Sunday, November 30, 2008

By Love Alone Is It Healed

"In the Babemba tribe of South Africa, when a person acts irresponsibly or unjustly, he is placed in the center of the village, alone and unfettered. All work ceases, and every man, woman, and child in the village gathers in a large circle around the accused individual. Then each person in the tribe speaks to the accused, one at a time, each recalling the good things the person in the center of the circle has done in his lifetime. Every incident, every experience that can be recalled with any detail and accuracy, is recounted. All his positive attributes, good deeds, strengths, and kindnesses are recited carefully and at length. This tribal ceremony often lasts for several days. At the end, the tribal circle is broken, a joyous celebration takes place, and the person is symbolically and literally welcomed back into the tribe... as the Buddha said: 'Hatred will never cease by hatred. By love alone is it healed.'"as described by Alice Walker in Sent by Earth: A Message from the Grandmother Spirit

I have had this story on my side bar for a while and every time I read it, it makes more sense to me. My wonderful parents passed along many values to my siblings and me, but the one I value the most is to always look deeper into why people do or think the things they do and try to "walk in their shoes" before making snap decisions about them. I can't say I have perfected this or honestly, even come close, but when I read this story, it reminds me that we always have to look for the good in others because when we focus on people's strengths, rather than weaknesses, we provide the person and his/her surroundings with such a better place to live.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Simplest Things In Life

I find relaxation, enjoyment, and healing in the simplest things in life.

Izzy waiting for Steve to wake up.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Gerbils Have Become Sophia's Curriculum

Friends, family and strangers often wonder how we can homeschool without using a prepackaged curriculum. Here is an example of how "child-led" learning works. When your child is interested in something and has plenty of free time, he/she will not stop until she fully understands everything about it. While trying to learn everything she can, she mysteriously covers just about every subject matter taught in schools.

Over the summer, Sophia expressed an interest in owning gerbils. My first response was "No way!" Steve, of course, backed me up! We kind of thought the subject was over, but soon Sophia was sharing all the new things she was learning about gerbils with us. She was figuring out the healthiest food for gerbils, that gerbils tend to become obese when they live alone (which means we need two instead of one) but that if they aren't together from the beginning; they will often fight, that it is better to buy from a breeder than a pet store, and on and on. She discovered a book that had great reviews and bought it. She has read it multiple times now. So, Steve and I reconsidered and said, "Yes.".

We drove to Chicago last night to pick up two gerbils. Sophia wanted to make sure she scooped them up just right. The book told her how to do it without scaring them.

Sophia has been saving for the gerbils now since the original idea was planted in her head over the summer by a friend who was planning on breeding gerbils. Sophia tends to enjoy spending her money as quickly as she earns it, but she has restrained herself to make sure she had enough money to cover the aquarium, bedding, food, activity centers, balls, and price of gerbils. Also, when things didn't work out with her friend breeding gerbils (the male and female she had didn't get along), she started emailing breeders herself. Along the way she learned some sad information about how animals are sometimes treated, but this only made the activist side of her personality stronger. She has also learned where to find the best information on gerbils and has had some fun meeting new people online.

Here are Sooty and Pumpkin. The are full of energy.

By following a "child led" learning philosophy, we don't follow a curriculum or even try to make sure we are covering certain subjects because we trust that our children will find life interesting enough to learn exactly what is right for them as individuals. Our job is just to be ready to help as needed. But, as a previous elementary teacher, I sometimes find it interesting to think about how I could have created this same learning situation in my classroom. I doubt I would have been as successful.

~Counting Money/Addition/Subtraction - Sophia had to save for the gerbils, figure out how much was still needed each week, and figure out how long it would take to save the money.
~Estimating - Sophia went to the pet store about a month ago and estimated how much money she would need for the gerbils.
~Measuring/predicting - She is having to measure out the amount of bedding she lays in the home and figure out how long it will last.
~Budgeting. Sophia now has to figure out how much of the money she earns needs to be set aside to replenish bedding and food.

~Writing for an Audience - Sophia is emailing real life people that breed gerbils and asking great questions. (When I was teaching, the goal of one of my principals was that we were providing situations where the kids were writing for people that would actually read what they wrote.)
~Writing to Gain Knowledge - Sophia is participating in gerbil forums to gain information about gerbils and eventually to share information with others.
~Self Editing - When Sophia emails on forums or with a breeder, she is more cautious about her spelling and grammar and will ask for help if she is unsure.

~Sophia has read everything she can get her hands on in regards to gerbils. She reminds me so much of myself right before we bought our dog Izzy. I wanted her to have the best diet and exercise plan and read everything I could on dogs.
~Summarizing. Sophia summarizes everything she learns about gerbils to me -not because I ask her too, but because it is so exciting, she can't resist!

~Gerbil Breeds/Genetics. There is tons of interesting information out there about the different types of gerbils. You may wonder what a "self" gerbil is as I did. It means the belly is the same color as the rest of it's body.
~Breeding. Sophia has learned all kinds of valuable information on how to breed and things to be cautious of when breeding. We are not planning to breed but it is interesting information that has led to other conversations.
~Habitats. What is the best home for a gerbil? What is the habitat of a wild gerbil like?
~Health. What causes obesity in gerbils? How much exercise do they need? How much protein? She has been emailing with a gal about healthier brands of gerbil food because she doesn't want her gerbils to have any artificial colors or preservatives.
~Safety. What toys are harmful to a gerbil? What types of bedding do you need to avoid?
~Relationship to Self. Sophia has connected her eating habits to the gerbils and how each species has it's unique food needs.

~Sophia is learning new ways to add pictures on different sites.
~She is setting up her own forum for people to talk about their puppies.

~After looking at different gerbil websites, it looks like you can create your own playgrounds for gerbils that are quite elaborate. I was even excited about this!

~Meeting new people with new ideas. Sophia is meeting new people on the gerbil forum with interesting and fun ideas that she hasn't found in books or thought up herself.
~Learning from friends. Sophia has been talking with her friend about gerbils and picking her brain about everything she knows.
~Sharing. Sophia is excited for our family to visit this weekend and over Thanksgiving to see her new gerbils and for all of her friends to come over and see what all the excitement is about.

I am sure there is much more she has covered. Feel free to add anything you think I missed.

Poor Sophia! Sooty and Pumpkin were reorganizing the bedding in their new home all of last night and Sophia could not sleep with all the noise.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Simplest Things in Life

I find relaxation, enjoyment, and healing in the simplest things in life.

Maybe this is not a simple thing, but as my body continues healing and giving me more energy, these tasks become simpler to accomplish. Both bathrooms are clean, the rotting meat and wasted veggies stinking up the refrigerator have been thrown out and everything has been wiped down, the pantry is finally uncluttered from multiple bags of chips holding only crumbs and bags of rice have been combined to make a pantry that now displays that we actually don't have any food in the house, both the living room and bedrooms are vacuumed and the dishes are done. This feels good!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

How To Be Successful On a Restrictive Diet

November marks four years since I first visited my naturopath and she started me on a restrictive diet that I believe put me on the path towards healing my body from rheumatoid arthritis. Since that time, I have been able to add back foods from the nightshade family, citrus, peanuts, chocolate, wine and some sugar although I do try to limit each of these foods as rotational rather than daily foods. The two groups of food that have remained eliminated from my diet are gluten and dairy. Those two I expect to never be a part of my every day life again.

Living in our society is difficult when you are on a restrictive diet. So, how can you be successful?
1. Make a commitment to yourself. My body was deteriorating while on three heavy duty medications. For me, diet was not something I "hoped" would work but something I put 100% faith into. I really believe this faith helped me through the challenging times.

2. Cook and bring good foods into your home. When you are on a restrictive diet you have to learn to cook so you know what is going into your food. Also, bring the best ingredients you can into your home. The more nutritious foods you can put into your body, the better.

3. Be prepared. Keep acceptable foods that you enjoy on hand at all times. (I originally had chicken and rice soup in the refrigerator or freezer at all times). Always bring food with you, even if going out for a short time. I try to keep a Larabar with me at all times.

4. Restaurants. Find restaurants that provide foods that meet your diet restrictions. More and more restaurants are providing gluten free options. In January Pizza Fusion is opening in my town and will be offering a gluten free pizza crust with organic ingredients. I can't wait!

5. Support. Find family, friends, bloggers, etc that support your diet and use them as a resource when you feel weak moments or when you need a good recipe. I know early on in my diet, one of my best friends would send recipes whenever they popped up in other research she was doing. This was so helpful because it made me realize how much she cared and provided some great food for the whole family! When she went gluten free it was even better! Also, although my sister Stacey has always been supportive of my diet, I felt a tremendous connection to her when she went gluten free. I am so happy she has found benefits from it.

6. Family and friends. I can't even begin to express my gratitude towards my family and friends that have not only encouraged me in my diet but gone out of their way to learn about my diet restrictions and provide special foods when I visit their home or dine out with them. When I visit my dad, he always lays out all the ingredients before he begins cooking to make sure they are safe. Thanks Dad!

7. Realize Your Diet Changes Affect Others. The diet changes I have made for myself have not only been good for me, but my entire family. I feel good knowing that I am providing good quality meals for my children that are free of harmful things that could later put them in the same position I found myself.

8. Reward Yourself. Find something on your list that you enjoy and make sure you treat yourself to it often. Funny thing is, the food you start to crave may totally surprise you. When I started on my diet four years ago, I would look forward to my snack of celery and almond butter. Who would have thought that would be my treat! I think it is just reconditioning our mind with something new. Once I started eating it everyday, it became what chocolate used to be to me.

I know many of my readers are also on restrictive diets. Do you have other suggestions?

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


Sunday morning I sat in the kitchen listening to my 12 year old son give his dad a detailed explaination of Call of Duty Four, a video game he played at a friend's house. In his explaination, he stated reasons the game is good and bad, how he feels the game makes sense and how it doesn't. They also discussed the pros and cons of the games they played earlier in the day in what they title as "XBOX morning". Every Sunday morning they wake up early, go for coffee and hot chocolate at Starbucks and then come back to play a few hours of XBOX together. Some Sundays they choose to do something else, but it is still called "XBOX Morning" since that is what they originally set time aside to do each week together.

The debates about technology and children are great. I am recently participating in a book discussion with some other moms on Healthy Children - Healthy Planet. This week's discussion is on technology.

For my family, technology is seen as a positive and because of that, we are each free to consume as much time with it as we feel it deserves. What is interesting to me, is that although we don't set limits on how often our children can interact with technology, they seem to have found a good balance. In our house, almost all of our technology is centrally located, which makes it easy for us to sit together and share in technology.

~As a family we watch TV together every Monday night and right before bed every night. On Mondays, we have a few favorite shows we record on DVR, we make a good dinner with dessert, and sit in front of the TV watching together. All four of us look forward to this night because it isn't only about watching TV, but about helping each other to get all the supplies to the family room for eating, snuggling up on the couch, and talking and making jokes as we watch the shows together.
~Alexander tends to watch the most TV in our family but he is also the most visual. He watches a mixture of shows from the history channel, to MythBusters, to Family Guy. What's cool about him watching all these shows, is he more than happily shares what he learned with us. So, even though Sophia and I may not be big TV watchers, we benefit from his TV watching too!

~I can't tell you how much I learn from the internet. Each morning I wake up and search for one thing that leads me down numerous other paths of learning. I am never shy to share the wonderful things I have learned with my family members. This often creates interesting conversations. (I admit to being the one who spends the most time on the computer in our family.)
~Sophia has wrote and published a book sitting at the computer. She loves to go online and read stories by kids her age. This would be difficult to do without the internet.
~Sophia and Alexander both enjoy playing games online. Here they can meet with their homeschooling friends or meet new friends online. Do I need to teach them to be cautious online? Sure. That is why I stay involved in what they are doing, so we can talk as things happen, not after an awful event has occured.
~We use webcam to talk with friends that have moved away or family. It is wonderful to be able to see their faces as you talk.

Video Games
~Alexander and Sophia both own Nintendo DS's. With this handheld game they can play with up to six other friends if they are within 30 feet of each other or they can play WI-FI capable games with friends while they are each sitting in their own home.
~Alexander loves games with a story line. We have slowly moved up the ranks from E rated to T rated to finally some M rated games. I say slowly because that is what worked for Alexander, Steve and me. Along the way, we have had great discussions about what happens at friend's homes may not be what we do at our home, the content of video games, etc. We view new video games together after we have researched them online together. I think the biggest thing with video games is staying involved and knowing what is going on.
~XBOX. Alexander saved all four hundred dollars needed for the system by saving his weekly "payday" money of $5 a week, dog sitting and doing mother's helper jobs. Many days he will contact his best friend and they will talk on the phone as they play XBOX or a computer game ROBLOX. It is really fun to listen to their conversations since the phone is on speaker.
~Wii. Alexander also saved and purchased this system himself. Although he enjoys Wii, he didn't feel it offered enough games with story lines and was bored with it quickly. However, as a family and with friends, we enjoy bowling and playing other games together.

~Steve uses the computer to download music, view other musicians playing, and make connections to other players.
~All of Steve's equipment for playing guitar is run by electronics as well as the software he runs to record his music.

Although many articles on technology claim it robs children of their imagination, family time, etc, I have not found that to be true. All four of us are always learning, always creating and always sharing it with each other. Plus, each and every day I see the creativity my children express in interests they have other than technology: woodworking, carving, crotcheting, nature, reading, board games, Lego's, helping mom and dad,and much, much more.

Do I feel there is some bad in technology? You bet. I believe that anything that is out of balance will create problems in your life. However, for my family, the benefits of technology as an expressive outlet outweigh the shortcomings. I believe by using technology in our home, we are not only preparing our children for the future but enjoying what it has to offer right now.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Museum of Science and Industry

On Saturday, we went to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Our plan was to stay no longer than two hours and that is what we did. Our other plan was to see the inside of the submarine, but unfortunately, the tickets were sold out.

We haven't visited the submarine since they moved it inside three years ago and added a whole new WWII exhibit. So, we were still in for a treat.

A volunteer latched onto us immediately and when he found out this was an interest of Alexander's, he walked us through several of the exhibits. He said, "You will know more about torpedoes than anyone in your school." I laughed and told him Sophia was the only other one in our school and he already knew more about torpedoes than her. We really appreciated the time this volunteer spent with us! It definitely added to our visit.

A very small kitchen. They displayed a list of food carried on a submarine for 100 days.

Sleeping arrangements do not look too comfy.

Overall, we enjoyed getting out and learning some new things over the weekend.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

I've Been "Thanksed"

My 10 year old daughter Sophia created a special holiday blog tag called "Thanksed". Here are the rules:
1. Give this to at least three or more other blog friends.
2. On your blog, tell who you "thanksed" and why you are thankful for them as a friend or family.
3. Leave a comment on the blogs of people you "thanksed" so they know to visit your blog and find out more.
4. Copy the rules onto your blog.
5. Copy and paste the "Happy Thanksgiving" photo. Go to "Add a Gadget" and choose "Picture". Add a title and Sophia's link.

I have "Thanksed" the following people:
1. I am thankful for Alexander, my son. I am thankful that even at 12 years old he wakes up each morning and gives me a hug which brightens my day. I am thankful that it doesn't stop there. He still hugs me when I leave the house and before he goes to sleep every night.
2. I am also thankful for my new niece Ashley. We were fortunate to be Joe and Ashley's home away from home while they were in college. They were the first family we had here in Chicago and they have brought so many happy days into our home. We are so thankful they made Chicago their home after graduating and getting married.
3. Lastly, I would like to nominate Jessica. Jessica just recently started her own blog. When we lived in Kansas, Jessica was the same age my son Alexander is now. When Sophia was born, she spent a day with me helping me to clean the house and watch Alexander. Although Jessica is grown up now, I am still thankful for that day. Now that we are hundreds of miles apart, I look forward to getting to know Jessica better through her blog.
~Sherry beat me to nominating Mallory but here is what I had to say. I am thankful for my niece Mallory. Even though she lives far away, we somehow feel the beauty of her smiles and enthusiasm for life.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

My Body Expects A Lot From Me

I have been off meds since February '08 and have not had any flare-ups for three months. Although it has taken me four years to get the courage to go off medications, I have always been confident that I could manage without, mostly because I have an amazing trust in my own body. The last three months have proved to me how wonderful our bodies are when we treat them well and give them our undivided trust.

Rheumatoid arthritis will always be a part of my life, that I have accepted. However, I am learning to accept it as a positive in my life now that I am managing it without medications. I now see my RA as a friendly reminder from my body to me that if I don't eat well (gluten/dairy free, avoidance of chemicals both in preservatives, pesticides and coffee, reduced amounts of sugar, etc) and manage how I accept stress, it will protest. My body has given so much to me through both good and bad and now that it has experienced life as it should be, it refuses to go backwards. After all the work my body has done for me, I can't really afford to let it down again.

So, on days when I choose to eat foods outside my accepted list or find my shoulders raised with tension and then wake up feeling like poop, I will know that it is only my body reminding me that I have not treated it well and it expects more of me.

Here is an interesting article I found on trusting your body. Enjoy your body and realize the miracle that it inside of you!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Election Night

Last night my cell phone started ringing almost as soon as my class let out at 9:15PM. Sophia was calling to update me on the election results and beg me to drive downtown to Grant Park so we could hear Obama speak and be a part of the celebration. Oh, I wanted to. I really did. My ten year old reminded me that it was a "once in a lifetime event". It really was. Maybe we should have tried, but most likely by the time we drove, parked and walked down there, it would have been over. Fortunately, we could almost feel the spirit of the event as we snuggled together in our home 35 miles from the party.

I was surprised with Sophia's interest in this election. She sat and listened to the Democratic Convention with us, some of the debates and then last night she said, "It feels like the Olympics." She spent the day thinking good thoughts for Obama and his promise of change.

I guess it shouldn't surprise me. I see my little girl as a person that wants change for the better in this world. She worries about the economy and how families will manage. I know one of her gifts in this life to see change happen.

As we finished our American Girl series on The Great Depression, she was left with a more grown-up awareness of the troubles with the economy and a less innocent realization of the consequences many of us will face.

As a family, all four of us snuggled up on the couch last night to hear both McCain and Obama speak. I, of course, was the only one to cry but I think we all felt ourselves being lifted with great hope for our country and inspired by the belief that if we ban together, we can make great changes in the next four years.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Voting Day!

Steve IM'd me early this morning that the lines at the polling booth were not long. However, the line at Starbucks, rewarding voters with a free cup of coffee, was very long. Hmmmm...... I know Steve has been looking forward to the free coffee all week! Hopefully it motivated others to get out and vote today!
Since I have more flexibility in my day, I choose to vote after my morning tea, walk with Izzy and shower in hopes that all the employed folks would be long gone.
One of the advantages of Alexander and Sophia being home with me during the day is they had the experience of voting with me. This year we decided to enjoy the beautiful weather and rode our bikes to the polling booth. I was able to explain the ballot to the kids and they filled in the bubbles for me. They both wanted a chance to vote for Obama, so one filled in the bubble and the other went over the first one to make sure it was filled in just right. I felt proud having them with me today, experiencing the pride that comes with voting. They both are wearing their "I voted today" stickers.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Halloween Parties Galore

Halloween was really fun this year! We had three parties to attend, each one with it own unique feel and memories. It was fun sharing in the festivities with so many of our good friends.

On Tuesday we met up with Many Rivers Unschoolers for a Halloween party of food and playing.

Here is Alexander with his best friend Ryan. Alexander and I created his costume this year. He is Altair, the assassin from Assassin's Creed video game. Whenever I sew something for the kids, I am always nervous. I know they have pictured something in their minds and want it just so. I was so happy when we finished the costume and Alexander looked in the mirror. He ran to me, wrapped his arms around me and said something like, "Thank you mom. I love it! Thanks for putting so much time into it." I love this kid. He dresses like an assassin but has the heart of an angel.

This year Sophia and her friend Mckenna were a washer and dryer. Sophia spent the night at Mckenna's house twice this month to work on costumes and then Steve helped her with some finishing touches.

Here are my darlings together.

On Thursday we joined Wild Indigo Life Learners at a Nature Center for a Halloween hike and "trick or treating".

On Friday night, both Alexander and Sophia met up with six friends for "trick or treating" and a sleepover which involved making haunted houses, playing video games, staying up really late and more.

And just long enough for pictures we dressed Izzy in this hand me down costume! We just couldn't resist. Poor thing! She was a good sport about it.

For me, I was asleep by 10:30 on Halloween which was nice. The next morning, Steve and I went to breakfast alone which I really enjoyed!

I hope your Halloween was as enjoyable as our Halloween!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Simplest Things In Life, Weekly Edition

I find relaxation, enjoyment, and healing in the simplest things in life.

My sweet, sweet Izzy.

Snowflakes on Monday.