Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Children's Books We Love

By request, and as a follow-up to my last post:

(Side note: books simply cannot be rated absolutely on a pass/fail or good/bad scale. These are just books *I* love and that my family loves. If you see inconsistencies in my recommendations of some of the below books, but in my rejection of Dr. Seuss, that's because I'm human. I have inconsistencies. The below books are *my* idea of worthwhile kids' books. They are not an absolute list, nor are they a complete list even from my own perspective. Nor do we limit our home library only to these books.)

Before I list my own recommendations, here are some recommendations of recommendations ;-) for you. You know, people older/wiser/more-experienced than me who have done this sort of recommendation thing. Books Children Love is a great starting place. I've heard from many people that Honey for a Child's Heart is another great source.

And also, for a free online list, try Ambleside Online's recommendations. Although I'm not technically a Charlotte Mason-ite, I'm a serious stalker, and AO is an AMAZING free curriculum resource for ideas, both for books, but also homeschool ideas in general. (Charlotte Mason is heavily into reading, so the books ARE the curriculum, not a supplement.) They have week-be-week options for study, for those who want to follow AO exactly, but I just use their site for book ideas as supplements, because like I said, I'm not a Charlotte Mason-ite, just a stalker :-).

Onward to book suggestions! I'm sure we've read many more great ones, but I gotta admit my memory is shot, so these are basically the ones we own or I happen to remember :-). Also, I'm focusing on picture books for two reasons: (1) I'm giving alternatives to Seuss, and (2) although my children - especially my 6yo - love and enjoy "chapter books," I've definitely spent more years as a mom reading picture books :-). You'll notice a variety of reading level in the books I list, from short books like "1 is One" and "Sheep in a Shop," to much more involved books like "Paddle-to-the-Sea."

If you notice that these are in a weird order and random groupings/pairings, you are right. I decided to go the lazy way. My OCD-ness may get the better of me later and I may go into convulsions, but my desire to finish this post and go read my Agatha Christie book is currently winning the inner battle :-D.

Picture Books

We also love original fairy tales by Grimm, Anderson, et al. Lots of goodies there. But our versions are actually very picture-sparse. I'm sure there are great retellings out there with more pictures :-).

Now please share YOUR favorite children's books! (Even if they are Seuss, we can still be friends ;-).)

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Why Dr. Seuss is not my idea of a great children's literary experience. . . (A post to inspire, not to judge!)

This is not a moral issue. This post is meant to inspire, NOT to judge. And I truly mean that. Please read and ponder, and know that you can read Dr. Seuss to my kids AND let me visit your house without hiding Dr. Seuss books from your shelves :-D. But here's why you won't find much Dr. Seuss around our house. . .


I grew up reading a number of Dr. Seuss books and loved them. And I can remember many fond memories of reading Dr. Seuss to young kids who I babysat. They're light years better than "Captain Underwear" and other similar wastes of paper that appear on library shelves and book stores everywhere :-P. Quite frankly, most of the kids' literature out there today is just trash. If it isn't obscene, it's just gross, or trite, or P.C., or dumb. So Dr. Seuss is better than a lot of options :-). And I speak of both early children's books and general elementary literature.

But leaping to the conclusion that Dr. Seuss is great literature (because it's better than Captain Underwear) is like saying that Subway is great food because it's better than McDonald's. (I could make similar potshots at modern art, but I won't.)

There is absolutely nothing wrong with exposing kids to Dr. Seuss. We own a select few, and I have absolutely no problem with my kids getting read Dr. Seuss by others, just like (allergies notwithstanding) I don't mind if they have the occasional fast food french fries or chicken fingers (gag!) as a treat, but that would not be a regular standby in their diet. And just like there are zillions of movies I would let my kids see at someone else's house (and many, of course, that I wouldn't), but not many of them would I want us to own. Ken Myers, who wrote All God's Children and Blue Suede Shoes, has some fabulous things to say about the difference between "main diet," and occasional exposure/consumption. Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of the book on hand (a friend is borrowing it), so I can't give any exact quotes. But definitely read the book! It's fabulous.

But back to Dr. Seuss. He is not great literature. Seriously, folks. Stop trying to pretend he is the end-all, be-all of fine literary experience for kids! Agh. The drawings are medicore at best, most of the text is nonsensical (and not even in a witty nonsensical way, for the most part), and the plots are limited in scope. There is a reason, though. Dr. Seuss was written for early readers.

Let me say that again:
Dr. Seuss books were written as early readers. 

^That is what they should be used for. They are fabulously great and fun early readers, and when my son first finished phonics and we were looking for early readers, I reached for Dr. Seuss as a primary source. Dr. Seuss is fabulous for early readers! And so much better than 2/3 of the early readers in my local library. We read, we laughed, we enjoyed (for the first few readings, and then I was like "moving on," PLEASE, to a better plot), and then thankfully we returned them so I didn't have to have all my brain cells die slowly from Dr. Seuss overdose ;-).

My son would have been quite happy to remain reading Dr. Seuss books ad nauseum forever and ever, but he was also quite happy to move on to bigger and better things. I'm not talking Dickens and Tolstoy. I'm just talking about children's literature that is great stuff. And I do think his reading ability, his attention span, his reading comprehension skills, and his mother's sanity are the better for the short duration of our tryst with Seuss :-D.

Read The Cat in the Hat or One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. Laugh, enjoy. But there is nothing to keep thinking about.

But read a kid the original Winnie the Pooh stories by A.A. Milne (not the trivialized Disney adaptations). They are so accessible to young kids (once again, I'm not trying to force my kids to read Dickens novels at the age of 3 or 6). They are hilariously witty and complex, but simple for kids, all rolled up into one. I can read them again and again and they do not get old. There are layers of complexity and brilliance in there. The illustrations are fantastic but not over-the-top and distracting.

Next read Beatrix Potter. (Did you know she wrote many more stories than just Peter Rabbit??) Charming illustrations that are unmatched in children's literature. Beautiful tales for children and adults to enjoy. Try A Child's Garden of Verses next. And anything by Robert McCloskey. Move on to The Adventures of Reddy Fox, and then anything else by Burgess. My kids have spent hours and hours acting out their own imaginations from these books. There is so much "scope for the imagination" in them. I could go on and on with more recommendations, but those are some starters :-). Read Island Boy. Owl MoonPaddle-to-the-Sea.

Okay, fine. I really will stop with the recommendations :-). It's just so easy to go on and on!

But to sum up, try reading the books I mention above. Soak yourself and your kids in them for a few months. (To make this really work, spirit away Dr. Seuss so they're out of sight and out of mind. In the same way that to make a change in diet, you don't try to convince your kids to eat vegetables and fruit while a box of cookies is on the counter.)

After soaking in good books for a few months, go back to Dr. Seuss. Yes, really. Go back! And see if Dr. Seuss resonates with you in the same way. Is he still just as witty? Just as hilarious? Just as great? If so, please enjoy Dr. Seuss with my compliments. (And feel free to read him to my kids.) But if he seems hollow, trite, and "eh, okay," then that's okay too.

And I would be happy to smother you with more book recommendations if you need Dr. Seuss alternatives ;-).

Monday, August 04, 2014

When You Make a Rotten Shepherd. . . (and the absolutely wrong response to that reality)

(Please read through to the end, or you will totally miss the main thrust of what I'm trying to say.)

I love Shepherding a Child's Heart. Really, truly. I recommend it to any new parent, old parent, middle-aged parent. Non-parent. Wanna-be-parent. Wanna-not-be-parent. . . You get the idea. It's a great starting point.

STARTING POINT. You see, I don't know about other parents reading this, but I make a really second-rate shepherd. For reals. Now, clarification: I used to be a perfect parent. But then I had kids, and it's been a humbling experience ever since.

And also? My sheep don't get into arguments in a "shepherding a child's heart" sort of way. And one of my dear sheep does not respond to discipline in any way that resembles a "shepherding the child's heart" sort of scenario. At. all. Reading Tripp's book and parenting my dear child is like trying to consult a sewing machine manual for help on replacing the fuel valve in a car.

But back to me. You see, as much as I want to be the most perfect, patient, giving, loving example and shepherd to my kids, always turning each discipline session into a cherished discipleship moment, I don't. Sometimes, yes. I have many sweet memories (past and present) of sweet talks with my kids about their sin, my sin, and God's grace. God is gracious to give those moments (and memories) to imperfect parents. Thank you, Lord.

But sometimes life prevents a discipline session from being deeply meaningful. Multiple children certainly make it more challenging, as a parent might be dealing with a wailing baby and an unrepentant child at the same time, as just one example. But more to the point than life circumstances, sin prevents many of the discipline sessions in our house from being deeply meaningful. My sin. My desire for quickly rebuking and getting back to the previous task. A quick punishment and a "just tell your sister you're sorry already!" My short temper. Sometimes my shouting. Sometimes my anger. Mine. Mine. Mine.

I've learned in my 6 years of parenting to ask my children's forgiveness. A LOT. We talk about my sin, just as we talk about theirs. Many times we sit down and pray prayers of repentance together. We pray for God to forgive my sin, and we pray for God to forgive their sin.

I read a really great article today that drives home some great encouragement and hope for insufficient shepherds like myself. Go and read it! I love, love, love the author's conclusion:
"My point in all this? I’m going to parent my kids as best as I can, according to all the wise principles I’ve learned from the Bible itself and authors. But when it comes down to it, God absolutely must be the one who saves my kids." 
That's it. That's what parents (myself included) must cling to. We can't cling to our methods, our children's outward behavior, their seemingly moral outward appearance, or their social or psychological stability.

God saves sinners.
He save some sinners who are parents.
Despite their rotten parenting.
He saves many of those parents' children.
Despite their rotten parenting.
Because GOD saves!
We do not. Oh, I'm so glad we do not. Or we'd fail.

Take heart that God used rotten parents like Adam and Eve, David, Aaron, Eli - the list could go on. Sometimes God had to bring condemnation on their children, but sometimes He raised up a godly generation after these parents, despite their shortcomings. God works with broken people and broken families.

But. . .

Please, my encouragement today to other parents: don't "give up on perfection." For yourself or your children.  That is where our culture totally misses the point of reality. So often, I see my generation disenchanted with the legalism and outward conformity that has been so popular in fundamentalist Christianity in the last decades. We see the Phariseeism, and we want nothing to do with it.

But our response?

"I've given up on perfection."
"Jesus loves me, flaws and all."
"I'm never going to be Super Mom, so I'm embracing who I am."
"I'd rather have scruffy children who love God, than little Pharisees."
"All the moms I know yell at their kids. It's just something everyone does. We don't have to repent of that."

Well, wow. None of that comes from scripture. And surely there is a middle road between banshee-children-who-are-never-disciplined and little Pharisees!

God meets us where we are, but He never encourages us to stay there. He never says, "There, there. I love you just like you are, so why search higher?" God does love us where we're at. But He commands (not just suggests) that we grow, that we painfully learn, that we stretch ourselves and our hopes and desires. (Actually, that we burn those and grasp Him.)

He commands, Be ye perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.
He commands that daily, we die to self.
We are to run the race set before us. (not jog the race lazily, or sit down and nap, or give up).
We are to present ourselves to God as living sacrifices.
We are to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. And one of the things that comes with that growth and knowledge? A knowledge of our sin. But a desire to love the Lord our God by bending our will to His. Not to earn salvation, but because we are saved.

Any great musician will admit that perfect performances are either extremely rare or non-existent. But does a great musician aim for mediocrity or "pretty good"? No! A great musician AIMS for perfection. He practices and critiques his own work and learns from mistakes and continues to mold his talents and search out his flaws. He aims for perfection. And that is the only way he will ever give a great performance. By aiming for perfection.

No matter how hard we try, we will never be perfect parents in this life. I certainly won't be. We can despair and give up, or we can run to Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. We can cry "Abba, Father," to the only perfect Father that ever was. We can repent of our daily failures as parents, but look to our Heavenly Father for wisdom, as we continually run the race that is set before us.

We can strive for what is ahead.

We can delight in the sweet tastes of tuneful melodies we are graciously able to witness in our lives and the lives of our children. And we can pray and look forward to the lush, majestic and PERFECT symphonies that we will have in the world to come.

God makes all things beautiful, in His time. Even my parenting. Isn't grace amazing?

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

School Year 2014-2015

Psychologically, it sounds like a lot more responsibility to have a 1st grader than a kindergartner. Seriously! How do I have a 6 year old?????? Yikes!

So this year we have Hans in 1st grade (he turned 6 in June), Gretchen is 3 1/2 and still firmly a preschooler (read: she gets to play and join in when she wants), and Martin is 1. Martin is the designated recess coordinator. He suggests, signals, and sometimes demands when we pause school for his benefit ;-). Haha. No, but seriously. . . he is a good reminder to take a break frequently :-). My kids like frequent breaks. I  like frequent breaks. We all do better.

We actually "officially" started our school year in late June. Because Daddy was teaching a summer class and because for various life reasons, we got very little school done in the spring. (No, folks, not for that reason. Stop starting rumors.) And Hans had been BEGGING me to start back up school. Plus this means if we need to take off time during the year (for sanity or life), we have that flexibility. Houston is kind of a rotten place to be outside in the summer, anyway. Can anyone say "extra outdoor time during more pleasant months"?

So what are we doing this year? Here's a run-down:

Language Arts:

Starting the day with some basic penmanship. Fine-motor skills have always been a challenge for Hans and he's fought other handwriting tooth-and-nail before, so we're keeping basic, no official curriculum for now. And life is easier. Right now our penmanship looks like a chosen letter/number for the day (working our way back through the alphabet), and Hans doing six repetitions of the capital AND lowercase of that letter on primary-ruled paper, then circling his "best" for each group. Gretchen traces three of the same letter (capital and lowercase), and then if she wants (she always does, so far) she can freehand some as well.

English grammar. Using Shurley English was practically in our prenuptial agreement, along with classically educating. I jest slightly. But we're excited to start Shurley English! We're a few weeks in and Hans is loving it. Gretchen is loving singing along to the jingles. I gotta say, the noun jingle is cute, but the next two really could have been better-written :-P. Maybe I'm just picky. But the kids totally soaked it up and can rattle off the definition of noun, verb, and the basic rules for a sentence. Lame jingles and all. Hans has been enthusiastic about English so far, which relieves me. We'll see how the year progresses, but I do think English will be the most "stretching" subject for him. Hans was super-proud of his first classified sentence:

Spelling. We're not QUITE ready to start this, I feel like. As I read through the spelling curriculum I purchased (Logos School's "Grammar of Spelling" - very basic, no frills, organized according to spelling rules, etc.), I really think working with Hans to get used to writing even more will really help spelling go more smoothly. He's ready mentally for the spelling, but not ready for the writing required. He has come a LONG way in the past month, writing more and more everyday, and complaining less and less. He's starting to realize that writing is a part of life :-). But I'll probably wait until later in the year, maybe late fall, maybe at the semester/Christmas break to introduce it, as the program is very heavily writing, and I do think writing is a good way to learn spelling, so I don't want to "skimp" on that aspect.

So moving on from language arts to. . .

Social Studies:

Geography. We're loving several resources. GeoPuzzles are a huge hit. I love that most of the pieces are the shape of countries!

As we're studying Egypt/Middle East in history, we're focusing on those areas of the world in geography, but not exclusively. We are also utilizing a globe, wall maps for the world and U.S., and we recently purchased an atlas. I basically just want to give them plenty of opportunity to explore geography. I found some $1 laminated placemats at Wal-mart that had world maps, and they've been using these as "charts" to sail the seas on their good ship Couch ;-).

Another resource we are loving is the geography trivium tables from Classical Conversations. We are not part of a CC community, but we still love and use some of their resources. This link has a short video explaining how to use them. There are 5ish new locations to learn every week, plus Hans sometimes likes to trace additional areas, like below:

We are also using the "continental blob" concept that Leigh Bortin talks about in her book "The Core," and using this free pack to aid in that. I also found this awesome site (free!), that allows me to customize state, country, and world maps to include (or exclude) features like longitude/latitude, cities, rivers, borders, names, etc. It is an awesome resource! I've printed up some of the maps from the site and placed in sheet protectors to trace with dry erase markers.

For history we're using Veritas, starting with Old Testament and Ancient Egypt. Someday I might do a whole post on history, explaining why we chose Veritas, etc., because I spent a few *months* researching different history curricula a few years ago, before landing on Veritas. It's not perfect (and there are other great options out there!), but it has a lot of great aspects to it. Here's a video that explains how the Veritas program works. We are only doing the history program, not the additional and separate Bible program, but a lot of the cards from this year are straight Bible events, like the Exodus, Solomon's reign, etc.

The kids have really enjoyed the history program so far. Each week has a different timeline card (there are 32 cards for the year), and we memorize that event in order with the previous events, and try to come up with hand motions to help us remember (and to make it fun!). As the weeks progress and we've memorized more events, I'll do stuff like shuffle the cards and ask them to put them in order. The CD-ROM teacher's CD has many options for each week for additional activities like worksheets, crafts, other activities, and a test (we're going low-key and not doing the tests, except informally and verbally). Also a timeline song with all 32 events, and a Ten Commandments song. The timeline card for each week has a picture on the front (often a famous work of art, but not always) that corresponds with the event, and a short synopsis on the back, plus a list of additional reading suggestions (from other history books) to do throughout the week. I've found that most of the additional reading resources can be found on Amazon for really good prices used (often $4 including shipping), which quite frankly is a lot more convenient than trying to find them at the library, as our library is not conveniently located, and we have only one vehicle.

For math, we're continuing to use Singapore. I like the focus on word problems. It's not perfect, and it's definitely not strong on drill, but it doesn't drive me as batty as many elementary math books out there ;-). It's a great spine for us, and we're doing lots of supplementation. We're using different ways to work on basic math facts. While Hans has done some basic multiplication (and a wee bit of division), we're not drilling those yet, but sticking with addition/subtraction for now. We've used ideas from this great site in the past, and now we're mainly using some simple math games my sister-in-law created. Most math games have way too much visual stimulation for Hans' attention issues, so these ones are perfect, especially the first one. One single problem on the board at a time. I tried to have him play a game from my childhood, Number Eaters, but it was WAY too much for him to take in visually at once, even with the "practice" option that was not timed and had no monsters. So we'll reserve that for a future point :-).

For science, we are loving our Apologia Botany book. We are over halfway through, as we started it in January (one of the few school things we did do through the spring! - albeit very sporadically). The elementary Apologia science books have a gentle exploratory approach with journaling - very Charlotte Mason-esque. Hans has loved it and learned so much. We'll probably start Zoology 1 around Christmastime. (They are not graded, so you can do them in whatever order you want, though they do have some rough suggestions.)

Below, we were doing a leaf classification activity. I like that the book is adaptable to focus more on the exploratory and tactile aspect, which is great for early ages, but also has great textual info that can be expanded to use for upper elementary. Hans loves to be read to, so we have soaked up most of the text, but it would be adaptable to pick and choose, for someone who needed more activity and less text. For some of the more "dense" pages like the leaf classification, we just turned it into a nature walk and classification activity, without focusing on trying to remember all the names, outside of casual reference to them. No testing!

For art, I always have the best of intentions, but I'm never sure how much it will happen ;-). hehe. I'm hoping to use Drawing with Children by Mona Brookes, and we've done the first 2 sessions, which went well. I've also purchased some mini art postcards that make exploring famous art fun for the kids. We'll see how the year unfolds :-). There are lots of history projects in Veritas' program that definitely count as arts/crafts also!

Finally, but not least. . . we found an AMAZING free resource for flash cards online, called Anki. You can either create your own decks or download ones people post online. The brilliance of Anki is that it allows you to choose how often you see the cards, based on how easy it was for you to remember each one. So if you are reviewing a card and had a hard time remembering, you can request to see it again during that session (randomly reintroduced). But if it was way easy, you can choose not to see it for several days.

It has greatly simplified reviewing/learning catechism and memory verses with the kids. We've been using it for several weeks now, and it has worked really well. Sometimes I'll have the kids jump on the mini trampoline while reciting answers, to get the wiggles out :-). They take turns answering. We've also been using it for Spanish (informally using Salsa again, with "Aunt Hannah videos"), basic botany definitions, and skip counting. I highly recommend you check out Anki! It also has capabilities to upload pictures or videos to flash cards.

So if you managed to make it to the end of this post, now you get to tell me what you're doing for school this year. Or if you or your kids aren't in school, tell me your favorite kind of chocolate. Go!

Sunday, June 08, 2014

More on EO companies (specific recommendations)

Okay, I'm back for more of all this fun. Last time I light-heartedly shared some concerns I have with many practices being suggested for essential oil use, and also mentioned some brands/companies that seem to spread those unsafe usage suggestions. But I didn't really mention which brands I DO like, since it's obvious from my last post that I'm not a huge fan of Young Living or doTERRA. (I'm not a supporter of their companies and practices; I made no insult to the quality of their oils. I have not tried doTERRA, but I have been very impressed with the quality of Young Living oils I have used.)

So. . . I've spent way too much time online the past 6 months, researching different essential oil companies, reading about several and also testing out a number of different brands. Trust me. Lots of time. I had no idea there were so many out there. And I've only really looked into a fraction and had to brush past so many others. I was going to make this a ridiculously long post detailing every single company I've investigated, but really, I'm more interested in focusing on the good ones I found than the bad ones :-). And believe me, I have found several I wouldn't want to touch with a 10-foot pole, for safety reasons. But instead I'm going to make this a ridiculously long post that focuses on the companies I have liked :-D.

Before I give my top picks, let me mention some things I was looking for in an essential oil company. Some of these are "must-haves," but some were "preferred to haves":

- Someone on staff who has a lot of experience with oils. Not a casual 2-year interest via Pinterest and the occasional reference book, but a really long-standing experience in the industry or a certified aromatherapist, etc. Someone who has a really good feel for what a quality oil should look like, feel like, smell like. Not just for the basic oils, but for a whole array of oils. Someone who has a lot of training, either formal or not, with some of the experienced folks in the aromatherapy industry.

- Wild-crafted oils and/or oils that are grown in their native location (lavender from France or Bulgaria would be a great example, or Sandalwood from India or Australia, or peppermint from the US or UK). Wild-crafted oils are often more potent for a variety of reasons. Plants (wild or cultivated) that are growing in their native habitat on native soil with native air and environment are going to be a different plant than something transplanted to a different continent. U.S. lavender is simply different than French lavender, even if it is the same species. Not bad, but distinctly different. And French lavender is more highly-valued in aromatherapy, in general. Also a wild plant that is not intensively farmed is usually going to have higher therapeutic properties.

- Along with the above, a company that clearly states if the plant was cultivated or wild, the country of origin, and if it was grown organically. A serious aromatherapist is going to care about these details for the very reason that all of these play a role in the end product. I don't purchase organic essential oils exclusively, but I do prefer that option and at least want to know if an oil is organic! As a secondary option I will purchase an oil certified to be tested free of pesticides and fertilizers. Actually, wild-crafted is my favorite option.

- A company that takes testing of oils seriously. As I've investigated companies and read a lot about adulteration of oils, etc., I've realized that a lot of the adulteration and additives that happen in the oil industry happen at the distillery with the supplier, NOT with the company actually selling the oil to the consumer. That's a mistake I made in the past. I thought that a company with integrity would be selling oils that were solid, but the oils are only as good as the supplier. Does the company test every batch to insure quality, or do they do an initial test from the supplier and hope/assume that future batches will be as good? For a fabulous resource, please check out this link on 3rd party testing results for a number of essential oils companies. Some of the results may surprise you. And some of the responses of the companies (when contacted post-testing) may surprise you as well. The proof is in the pudding.

- A company that doesn't use clever marketing terms with little-to-no meaning. Essential oils are not like eggs. There are no standards to grade them. If a company is using the term "therapeutic grade," it has little-to-no meaning. Some companies simply mean they are potent and pure oils that work well. But many companies try to swing "therapeutic grade" as some sort of standard that some oils achieve and others do not. THERE IS NO STANDARD. Every essential oil in the local grocery store could put that on their label. It means nothing. Same thing with "safe for internal use." All that means is that the company is willing to carry a higher liability.

- A company that cares about Latin names! Some of the companies I have purchased from in the past and many whose websites I have browsed in recent months either make it very difficult to find the species on their website, or they simply don't list it. Latin names are important! Species that may have common SOUNDING names (lemon eucalyptus and eucalyptus globulus, for example) can have very different properties and constituents and also very different safety considerations. If they're not taking the Latin names seriously, then the company isn't taking the difference in species seriously either.

- A company that cares about safety. This piggy-backs off my previous post. If it's not the heartbeat of their company and advertising, it's a more minor issue to me, but I still want a company that takes the power of their oils seriously and can be a good resource to me for using their oils appropriately and well. Additionally, a company that has great educational material (articles, blogs, Facebook pages/groups) is invaluable.

- A few miscellaneous bonuses: a company with free shipping, a company whose prices are not "too good to be true" but also are reasonable, a company who offers their oils in multiple sizes (5ml, 15ml, 30ml, for example). A company with great customer service. A company who supplies testing data sheets on request or on their website.

So which companies made the cut? Which would I recommend? (As an amateur, obviously. Please do your own research. I can always be wrong and as I use more oils from more companies, I will continue to refine my recommendations.)

My current top pick is Florihana. This is a French company that distills oils themselves. They own some farm land themselves, as well as utilizing some wild habitats for many wild-crafted oils. Most of their cultivated plants are certified organic.  They have a huge selection on their main site and you can order from them directly, if you don't mind paying exorbitant costs in shipping from France :-P. But for a better option, Tropical Traditions (a US-based company) also sells many of Florihana's oils, so you can order from them :-). To sweeten the deal, Tropical Traditions offers free shipping about once a month, so keep a look-out! One note is that Tropical Traditions, while offering a wide selection of Florihana's oils, does not offer their full line yet. They seem to be adding new oils at a steady rate, though, so this is encouraging.

A few things I love about Florihana: they post a lot of info on their site (and on Tropical Traditions, under each oil listing)! you can look at the chromatography sheets as well as a lot of other paperwork and info on the oils. They also label each bottle with a distill date and a suggested "use by" date. And let's be honest. . . I also think the tins that come with the bottles are super-cute. I have been very impressed with the full-bodied aromas of the Florihana oils I have. Very potent!

A good second option for me is Plant Therapy. Plant Therapy is an up-and-coming company in transition. They currently have 2 certified aromatherapists on staff, which is a plus. They had a "wake-up call" when they were tested for tea tree oil in third-party testing and failed the test. You can read the link and note that companies who failed responded a variety of ways, most simply ignoring or excusing the results. Plant Therapy responded by dumping an entire (expensive!) batch of their oil, sourcing from a new distiller, and asking the third-party testing group to retest them at Plant Therapy's expense. Well, that's pretty cool. But I wondered if that was a one-time response, so I've e-mailed back and forth with Plant Therapy with a number of questions and been very satisfied with their answers. Here are a few excerpts from those conversations, shared with permission. Here is Plant Therapy's owner Chris:
Those test results were a turning point for us. We have always been extremely concerned with product quality but we maybe trusted our suppliers a little too much. Shortly after that we hired one of the top essential oil experts in the world to be our direct consultant. We immediately flew him in to look over our operation and assess our oils. There were a few that we felt needed to be addressed. We have continually sourced new oils since then and have met with growers and visited distilleries. We now send all oils to France to be tested through an independent GC/MS facility. We have made great strides and continue to work with the consultant on a weekly basis. We have rejected many many batches of oils that didn't meet our new, even stricter, standards. This is going to be lifelong process of continually sourcing better and better oils. 
I also asked about the comparative low-cost of their oils compared with some other companies, below are answers:
To address your price concerns, that is easy. We don't have huge profit margins and we aren't an MLM company. So we don't have to pay multiple commissions from every oil sold. We work on selling a large volume of products and continually refine our efficiency process to be able to provide the best possible prices possible.
(Note: basic math comes into play also. When you browse Plant Therapy oils, notice that their "standard" size is 10 ml, unlike the 15 ml that most companies sell. So that is part of why their prices look so much less! I personally love the 10 ml size, as for a lot of oils, it is less likely to oxidize before I get through the bottle.)

I also asked about how their stock rotation worked, since they purchase oils in such large batches. Essential oils don't go rancid, but they do oxidize and degrade in therapeutic benefits, so I don't want to be purchasing old oils! Plant Therapy's aromatherapist Retha addressed this:
First, none of our oils are in our warehouse for more than 6 months, most batches last about 2 months. So even though we buy in bulk, we sell enough oils that we rotate through batches pretty quickly. The second thing that we do is add Nitrogen to the batches when they start to become low. This is absolutely necessary to make sure the oils do not start to oxidize and is something that I would hope most essential oil companies do to ensure the quality of their oils. 
Retha also clarified to me that although only a small selection of their oils are certified organic, they do test every oil for pesticide residues, and furthermore, many of their sources do grow organically, just not certified.

So all in all, I will definitely be purchasing more oils from Plant Therapy. I do give Florihana a preference, because they have been in "solid" business for longer and do have more wild-crafted and organic oils. But Plant Therapy is a company that really has a lot of potential and has great policies in place. I'm excited to see where they go, and have been impressed with the oils I've purchased so far. Finally, Retha recently told me that they are in the process of loading GC/MS test results for their oils batches on their website, so soon a purchaser can view the exact constituent levels for an oil. This is fabulous, and is one of the features I already really like about Florihana :-). I've also really enjoyed interacting with Retha and the other aromatherapist for Plant Therapy, on their FB group "Safe Essential Oil Recipes." Lots of great info on there.

There are other great companies out there, but these are the two I plan on purchasing most from, based on my list of qualities I was looking for in a company. Some others that I really only consider secondary due to higher prices (and or shipping costs) would be: Eden Botanicals (distinct from Eden's Garden), Aromatics International, Stillpoint Aromatics, Nature's Gift, and Wingsets. Feel free to Google them. Some of those have more specialty selections you might want to browse if you're looking for something a bit more unique or hard-to-find. They all are run by well-respected aromatherapists in the field, not up-starts.

To pre-empt the question I know I will get asked otherwise :-D. . . let me explain why Rocky Mountain Oils aka Native American Nutritionals is not in my "top 2 picks" for companies. It's not at the bottom, by any means, and it's a company I'm not "against" ordering from, and will probably order from occasionally in the future. I've purchased a handful of oils from them and been impressed with quality. They just don't impress me quite as much as Florihana and Plant Therapy. Let me give some background and what I do like about them, as well as why they don't quite rate with the other two, in my book:

So a bit of background: Rocky Mountain Oils and Native American Nutritionals are two formerly-separate companies that merged a few years ago. Apparently they like confusing people by keeping both company names and websites ;-). But anyway, I have been impressed with the oils I have purchased form this company. I like that they source their oils from locations where the plant naturally grows. The owner is very knowledgeable, and has worked in the essential oil business for many years, starting working for a major company for a while before establishing his own business. His family background (and his) is in Native American medicine. I enjoyed listening to this podcast of the owner, to get a feel for his passion and his breadth and depth of knowledge in essential oils.

Overall, RMO/NAN seems to be a good company with quality oils. The owner isn't an up-start, and knows his stuff. It doesn't have a frequent free shipping option (unlike Tropical Traditions/Florihana and Plant Therapy), so it does tend to be a bit more expensive for me to order, so I've tended to choose the other two. But more to the point of why I prefer the other two a little. RMO/NAN is a bit "looser" in usage suggestions then the aromatherapy world in general, though still much more reasonable than the big MLM's :-). It's not part of their marketing strategy or the "heartbeat" of their company, so not a major deal to me. I use their site Essential Health as a reference for oil usage, and while I cross-reference with other info, it still has some good ideas.

But in general, I find I have to be more careful with RMO's info. They use neat and internal usage in a more cavalier manner than the international aromatherapy world in general because "it works." And they are a bit sloppy in some of their labeling. Niaouli is labeled "Melaleuca," for example. Melaleuca quinquinervera is commonly known as niaouli, and melaleuca alternifolia is commonly known as tea tree oil. So technically niaouli IS a form of melaleuca, by latin name. But as standard terminology, if an oil is referred to as melaleuca, it is referring to tea tree oil (more common than niaouli), NOT niaouli. It means their labels have to be read more carefully, and it could easily mis-lead someone to purchase the wrong product by mistake. (I know of at least one person who did so.) So that's just a word of caution :-). When asked to change that labeling to be less confusing, they wouldn't agree, which is too bad and doesn't reflect well on them, in my opinion. Also, they refuse to divulge the % dilutions they use for their "pre-diluted" options, which to me doesn't encourage customers to have all the info they need to use the proper amount of product, especially for children.

So anyway, that's a ridiculously-long look at some of my favorite oil companies. Bottomline: Florihana and Plant Therapy are both great options! Look for Tropical Traditions free shipping deals (approximately monthly) to snag Florihana, or take advantage of Plant Therapy's all-the-time free shipping for the lower 48. Nice!

So what essential oil companies do you purchase from? Why? What companies do you refuse to patronize? Which have you heard of and hope to try?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Just to stir up a bit of controversy. . .

I could talk about something like birth control, politics, or religion, but I thought that would be tame, so I'm going to shoot for controversial and discuss my meanderings on essential oils brands. Now, you probably have one of 4 reactions to that:

(1) "Mwa-mwa-mwa-mwa. That sounds about as exciting as discussing brands of facial tissue. . . off to another blog. . . "
(2) "Hehe. She's joking. What a mundane, non-controversial topic."
(3) "She's a tad nuts, but I'll sit back and watch the sparks fly and fangs come out of usually-nice people."
(4) "Oh my goodness. I hope she has the sense to agree with me that ________ is the only safe and pure essential oils company!"

But seriously, for those who have "been around" in the essential oil world, you know that people really do produce fangs when it comes to defending their favorite and "only quality" essential oil company. Oh goodness. Especially certain brand "camps." Let me start by saying:

Essential oils are wonderful. I hope you find some great essential oils that work for you, even if you don't end up agreeing with me about brands. I'm trying to write this light-hearted and conversational. I'm writing with a smile, not a grimace or a rotten tomato. Please just hear me out (or politely click "x" in your browser). I'm not attacking: I'm discussing and raising concerns.

I've personally used Young Living and been pleased with the quality of their oils. The point of this post is NOT to claim that YL oils are sub-quality. We have used them to treat an air-borne mold problem, as well as for general health for a few things. In addition to several bottles of Thieves (awesome stuff) and lemongrass and a diffuser, I have also used their Premium Starter kit. I've tried to get a feel for their basic oils and I have been pleased with the quality.

I have many many friends who love doTERRA, including those that sell doTERRA. As far as I know, they seem to sell quality oils. (The remaining ? in my mind is the whole additive-in-the-peppermint controversy, but I can not for the life of me find the legal finality of that court case online, and therefore I take no side on that.) But other than that parentheses, based on my readings, I do believe that doTERRA *probably* has some very good quality oils, maybe even extremely good quality. I say *probably* because I've never used them. So I'm hardly a good judge. I would be open to trying out dT oils, but not if I had to foot the bill :-D, just because I've found some other companies that I really like that are slightly cheaper - more on that later. (And finally on that note, yes, I know that there is bad blood between dT and YL, and I'm just not going to take sides on that, k?)

So now that we've cleared the air and established that I am in no way attacking the *quality* of YL and dT oils in general, let's move on, shall we?

So I've kind of puttered around in essential oils for several years. I think my first bottle of oil was something along the lines of lavender or peppermint. Either NOW or Aura Cacia brand, though not sure. Within a few years, I probably had a total of 5 oils - lavender, peppermint, orange, eucalyptus, tea tree oil - if I had to guess. (Those are excellent starter oils, for the record.) All came straight from a grocery store shelf - either NOW, Aura Cacia, or Desert something-or-other (whatever tea tree oil that Trader Joe's sells).

After a few years of using those, I started doing some more online reading about oils and stumbled across a number of YL-only sort of blogs, that were huge into essential oils, but only if they were YL oils. Disclaimers about the danger of using other brands that might be diluted, adulterated, sub-quality, etc. Now, me being skeptical and stingy, I gasped when I saw the prices for YL oils compared to my Aura Cacia and NOW bottles, and was like "eh, whatever." (I've since also read and subscribed to plenty of blogs that take the "dT is the only uber-certified wonderful-quality oils" stance, so I'm not trying to single out YL. I honestly just didn't think the whole adulteration thing was a huge real issue when I first heard of it.

But over the last few years, I've "run into" dT and YL both a lot more online. Essential oils in the health world have really taken off, probably thanks to the efforts of both dT and YL. They've done a ton of great stuff to show people the benefits of essential oils. They raised my awareness of the care that needs to go into choosing essential oil companies. There is a lot of fraud that happens in adulteration and dilution in the essential oil business. I'm very thankful for how they helped me realize that all essential oils (and their corresponding companies) are not created equal and I really do need to research different brands, methods of distillation, sourcing, etc. (All topics for another post. . . ) Young Living and doTERRA have really helped me with inspiration, ideas, and information.

But they've also helped me with a lot of misinformation. And that's actually exactly why I just can't recommend YL or dT, in general.To put it really basic: "YL oils: great. dT oils: probably great. YL and dT information: dangerous!

Now, the companies themselves give some cautions about oils, etc. Some of the oils mention not giving to young children, etc. But a TON of their oils give dosage suggestions for taking as a supplement (internally). And both communities at large really push the idea that *their* oils are safe because they're 100% pure, natural, "therapeutic grade,"et cetera. On the blogs and forums I've surfed, I've seen a distinct hesitancy to mention basic caution when it comes to these very very concentrated potent substances. If suggestion for dilution is given, it's always couched with "because, you know, it's kind of a 'hot' oil, even though it's technically safe to use undiluted." They are honestly afraid to admit that caution is necessary. I've even seen people attack others for "daring" to suggest that a reaction was because an oil was undiluted, because "everyone who is a distributor of _____ (insert company of choice) KNOWS that the oils are 100% pure and therapeutic grade and safe for all uses." I've even seen users of these oils sometimes claim that all oils are safe in pregnancy because "they're 100% pure." Um, hello. Hemlock is 100% pure, all natural, et cetera. Would NOT suggest it, folks ;-).

One of the big claims made is that "other" companies say "not for internal use" (wheras dT and YL give suggestions for internal use) so that just shows that the "other" companies don't have pure oils. Otherwise they'd be confident enough to not caution against that. "After all, if I can eat thyme in my garden, why can't I consume the essential oil?" Et cetera. Um, well. Let's explain why this is a smoke screen and based on misinformation:

First, other companies don't claim they can be used internally because IT'S THE LAW. Because YL and dT sell through independent distributors and not in stores, they are able to market their product that way, but products sold in stores have much more stringent requirements with regard to labeling something as a supplement. Also, let's face it, your liability insurance goes through the roof when you make an internal usage claim like that. Maybe part of the price difference for YL and dT oils is their higher insurance rates :-).

Second, the whole "if I can eat thyme in my garden. . . " argument shows a lack of basic chemistry. A qualified herbalist who has studied the basic chemical structure of herbs and essential oils (I am not a qualified herbalist) could tell you that the chemical structure and the therapeutic qualities of a fresh or dried herb are NOT always the same as the essential oil from the same plant. It is sometimes the case, but not always. So never ever assume that an essential oil is safe, either for topical use or ingestion, based on the properties of the fresh or dried herb.

So on to dilution. Both YL and dT folks are huge into suggesting ways of using oils undiluted. "Because they're 100% safe and pure and natural." But historically, essential oils were usually diluted. There is even some research to show that oils are MORE effective when diluted. Essential oils are so concentrated that the body processes them better when properly diluted and not overloading the body. Essential oils also evaporate more quickly than carrier oils, so diluting allows the skin to soak in the essential oils more effectively. Most people don't realize just how powerful essential oils are. They contain the therapeutic properties of a LOT of plant material. I find it frustrating that on the one hand, companies can make a claim that "our oils are so potent and set the standard for potency and therapeutic properties," and on the other hand, suggest undiluted usage so freely. If the oils are really as potent as they claim, they should be *encouraging* dilutions. But hey, that doesn't sell nearly as many bottles. . .

(A side note: just because you don't notice adverse side effects from overdosing on essential oils doesn't mean it isn't happening. Those sorts of effects can build up over time.)

Finally, my biggest frustration right now. I am really really really tired of "detox" being used as the standard excuse for why an essential oil gave someone a reaction. In my experience on forums and blogs by YL/dT, if someone is using an oil and gets a reaction (whether it's a skin rash, a headache, etc.) that seems to come from using the oils, everyone immediately says, "Read up on detox. Oh definitely detox, just push through it." Well, they say that if the person was using the "right" brand of oil for that forum/blog. But if the person was using a "less exalted" oil from an "inferior" brand, the post comes across more as a repentance and confession: "Oh, I learned my lesson. I used such-and-such-a-non-YL/dT brand of oil on myself and it gave me a reaction! I've learned my lesson and will never use anything but YL/dT ever again!" So my question is why was the reaction a sign of "poor quality or adulteration" if the oil was NOT YL or dT, but if it IS the "approved" brand, it is definitely detox (a good thing) and NOT a reason to stop using the oils or even to stop using them in a certain way. AGH.

So summary: use some wisdom in choosing your essential oil brand. Many really are low quality, in either potency (how strong and "useful" they are) or purity (additives, etc.). Many of the tests for purity for oils are easy to "trick" by oil companies, so even if their oils test pure, they may not be. So really ask your company some hard questions about how they distill, where they source their plants, how they are grown and harvested, how they are distilled, etc. (Basically, a whole other topic that I can't possibly do justice to here.) Choose wisely.

If you choose Young Living or doTERRA, you're probably using some really great top-quality oils. Good for you! Enjoy! Just remember two things: (1) the essential oil industry has been around for a lot longer than those two companies and there is room at the top and select other companies are really doing well in the business, even if they haven't spent as much time scaring people into buying their oils, and (2) please please please please please use caution when using suggestions that come from YL and dT sources. Not the companies so much as all the people that use them. Some oils can be used undiluted and some can be used internally. But it's not nearly as many as some say, and it should never be on a regular basis. Do your research, and make sure that research includes a variety of sources. I personally really like Valerie Worwood's book The Complete Book of Essential Oils and Aromatherapy. Very balanced.

Finally, check out Real Essential Oil Education for some really great quality information from a herbalist-in-training. She also has a Facebook page which is fabulous, and she periodically offers free online beginner courses in essential oils. So much great info!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

In Which I Update and Clarify What We've REALLY Been Doing :-)

I realized recently just how long it's been since I wrote my last post on our homeschooling, and just what a false impression it might give the 2 people who actually read this blog. Ha! My homeschooling plans are always "this is ideal; let's see what actually happens," and boy how, has the ideal not happened very often at all in the last few months :-). We've had one family situation after another and have been very lax and "go with the flow"-esque as a result. That's what I think is great about homeschooling, is that it can be adapted to needs. Is it awesome to get to do a flannel Bible story with the kids once a week? And consistently do geography 3 times a week? Absolutely. It's a great goal. But it's not the end-all-be-all, and some things have to give sometimes.

We dealt with some lovely mold issues in our apartment this fall. This meant a lot of time spent dealing with treating it, plus health/behavioral issues that resulted, and the time and energy spent addressing that too! We also had guests twice, spent two weeks out of state ourselves, and somewhere in there packed up our whole apartment and moved to a new house, where we are now trying to "get our groove," as we unpack and care for our new place. We also had other significant challenges to our homeschooling, which I might touch on at a later time when the time is right and I have more insight, but suffice to say, homeschooling has not been as simple as "open a book, sit down and learn." Oh, and don't forget that any homeschooling we do also involves balancing a preschooler and a baby, in addition to kindergarten :-D. That's a lot on our plate, and I'm thankful we're "only" doing kindergarten this year. We're also thankful for God's grace, that Hans already knows how to read (makes for fewer "necessaries" for this year), and that for kindergarten, a lot of life is already sufficient learning :-).

So what are we "really" doing, since I've had to ditch a lot of our original plans?

Well, we're still doing math. A bit of a hodge-podge. Singapore 1 is still our "spine," but because of Hans' particular learning bent, we've been utilizing a lot of other math options too. Honestly, two icosahedral dice and a set of base 10 cubes have been the BEST tools for us lately. Easiest way to get Hans to practice addition and subtraction, and we're having fun with the base 10 system.

We're also still doing one penmanship lesson per day. Even when most of my other great plans had to be shelved towards the end of the year, we still kept up Spanish because my kids loved it and were really learning! But I have to admit that in the 2 weeks since we've restarted this semester, it's been spotty. I need to prep the next lessons and get going :-). - Now that most of the school books are finally unpacked! We've been doing geography - sometimes we use our textbook, sometimes we work on a U.S. puzzle, or just play with the globe or world/state maps. They are loving learning about different geographical features, the states, and the major countries.

We finished a very casual study of animals and a slightly-more structured study of the human body before Christmas, and just last week we opened our new botany textbook and are loving it! We are hoping to do some gardening this spring, which is by far and away the best way to teach botany to young kids :-), but I'm also really excited about the Apologia botany book we got. The straight-forward narration, simple activities that reinforce, and photos to illustrate make it a great read. I'll be interested to see how we continue to like it as we progress.

We memorized 2 poems last fall and also read through all of "A Child's Garden of Verses." I have some art appreciation options for this spring, but need to get them out and just USE them. The kids are fascinated by great artwork, thanks to the "Katie" books I found at the library. "Katie and the Mona Lisa" is one of the titles, if you want to look them up. Fun, and a good way to introduce basic artworks to kids.

So anyway, that's what "real school" has been for us lately :-) I'd love to hear what others are doing too!

Monday, September 02, 2013

Favorite School Resources Fall 2013

We started school a few weeks ago for the fall. Hans turned 5 in June, so he is Kindergarten age. LOVE this age! I'll explain what we're doing with him in a minute.

Gretchen is 2 (3 in one month!), which means she has absolutely no "assigned" school work. But she does love to feel "included," so she has some activities of her own that she gets to do if she is interested. I bought the Letter of the Week "curriculum" last fall, intending to use it for Hans, but realizing it was too "busy work" oriented for my sanity and for Hans' learning style. (Last year for Hans, we ended up using the same writer's K4 curriculum, with heavy modification and supplementation, with good results.) I am just not a busy work person. But Gretchen is. Ha! So we're getting some use out of Letter of the Week after all. I'm not going overboard with it, just printing up a few options each week, and when Gretchen asks me for "letterw at-tiv-tees," I show her what I have for her, and she gets to pick what she wants to do. She can not get enough of drawing, coloring, cutting, etc. She also has a stack of puzzles, unifix cubes, coloring books, and she gets included in whatever of Hans' school she wants to do (and is feasible). And we're doing one letter sound per week.

Martin is 2 months old, so he's kind of our controlling/limiting factor on schooling :-). Hehe. We have a proposed "schedule" for school hanging in our dining room each day, with what we hope to cover and in what order, but let's be honest, sometimes "recess" gets moved up a subject or two, based on when Martin is in need of a new diaper, nursing, etc. He's actually a really chill baby most of the time, unless Mommy eats food that he doesn't like :-P, and he's big enough for the Ergo now, which makes things even more possible :-). And it's nice that Hans is only 5, so I'm not concerned about getting a strict set of goals done for the year, especially since he can already read.

So back to Hans. We start each day with him filling in the day's date on his calendar. It's a simple way for him to get the flow of the days of the week, the months, etc. We did it last spring and all of a sudden he totally started "getting" the flow of the week, time spans, etc. He loved it so much that he asked to keep doing it. Right after filling in his calendar number, we work for a few minutes on a poem we're memorizing. Right now we're working on "My Shadow" from A Child's Garden of Verses. Total between the calendar and the poem, we're talking about 5 minutes. Just a quick way to start the day, and a little every day is all poetry memory needs. I haven't decided yet if we'll pick another poem to memorize after "My Shadow" is done, or if we'll take a break, or do something entirely different. Maybe some art appreciation? We'll see.

Two days a week, we try to read a few poems from A Child's Garden of Verses after we do poetry memory. Just 5 minutes worth, and Hans loves it. Sometimes I read them, sometimes he reads, depending on his preference. We have a beautifully-illustrated edition with drawings by Eric Kincaid (mercifully unrelated to Thomas Kinkade).

Next we do penmanship. This, quite honestly, is NOT a favorite, which is why we get it out of the way early :-D. Hans has never liked handwriting, though he has vastly improved in the past year. We are using Rod and Staff this year. I love how simple and straight forward the lessons are. They do give room for a LOT of repetition, which is great, unless you're Hans and shut down :-D. So after a rough first several days, I've started giving him a more reasonable "yes, he is still just 5 and he's also a boy, and he's Hans" number of repetitions for each assignment, rather than the full number provided. He's still getting good practice, but it's not like pulling teeth anymore. It doesn't mean he's leaping for joy when we pull out penmanship, but it's going MUCH better.

Next we do math. We're kind of doing a hodge podge for math. Our "official" text is Singapore Math 1. We're partway through this book, but actually haven't been doing it much this fall (we started it last spring). Before we press on more in Singapore, I wanted to work more on addition/subtraction facts with Hans. I found this site and cannot recommend it highly enough. Love, love, love it. So many options for activities, worksheets, and games for working on the different "families" of numbers. I love how the site helps draw the connection between the addition facts and corresponding subtraction facts, rather than focusing on memorizing them in isolation. (It ties in perfectly with Singapore, which also uses number bonds to link the concepts.) Hans loves the number family stuff and has his favorite options for practicing each set. The slider cards and ghost cards are the most requested. We've finished sets 5, 6, 7, and 8, and are currently on number family 9. My plan is to get through the number family 10 set and then resume doing the Singapore text as our primary, while slowly working on sets 11-18 for the number families. The Singapore text was utilizing many of the number family facts (especially pairs adding to 10) in the text for things like adding numbers to 20, and I felt like Hans would benefit more from the lessons after memorization so he was more familiar with the pairings, not just the initial cursory glance at them that the text did. (Singapore is not known for reinforcing facts, but instead doing a great job with word problems and getting mathematical reasoning across.)

Besides these two main math resources, I've found a lot of great activities online that we've enjoyed doing. Just a few:

Number bonds worksheet generator

Time activities. And more time (This website actually has lots of worksheet options, not just for time, and also for many grade levels. Some are lame, but most are great extra practice.).

Currency activities. More currency. And loved this library book on currency.

Also we've used a number of activities from this list.

Those are the "main" things we do each day. After math we take a lengthy break, usually an hour, sometimes less, and often more if we go for a walk and come back for showers/baths before continuing. When we get back we spend about 10 minutes for recitation - reviewing memorized facts like skip counting, addition/subtraction facts, Spanish vocabulary, life science terms. Eventually I'll throw in geography terms, but we're not at that stage in geography yet. After recitation what we do depends on the day. Sometimes we're done for the morning.

Two days a week we do geography after recitation. We're going through a Beginning Geography workbook, and Hans loves it, Simple and incremental. And honestly, the most important aspect of geography is the two maps we have hanging in our dining room - a states map and a world map. And also our world globe. Constant topic of conversation for the kids and they are both starting to learn the states and some of the countries without realizing it :-D. As we progress in the workbook, we'll spend more and more time with our maps and our world globe, instead of just worksheets, but meanwhile, Hans is always excited when I get out the geography worksheets! 

On Fridays after recitation we do a flannel Bible story. I have a set of Betty Luken flannel figures that my mom passed on to me from childhood. Love it! The kids always look forward to flannel Bible time. I'm trying to work incrementally through the Bible, hitting the main stories.

Afternoons sort of vary. Every day we do a bit of Spanish which is "technically" scheduled for afternoon post-naps, because I want to give Hans the option of having more free play time in the morning, in addition to the "recess" we take after math. But 90% of the time, we've been doing Spanish in the mornings because the kids ask to do it then. Spanish is very low-key and is video-based, which is the reason the kids ask for it ;-). Poor, video-deprived kids that they are. . . We're going through one 15-minute Salsa episode each week (free public show online! - 100% Spanish), watching it twice during the week for reinforcement. On the non-Salsa days we're doing videos that my sister recorded for the kids, to supplement the Salsa videos. She takes the basic new vocabulary from the episode and interacts with it more, all in 100% Spanish. The kids love it, and yes, my sister is amazing. And so is her husband, who is helping her with the videoing and uploading and such. And she made them flashcards and worksheets to go with each week! They. love. it. And it's been hilarious to see them use random Spanish words throughout each day.

The other afternoon school we have is life science, but once again, it sometimes happens in the morning, but only if Hans wants to do it in the morning rather than wait for the afternoon. I try to do life science 2-3 times a week. We're keeping it low key. I call it "feeding Hans books on animals." My plan (always up for revision) is to do about 16 weeks of animal study, 2 weeks on each of 8 animals or animal groups. Just hitting some of his favorites or other highlights that I think would be fun. This isn't supposed to be all-inclusive, just hitting highlights and piquing interest. I'm roughly following suggestions by Susan Wise Bauer in The Well-Trained Mind. Basically, I get out a lot of juvenile science library books on whatever animal we're studying for a 2-week period and see which ones Hans wants to read. He's loving getting "new" library books to read each week and is fascinated by animals. I also bought Kingfisher First Encyclopedia of Animals as a reference and he often pulls it out when he has a random question about an animal - where it lives, what it eats, etc. After about 16 weeks of zoology, I plan to do 10 weeks of human anatomy, using My Body to make life-size posters for Hans and Gretchen. Also I bought the First Human Body Encylopedia, planning to cover one body system a week. Then we'll probably finish out the school year with a study of plants. If we are in a house (as opposed to an apartment) by then, this study will probably take the form of a garden ;-). Otherwise. . . we'll see. Our apartment now doesn't even have a sunny spot for a potted plant, but we might do some basic plant identification. We'll see.

A few miscellaneous resources that aren't as formally scheduled:

Every few weeks I pull out Schoolhouse Rock and the kids love listening to it, especially the history songs.

For family devotions, besides reading through the Bible chapter-by-chapter, we are working through the Catechism for Young Children with both Hans and Gretchen. We are doing the questions and the accompanying verses provided by CMI.

And that's school for us so far this year. Hopefully some of the resources I've found can be helpful to others :-). Would love to hear what others are using. I love finding new resources :-).

ETA: I can't believe I forgot to also mention Lyrical Life Science! We have all three CD sets and love them! Most-requested CD's in this household, and light years better than just about any other school-facts-set-to-music we've heard. Highly recommended!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Martin Wilhelm's birth story

Edited edition for male readers or others who want "just the facts, ma'am":

Martin Wilhelm was born on June 24th, 2013 at 7:29 a.m, weighing 7lb. 8oz. He's adorable and a voracious eater.


Longer version:

(If you just want the birth story and not pregnancy ramblings, start reading a few paragraphs further down.)

This pregnancy was SO different than previous ones. Beginning with not getting a strong positive pregnancy test until several days later in my cycle than normal for me, fluctuating hormones that had never "normalized" from my miscarriage 6 months previous, and a marked difference in morning sickness and exhaustion (much less debilitating than with Hans and Gretchen!).

An early ultrasound supported my intuition and observation that I had ovulated later than the "usual" 14 days post-LMP (explaining the delayed positive pregnancy test!) - approximately 6 days later, in fact - and I adjusted my due date mentally from June 7 to June 13th. (My care provider in CT wouldn't "officially" accept the due date change, despite the evidence, but said it would be "taken into account" - not sure what that means!) I then settled into the first trimester with all its wonders and worries, especially with my previous 2 miscarriages. Despite the hormonal fluctuations and the lighter morning sickness, we made it into the second trimester. In retrospect, I suspect at least part (if not all) of the lighter morning sickness and tiredness was due to eliminating wheat and sugar from my diet some months previous. I've found too many carbs to contribute to my own morning sickness, and eliminating wheat and sugar (both intolerances for me) probably kept my blood sugar more stable. Merely a theory, but I've read similar stories from others.

At the beginning of the second trimester we moved from CT to TX, and I began looking for a new care provider. The idea of a homebirth had always been in the back of my mind for a future birth, but I'd never pursued it previous to now for a few reasons. But when the birth center in TX that I'd planned to use announced its closing the month we moved there, and when we opted to join Samaritan Ministries rather than sign up for the group insurance offered by Adrian's new job, a homebirth sounded like a very viable option. Adrian was supportive of the idea if I found a qualified midwife who satisfactorily answered my long list of interview questions :-D. I ended up interviewing 3 midwives and chose one about 20 minutes from me who had a vast wealth of experience and knowledge. I told Adrian after interviewing all 3, "My birth could go smoothly, in which case any of the three would be fine," (they were all basically qualified, as well as nice people), "but if something went wrong, Alice is the one I'd want to be there!"

My midwife Alice ended up being a wonderful resource for this pregnancy. The debilitating hip and lower back pain I'd experienced in the third trimester of Hans' and Gretchen' pregnancy was almost non-existent this time! (If I did something dumb with my posture, over-exerted myself, or took a long car trip, I suffered some, but it was temporary, not pervasive like before.) I'd thought it had all stemmed from a tail bone injury I'd sustained when I was 12, and while I'm sure that injury contributed to my previous pain, Alice helped me pinpoint a calcium deficiency, and found me a highly-absorable supplement that absorbs like a food and doesn't carry the risks of calcification that many calcium supplements do. (I highly recommend Vita-Mist Cal-Mag!) I also was much more conscious to be more careful with my posture, opted to squat instead of bend to pick things up (good for birth prep anyway), etc. This pregnancy, when I groaned as I rolled over in bed, I told Adrian that unlike previous pregnancies, I'm not groaning because of pain; it's just difficult work to turn a beached whale :-D.

This was also the first pregnancy where I didn't have to use a chiropractor for alignment and relief. And Martin behaved and stayed head down, unlike transverse-Hans and breech-Gretchen, both whom flipped head down before delivery, but only after giving me some angst :-). I had had misalignment that seemed to contribute to my uterus hanging abnormally, and my chiropractor used the Webster Technique to balance it properly. Didn't need that this time!

Hans' birth was 4 days before his due date and Gretchen's was 4 days "late," so I'd anticipated not going really early for this birth, but also not having a super-late baby. Ha! My due date passed, then Hans' birthday 5 days later (he'd really hoped for a birthday-mate!), then the one-week mark. . . I was beginning to wonder when this baby would show up! And I was very grateful that my midwife here had accepted my ultrasound due date of June 13th as more accurate, instead of the original LMP-based June 7th date, and that she wasn't trigger-happy on induction unless there was good cause. I was also thankful that my energy levels remained manageable (once I started using Floravital + B12 at 36 weeks) and I wasn't in great discomfort - going so many days late with previous pregnancies would have been much harder!

I had a lot of Braxton Hicks contractions the week after my due date, the baby was very low, cervix thin, but no labor. I did several long walks in air-conditioned stores with either Adrian or my dad (my parents had driven from Georgia and waited. . . and waited. . . with us.)  Finally, 11 days after my due date (17, by LMP!), I woke up about 2:30 a.m. with some contractions that felt slightly more real than the Braxton Hicks I'd experienced. But they weren't strong or regular. so after using the bathroom I fell back asleep in bed for another hour, waking again at 3:30. A few more contractions, but still nothing definite. I slept and woke again at 4:30, after a strange dream in which I'd been in labor, the cord had prolapsed, but then I got hands-and-knees and the baby was out in one push, born in the caul. (An impossible scenario, for the record.)

This time when I woke up (at 4:30), I decided to stay up and see if these contractions got stronger or more regular. At 5am I woke Adrian and asked him to make me breakfast (scrambled eggs and green beans), so I'd have a good protein-rich meal behind me in case labor sped up. I sat down to start eating breakfast around 5:30, finishing around 6:00. By the end of the meal I was having to pause every few bites to breathe through contractions. They were coming at irregular intervals, but probably every 3 minutes was the average. Some lighter, some a bit more intense. Adrian had called Alice, who said she was going to grab coffee and head our way as she "didn't trust me" ;-).

After eating I headed to the bedroom and found to my surprise that the toilet was NOT the most comfortable place to labor for me this time around, unlike Hans' and Gretchen's labors :-). It was an okay position, but I really didn't want to be upright this time (didn't like the additional force of gravity while dealing with forces of contractions), instead preferring a side-lying position on the bed, which I HATED in active labor in times past. But I was actually able to relax with each contraction in this position this time. My parents started getting the kids ready to head out for breakfast and a mall walk. They left around 6:45 and Alice got to our place around 7:00.

Alice asked me some questions between contractions, checked Martin's heartrate during a contraction to make sure he was handling them well, and started getting out some birth supplies. I spent about 10 minutes making it through some contractions and a bathroom run, so she could finally check me. 7cm. Adrian started filling the pool, which didn't take long. I planned to move to the pool after my next contraction, but then I had three contractions right on top of each other without spacing between - no time to get out of bed between - then when I started to get out of bed after that string of three, I was caught by yet another contraction; my waters broke and I had that sudden urge to push, which I resisted. Um. Yeah, I did not waltz down the hall to the pool at that point ;-). Basically I had the option to be literally carried down the hall to the pool by Adrian and Alice, or birth in our bedroom, and while I have always appreciated the ease of positioning for pushing in the tub, I opted to stay put ;-). I could barely move, so I asked them to push me from my perched-on-edge-of-bed position backwards onto my back, then they rotated me onto the bed. It's not easy to move one's self when your baby's head is descending with every contraction :-D.

I did not have to exert one ounce of effort towards pushing Martin out. It was a strange experience. Basically I just tried NOT to exert any additional effort (but I didn't fight it), and my body pushed him with each contraction. A few contractions and his head was out, staring up at Alice and Adrian and looking around. Alice told me not to push for a second while she slipped a cord loop from around his neck (not that I was pushing anyway!), then his body slid out at 7:29 am. My land baby!

Adrian announced it was a boy (we hadn't known the gender during pregnancy) - Martin Wilhelm Keister - and Alice grabbed the nearest clean-looking towel (after checking with us to confirm) to wrap him in, as most of the birth supplies, including towels and blankets, were still down the hall :-). After delivering the placenta and nursing, and such, Alice took his measurements. 7lb. 8 oz., 20 3/4" long, 14 1/4" head. And a bundle of sweetness :-). He has been a good nurser and was drunk with happiness when my milk came in last night (about 36 hours after birth). Nothing like those contented newborn gurgles after eating :-).

I had tested positive for Group B Strep for this pregnancy, and had used Hibiclens washes thrice daily for over a month, which had reduced the growth but not eradicated it (this protocol eradicates it for the vast majority of my midwife's clients, but it didn't quite do that with me - probably due to a compromised gut/deeper issues). Because of my history of long-term digestive issues with antibiotics (still recuperating from the IV abx given me in Gretchen's labor in 2010 and Hans' in 2008) and also my relatively-short previous labors (general protocol is two rounds of antibiotics, 4 hours apart - didn't manage to make it to the second dose with either Hans or Gretchen), we did not opt for antibiotics. GBS is primarily a concern for preemies (my 11-day late baby was not that!), children of smokers (again, not a concern for us!) or in the case of prolonged rupture of membranes (18-24 hours). My waters broke at 10 cm and Martin was born 5-10 minutes later. Perfect scenario. If I'd planned a hospital birth, I might have barely made it to the hospital (or birthed on the way!), but there is no way one round of abx would have been delivered, let alone the "required" two doses. (With Gretchen, from time of ordering the first round to all of the round being delivered by IV through my bloodstream was about an hour.)

Hans and Gretchen LOVE their new brother ("my new baby," as Gretchen calls him) and are eager to hold him and verbally soothe him when he cries. He's a pretty calm baby so far, easy to soothe, and looks just like his older brother looked at birth. Hilariously similar, in fact! We are enjoying this fleeting time and soaking up the cuddles. We praise God for this blessing from Him.