping that the book will be published by the date of the next summit (late January 2011), so that she can give a copy of the BOOK to everyone. I got so excited about that, I squealed and was giddy.
- Note to self: Assume less, check first. I completed a whoppin’, time-consuming blog entry with all of my friend Kathy‘s recommended teen books, with about 75 links in it. Then, just as I was about to click “publish” I thought, “Maybe Kathy would like to give this a look-see before I post it!” It turns out my sweet friend is working on a series of posts on the same thing for her new blog, complete with mini-reviews of each book… My heart sank, as I realized that I hadn’t even considered, while I was writing, that the list might be “proprietary”, so to speak. So, I offered to hold off publishing it here, and I will happily link to her posts, when they’re completed. :) Ah, humility… You’re a hard one for me to learn!
- Perhaps this should be a separate post on its own; I hate to see it get buried in the bullet points, and I truly hope that a number of you click on these: On Wednesday, I read my friend Nicole’s post on “The Wonder Woman Syndrome” or, women turning 30, and growing up — or not. Yesterday was her 30th birthday. Earlier on Wednesday, I had read a post that deeply resonated with me by my friend Kathy, about the treasure of having older friends — there’s more to it than that; it’s hard to describe briefly, and the Miss Talaaant parts are priceless. AND, related to those two, rolling around in my mind, was a real nugget of truth that was shared (via video) in the final session of the Beth Moore Bible study on Esther I’ve been attending on Tuesday nights at my church. Beth said, “In man’s realm, time diminishes beauty. In God’s realm, where we will spend forever, time perfects beauty.” (Eccl. 3:11) In a culture that worships youth and beauty, and wants us to deny aging, it was helpful to me to be reminded that His priorities are so opposite the world’s. He sees beauty in maturity.
I had Fiala on my lap. I was sitting on the (closed) toilet, washing her face, applying medicine to it, and doing her hair. I looked across the bathroom floor, and on the other side of the small room were the tell-tale signs of small pieces of ripped cardstock and, sprinkled liberally on the floor, an assortment of colorful elastics used for ponytails. (We call them “sprouts”, in honor of the teensy girl ponytails which sprout out of the top of my baby daughters’ heads.)
To Fiala, “Hm. Do you see all those sprouts on the floor, Fi?”
Fiala’s hand flew to her mouth, in shock. With a high, breathy voice and apparent deep concern, she gasped, and asked, “Happened??”
So, I won a little writing contest. Very small, but still, very gratifying, both because I won, and because of the content of the story. I want to post a link here, but… the winning entry contains my last name, which, heretofore, I’ve not published on my blog. So, I won’t post a link… If you’re my friend in real life, you can see it on my Facebook page, but I guess I won’t post it here. Bummer. (E-mail me, though, if you’d like to read the winning entry, and at my discretion, I’ll send you a link.)
I’ve never been an advocate of early child education. Even though studies* continue to confirm that the job of young children should be play, we continue to try to make children as young as three conform to classroom structure and teach them ABCs, thinking we’re doing them a favor. All it does, really, is train them on the particulars of classroom behavior, and group dynamics (and the names of letters, which isn’t all that helpful, actually, in learning to read English).
Even though I’m an eight-year veteran of teaching my children at home, I don’t even advocate early homeschooling. I’ve seen a large number of mothers get frustrated that their 4 year old doesn’t “get it”, and toss in the towel, chalking it up to, “I’m not a good teacher” when in reality, they have expected far too much of that child, which is what what led to “failure.”
I’m all in for reading picture books (as many as they want! I heart picture books!), building block towers, playing Play-Doh, learning sing-song counting games, etc. But not in the form of, “It’s 9:30 now! Time for school!!” But, more like, “Yes, sweetie! The green grass is wet! The sprinklers came on earlier this morning” and, “Will you please sit down on the red chair? No, that’s the brown one. This one is red!” Voila! That’s the “lesson” on colors for the day. Plus a bit of following instructions, and a wee bit of sensory integration.
- And building pillow forts in the family room (gross motor skills!).
- And helping mom pick up the dog food spilled on the the floor (fine motor skills — pincer grasp!).
- And spinning until dizzy in the family room, falling down in a heap of laughter (vestibular stimulation!).
- Et cetera.
I may have to adjust my stance somewhat, though, for Audrey. She is four years and five months, and has been endlessly pushing me to “do school” with her. She can read (a bit), and she recently decided to start writing, by copying, to the best of her ability, the writing of others. This has led to a number of impromptu handwriting lessons, because I don’t want her to develop detrimental writing habits. (For instance, she used to form the “d” in her name by making a circle, then drawing a tallish line out of the mid-top of it, then a tiny line down from the mid-bottom. I have encouraged her to make a “magic c”, go up like a helicopter… up a little higher… then bump back down.)
Audrey has branched out, now, into spontaneous spelling, which is a first in our home. I can confidently state that none of my three boys (her older brothers), spelled for “fun.” In contrast to the boys’ spelling and writing avoidance, I keep receiving notes from her that say “Audrey lovz Mom”. :)
She won’t believe me, however, that “lovz” does not contain a “z”, and resists my correction to “loves”. I’m not pushing it… She’s FOUR! I’m pretty confident that, when she learns a bit more, and matures, she’ll spell it right. I may, though, pull my trusty and well-used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, though. We ended last school year on lesson 35 or something like that…
So, maybe preschool is OK, some of the time. ;)
*To which I’m not linking, out of laziness. Or something.