Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holistic tips for fighting an ear infection and constipation

While Abbi was fighting off her random virus, it appears that an infection snuck in her weary body. Her temp sky-rocketed and she started screaming all the time and it was obviously something new. So I took her to my favorite holistic doctor on yesterday and she confirmed what I suspected -- she had a virus that was pretty much gone, but now had a really bad infection in her ear. You might think an ear infection is no big deal since kids get them all the time, but let me tell you -- it must straight out hurt because it makes for a completely miserable baby! I honestly have not been able to set Abbi down (other than a quick trip to the bathroom) since Saturday afternoon. This afternoon is the first time she has slept on her own (much thanks to my holistic dr. and chiropractor!) since the infection hit. She still screams when anyone even so much as touches the right side of her head (and you really don't want to be in the same house when I give her drops in her ear!) but her fever went down and she actually allowed me to lay her in the crib this afternoon so I do believe that she is improving. I'm desperately hoping to sleep in my own bed tonight!

I thought I'd write out the recommendations from my holistic dr. so that I would remember them next time and in case they might be helpful to you. We are also having trouble with Karlie getting constipated (she got dehydrated when she had the fever and it hurt to have a BM and now my stubborn 2-year old is refusing to go! So my holistic dr. gave me some tips for that as well.

For ear infection:
1. Drop hydrogen peroxide in her ear canal 4-6 times/day. (She recommended doing it while nursing because Abbi would be opening and closing her mouth and it would help, but after I saw how much she hated the drops, I decided I didn't want nursing associated with pain.)

2. Hydrogen Peroxide in vaporizer at night and during naps

3. Ear oil 2 times/day made of olive oil, mullein, garlic, St. John's, and MSM

4. Immune Support:
no sugars/ friuts
Collodial Silver 3 times a day
elderberry syrup
zinc 15 mg
Garlic on feet
oregano oil on feet and rubbed on skin behind infected ear

For ConstipationMagnesium Citrate with potassium -- helps relaxes muscles and go more easily

...it also helps with sleep, restless leg, focus, emotions, muscle cramps, etc

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It has begun...

Have you been enjoying celebrating the advent? My little ones sure have. I thought that after giving so many fun Christmas ideas in my last post, I should update which ones we are actually doing. I definitely had to narrow down my choices to keep the sweet season of advent simple.

Last year I wanted to do the Jesee tree, but I just didn't get it together in time. But I went ahead and made the ornaments so I would be ready for this year and I was ever so glad that I did! The girls have really enjoyed the Bible stories and putting the ornaments on our tree. I love Ann Voskamp's jesse tree devotional and made the ornaments with her templates, but I also read about a Jesse Tree storybook and decided to purchase it for our girls because I knew they would enjoy the pictures and storyline a bit more. It is about a grumpy old carpenter who is carving a Jesse Tree for a church and a little boy who begs him to tell the story of each carving. The readings are a little long for Karlie, but Karis absolutely loves it.

I really wanted to do an advent calendar with random acts of kindness for each day, but I just didn't have enough time to get it together before December got here. I'm thinking about just setting aside one day each week (probably on our day to run errands) starting with the new year to do a random act of kindness with the girls. I really want them to start thinking about how to be kind to others all the time, not just at Christmas.

I am not a crafty Mama. I really want to be and I really enjoy doing crafts with my girls, but I'm not usually one to plan ahead well in that department. If we have time to do something fun, we usually end up baking! But my Karis loves "making decorations" and the fall season had me scanning Pinterest moments before she woke up, trying to find something to make with what we had on hand. I stumbled upon "Truth in the Tinsel: An Advent Experience for Little Hands" and immediately knew it would be worth the $4.99 to have something all planned out for me, using everyday household items, that would be an easy craft to point back to the story of Christ's birth. And we have loved it! We haven't been able to do our craft every single day due to a busy holiday schedule, but it has still been worth every penny to me.

I have to admit that the most exciting part of my girls' day, however, is probably opening up their daily Christmas book. I was just going to do one book each day, but they were so excited that I just couldn't make one of them wait til the next day. So yes, we will open 50 Christmas books before Christmas. Thank goodness for the library!!!! It is amazing how excited they get when they open a book, even though they might have read the book 50 times last season. What a fun tradition! I found a great list wonderful Christmas books to request at the library HERE.

Friday, December 2, 2011

My thoughts on making it through labor naturally

I have a friend who recently asked for recommendations for scriptures to meditate on during labor to help get her mind off the pain. I honestly had never thought of such a thing (sad, huh?), but I wrote to her what did help me the most and what scripture I thought would have helped me the most. I thought I'd post my response in case it might be helpful to anyone else hoping to get through childbirth naturally. Having a baby is the most awesome and thrilling (although also the most painful) experience ever and is more than worth the pain!

There were three things that helped me the most when I was in the most pain:

1. Just reminding myself that my body was created to do this! I seriously said over and over in my head to myself, "This is what I was made to do!" Reading the book Ina Mays Guide to Childbirthwas the best thing I did to prepare for the pain. It is very hippy-ish, but after reading all the birth stories you will be totally convinced that you can do it and also have an idea of what to expect so that you won't think that your labor is unusual or more painful than it ought to be and give up.

2. Reminding myself that there will be an end to the pain -- somehow knowing that the pain was only for a short time was a huge help to me. Relief will come! Also, except for during transition, God gives us a break between contractions that helps tremendously. A contraction is utterly miserable, but usually only lasts about a minute and you often get a two minute break. Two minutes may not sound like long, but it is a huge relief when you are in such pain!! Breath a huge sigh of relief and thank God in between contractions for the break and the chance to re-group.

3. Focusing on the baby... imagine snuggling him in your arms! Be thankful for each contraction because it brings you that much closer to holding him! Try not to think in terms of just "enduring" each contraction, because they serve a great purpose and you will end up tensing up and fighting them, rendering them less useful. Use them and help them by swaying your hips slightly. Picture the baby coming further down the birth canal with each contraction. A lot of times I would chant in my head, "she's coming, she's coming!" Each contraction brings you that much closer to your precious little one! So exciting!

So although I didn't really have a scripture, I guess I just focused on being thankful -- thankful that God had created me to do this, that there was relief from the pain, and that I would be holding my baby soon. So I would recommend 1 Thess. 5:18 to meditate on:
"in everything give thanks; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus"

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Our natural medicine cabinet

It is that time of year... when my facebook is filled with moms complaining about sick children. Last year, I shared my top 25 favorite natural remedies for fighting off sickness. I still use them regularly and prefer them over anything store-bought. But I thought I would give a little update and share some of the more natural "medicines" I have chosen to buy to keep on hand. A lot of them are homeopathic remedies that are completely safe and effective. If you don't know much about homeopathic remedies, this post is a great one to start with and then read this this article. My girls take them as well and like them. If you are interested in starting to use some, then this kit by Hylands contains most of the basics. I also greatly recommend Naturo Kits. We have the mini first aid kit and it has really been helpful! (And once again, I am not a doctor so do your own research before buying any of this :)

Sabadil -- by Boiron for allergies
Chestal -- a homeopathic cough syrup by Boiron
Arnica Montana - any time someone falls or goes through something traumatic
Arnica gel -- for bumps and bruises
Oscillococcinum -- for flu-like symptoms
Belladonna for fevers and inflammations
Nux Vomica for nausea and upset stomach
Chamomilla for teething and irritability
Calms Forte by Hylands -- to calm down kiddos when they are up past their bedtime and to sometimes help my husband sleep when he is stressed about work

Elderberry syrup -- easy to make by just boiling elderberries in water, simmering for 30 minutes, then smashing through a strainer and adding honey. It will store in the fridge for up to 3 months. Or you can buy something like Sambucus elderberry syrup on Amazon or vitacost.

Papaya Enzymes -- these are amazing for heartburn, nausea, and acid reflux -- I used them when I was pregnant instead of Tums and use them now if I eat a lot of processed foods or just too much for dinner (HA!)

Activated Charcoal -- for food poisoning or other poisoning, stomach bug, bad bites, or stings

Netti Pot with salt water -- to relieve sinus symptoms

Be Kool soft cool gel sheets to place on forehead to help cool down a fever (Thanks, Hollie, for the great idea!) My kids have never been that cooperative with a cold washcloth, but they were excited to see these "cold bandaids" to put on their foreheads.

Little Noses Saline drops -- for stopped up nose

Wild Weed Salve (from the mini first aid naturokit) -- for bug bites, itchy, dry skin, etc -- it works really well and is the only thing to keep my girls from complaining about a bad bug bite

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Demanding and Arguing

My 4.5 year old is an absolute joy! She is the best helper I could ever wish for, she takes great delight in taking care of her little sisters, and her unbelievable imagination just fills my life with laughter. But she seems to have forgotten her manners a little and we are working hard to get her back to where we were just a few short months ago. We have two major issues that we are working on right now and I thought I'd share them and what we are doing to correct them. I'm just going to be honest and I'd love to hear your tips as well!

1. She has forgotten "please." Even before she could talk, Karis signed the word "please" when she wanted something. But lately, she has forgotten it and can be quite demanding. I think she got into the habit because she enjoys telling her little sister what to do so much, but it has transposed into telling adults what to do as well. So we are trying to quickly nip it in the bud. It is amazing how quickly a habit forms when you aren't paying attention and then it is difficult to erase!

Basically, we are refusing to acquiesce when she asks for something in a demanding way. She has to wait 3 minutes and then she may ask again correctly and we will fulfill her request. For example, if she says, "Give me more milk," then I respond, "no, you did not ask respectfully and you can try again in 3 minutes." In the car, she has a habit of wailing from the back of the van, "I can't hear the music!" So we completely turn off the music for 3 minutes and then give her the chance to ask us to turn it up respectfully. It has taken a while for her to remember, but we are definitely seeing progress. She will often start to demand something and quickly cover it up with a "will you please?"

2. She has developed good reasoning ability that has grown to arguing (otherwise known as "too smart for her own good "). Our family has always tried to implement first time obedience with a bit of grace thrown in. (And no, I have not yet read "Give Them Grace," but I would really like to. If you have read it, please comment and share your thoughts!) For instance, if Karis is reading a book and I ask her to go take her clothes to her room, she is allowed to say, "May I please finish this book first?" If she asks respectfully, we are not in a hurry to do something else, and there are not many pages left, I usually allow her to finish. But if I say no, she must immediately get up and do it. This method has worked well for the first 4 years of her life, but now she is taking it a bit to far. I ask her to do something and she says, "Well....." or, "but Mama...!" She usually has great logic that makes me laugh but the core problem is that she is making excuses instead of obeying right away. A lot of times, the things she says she needs to do first are really good things, such as helping Karlie or Abbi with something, but it is still disobedience. And often when I tell her no, that she must obey first, she begins to argue to try to explain why she is right. I don't have any great plan for this issue, other than immediate discipline and to try to always take the time to talk to her and explain why this is biblically a problem and try to reach her heart and pray with her. But boy is it difficult to find the time to do all that when my other two little ones are running around needing me!

Those are the two major parenting issues we are dealing with this week. What about you? I'd love to hear your struggles or advice!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Pregnancy books and tips

A dear friend of mine recently found out she was pregnant and e-mailed me with some questions about books to read, natural remedies, stretch marks, and maternity clothes. I thought I'd share my response in case it would be helpful to anyone...

I unfortunately didn't find out about this until after the 1st trimester (because I'm sure it would have helped with my horrible morning sickness), but Papaya enzymes are an awesome natural way to settle an upset stomach or to help with heartburn and acid reflux.

My holistic doctor told me that colic in babies is caused by yeast overgrowth and digestive issues in the Mama, so I took tons of probiotics and cut out most all sugar and white flour the last trimester, especially that last month. I don't know if it worked or if I just have a very easy baby, but Abbi had the least tummy trouble of the three :) And Karlie had the most, which makes complete sense because I had the antibiotic during labor with her and that would definitely cause digestive issues. So I'm a believer. I recently read this article that confirmed her advice and gave tips for preventing colic in babies.

I've also read that GER (bad reflux in babies) is caused by a deficiency in B12 so I made sure I ate lots of beef, cheese, and eggs so I would get plenty of that vitamin.

I've read that olive oil can help colicky babies -- I had a friend who let her baby suck on her finger dipped in olive oil after each feeding and it helped.

I recently read that you get morning sickness because increased hormone production uses up cholesterol and the body is unable to produce sufficient bile. One researcher suggested that you eat as many good quality cholesterol rich foods as you can (and it is even better to prepare before conception if possible with at least 3 months of a traditional diet rich in high quality animal fats!) Sip whole raw milk throughout the day to ward off sickness and acupuncture can help a lot as well! Another blogger said that eating legumes helps because the bile binds to soluble fiber and cannot pass pass the intestinal barrier and make you sick. She suggests eating 1/4 cup of beans any time you feel nauseous. I'm thinking that I will be eating a whole lot of hummus next pregnancy! And it is a good thing that I love my raw milk and cheese!

Another cause for morning sickness is magnesium deficiency.  The best idea is to stock up on magnesium before you get pregnant because it is harder to absorb once you area already pregnant.  The best way to absorb magnesium is topically, through a body spray or by soaking in epsom salts.  Please read THIS article and THIS one to get a better idea of magnesium and real food solutions for morning sickness.

I did all my normal natural solutions when pregnant, but I saved oregano oil as a last resort because it is so strong and I could never find any info that definitively said it was ok during pregnancy. I think I only used it for a day if if I got really sick and stopped when I felt better. It is probably fine, but I always err on the side of caution. Plus, oregano oil kills the good bacteria as well and I didn't want to do that unless absolutely necessary. Garlic and Apple Cider Vinegar are perfectly fine and ever so good for you, so they were my stand-by pregnancy remedies :) I don't know as much about Grapefruit Seed Extract, so I saved it for when I was really sick as well. It is probably fine, but I just didn't know for sure.
I've never gotten stretch marks (but don't think I've gotten off easy; varicose veins are much worse because they are very painful!); I think whether or not you get stretch marks depends a lot on how you carry your baby and I have a long torso so my babies don't stick out that far. But I have been pretty careful to put lotion on my belly throughout my pregnancies regardless. I used Palmer's Cocoa Butter stretch mark cream with my first two pregnancies and made my own belly butter with my last pregnancy. I don't have a real recipe... I just melted coconut oil, shea butter, and almond oil on low on the stove and mixed them up and poured it in a jar. If I had to guess, I'd say that I used them respectively in a 3:2:1 ratio. And you really don't have to have the almond oil; the main thing is that you need shea butter to make it more like lotion than just oil. I added some cocoa butter to one batch and it was great, even more thick, but it was a horrible pain to scrape off into the pan and to melt because it was so hard.

Target has absolutely the best nursing tanks ever! And their nursing bras are pretty reasonably priced as well. My favorite place to buy maternity clothes was Old Navy -- they always had stuff in the clearance section. And I got some stuff at Kohl's and Target. Maternity is very expensive, so the best thing is to buy it off season.

If you are hoping for a natural birth,  my other two posts on the topic should be helpful:
My Experience: Medicated v. Natural Childbirth
My Thought On Making It Through Labor Naturally

My top 5 fav pregnancy/baby books are:
Secrets of the Baby Whisperer by Tracy Hogg -- I don't agree with everything she says, but she does have good ideas for soothing baby and getting baby on a good sleep/wake/eat schedule, etc. I'm more of a "feed on demand" kind of Mama, but a loose schedule is very helpful in knowing whether a baby is fussing because she is hungry or simply tired. Some good nursing tips are found HERE.
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth -- very "crunchy," but a must-read during your last month of pregnancy if you decide to give birth without meds :) I re-read it with every baby during that last month to inspire me to know that I can do it!

Other good reads:
Happiest Baby On the Block by Karp -- I don't agree with the whole "missing 4th trimester concept" but it does have other great info on having a happy baby
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Weissbluth -- fabulous book on how babies/children sleep and how much/when they need it. Good resource to have on hand
How to Raise a Healthy Child in Spite of Your Doctor by Mendelsohn -- small, fat book -- good resource to have on hand to diagnose and treat ailments naturally rather than going to the doctor at the first sign of a fever

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Natural Cures for PMS and other hormonal issues

Many women take hormonal birth control to help regulate their cycles and many other women say that hormonal birth control gives them mood swings, headaches, hot flashes, etc. It is a quandary to me and (as I explained in my post last week), I've just decided to forgo hormonal birth control altogether. So I thought I'd offer up some natural ideas to help with all of those problems. Keep in mind that I am not a doctor and you should do your own research to determine what will help your particular issues. These are simply things that have helped me. Before making these changes, my time of the month was quite miserable, with extremely painful cramps, headaches, mood swings, etc. I am quite happy to report that I now hardly experience any symptoms at all. I'm not kidding! (I must admit, however, that due to pregnancy and nursing, I have only experienced a few cycles in the past 5 years. But I've done enough research to believe that those months were not flukes and to expect my good fortune to continue.)

Here are the changes I made:

1. Read this post on punctuation! You really should. It is funny and informative. I didn't really believe the author at first, but once I read all the comments in agreement, I decided to ditch my normal feminine care products and give it a try. And I was glad that I did. There is no doubt that it made a difference for me and shortened my cycle. And the cloth ones are so much softer! I'll never go back if for no other reason than that! I have to wash cloth diapers anyways, so it really didn't add any trouble for me. And if that sounds completely gross to you, there are organic disposables that will still make a difference in your cycle. That is what I plan to use if my cycle ever interferes with a beach trip. And if you still think I am crazy, then you haven't read the article... so go back and read it :)

2. Maca powder -- Maca is a root that can really help to balance hormones naturally. It has been shown to help with PMS, menopause, hot flashes, unending periods, male and female infertility, low libido, etc. For me, it made a big difference in eliminating menstrual cramps and raising my BBT to a normal level. I started out by putting it in my milk each morning, but didn't like it so much and ended up just putting it in an empty pill capsule to swallow.
Here are some articles to use for research:

3. Avoid soy-- Soy contains phyto-estrogens that disrupt your hormones and endocrine system. Unfortunately, it is in almost every processed food. Here are some links to consider:

Between those 3 changes, my PMS symptoms were practically eliminated. Do you have any other suggestions for balancing hormones naturally? I'd love to hear them!

I'll leave you with 3 other articles that I found helpful on this topic:

Thursday, October 13, 2011

My take on birth control

The POH topic for October is birth control. I want to start off by saying that I know this can be a hot topic among believers and my post is not meant to stir up a lot of the rights and wrongs of birth control. I'm simply going to tell you where our family is on this issue right now and why.

When I first got married, I decided to use a hormonal pill form of birth control that was "only" supposed to keep me from ovulating each month. I researched it as much as I knew how to ensure that it would in no way cause a miscarriage/ abortion if I somehow managed to get pregnant, and then I started taking it about a month before my wedding day to make certain that I did not suffer any major side effects from it. Before I started taking the pill, my cycle was completely normal and regular with the obvious signs of ovulation. When we stopped taking the pill to try to get pregnant 1.5 years later, my cycle never went back to normal. My cycles were totally random and I was not ovulating very often, if at all. We struggled with infertility for a deeply painful, emotional, roller coaster year (I blogged about it at POH HERE) and were finally able to conceive with the help of Clomid, a drug that helps you ovulate.

Because of that struggle, I will never, ever take any form of hormonal birth control again. I am fully convinced that the pill disrupted the natural, God-given rhythm of my body. I know that birth control does not affect everyone in this way and I have friends who went off the pill and got pregnant the very next month, and even some who have gotten pregnant while on the pill. But it definitely affected me adversely and I am not taking any chances and will never take any form of birth control again. In addition, the hormonal form of birth control did cause me headaches, mood swings, and a lowered immune system. I am a much healthier person for being off the pill and I will never use it again.

So where does that leave us? After we struggled with infertility, my husband and I decided not to use any form of birth control at all for the time being. We were hoping for several children and did not want to miss any chances! Thankfully, we did not struggle with infertility again after the first baby. Because of breastfeeding, my cycle did not usually return again for almost a year, but each time we quickly got pregnant again after it returned.

How long will we continue to use no form of birth control? I honestly do not know. We are just going to continue doing what we are doing until God shows us it is time to stop. How will we know if/when it is time to stop getting pregnant? This is something I have thought about a lot and I simply have faith in God to make it clear to us. He has clearly guided us through every big decision we have made and I trust Him to do the same in this matter. I have already been praying that God will prepare my heart when it is time because I absolutely love having babies and it will be very difficult for me emotionally when it is time to stop. But when God does show us that it is time, we will simply use the natural fertility awareness method as described in the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility.

I do wonder if my physical condition will be the way God chooses to show us that it is time to stop... each pregnancy has seemed to double in difficulty and I have a few issues that grow worse and more serious with every pregnancy. It could be that the next pregnancy (if God allows another) will be my last because of those issues. I am trying to prepare myself for such a possibility.

Regardless of when my child-bearing days are over, we plan to adopt at some point and are praying for God's timing in that matter. I would love to adopt babies around the same age as my own so that they could grow up together. But we also like the idea of waiting until our girls are older (teenagers) and could really help and learn about caring for a newborn. One of the pastors at the church we previously attended adopted a baby when his daughters were in high school and their love and care for the baby was such a beautiful thing. And even with the big age difference, they are such good friends today. So we are definitely praying about when God would like us to adopt. Until then, I am just ever so grateful that God has blessed me with these sweet girls

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Finding time to potty train the 2nd child...

A month before Abbi was due, I thought I'd see if Karlie would learn to use the potty... so I wouldn't have 2 in diapers at the same time. She did great (way better than I expected), but my horrible pregnancy back could not handle running her to the potty every time she realized she had to go and I gave it up after a day. I could hardly move that night. Call me a quitter if you want, but the girl wasn't even two yet and bending over was not my forte with a humongous belly!

Just one month after Abbi was born, Karlie decided she wanted to go potty. For two weeks straight, she used the potty every time Karis did. (Karis only goes 3 times a day: when she wakes up, before naps at 1:00, and before bed at 7:00) That would obviously have been the "perfect time" to officially bare her bum and get rid of diapers, but with a one month old who was nursing constantly and not sleeping much at night, I just didn't have the energy to fool with it. And I had the bizarre idea that Karis might potty train her sister all by herself so why interfere? Unfortunately, Karlie got bored with the whole thing after 2 weeks of being a potty pro and I was too tired to force the issue. I decided to wait for warmer weather.

When summertime hit, Karlie was staying dry in between diaper changes, usually filling it up only at naptime and bedtime. I knew she was ready but was amazed at the stubbornness of my two year old. She loved her new undies and kept them dry, would sit on the potty as often as I asked, but simply refused to fill it up. Treats did not matter. Food was obviously not the way to her heart as it was for Karis :) We had much traveling planned for the summer and I didn't want to fool with potential accidents or on our trips so I decided to give her until our last trip was completed and then give all her diapers to Abbi, come what may :)

We came home from our last trip two weeks ago and the very next morning Karlie gave all her diapers to Abbi. We had been talking about this exciting day that Karlie would finally be a big girl and she was ready and so excited. I had also thought really hard about what Karlie likes to do more than anything and had a major breakthrough: STICKERS! My girl will do stickers all day long if the stickers don't run out! So I ordered an awesome sticker book for her and informed her that every time she put something in her potty, she could do a whole page. After that first page, she got excited and was a pro from then on. She only had one accidentthe entire time and that was really my fault for forgetting to remind her to go because she had been doing so well. She is even staying dry at nap time!

So on the one hand, I feel a little guilty for making her wait so long to learn how to use the potty because the delay was really my fault each time. I just didn't have the time/ energy to persevere. But on the other hand, waiting so long made it really easy when I was finally ready to go for it! I'm so proud of my big girl!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Too much or Too Little?

I really cannot believe that we have been officially doing pre-school with Karis for over a month now! It has been such a fun and exciting experience for all of us. Even when we are not "doing school," Karis is constantly asking me, "What schoolwork can I do now?" And Karlie has utterly amazed me by doing absolutely every. single. thing. that Karis does. She wants to count backwards from 20, learn to read, and do worksheets right along with her sister. The whole process has been a blessing for our family and I am so happy to be teaching them at home this year.

But I still struggle with doubts a lot. I daily go back and forth between "Am I doing enough?" and "Am I doing too much?" I know that sounds contradictory, but I just want to be honest here.

I read my friends' blogs about their children going to pre-school and all the fun crafts they are making and hands on activities and what they are learning and it just makes me want to do more with my girls. I start to second guess myself and wonder if there is an aspect of her education that I might have left out of my plan. Plus, chasing around my suddenly-crawling, short-napping almost-eight-month-old definitely limits the amount of individual instructional time I have with my big girls. We primarily try to do our school work during her morning nap because my big girls have their own rest time when she naps in the afternoon. But Abbi's morning nap used to be our best reading time and now that we have started more formal schoolwork, I am finding it hard to make time to read at other times. When Abbi is awake, she either wants our attention or wants to eat our books :) So I am finding it hard to squeeze in as much educational time into our day as I had hoped.

But on the other hand, Karis is only 4 and I want her to have plenty of time to play outdoors, pretend with her baby dolls and doll house, and make up her own artwork. I struggle between wanting to plan out lots of fun crafts and activities for her and at the same time wanting her to be free to use that wonderful, blissful imagination that God gives to 4-year olds. I want her to have time to be a kid! So at the same time that I wonder if I should be teaching her more, I often wonder if I am actually doing too much and need to just let her play more.

I would definitely say that although we have had a wonderful 1st month of pre-school, I am still struggling with balancing it all. But I love every minute of it and it is so worth it! It thrills me so much to be a part of Karis' learning and being there to see things all of a sudden "click" in her mind. I taught her how to sound out words for the 1st time yesterday and I cannot tell you who was more excited -- Karis or myself!

I've been trying to think of what I might change for our second month of school and have come up with a two main goals. They both involve personal sacrifice but will be good for me, HA!

1. I need to get up earlier! Ever since Abbi's hospitalization, she hasn't gone back to sleeping through the night again and I haven't had the heart to make her cry it out. (Yeah, I'm a wimp, but once you see your baby cry/ scream for almost 2 days straight, it is a long time before you can stand to hear her cry again!) I've used her multiple wakings as an excuse to stay in bed longer in the mornings to get as much rest as I can. But I'm going to start getting up an hour before everyone else again. I need to have time to read my Bible and start my day right, as well as get breakItalicfast all ready and unload the dishwasher so we can jump into schoolwork more quickly and have more time later on in the day to play or read.

2. If one of my big girls does not fall asleep during nap-time, I am going to allow her to get up early to read books with me. I posted a while back about our nap-time solutions, and the plan works wonderfully as long as both of them fall asleep or both of them are awake. But it seems that a couple times a week only one of them falls asleep while the other sings and plays until Momo's eyes open. This new addendum to the plan will allow me to have special one-on-one time with one of my big girls and add in some extra reading time as well. I'll miss that 2-hour chunk of time to myself but since my girls are all usually in bed by 7 each night, I should have plenty of time to finish up my housework, blogging, e-mail, etc. after they go to bed.

How has your first month of school gone? Is there anything you plan to do differently next month?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Homeschooling Questionnaire

My friend Krista asked me to answer a few questions about our home-schooling plan for a workshop she is facilitating. I thought I would share my answers here in case it would be helpful to any of you and I would love to read your answers as well. Feel free to answer them on your own blog or in the comments if you have time!

1. What books and resources do you consider the most important/invaluable as you’ve prepared to homeschool as well as while homeschooling? The Well-Trained Mind by Susan Wise Bauer and The Core by Leigh Bortins. They totally changed my perspective on education and I know that I will reference them over and over as we progress to higher grades. I also reference Sonlight's read-aloud list and 1000 Classics Book list each week as I request library books.

2. What fun projects, unit studies, etc. have you done (or are you planning) that will make great memories?We just started our home-schooling, but I plan to do many seasonal unit studies (like in late September we will do an emphasis on apples where we go pick apples, do apple star painting, make apple pie and apple butter, read books about apples, etc.) I tend to pick a topic that relates to our current situation and then order tons of books from the library about it (For instance, when we went to the NC State zoo, I requested a bunch of books about zoos, zoo-keepers, animals that we saw at the zoo, etc.) I don't really plan out unit studies, because we always just continue with our normal home school schedule (not a unit-study type curriculum), but I supplement a lot with library books to further study whatever is going on in our life. To make fun memories, I like to do a lot of cooking projects, art projects, and trips to fun places like museums, zoos, farms, fairs, and other outdoor destinations.

3. What websites do you use regularly? This could be blogs and other sites for you as well as kid-friendly sites you integrate in learning. 
I've gotten a LOT of home school ideas off of Pinterest recently -- more than from any one website. We also use You-Tube randomly for videos of whatever we are studying. My kids are younger, though, so I try to keep them away from the TV or computer as much as possible. I'd prefer to show them things in books right now. I'm sure as they grow older that we will use more student-interactive sites.
4. What curriculum are you using? Briefly, what are the pros/cons for your family? 
Homeschooling preschool has been a new adventure for us but we are really enjoying it! My husband and I decided to try to save money this year, so we did not purchase a full-blown curriculum and I'm kind of just compiling my own. Next year I plan to join a Classical Conversations co-op with my kindergartner but for now, my main goals this year are to read as much as possible and get her used to holding her pencil correctly. We are primarily following Sonlight's read aloud list. I can find most of the books at our library (I can't always find all the great collections, but can usually find the individual books that are in the collections). I am also using The Ordinary Parents Guide to Teaching Reading to give my daughter a solid phonetic background. We are just using some preschool workbooks that I got at the Dollar Store, Target, etc that have mazes, dot to dot, etc, so she can work on her writing skills. I bought a fun calendar at a teacher store so we have calendar time everyday and talk about the weather and also do counting with a number line. I hope to teach her to count backwards from 20 and also count by 10's, 5's, and 2's by the end of the year. We've been usingCuisinaire rodsPattern blocks, and I'm getting ready to start Inchimals for more math development. A friend gave me the History Cards from Veritas Press so I hope to memorize as many of those as we can this year. And we have map placemats that we talk about at each meal. Other than that, I simply have some fun educational games and puzzles and art supplies that we do.
Pros: less expensive and I don't pay for parts of a curriculum that I won't use. Also, I can totally tailor it to fit my girls' interests and my goals.
Cons: I get a little carried away... since I don't have lessons plans laid out for me, I often plan more than I can accomplish. I get excited about all that I want to do with my girls and then bummed when I run out of time. And I might leave out some things that a full-blown curriculum would include
5. How do you balance home school and ministry? I view my family as my main ministry right now and therefore most of my other ministries flow from my home and include my family. I am mentoring a teenage girl who comes over to help with my girls and learn about being a home-maker. She helps my girls with their schoolwork, plays with them outside, and does art projects with them. I also cook a big dinner once a week for 3 single guys and two other couples in our church and my girls often help me fix it. I try to include my girls in all my ministry opportunities.

6. Could you share a story of a triumph or success or something fun or a creative idea or just something that works for your family? 
I was really excited last week to hear my daughter count to 43 all by herself and all the way to 114 with just a little help transitioning to the next ten (ex. 50, 60, etc). So far, we have only been working on counting to 20 each day and only for a few weeks, but it all of a sudden clicked for her and she understood how to go further! It was just a little triumph but was very exciting to me.
We have also been really amazed and excited about the way our 4 and 2 year old have easily memorized large portions of scripture. We are trying to learn a new chapter every few weeks (depending on the length of the chapter.) We simply add one verse each night during our bedtime routine (with motions if applicable) and recite all the previous verses. They really enjoy it and I love that they are getting the larger context of the Bible in their hearts.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

My Take on Baby's First Foods

My sweet baby is now 6 1/2 months old and recently started trying out real food! Since feeding her is on my mind a lot (she begs for it anytime we are in the kitchen!), I thought I'd share my approach on feeding babies.I also highly recommend Lindsay's post on the topic: Feeding Baby Naturally, because she follows a similar thought pattern as myself and is much, much more thorough in her explanations than I am going to be. It is very interesting, easy to read, and the best simple article that I've read on the subject. I'm simply going to share what I have done with my babies, but Lindsey shares the research and reasons behind it. So if you don't have much time, read her article instead of mine because you will be much better educated. :) Another great article is Including Baby at the Family Table from the WAPF website. And if you do have time, I also highly recommend reading Nina Plank's Real Food For Mother and Baby. It is available at most libraries.

I'm all about breastfeeding if you possibly can. I know it is difficult for some people and I don't fault them for it at all. But if it is at all possible, the benefits to both Mama and baby are worth it! So I exclusively breastfeed my babies for the 1st 6 months.

Around 6 months, I usually start introducing foods to my baby. I wait until my baby can sit up all by herself, because that shows me that she is probably developmentally ready. But I don't worry about how much she eats, because at 6 months, she is still getting everything she needs from my breastmilk. I start her out on table food simply to get her used to different tastes and textures, and also so that I can eat in peace! (If she doesn't have food of her own, she is fussing and grabbing at my plate during mealtime :)

With my first baby, I pureed tons of fruits and vegetables and froze them in little ice cubes. But the 2nd time around, I totally skipped all that and was glad that I did. Instead, I just fed her whatever veggies and meat I fixed for my family for dinner. I made sure they were soft enough and would smash them with a fork if they seemed too big. I also added in a lot of butter, olive oil, or coconut oil because babies need healthy fats more than anything. I let her pick everything up and play with it and eat what she could. I didn't feed her anything with a spoon other than home-made yogurt, cod-liver oil, and a soft-boiled egg because they are just so good for her. I wanted her to develop that pincer grasp and good hand-eye coordination as well. So she mainly just fed herself. It was definitely more messy, but much less work since I did not need to puree and freeze. Plus, she was quite entertained and I could eat my dinner in peace!
I'm pretty much taking the same laid back approach with Abbi. I started giving her fermented cod liver oil around 4 months instead of the Vitamin D supplement that most pediatricians recommend. When she started acting like she wanted to eat when we did around 6 months, I first just gave her a spoonful of coconut oil or butter to chew on. Then I let her have fun with some avocado and soft-boiled egg yolks. I've also let her have plain yogurt and fresh cheese from my farmer. I will not give her any cereal because babies can't even digest it well until around a year old. I try not to let my babies have any grains until at least a year, and I'll hold off longer if possible because they need the healthy fat and protein so much more. My goal is to give my babies only real food -- not processed at all. But I'm not ridiculous about it. With Karlie, we went to visit the grandparents and Nina had bought some baby food and really enjoyed feeding Karlie with a spoon and that was fine. I knew that 90% of the time Karlie was feeding herself real food that I prepared.

I've found that around 8 months, my babies start actually "needing" to eat table food more because my milk supply can't quite keep up with their growing bodies. But that's just me. I have friends who have successfully fed their babies only breast milk until one year old. But my body just can't seem to do it. Instead of supplementing with formula, however, I just make sure my babies get enough fat and protein from real food. I continue nursing my babies every 3-4 hours during the day and give them lots of healthy, real food. I've also found that my milk supply keeps up better if I continue to wake them for a late night feeding before I go to bed even once they start sleeping through it. I know many people wouldn't want to mess up the sleep cycle, but it is worth it to me to be able to keep up my milk supply.

Eggs are truly the best food that I can give my babies. They have plenty of protein and iron and fats. They actually contain every nutrient that your body needs other than vitamin C! So I tried to make sure Karlie ate at least one egg yolk every day once she was about 8 months. (And not all eggs are created equal -- please read THIS POSTto see why free range, pastured, not-from-a-store-eggs are soooo much better! Quick synopsis: to have healthy eggs you need a healthy chicken. A healthy chicken needs lots of sunlight and bugs to eat. You can't find healthy eggs at a grocery store -- you have to get them from the farm!

I also gave Karlie a lot of avocados -- a great first food for babies because of all the healthy fat. I usually mashed it up with good quality olive oil or coconut oil to give her even more healthy fats! Some times I would mix it with plain home-made yogurt because yogurt is good for her as well and I wanted her to get used to the sour taste of unsweetened yogurt. Avocados are the perfect healthy "fast food." I kept them on hand in case I sadly did not make a healthy enough meal for my family and wanted to be sure she ate real food. They were also my first choice to take for Karlie when we went out to eat because they are just so easy!

So there's my quick overview of how I approach feeding babies. I know it might not work for some children if they have a gagging problem or other eating issues, but it has worked well for my girls so I thought I would share. Feel free to ask any questions!

**And as a disclaimer -- I am not a doctor in any way and my advice should not be taken as professional. I am simply fascinated (my husband would say obsessed :) with nutrition and have read a lot about it.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Hospitality at our House

In a previous post, I explained how my family began a weekly routine of having others to dinner each week. Today I thought I would share a couple tips for preparing dinner for a crowd (with 3 littles running around) and some of our guests' favorite recipes.

-- Without a doubt, my biggest piece of advice is to do as much as possible ahead of time! If I have to spend an hour fixing dinner right before our company comes, my sweet little ones will inevitably choose that hour to make a big mess, get in an argument, and/or have a random accident and require Mommy's attention. It never fails. So I almost always choose meals that I can prepare ahead of time. And most of the time, I have prepped the meat a couple of weeks ago and can just pull it from the freezer. I usually get around 6 pounds of ground beef at the Farmer's market at one time. The next day I brown it all at once and season it according to my monthly meal plan. I usually make around 2 pounds of taco meat, 2 pounds of sloppy joe meat, and 2 pounds of seasoned ground beef all ready to use in my recipes. Last week we had taco night for our company and all I had to do was warm up the meat and tortillas! So easy! Our guests had offered to bring the toppings and we ended up with a fun and delicious meal that was not the least bit stressful for me.

-- Don't be afraid to ask guests to bring something. It helps with the cost of having people over each week and usually our friends truly want to do something to help. I often end up with favorite new recipes as well! Last week my friend Mandie made this awesome black bean salsa that I can't wait incorporate into our regular meal plan. Even the single college guys that I cook for often pick up things at the store that we need like buns for sloppy joes or sour cream for tacos.

My favorite recipes for feeding a crowd:

Lime Chicken Tacos -- this is hands down my favorite recipe that never fails to please! I think it originally came from this blog, but I've changed it slightly. The recipe is very forgiving and I just add more beans, corn, salsa, etc to feed more people.

1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 Tbs lime juice
1 Tbs. chili powder
1 cup frozen corn
1 cup chunky salsa (we love mango salsa the best!)
1 can diced pineapples, drained
1 can black beans
12 flour tortillas, warmed
sour cream, lettuce, shredded cheese, avocado, cilantro and any other toppings you like

Place the chicken in a 3-qt. slow cooker. Combine lime juice and chili powder; pour over chicken. Cover and cook on low for 5-6 hours or until chicken is tender.
Remove chicken; cool slightly. Shred and return to the slow cooker. Stir in corn, beans, pineapple tidbits, and salsa. Cover and cook on low for 30 minutes or until heated through.
Serve in tortillas with toppings
The Best Sloppy Joes Ever -- This recipe comes from my friend Beth. Each time I make these I get rave reviews and people ask what is different about them... the cinnamon totally kicks it up a notch!
1 lb ground beef
2 T. chopped onion
2 T. green pepper
2 T. celery
¼ tsp. garlic salt
½ cup ketchup
1 tsp. prepared mustard
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
2-3 T. lemon juice
1 T. vinegar
2-3 T. Italian dressing
2-3 T. brown sugar
sprinkled cinnamon

Directions: In a medium skillet, combine beef, onion, green pepper, celery, and garlic salt; Cook and stir until meat is brown and veggies are tender. Drain fat. Stir together rest of ingredients – Spread over meat and cook until heated through.

Baked Creamy Chicken Taquitos -- the sauce on these taquitos is utterly delicious and the mixture can easily be made the day before! I often double the sauce because I love i t so much and pair them with this quinoa and black beans recipe.
3 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup green salsa
1 Tbsp fresh lime juice (juice from half a lime)
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp onion powder
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp chopped cilantro
2 Tbsp sliced green onions
2 cups shredded cooked chicken
1 cup shredded Mexican flavored cheese
small flour or corn tortillas
kosher salt
cooking spray

Preheat your oven to 425˚F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, mix the cream cheese, salsa, lime juice, ground cumin, chili powder, onion powder and garlic. Once combined, stir in the cilantro and green onions. Add the chicken and cheese; mix thoroughly.

(If you decided to prep this in advance, refrigerate the mixture at this point until ready to continue.)

Working with a few tortillas at a time, heat them in the microwave between two paper towels until they are soft enough to roll (about 20 – 30 seconds).

Spoon 2-3 Tablespoons of the chicken mixture onto the lower third of a tortilla. Roll the tortilla as tightly as you can.

Place the rolled tortilla seam side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with remaining tortillas until the mixture is gone. Make sure the taquitos are not touching each other. Spray the tops lightly with cooking spray and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until crisp and golden.

Serve with salsa, sour cream or guacamole.

**To freeze: Before baking, chill the taquitos on the baking sheet in the fridge. Once completely cooled, wrap each taquito individually with plastic wrap. Place in a labeled freezer bag and freeze. To bake a frozen taquito (no need to thaw first): Preheat oven to 425˚F and bake for 20 minutes.

Easy Cheddar Potato Chowder -- my favorite delicious but frugal meal for the fall!

2 cups diced potatoes
½ to 1 cup diced carrots
½ cup chopped celery
½ cup chopped onion
1 ½ tsp. salt 
¼ tsp. pepper
¼ cup margarine
¼ cup flour
2 cups milk
2 cups cheddar cheese
½ lb. Bacon, cooked and crumbled
Directions: Boil two cups of water; add to potatoes, celery, carrots, onion, salt and pepper. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Do not drain.Make a white sauce using margarine, flour, and milk. Cook until thickened. Add grated cheddar. Stir until smooth. Add bacon and the undrained vegetables. Simmer (do not boil) until heated through.

Breakfast for dinner! The college guys I cook for always get so excited when I make this egg sausage casserole and french toast casserole.
What do you like to make for company? I'd love to have your favorite recipes!