Sunday, May 30, 2010

Finishing the Year

Yesterday we had some fun wrapping up a couple of the programs we've been doing this year. We ended the delightful day with a May Crowning. 

The girls all met for their last meeting of "Tea And Cake With the Saints".  This has been a lovely program for the girls in our homeschool group.  The boys all came here to play, although a few escaped before I could take the picture!

After the girls were done, the boys and I loaded up in the van and went over to where the girls were and we did our final meeting for Catholic Mosaic, boys and girls together.  We read the wonderful new book, Take It to the Queen! and did a cute craft.  A friend told a little story about how the Lady Bug was named for Our Lady, so of course, the craft was all about Lady Bugs!  Very easy to make with a thumbprint and Sharpie marker!

We had the all important snack which consisted of lemonade and trail mix that the girls had made during Tea and Cake, then ended with a beautiful May Crowning. 

The three boys who made their First Communion this year had the honor of crowning Mary.  What a great way to end the school year!

Friday, May 21, 2010

GF Coping Strategies

Going gluten free hasn't been easy around here.  I've had to make lots of adjustments, but, by the grace of God, I am finding ways to make it work.  I thought I'd share a few of these helps in case there are others making this change.  So here are a few tips from a newby GF family:

1 - GF mixes.  Yes, they are more expensive than buying individual GF flours and mixing them, but in the beginning, it's nice to have them ready to go.  I wont buy alot of prepackaged GF foods, but these mixes make it easier to make my own.  Two that I like especially are Pamela's Baking Mix and Kinnikinnik Bread Mix.  We made hamburger buns with the latter and they turned out great.

2 - GF pasta.  My kids don't like it!  I buy Tinkyada Brand because that's the best we've tried (and I like the name :) but my kids still say "Oh, it's gluten free pasta" in a not-too enthused tone.  But!  I discovered that if I put the pasta, dry, in the crockpot with sauce and some water and let it cook 4-6 hours, nobody complains.  Doing it that way, the pasta absorbs the flavors of the sauce and you don't get that GF flavor that my kids are not used to   yet.

3 - Variety.  When we went GF we discovered just how often the kids had toast for breakfast.  I knew it was alot,  we were going through tons of bread.  We haven't found a GF bread we like that well, so we came up with a rotating breakfast menu.  There is no toast on it but the kids are doing great with it.  Here are a few of the items we've been eating more of - with pictures even!

~ Eggs. Boiled, scrambled or fried.  We are eating alot more eggs around here.  Builder really doesn't like eggs.  I understand, because as a child I didn't either.  But I found a simple way to make it bearable for him.  We call them "starry eggs".  They are just scrambled eggs, cooked inside a cookie cutter in the pan, with melted cheese on top. He still doesn't LOVE them, but he complains less. Here's a picture:

~ Waffles!  We actually won a waffle maker at a recent school fundraiser we attended and it gets used alot.  Pamela's mix comes to the rescue here. Social Butterfly has become the official waffle maker and she does a great job!  I buy real maple syrup, and the kids gobble them up!

~ The other thing we've been eating more of is granola.  I've always enjoyed making granola, and making it GF is really no big deal.  My breakfast kitchen helper, Builder, enjoys making it too.  Lots of "cups of this and cups of that" to add to the big bowl and mix!  Here, builder is spreading a batch out on clean towels to cool:

4.  Chicken Strips.  This was a tough one.  My kids love chicken strips, especially Jetter.  He judges a restaurant by how good the chicken strips are.  He's a real connoisseur of chicken strips, let me tell you!
My husband's cousin, who has a son on the GF diet, taught me to make them at home though, and it's so easy!  We actually purchased a fryer for this purpose.  I've always avoided fryers because I thought that was such an unhealthy way of preparing food.  But if my kids are going to order fried chicken strips in restaurants, or if I'm going to buy frozen strips so they can eat them at home, what's the difference?  Actually, they probably eat them less now because I have to fry them.  To make them, simply cut up raw chicken breast, dip it in GF flour, then egg, then cornmeal mixed with salt and pepper.  Into the fryer they go until they are done.  Yum!

5.  Special Treats.  I really want my kids to know that just because we are eating GF, it doesn't mean that food has to be boring.  There are all kinds of prepackaged GF treats out there, and occassionally I buy them.  I'm much happier when we are eating something homemade though.  The baking mixes mentioned above are really helpful for this.  The Pamela's Baking Mix makes some pretty good chocolate chip cookies! We've also found that some of our old favorites are actually gluten free, like "No Bake Cookies"!  (Just check the oats to make sure they are gluten free.) 
Recently, a neighbor gave us some rhubarb.  I've never cooked anything with rhubarb, but with the help of Pamela's mix and my new cookbook, my morning kitchen helper and I made this rhubarb crisp for breakfast.  It was a great way to try something new.  (Note: Simply in Season is not a GF cookbook.  I just adjust the recipes.)

As I find more ways to cope with this new diet, I will add them to the blog.   If you have some GF tips put them in the comment box and I'll post them!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

My Creative Daughter

As the days get warmer and the school subjects gradually get completed my kids are finding more time for free activities.  For the boys, this isn't always a positive thing.  Yesterday, their free time was mostly taken up with the task of moving the wood pile.  This was not a voluntary activity, but one given to them by Dad because of something else they chose to do during their free time.  Anyway, I'm sure they wont make that choice again!  They were quite proud of their moved wood pile though.  I'm a firm believer that boys need physical labor at times.
Social Butterfly, on the other hand, has been using her free time quite creatively.  First, and of primary importance, is the yearly lemonade stand she sets up.  She's already got the neighbors asking when it will be open!  She amazes me.  Definitely and entrepreneur.  The name of her stand is "The Pink Lemon".  She sells a variety of beverages, including pink lemonade and even a sugar free version because we have a neighbor who is diabetic.  She's learned to use the money she makes to buy the lemonade ingredients and even occasionally offers "sweet deals" like a free cookie for every cup of lemonade on Saturdays.  This year she's going to "hire" her little brothers to hang signs for advertising purposes.  She's working on the signs now and I'll post a picture when they are complete - cute!
She's also been going through my bags for Good Will and pulling out various purses I have decided to get rid of.  Some of these are quite old and ugly and some were hers that she no longer uses.  Her task has been to "re-do" these to make them beautiful again.  She's mostly using fake gem stones for this purpose and they are turning out pretty cute.  Here's some pictures of my creative daughter and her crafts:

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fresh Air

I'm sure those of you with children that suffer with asthma will find this story all too familiar:

One evening, a few weeks ago, as we put the little ones to bed I was keenly aware of the slight weazing noises that Beany was making. He had a cold and often lately, for him, colds go into asthma. I chose to go ahead and put him to bed, seeing that he didn't seem to be struggling. An hour later I awoke to the sound of that barky, high pitched cough. I picked him up and he pushed away, which is how he responds to the panic of not being able to breathe. So, I quickly got the black bag out and started the nebulizer and Beany just layed there and breathed the mist, knowing that it would help. Breathing treatment over, I put him back to bed (in our room) and went to sleep again, satisfied that all would be okay now, at least for a couple of hours.

An hour later I awoke again, this time to a different barky, high pitched cough, accompanied by the sounds of crying. I ran (Dad says "flew") from my room to the hall where Builder was standing, trying to catch his breath in the midst of coughing and wheezing. Builder has never had a problem with asthma so I assumed this must be croup. Having had several children to the emergency room early on in our parenting years, I knew they would treat this with a breathing treatment. So I started up the nebulizer again and explained to Builder how to breath with the apparatus so the medicine gets to his lungs. It seemed to calm him, although I could still hear the wheeze, so we went back to bed. Now both of the youngest were in our room. I layed there in the dark, watching the full moon, and listening to the relatively quiet breathing of Beany, and the still-to-tight-to-not-worry-about-it breathing of Builder. Not fifteen minutes later, Builder asked if he could do the "breathing machine" again. I said "no, it was too soon" and felt like a terrible mom for depriving my child of air. What could I do? Can a child overdose on albuterol? At that point Dad got up and thought perhaps Builder was just still a little panicked about not being able to breathe earlier. He closed our bedroom door, we got out the big quilts, and we opened both the windows. Cool, fresh air drifted in. As I felt it on my face I knew Builder could feel it too. "Breathe the fresh air Builder. Isn't that nice? That will help." I wasn't positive as I said these things, but I knew I had to ease his fears. I also knew I might be taking him to the ER soon. A few minutes later I heard "Mom! It's helping!" and sure enough, as he drifted off to sleep I could just hear the sound of his steady breathing.

As I layed there, thinking about the panic these little ones must feel when they are deprived of something as basic as air, I thought about the panic I often feel in my own life. Not because I can't breathe in the literal sense, but rather the stifling feeling of being overly burdened. There is always so much to do, to worry about, to plan for. The house that is never as clean as I would like, the children's education, all the extra exciting things in our life that cause joy, yet stress. I thought of how sometimes I feel as though I'm drowning and no matter how hard I paddle I just can't get my head above water enough to really breathe.

So where do I find my "fresh air"? It takes a little more than just getting out of bed and opening a couple of windows. It takes being quiet enough to hear that "still, small voice", being quiet enough to receive His peace. It's not easy to find that quiet in a house full of small children but with a little effort, it's not impossible. And when I do, it's like that cool air on my face. It reminds me that He is with me, blessing me with grace to do all that He has required of me. Strengthening me to embrace each new adventure that comes along.


Can you guess what this is?

Before I tell you, let me explain.  For his final exam grade for Biology, Night Owl has to do an experiment, write up a paper with the results, and display everything.  He came to me with what I thought was a great experiment idea.  He was going to test the various cleansers on the market, including the "green cleansers" (like Tea Tree Oil) to see which ones were most effective in killing bacteria.  "Great idea!" I said, because I really want to know. 

But ...  I didn't think about the fact that, in order to test cleansers on whether or not they killed bacteria, he would need to grow the bacteria first.  So, I now have E-Coli growing in my basement!  Yes, E-Coli. This picture was taken when he first set up the experiment.  It's down in the storage room of the basement where the little kids are afraid to go!  We used an old sliding door for a table.  The candle isn't for light, but for sterilizing the metal instrument he had to use to sterilize the Agar before putting the bacteria on it. 

I assure you that he followed strict procedures for keeping the area sterile and the little petri dishes have been well sealed so the little buggers can't escape.  I will be so thankful when this experiment is done with though, and all the E-Coli critters are safely disposed of.  I'm also curious about the cleansers.  I have to admit, I'm a bit disappointed about what he's finding so far :(.  I'll post the end results when it's all said and done.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Gluten Free Badge

You may have noticed the new "Gluten Free Badge" over on the side bar.  I think we've been messing around here with this gluten free thing for a couple of years.  When we discovered that Beany had a problem with gluten we went 100% gluten free ... for a while.  The results were very positive.  Beany started growing again, and his "asthma" disappeared.  But the positive results did not just affect Beany.  Builder and Jetter also had some interesting changes.  Jetter, for one thing, slowed down.  He was actually able to concentrate.  His handwriting became legible, and he no longer dealt with asthma.  Builder became less emotional.  His temper tantrums just about ceased and he stopped telling me his stomach hurt.  He was the happy starry-eyed kid I remembered from a few years ago.  I wondered if all this could actually be the result of eliminating gluten from our diet.  But really?  I mean, Builder and Jetter's problems weren't really physical ... I didn't think.  The gluten free diet is very difficult and over time I decided that Jetter and Builder had just matured beyond their problems.  I decided that I would keep Beany on the gluten free diet but we could lighten up with everyone else.  They were thrilled to have their "real" pizza and pasta back.  Night Owl has become an amazing cook and he treated us each weekend with his delicious pizza. 
Of course, this lasted for only a while.  Pretty soon Beany began to realize that his pizza looked different than ours.  He started to notice that while he got plain tortilla chips the other kids were getting that orange powdery looking stuff on theirs and theirs tasted really good!  He also decided he really wanted Social Butterfly's peanut butter sandwich instead of his own. 
 I don't remember when, probably sometime in January, Beany ate a regular piece of bread.  He devoured it.  He must have thought it tasted really good!  I dreaded the next day thinking I would see all kinds of terrible results, but nothing happened.  Okay, so that was no big deal.  We just wont let it happen again.
Some weeks later, there was another incident where he had gluten.  Probably Jetter's birthday when it was too hard to tell Beany he couldn't have any of that wonderfully blue birthday cake.  Then there was Social Butterfly's birthday in March and of course there was vacation when we ate all kinds of food we normally try to avoid.  Finally, April hit and I looked around at the kids and realized some changes had been taking place, slowly, so I didn't notice until they were full-blown.  I noticed Jetter was once again getting into trouble all. the. time for not behaving during school time.  Builder was whining, whining, whining, and "starving" all the time.  And Beany was no longer gaining wait, but had actually lost a few pounds.  And then there was that nebulizer that had spent and entire year packed away in the cupboard.  It was now sitting out on the counter in regular use.  Finally, a couple of weekends ago, I spent  the day in the emergency room with Beany.  Enough is enough.  Dad and I had a long talk about it and while eating gluten free isn't easy, and can be a bit expensive, we realized that this is something we have to do for Beany, and in some ways for Builder and Jetter too.  So I pulled out my GF cookbooks, went to the library to borrow a couple more, changed all the menus back to what they used to me, and we're restarting this journey.  I've realized that the GF diet can't be something special we do for Beany, it actually involves some lifestyle changes.  We have to say "good-bye" to that fast food restaurant we like to stop at after piano lessons, no more ordering pizza, Night Owl is experimenting to find a crust recipe that doesn't really taste gluten free, and we're learning that many restaurants have gluten free menus, you just have to ask.  So it's a big change, and it's not easy because the kids really don't like the different taste of gluten free foods.  I just keep telling them they'll get used to it and we keep on. After a week I'm seeing those positive results again and I'm encouraged.

I'm hoping to post some links to various gluten free sites to offer encouragement to those who are on this same diet.  If you know of any, please leave the information in the comment box.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Happy Mother's Day

A Mother's Day Prayer from Magnificat :

Loving Father,

as a mother gives life and nourishment to her children,
so you watch over your Church.
Bless these women,
that they may be strengthened as Christian mothers.
Let the example of their faith and love shine forth.
Grant that we, their sons and daughters,
may honor them always
with a spirit of profound respect.
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Lesson Planning

After using a different lesson planner for each of the 8 years we've been homeschooling, I finally decided to come up with my own.  Nothing seemed to work exactly the way I wanted it to.  Part of the problem is that my planning involves times when I am working with the kids as a group, times when they will work with me individually, and times when they will work independently.  My lesson planners usually ended up with lots of sticky notes added, or notes scribbled in the margins. 
To make the planner I first thought about our daily routine.  We start together, then we have some time individually, then we end all together again.  I divided our day, according to this basic routine, into blocks.  In a previous post  I wrote about how we have settled into a nice routine that includes some mini-breaks throughout the day.  This is still working well for us and the blocks of time are divided by these breaks. 

  I will be planning for 6 weeks at a time.  I'm finding this works well as six weeks seems to be a good length for most "units" we will study in science or history.  Planning in advance will also free up the weekend time that I usually spend writing lesson plans.  We'll see.  I've only planned for six weeks in advance once so far.

The planner is organized in a 3 ring binder.  When I print it, I will print pages 1 and 3 back to back.  These will be put into a page protector in the binder.  Then I will make 6 copies of page 2.  These will go behind that page protector.  Obviously, pages 1 and 3 are for the entire 6 weeks, and page 2 is a weekly page so there needs to be 6 of them.  Hopefully, that will all make sense when you see the examples below.  I don't know how to make a pdf file, so I just scanned these.  You can click on them to make them bigger.

Below is page 1. 

Under the dates at the top there is a section for the History Selection which I will read aloud to the kids.  This reading aloud during breakfast has become something the kids really enjoy.  This is not a time to read text books, but historical fiction that all the kids find interesting. 

Following the history read aloud, once the children are done with their breakfast, we do copy work.  Copy work used to be one of the subjects the kids did during their independent work time, but I really want to stress that they do this neatly.  So, we all do it at the dining room table together.  Once the kids learn the proper formation of the letters for handwriting, copywork takes the place of handwriting practice.  You can see on the planner that there is a different topic for copywork each day.  Monday, it is a selection taken from their language arts book, Tuesday it is a selection from one of the pieces of literature we are reading, Wednesday the selection is from the coming Sunday's gospel, and Thursday the copywork is from a saint that we are currently reading about.  (Friday we don't do copywork.)

Finally for page 1 there is a table for our Religion lessons.  Above the table there are the numbers 1-6, followed by "O"s.  These are my attempt at a reminder for me to go over each child's Catechism questions with them daily.  I'm not always good at doing this so I'm hoping that the need to check that "O" will be a good reminder.

Page 2 is to be copied 6 times, one for each week of the six week period.  For some reason, a couple of the column lines aren't showing up, but you can tell where they should be.

 These are essentially the workbox  plans.  We use this page when we are in the classroom where the kids work independently and I rotate through each of them, spending time on those subjects they are having difficulty with, or those subjects that we do orally together.  In the boxes below the table there are places to write in and check off the kid's daily read aloud selection and memory work.

Finally, page 3 is to be printed on the back of page 1.  This will be stored in the page protector.

 Page 3 is a plan for our afternoons, which we spend together.
It begins with the Science selection that I will read aloud to the kids while they eat their lunch.  Like the morning history read aloud, this is a part of the day the kids all enjoy.  As they eat, or when they are finished eating, they create sketch journals of the topic we are studying about.

The table near the top will be mostly for Jetter next year.  The science program we will use comes with an activity book.  Social Butterfly will be doing a hands on program called TOPS.  She and a friend will do that together once a week.  Builder's science will be covered during our weekly nature hikes.

There are more "O"s on this page.  These are a reminder to have each of the kids recite the piece of poetry that they are currently memorizing.  This is the part of our day that we call "Tea Time" even though I'm the only one that likes tea!  We will start with poetry recitation, then I will read from a book of poetry, just for the enjoyment of listening to it.  Finally, I will read aloud, once again, from a book.  For this read aloud time, I don't read from a specific subject, but from a book that we are just enjoying for literature.  It's taken us most of this year to get through Redwall, but everyone has enjoyed it.

We will end this time with either picture study, the study of an artist, or learning about a composer for music.

For next year, the kids will still receive their assignment sheet, which will be mostly the same as the one they are using this year.  This assignment sheet is only for those subjects that are done independently, during "Workbox Time".

This system seems to be working well for us and I enjoy having things mapped out six weeks at a time.  Page 2 of the planner is the one that will occasionally be changed if we get behind or if something new is added at the last minute, but it is a good guide to keep us headed in the right direction.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Library Rules

After neglecting our local library for some time, the kids and I managed to get there yesterday.  On the way I decided we should talk about library behavior.  As the kids were all chiming in with things we do and don't do in the library, Builder said  "I know!  The 3 W's:  Walk, Whisper and Wread!" 
Of course, I had to quiet the comments by older siblings who know how to spell a bit better, but it worked!  When one of them started to get a bit squirrelly, I just whispered "remember the 3 W's"!  Now I'll have to spend the summer re-teaching some spelling rules, but it was worth it!

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Prayers for Night Owl

Night Owl left this morning at 5:20 for the Science Olympiad State Finals.  The State Finals are held at Michigan State University.  There was a mistake in the scoring of the Regional competition and we later found out the school Night Owl goes to actually took 1st place!  The state competition is much larger.  He's been working hard on his projects and we're hoping he scores well.  Please keep him him your prayers!