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)

The Ever Scholar

I’m working on a new project. Well, it’s not really a project so much as a mission. I have always been a book worm, having several books in queue at any given time. But over the last several years, between the pressure of growing a career and the pressures of growing a family, my personal reading habit has suffered.  

 
Now I find myself moving into a new phase. We are officially done growing our family, and my youngest, at 7 months, sleeps though the night regularly. My home routine s becoming more regular as the children get a little older. While my life is far from calm, with a husband, four kids and four dogs, I am finally able to find small lulls to focus on myself again. 
 
Even though I’ve gone through college and graduate school, I will be the first to tell you I still have a lot to learn. I’m not going back to school, though I am about to start a year-long course that I’m really excited about (I’ll post more details on that soon). What I am doing is reading, lots of good books, on a variety of subjects. And I’m not settling for passive reading, just to log books as “read.” I’m reading books “actively,” taking notes and annotating as I read, following rabbit trails when they appear, participating in online book groups and discussions. 
 
I realized that, as I record my notes on the books I am working through, I’d love to share them with others. Since I’m reading several books at a time, and also doing an in-depth Bible study as well, I have decided a new site would be the best thing for sharing. I will be posting my Bible sudy notes, book journaling and other personal scholar notes over at the The Ever Scholar.  I would love to have you follow my reading progress there!

My Compass

compass (n.) an instrument for determining direction
 

In the past year, I have been doing a lot of reading about the Thomas Jefferson Leadership Education philosophy. It has really resonated with me, and I am incorporating more of the philosophy into our educational style here. Leadership education isn’t something just for the early years, though. It is meant for lifelong learning.

 
One of the ways we inspire our children to pursue learning is to model learning. I really believe this. This is true for most things. We can tell our children to do (or not do) something or behave a certain way all we want, but if we aren’t doing it or modeling it ourselves, the lesson will often be lost on them.
 
Learning, and loving learning, is no exception. This does not need to be anything “formal.” There are things that I want to learn and I need to set aside time in my day to pursue this continuing education. I benefit from this, obviously, but my kids see me reading and studying, and this models a love of learning. I want my kids to see that learning is something that we should want to do, not just something we do because someone else requires it.
 
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One component of Leadership Education is planning and evaluating what you know and what you want to learn, This evaluation, which should be done every six months, is callled a Compass. 
 
The details on working up a Compass are a little vague in TJEd literature, probably because this is a personal process and there are a multitude of ways to tackle it. While this can be personalized as needed, I did find a wonderful resource online. This author outlines how she does her compass, and is quite detailed in her process. I am going to be using her guide as a starting point and putting together my own six-month compass. After putting together my own compass, I will feel more confident in sitting down with Kyri and writing out her own six-month compass.
 
Check out Freedom Educators for an excellent outline of how to work up a Compass. 
 
Briefly, I am working on three areas. 
 
First, I am detailing my strengths – what I like to do and what I am good at doing. I am also building a list of my top 30 books I’ve ever read. Reading good books, classics, is a key part of the TJEd philosophy, and so reading good books that have a lasting impact on us is very important. I’ve read a lot of books over the years, so I have had to really dig deep to come up those that I would classify as my top books.
 
Next, I am taking a critical look at myself and listing areas that I need to strengthen. This isn’t limited to academic areas, but also includes personal growth or life skills.
 
Finally, I am making a plan for the next six months. Included in this plan is a list of books that I would like to read, things I would like to learn (again, not limited to academics, this includes life skills, even fun things like new hobbies), and my personal mission. 
 
Coming up with my personal mission is a tough one. This is where I need to dig deep and think about what I am meant to do with my life. I think for my first Compass, this mission statement may end up being a little vague, but over time as I do more exploration, I will refine my mission.
 
The Compass is meant to be read weekly as a reminder of your personal plan. After six months, it should be reviewed and updated. What goals were accomplished? What new things were learned? What new books were read? Incorporate your accomplishments into your new compass. 
 
I am looking forward to this process. It is so easy to make plans or set goals for ourselves and then lose sight of them, only to wonder later why we didn’t accomplish anything.

Welcome Spring!

This Wednesday we welcomed the changing of the seasons with a kite-flying outing at one of our local parks. Our flying wasn’t as successful as I would have hoped but the kids loved it. We spent some time at the playground afterwards, and finished our afternoon adventure with some vegan cupcakes at Green. Our Spring comes pretty early here in Texas so we will be spending a lot more time outdoors enjoying Nature, before our brutal Summer heat keeps us indoors with the A/C.

 

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Wasp Galls

This Fall Kyri learned about wasp galls in one of her Nature books. Ever since then, she has been fascinated with them! When we are exploring outside, she makes it a point to look for them. We spent a fair amount of time this weekend collecting wasp galls and cracking them open. It was so interesting to see what was inside each one!

But first, a little background on galls…

A gall is an abnormal growth on a plant. Some plants will produce these growths on their own, but often their formation is induced by insects.For many kinds of wasps, these formations provide nourishment and shelter for the developing eggs.

The female wasp inserts her eggs into the tree’s tissue, along with a chemical that induces this abnormal tree tissue growth. A gall is essential an abnormal tissue growth on the plant, like a tumor. The egg grows and develops within the gall, which serves to protect the wasp larvae. When it matures, it will chew its way out of the gall. The empty gall is then used by other species for shelter.

There are two “generations” of gall wasps that emerge from these galls. In late December, there is an “asexual generation” so only adult females emerge from the galls. Adults of both sexes emerge from galls in the “sexual generation” which occurs in early Spring. Eggs layed by the sexual generation will lay dormant for several months before emerging from their galls as the subsequent asexual generation.

The wasp larvae are still susceptible to predation even within the gall’s protective casing. But here’s an interesting fact – the developing larvae produce a chemical that converts the plant tissue (a starch) into sugar. This sugary secretion, called honeydew, attracts insects such as ants, honeybees and yellowjackets. These insects discourage other predators from going after the larvae inside the gall.

Here are some links with more information.

Aggie Horticulture

Texas A&M Agriculture Extension

Texas Young Naturalist

The branche of the live oak on our property have a multitude of marble-sized galls. I happened to point them out tomy husband today and told him about Kyri’s fascinationg with them. He was curious, and he happened to have a hammer in his hand, so he picked one and we cracked it open. Kyri was all about cracking open galls so we spent a good while picking galls and opening them up. It was quite an educational experience for the  family.

Within each gall we found a yellowish casing, presumeably for whatever type of wasp formed the gall in the first place. We found each of the galls contained a yellowing casing which we assumed was from the wasp larva. Each gall had a pin hole, which was assumed to be formed when the larva chewed its way out of the gall.

We did not find any galls that contained wasp larva, only the remaining egg casing. However, many of the galls we examined did contain small spiders, or spider silk and spider eggs. The gall is an inviting home for spiders to lay eggs and settle in once the wasp larva are gone (or while they are still in there). Several of the galls contained mini colonies of ants. This was not expected (we didn’t know much about the ants before our “field work.”

Fascinating!

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Spring Break at San Antonio Botanical Gardens

We are huge fans of the San Antonio Botanical Garden (SABOT) – we love participating in their seasonal exhibits, homeschool classes and various activities offered during the year.

This week was Spring Break for our area, and SABOT had various Spring Break themed activities planned for kids. Each day from 10-2 there were crafts and activities available for kids.

We went with a few homeschool families and had a blast! Our kids made crafty leis, learned about Japanese sand Zen gardens, went “fishing” for shells, made colored sand art, and even played in a HUGE mountain of sand that was brought in for the week. There was also an amazing sand sculpture on display – the artist worked during the course of the week and sculpted the front of the Alamo as well as a caterpillar on some cactus.

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Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio

We had the opportunity to spend Friday morning with some of our homeschool friends at Morgan’s Wonderland, an amusement park on the northeast side of San Antonio. While

This was our first trip here and I have to say, I really enjoyed the experience. We went early for the Mom’s Group, which meets twice a month and includes a reduced admission cost, a craft or activity for the kids, and admission to the park for the remainder of the day. This week the group met at the Fishing Wharf, which tied in well for our Growing Up Wild focus this month on Fish and Fishing. After finishing the craft (decorating Christmas ornaments), the kids in our group were able to do catch-and-release fishing (we obviously did not do this) on the Wharf – no one caught anything but spending time next to the water was loads of fun. Our friends had a blast driving motorized toy boats around from the pier, and exploring a few of the playgrounds on site. We took a relaxing train ride around the park to get a feel for all the park has to offer.

I was so impressed with Morgan’s Wonderland – they are a fully accessible park that really caters to disabled children and adults. Fully accessible playground equipment and rides, positive images of disabled “superhero” kids were all around the park, volunteers that were available to help visitors – it was such a great experience. While we don’t have any disabilities in our immediate family, I was just so impressed with the lengths to which Morgan’s Wonderland has gone to make the amusement park experience available to those with physical and developmental disabilities. I really look forward to supporting them with our future attendance.

Kyri in charge of her pirate ship.

Ender exploring the pier.

One of several playgrounds at Morgan’s Wonderland.

Ender having fun!

Kyri enoying the carousel.