Tuesday, March 31, 2015

When a Child Suffers: How to Avoid Despair

I set the breakfast table with oatmeal and nature, opening the blinds in our sunroom/dining room to invite God's glory into our hearts and minds.

"Oh no! Look at those dark clouds! Somebody check the weather!" 

And so Mary sank into despair, anticipating God's know what...tornadoes, the roof being blow away, intense thunder and lightening...a crisis beyond compare.

Anxiety doesn't make sense, ever. All common sense exits when it enters the room. It's like a destructive wave, trying to pull all our faculties with it.

Thunder is in the forecast this week, but not today, which will only hit the mid-50's. But I don't concentrate on the forecast with her. Each day her storm phobia invites her to concentrate on the weather, and not on God's glory, strength, or omniscience.

Last year we complied and read her the weather word for word, but sometimes left certain things out without actually lying. God has sharpened my ability to counsel and this year, I've decided not to make it about the weather, no matter how much she pushes.

So I said:

"God is the same today as he was yesterday. His power is greater than any storm in our lives. If the roof blows away, he is still the same gracious, glorious, loving, all-powerful God, able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine."

So each time the fear comes, concentrate on the promises and the power of God, not on the skies. You know a lot of verses by heart that will help you."

Ephesians 3:20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,

Mary and Peter both deal with crippling anxiety at times, and it is tempting, when they are out of control with it, to see it as my battle. In fact, the younger the child, the easier it is to see it as our battle.

The whole family is upset when someone is dealing with out-of-control anxiety. It's all encompassing and all activities just hit a standstill until it passes. Even the unaffected can't concentrate well.

In order not to sink into deep despair myself, I have to maintain a perspective--separating myself from my children. I am responsible for comforting and counseling them, with patience and lovingkindness, but I'm not responsible for the battles God has deemed acceptable in their lives.

No other time is it as clear that they are God's, not mine, than when they are suffering or making mistakes. They are individuals, entrusted to my care and to my heart, but their battles are not mine. Each child of God battles afflictions of some sort, and it's important that in parenting our children, we lead them to God, not to ourselves.

We are not the answer. We are not the crutch. We are not the comfort their souls crave. Our loving arms can give them a taste of Jesus' love, and our counsel can give them a taste of the Lord's wisdom, but it really ends there.

The specific burden isn't important--whether depression, anxiety, disorder, or disease. All burdens are allowed in our lives for one purpose: to drive us to the Cross, to cause us to lean on Him so His glory can shine through our weaknesses.

I have to read about their various afflictions, yes. I have to be informed. I have to know how to respond helpfully, but I can't put my hope in psychology or medicine. The past several years have driven that point home.

Last year I was sure a psychologist specializing in Exposure Response Prevention was the answer for Peter. I tell you...I was so sure! And the therapy is in fact well proven, but not everybody responds. Thirty percent don't. And some others haven't hit rock bottom yet and think they still have control over their OCD. They reject the excruciating nature of exposing themselves to their fears.

I felt so defeated and discouraged, and I knew then that I hadn't put my hope properly in God.

This year promises, thus far, to be as difficult as last year with both Mary and Peter's issues. The Holy Spirit reminds me of these things:

~ Don't get stuck in today. The Lord is always working and we have to exercise patience in affliction. He is intimately acquainted with our children as individuals. He knit them together and he loves them far more than we do. Just think of that for a minute and marvel at it. Far more than we do. He's got this crisis.

~  Get on your knees. Plead with God on their behalf. Don't get so caught up in despair and worry that you forget to pray. Good parenting is prayer. Period.

~ Don't take responsibility for their reactions. Suppose they don't heed counsel and you don't see them praying or trying to improve at all? Disengage from their choices and let God work. He is chiseling away at them; they are masterpieces to him. They are not bundles of despair for good. Believe, Mom. Just believe. It may take months or years, depending on the affliction. But persevere in believing.

~ Don't judge.  It is hard to understand out-of-control anxiety and depression. If you don't know it yourself, especially refrain from judgement. I can tell from my children's symptoms that it's extremely powerful and can't be willed away. It takes them for a ride, and they have to decide when they've had enough and want to get off. It is a process requiring incredible courage. How mature do they have to be to make that decision? I don't know, but God does and he has not left the room. 

~ Post comforting verses and proven coping mechanisms on the walls, but don't preach them constantly. Your child needs to see you as more of a supporter and encourager then as a hard-driving counselor. Love and pray first, counsel second. Maybe stick with one short counseling session a day? Or only when you've learned a new counseling technique? Refrain from counseling every time fear or depression enter the room.

~ Don't neglect your own spiritual feedings. It is hard not to hit the psychology or medical books when you've run out of answers and stamina. As moms we always want to solve everything and in a sense this is a sign of hope. It is proactive. But in what are we placing our hope? Our children are watching and we need to make it abundantly clear where our hope lies. By all means, be informed. But always reach for the Bible, for prayer sessions, first, and the medical opinions after that.

~ Don't neglect family devotions. It is easy when everyone is emotionally exhausted to just skip family devotions. The heaviness makes it that much harder to concentrate, but stick with your daily family devotions anyway, as a discipline. Look upon this as your sustenance as a family. It is the glue that sticks you together as a unit, and it's what God mandates for parents. It can be messy and loud and not beautiful at all some nights or mornings, but do it. Just do it.

If you have a child suffering, let me know and I will pray with you. You are not alone, Mom.


Monday, March 30, 2015

Joy, Self-Pity, and the Victim Mentality

"Why do I have to have so many problems?" he asked through tears. His morning had been dominated by an oppressive OCD attack. He'd shouted, cried, and verbally wounded others, frustrated by everything.

And me? I fought hard for my own joy, trying to battle perimenopausal-linked pain like a Christian soldier. Hormonal swings are a challenge for every woman, in every part of life, and short of taking good care of ourselves and praying, there's nothing to be done but fight for joy through it.

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, 
with the cross of Jesus going on before. 
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
forward into battle see his banners go!

I immediately recognized the problem with my son's question:

"Why do I have to have so many problems?"

If you have special-needs children, or special needs of your own (and who doesn't?), you know self-pity. And the Holy Spirit? He's doing his work in your heart, no doubt. When we give in to the pity there's that nagging prick of conscience, and the more we resist the rebuke, the more miserable we feel.

With our salvation, we've been given the best. We are more blessed, more alive, more joyful, more at peace than the vast majority of humanity. Oh, Lord, may we never lose that perspective!

Self-pity is sin. It's also dysfunctional thinking that can create unfortunate operant conditioning patterns in our brains. When we give in to self-pity, the thought patterns are reinforced by the temporary uplift we get from seeing ourselves as victims rather than as thoughtful beings with choices. We don't feel culpable, which gives us a temporary relief from having to do something about our situation. 

After we've been truly victimized, we need a victim stance. We need to know our horrible experience was not our fault, but the fault of the perpetrator. But over time if we don't take responsibility for our responses to life, we become victims again--this time of our own dysfunctional thought patterns.

The longer we allow self-pity, the longer it takes to reform the way we think. A victim mentality prevents us from experiencing peace and joy. It also prevents us from being able to bless and love our neighbor. A victim is focused inwardly, while a filled-up soul, rich on Jesus' love, feels compelled to share that love.

Joy is a matter of position and perspective and Jesus has changed both for us. Through the Cross and the torn tabernacle curtain He's given us access to himself (position) and made us spiritually alive (perspective).

Take your child into your arms, or your own harried soul, and pray:

Dear Heavenly Father,
I thank you for salvation and for your ever-present Spirit, always ready to comfort us in our afflictions. Help us choose joy this day, counting our blessings rather than our afflictions. Help us to sit at your feet and have our joy renewed. Thank you for your presence and love and your gentle rebukes. You never give up on us and we are so grateful!

In Jesus' name, Amen.

Philippians 4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Kids! Help Save Monarch Butterflies

I found this link on Simple Homeschool.

Help the Monarch Butterfly

Become a Butterfly Hero!
PLEDGE TODAY! Upload a photo of you, making the American Sign Language sign for butterfly, as your pledge to help the Monarch butterfly. The sign for butterfly is made by linking your thumbs and crossing your two hands in front of you at the wrists with your palms facing you. After taking the pledge, you will receive a Butterfly Garden Starter Kit, while supplies last. Once you have your kit, learn how to garden and watch your wildlife garden bloom!

Read the rest and enter your child or individual family here, at the National Wildlife Federation's website. You could win a trip for 4 to Disney World!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Weekly Homeschool Wrap-Up: The One With Cocoa and Bread

This week we took a "spring break" from most regular subjects to learn about the cocoa industry and develop a family mission statement regarding the cocoa industry and our chocolate consumption. 

We also committed this week to learning to bake bread, after the arrival of our bread machine in the mail last week. Read more on that saga below, after the cocoa information.

CNN did a series of reports about the cocoa supply chain in 2012, and followed up on those reports in March 2014. While there are numerous Internet sources of information, we have thus far focused on infographics with accompanying narratives (this linked one is older info. from 2008), and the more recently produced CNN specials, some of which are detailed below.

Here is the word on Nestle:

(From CNN, 2012) An independent investigation into Nestlé's cocoa supply chain has found numerous child labor violations and kickstarted an ambitious plan to eventually eradicate forced labor and child labor in its production cycle.

The study was carried out by the Fair Labor Association with Nestlé's support.

"Our investigation of Nestlé's cocoa supply chain represents the first time a multinational chocolate producer has allowed its procurement system to be completely traced and assessed. For too long child labor in cocoa production has been everybody's problem and therefore nobody's responsibility," said FLA President Auret van Heerden.

It means Nestlé is the first chocolate-maker to comprehensively map its cocoa supply chain – and can work on identifying problems areas, training and educating workers and taking action against child labor violations.
Read the rest here.

The story about another major player in the chocolate industry (Ferrero):

(From 2012) Chocolate maker Ferrero has pledged to eradicate slavery from farms where it sources its cocoa by 2020, as part of a growing movement by the multi-billion dollar industry to clean up its supply chains.

The Italian company, which produces Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Nutella spread and Kinder eggs, follows Nestle and Hershey as the third major chocolate manufacturer to announce new anti-slavery moves since September.
Read the rest here.

Here is the word on Hershey

The Hershey company, one of the United States' leading chocolate producers, says it's pledged $10 million over the next five years to educate West African cocoa farmers on improving their trade and combating child labor.

The region is home to about 70% percent of the world's cocoa but has also been the source of recent scrutiny over its alleged use of child labor. (More about the issue)

Hershey's announcement Monday heartened activists, who say the company is finally focusing efforts on improving the root cause of the issue.

"It's a start," said Judy Gearhart, executive director of the International Labor Rights Forum. "We see this as a welcome first step toward accountability."
Read the rest here.

As I mentioned, CNN followed up on these 2012 segments in March 2014, with this 25-minute documentary.

Here is my take, gathered so far, based upon the research we've done (we're not done researching). Poverty is always a multi-faceted issue. The more you learn about abject poverty, the more you understand there are no simple solutions. I've come to believe that the way Compassion International responds to abject poverty is the best the world has to offer. You have to fight poverty in Jesus' name, one child at a time, through relationship. Otherwise, you can find yourself losing as much as you gain in this fight. Jesus is the answer to real change, both on the physical poverty level, and the spiritual poverty level. While the first world doesn't suffer from abject physical poverty, we definitely suffer from spiritual poverty, which is why we like to spend and keep our money for ourselves, always trying to improve our already-stellar living conditions.

The bottom line in the current cocoa climate is this: The big chocolate companies are now getting involved in improving the cacao farming industry not so much because they care about poverty or children, but because the industry is in trouble. Production is not sustainable under current conditions. Many of the West African trees are diseased and the small family farmers have no capital to put into improvements. Moreover, the price they receive for their intensive labor in growing and readying the beans has gone down markedly from the 1980's. They're barely making it. Many are leaving their farms for the cities, and others are switching to rubber or palm oil farms, which are more lucrative.

Most of the children working on the farms are the children of the farmers, but many are also trafficked from neighboring African countries, like children from families in desperate poverty in Burkina Faso. We have a Compassion correspondent child in Burkino Faso, who before his sponsorship through Compassion, was likely vulnerable to being trafficked to the Ivory Coast. The children are promised good wages and good living conditions, and even school, but instead, they are treated like slaves and often go back to Burkina Faso with barely enough bus money. They use dangerous tools like machetes and handle dangerous pesticides without protective gear, working long hours with little food.

Research and decide how you will change your chocolate consumption and spending habits. That is step one. Another way to do your part is to prevent the desperate situations these trafficked children are in by sponsoring children through Compassion. Above and beyond your $38 a month sponsorship money, try to send your child monetary gifts as often as you can (even $50 goes a long way), to help the family start a small business and/or purchase mattresses and non-leaking roof supplies, and food. All of your family or child gift money goes directly to the child's family. Compassion works with the family to assess their needs, and takes them shopping to spend all of your gift funds. Then, a picture is taken of what was purchased, with the child in the picture, and sent to you in a letter from the child. You will also receive at least three other letters per year from your child, guaranteed, and you are encouraged to write at least monthly.

Just being able to sleep better helps these children perform better in school. Before they receive help from Compassion and from you, most sleep on the ground, sometimes with a leaking tin roof over their heads. Compassion pays their school fees and trains their families in best health practices, provides health care and fosters emotional, physical, and spiritual growth. Most importantly of course, through Compassion's child development centers, sponsored children are taught about Jesus Christ and guided in developing a saving relationship with Him. They are not required to become Christians to be served, however.

The child development centers are run out of partnerships with local churches, using their buildings, with Compassion employees heading the programs. Often the children also attend the partnering church, but some attend other churches, or don't attend church at all. There are no religious requirements--just sound Biblical teaching. The Lord does the work in these children's hearts. Of the Compassion children we write to, I am certain that four of them have growing relationships with Christ.

Parents and high schoolers are also taught vocational skills at the Compassion child development centers, and good students can go to college as part of Compassion's  Leadership Development Program.

Back to the cocoa industry now. We will be continuing to find current information through the weekend, and will hopefully develop a family cocoa mission statement by next week. The problem is not just in the cocoa industry. Child labor is also used in cotton fields and other farming industries, and you probably already know about other evil child trafficking. To prevent exploitation we have to sponsor children so they don't continue in desperate, vulnerable situations. Buying fair trade makes a positive impact, but it needs to be combined with child sponsorship. Otherwise, desperate third-world families will fall prey to some other evil scheme.

Here is more current information about the cocoa situation in West African, from a site called Food Is Power. This site recommends chocolates that are sourced without child labor. It notes that even some fair trade chocolate is not immune to the problem of child labor. It also lists companies that are working on the problem in some way, and those that won't disclose any information. Trader Joe's is one company who would not disclose their cocoa sourcing.

Bread Making at Home...the Beginner's Saga

I mentioned in last week's wrap-up that we bought a bread making machine, as part of "clean" eating. If you've looked at the label on even the healthiest store-bought bread, you're probably convinced that homemade is better, if you've got the time and inclination. We had the inclination and were determined to make the time.

The most important point about eating clean foods is not that they'll possibly prolong your life and make you more comfortable while you're here. That may seem like the point at first, but as I thought about the time involved and as we lived it, something else occurred to me.

How busy does God really want us to be? If we're too busy to prepare real foods, then something is off balance. Cooking and eating together is precious. So much growth and bonding and blessing occurs as we do these things as one unit. Working with our hands and hearts to bless our families is worth our time! And it's worth our family's time to help us in the kitchen, so that many hands make light work.

Now, if you're nursing a new baby or about to have one, enlist all the help you can get but don't worry about revamping your family's food preparation. Love on that baby and pray for an army of help. There are definitely seasons when getting anything on the table feels monumental. I once had four children 7 and under so I know how it goes.

Have I ever mentioned that I am a very determined person? Every good trait has a flip side, and of course I'm also stubborn. Once I have it on my mind that something is important, I brace myself and persevere through trials. Nursing each of my four children was challenging. There were complications ranging from post-partum preeclampsia and babies who took weeks to learn to latch, most likely due to an oversupply of milk and the fact that they were all born a couple weeks early. There were tears and prayers and desperate nights and weeks. It was the most intense time of my life, but each child eventually learned and nursed a long time, ranging from 13 months to 4.5 years (the latter because this child has an autoimmune disease and needed the breastmilk antibodies longer).

As I tried to make yeast bread this week, I thought about my nursing trials. Yes, yeast is that complicated. There are a number of tips out there for novice bakers whose bread won't rise. For half the week I felt like a failure, carrying a scarlet-letter sign: "Certified Yeast Idiot".

Online baking sights, however, were very encouraging, indicating that everyone fumbles at first. I picked myself up and decided that my kitchen would become an everyday bread factory and the only significant thing required was patience...okay, and a little science.

If you want to get it right, you have to become a scientist, altering one thing at a time and recording what you've done, until you get it right. And then, next season, as temperatures and humidity change, so might your ingredients proportions.

I discovered that the bread machine kneads better than a human, but it doesn't bake better. For the best results, use it on the dough cycle and let it do all the hard work for you, and then merely take out the dough, knock it down and shape it, putting it into the pan and letting it rise in a warm oven for another hour or so, and then bake for 30 minutes. 

I've learned that your measuring tools and even your pans have to be precise--we're really talking science here, but don't let that scare you. It becomes second nature soon enough, which hasn't happened for me yet!

Your family, with the delicious bread in their hands, honey dripping, will feel like royalty. Homemade bread is a privilege to make for your loved ones. It's a delicious blessing that goes beyond the taste and lovely texture. It's an act of love. (Made considerably more sustainable with the advent of bread machines)

We got the bread maker last Friday, and it was Wednesday before we had a rise like this, which still wasn't exactly right. I used too much yeast twice, but as I got that right, the machine let the dough rise too long, and it fell as soon as baking commenced. Finally, I decided to let it rise the last time in my oven, allowing me more control over the outcome.

In the summer when I don't want to heat up the house, we'll use the bake function on the bread machine.

Also, at first I was using regular active dry yeast, which stated on the jar that it could be used in bread machines. Turns out, there is an instant yeast that is not necessarily the same as the quick-rising yeast, and it's this instant yeast that is best for bread machines. I bought it tonight and will hopefully get a more even and complete rise tomorrow.

The bread below was our best so far (with just the active dry yeast), which includes 100% whole white wheat (an albino wheat that tastes less grainy, but is still 100% whole wheat) mixed with a quarter cup of flax seed.

It's still delicious, but you can see that the rise wasn't even. Whole wheat flour makes a denser bread and is harder to work with, requiring more practice time and determination. However, the fiber in our diets is important so it's worth it to learn to work with whole wheat flour. Most of us don't regularly get enough fruits and veggies to meet the 25 to 30 grams a day of recommended fiber (average American eats 15 grams daily). Foods high in fiber include whole grains, legumes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds.

Flax seed hides well in foods, not having much taste on its own. It adds healthy fat (Omega-3) to our diets as well as fiber and vitamins & minerals. You can also try it in pancake batter along with whole wheat flour. The pancakes are delicious.

Flax seed nutritional facts: This food is very low in Cholesterol and Sodium. It is also a good source of Magnesium, Phosphorus and Copper, and a very good source of Dietary Fiber, Thiamine and Manganese.

Read More http://nutritiondata.self.com/facts/nut-and-seed-products/3163/2#ixzz3VYfbyx7W

So, our bread saga continues. I'll keep you posted. 

How was your week, friends? Thank you for reading here and have a great weekend!

Weekly Wrap-Up

Monday, March 23, 2015

Coming to Terms With My Ugly Face

My hair, inherited from my father? Thin and lifeless.

My eyes, also from my father? Hazel--and not an outstanding hazel.

My acne, starting at age 12 and not improving until I nursed my first baby? Well, inherited from my mother, it aged me very young and made for a painful teen and twenties era. I still get some acne, but not enough to cause despair.

And now, at 49, my eyes have developed red streaks from wearing the same pair of extended-wear contacts too long, before obtaining an eye appointment and buying new ones. For the first time since the seventh grade, I had to buy a pair of glasses for my nearly-legally blind prescription. Before, I always refused to order a pair, due to the extra cost beyond the contacts, and because I knew they would be thick and ugly.

But recently, an optician convinced me to order a back-up pair of glasses for when my eyes needed a break from contacts, or for when we ran out of money and couldn't order new contacts on time. He said the glasses would include a built-in bifocal to serve as the reading glasses I now use over my contacts.

He also said, "Oh, don't worry. New technology means they won't be as thick as you think."

My husband picked the glasses up yesterday and I ran and took my loaner lenses out of my eyes, which hadn't improved the ugly red blood vessels very much. Because of the red, irritated appearance of my eyes, the doctor requested I go back to be rechecked before he would give me a contact-lens prescription.

Making a mental drum-roll, I put the glasses on, eager for a solution to my oxygen-craving eyes.

Ugly, ugly, ugly. No doubt about it...ugly.

I wanted to cry. My eyes looked miniscule because of the magnification, and my face was distorted through my glasses. And since I hadn't worn glasses (except reading glasses) since the seventh grade, everything was strange. My children's clothes when I pulled them out of the dryer looked really small. I couldn't tell Mary's clothes from Beth's, or Peter's clothes from Paul's, except from memory. When I perused the cupboard for a can of diced tomatoes, I kept thinking I was looking at tiny tomato paste cans instead of 15-oz cans. Anything circular was distorted.

And to read on the computer, I have to cock up my neck to benefit from the bifocals.

I went on with my mothering duties and tried to forget about my ever-increasing ugliness. I knew my family was, though loving, still dismayed at Mommy's new appearance. I knew my ever-increasing white hairs made everything worse, as did the ever-increasing wrinkles on my 49-year-old face.

When I was living in Sicily at age 12, I liked to walk around our military-housing neighborhood, located on a cliff above the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. A friend from school always walked with me, and still, I vividly remember the time we ran into an Italian teen. He said to my friend after looking me up and down: "She has a good body but an ugly face."  I didn't get the Italian words at the time, but she did and she repeated them to me.

At 49 my body doesn't look too terribly awful, but I won't be posing in it the way Cindy Crawford trustingly did.

But my face? Worse than ever.

What is a woman to do? Before children, I used to buy nice clothes to offset my bad points, but now I can only hope for a few good pieces from Goodwill, and they don't help much.

I was forced to go to Scripture and to my Savior in all things, to process my feelings. There was no salve, no help, no comfort from the world. Coloring hair is expensive. Plastic surgery to fix acne scars is expensive, and laser surgery for nearsightedness is expensive. Even if I had the money I would give more to Compassion and sponsor another child instead of considering these options.

God loves me. He even loves my ugly-to-the-world face. My husband loves me. My children love me. I get to minister to and love them all, and serve them in many ways. I get to. My life is rich. My heart is rich.

Anything that leads to greater humility? It is a gift. And more than that, God does not make mistakes. He loves my face and my hair and my -8.0 nearsighted eyes. And if He loves all of it? If He has ordained it for me? I must love it, too.

Psalm 139:13-14 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.

1 John 3:1 "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!"

1 Samuel 16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

1 Peter 3:3-4 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.

Joshua 1:9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Luke 12:7 Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.

1 Peter 2:9 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

Proverbs 31:30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

James 4:6 But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Friday, March 20, 2015

Homeschool Journal, Spring Books, Recipes

If you're only interested in the spring picture books, scroll to bottom. There are recipes there too.

Outside my window:
The snow melted and the kids are playing outside everyday, finding moths, flies, frogs and beetles, rejoicing at these promises of more spring and wildlife to come. Nothing on the trees yet and the grasses haven't greened, so it's dreary, but my children's happy hearts dress up my world.

I think anyone in the Midwest or East will agree? That was a long, long winter. Our temps have been anywhere from 30's to high 50's this week.

On my mind:
My children are all different, yet I'm reminded this week that they've bonded well and they're accepting of each other. I think family prayer time helps to bond siblings, allowing them to view each other as Jesus does...flawed but precious. I've been counting my blessings as a mother and my heart is full this week. Watching them grow and mature and become who God created them to be is a privilege.

Beth and Paul are rather intellectual and they're both creative. Beth works hard to gather a stack of books at the library and last week she said to me:

"I'm sorry I have so many to carry, but I just really love knowledge." (I laughed out loud at her 6-year-old cuteness.)

She makes up little skits and asks us to be this or that character, and she'll put blankets on her head or special dresses to go with her scene. And dolls! She makes dolls out of everything, but doesn't play with her store-bought dolls much anymore. Stuffed animals are really her favorites; she dresses them and uses them as dolls. Or she'll stuff some socks and glue things on the face and cuddle it like a doll, or make paper dolls from her own pictures and pretend they're real dolls too.  She is never bored and she's always busy.

Paul loves politics and geography and math and writing, so he too, is always busy and never bored. He also enjoys art and creating new patterns and homemade projects like stuffed animals for presents for his sisters. He wishes there were more hours in a day because he always has much planned for his time.

Peter and Mary have similarities too. Neither are intellectual in the traditional sense. They love nature and the outdoors and finding God's glory with their senses. Their bodies need movement. Their minds are intertwined with their senses, and they express themselves orally, not really desiring paper or pencil or books (unless it's bitter winter, in which case they look at and read nature books). When they're outside, they're joyful, and when they're inside, they're restless.

Peter is fully immersed in planning his garden and putting seeds in online shopping carts. He loves this endeavor and starts working on his wish list in January, and he draws up plans for what will go where, and then loses them and starts over.

I'm like Paul and Beth in the sense that I have many plans for my time, and I love reading and writing and thinking. Though unlike them, I'm not creative with my hands. My husband is like Peter and Mary (perhaps more so). He can't stand to be in buildings if he can help it. Daylight savings time is sweet for him because it's still light out upon his return from work at 7 PM (that's coming soon).

Somehow we're all learning to understand and appreciate each other and rejoice in our differences.

I'm Working On:
I'm working on a deeper level of cleaning up our diets--something we began five years ago within our budget constraints. Yesterday I went to two stores, spending four hours total finding better choices, like raw honey, pure maple syrup, less-processed pure cane sugar, organic strawberries, carrots, celery, apples and greens, aluminum-free baking powder, and Jasmine brown rice from Thailand, rather than from the arsenic-rich fields of the American south (though it still needs to be rinsed and cooked like pasta, to further reduce arsenic levels, which permeate rice easily from soil and water).

My shopping trip started at 8 PM and ended at midnight (two stores), and when I came through the door hubby was about ready to call the police. I absentmindedly put my old cell phone that the kids play with into my purse instead of the new one. I told hubby now that I've scrutinized every label thoroughly, all my other trips will be faster.

As I thought, there was no finding a "clean" bread or tortilla brand, and thankfully a bread maker is coming in the mail today, which, I told my hubby, I'm paying for by selling some unused homeschool curriculum.

Fair trade chocolate is available at a very small coop in the college town near us, and we will check it out, but I doubt I can afford it, unless something else goes. We will have to substitute healthy muffins and breads for our chocolate sweet tooth.

Do you find reasonably-priced fair-trade chocolate anywhere?

The budget I'm working with is not any better these five years later, but I'm more committed to finding the money by reducing our milk and meat intake, and by cutting out all commercial bread products. (Shh, don't tell my hubby about the meat). He likes all kinds of foods and perhaps if I concoct new, delectable soups, he won't notice meat's scarcity around here. He, too, cares about eating healthfully but he's very practical (and carnivorous, I might add).

I learned long ago how to make a complete protein when eating legumes (beans, peas, lentils) and grains. It's all in what you combine them with. When we do use meat it will be more to flavor foods, and for homemade broths, and to add some protein, rather than to dominate our main dishes.

The meat and poultry industries lack integrity. Period. And I can't afford the better meats.

Now onto our homeschool photos and some great picture books to usher spring in, plus some whole-food blog links and recipes!

Beth worked on initial blends this week in All About Reading 1.

Mary worked on the sound and uses of /oi/ and /oy/ in All About Reading 2. /Oy/ is used at the end of words, and /oi/ is used in the middle.

This stuffed animal is the famous Sparky from AWANA's Sparky class for grades K-2. The word represents the children being "sparks" for Jesus. (My whole family is loving the new Wednesday night AWANA and the church hosting it...and I made a new homeschool friend!--a real life, non-cyber one even, not that my cyber friends aren't totally real and awesome!).

The friendly Sparky visits each Sparky child's house and is returned back to the AWANA teacher the following week with a journal and pictures of his adventures. He joined us in our homeschool and he'll go to the library with us too.

Sparky is doing some drawing.

Sparky is being read to by Beth and Mary.

Sparky has his glasses on and he's reading himself this time.

Sparky is having a spelling lesson.

Goodwill is wonderful for finding any kind of container. Our drawing books needed a convenient home.

"Recess" included vigorous games of basketball and backyard soccer. 

Some yummy dinner and lunches. Black bean soup above with honey wheat corn bread, and taco soup below.

My girls don't care for math because they have trouble recognizing all the numbers dyslexics typically confuse, so sometimes when motivation is low, I offer one chocolate chip for each problem and the rest if there was no complaining.

Skip counting is also difficult for dyslexics, as is any random sequence they have to memorize, though the fives and tens should be easier than they are for Mary. The pennies help her skip count by herself.

Mary has been doing some sewing for two years now. She made a button hole and button for her stuffy and she was so proud! No, this is probably not a properly done job, but it worked.

She'll sew these pieces together for a tiny stuffed animal. I need to get my children into a sewing class soon.

We tried out Kahn Academy this week and Paul especially loves it!

Our weekly trip to the library (last Fri). We took advantage of hubby's trip to Florida to put my van in our mechanic's shop for a (yikes!) $1,200 rust job. (Yep...no wonder hubby frowned at the bread maker purchase). We picked hubby up from the airport last Monday, and since then we've been grounded during the day, with the van expected to be done on Sunday.

A neat math program at our library, enjoyed this trip by Peter and Paul.

Mary's favorite thing at this computer station is the library's Stellaluna program (one of her favorite books).

I loved this rainbow by Mary.

All About Reading 2, working on synonyms.

The boys began a new Sonlight science selection, having finished Evolution: The Grand Experiment (debunks all aspects of evolution, from a completely scientific perspective), from Sonlight Science G. This is What's Science All About, which they both enjoy.

Tuesday and Thursday for the boys look something like this, with math on the computer and writing or spelling with mom not included on this list. From their perspective, the other days feel lighter.

I put seven nutrition/cooking blogs on my sidebar to peruse for whole-food information and recipes. I found several wonderful recipes to try.

10-Minute Baked Apples from Back to the Book Nutrition

Slow Cooker Sweet Potatoes With Maple Cinnamon Butter at The Nourishing Gourmet

Potato-Cauliflower Chowder from 100 Days of Read Food

Sausage, Kale, White Bean Soup from 100 Days of Read Food

10 Recipes for School Lunches from 100 Days of Read Food

100 Days of Read Food offers free meal plans with shopping lists

One Pot Chicken and Brown Rice with Vegetables from Back to the Book Nutrition

Spring Picture Books

Spring brings April showers, rainbows and the promise of new life in the Easter Celebration in Super Gifts of Spring, the third book of a new seasonal four-book series by Dandi Daley Mackall. 

Playful rhymes leap off illustrated pages by Katherine Blackmore and give thanks to God for the wonderment created in Spring. The infectious rhyming prose paired with scriptural passages, give gratitude and glory to God as early learners discover the Super Gifts of Spring. Look out for the next book in the Seasons series, Special Gifts of Summer.

Old MacDonald had a ... garden? Yes! Sing along with young Jo MacDonald as she grows healthy food for people and wild creatures. E-I-E-I-O! Find out how butterflies, bumblebees, and birds help a garden to thrive - and how you can help them too. And keep an eye on one mysterious plant. What will it become? Youngsters learn about garden ecosystems and stewardship through this playful adaptation of Old MacDonald Had a Farm.

Barbara Cooney's story of Alice Rumphius, who longed to travel the world, live in a house by the sea, and do something to make the world more beautiful, has a timeless quality that resonates with each new generation. The countless lupines that bloom along the coast of Maine are the legacy of the real Miss Rumphius, the Lupine Lady, who scattered lupine seeds everywhere she went. Miss Rumphius received the American Book Award in the year of publication.

Violet runs the fastest, sings the highest, looks the fanciest, and talks the loudest. Everyone agrees that she's the best. Except Rosie. Rosie isn't fast, or loud, or fancy, but she's tired of hearing that Violet is the best. When their class grows pea plants, Rosie's and Violet's are the first to sprout! But Violet's is a little taller. So Rosie pushes some soil over Violet's sprout to slow it down. And for a moment, Rosie's plant is the best -- but she feels terrible.
And she feels even worse when she learns that Violet has the chicken pox. So for the next two weeks, Rosie waters her plant -- and Violet's too. She turns them in the sun, and sings them quiet growing songs. And her teacher says that Rosie is the best gardener she's ever had. Definitely the best.
This empathetic story captures every child's desire to be noticed and praised, and the subtle competitions that go on in a classroom. It's a book to swell every shy child's heart. 

A vacant lot, rat-infested and filled with garbage, looked like no place for a garden. Especially to a neighborhood of strangers where no one seems to care. Until one day, a young girl clears a small space and digs into the hard-packed soil to plant her precious bean seeds. Suddenly, the soil holds promise: To Curtis, who believes he can win back Lateesha's heart with a harvest of tomatoes; to Virgil's dad, who sees a fortune to be made from growing lettuce; and even to Maricela, sixteen and pregnant, wishing she were dead.

Thirteen very different voices -- old, young, Haitian, Hispanic, tough, haunted, and hopeful -- tell one amazing story about a garden that transforms a neighborhood.
"As a vacant lot is transformed into a community garden, these vignettes give glimpses into the lives of the fledgling gardeners. As satisfying as harvesting produce straight from the vine." -- School Library Journal

In the Middle Ages, people believed that insects were evil, born from mud in a process called spontaneous generation. Maria Merian was only a child, but she disagreed. She watched carefully as caterpillars spun themselves cocoons, which opened to reveal summer birds, or butterflies and moths. Maria studied the whole life cycle of the summer birds, and documented what she learned in vibrant paintings.

This is the story of one young girl who took the time to observe and learn, and in so doing disproved a theory that went all the way back to ancient Greece.

Lydia Grace Finch brings a suitcase full of seeds to the big gray city, where she goes to stay with her Uncle Jim, a cantankerous baker. There she initiates a gradual transformation, bit by bit brightening the shop and bringing smiles to customers' faces with the flowers she grows. But it is in a secret place that Lydia Grace works on her masterpiece -- an ambitious rooftop garden -- which she hopes will make even Uncle Jim smile.

Sarah Stewart introduces readers to an engaging and determined young heroine, whose story is told through letters written home, while David Small's illustrations beautifully evoke the Depression-era setting.
The Gardener is a 1997 New York Times Book Review Notable Children's Book of the Year and a 1998 Caldecott Honor Book.

A funny, accessible chapter-book series about an irrepressible third grader.
Marty McGuire's third-grade class has a special assignment: Save the Earth! Even more exciting, the best project wins a special award. Marty's pretty sure her classmates' ideas won't stand a chance against her plan to turn the garbage from the school cafeteria into fertilizer. All she needs is a little help from her teammate and best friend, Annie -- and the worms in her grandma's garden.
But it turns out that worms are awfully SLOW eaters. And when the critters escape, the whole class starts grumbling. Can Marty save the Earth without losing her friends?

An ode to muddy hands and feet, brown earth, and new grass. Simple text and exuberant illustrations will make children and their grown-up friends want to sink their feet into gooey, gloppy, mucky, magnificent mud.

From Publishers Weekly ; Introduced in Fletcher and the Falling Leaves, the cute little fox Fletcher now discovers spring. Seeing blossoms swirling through the air—Beeke renders them as a flurry of white smudges—Fletcher becomes convinced that the snow has returned. Feeling bouncy [and] full-of-importance, he sounds the alarm to his forest comrades, who are not a little peeved when they realize Fletcher's mistake. All is quickly forgiven as they revel in the glories of the season: The animals scooped up pawfuls and clawfuls of blossoms from the ground, and covered him in a tickly shower of fluttering white petals! The distinctly British lilt of Rawlinson's prose should prove captivating for preschoolers. But it's Beeke who gives this book its reason for being. Working in her signature naïf style, she gives each character a vivid personality (the steadfast porcupine and slacker rabbits are particularly memorable) and conjures up an irresistible forest: bathed in warm greens and yellows, punctuated with impish bursts of color, and just imposing enough to be a suitable setting for adventure. Ages 3–7.

How was your week, friends? Thank you for visiting.

Weekly Wrap-Up