March 29, 2011

Chemistry Fun

I may or may not have told you recently that we're studying chemistry.  So, we're studying chemistry.  It's our second time through and it's fun to be working at a bit higher level.

We're using Real Science 4 Kids and adding in some "extra" books to make it more exciting.  And because I can't use any curriculum without messing around with it.  I have issues.

There are three resources that have been particularly fun though, thus the purpose of this post.

First, the book The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray.  My boys have spent hours looking through this large, glossy book.  It's fascinating to actually be able to see some of the things we're reading about and to see what they are used for.

Second, another book called The Periodic Table: Elements with Style! by Simon Basher.  This is more cartoony, but still gives solid information in a way my boys appreciate and remember.

We use it in conjunction with these videos from the University of Nottingham (heehee, I love that name!).  They have a video for every element (except two or three) and they show you what it looks like, the professor discusses it and they do an experiment or two.  I thought the videos might be over their heads, but they love them!  We read about one element per day and watch the corresponding video.

March 21, 2011

The kindness of strangers

The other day my husband received an email at work, asking if there were any homeschoolers in the squadron.  We weren't exactly sure if that was a good thing, or a bad thing, and if answering would reap benefits or punishment and ridicule.

But we answered and the Chief Master Sergeant, himself a homeschool dad, bequeathed to us a new microscope with all the supplies and books for a full year's study.  His daughter was off to high school for her last year and they wanted to find "a good homeschooling home" for the equipment.  

We have had the greatest fun the last few days looking at all sorts of prepared slides and making a few of our own.  We've seen frog ovaries and human blood, motor neurons and amoebas.  We've also seen a rather large booger donated by the 4-yr-old which won all sorts of "gross” and “really cool" comments.

Some days we just need a reminder that the Lord is aware of us and concerned for our needs.  And that He is looking down and blessing our efforts.  Usually, He does it through other people.

March 18, 2011

Things I've learned from being chronically ill

I've decided that I just need to come to terms with the fact that I have a chronic disease, one for which the experts say there is no cure.  For years I've tried to ignore it, pretend it isn't there.  But it keeps rearing its ugly head and letting me know that it is, in fact, a part of my life and that it will, in fact, affect me in various ways at various times.

I have what is called ulcerative colitis and without going into much detail my colon looks like a knee with road rash.  Sometimes I am in remission and my body functions like normal.  Other times I have flare-ups and then I have to use the bathroom constantly, 3 to 5 times an hour.  I also have horrible stomach cramps/spasms which leave me curled up in a ball, usually crying.  Often I can't eat because of the nausea.  This last bout left me throwing up hourly and I ended up in the hospital needing IV fluids and some pretty serious pain meds.

But this post isn't about my actual health condition, it's about what I've learned, and am learning, along the way.  And many of these lessons can be applied to any illness whether it be chronic or a 3-day cold.  They could also be applied to life in general, because you never know what will happen!

1.  It does no good to lay in bed and cry all day about the unfairness of your condition.  Or to scream "WHY ME?" into the universe.  The fact is, it is your lot to carry.  And if you put things into perspective, it could be a lot worse.  I would much rather carry the burden of my disease than cancer.  Or AIDS.  Or any number of diseases.  Or to be going through what the Japanese or Libyan people are dealing with.  It's taken me a long time to reach this place, this place of accepting what I've been given and then trying to learn from it.  What lessons does the Lord want me to learn?  Not why do I have it, but what can I learn from it?  How can I grow from it?

2.  Turn to the Lord for comfort.  He knows all pain, all despair, all fear.  He understands how to relieve the pain, how to lift you up when you feel like you can't go on.  He can give you the strength to get out of bed and make breakfast for your children.  He can calm your fears and guide you as you make choices about what you eat and how to use the energy you have.

3.  Take care of your spiritual health.  The times that I've let this go are the times I most despair, the times I feel like a failure as a wife and a mother, when all I can see around me is what I am NOT doing.  By reading my scriptures first and praying every day I can often find a way past the pain and fatigue to get things done.  And I find the patience and grace to deal with my children in a calm manner.  Without that spiritual foundation I find myself getting snappy with them and focus more on my pain, my discomfort, my 'heroic' efforts to school them or cook for them and I forget that it is only through the grace of God that I'm able to do those things.  And I forget what a joy and blessing it is to have such wonderful children.

4.  Take care of your physical health.  Sometimes I feel like there isn't much I can do about this.  But there is.  I can exercise.  I can eat as healthy as I know how to.  I can research diets and treatments and supplements and voodoo magic to see if there is something that mainstream medicine doesn't know about my condition.  I can sleep.

5.  Train your children while they are young and when you are healthy.  It has been such a blessing during the last week or so that I've been sick to have 2 10-year old boys that can make breakfast and lunch.  One day I casually mentioned that we might need to take some time to clean later in the day and one of my sons cleaned the entire house, by himself.  They all know how to clean, including the bathrooms, to cook simple meals and to help with the laundry.  I did notice some gaps in what they can do so once I'm fully back on my feet we'll be working on those.  It was so wonderful to see the looks of pride and confidence on their faces as they were able to truly help the family in a time of need.  They were contributing, even running the home, and they felt that satisfaction of serving others.

6.  I'm learning to use my healthy time to the best of my ability.  We get out in nature with the kids as often as possible during those times.  You can't really go hiking when you have massive diarrhea.  I'm just saying.  The healthy times are when we work most on habit training and fun family times.  We get extra schooling done and clean out closets, organize and dejunk.  It's both a time for work and a time for play.

7.  Sometimes you just have to say no.  Sometimes I can't go out with friends.  Sometimes I can't be in charge of a big project at church.  Sometimes I can.  It's hard for me to talk about my illness with others, mainly because it involves talking about the bathroom and nobody really wants to talk about that.  But I'm learning that sometimes I have to let them know that it's not that I don't want to spend time with them or help them, but that I physically can't take on more right then.  Other times I can, and then I do.

8.  Have cooked food, or easy to cook food, in the freezer.  I should know this because I've had crazy pregnancies requiring bed rest, but I'm still not good at it.  As soon as I get sick, like in bed can't move from the pain sick, my husband takes over cooking dinner (with the boys doing breakfast and lunch).  Most of the time husband-dinner involves take-out - pizza, burgers, etc.  Expensive and not healthy, especially when your guts are super sore.  If I had been prepared we could have been pulling things out of the freezer that were wholesome and inexpensive.  He's actually going to take some time off of work next week to help me do some freezer cooking (and clean out the closets and such).  Bless his heart.  I'm also trying to work on pantry cooking - having easy meals that can be made from canned or boxed foods.  Wait, that doesn't sound healthy does it?  I guess I'm thinking more like the "basic" cans and boxes - what can be made with a few cans of beans or pasta?  Or flour and some eggs and milk?  Stuff like that.  We're also going to be preparing a list of super easy meals that husband or boys can make with fridge or pantry items that might not be good to freeze, like quesadillas or egg salad sandwiches.  Sometimes you forget that there are simple things to make in time of sickness because they aren't part of your regular menu plan.

Having food in my freezer also means I can give service even when I am sick.  If there is a need to bring meals to a new mother or a sick family, I can easily pull it out of my own freezer for them.  Serving while I am sick is such a blessing.

9.  Have a system or schedule in place so that the house and life can keep functioning.  Sometimes my brain is only working at 1/4 power and it helps to know what comes next or what I'm supposed to cook for meals.  If I'm completely out of commission, then the kids and husbands know what to do next and can keep things moving forward.

10.  Give yourself permission to not be Super Homeschooler.  I am the Queen at Kicking Myself for what we didn't get done that day.  For seeing all the undones.  I have a brilliant husband though who is very, very good at finding what I did do that day.  Maybe we didn't get 2 math lessons done, or read 50 pages of history and 35 of science and work on dissertations in quantum physics or solve world hunger.  But maybe we played games all day, read books together, watched some scripture or Popular Mechanics videos, maybe they played outside all day while I sat in a chair watching and reading a book.  Maybe they just 'socialized' with each other.  In the grand scheme of things, it's okay to have a day off, or six.

11.  Plan ahead when going out.  Maybe this applies more to my specific problem, but I know where the bathrooms are in every store.  At first I needed to know this when I had babies in diapers or potty-trainers who couldn't hold it for long.  Now I need it for me.  If we're going to a store I don't know well, I find the bathroom first.  I've also trained my kids on what to do if mom has to dash into the bathroom.  Being that I have 4 boys, they typically don't come in with me.  I also make sure I have snacks in my purse because sometimes I can't eat for long periods of time due to pain or nausea, but then my blood sugar drops quickly and I need something to pick me up fast.  Larabars work well for this.  Although I want to figure out how to make my own.  If we're going to be driving for a while I plan bathroom breaks and meal times.  Usually I won't eat for several hours before we leave so there is nothing in my system that needs to come out.  Pleasant, I know, but it's the reality of my life.

12.  Learn to laugh about life.  If I couldn't find the humor in my situation or life in general I would truly be miserable.  When I'm talking with doctors about the very nitty-gritty specifics of what is happening I try to have fun with it.  My current GI taught me this.  When I first saw him I was all embarrassed to be discussing such gross and personal things and I stopped and said, "I hate talking about poop."  In his huge Texan drawl he yelled, "I LOVE IT!!!"  In the ER Wednesday the doctor asked if I had any other chronic problems, I looked him right in the eye, and said through clenched teeth, "No.  I think this one is enough."  His mouth dropped open a bit and he moved on, shaking his head.  I'm working on finding ways to laugh about this....I also find that it helps my kids feel more comfortable with the problem.  If we can say something funny about mom having to sprint off to the bathroom then it's not "a disease" to worry about, it's just silly mom.  And for the record, I'm not crude about poop humor.  My jokes are not about's more about life in general and the challenges that sometimes happen.  And laughing makes you feel happier and healthier if it's good laughter so that's what we aim for.

13.  I feel a greater importance in telling people how I feel about them, in making sure that my husband and children hear how much I love them and how grateful I am for them.  I also make sure that my children know of my faith and my love of the Lord.  I try every day to write in a journal for them, telling them what we did that day, any funny comments they made, to document their kind deeds and to express my testimony of the gospel to them.  Someday I hope it will be a joy and comfort to them to have their life's deeds recorded and to hear my counsel and advice as they get older.  I don't think this disease will kill me, but if it does I want to leave a legacy of wisdom and love for them, through my daily actions and my written journal.

14.  I value simplicity more.  I want meals that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less.  I don't want to spend 2 or 3 hours a day cleaning my home.  We have dejunked and dejunked and dejunked and organized and organized and organized.  And we are going to do it again.  It makes it easier for us to maintain together, and easier for the kids if they need to pick up the slack for a while.  Even my 4-year-old can completely clean most rooms now.  Every little bit helps!  Life it too short, and healthy time too precious, to be spent dealing with stuff.

15.  Stock your pantry and toiletries while you are healthy and when they're on sale, if possible.  It's much easier for me to stock up every time I shop and then send my husband to the store for a few items, than it is to send him with a massively long list.  I also take my husband and boys shopping with me on occasion so I can to teach them how to pick out good produce, what brands I prefer to use and where to find certain things (like the taco shells are near the bread, not the Mexican aisle).  

And now I'm going to take some of my advice and go spend time with my kids.  And cook a big pot of soup to eat for dinner and freeze half for another meal.  I might even get some laundry done.

Enjoy the life you have.  It is a gift and a blessing.

March 7, 2011

A prayer from my 10-yr-old

Last night one of my 10-yr-olds was praying.  Here is a small excerpt:

And please bless the countries in the Middle East that they can get a better government and have freedom.  And bless the people of the United States that they will make better choices so America can get back to normal.

March 6, 2011

A conversation with my 4-year-old

I was standing in the kitchen, making dinner, when my four-year-old walked in.

"Mom.  Do you love everyone in the whole world?"

"Yes," I replied, "I love everyone in the whole world."

"But not Satan.  Right, mom?  You don't love Satan, do you?"

"Right.  I don't love Satan," I said.

"Mom.  God said to love your enemies."  And he turned and walked out of the room.

March 1, 2011

All About Reading

As I've mentioned previously, I love the All About Spelling program.  And now they have All About Reading Level Pre-1, available tomorrow!!!  I have been (impatiently) waiting and I'll be first in line to buy.  (There will be other levels in the near future and all will correspond with the AAS program.)

The author, Marie Rippel, has offered two free e-books for you to preview.  You can download them here.  If you want to buy the program, you can purchase it from the All About Spelling site (please use the link on the right so I can get a small commission!) or you can use this link.

Here is more information from their official announcement:

Level Pre-1 teaches preschoolers and kindergarteners a very specific set of skills that we call the Big Five Skills. These five skills help young children understand the basics of language and how it works, preparing them to learn to read. 

With All About Reading Level Pre-1, your child will play special games, enjoy little crafts, and engage in charming storytime activities--all the while absorbing these all-important Big Five Skills

Updated to add:
They just lowered the price as of last night!  And they are offering $20 in free product if you order before March 7th.

Updated August 2011 - I did order Pre-Level 1 and then I returned it.  My youngest son (who was 4 at the time) already knew his letter names and sounds and was putting simple words together.  This program, while EXCELLENT, was too easy for him.  I loved the activities and instruction and really debated whether I'd use this for him.  I even made my husband sit down and look through it (twice).  The conclusion was that it would have been busy work for him - he would have enjoyed doing it, but he had already mastered the skills.  Pre-Level 1 would be perfect for a child just learning their letters and sounds and the activities are varied and fun.  Some days I wish I had another child to teach reading to....