Sunday, January 29, 2012

Let's Get Real...

I read an email by a mom who said that she found homeschooling blogs to be distressing and emotionally nervewracking, because it seemed to her that all those "other moms" had it all together whereas her own homeschooling doesn't always flow smoothly.

I think when I blog, I usually present the sunny side of our lives.  Also, I am not writing long blogs as often as life is very busy right now.

So, let me get real. First of all, in many ways things ARE going well. Kevin and I are blessed by our marriage and our children. We have a roof over our heads, a furnace to warm us, and food on the table.  We have Bibles to read, and can worship God openly.  I am very thankful for many things.

But I will say this, life is not always EASY.  Right now, we are going through kind of a rough patch with several children. This is nothing new, really.  Our children go through phases when they are harder or easier.  There is no "one child" that is the problem child, thankfully!  They are all children, all learning about life and in need of the Holy Spirit's power.

But right now, the younger 4 all seem like a special challenge.

Sarah, age 1, is into everything. She is very cute, but we have to watch her carefully. She's also testing the boundaries.  She knows, for example, that we don't like her throwing food off her high chair.  And she does it anyway.  She also likes yanking books off the bookshelves, yanking my hair, playing in the toilet (thankfully everyone is good about flushing around here), and so on.

Angela, age 4, has reached a painful stage where she is realizing that the world and universe do not revolve around her.  Now really, she should have figured that out a LONG time ago. One advantage of being a child in a large family is that there are only so much time and attention and resources to go around, and everyone is disappointed sometimes. But, poor dear Angela is at a particular PHASE in her understanding.  One semi humorous manifestation is that she keeps wanting toys that the other kids have.  Our rule about toys is this...if it is in a public area (like the living room, kitchen, dining room, etc.) it is fair game unless it is breakable, in which case it shouldn't be in those rooms.  So just because something was a present to YOU doesn't mean you get to play with it any old time. If you abandoned it in a toy box, and a sibling finds it, he or she can play with it for a while and then has to share.  Angela is just having a hard time with the concept of waiting. We keep having the following occurrence. 

Sibling gets toy. Angela sees toy.  Angela says, "I want that toy!"  I explain (for the hundredth time) that she can't have the toy right now. She repeats again, "I want that toy!"  We go around the mulberry bush about the toy until she either is sent to her room or loses a ticket (part of our discipline system.)  Really, does she think that whining and fussing will change reality, will change my mind?  Maybe she does. If so, she is disappointed time after time.

Miriam, age 6, is really at a sweet age except I'm realizing how sensitive she is.  I keep being startled by her dissolving into tears by what seems like a fairly minor issue.  Part of it may be tied into allergy issues, I don't know.  I know when I'm feeling allergic, I'm more sensitive than usual.

Joseph, age 7, is doing a lot of screaming these days.  He gets frustrated easily and lets us know about it. I think it is hard for him to be the younger brother and therefore not as quick and strong as Isaac.  I will say this, that boy is fast and Joseph has actually outrun Isaac on at least one occasion. 

 The older 3 are mostly doing fairly well though I need to work with Lydia on organizational issues where homeschooling is concerned.  Isaac is still struggling with his handwriting a great deal, and his spelling is atrocious.  Naomi, just to make things a little exciting, got violently ill last night with stomach flu and threw up 14 times, poor dear!

I will say that parenting is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my LIFE.  It is also one of the best things I've ever done. It takes every ounce of self control and wisdom that the Lord gives me to be a diligent and available mother.

I think in this world that there can be significant temptation for a mother to "check out" on her children.  I have a million things to do in keeping the house clean and organized, in cooking, in preparing for homeschooling, in caring for the baby.  There are times when I succumb to the temptation of Facebook when I ought to be talking to my kids.  I need to remember that more than academic excellence, our children need to feel safe and HEARD by their father and me.  They need to know they can talk to us about their questions and problems and struggles.  Now, I am not available 24/7 for deep emotional discussions. I think they are learning that I am pretty much a mess past 10 p.m. and for now, the kids are in their bedrooms at that time.  But I do try to be available to talk about God, the universe, human procreation (at an age appropriate level), bullying, etc.  And it isn't easy.

But then, most things worth doing aren't easy.  Marriage isn't easy.  Seeking and growing as a Christian isn't easy.  And yes, parenting isn't easy.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Balance Beam

  A fair number of years ago, I acquired this balance beam for learning basic math facts. The idea is simple. We put 2 or more blue weights on one side, and the child has to figure out what the sum is and put it on the other side to balance out.  If he gets it right, it DOES balance -- if not, the beam is lopsided.

  When I purchased it, my older kids enjoyed it but didn't really derive much educational value from it.  Naomi and Isaac are natural "mathies" and Lydia learned her math facts in other ways.  This balance beam is rather bulky and, more than once, I considered getting rid of it. 

  But I'm glad I didn't.  Joseph has struggled with math in some ways.  He certainly isn't a natural "math kid" like some of my children.  But he has taken to the balance beam like a duck to water, and he is learning his addition facts with it.  When the sum is greater than 10, I encourage him to put one blue weight on the 10 and figure out what needs to be added to make it balance.

Chicken Update

  Well, the last 2 days have us feeling cautiously optimistic about our chickens.  We got 5 eggs yesterday (a new record for this batch of chickens!) and so far have 4 today. The previous 2 days were terrible, though.

  Here's a very strange thing...our Auracanas are laying like crazy. You can see the picture above shows more green than brown eggs, even though we only have 4 chickens who can lay green eggs.  We are wondering whether the Auracana breed was more resistant to THE DISEASE that has so far killed 7 of our chickens.  Whatever the reason, it is fun to get lots of green eggs.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Allergy Testing

Whew, busy week!  Ultrasound on Monday, dental cleanings on Tuesday for 3 kids (but I had to bring them all to the dentist), I worked on Wednesday, and then today I had allergy testing for Sarah and Miriam.

Sarah is rather a difficult child to feed.  She still doesn't self feed very well, and I thought maybe she had some hidden allergy that was making her break out on occasion. I knew she was allergic to milk and eggs, and wondered about wheat.

Miriam has seriously bad eczema and we wondered if food allergies were a contributing factor.

So I took both of them to an allergist today.  The results were very interesting.  Sarah is allergic to milk (significantly allergic), chocolate (probably because it has milk in it), and showed a mild reaction to peanuts.  Interestingly, egg didn't show up strongly or maybe at all.  The allergist said it might be very mild or she might be outgrowing it.  He said not feed her any dairy or straight eggs, but that he thought she'd be fine with eggs in baked goods.  Also, she did not react to wheat.

Miriam, oh, poor dear Miriam.  She reacted to a host of airborne allergies: dust mites, grasses, and ragweed.  That explains why her eczema flares in spring and late summer and fall.  She reacted to walnuts and shellfish, but NOT to cow's milk.

The allergist recommended blood testing (instead of just today's skin testing) for Miriam to nail down the nut issue more clearly.  She does not have a peanut allergy (thankfully) but did react to walnuts.  We've seen her react to pecans. And shellfish -- what's with that?  We don't have shellfish often so that's easy to avoid.  Since both tree nuts and shellfish can result in dramatic allergic reactions, I need to get a new Epipen for her and Sarah.  Sarah, of course, might have trouble with peanuts at some point.  For now, we're keeping her off peanuts.

So it was a very useful trip and I'm glad we went, and very thankful we have access to doctors and dentists.  But wow, I'm glad this week's trips to various medical people is over.  Tomorrow, I hope we can stay home and rest :-).

Monday, January 23, 2012

It's a....


He looks healthy and was vigorous during this morning's ultrasound.

Due date is May 31st.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Barn Updates

So the barn isn't QUITE done right now, though we hope it will be fully complete by the end of the day.

Day 3 picture:

Roof on...

Day 4 picture

3 sides on.

Right now they are putting the front paneling on the left side.  The little door has already been installed and the frames for the big door are in place.

Kevin chatted with the foreman.  He is an Amish gentleman, probably in his late 40's?  He has THIRTEEN children, with the youngest being a few months older than our Sarah.  2 of the young men on his crew are his children, and 2 nephews are also working with him.

I have no desire to live an Amish lifestyle without cars, electricity, or modern conveniences, but I do love the family orientation.  I can't think of anything better for father/son bonding than to work on big projects like this together.  It has been a pleasure for us to see this crew working rapidly and skillfully on our barn.

It has been a busy week for Kevin, as more than one thing has "come up" on the barn project.  He's been making phone calls and dashing around a bit.  Yesterday, the van driver (who is not, of course, Amish) realized at about 4 p.m that the battery for his van was dead.  Kevin came home and helped them get it started so everyone could go home.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Barn: Day 2

Yesterday the work crew toiled away all day on the barn, in spite of intermittent rain showers.

  Looks great, doesn't it?

We think one more full day will do it, and that will probably be tomorrow.  We had rain all day with much wind, but tomorrow is supposed to be calm and sunny.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Experiment with Ammonia

I recently subscribed to a  website called the Happy Scientist.  The Happy Scientist, Robert Krampf, has conducted dozens of experiments and put them on video. 

One that he recommended was the following:  buy or pick some flowers.  Ok, we bought some flowers since we're in the middle of winter. 

And here are some of the flowers.  Beautiful, aren't they?

Next, pour some ammonia into the bottom of a glass jar.  Suspend the flowers over the ammonia.  Cover with a plate.

Ammonia is a strong base (the opposite of an acid.)  Bases accept hydrogen ions.  Another way of saying that is that bases donate electron pairs in a chemical reaction.  The flowers we used, like many plants, are sensitive to the presence of acids and bases.  The ammonia fumes cause the petals to change color and the petals are therefore acid/base indicators.

So, did it work?

Well, yes, after 20 to 30 minutes exposure (I wasn't keeping close track), the flowers looked like this.

The orange petals didn't change much, but the others altered substantially.

So the experiment was a success. 

But the biggest thing I learned (though I vaguely knew it) is that I HATE the smell of ammonia. I don't think we'll be doing this particular experiment again any time soon!


We've been saving towards a barn for several years now, and the time has come.

Yes, now, in the middle of January.  Winter is the slow season for most construction companies, and our barn is a simple structure so can be constructed in winter.

First day of construction was on Thursday.  That was also the last day (so far) because Friday the weather was terrible.

Before picture:

And after one day's construction...

So, the walls are up.  We hope that Monday the weather will cooperate and they can work on it some more.

We are excited!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Pondering Illness

Winter is our "sick" season.  When we first had Naomi, my memory is that we had a couple of good years where we weren't sick much. But since then, every winter we get sick and, it seems, stay sick.

Now, that may be perception more than truth.  I think a big part of our struggle is that we have a large family and it takes a LONG time for everyone to get an illness.  This winter hasn't been bad.  We've not had anything really nasty (unlike November 2009, when we all succumbed to swine flu.)  Right now, we have a cold.  It's just a cold, not even a big cold. We've been mostly functional.

The kids who got it seem to be over it.  Kevin and I had it for a few days. Kevin took off Monday. I was really exhausted Sunday and Monday, but not as sick as Kevin so he rested and I tried to keep the kids occupied and quiet.  That is our unspoken rule, that the sicker parent gets to rest.  Back when I got swine flue, Kevin was nobly shouldering tremendous responsibility for 2 long weeks as I couldn't get out of bed.

I think the hardest thing about the long term minor illnesses is that we feel tied down.  I try not to expose other people to our illnesses and young ones are particularly bad about coughing on other people or otherwise sharing germs. 

We've not been to church in 3 weeks.  I was hopeful about Sunday.  As I said, the children seem well.  But...Saturday  I woke up with a minor sore throat, then Sunday I woke up feeling quite sick.  Kevin wasn't feeling well either.  If it was JUST me, all by my lonesome, I could tackle church. I can be trusted not to spread germs copiously.  But to take all 7 kids is a fair amount of work.  I'm prone to asthma during respiratory illness, and I've felt just a bit asthmatic off and on the last couple of days.  I'm 19 weeks pregnant.  Is pushing myself a good idea?  No, it is not.  Sigh.  So we stayed home.

When I was young and single, I pushed myself physically often.  During graduate school, there were seasons when I worked 16 hour days.  3 times I went out to the West Coast to work on a synchrotron and we had a beamline 24 hours a day. Now, several grad students shared that time, but I would be working in the wee hours frequently. 

I had a feeling that I could just use mind over matter and my body would cooperate. If I was determined, I could do whatever I thought I should. That turned out to not be true.  I had preterm labor with our 2nd, and I think it was partially caused by trying to do too much.

So now I think a lot about margin -- physical, mental, emotional.  In general, I try not to push myself to my limits.  Sometimes life interferes and I have to run at 110% for a short time. But I make a point of looking for ways to get the rest I need, to steward my limited resources so I can do what God calls me to do.

One of the reasons we live quiet lives is that I know that I am weak.  I don't have the emotional or physical energy to take the children to a myriad of activities, AND homeschool, AND nurture a baby in the womb, AND keep the house clean, etc. etc.

And that's Ok.  God is infinitely powerful. I am not. He knows that. I can trust that I can do what HE wants me to do.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

First Snow of the Year

It has been a warm and mild winter thus far, with very little snow. Actually, we had a LITTLE at the end of last year, but not enough in which to play.

Last Monday, we got some snow. Not a lot, but we had significant flurries off and on all day and probably an inch of snow settled on the ground.

The children made a small mound of snow.

We have a small sledding hill next to the house and yes, they did some sledding.  It wasn't great sledding, but it was better than nothing.  We have a much larger, nicer hill in our back 3 acres but I didn't want them trekking out there, nor would it have worked as well as the grass is taller back there.

I have rather enjoyed the mild temperatures and dry roads, but I pray we have at least a couple of good snows this winter as the children enjoy it so much. And white snow is glorious.  I am not a major winter enthusiast, but looking out back at snow topped grasses and frosted trees makes me praise God for making an Earth that is not only functional, but beautiful.

Monday, January 2, 2012

And Then, a Miracle Occurred

Today was glorious. We got FOUR eggs. FOUR!  Our chickens are coming online!

Stay tuned for tomorrow!  We are hoping they won't just STOP like the last time we got excited.  We got 3 eggs one day, and not another one for 2 weeks.  We do think the light in their coop was malfunctioning and that messed them up.

Birthdays Galore!

The end of December is a busy, busy time for us. Not only did we celebrate Christmas, we celebrated THREE birthdays.

Here is our lovely 12 year old daughter, Naomi.  She is growing up to be a beautiful young lady, and we are very proud of her.

And this handsome fellow, Isaac, just turned 9.  Kevin and I were just talking today about how he is maturing and growing into a fine young man.

Last, but not least, Miriam turned 6.  She's our 5th child and a sweetheart. 

When I was young, I used to think that having a Christmas birthday would be very hard.  Well, none of our children were born on Christmas, but they came close. And it is delightful.  We relish that we had 3 of our kids during the darkest days of winter, and of course Kevin gets extra time off near Christmas so we can celebrate as a family.

A Strange and Weird Thought...

Yesterday morning, a strange thought came out of the blue.

And it was this.  Next school year, our older SIX children would be able to go to the local public school if we wanted them to do so.

Our 6th child will turn 5 in August, so legally could attend kindergarten in the fall. She'd be one of the very youngest children, but she could do it.  For that matter, I started kindergarten at the tender age of 4 because my birthday is in October and the cutoff was later in those days.

And IF we did that, I'd have a toddler and a new baby at home with the other 6 gone at least a few hours of the day.

Weird thought.  I'd have time to clean and cook and do laundry.  Wow.

It is not on the table, though.

It is interesting how various families approach homeschooling.  For some, it is something the family evaluates year to year.  There are some families who choose to homeschool one child and have the others attend public school. Others homeschool some years and send their kids to ps others years.  Some homeschool through a certain age, like junior high or high school, and then send the children to public school.

We made the decision to homeschool when Naomi was a baby, and as the years have gone by, the commitment to it has grown stronger.  Public school is not on the table for us.  Private Christian school isn't really either because of finances and the difficulty of transportation.  And really, many of the things about public school that I don't like exist in private school as well. One BIG issue for us is that we think it unnatural for young people to spend most of their day with a bunch of people their own age, with only a few teachers to provide a more mature prospective on life.

I have been feeling overwhelmed about next year, I admit it.  I'll have a 7th grader, a 6th grader, a 4th grader, a 2nd grader, a kindergartener, a preschooler, a very busy 1 year old, and a new baby!

That is CRAZY.

One thing I am doing is praying for wisdom.  It may be that I need to change how we are doing things, maybe especially for Naomi.  She is, as I've said, an excellent student.  She will be entering 7th grade, though, and her academic requirements grow more rigorous every year.  Perhaps I need to consider a computer based curriculum for at least some subjects.  A dear friend has her 2 children taking courses through the Potter's School, an online Christian academy. 

So, Lord, please help me to know what YOU want me to do.  Help me to be willing to change what I am doing if I should, and stay the course in areas that are working well. Help me to know and trust that our children can and will thrive at home spiritually, emotionally, and academically.