Review: Different

I have recently finished reading Different: The Story of an Outside-the-Box Kid and the Mom Who Loved Him by Sally and Nathan Clarkson.

This book arrived at such a needed time in my life. While I think parenting in general is not an easy task, parenting four children ranging in age from 2 up to 10 years feels especially overwhelming most days.

Parenting children who are considered “different” certainly presents an additional layer of parenting challenges.

I have been working through several titles by Sally Clarkson (she’s one of my literary mentors for the year…) and if there was a word I would choose to describe her, I would probably choose “together.” This is such an incredible woman, a Godly woman who shares her experiences and wisdom for families and homeschoolers.

I was blown away with her raw honesty she poured out in Different. Along with her son Nathan, the pair talks about the struggles (and blessings!) of dealing with a child being different. They take turns sharing their experiences navigating a variety of issues, including OCD, ODD, and ADHD.

It was refreshing to read Nathan’s story from both his and his mom’s perspective. Reading this, you get an honest picture of the very real struggles that go along with dealing with behavioral  and mental health issues. Clarkson also was candid about their struggles seeking professional help and a diagnosis. Dealing with mental health issues is an ongoing process, with good days and bad ones too.

“But even in this broken world, where our differences often come with burdensome baggage, the imprint of God on our lives still gives value to each one of use as we are.” (p.7)

Clarkson was candid about the tension that can arise between spouses as they parent a child that is different.

“Most OCD kids, we have learned, have one parent who acts as the ‘confessor’ in their lives – the one they go to daily to tell their recurring thoughts and find relief from the guilt those thoughts carry, the one with whom they find acceptance and sense of safety. ” (p. xxv)

While she shared some of the more challenging occasions in their lives, she also discussed some of the techniques or strategies she found helpful in her daily interactions with Nathan.

“I learned to appreciate and celebrate (not just “cope with it”) because all human beings are a work of the Artist and have infinite value to the One who made them.” (p.8)

“I intentionally pressed in on issues that would affect relationships, character, and faith and tried to back off of other, less crucial issue…” (p.41)

And she spoke of the heart and attitude necessary to deal with out-of-the-box type children.

“If we accept the puzzle we have been given and ask, “What can I learn at this juncture, God? How should I be humble and glorify You in this place?” then we will become stronger, developing muscles of faith, wisdom, humility, and understanding.” (p. 121)

Clarkson addresses something that parents everywhere probably struggle with, a need to control. We want the best for our kids, and so there is a conscious or unconscious desire to control things so we can guarantee a positive outcome.

“In our broken world, there is – and will be – much that we cannot understand or control.” (p. 135)

“He [God] does not require us to control our children or friends, much less ‘fix’ them. But he does call us to pay attention, to love others, to be the ones who reach out as consistently as possible.”

It was so encouraging to read about these struggles with mental illness and behavioral issues both from the perspective of the parent and the child.

I could go on and on with the powerful words and encouragement I got from reading this book. But I’ll close with two statements and then encourage you to read the book yourself.

From Sally:

“My most important ministry would unfold one obedient moment after another as I learned to love and understand and serve those who were closest to me. Nathan or one of my other family members would push my buttons. And I would have to overcome my feelings and practice giving patient answers, to give up my rights one more time…” and “walking in the power of the Holy Spirit often means choosing to be patient and loving when you feel like being impatient and angry.” (p. 137)

And from Nathan:

“The truth is, we live in a deeply fractured world, and we don’t always have a choice about being broken. But we do have a choice about where we let our brokenness lead us. We can follow it into escape or addiction. But we can also follow it straight to God. To the One who knows us inside and out – with all our mistakes, broken parts, insecurities, and battles – and who still loves us. To the one who can not only handle our anger and our frustration and our questions, but can use them to transform them.” (p.186)

Homeschool Reads – March Edition

I think our school motto could be summed up with “Read Good Books, Often.”

I purposely seek out quality literature that will not only be enjoyable to read, but will feed us intellectually and spiritually.

Our reading basket usually contains several books, and we rotate through two or three each day, reading at least one chapter in each. Here are the titles we are currently working through.

Classic Independent Read:

Heidi (Johanna Spyri)

Recommended Literature Read:

Breadcrumbs (Anna Ursu)

A Monster Calls (Patrick Ness)

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (Jeanne Birdsall)

Spiritual Read:

Pilgrim’s Progress: One Man’s Search for Eternal Life–A Christian Allegory (John Bunyon)

Character Read:

The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupéry)

Nature Study Read:

The Burgess Bird Book for Children (Thornton Burgess)

 

Homemade Lemonade

As part of our Natural Health and Wellness course, Kyri and I have been reading and discussing healthy drinks. While we usually only have water and almond milk in our fridge, on occasion we have some juice or a sweetened drink like lemonade. Kyri prepared (with a little help from Mom) a pitcher of lemonade that we all enjoyed!

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Vegan Homeschooling and Sea World

A sea turtle we got to meet up close at National Aquarium in Baltimore. She lost her front flipper and has been rehabilitated and now resides at the aquarium. Cases like this are what puts aquariums in the gray area of vegan philosophy for me.

Here in San Antonio we live quite close to Sea World. We can actually see the roller coasters when we drive out of our neighborhood. Many of our friends frequent Sea World or have season passes.

And yet, every time we drive past, my daughter and I talk about how it’s not nice to keep animals in small tanks for entertainment purposes. We talk about riding the roller coasters at Fiesta Texas instead because they don’t have animals there.

Sea World hosts a Homeschool Day each fall. This year it is on October 4th. There are no rides or attractions, just hands on interactions with the marine animals. It sounds like such a wonderful educational opportunity, it really does. And I do understand that Sea World is not just about entertainment but also helping marine animals and educating the public. This is why I think zoos and aquariums are a gray area for so many vegans, because there are educational opportunities and if we expect people to be moved to protect animals, we need to expose them to the animals.

We had a membership to the National Aquarium in Baltimore before relocating to Texas, and enjoyed it the few (two?) times we went. We saw the dolphin show there once as well. I think these facilities train dolphins because they are so smart, and these shows are a wonderful way to showcase their intelligence. At the time, I was unaware of where many of the dolphins used in shows such as this come from (The Cove was enlightening).

Even with the positive work done by facilities such as National Aquarium in Baltimore (they were active in habitat restoration and wildlife rehabilitation), and here at Sea World, I  have an internal debate with myself of whether to support them because they have captive large marine animals such as dolphins. Perhaps if I knew that all the animals were rescued and rehabilitated there, and that is how they came to be there, I might feel different. But this is not usually the case. I admit to putting an aquarium in a somewhat separate category in my mind than a marine park – though we have not joined an aquarium or zoo since relocating.

As for the Sea World Homeschool Day – we will be declining the opportunity to spend the day with the animals at Sea World. I am considering an alternative field trip for the kids that day.

How do other vegans handle these situations? Do you go to zoos or marine parks? Do you consider large reputable aquariums acceptable but not marine parks? I’m curious where vegans fall in this discussion.

 

Educating Vegan Children

When we first decided to homeschool Kyri, I wanted to incorporate vegan ethics into our education plans. At this young age, most if not all of what Kyri has learned about our vegan lifestyle has been informal – we discuss what we do and do not eat (or wear or use) and for what reason. She has learned to ask if something contains animals in it before eating it. We talk about why we don’t eat animals – at a level a five year old gets. She knows what it means for an animal to die, as she was with me when I discovered our 20-year-old cat had died. So she does understand that dead means, well, dead. So explaining to her that meat comes from dead animals is simple enough for her. She understands that animals are killed for food and that there are plenty of other things to eat besides animals, so why would you want to?

In our household, vegan is the norm. While my spouse is omni, he eats mostly vegan at home (we have a grilling agreement in place). However, outside of our home, Kyri is bombarded with non-vegan and non-vegetarian messages. From books and cartoons that promote circus attendance to toy food products that always contain meat products, messages about using animals for entertainment, eating meat and participating in the “standard american diet” are all around us. I try to buffer her and use the exposure as an educational opportunity, but I would love to have vegetarian- and vegan- friendly material so she doesn’t feel like she’s the only one. We are VERY blessed with our homeschool associations – at co-op the moms usually make an effort to ensure that there are vegan options for Kyri. This is so appreciated – I never ask for accomodation for our lifestyle (just a heads up so I can plan for an vegan alternative for Kyri if necessary) but it really helps to not have Kyri singled out over something like food.

I’ve begun compiling a list of childrens books that either have vegan/vegetarian themes or characters, or are geared toward vegan/vegetarian children. I’ve also found cookbooks aimed toward young vegetarians, and since Kyri is my kitchen helper and loves my cookbooks, I think these are worth checking out.

Fiction

That’s Why We Don’t Eat Animals: A Book About Vegans, Vegetarians, and All Living Things

Herb the Vegetarian Dragon

Hubert the Pudge: A Vegetarian Tale

Friends Forever: The Story of a Budding Friendship between a Vegetarian Spider and a Feisty Fly

The Secret Life Of Mitch Spinach

Mitch Spinach and the Smell of Victory

Big Bob And The Thanksgiving Potato

Vunce Upon a Time

‘Twas the Night Before Thanksgiving

Growing Vegetable Soup

Non-fiction

I’m a Vegetarian: Amazing facts and ideas for healthy vegetarians

I Love Vegetarian Food: Coloring Book

Cookbooks

Kids Can Cook: Vegetarian Recipes Kitchen-Tested by Kids for Kids

The Jumbo Vegetarian Cookbook (Jumbo Books)

Easy Vegetarian Foods from Around the World (Easy Cookbooks for Kids)

Cooking With Herb, the Vegetarian Dragon

Salad People and More Real Recipes: A New Cookbook for Preschoolers and Up

For Parents: Childrearing

Raising Vegetarian Children : A Guide to Good Health and Family Harmony

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list. Because I am parenting a younger child I was not looking for ethics books geared toward older children and teens. This list will continue to be updated as I find additonal resources. I am also in the process of finding vegan-friendly resources online that would be helpful in a vegan/vegetarian curriculum. Look for that in a subsequent post.

Baklava

We love baklava around here – its such a decadent dessert. I have been slacking a bit lately however and haven’t made any in quite some time. For our co-op, we have been reading about the ancient Greeks and Persians in Story of the World, and I thought it would be a fitting time to make some baklava. My husband thought that was a fantastic idea! The first time I made baklava I admit I was intimidated – it really does seem like a complicated dessert. But after that first time, I realized while it does take a little time to put together, it really is not so complicated.

Baklava is really just layers of phyllo dough, melted butter, and a nut mixture that is baked until golden brown. A simple syrup is then poured over the baklava after it comes out of the oven. The hardest part, I think, is waiting for it to cool completely – a couple of hours seems like forever, but is really important for allowing the syrup to soak into the phyllo sheets.

Each package of phyllo dough typically has two packs of rolled up dough. For a 9″ x 13″ baking dish, one roll will suffice. Butter the baking dish (I use Earth Balance) and set to the side. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Place two sheets of dough in the baking dish (the dough will need to be trimmed a little to fit) and brush on melted Earth Balance (1/2 cup melted should be plenty), making sure to completely cover the sheets. Sprinkle on nut mixture evenly. Two more sheets go on, followed by melted Earth Balance and nut mixture. After the final layer of nuts is spread, a final layer of phyllo dough goes on. Place these individually and butter each sheet. The baking dish goes into the oven for 45 minutes, and immediated after removing, the syrup is poured over the baklava. It should cool for a few hours at room temperature before serving. This allows the syrup to really soak into the layers.

Syrup

1 cup sugar

1 cup water

1/2 cup agave syrup

1 tsp vanilla

 

Sugar and water are heated on stovetop until sugar is completely dissolved. Agave syrup and vanilla are then added and mixture is allowed to simmer for 10-15 minutes. Syrup should be cooled completely before pouring over the baklava.

 

Nut mixture

 

3 cups nuts (I like a 1:1:1 mixture of almonds, walnuts and pistachios – I pulse them in the food processor so they are ground coarsely but NOT into powder)

1 Tbsp sugar

1 tsp cinnamon

 

Nut mixture is combined thoroughly and then sprinkled over each layer of phyllo after its been brushed with melted Earth Balance. Try for even coverage, and don’t forget your corners! As you can see in the picture, the bottom layers ended up with more nuts – my daughter helped with spreading the nut mixture and was a little heavy handed for the bottom layers. Just make sure you have enough for all the layers. If you love baklava, you really should try making it. Its a lot easier than you think and totally worth the effort!

Making Playdough

I recently taught at my daughter’s co-op, and one of the activities I had planned for the children involved making a maze using playdough – we were learning about the Minotaur’s Labrynth that particular week. I had never made playdough before – my daughter has received Playdoh on occasion as a gift and does enjoy it but I had not ever attempted to make it homemade. I went in search of a recipe to use, and found this site which contains a large collection of recipes to choose from. I chose the Stay Fresh Playdough recipe, and the results were great! I made four double batches and prepared four colors for the children to choose from. While I do not typically use food coloring, our science kit had a pack for one particular experiment week, and so to use it up, I used the food coloring for the Playdough. THe next batch I prepare I will experiment with natural dyes.

For a single batch you would need:

1 cup of flour
1/2 cup of salt
1 tablespoon of alum
1 tablespoon of oil
1 cup of boiling water

I used my Kitchenaid mixer for this. I combined all the ingredients except the boiling water. While mixing, I slowly added the boiling water. I allowed it to mix until the right consistency was obtained and then I dropped in the food coloring. Continued mixing resulted in the color being mixed throughout. Finally I turned the playdough out onto some waxed paper and kneaded it several times to finish mixing the color. I allowed to cool and dry out just a little, and then stored in the fridge in a ziploc bag. I can honestly say that I will never buy commercially made playdoh again after seeing how easy it is to prepare my own – easier, less expensive and with minimal ingredients!

The final product – the colors and texture really came out great.

Packed up and ready for co-op!

Project Feederwatch

Being home with the children has given me an opportunity to do something I did not realize was such an enjoyment: bird watching. It started with us putting up a small feeder in our front yard. Our daughter and I would enjoy watching the birds eat in the early afternoons. We soon put a second feeder in our backyard, conveniently located behind our dining room window so we easily watch our bird visitors throughout the day. Just recently, I started to read about Project Feederwatch, a Citizen Science program through the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. I had previously requested their Urban Birds data collection packet, but this was during the time of our relocation and getting ready for the baby and so unfortunately we did not find an opportunity this summer to do this. But I decided that since we get so much enjoyment from watching the birds who visit our yard, we could participate in Project Feederwatch this season, as this would be a great Nature Study to incorporate into our homeschool lessons.

The project is simple: people have their location that they feed and watch the birds on their property. The data collection season goes from November 12th through the end of April 2012. Participants should observe two sequential days every week or two, and have the option to report on the website (the preferred method) or sending in paper reports at the end of the season. Species at the count site are observed and counted over the two day period, and the highest number observed at one time is the number recorded for that species for that particular count period. Participation helps scientists observe bird winter migration patterns across the country and in Canada.

There is a small fee to participate ($15), and this provides a calendar, and some birding tips, bird identification posters, and information on feeding birds. We are novices at this, so the material has been quite helpful. The only species I could identify before we started was the plainly obvious Northern Cardinal, of which we see a couple of males and females. We also have a slew of small brown birds that I realized were house sparrows, which apparently are the bane of bird people nationwide because they are so prolific, and crowd out native species, like blue birds. They tend to crowd my feeder so I am exploring some ways to feed them away from the main feeder to keep the other species I get happy. We also get three (at least) Tufted Titmice and I have seen a single Goldfinch, a single Eastern Towhee (or at least that’s what I think it is) and a few White crowned Sparrows. We get a fair amount of Mourning Doves and the Grackles here are RIDICULOUS! And so noisy! I typically just grouped all the black birds I saw into one group until I really started watching them this past week. This is when I realized that while most of the black birds that we see are the Grackles, there are a couple of smaller black birds too – and they are not a solid black but rather a black body with a brownish-greenish head and chest. The best I can figure, these would be Brown-headed Cowbirds – so that’s what they are getting listed as. I will continue to tweak our feeder setup, hopefully draw away the House Sparrows to keep my other birds happy, and see if I can get some more unusual visitors. We plan on counting each week if possible, so I will have a counter on my main page throughout the months of November through April 2012.

Please check out Project Feederwatch and the other wonderful resources available from Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/

Our backyard setup. Hopper feeder with Songbird food mix – mostly black sunflower seeds with some other feed mixed it. A tube feeder with thistle – so far I’ve only seen one Goldfinch visitor. I also have two small dishes near the ground that I fill with water daily for the birds. With our drought they are most appreciative! This is a great location because it is under two Live Oaks, and next to my fence and my neighbor’s smaller trees. Also, the ground under the feeders has tall grass for shelter so they feel secure. We also have a small brushpile near my composter that the birds enjoy. In the drier weather they enjoy using the dirt in my planter boxes for their dust baths.

One of the mourning doves perching in my tree. We get several of these – both larger ones seen here, and smaller ones that are similar in size to the Cardinals.

A Northern Cardinal and House Sparrow in the smaller tree against my fence. There are four or five of these trees against my fence, and this is the main congregating area for the birds. They spend most of their time in my Live Oaks or these smaller trees.

Our property backs up to a Greenbelt so there can be no development behind us. All there is to see is Texas scrubland. We usually get cows grazing a couple days a week, and deer on occasion. We were lucky to see this deer mama and youngster feeding just behind our fence. While I was photographing, one of our resident Cardinals was on the fence for a photo op!