Sunday, November 08, 2015

My Favorite Things (Baby Edition)

Prepping for Baby #4, and it's so fun to pull out baby items and clothes and remember using them with our previous kids, and anticipating using them again with this new little one :-). It reminds me of some of the things I've loved using the most over the years. And it reminds me of some of the things I used to love, but don't find as essential anymore. Or things I didn't used to own, that I'm glad I do now! My preferences change a bit with each baby.

I find it fun to find out what other moms use the most, what they don't use at all, and which things they consider optional. The point in this post is NOT to draw a line in the sand, act like someone is crazy for purchasing "unnecessary items," or is a bad mom if they use x, y, or z, or if they DON'T own and use t, u, or v. Good grief, we can be more mature, I think. This is purely for informational and interest purposes. No name calling, no "camps" that we need to place ourselves into, k? I just find the subject interesting :-).

So anyway, here are a few lists that I made, and I'm curious what you would put in each list. Feel free to share in comments.

My "If I Was Re-Acquiring All My Baby Stuff, This Is What I'd Get Again" List
  • onesies, 2 dozen in the newborn size and 1 dozen in bigger sizes. All other clothes are optional, seriously. Fun, but optional. 
  • burp rags, 1-2 dozen. Two of my babies did a lot of spitting up. 
  • drool bibs, 2+ dozen. Because one of my babies was prolific in drooling, and one could go through up to a dozen bibs in a few hours from her spit-up. 
  • a baby bath tub or baby bath holder. Because, yes, I can use the sink or larger tub, but babies are slippery and I don't have a good grip ;-D. Also 1-2 small baby towels, because newborns become engulfed in a full-size towel!  
  • a carrier like an Ergo. We use ours many hours daily from about 5 months onward. LOVE. This is my #1 essential after onesies and diapers, seriously. 
  • a newborn wrap, for the pre-Ergo stage. (Not a huge fan of the Ergo infant insert.) We own a Boba Wrap
  • a stroller. We currently own a Sit 'n Stand. I prefer to hold/wear my babies, but it's also nice to have a stroller option, especially as they get older. 
  • a baby bed. We co-sleep for the most part, but find that something like a co-sleeper or pack 'n play is still really nice to have, and gets used as well - currently we plan to use a pack 'n play for a back-up option with this baby. 
  • a baby holder like a bouncer. I don't use it much, but it's nice to have one on hand :-). 
  • cloth diapers. It's kind of an obsession; I like a mix of prefolds with covers, fitteds with covers, and a few pocket diapers for outings. Most of my stash is homemade, so I don't have particular brand recommendations, though I've tried a few "store-bought" types. 
  • disposable diapers. Because I'm just not hard-core enough to care if I use some newborn diapers to help ease the transition with a new baby, for those nasty meconium poops, or when my baby gets a yeast rash, and also sometimes for outings. And for vacations. 
  • large waterproof pads that work for diaper changes, crib liners, bed pads, and all manner of things. I have about 10 hospital-grade ones that a nursing home was getting rid of as they switched brands. These are in great condition after constant use by us for over 5 years! 
  • a few warm blankets, and also a few thin woven cotton blankets for swaddling 
  • nasal aspirator. Invaluable for one of my kids who cried a lot as a baby and was constantly stuffing up his nose! I get a new one with each baby, use for a few months and then TOSS. They do not get saved indefinitely. ICK. And people think the Nose Frida is unhygienic - ha! 
  • a decent thermometer. I let low-grade fevers run their course, and my favorite thermometer is a kiss on the forehead, but it's really nice to know an exact temp sometimes, to gauge if intervention is needed! 
  • a diaper cream. Because although I've found most rashes are prevented with frequent changes, sometimes it happens. I mainly use Butt Paste because it seriously works and it's easy to find and is relatively cheap. Sometimes I make my own salve with herbs. 
  • basic mild baby soap. We use Dr. Bronner's Baby Mild for both body wash and shampoo. 
  • nursing pads. I leak a lot the first 6 months or so. I have about 1 dozen pairs, most of which I made, A layer of waterproof fabric, a layer or two of absorbent, and a layer of suede or micro-fleece. 
  • a carseat. We're using a convertible this time. But as long as it's rear-facing, properly installed, and your baby is over the minimum weight and under the maximum height, there are lots of safe options :-). 
  • chocolate, always chocolate. And other food. Because I laugh when people say Mommy's Milk is "free." They've never seen the increase in my grocery budget because my metabolism doubles while nursing! 

My "I Really Like Having This, But Wouldn't Prioritize a Re-Purchase if I Had Limited Resources" List
  • Baby Legs. I admit this was something I thought was SO silly with my first baby. But they've grown on me and I really love how easy they are to warm legs but not have to take off for diaper changes. I especially love them for little baby girls, but even used them for my younger boy. (They are WAY over-priced, though, and I'd never pay full price. They're actually easy to make from adult knee socks!) 
  • A few headbands for a baby girl. Totally unnecessary, but adorable. 
  • Aden + Anais blankets. The feel of these is just superior, they are breathable, lightweight, large, and great for so many things, from swaddling to a quick nursing cover. 
  • Nose Frida. It's nice to have an alternative option to the bulb, but I wouldn't rate it up with super-important. 
  • a few extra babywearing options. We currently own a mei tai and a woven ring sling, and both get some use, but not as much as our other options. 

My "I Can't Decide If I Like Or Hate This Item" List 
  • nursing cover. Controversy aside, my babies kick, they flash me, and they're active. And depending on the stage they're in, the nursing cover can be more or less helpful. My aim is to nurse as discreetly as reasonable, and sometimes that means using a cover. But I don't nurse in bathrooms, and have been known to find a quiet room or hallway, or nurse in a worship service, depending on what works that day. I usually use this more for the itty bitty stage and use it less and less as they get older. Nursing a toddler with a cover has NEVER worked for me. 
  • infant carrier seat. We've used one for our first 3, but are not for our fourth, for various reasons. They've gotten less convenient with each baby, as each has gotten fatter more quickly than the previous ones, and there are just more and more safety precautions (by the manufacturers and by the AAP) coming out that restrict many of the versatile ways we've used them in the past. They CAN be used safely, but there are a lot of unsafe ways to use them too! They are also an incredible expense for something that is only used for a few months and then expires after 6 years. And bulky to store for 2+ years between babies. 
  • infant safety gates. We've owned them at times and not at others; they seem like they simultaneously create and solve safety issues - ha! 
  • baby monitor. Basic sound-only option. Useful, and I've owned them for one baby and not two others, and we currently have one someone handed-us-down for this baby - but it's a not-oft-used item here, and just one more thing we own that takes up room. My babies often sleep in a wrap or the Ergo, so it's not even always helpful. But when we're in a multi-level house and they're napping on a bed/crib, it is sometimes nice to have. 
  • breast pump. My babies have never taken bottles and it seems like a total waste of space to own a breast pump, but it's also been handy a handful of times to have a manual one around to help clear a really bad clog. So I keep it. *shrugs* 
  • sippy cup. We've owned ONE sippy cup over the years and it's gotten very little use, but it's also nice to have for the rare occasion like a car trip. *shrugs* 
  • nursing bras. Helpful, but kind of superfluous and regular ones adapt just fine ;-). 
  • baby hats. My babies rarely need them, and they tend to fall off, but there are rare occasions when they're helpful. I'd honestly rather keep them warm by snuggling and kissing their head ;-). 
  • I have similar sentiments regarding baby socks, and prefer baby booties (which are more likely to stay on) or footed onesies. 
  • baby swing. Sort of useful, especially for babies who like motion, and those times when Mommy really does need some extra hands, but SUCH a short-lived use before baby outgrows, and takes up a lot of space on the floor. 

My "I Used to Own This, But Choose Not to Anymore" List 
  • exersaucer. Someone passed me on a used one and I used it for a while, but it was SUCH a large footprint and didn't wow me, so I passed it on to someone else. 
  • nursing stool. Can you say "tripping hazard"? And once I had a toddler, the toddler thought it was his own personal-sized stool, so who ended up using it? ;-P 
  • nursing pillow. Invaluable for my first baby, and I'd recommend it for a first-time mom or a mom who had a baby with latch issues, multiples, etc. Virtually unused for my other two kids and just one more item to store. 
  • single stroller. Very helpful for a single child! Semi-useful for a second child. Not so much after that. 
  • velcro swaddle blanket. They never fit tightly enough (and isn't that the point of the swaddle?), and my first was our "Houdini" who always got out of them anyway. 
  • diaper bag. A backpack serves the purpose and is more versatile. It also fits my babywearing contraptions better ;-). 
  • crib. This never got much use and took up SO much room. 
  • scratch mitts. Socks are so versatile and can be used for the same purpose. And they are already hard enough to keep track of. Why do I need to keep track of TWO types of tiny objects that need matches?! 
  • plastic teether things. My first two babies never liked them, and I'd rather them not chew on plastic anyway ;-). They get enough plastic chewing with Duplos, without me encouraging the practice. Hehe. 
  • baby powder 
  • shopping cart cover. My oldest promptly pulled it aside and chewed on the cart handle, and I gave up. I just wear my babies while shopping until they're about 18 months old. They're happier (I get so many comments about my cheerful tag-alongs when they're worn!) and by 18 months, I figure their immune system can handle the cart germs. 
  • Hyland's teething tablets. Never worked for my kids AT ALL. 
  • an exercise ball. I actually really liked this and it was very helpful for my fussy first baby, and I'd kind of like another one. But I haven't replaced my old one (which had a good life), partially because I'm too cheap, and partly because it would just become a very large projectile toy with a 2, 5, and 7yo in the house. I try to pick my battles :-P. 

My "Popular Things I've Never Owned/Used" List 
  • changing table. They make me nervous, and are another piece of furniture, and a bed works just fine. The floor and couch also work in a pinch. 
  • pacifiers 
  • formula. Blessed with a good milk supply! 
  • baby food. My plate is available to them, and forks are handy mashers. 
  • wipes warmer  
  • crib mobile 
  • Bumbo 
  • baby shoes 
  • Johnny-jump-up. I try to avoid crotch danglers because of chiro cautions. 
  • Baby Bjorn, for the same reason :-). 
  • nursing-specific tops/dresses. Because I nurse all the time. I really don't want to re-vamp my entire wardrobe, but would rather just adapt what I have. That's what 2-piece outfits are for :-). 
  • amber teething necklace 
  • baby oil and baby lotion. My babies haven't been rashy, and I don't bathe them over-much, so their skin doesn't get dry. 
  • a nursery. Yeah, one of those special rooms for baby that is ADORABLE and has awesome decorations. My babies have all slept in our room for well over a year and they have yet to be in therapy for the general (non-baby) decor on the master bedroom walls ;-). My 2yo is actually my first toddler who has even had decorations on his wall. Oops. 

My "Trying Something New This Time" List 
  • a pack 'n play with a bassinet insert. This option replaces our basic pack 'n play and our co-sleeper; less to store, and will hopefully still fit our needs well :-). 
  • nursing camis 
  • a slightly different kind of baby bath holder 
  • maple teething ring. This was given to me by my chiropractor. Maple is supposed to be non-splintery. Any opinions or advice on using this? I haven't researched it yet. 

My "Items I Would Like to Try In The Future, But Don't Currently Own" List 
  • a stretchy lightweight wrap 
  • a good-quality strong-but-light woven wrap 
  • a post-partum belly wrap 
  • rubber teething toy like Sophie the Giraffe 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Fall 2015 School Plans

(Oh, btw, we live in Kansas now. We're so happy to be living in not-Texas. We're also expecting #4 in December. We're happy about that too.)

Short version: we're still homeschooling and Hans is in 2nd grade and Gretchen is preschool-age. Martin is still mischievous (and we love him dearly ;-D).


Long version: for those who, like me, get some sort of thrill out of reading the why's and wherefore's of curriculum choices and such.

Hans turned 7 over the summer and is in 2nd grade. He is my reader and philosopher and generally prefers the humanities to anything else :-). Give him a book on history or science to read, and he's engrossed. Or give him super heroes :-P. He's really into super heroes too. Agh. He is definitely a first child when in comes to dictating how imaginary play should happen among siblings ;-).

Gretchen will be 5 at the beginning of October and is in grade level I-don't-know-what-to-call-her. And this is why homeschooling is cool. Because it doesn't matter what grade or non-grade she's in and we'll just keep carrying-on, thankyouverymuch. She's sort of in kindergarten and sort of in preschool, though honestly, I've done so little formal schooling with her. But somehow we're over half way through phonics and most of the way done with a kindergarten math book set. And she knows how to handwrite. She picks up a lot of stuff herself. And we'll just see how much more schooling gets done this year.

I'm hoping to be done with phonics and the math book (which is really basic - like all K math should be!) before Baby is born in December. We could do this at a leisurely pace, and whether or not it gets done mainly depends on me remembering to do work with her :-D. But she also gets a lot of "trickle-down effect" in learning from participating in some of Hans' school, at her own choosing, and from plenty of oral reading.

I actually have a lot of thoughts on preschool and kindergarten and how it can look SO different for different children and still net similar results, and why we chose different "types" of preschool/kindergarten work for Hans and Gretchen, based on their own styles of learning and our own life circumstances, and the pros and cons of both approaches. I might type that up into a separate post on preschool. . .

Martin turned 2 in June and cracks us up with his mischief. The kids call him "Trouble," and it's a very accurate moniker. In Hans' spelling today, we were discussing homophones, and I asked Hans to give me two sentences, one with the word "no" and one with the word "know." Without hesitation he blurted out "No, Martin!" as his first sentence. Yep, that about sums Martin up. Haha. He's cost us more in gray hairs and doctor's and chiropractor bills than the other two, and keeps us on our toes. He's also such a good cuddler and finally weaned (per Mommy's initiation) recently. He's been our most prolific early talker and cracks us up with what he comes up with to say. He is a very enthusiastic casual user of the large porcelain object, and we're hoping to yank diapers before too long.

But back to school. . . We took May off from school while Mommy packed and threw up. Then our house closed in late May and as part of our move transition, since our house sold so quickly, the kids and I spent 6 weeks in Oklahoma in limbo, while Adrian stayed back in Houston finishing up his summer job. So we got a little ahead in school. Whee! We only did math, spelling, geography, catechism, and zoology over the summer, though, to keep it light (and not every subject every day), and so I could leave some of our books in storage and not haul them all to Oklahoma :-D. We then took July off from school, and dove back in the first week of August after a few weeks of settling into Kansas life.

Right now an ideal school day for us looks like:

Start around 8:30 or 9:00.

History first. We're doing Veritas again and delving into Ancient Greece and Rome, mixed in chronologically with Bible events. Fun stuff. We review our history timeline song, do some readings from the week's particular history topic (this week is on Homer and Greek Mythology; we just did the division of Israel), and Hans might do a worksheet or we'll all do a project together.

Geography next. We're using Classical Conversations geography table again as our backbone, for Hans to do each week. We don't do CC and never have, but I still love some things about their curriculum. One thing I like is how simple their geography grammar is to incorporate. The link above has a simple video that explains how to use the table - which is just a laminated folded map with geography locations to learn and trace each week.

We're doing cycle 2 geography this year, which focuses mainly on Europe and works well into our Greece and Rome study, because of similar geography. Last year the cycle 1 table fit in perfectly with our Ancient Egypt Veritas study initially, but the towards the end of the year it deviated some, which is fine for the most part, as I'm just trying to give exposure to major geographical features. Gretchen is just getting basic exposure to the globe and maps and such, nothing formal. She loves tracing, so has been doing some tracing of maps.

Also, we still have our set of 6 Geopuzzles, and try to pull those out periodically. We've been mainly focusing on the Europe one, but mix it up and do different ones also.

Math after geography. We're still using Singapore math and Hans should be done with the level 2 books in the next few weeks (note to self: order the next books!). I love how simple Singapore is, without extra fluff. But still does a great job teaching a solid set of topics and I LOVE how many word problems they incorporate seamlessly, so it's not the "extra hard, scary type of problem."

We use the U.S. editions of the books, because we don't live in Singapore and therefore don't use metric primarily (but the U.S. does incorporate plenty of metric units into the books too). And we're not using the alternate editions written for the U.S. - the Standards edition and the Common Core edition - because I don't trust curricula that are arbitrarily written to conform to national standards. Ha! If the U.S. edition isn't broke, don't fix it!

English is level 2 Shurley English for Hans. Hans really does well with this curriculum, and I like the structure of it. It's not overwhelming so far. I know Shurley has a reputation of being "rigorous," but so far (we did Level 1 last year and are one week 6 of level 2 this year) I feel like it's been very step-by-step doable for us. He's come a long way on his willingness and ability to express thoughts in written sentence form (the child has never had trouble verbally expressing himself!), and has learned a good deal about classifying sentences for part of speech, etc. And Martin loves the Jingles CD with all the rhymes for definitions and begs for "Tingles" whenever he sees me get it out.

After English we sometimes break for a snack and some play time. We live across the street from a park, so sometimes we go over there if it's nice, or just play in our backyard, which is awesome because it isn't overrun with fire ants and is not a swamp. Kansasforthewin.

Hans often just wants to plow through subjects, though, so we often do Spelling next without a break. We've taken a rather unusual, non-coordinated path to spelling. Hans was reading fluently before he was 5, but we delayed and delayed formal spelling with him, contrary to the advice of all the experts, who say you don't want to do that and want to start spelling at completion of phonics, so "bad spelling habits" aren't formed.

But Hans is Hans and we really felt like this was right for him. He is one who WANTS to spell correctly and would always ask how to spell something correctly, so bad habits weren't forming ;-). Plus, he was reading constantly, often at high grade levels, so was constantly exposed to great vocabulary and proper spelling. I toyed with starting him in spelling last year, but we felt like the school work he was doing at the time was enough of a "stretch" for him in terms of handwriting commitment. Until recently he has seen any kind of letter formation writing activity as a mild form of torture. :-D He's come a long way in his attention span and his willingness to do extra writing in the past 6 months, and now spelling is not a stress and he is doing great with it! He was NOT ready before, and now he is. That's why I love homeschooling. Plus, the funny thing is that the spelling curriculum we're using, The Grammar of Spelling by Logos Press, starts at 2nd grade level anyway, so I guess it all worked out. ha!

Next we do Catechism, using Catechism for Young Children. Last year we keyed questions and answers into a free online flashcard program called Anki, and then used Anki to keep up on review and cycling through everything evenly and introducing new material. That was fine, but honestly, I'm enjoying just doing it the "old-fashioned" way right now, by asking them questions and answers (and corresponding Bible memory verses) straight from our little 'ole catechism book. While we were without a computer in Oklahoma for the summer, we reverted back to not using Anki, and I'm liking it.

At this point, school is usually done for the morning. Unless we catch a grasshopper and the kids stare at it and shriek in delight for a solid hour or something. But usually, done.

In the afternoon, while Martin naps Hans and Gretchen either read quietly together or apart or play in the basement together. After naps and snack, a few times a week we read from our Zoology 1 book about flying creatures. Sometimes Gretchen listens in, but usually it's Hans and I reading alone. We are pretty casual with science, and I like that. I'm just trying to interest the kids in various aspects of science and nature at this age. With our botany book, we were really consistent with keeping up with botany journals and stuff, and we haven't been as much this time. It's a lot easier to sketch a flower than a hopping grasshopper, let's just say :-P. Plus, I feel like the botany book had a lot more journaling ideas. We have snatched many random opportunities to watch/study/catch insects while outside, but haven't journaled about them much.

We have really enjoyed the Apologia elementary books we've done. (We did botany last year, before the Zoology 1 book) The books are so accessible and conversational, but are packed with great science. Most elementary science books are PAINFUL to read because of how random the topics are arranged, but I love how Apologia takes a topic and studies it in detail, at an appropriate and accessible level.

I'm trying to decide if we're going to deviate and do the astronomy book next (we will finish Zoology 1 sometime in the fall, probably - we're starting and stopping at odd times of the year) or if we'll go straight into Zoology 2 on swimming creatures. But before either Apologia option, I told the kids after we finished the Zoology book we'd do a 10-week cycle for anatomy again. A few years ago when Hans was preschool age, we used the My Body book to make life-size body posters for Hans and Gretchen, as we studied each of the body systems (at simple, age-appropriate levels - a few great books to supplement are The Human Body or First Human Body Encyclopedia), and since then they've been asking me when we get to do it again. Martin will love to participate this time - fun!

Adrian also recently started teaching piano lessons to both Hans and Gretchen - recorder too for Gretchen because she was interested! So on most school days, they have short lessons with him when he gets home from school. Also at bedtime, Adrian reads out loud to them. The kids had a ton of fun reading up on Greek myths with Adrian (he  read them D'Aulaires Book of Greek Myths and also just finished Black Ships Before Troy). They are now reading The Lost Princess by George MacDonald. Gretchen is more excited about the latter than Hans is ;-).

And that's how our school year is looking so far. Ideal days almost never happen, so this is just a rough mock-up of how a day is SUPPOSED to go ;-). Ha! I make a high priority of doing history, math, English, and spelling virtually every day, and geography most days. Catechism usually happens 3-5 days a week, and zoology is anywhere from 1-4 days a week. And after our new baby arrives around Christmas, things will have to be even more creative to get school done.

So because I'm a curriculum nerd, I would love to know what others are using in homeschooling :-). I love all the options out there today, and hearing what other families find works for them, even if very different from my own choices. So please share!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

House Rules v. Universal Laws

This concept has been rummaging around in my head for a year or two, but I've never managed to actually type out a post on it until now. I find it very interesting how much the category of house rules is confused with the category of moral or "universal" laws.

Now, let me make it clear that I think boundaries are INCREDIBLY helpful for young kids. This is what I mean by "house rules." By house rules, I merely mean basic rules and/or principles and/or patterns of behavior that are deemed acceptable for a given household. Many of these rules relate specifically to behavior literally "in the family's house" (such as whether or not children can climb on furniture) and some are a bit more general and just relate to how the family expects children (and hopefully adults too!) to behave in most circumstances (whether a child is allowed to "ask" for something at a grocery store, for example, or the typical term of respect a child uses for an adult, such as "ma'am" or "Mrs. Smith.")

These "house rules" - expectations and behaviors - vary quite a bit among households. And that's not a bad thing. After all, I don't remember treatment of furniture having detailed guidelines in the Old Testament, outside of extenuating circumstances like guidelines related to mold :-D. We have a very general principle in the Old Testament of treating our neighbor's property well and just a few specific examples. But for one family, protection of another's property might mean "don't cut holes in the furniture, but feel free to romp and play on the couches," while another family might prefer a "couches and upholstered chairs are for sitting only, and no shoes on the furniture" type of rule. There's nothing wrong with either approach.

What I find frustrating is when house rules are confused with moral or universal laws, though.

(By moral law, I mean the summation of right and wrong found in the 10 commandments and expounded upon in many other laws in the Old Testament. But regardless if you have an absolute view of the authority of scripture, each person has SOME idea of what they consider right and wrong, so whatever that is, that's YOUR "moral law." If you see someone murder someone and are shocked, that's your moral law. I'll try to refer to this category as "universal rules" to avoid confusion and recognize that we don't all start with the same set of moral laws, but that we have some general "this is wrong" ideas, among families.)

And I see confusion happening a lot. Sometimes in daily life, while interacting with friends and relations, and often on blog posts and other online venues.

We have the "when I was a child, I didn't speak at the dinner table unless spoken to," as if children are somehow born innately with a moral compass that pricks their conscience if they speak at the dinner table, rather than treating such a rule as something that the adult in question was taught and was expected IN THEIR HOUSEHOLD. How on earth can we expect or care if a child talks at the dinner table, unless they have been instructed not to do so?!

We also have the "that mom sure is strict with her kids and doesn't even let them run around in the house." As if, you know, running inside is an inalienable right that all children should have in all circumstances.

Both of the above comments are judging a child or parent's conduct and/or rules based on the a confusion of the moral law and a house rule. And when this most perplexes me is when people feel the need to address the CHILD and correct the CHILD for a non-moral "failing," when the correcting adult in question is totally removed from the situation, or is at least removed from the situation enough to not have a foggy clue if the rule in question is one that has ever been taught to the child. Please don't fault a child for something they were never taught!

Before I go on, an important clarification: I have always always ALWAYS, from the time my oldest was very young, made it very clear to friends and relations that I appreciate it when they aid me in correcting my child or cluing me in to my child's behavior. I make a point of THANKING someone (not being offended) if a friend informs me that my child X is hitting another child, and I quickly go deal with the situation. But that applies in moral situations. Few parents would think it's okay for one child to hit another.

Another clarification, even in non-universal situations, I welcome concerned people who see my children doing something and WONDER if they are allowed to do it, and then ask me. I consider that a favor they are doing for me, to look out for my children and myself, and then ask me if behavior X is okay. That is a totally cool way to clue in a parent without confusing house rules and UNIVERSAL rules. If an adult sees my children outside whacking a baseball bat against a tree (in my yard) and ask me "do you want them doing that?," that's a cool way to deal with the situation! They understand that it's my tree, my child, my bat, my yard. No one is currently getting harmed. They realize there are two sides to the situation and in case I don't want the event to occur (because many people would not want it), they are cluing me in. But if they are the adult outside and suddenly freak out at my child that they are hitting the tree, that honestly just leaves me scratching my head.

UNLESS IT'S THEIR YARD. (Well, the freaking is still a bit petty, but the immediate correction is not.) Which brings me to an important subset of house rules: the house rules of other people. It's all well and good to have expectations in your house that differ from others, as long as your children are able to transition to the rules of others at their house, or you are able to help them be clued in and respond accordingly. If we owned our own yard (we currently don't), I honestly wouldn't care if my son was beating the tree with a bat, but you better believe that if we are at someone else's house, if he was doing so, I would immediately ask him to stop "because it's not our tree, and we wouldn't want to accidentally hurt it."

Same with furniture. I let my children stand on our couch (but they can't jump), even with shoes sometimes, and use cushions and stuff for "playing horses," but I wouldn't let them do that at someone else's house unless we checked on house rules there first. That obviously gets tricky because young children are not always going to realize "oh this is a house rule, not a UNIVERSAL rule," and know to ask. That's why adult supervision (within reason) is a good idea when friends come or go to play ;).

So let's do some categorization:

"Jumping on furniture is okay." HOUSE RULE
"Do not cut up cushions with scissors." Technically, it isn't in itself a moral problem without more information, can we all just agree that it's a UNIVERSAL RULE, barring extending circumstances?! And that an adult can legitimately leap in and tell someone to stop (even looking horrified) before asking questions?

"No fighting." HOUSE RULE (some households are totally cool with vigorous playing and wrestling)
"Don't hit people in anger." I hope it's a UNIVERSAL RULE to everyone.

"Finish all your food on your plate before getting down." HOUSE RULE
"Don't eat food that has been on the floor." HOUSE RULE
"No one is allowed to say they don't like the food." HOUSE RULE.
"Whining or yelling that you won't eat the food is not allowed." Technically not a UNIVERSAL RULE, but awfully close.

"No rough housing in the house." HOUSE RULE
"Do not bowl over small children while rushing through hallways at breakneck speed." UNIVERSAL RULE (I hope?)

"Brush your teeth after every meal." HOUSE RULE
"Wipe dribbling yuck off your mouth and chin as you eat." UNIVERSAL RULE, generally. I guess there could be exceptions ;-).
"Bathe every night before bed." HOUSE RULE
"Children have to be totally clothed at all times, unless bathing." HOUSE RULE

"One dessert per day." HOUSE RULE
"No snacking between meals." HOUSE RULE
"Children need to ask before getting food to eat." HOUSE RULE
"Do not throw food all over the kitchen." I think we can call this a UNIVERSAL RULE

So summary to all my meandering:

I like help watching my kids. I have three (going on four) and the boys are a handful, at the very least :-D. If you see them doing something that is an obvious universal rule, please feel free to leap in and correct them. If it is remotely possible that my children's behavior might be inappropriate or violating a rule they have been taught, please feel free to either

(a) ask me if they should be doing X, or
(b) ask THEM if they should be doing X.

I honestly don't mind if you address my children directly if I'm not around or if I'm not right there or if it just seems easier, assuming you're not saying something to them (or me) in a certain tone that might undermine my authority and my rules in front of or to my child. I just think it makes sense sometimes to address the child directly, and other times it makes more sense to address the mom. The adult doing the questioning can normally figure out which works better, given proximity to both parties, attention of both parties, etc.

I have to admit I don't "get" moms who rail about "that idiot stranger who dared to correct or question her child." What I DO "get" is moms who feel frustrated that an adult (stranger or not) freaks out at their child for doing something that either the child might have been told they CAN do, or for doing something that the child shouldn't do (at someone else's house, eg) but might have no idea they shouldn't. Children are not born with a lot of common sense. If their parent allows them to jump on couches, why should we fault them if they start jumping on someone else's couch? This is not the 11th commandment. Don't freak out, just calmly ask them not to jump on YOUR couch, and I will totally back you :-D.

Kids need to learn to respect other people's property and follow the house rules of other people. But adults also need to learn to respect the house rules of other parents and not fault a child for what they've never been taught or mock another parent's rules in the presence of the parent's child. Common sense, folks.

So now I'm curious: what are some "different" house rules you have that might not be typical? We're kind of a mixed household with rules, and some of our rules are considered more strict than necessary, while others are considered more lax than is common.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Defining of Our Motherhood

Something that's been on my heart lately is the subject of how we as moms define our mothering. We're "breastfeeding moms," or "Babywise moms," or "working moms," or "stay-at-homers." We are "homebirthers." We do the extended rear-facing thing, or we do "non-GMO" food. We were safe and did hospital birth. We kept our sons "intact." We practice non-violent parenting. Or we practice "Biblical parenting." So many labels. So many philosophies.

I could totally fit in some of the above categories, and I'm even passionate about some of those philosophies. Very passionate. I do my "homework" on a lot of issues, and I try to pick what's best for my family. Some of my choices are ones that I believe are non-negotiables and are also best for all families, or at the very least, MOST families. But some are ones that I consider to be equivalent to choosing my favorite color as purple. OPTIONAL. Different for each family!

Sometimes my choices are misguided. Sometimes I change my choices and do different things for different children or at different stages. Sometimes I eat crow. Or sometimes I become more firm in my beliefs on Issue X, the more I study and "live" that issue in my mothering.

But you know what? For each of these "defining" issues, the commonality is that I'm trying to do what I believe is best for my family. And the hope and assumption is that each mother I know is doing the same thing. That doesn't mean we reach the same decisions, even if the goal is the same. We might both consider birth options and choose very different paths. We might regret those decisions and choose a different path the next time, but we each do what we believe is best based on the information we've been given.

Can we please, please, please stop defining ourselves primarily by narrow categories? I don't call myself a "natural birther" or a homebirther, though I've been given that label by others. I don't call myself a cloth diaperer, though I do use cloth diapers. I don't consider myself "anti-vaccine," though I have unpopular views on the subject. I could definitely fall into the crunchy mom category, though we circumcise *gasp* and our views on discipline (and the depravity of babies/children) are definitely different than the "peaceful parenting" philosophy that usually follows along with it.

I talk to moms who are embarrassed that they use disposable diapers, since they know I cloth diaper. I tell them they don't have to make my choice. I've honestly never understood the fear of cloth diapers that most women I have, but that doesn't mean they have to cloth diaper. Good grief.

Most moms I know are aware that I've done the whole natural birth thing (as if it's an event unto itself). They look semi-ashamed and drop their gaze as they mention that they ended up with an epidural (or c-section) after x number of hours of hard labor and miscellaneous complications. I've looked some of my friends in the eye and said, "You do realize that you worked harder in your labor than I did? You labored for 12 hours (or 16, or 30) without medications before you chose to use intervention. My longest active labor was 5 hours. Birth is hard, and you worked hard, even if you didn't have a "natural birth.""

Please, do your homework. Research birth options. Choose a provider that respects you. By all means. But do not be ashamed if you didn't have a perfect water birth with delayed cord clamping at some beach-side resort. Maybe you can look back and realize that there were factors that contributed to complications in your birth (or maybe nothing you could have done could have changed the outcome!), and maybe you will choose a different way "next time," but you did the best with what you knew, during a high-stress time, and probably with a lot of pressure from your care providers ;-).

Other moms could judge me for the non-organic cotton my children wear, the fact that we used disposable plates yesterday, or the fact that my children haven't done preschool and one of my children was "behind socially" as a toddler and preschooler.

As moms, WE CAN'T WIN. Not in the category competition. There are moms who will judge you for lame reasons. But we also judge ourselves. And sometimes our friends who make "weird, crunchy decisions" or "schedule mom" decisions are NOT judging their friends in the "other camp." Sometimes yes, sometimes no. We have to choose to make our decisions based on our instincts, not based on the fear-mongering and not based on popularity.

As a new mom of one, I could collect advice (mostly unsolicited) the way you collect water at a pool: very easily and rapidly. (Seriously, folks, sidenote: new moms, it gets better! The judging and the unsolicited advice does slow with additional children.) I was frowned on when I left my baby fussing for more than 2 seconds in a *gasp* infant carrier seat. I was also judged when my baby was crying and I chose to hold him instead of "train him to wait." I talked with a woman who thought I was unwise to use a birth center instead of a hospital; I talked with others who thought I should birth at home. I was given scheduling advice, and I was also given co-sleeping advice. I was asked at 2 weeks old if my baby was sleeping through the night yet (answer: NO). I was given advice to fully vaccinate, and also given advice to not vaccinate at all.

I honestly think most of these comments and the advice were well-intentioned. Women are passionate about mothering and they want to share their passions with others. Great! I love talking with other women about their mothering decisions. But I don't like the pressure or the judging. I've been in environments that are more supportive and ones that are more judgmental, and it makes all the difference.

As mothers, could we try to do a couple of things?

(1) Please don't judge a mother about a parenting decision that is not black and white. Even if it is an area that YOU see as right v. wrong, can we realize that there is a difference between clearly-defined child abuse and something like whether or not to vaccinate? Can we please realize that a mother is not defined by one or a handful of decisions she makes? She is not a "bad" mom if her child has tasted McDonald's fries!

(2) As mothers, can we please not assume someone else is judging us just because they're making a different decision or offering advice? This is where I really fail. It's so easy for me to impart motive to a comment someone makes that could be totally innocent. Not everyone is pointing their avocado at me. (Seriously, a great blog post. READ.)

Now let's go back a few paragraphs. I said we have to choose to make our decisions based on instinct, not fear. Well, yes or no. Let me clarify. We actually should make our decisions based on both. BUT. . .

The fear should be the fear of the Lord, not the fear of man. We should not make parenting decisions based on the fear of man. Do not schedule because your best friend insists you should. Do not avoid McDonald's because you don't want to be judged by your crunchy friends. Do not cloth diaper because you're afraid to seem "non-green."

We have the freedom to use our instincts (and even our preferences) to make our parenting decisions for  non-moral issues or issues that are only semi- (but not exclusively) moral. We can choose certain paths based on economics, health, practicality. That's okay! Just doesn't choose these paths based on fear of what other moms are going to think.

God gives mothers instincts. You are the mother of your child. No one else is. You know your child better than anyone else. God gives us instincts to know what they need and how they need it. Use that instinct. If your gut tells you "no," don't ignore it. Now, the human heart is deceitful and wicked, so don't exclusively trust your gut, but do listen to your gut. Don't let someone (even a doctor or other professional) bully or guilt you into doing something. You can always say "let me think about it longer and get back with you." You can always think and pray about a decision more. You can change your philosophy! You can cloth diaper one child, and then choose disposables for the next. You can formula-feed your first, and for your next you can line up support and education to make breastfeeding happen the next time, if you are able.

But our decisions should always be chosen under the umbrella of God's Word. That's where the fear of God comes into play. And this is what truly should define our motherhood. How often do we define our success for a day of mothering by how we measure up to the fruits of the Spirit? We rejoice that we did x number of loads of laundry, that our children didn't eat anything non-organic. We took our kids to play group to give them their social time. We made sure they only watched 30 minutes of television. We got through all our subjects in school.

Were we loving to them? Joyful? Was there peace in our home, as much as we were able? Did our children see Christ in us, or did they only see the Law without the Gospel? They need to see both! Did our children see niceness without true kindness? Kindness wants what is best for the other person, even if it's not what the other person would define as "nice." Kind is sometimes telling a child no, even if it's not "nice" to the child. (Bonus homework: do some word research on the difference between the two words!) But treating a child harshly and like your personal slave is not kindness.

Wow. That's much harder than being a cloth diapering mom. It's much harder than natural birth. It's much harder than putting your child on a schedule. We can't do it, moms. I don't do it; you don't do it. Yes, we may try, and God grants us successes and victories in the mess (praise God!), but we can't do it perfectly. We're commanded to run this race with perseverance, but we also know that we can't do it alone. We need Jesus.

Jesus came to die for the sins of His people.

But He also came to live the perfect life we should have lived.

He obeyed where we failed.
He was tempted in every way, yet was without sin.
He was tired and did not yell.
He was angry and only acted in a Biblical way.
He was weary and knew when to rest and when to persevere in tasks.
He was loving, and joyful.
He is our peace.
He was patient, and He IS patient with His children.

He's patient with moms: moms who fail at loving their children, moms who put earthly goals above heavenly ones. He is patient with us. But He calls us to something higher. He calls us to a holy life. He calls us to a holy life of laying down our lives for our children.

But He also says "come to me, all ye who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." We have a Savior who loves us and does not define us by our categories. We have a Savior who does not let us excuse our failures, but leads us and guides us.

We have a Savior that we want our children to know. Can we look at our mothering and ask if our mothering shows our children where our hearts lie? When our children think of our passions, is Jesus one of them? Is Jesus our main passion? Or is Jesus lost in all the categories and all the other issues? This is something that I've been very convicted over the past several months and something I'm still sorting through. I see so much failure in my own mothering, and I wonder if my children see Jesus in me. Do they see the fruits of the Spirit, or do they see my psycho diet restrictions? Do they see my love of books but not my love of the Word?

But as much as I see my failures, I also see God's grace. I see how He's led me, how He's led my children, and how He continues to lead with grace and mercy and law. I see small victories, I hear my children's exposition of Biblical truths, I see their growing knowledge of the Bible and of God. And I see their growing knowledge of forgiveness as they forgive (many times a day!) when their mother chooses the things of the world over the things of God. We serve a great God who loves imperfect mothers. And He calls us to something higher. Pretty frightening and amazing, at the same time :-). 

Monday, January 26, 2015

Hoo, boy. . . going deep here

A friend asked for "anti-vaxxers" to explain in their own words why they don't vaccinate. He promised to listen and not argue. And also to only allow anti-vaxxers to post. I don't like that term, btw :-). I don't consider myself an anti-vaxxer. . . read on.

(Facebook didn't like the length of my comment, so I post here instead. Comment section definitely will be closed.)

I will try to be brief, which is impossible, so scrap that. . . just assume I will be "long" instead :-D. Really long. In the past I've ignored all the mockery about vaccines you've posted, simply because I "don't got time for dat," nor do I think it's worth it to answer a mocker. But since you're actually asking for real reasons now, and have said you won't mock or argue. . . . here goes :-). I'd love it if you read it :-D.

History: I have three children, ages 6, 4, and 1. The 6yo has been partially vaccinated. He did NOT receive the MMR, the flu shot, chicken pox, rotavirus, or Hep B. He has not been vaccinated since he was 15 months old. My youngest 2 children have not been vaccinated at all.

Why did we do this? The same reason every parent chooses either to vaccinate or not vaccinate their child: because they think it is best for their children. Not because of unbased fear, not because we read Mercola (we do NOT), not because "it's more natural," not because I like being weird and mocked and ostracized :-D. But because we felt it was the best choice. I have a bachelor's degree in mathematics education and my husband has a Ph.D. in mathematical physics. We're not exactly stupid. But after reading the literature, we felt this was the right choice for us. We also understand why another parent would make a different choice and we do not ever mock a parent for choosing to vaccinate. We expect respect, so we give respect.

I actually have spent a lot of time browsing the CDC's website section on immunizations and I've read much of their "pink book," which is available for anyone to read for free online. It's long and has a lot of data. There are some vaccines that have very high efficacy rates, but others simply don't. The flu shot is literally a shot in the dark. This year's efficacy rate is 23%. Whee! I got this from a CDC release, not from Most years are higher.

The pertussis vaccine is another interesting one. I'm actually impressed at how much the CDC admits here. Direct quote from them:
"Pertussis incidence has been gradually increasing since the early 1980s. A total of 25,827 cases was reported in 2004, the largest number since 1959. The reasons for the increase are not clear. A total of 27,550 pertussis cases and 27 pertussis-related deaths were reported in 2010." Now, what impresses me about this is that they don't follow immediately with "this is likely due to the steadily gaining anti-vaccine movement," which is the stunt they usually pull :-). The fact is that the pertussis efficacy has never been one of the most impressive, and in the past few months the CDC has admitted that the pertussis vaccine has been shown in animal studies to only suppress symptoms, not cure the disease. I wish I could find this article! But Google is failing me. I can assure you it was a CDC or FDA article, NOT Mercola. It was not ABOUT the CDC, but BY them. They admitted that this would mean that someone who appeared to be immune from whooping cough could in fact just not be showing symptoms, and THEREFORE SPREADING THE VIRUS while appearing unsick. In other words, more dangerous in a contagious way than my unvaxed children ;-).

The Hep B vaccine is just. . . weird. At least, the newborn shot. Newborns do not have an immune system (except their skin, hehe), yet we give a shot to a newborn and expect it to stimulate an immune system that isn't working :-/. Newborns do not need protection against Hep B if their mothers do not carry it, a sexually transmitted disease, as they don't do drugs and aren't sexually active. . . we hope. There is absolutely no reason to begin the vaccine at birth instead of 2 months (or beyond). Why don't we test the mothers? We test the mothers for HIV when they birth? How hard would it be to also test for Hep B?

Chicken pox. I mean really. We survived it as children. It was miserable, but now we don't have to worry about getting it again. Just shingles ;-). (Back to that thought in a moment.) The chicken pox vaccine is very convenient from an American economy perspective. How many families have a parent who can and is willing to isolate themselves for weeks while the virus makes its rounds in the family? Many families have two working parents (or a single parent, who works). We're talking a lot of family-medical leave or unpaid time off work. Chicken pox is inconvenient but rarely a problem for young children. With very rare exceptions, "natural immunity" is permanent, whereas vaccine immunity for varicella (chicken pox) and some other viruses is very unknown, as admitted by the CDC. I'd rather get chicken pox as an 8yo than get it as a 28yo, thankyouverymuch.

And shingles. Because I promised we'd get back to that. Shingles happens to immuno-compromised people. . . cancer, lukemia, the elderly. Stressed people. Historically, old people. It is caused (as I'm sure you know) by the latent varicella virus, which remains in a person's body for life, once introduced. Shingles flares occur very rarely in younger healthier people. But the average age for a shingles flare has been getting younger in recent years and has become more common. This suggests that either the American immune system is getting weaker (but surely not, since we are "strengthening it with all these great vaccines") or perhaps that a person's natural immunity is no longer periodically being boosted to varicella by exposure to the active virus in a young child. I'm not stating definites, but the latter is a distinct possibility.

As a former statistics teacher, I am aware that looking at graphs charting epidemiological trends have benefit. . . and also a tendency to allow people to assume cause and effect where there might not be :-). In the last hundred years, we have made vast improvements in the sanitation and clean water in the U.S. and also the world in many areas. We have better diagnosis of diseases, we have better treatment (in many cases), and better results. So a trend showing death from Disease X dropping over the course of the 20th century can't be used as a "proof" that a vaccine worked miracles, yet most pro-vaxxers I know (especially in the older generation) will use the "well, we used to get polio and now we don't, so the vaccine must have worked) argument all. the. time. Interestingly with regard to polio, the "clinical features" section for polio in the pink book differentiates the different types of polio and admits that 95% of cases of polio are "inapparent or asymptomatic." Yet the CDC redefined the active incidences of polio to include only those carrying symptoms at. . . the time the polio rate dropped. How. . . strange, convenient, unethical?

Vaccine creators are human beings who make mistakes just like the rest of us. They've done some things in the past, and contributed to problems. The reason the LIVE polio vaccine is no longer given is because it can actually spread the polio virus. yet if someone had insisted that at the time, they would have been mocked. Do I think they are evil beings who want to render our society sterile and autistic? No. But I also don't think they can't be motivated by money. I just don't have strong opinions on that line of reasoning and would prefer to stick with facts.

Another reason I object to the use of *some* of the vaccines (not all, by any stretch), is that some of them are created (both in the far past, but some in recent years) using aborted fetal cells and I absolutely do not use aborted fetal cell products in good conscience.

The statistics "supporting" the efficacy of vaccines only show how many cases are reported, comparatively, or how many serious cases. They do not show possible side effects that may or may not arise from vaccines. They don't show the startling increase in autism in the last couple of decades, which happened as we started packing the child vaccine schedule tighter and tighter. (We also started doing a lot of other things during that time period, so I think it is hard to pinpoint. I am not making an argument, merely pointing out the incompleteness of the "vaccines limit disease" data.) It doesn't show the possible effects from heavy metals from some vaccines. It doesn't show many other things that are happening at the same time: just how much less "disease" we have. . . But of course, they are only reporting the "vaccine-preventable diseases" in such reports, not new pandemic problems like skyrocketing autism rates, digestive disorders, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, cancer. I think some of these modern pandemics can definitely be NOT linked to vaccines (I did this on purpose, to offer some ambiguity), but the jury is still out on many others.

I don't believe vaccines cause autism. But I'm willing to leave open the possibility that vaccines MAY contribute to autism. That's really an entire other 20 paragraphs that I'd like not to get into (as my writing time is quickly drawing to a close as naptime for kiddos ends soon), but suffice to say that, there are reasons besides Wakefield and Mercola to believe that vaccines and autism should at least be given pause. Also, for full disclosure, although my oldest child is high-functioning autistic, we made the decision to stop vaxxing him long before we suspected he was on the spectrum. I don't blame vaccines for his problems, nor do I exonerate them.

More on adverse reactions, because the CDC admits many more minor reactions that don't nearly approach something like autism. High fevers. Encephalitis. Convulsions. Rashes (that often are mysteriously like the disease that was "prevented."). Some more pleasant things, some less pleasant. But how many actually get reported? I have a certain older brother (*cough*) who got a dangerously high fever and convulsions within the time period after his MMR vaccine (the doctor originally miscalculated the interval and claimed it was one day outside, as realized later) and his reaction was never filed. Nor were all the strange fevers he spiked throughout the next year without known cause. His doctor still wanted him to get his booster at age 4. His mommy was (quite frankly) smarter. She also knows how to read a vaccine insert. . . under the cautions section.

I've read story after story from nurses who worked in a doctor's office that regularly did not report adverse reactions. A parent would call concerned because of X after a vaccine, and the doctor's office would reassure them and open no file, file no report. So I'd hardly call the reported vaccine reactions as super-accurate. I realize mis-reporting can also happen, but I find it more troubling when the medical community isn't reporting what they've been told :-P.

Finally, measles. Because everyone thinks my children are going to make them die from measles, given the current "epidemic." Look at the actual death and serious sickness rates for measles in a developed country with nourished children. It's very low. Measles didn't used to be a feared disease, except in areas with poor nutrition. My mom got it and no biggie. The Brady Bunch got it and nobody panicked ;-). And now we're like, WE'RE GOING TO DIE. Yes, measles can cause complications, and flu can, and chicken pox can. But for the average healthy person, it is extremely rare. Most serious cases of the measles happen in countries with serious vitamin A deficiency. Or happen to the elderly (who would be much more likely to get the disease as a child if we didn't have vaccines, *ahem*, or sick children with cancer or something. (Rotavirus is similar; our doctor's office actually didn't even carry/administer the roavirus when our oldest was being vaccinated, because they didn't find the statistics to support its usefulness for the average well child.)

Some of the news articles are following some little girl who has some symptoms that might be measles, but no one knows, etc. I hope she doesn't get sick. But the hilarious thing about the articles are that they mention that her doctor is remaining measured in his diagnosis (yay, him!) because the little girl recently had her MMR vaccine, which can "produce similar symptoms."

In fact, she shouldn't have been in public to begin with, per FDA vaccine insert recommendations, as there is "some evidence" per their guidelines that rubella can cause "shedding" and actually give the disease (a la the live polio vaccine) to people during the incubation period. So maybe we should ostracize the poor girl and call her Bloody Mary for narrowly avoiding spreading rubella to the Disney masses. NOT. (This is supposed to be read with good-natured humor. I 'm merely pointing out that I wish people would actually read ALL that is written about vaccines, even from the vaccines makers and regulators.)

Okay, not really finally. Now really finally: there are other ways to support the immune system besides vaccines. I'm not saying there isn't some research to support the fact that vaccines limit disease in some scope and in some way, but it's not cut and dry and it's not the only way. Nourish yourself! Drink water! Wash hands! Take your vitamin pills or eat healthy food, or both. Take vitamin A for measles. And vitamin D for flu. They both have good evidence behind them.

But vitamin A and D are not patented (let's just be honest) and it's also a lot easier to get someone to take a shot a few times in their lifetime rather than take a supplement indefinitely. And a vaccine appears to be a lot more cost-effective. And how widespread do you think a "eat healthy food" campaign against disease would be, compared to "come get your cheap shots and be done with it all"? Vaccines are partially (not totally!) about convenience. It's inconvenient when your child (and you) are home from school (and work) for weeks on end because of something like measles and chicken pox. And it's incovenient when you like Mickey D's and don't want to have to feel guilty for eating there and exposing your immune system to some serious damage.

But I don't suggest we condemn unhealthy eaters for ruining "herd immunity" for colds and flus anymore than I think the same should be done to anti-vaxers for measles, etc. I take serious responsibility for my health and my children's health. We are careful what we eat and drink and breathe and use, to boost our immune system and be less likely to infect others. But we also recognize laughter and not over-worrying as important immune boosters :-). Perhaps rather than throwing the "dangerous anti-vaxxers and herd immunity" argument in mockery every time someone gets the measles, people would be better served researching the issue for themselves, making an informed decision (either way), and also investigating other research-supported methods of not getting diseases (avoiding Mickey D's would be a good start) as well.

Okay, I think that's enough. I could seriously go on and on and on. But that's a smattering.

Thank you for finally listening to me and not mocking me.

Friday, January 23, 2015

If You Give a Mom a Moment

Because sometimes you have to laugh grin emoticon.
If you give a mom a moment, she'll lie down on her guest room couch.
She'll notice a raised dark spot on the ceiling, so she'll call a mold assessor.
While at the house, the mold assessor might notice evidence of mold under the kitchen sink and also mold in the bathrooms.
The mom will want to call a mold remediator.
After the mold remediator rips out the bathroom walls and sinks, the mom will want to repaint the bathroom.
She might decide to paint the hallway as well.
When the trim is removed in the hallway, she might find new mold.
She will call the remediator again.
He will rip out more walls and the master bedroom carpet.
He might point out evidence of termite damage in the closet and notes a lot of ants under the carpet. He will leave.
The mom will decide she needs to rip out the master bedroom closet walls and she will finds ant hills, wood rot, and defunct termite tunnels.
She will probably realize that closet is NOT going to be a good storage area in the short term. Meanwhile she might call the remediator again to remediate the kitchen sink for mold.
She will have to find somewhere to store the dishes in the kitchen cabinets, so she starts rearranging the storage boxes in her guest room closet.
When she does this, she might find a dark spot under one of the boxes.
So she'll ask for a moment to lie down on the guest room couch. . .

Monday, December 22, 2014

Our Hope - This Year and Always

(An unofficial Keister Christmas letter for 2014)

For me, Christmas is always a time of year to recalibrate my perspective and remember the important things in life. Life struggles can smother and sometimes it's hard to see past the present. I love the chance to stop and soak in the tale of a Heavenly Prince leaving everything to gain His bride. A bride who doesn't even deserve Him and who flees Him! That's hope; that's good theater.

This has been a rough year for me. Not as rough as "the college years," but still. . . rough. I look at the pain and the circumstances that so many in the world (friends or not) are going through, and honestly, I know I have a beautiful life and I've been spared so much. But pain and struggles aren't always born in the "big" tragedies like death or divorce or Ebola; sometimes they're the day-to-day.

This has been a year of many minor trials. It started with a bang as we moved into our new (to us) house here in Houston. Adrian injured his shoulder in the move and was incapacitated for several weeks as a result, making our transition to our new abode a bit rockier. I also spent much of the year being monitored for a "suspicious lump" that seems to have resolved, but still cost some worry and concern. We love our house, but it has turned into a downward spiral of one new repair job after another. We also dealt with our 2nd, 3rd, and are now preparing for our 4th bout of mold since we moved to Houston. Houston fosters and breeds mold like no other place I've lived. My already-sensitive health does not respond well to mold, and Hans responds even less well.

We have learned so much about parenting this year. Mainly that we are totally at the mercy of God in this area and have no. idea. what we're doing. Probably our largest trial for this year has been trying to help our 6 year old son Hans process the extreme behavioral issues that seem to flare with each bout of mold we experience (and are still there in more muted form at other times). We love our extremely bright and enthusiastic boy, and knowing how to best help him while still holding him accountable for his own behavior has been. . . challenging. We've worked with a number of professionals this year and seen ebbs and flows in improvement. Our latest round of testing with a family doctor who specializes with autistic children has us optimistic, revealing both problems and possible solutions.

It's so easy to count problems instead of blessings in our hearts. But on the reverse, in Christmas letters it's so easy to give the "safe and air-brushed" version of the past year. "We're all well and loving life. Our children are great. Aren't our children adorable?" Nobody wants the negative at Christmas time. . . and really, during the year, how many people who ask "How are you?" really are expecting an answer that extends beyond "I'm fine"?

I'm not exactly sure where to strike that balance - honesty and rawness, with hope and not despair. But chronicling blessings along with some of the "struggle highlights" is a good start.

We are so thankful to finally be out of apartments. Not just the moldy apartment we were in last year, but apartments in general. We don't mind cramped quarters, but we really wanted a yard for our kids. We are blessed with 2/3 of an acre in our new place, a great quiet neighborhood for walks, and grandparent-ly neighbors who look out for us.

God has shown us a lot of grace in our "house woes." I could bore you with the (truly) long list of minor catastrophes and large house expenses we've dealt with this year, but instead, I'll just admit that God has met us each time. He's still meeting us, as we're preparing for our third professional remediation in the last 6 months and wondering where that sort of money is going to come from :-). He met us in our previous ones with good insurance coverage, and I'm sure he'll meet us in His own way this time.

We were also extremely blessed this year by our brother-in-law and Adrian's parents, who at different times visited us and poured days of their skills and time into helping us with house repairs. We are so grateful. He met us with a generous inheritance we received that helped with many of our unexpected expenses. He met us with an extra job for Adrian this summer.

Adrian loves his teaching job, teaching math and physics at a local classical Christian school. We are grateful for the awesome teaching position he has here and how it fits him so well. Northeast Christian Academy has been a phenomenal fit for him in so many ways. And getting to teach a class at the local community college this summer was not only great additional income, but also a fun experience for him. We're grateful that he's already been invited to return and teach the same class next summer.

We're grateful for God's grace in our parenting, for listening ears that offer us advice and sometimes just offer sympathy and love, and we're grateful for the opportunity to preach the Gospel to our kids. I can honestly say that trying to work with Hans through his own struggles has given me more opportunities to preach Christ to Him than I ever would have done had he been an "average" child. When my child is moved by God's grace, it's amazing to see him be convicted not by my own rebuke, not by a typical punishment, but by the Word of God. It is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword. I still feel so lost in this whole sea of parenting, but I feel humbled and blessed by so many of the things God has shown me this year.

We're thankful for homeschooling. For our family, at this time, this has been a gift. This has been a rocky year in the homeschool department, with a few great weeks or months followed by rough ones, followed by great ones again. I'm so thankful for the flexibility homeschooling allows us, to "step back" when we need - such as when we were actively dealing with mold and just trying to keep a semblance of "normal" in our family life and peace - and also allowing us to plow ahead at "irregular times" - such as during the dog days of summer in Houston, when no one wanted to be outside and we had a fabulous several weeks of clear thinking and behavior for Hans. We got over 2 months ahead in schooling this way, which allowed us to take advantage of the beautiful fall weather to get our of our questionably-safe home air and play outside. I love that about homeschooling! And I love watching the kids learn and grow in knowledge and wonder at God's creation.

We're thankful for our bundles of energy: Hans with his colorful imagination and amazing memory, Gretchen with her sweet and easy disposition, and Martin with his inquisitive nature that keeps me constantly on my toes. We've already been to the ER twice for head injuries for that boy and I've had to call poison control twice, and he's only 18 months! He is a dare-devil! But he's also a sweet cuddle-bug who loves to make smacking sounds while Adrian and I kiss, and brightens up with excitement every time he knows we're heading outside.

Gretchen, at age 4, is all girl. Well, sort of. Sometimes she is Sam Gamgee when she and Hans are on a "Lord of the Rings" verge. But she is Miss Pink (although she now accepts other colors into her wardrobe), is often in elaborate dress-up clothes, and loves having her hair done and playing princess. But she can also hold her own in imaginary battles that she and Hans conduct against their imaginary enemies. And she loves to ride her birthday bike on our driveway and go for walks with us all. She is a sweet cuddler who loves special Mommy time and getting to read books before bed.

Hans is 6 and in first grade, our bookworm who can become lost in a book for hours (favorites currently include Chronicles of Narnia, The Hobbit, Wind in the Willows, Doctor Dolittle, as well as various American history books he reads and recounts to me "for fun."), or he can become Mr. Crazy Superhero, fighting imaginary "bad guys" with his various pretend weapons and his super powers. His thirst and ability to soak up knowledge and retain it is truly amazing. We are constantly amused by his perspective on things and the sorts of things he thinks to say.

We've had a GOOD year, despite many difficult circumstances, and despite many uncertainties and continued trials. We've had a GOOD year, because we serve a GOOD God. Or more importantly, because we are loved by a good God. We love because He first loved us. That is one verse the kids and I have discussed a lot recently. We don't love God because we can conjure up that love. We love Him because He reached out to us first. Isn't that amazing, strange, and hard to grasp, all at the same time?

Why did the God of the universe care to come to earth, be born of a woman, live for over 3 decades in this sin-riddled world, and then die a horrific death. . . just to recover a bride who wanted to spit in His face? Amazing love, how can it be, that thou my Lord, shouldst die for me? This is our hope at Christmas, and throughout the year. We pray it is your hope too.

Merry Christmas from Susan and all the Keisters

Monday, December 01, 2014

Jesse Tree

Isaiah 11

There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.

We've done a Jesse Tree the last three years during the Advent season. The kids love it and look forward to it. We all do, actually!

If you've never heard of a Jesse Tree, it is a visual story of Christ, tracing the need for redemption from creation, through the fall, judgment in the flood, seeing glimpses of Him in the prophets, in Jonah, Samuel, His lineage through the kings, etc. Generally, each day in Advent, a family has a passage to read from the Bible, and then an ornament to hang on their "Jesse Tree" that symbolizes the passage. For the prophets, we hang a scroll, for the psalmist David, we hang a harp, etc. As the days progress, the passages narrow into the time of His birth. The term "Jesse Tree" comes from Isaiah 11, the prophecy that a shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse.

I grew up hearing of the concept, as my elementary Sunday school curriculum had a special Advent series that uses a Jesse Tree. It wasn't a regular part of growing up, but I was exposed to it, and liked the idea. Adrian had never heard of a Jesse tree before, and when I first approached him with the idea he was skeptical, wondering if it would be shallow (like a lot of popular "family devotion ideas"), etc., but he agreed to give it a try a few years ago. He was definitely impressed after we did it ourselves and doesn't need any more convincing :-).

(On a side note, two other non-Jesse-tree resources that have similar themes of the entire Biblical story building up to the birth of Christ: I recommend Andrew Peterson's album "The Lamb of God," and also this short film by the Skit Guys. I gotta admit the Skit Guys butchered a much-beloved hymn - "Come, Though Long-expected Jesus" - but I like the film for the amazing progressive painting showing the story from creation to the birth of Christ.)

So basically, there is no exact "one way" to do a Jesse tree. If you search online, you will find different lists of passages and corresponding events/people/objects. Some lists stick strictly with the lineage of Christ, but most will delve into the prophets as well and other events that point to Christ. The main thing is to tell God's preparations for bringing His Son into the world.

I basically combined the best of several lists, if I remember correctly. I also chose to keep ours to 25 days, which allows us to start December 1st and end on Christmas. Some suggestions have more or fewer days. Here is what I ended up doing (much of this came from blog posts I cut/pasted from, but that was a few years ago, so I don't have the original links to share and can't remember how much I altered and what was original):

1. Tree (Jesse's lineage) I Samuel 16: 1-13 Jesse was King David's father
Isaiah 11:1,10 Prophecy about Christ coming from the “stump of Jesse”; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2. Globe (creation) Genesis 1 Creation
John 1: 1-5 Jesus was from the beginning with God; Jesus is light
3. Apple (Adam and Eve, fall) Genesis 3 Sin entered the world, but God promised to send Someone to crush Satan
Romans 5:12-19 Sin came into the world through Adam, but God gives us life through Christ
4. Ark and rainbow (Noah) Genesis 7:1-9:17 God's promises and covenant
5. Stars (Abraham) Genesis 12:1-7, 15:1-6 God's promise to bless the earth through Abraham
6. Bundle of sticks (Isaac) Genesis 22:1-14 Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his only son points to God sending His only Son to be the perfect sacrifice for us
7. Ladder (Jacob) Genesis 27:41-28:22 Jesus is our ladder to God
8. Coat of many colors (Joseph) Genesis 37:1-36, 50:15-21 God used Joseph to save His people
9. Lamb (Moses, passover) Exodus 12:1-30 The blood of a lamb on the doorposts of the Israelites' houses was the sign for God to spare His people
John 1:29 Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world
Mark 14:12-16 Celebration of Passover becomes the celebration of the Lord's Supper
10. Bread (Moses, manna) Exodus 16 God gave His people manna to eat in the wilderness, to save them from hunger
John 6:46-51 Jesus is the bread of life
11. Law tablets (Moses, 10 commandments) Exodus 20:1-21 God gave His people His law
Romans 10:4 Christ is the fulfillment of the law
12. Wheat (Ruth) Ruth 4:9-22 Ruth was not born into God's people, but she loved God and was humble and obedient. She became David's grandmother, part of the lineage of Christ
13. Ear (Samuel) I Samuel 3 As a little boy, Samuel heard God and believed Him
14. Shepherd's staff (Jesse) I Samuel 16:1-13 Samuel annointed Jesse's youngest son, David, because God looks at the heart, not the outward appearance
Isaiah 53:2 A prophecy that Christ would not attract us by His appearance
15. Slingshot (David – warrior) I Samuel 17:17-51 David remembered God's provision in the past, trusted God, and would not stand for Goliath insulting God
16. Harp (David – psalmist) Psalm 23 God teaches us how to praise Him in the Psalms; the Psalms point to the Savior
17. Crown (Solomon) I Kings 3:1-14 God gave Solomon wisdom
18. Altar (Elijah) I Kings 18:16-46 Israel was worshipping false gods; God showed His people that He was the true God
19. Scroll (prophecy) Isaiah 9:1-7 God sent prophets to tell Israel of the promised Redeemer
20. Lion (Daniel) Daniel 6 Daniel trusted in the Lord; God protects His people
21. Fish (Jonah) Jonah 1-3 Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days and nights; God's desire was for the people of Ninevah to repent
22. Hammer (Joseph) Matthew 1:18-25 Joseph was a carpenter who listened to the angel of the Lord and was obedient in faith
23. Angel (virgin birth foretold to Mary) Luke 1:26-38, 46-55 Mary had faith and obedience; she praised God for His plan
24. Donkey (Bethlehem) Luke 2:1-5 Mary and Joseph go to Bethlehem
25. Manger (birth of Jesus) Luke 2:1-20 Jesus is born.

I also took pictures to show you the ornaments I made/obtained to go along with the passages. Once again, there is a lot of flexibility. For example, for your Jesse tree you can draw a tree on a poster board (which we've done before) and hang the ornaments on with thumb tacks. Or you can purchase an artificial mini tree to use each year for your Jesse tree. You could even just add the ornaments to your regular Christmas tree, though I think there is something special about having a separate tree. What we're doing this year is using a branch from our yard, stuck in a vase with rocks to weight it down and hold it erect. We'll hang the ornaments off the different twigs branching off of the main branch. We'll see how it goes :-). 

For the ornaments, there are plenty of options online for printing off pre-made images and pasting them onto discs to make your ornaments. You can make or purchase objects/ornaments, collecting from various stores or using craft supplies you have. It's up to you. You'll see in the pictures that we kind of did a little of everything. I worked on collecting and making the ornaments over several weeks. I don't think I actually had to buy anything, but used a lot of what we already had. The lamb was a toy that I turned into an ornament. The harp was already an ornament, but I plucked off the bear that was attached. I made Joseph's coat from felt, Jonah's fish was an embellished washcloth that I converted, etc. I'm particularly proud of my Lego ark, I have to admit :-).

Don't feel like you have to have the "perfect ornaments" for it to be a meaningful experience. You can go easy with pre-printed options, and then you can always branch out and replace with more intricate ones as the years progress. There are a few we have that I'd still like to replace with "better" options if I find them, but I'm using what I have until then. For example, the three stars to represent the Abrahamic covenant. . . not exactly awe-inspiring :-P. I want to make/get something that has LOTS of stars, but I just haven't yet.

Also, you can use artistic license and decide that instead of a crown to represent Solomon, you want to use a mini replica of the temple. Or instead of a fruit to represent the fall in the garden, you could use a serpent or a little tiny tree ornament. Whatever. Use your imagination and work with what you have or can find/make easily :-).

Here is our current collection:

The tree (1) and globe (2).

Apple (3), ark/rainbow (4), stars (5).

Bundle of sticks (6), ladder (7), coat of many colors (8).

Lamb (9), bread (10), law tablets (11).

Wheat (12), ear (13), shepherd's staff (14).

Slingshot (15), harp (16), crown (17).

Altar (18), scroll (19), lion (20).

Fish (21), hammer (22), angel (23).

Donkey (24) and manger (25).