Teaching healthy eating habits to kids

Two of my kids have problems with hypoglycemia. One just happens to have a metabolism to die for. The other has been monitored since she was a baby because early childhood hypoglycemia can sometimes turn into diabetes. While I was homeschooling them, it was easy for me to provide healthy well-balanced meals. Then they went to school. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with school lunches (and breakfasts) but they are tremendously carb heavy. Unfortunately, carbs are like the kiss of death for hypoglycemics. They eat carbs, feel full, and then crash in a big way within the hour. It is not pretty. That’s one reason why I can’t understand the pancake breakfast offered free to our school kids the week of testing.  I feel like they should be offering a higher protein, lower carb breakfast if they expect the kids to do well during testing. Anyway, back to school lunches. I had 4 kids with different eating preferences packing lunches. I wanted to teach them about packing a healthy lunch but wasn’t sure where to start. (When I was growing up, my idea of a balanced lunch was one that included a salty snack and a sweet snack to accompany my lunch meat and white bread sandwich. In fact, I spent more time choosing a cool lunch box then picking healthy foods.) Thankfully, I was working with an awesome dietician who had shared a diabetic consistent carbohydrate diet (DCCD) cheat sheet with me. I modified the concept to create a chart to help guide my kids in choosing better-balanced breakfasts and lunches.

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One from each column will do.  Just don’t forget the protein 🙂

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Here’s an idea of some possible lunches and where they fit in.  For the empty spaces or other ideas, check out the Fill in the Blank Chart.  No need to fill in the empty spaces under the Fats column, we get enough of those in more places than we can imagine.

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There are so many better options for the snacks but this was my first try and I wanted to include my children’s ideas so they would have some ownership for the project.  Hopefully, you’ll find these charts helpful! Have a blessed day!

Outliers are awesome too!

notstandardizedJust going to give warning right off the bat…I intend to talk about statistics. (Just in case someone is allergic) But, don’t worry it won’t be a bunch of dry numbers and formulas.  I want to focus on outliers. For those who aren’t familiar with statistics, an outlier is “a statistical observation that is markedly different in value from the others of the sample.”  I know your eyes are glazing over but stick with me here.

When you look at the trend of a graph, they are the dots that aren’t on the line. Statisticians, because they are looking at raw data only, aren’t always sure why they don’t fit but they’ve created mathematical workarounds so conclusions can be made from the data with or without them.

If you’ve helped a kid with math homework, you’ve probably come across the terms mean, median, and mode. (It amazes me that these topics are being taught in elementary school, but I guess it’s good to get kids familiar with the concepts.) These things are called measures of central tendency and some of them are affected by outliers and some are not. (Quit snoring!) In some way, they each tell about the middle of the road.

Back to the outliers. In a data set of IQ test or standardized test scores for example, the outliers might be seen as geniuses, master test takers, crappy test takers, or learning disabled. Regardless, they are not considered normal or part of the crowd.  Unfortunately, judging people by performance on a written test only leaves out a lot of gifted and talented people. On the flip side, there are people who pass standardized tests with flying colors but do nothing to improve their own lives or the lives of others. I recently saw a list of character qualities not measured by tests and I started thinking about the amazing people in the past who would have fallen short according to today’s standardized testing.

Thomas Edison was once referred to by a teacher as “addled.” Alexander Graham Bell had crappy grades and didn’t really develop a love of learning until he spent a year with his grandfather. General Patton had trouble learning to read and write. George Bernard Shaw even wrote about his hatred of standardized schooling in A Treatise on Parents and Children.

These people would be considered outliers in today’s schools. And not in a good way. Yet imagine the world without their contributions. What I’m trying to get at here is that our children deserve more than to be treated as statistics. Although numbers are easy to quantify, they don’t show the full potential of a child. Standardized curricula and standardized testing are not doing any favors to our children. Too much emphasis is placed on standardization, grades, and scores.

Teachers are required to teach according to the Common Core standards whether that’s in the best interests of the children or not.  With the Common Core disease spreading, it has become increasingly difficult for teachers to reach anyone but the average student. They all know about the different learning styles but are given less freedom to implement appropriate plans.  (One of my reasons for homeschooling.)

The problem lies with the one-size-fits-all approach. Children are unique, ever-changing, not quantifiable. If we don’t come up with a better way, then we just might be robbing the world of its next Thomas Edison.  It’s time we start accepting and even celebrating the outliers.  Book knowledge, rote memorization, and good grades do not always equal success in life or encourage development of great character.  Weakness in those areas can not be equated with failure in life. So why do we base the school system and the success of our children on inaccurate measurements?

We’re not raising numbers, we’re raising children.  Wonderful, unique children (even if they are outliers) who have so much to offer…much more than anything you might see in a graph of standardized test scores.  It’s time for the outliers to show us what they’ve got.  Time for them to shine.  The world will be a better place because of it.

(P.S. For parents and kids struggling to understand statistics or practically any subject for that matter, I highly recommend Khan Academy.  It’s free and it’s awesome!  I’ve even used it on a college level.)

Homemade Manicotti

3_FullSizeRenderHere’s my disclaimer.  I did not learn this from my Italian mom who learned it from her’s and so on.  I just am in love with Italian food. This is easy enough that my preteen daughters can do it and even the pickiest of eaters loves it.  I use my own sauce but store bought will do.  Its also a great place to hide shredded vegetables.

Homemade Manicotti

Noodles (Really, they’re like making crepes):

3 c. flour
2 c. milk
6 eggs
1 tsp. salt

FullSizeRender Whisk until smooth. Put 2 T. at a time on a hot greased skillet and spread into a 5 inch circle. Cook low to medium heat until set. Try not to brown. You technically shouldn’t turn them but sometimes they start to brown on the bottom but the top is not set so I quick flip them and then take them right out of the pan. Stack on waxed paper. I used to layer them between waxed paper but I realized that they stick more to the waxed paper than they do to each other.

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Filling:

2 lbs. ricotta cheese
½ c. grated romano, parmesan, or asiago (my personal favorite) or any blend of these
2 eggs
1 ½ tsp. dry parsley or 1 ½ T. of fresh parsley

1_FullSizeRenderYou also need 2 jars of spaghetti sauce and the equivalent of two 8X11 casserole dishes

Spread ½ of the spaghetti sauce in the bottom of the dishes. Fill noodles with approximately 1/8 cup of ricotta filling. (This is approximate because, if you’re like me, you’ll make noodles of varying sizes.) Lie them up in the bottom of the pan. (I turn them over so the weight of them holds the top shut.)

1_FullSizeRenderWhen you’ve filled all of the noodles, pour the other half of the spaghetti sauce over the top of the manicotti. I like to add a sprinkling of asiago on top but it’s not necessary. Cover and Bake at 350o for 20 minutes then uncover and bake 20 more minutes.

Usually there are no leftovers in our house but it does freeze well. Happy eating!

Homemade Laundry Detergent

2_FullSizeRender I’ve been trying to slowly switch to more natural products in my home. Since I’m a single mom with 4 eternally hungry preteens and teens and who just so happens to be in grad school, I’m not exactly rolling in the dough. So, while I would love to switch to all organic products, I have had to be selective in my endeavors. I started with cleaning and personal products. I have had a few victories in personal products but have really hit it out of the park in cleaning products. But my favorite, by far, is my laundry detergent recipe. I no longer buy laundry detergent, even when it’s a totally awesome sale (because great sale prices do not make the chemicals in the commercial detergent go away). Instead, I use this recipe:

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Homemade Organic (at times) Laundry Detergent

16 cups Baking Soda (not quite one of the giant bags from Sam’s Club)
12 cups Washing Soda (2 boxes)
8 cups grated Castile Soap or a combo of Castile and Fels Naptha (4 bars total)

The original recipe calls for lavender essential oil but I skipped this due to our allergy problem.  I use my food processor with the grating blade to grate the soap.  The added bonus is that my food processor is sparkling clean after I wash it up.  4_FullSizeRender

Mix it up and store it in a sealed container. The powder can be a little irritating to breathe so go hog wild mixing it up. I usually mix it a bit then close the lid and give it a few shakes. Depending on how dirty your laundry is, use 1/8 to ¼ cup per load.

We live on a farm which means that directly following winter is Mud Season. During the muddy spring, I use 3 bars of Dr. Bronners and 1 bar of Fels Naptha.

I bought my ingredients bulk through Wal-Mart and Amazon or at Wegman’s. The final cost was $22.59 and it lasted us approximately 3 ½ months.

Many thanks to Evelyn at Delightful Creations for the original recipe. You can check out her blog here.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

 When my oldest son was 16, he passed his driver’s test and was waiting for his photo. The PennDOT employee who was helping him asked if he wanted to be an organ donor. I’m not sure if he was frazzled from the stress of the exam because he just gaped at her, eyes as big as saucers. So, being the kind and sweet mom/nurse that I was, I patted the counter and told him “Hop right up! What do you want to give today?” He did get an organ donor sticker on his license that day but, alas, did not opt to donate anything while there.

Despite my lighthearted humor at the DMV, a failed organ is no laughing matter. On average, 21 people die in the US every day while waiting for a transplant.

So, this Valentine’s day, I’d encourage you to become an organ donor.

As an ICU nurse, I’ve seen the organ donation process first hand. There is some serious life dedication going on with those organ donation teams. They do an amazing job in an incredibly emotionally charged situation. I do, however, think that there is always room for improvement. And just in case I find a genie in a bottle, I’ve prepared my 3 wishes in advance.

Wish #1.              That the organ donation system would be an opt-in or opt-out option. That means that only those people who are willing to donate are able to receive.  You make a choice then live with it. This would serve to make the organ donation decision a very serious one.

Wish #2.              To have a registry for those who wish to donate their bodies to a general or specific research cause. For example, because of my struggle with Lyme disease and my family history of dementia, I’d love to see my own body used to further research in those fields.

Wish #3.              For 3D organ use to become commonplace. I know that it’s happening in the research field but I’d like to see it be a resounding success with no negative outcomes. Hey! A gal can dream.  Want to know more?  Check out this TED talk on printing a kidney.

For more information on becoming an organ donor, please visit DonateLifePA.org.  I’ve included links to a clickable map of state organ donor registries. Let your final act on this Earth be an act of love! Have a Happy Valentine’s Day!

Getting started and keeping it together while homeschooling

Because chemistry should always include candy!

Because chemistry should always include candy!

It can be very daunting to get started homeschooling so I thought I would share the documents that I use with the hopes that they will bless someone else. I have also included some of my favorite tips and links too!

In Pennsylvania, you have to file paperwork the year you pull a child from school or the school year in which they turn 8 (6 in Philadelphia), and then each subsequent year by August 1st: What’s required? A (notarized) affidavit, a list of educational objectives (by subject) and documentation that the child is getting health and medical services required by law. I used take care of this paperwork immediately at the end of the school year and drop it off with my children’s portfolios. Now with the change in the PA law, there’s no need to drop off the portfolios. I’ll still stick to dropping off the new paperwork as soon as the school year is finished and I have the evaluator’s letters. This is mainly because summer notoriously sweeps me off my feet and I am me (i.e. chaotic) so I’m afraid I’ll miss the deadline. All documents go to the superintendent or their designated representative of your local school district.

Affidavit:

The best affidavit that I have found is on one of my favorite homeschool groups’ website.  I used to use PA’s affidavits but they state that evidence of immunization is attached. Since I don’t feel that the school district is a secure location for my child’s medical records and it is not required by law, I no longer do this. The affidavit on CHAP’s website is much less intrusive.

Educational Objectives:

I have used the same generic Educational Objectives for years. They were in a book that I read back in the 90’s and they have served me well over the years. (I wish I could remember the book name so I could give credit where credit is due.) I keep them generic so I can tailor the lessons to my child’s needs. I send a Letter of Intent with my affidavit and educational objectives.  It’s probably not necessary but, hey, I’ve got issues.

Some other great generic educational objectives:
http://davidrforrest.com/homeschool/objectives.html
http://cherylpitt.com/2014/08/printable-homeschool-goals-and-objectives/

For those who want to make their own, there’s good guidance here:
http://donnayoung.org/forms/planners/goals.htm
http://pahomeschoollaw.com/how-to-prepare-objectives-for-homeschooling-in-pa/

Health/Medical Services and Immunizations:

I’m not going to get into the very personal debate over vaccination. Suffice it to say that PA law requires that you get our child immunized or file an exemption form. If you file an exemption form, file it with your yearly paperwork.

During the year:

You commit to providing a minimum of 180 days or 900 hours for elementary students or 990 hours for secondary students. I like to make a yearly calendar and divide up the lessons right away. I know of others who do lesson plans weekly or monthly. Because I have either been working or going to school while homeschooling, I have needed to be prepared a little further ahead. It also allows me to tailor our field trips and educational experiences better if I have an idea of topics to be covered.

To save time, I reuse a calendar template with certain subjects already plugged in. For example, I don’t write out the kids’ math lessons on our calendar because the program we use (Switched on Schoolhouse) has its own calendar so lessons are pre-assigned. I start with the first week’s calendar and put in the repeating items then copy and paste that calendar. Here’s an example of what our calendar may start out looking like and as I’ve modified it along the way.

Throughout the year, we just keep a 2-3” binder for each child and we hole-punch the work and put it right in. You also need to keep track of any books read. For older kids, this should be their responsibility. Doing this throughout the year makes getting the portfolio ready at the end of the year much less overwhelming.

Joining a homeschool support group can be fun and helpful but it is not necessary. Some people join or form co-ops to help each other with the teaching, especially in the older grades.

Standardized Testing:

For children in grades 3, 5, and 8, standardized testing is required.  The approved tests are listed on PA’s website. Our school district includes a list of test administrators in their homeschooling packet. I have heard that some school districts may allow the student to test with their students but I’ve never known one who did. This is direct from the PA state website: “If the supervisor of the home education program requests that the student(s) take the PSSA, the school district must allow the student to take the test at the school building the home education student would normally attend or other accommodations agreed to by the school district and the parent.” Hmmm. Interesting.

At the end of the year:

You take your portfolio to an evaluator who certifies that an appropriate education has been given. Our evaluator also may have the younger kids read to her. A copy of the standardized test results and the evaluator’s letter are then given to the school district at the end of the year.

If there’s anything else you’d like to see or questions you’d like answered, please feel free to ask.  Remember that the most important thing goal is to instill a love of learning in your children because that will serve them better in life than worksheets and fact memorization.  So, relax and have fun!

How I Came to Homeschool

I am an accidental homeschooler. I never knew about homeschooling or even knew someone who was homeschooled before I got started. My son was enrolled in our local (at that time) public school and my daughter was a toddler. Because of extended testing for a health problem, my son was going to miss too many days of school so the school was threatening to hold him back. The problem was that he was already bored and unhappy in his current grade.

His teacher at the time wouldn’t let him do the extra work the gifted support teacher had given him to do while his classmates finished their work. Instead, she just kept complaining about his distracting behavior. Then she actually said that she just had a “personality conflict” with him (a second grader)! It was unimaginable to think that he would have to repeat second grade with her the following year. I took the little baby step of telling the school district that I would do his schoolwork with him while we were staying at the hospital. (See, I still wasn’t calling it homeschooling or making a commitment.)

We survived the medical testing (all great news) and completed the schoolwork (tedious and unimaginative). But, along the way, I realized something wonderful: I loved teaching my son at home and he loved it too! It was so much easier to do work with him when he was fresh as opposed to dragging him, tired and distracted, through homework after a six hour school day. He could work at his own pace and my daughter who was a toddler couldn’t wait to be just like her big brother and do schoolwork too! I never sent him back and I never sent my daughter to school.

I don’t want you to get the idea that everything was all rainbows and lollipops. I made mistakes (like trying to teach using the public school method, going workbook crazy, and not teaching to my children’s learning styles), had tough times (homeschooling teenagers and toddlers through a divorce), and there were days when I just wanted a little peace and alone time but, for the most part, it was great! During that time, I was working evenings so I could be home with the kids during the day anyway.

Over the years, I was introduced to the wonderful world of curriculum and conferences, field trips and support groups, and oh so much paperwork! (Pennsylvania is the second most restrictive state to homeschool in.) We found our tempo and managed to continue to homeschool through a lot of ups and downs in our lives. I am happy to report that the first two victims of my homeschooling adventure survived with one graduating from college last year and the other set to graduate from college this year.

My youngest kids, however, have had a very different school experience due to life circumstances. With their difficult starts in life and different learning challenges, homeschooling them was hard. Just teaching them letters, numbers, and reading was drowning me. I was trying to work tons of hours on 2-3 days of the week to continue to homeschool and it was killing me. I was exhausted on my days off and my kids were not progressing enough according to my standards. Enter public school.

Four years ago, my 4 youngest started in public school. Within the first month, they had received more sex education (from 3rd and 4th graders) on the bus than I could ever have imagined. (To all parents who think that their children aren’t getting the meaning behind sexual songs, such as Whistle baby, they really do get it and they’re sharing it with everyone.) Our experience with the public elementary school was great but with the middle school…not so great. (Grouping children by age level may make it easier for teachers to teach large groups but it does nothing for their emotional growth and maturity.)

The worst thing to come out of our public schooling experience was the focus on all things sexual (mainly while unattended on the bus). The greatest thing…after trying for 5 years to get my son help, the school was able to get him diagnosed and get him appropriate help. Even as a nurse, I had been unable to do this on my own. At one point, I was told that my (at that time undiagnosed autistic) child was behaving the way he was because I gave too many directions to him. One doctor even told me (someone who had never medicated a child ever) that I couldn’t medicate behavior out of a child. All I had asked was if there was perhaps a medical reason he couldn’t control his behavior because I thought it was unkind to punish for behaviors out of his control. (There was a medical reason, but that’s another story.) Until a teacher saw it, the mental health professionals didn’t believe it had happened.

One of my biggest complaints when they were all attending school was that we didn’t have enough time with each other. During the week, they were at school, doing homework, at an activity, or preparing for school. Weekends were filled with church and activities. It was depressing and exhausting and not at all conducive to training up my children in the way they should go. Out of necessity, my youngest son continues to attend public school. But, this year, by the Grace of God, I have been able to homeschool my daughters again.

And so, we dance this familiar dance again. But this time, my daughters and I have been trying to find our own homeschooling tempo. It is a fun and sometimes exasperating time of learning together. Since my son’s needs and behaviors often take precedence over their needs at other times, this has also become a time of healing, bonding, and relaxing. While I do not know what the future will hold for us with regard to school, I’m just enjoying this gift of time with my girls and thanking God for the opportunity.

Misplaced Gratitude

Sometimes I hate to see my parents’ faces. Well, not really their faces but the look of gratitude on their faces when I do something for them. I want to rage against aging and Alzheimer’s and anything else that makes them feel weak and helpless. I want to cry and tell them that they are strong and valued and fill our lives with so much joy. I want to remind them how often I have relied on their collective wisdom.

How could they forget all of the times that they stayed up with me while I was sick or having an asthma attack or had procrastinated on schoolwork? I wish I could pull out the long list of things that I knew they did for me and the sacrifices they made that they never even told me about. I wish I had kept a list as a reminder to them that they owe me nothing.

So what if I’m bringing you a meal, you gave me 3 for every one I have the privilege of giving you, I cry out in my head. When I clean up a mess, I know there were many more messes that I created that you took care of. This slowing down of your life shouldn’t shame you. It’s time for you to rest on your laurels and allow me the pleasure of doing for you. I need to because day after day when you were giving of yourselves for my benefit, I know my face did not always reflect the same measure of gratitude that I see in yours. So many thank yous went unsaid.

So please don’t thank me for helping you as I’ve seen you help others, myself included. And please don’t look at me as if I’m doing something extraordinary, I’m just doing as I was taught…by you. So when I’m serving you that meal or taking you to the doctor or cleaning up that mess, it’s just my own way of saying a lifetime of thank yous that should have been said. So you see, once again this has become about me and my needs. I need to help you. I am so grateful for the privilege.

Getting S’more Happiness

 So, it’s been a little more than a week since I decided to apply Zappos’ core values to my own family. (see previous post here) It has been both fun and frustrating. I decided to lure the restless natives in by toasting marshmallows over the flame on my stove and making S’mores. This is, in and of itself, an act of love since I’m not a fan of S’mores (I know, it’s very un-American of me) and cleaning sticky marshmallow in the house…yay. (Sometimes it’s even hard for me to believe that I used to be a fun mom)

I talked to the kids together and separately about my crazy plan to improve our happiness. I’m not sure how much they retained since my son insisted on making strange noises and tapping his foot against the island while I was speaking. I quickly moved on to such important topics as seeing the good in others even when you want to hit them with a rubber mallet. They seemed receptive to my suggestions (or maybe they just wanted me to shut up). Not a bad start, I thought.

Then reality set in. Within the first week of our search for a culture of happiness, the kids got sick, I got food poisoning, we had days off of school both planned and snow days (not a nice thing if you are autistic and love your schedule), and there was a full moon (trust me, it matters). God really has a sense of humor!

Our team spirit has suffered a lot through the years as a result of issues related to tough life beginnings for my kids and personality conflicts. You know how they say everyone has baggage? Well, my kids were pretty much beating each other over the head with their baggage. One child’s love of all things clean clashes with the master of messiness. One’s unpredictable behaviors set off someone else’s PTSD. And so on. The end result: one boy against two girls with one peacemaker thrown in for good measure.

I decided to lean on my family’s work experience to get us started. Because I’m a single mom, my kids have had to be a part of everything that I do around the house. They’ve been with me through plumbing disasters, fixing the house, cutting and splitting wood, and a whole lot more. We usually work well together (provided my two hypoglycemic have eaten recently, it’s not “that time of the month” for anyone in the group, and it’s not a full moon) and, over the years, we’ve always ended our work by admiring our accomplishment and cheering, “Go Briars!”

So Team Briar attacked some projects together with a focus on building a better team as opposed to completing the project. Some days, trying to build a positive team and family spirit with tween/teen hormones was like swimming with piranhas. But I put on my swimmies and dove right in. I’d like to say that the effects were miraculous and immediate but they weren’t. As with all things, change takes time and dedication.

My takeaways from this first step on the journey:

  • Having sickness and schedule upset probably worked in our favor since I tend to over-analyze and over-prepare (kind of hard to do when you just want to curl up in a ball and die from food poisoning).
  • My kids’ attitudes are directly linked to my own attitude (nothing like a little pressure to bring my A-game).
  • As a family, we thrive when troubleshooting and working. Even something as simple as making our own bread or cleaning products increases our team spirit.
  • I have allowed my own exhaustion and stress to steal away my happiness and enjoyment of my kids for too long.
  • I have really great kids!

I’ll keep you posted on our journey! Have a wonderful day!

God the Father…of open sourcing?

 I am in love with the concept of open sourcing. Offering ideas, designs, and products for the public good fits well with my personal belief in philanthropy. Even further, the concept of open sourcing involves improvement upon the work of others. In this respect, Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:6-8 advocated a type of open sourcing in that he said “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

The Bible is filled with incidents of generations who reaped the benefits of their parents’ blessings or, in the case of Abraham, an entire people who did. In fact, the centerpiece of Christian faith is belief that Jesus Christ died for our sins. He came to earth, did great works and appointed disciples to continue his work (Matthew 28: 18-20), who then encouraged all believers to continue to build upon their work.

But as humans, we are tied to the fact that there is a beginning and an end…deadlines for our work, seasons to our lives, and limited years to our time on earth. In Acts, Jesus’ followers wanted to know a time-frame for His kingdom on Earth. But Jesus cautioned them to keep their minds on the task at hand. Sharing with others what had been given to them…the gospel message. Jesus understood that the disciples’ lives were just the beginning of centuries of God stretching out His hand with His most perfect gift. It is not for us to put a time-frame on the days leading up to Christ’s coming. It is enough that we open source our lives, our blessings, our talents so that all may be reached and not one should perish. Blessings!