Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Little Luna's New Eyes-Luna's Story Part 2

My last entry ended with us waiting for answers on why Luna was so small, developmentally delayed, and waiting to find out how her eyes were. 

We still, a year later, don't have many answers. She has been through such a great number of tests for every possible thing. Every test she has had came up pretty close to normal. She has been receiving therapy. Her team has changed a lot over the past year, with members coming and going. Everyone has been wonderful. Luna is thriving under their care. 

The biggest change was getting her glasses. It turns out that my little moonbeam has no clear vision at any distance. Her first prescription is for a +8, which is very strong. She had a great deal of transition and adjustment. It was hard and scary and overwhelming for her, but she did slowly catch on, and she is now able to walk, climb, crawl, stand, run, kick, and do pretty much everything every other 2 year old can do. 
This is from a Facebook post I made the day after she got her first pair of glasses. 

"Luna did so well with her glasses at breakfast. 
After eating, I put her on the potty in front of a large mirror. She touched her face all over, held up her hands, waved to herself, felt her body all over, held up her feet, touched her glasses, pointed to herself, and announced, "Good." 
Then her brothers came in to see her and played peek a boo and let her touch their faces. She laughed so hard, and declared them, "Good." as well."

And pictures of her eating her breakfast with clear vision for the first time. I had to feed her at first. I don't think she recognized the Cheerios until she tasted them. I didn't notice at the time how crooked her glasses were. She's now able to fix them if they get wonky. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Luna's story-Part 1-Waiting Is the Hardest Part

    Luna has had some challenges in her little life. She was born unable to eat, suck, swallow, or even open her mouth in response to touch. We spent weeks learning how to feed together. She was born a normal size, but immediately began losing weight. Her first months were a long, exhausting blur of pumps, bottles, nipple shields, feeding alarms and weight checks. 

   Eventually, she began to eat solid food and feed herself. For 7 months all she did was eat and sleep. But she did not grow. At 7 months, she weighed 14 pounds. At 14 months, she still weighed 14 pounds. In spite of massive quantities of high calorie foods - approximately 2000 calories a day, the recommended amount for a large, active man, 4 times the amount normally consumed by a toddler- she did not grow.

   All this while, she has been sweet and calm, and happy, and very, very reserved. She sleeps well, smiles often, laughs at her brothers, gives plentiful kisses and hugs. She sits quietly, and...that's about it.

    I began to notice that she did not crawl. Did not pull to stand. Didn't sit up on her own for long. She tires easily and seems to lack energy. During her months long eating binge, she did not play, rarely left her Bumbo seat, and generally didn't do very much.

   We found her a new care provider in our tiny town. There is no doctor here. The rest of the family is treated by Physician's Assistants. Her PA was not comfortable with her size and while her development seemed OK, it wasn't super reassuring. He sent her to a pediatrician in the small, nearby city.

  The pediatrician ran some lab work. The first of many blood tests. Her growth hormone was low, so we went to an endocrinologist. Her eyes had started to cross sometimes, indicating that she was not seeing well in one or both. We also went to an opthamologist.

  The Endocrinologist suspected Turner's syndrome, or Pituitary Dwarfism. He tested for both and an assortment of metabolic disorders that he mercifully did not discuss with me. 

  One by one, we have ruled out disorder after disorder. The list is too long for me to remember. I felt certain that she had Pituitary dwarfism, a relatively benign, treatable, non-life-threatening, non-life-limiting, painless growth hormone deficiency.

   The results came back on the lower side of normal. Not low enough to explain why, at 15 months, she is just nudging the first percentile for both height and weight. Not low enough to explain why she nww weighed only 16 pounds and had grown one inch in 3 months.

   The last round of tests, the ones I hoped not to need, are complicated, expensive genetic tests. After agonizing, researching, and agonizing some more, I brought her to Children's Hospital again for this last, terrifying array of tests. Now we have a month to wait for results.

   As the other babies Luna's age have been learning to stand and walk and crawl, Luna does none of those things. She can now sit unassisted for a good stretch of time. She has an odd, one handed scoot that she uses to get around. She can pull to a stand, and take a few steps with support. 

   She was diagnosed with severe hyperopia (farsightedness). She has tiny glasses. I will do another post on her saga with learning to see.

   She has failed two developmental screenings. Today she was evaluated by Early Intervention and qualified for services. We should hear soon what kind of therapies she will be offered.

  A few other concerns have come up. I will discuss them with her pediatrician, and we will have more referrals, I'm sure. For now, we wait.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

A Lot Changes in a Year

A few days old

   My last post was announcing my 5th pregnancy. At the end of this month, we will celebrate one year with our precious Luna Moon. 

Big girl. Always eating.
   A few months after she was born, we moved to Arizona, to be closer to my family, especially my dad. Sadly, only 3 months after arriving, we had to say good-bye for the last time. We are grateful that we got to visit with him a few times, the last just a week before he died in an accident. 

Taurus and Grandpa, riding the train in Phoenix

   We have since purchased a house. We are in the Sonoran Desert, halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. We are in a very tiny, a few miles from a very small city. We have been renting a house 5 miles from the one we now own. We were fortunate to have help from my cousin in purchasing a foreclosure free and clear. We are now rehabbing it in order to move in this week. The house will need continuing work which we will do while living in it.
It's not pretty, but it's ours.

This whole experience has been quite an adventure. Lots of ups and downs. The next few months will be a challenge, settling into our new neighborhood, doing the work of making this house our home, and finding our place in this big, wide open desert.
The view from our front door.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

A Restful School Year 2014-2015

We are expecting our 5th little berry in December. Right smack in the middle of our school year. My pregnancies aren't easy, so our school year will have to be.

Last year we completed the switch from a workbook-based curriculum to a Mom-centered one. We no longer pull out our stack of books and get to business, each on his own. Now we all sit down together and talk, listen, discuss, interact. We have always had some of this, but now it's all we do. 

Except, I can't do that much. I need to rest. And after baby comes, I will have to tend to that little person above all else. We are 2 out of 4 with colic, so I'm planning to be unavailable for 3 months.

How are we going to do this?

Well, first, I cut out everything but the barest essentials:


We are really enjoying a monthly block schedule. I went with that again. But instead of 2 or 3 topics each month, I cut it down to one.


I can throw in other things as we find time. But if we don't find time, I've got it covered. 

Another minor challenge this year, Sagg is moving up solidly into the middle grades and leaving elementary work behind. This is fine for me. He works independently for the most part. But I do have to find new materials for him, and schedule them separately from the rest of the kids. I find myself playing musical kids. Instead of all sitting down together to do our lessons, I have one or two at a time, then switch, then switch, then switch. The first two weeks were a bit chaotic. Now 5 weeks in,  The chaos is mostly controlled. 

As I have heard from others who use a block or unit type schedule, we cover our material quickly. By concentrating on just one subject at a time, we are able to work through a year's worth of material in a month. This is great. And will work seamlessly once I've acquired all the texts necessary. But during this time of acquisition, what happens in reality is that we are constantly ordering books. Aries is halfway through his math. Sagg needs a writing book, and is finishing up his Physics. I am ordering those today. In a few weeks, Aries will be done with his math and needing another. Even with many of our materials being free online, we will never be done with our ordering. What we need and how often will depend on how fast the kids move through their work. I expect at some point this year that we will set aside the math books and camp out with times tables. But I don't know when. There is a bit of uncertainty in that. 

For the in-between times, I have some additional topics set aside. Sagg will do some logic work while he waits for his writing book. I have PreK/K free exercises on my Kindle for Gemini and Taurus to work on when I have a gap in their schedule. We have free online reading and math resources for extra practice while I rest and adapt to our new life with one more. 

I expect that we will cover a lot of material and do a lot of learning this year in spite of, or maybe because of, our lighter schedule. We have already completed our elementary biology unit. Sagg has copied and memorized The Children's Hour; Aries is still working on it. Gem has mastered all of his vowels, and he and Taurus are learning their consonant sounds. We are enjoying our learning, and enjoying each other.

That is my goal for the year. To find the fun and the love and the togetherness. To lose the whining and the bickering. To rest. To play. To just be. 



LOF Physics (Final Bridge today and tomorrow, a few follow up lessons, then a break)
LOF PreAlgrebra 1 and 2

Writing Strands 3,4, and 5
Writer's Workshop using No More, "I'm Done!"

KISS Grammar 6th Grade
Mensa for Kids Excellence in Reading List for 4th through 6th grade 
Poetry copywork and memorization- HW Longfellow

Logic Countdown
Logic Liftoff


Life of Fred Butterflies, Cats, Dogs, Edgewood
Tumblebooks math stories
Arithmetic Village
Assorted printable games

Writer's Workshop 
100 Book Club
Mensa For Kids Excellence in Reading K-3
Progressive Phonics Advanced

Poetry copywork and memorization- HW Longfellow


Gemini (and Taurus, as much as he can):

Arithmetic Village
Printable Games
Tumblebooks Math stories
Counting to 100 by 1s, 2s, 5s, 10s

Addition 1-10

Tumblebooks Early Readers
Kindle and library story books
Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading

Mensa For Kids Excellence in Reading K-3
Multimedia writing practice

Memorization- Days of the week, Seasons, Months of the Year, nursery rhymes

PreK rotation from last year

All together:

Story of the World 3
Pronto Lessons Biology, Anatomy, Physics
Mango Japanese

Friday, May 9, 2014

Picture Study

As I've mentioned a few times recently, I am streamlining our homeschool, combining necessary tasks with the subjects we are studying The result of this is more free time, more room in our day to play and to add in extra lessons that we have not had much room for in the past. 

On of these new endeavors is Picture Study (or artist study later, but last month, just picture study). 

Charlotte Mason  recommended artist study as a critical part of a child's cultural education. We follow a Classical approach, inspired by both Charlotte Mason and The Well-Trained Mind. This year, I am prioritizing some of the studies that have fallen by the wayside in recent years, including artist study, composer study and Poet study .

Last month, we studied Conversational Japanese. Along with the study of the language, we read Japanese folk lore, from which we took our copywork and picture study. 

For this lesson, we read Kogi's Mysterious Journey.


We chose our favorite picture. We studied it briefly, then I closed the book. Each child told me, in turn, what he remembered about the picture. I am always delighted to hear the differences in what they tell me. Their perceptions are all so unique.

Once we have all spoken, I reopen the book and we look again. Each child can point out what he spoke of that the other children did not see.
I show them different artistic elements in the picture. In this one, the impression of movement, the layering of color to create light and texture, story-telling elements of the picture, the dark outlines reminiscent of wood block printing. 

Now it's time to get into it. I laid out paper and water colors, and set up the open book for inspiration. I do not encourage the children to copy the picture. I instruct them to use the elements and style they see in the picture to create something of their own. Again, I get to see their unique perceptions and personalities shining through. 

During Picture study month, we do this about once a week (allowing for days out of the house, holidays, illness, other time constraints). Another day, we read a book illustrated in torn paper collage. They had a lot of fun recreating a burning rice field featured in Tsunami!

This simple practice has been a rewarding and enjoyable addition to our homeschool. 

Poetry Study and Dictation

We are expanding our poetry study. We have always had some loose poetry study, taking different forms over the years. Beginning now, and heading into next year (we have accomplished most of our goals for this year, so we're getting a head start on next year), I am formalizing our poetry study a bit. 

We will choose a poet to study every 3rd month or so. (Artists and composers get the other 2 months). This month, Sagittarius,11, has chosen Longfellow. 

We will read books about Longfellow, some background of his life and times, and of course, we will read and recite some of his works. 

I have spent much of this year streamlining our processes. I have found that prepared curricula includes a great deal of overlap. I am breaking down the tasks and working them in to existing parts of our day. Narrations aren't just for history. We can narrate anything we read. Copywork does not need to be a separate exercise. Copywork can be integrated into whatever we are reading together. 

What is copywork and why do we do it? In short, copywork and dictation teach the child what good writing looks like. Their eyes see it, their hands practice it, their memories cache it. When it's time for them to create their own work, they will have solid models and practice applying the rules in the proper way. Correct work will come naturally. 

What is copywork? Exactly what it sounds like. For little children, I write out a short passage-one or two lines-in a three lined notebook. I like ones with half of the page blank for illustrations.  The child then copies the piece exactly, in his best handwriting, with correct capitalization and punctuation. 

For the older child, a longer piece, wide- or college- ruled notebook, and additional exercises increase the challenge. He can copy directly from the text. Sagg does this on his own while I tend to younger children. 

For 4th grade or so onward, we add several forms of dictation. 

I have not read Brave Writer's Writer's Jungle or used her programs, but from reading her blog, and online discussions, as well as doing a bit of my own research, I have devised our own program. 

We all know that dictation is the writer writing what is read or spoken by the reader. Direct dictation is very useful in creating quality writing. But there are other forms of dictation which help the process along tremendously. 

Dictation goes both ways. A younger child dictates to the parent, who scribes the child's words, then reads them back to him (with appropriate editing). This allows even the youngest child to create written work, long before his mechanical skills will allow him to write. If he can read, he reads his words back to the parent, and sees how they should look on paper.

When the child takes dictation, he has read a passage, perhaps copied it. Then it is read to him, and he must recreate it perfectly. This is a challenging exercise. 

Reverse  Dictation is copywork in which the piece is presented in written form with no capitalization or punctuation. The child rewrites the piece correctly. 

French dictation is a similar exercise in which the piece is presented with missing words. Just a few at first, then more and more words missing until the piece is just a very bare framework. 

By this point the child is ready to recreate the whole passage from memory. I have found that Sagg can recite the piece by the time I'm ready to dictate it to me. Show off. 

Here's an example of how this process works. 

Day 1: We read the piece, select a passage, and copy it.
            Today we are reading The Children's Hour. I will have each child choose a short passage to copy. I will point out the nonstandard spacing, capitalization, and punctuation, as well as the possessive apostrophes. 

            "Between the dark and the daylight, 
              When the night is beginning to lower, 
              Comes a pause in the day's occupations,     
              That is know as the Children's Hour."

Day 2: Reverse Dictation
            For this verse, I will remind the child of possessive apostrophes and nonstandard capitalization. 

             "between the dark and the daylight

               when the night is beginning to lower
               comes a pause in the days occupations
               known as the childrens hour"

Day 3: French Dictation 
            "Between the ____ and the ____ 
              When the ____ is ____ to ____
              Comes a pause in the ____ ____
              Known as the ____ ____."

Day 4: Straight Dictation
             I read the passage to the child, and he writes it, perfectly and neatly, in his copybook. If there are mistakes, I prompt him to find and correct them. 

At this point, he is usually able to recite the verse. If he wishes to do so, I will encourage him to.

Dictation and copywork are ongoing in our homeschool, not just limited to poetry study. We use this process with literature as well. Exposure to a great variety of writing styles increases the children's writing vocabulary. I try to choose beautiful, meaningful, picturesque works for them to copy from. I allow them to choose the lines that move them. They often choose longer pieces than I would have given them. They enjoy this process much more than I would have expected. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Fermented Pickles

I have made refrigerator pickles before, but this time, I wanted to try my hand at fermented pickles. 

 Fermentation does not =alcohol, Sourdough bread is fermented. Fermentation produces those healthy bacteria we refer to as probiotics. Fermented foods have a plethora of health benefits.

Fermentation also helps stave off spoilage. Before people knew about probiotics, they knew that fermented foods last a long time. Before refrigeration, this was critical to survival. Now, in the age of global produce trade, it's still convenient and cost effective. I bought a half case of pickling cucumbers for $20. That's about 20-30 pounds of cucumbers. We ate about a third fresh, I pickled 15 quarts, and I lost a few to spoilage :( The salt and vinegar I used are negligible. That's a lot of food for $20. 

I used the instructions in Every Step in Canning: The Cold Pack Method, a free e-book available from Amazon and the Gutenberg Project. Originally published in 1920 as a pamphlet for housewives, I had to make a few adjustments. For instance, I used canning jars instead of a crock or wooden tub. I screwed my lids on instead of sealing my jars with paraffin, and I moved my jars to the refrigerator after they finished fermenting. I suppose, in theory, refrigeration is technically unnecessary, but I found that 2 additional days on top of the fridge made my pickles slightly more sour than I would prefer. I have room in the fridge, so in they went. They should be able to hang out in there indefinitely. I'm hoping to hold onto these until next spring. 

First, lets talk about cucumbers. 

Pickling cucumbers are smaller and firmer than garden cukes. The pickling process softens them a bit. While these raw pickles are much crisper than ones you find in the store or homemade heat-canned pickles, they do still need to be quite firm to hold up to the process. Garden cucumbers are better suited to a refrigerator pickle. 

Other veggies besides cucumbers will work well in this preparation. Watermelon rind, radishes, green tomatoes, green beans, turnips, carrots, and anything of a similar texture will work. I have only used cucumbers, but I do plan to do this with watermelon rind this summer. 

Alrighty, let's get started. 

First, wash your cucumbers well. If they come from a grocery store, they may have a wax coating. Scrub that off. Yuck.

Next, slice them, quarter them, or whatever. If you have a LARGE container, such as a glass gallon jar, you may leave them whole. Smaller jars won't hold whole pickles.

A word about containers. You want something stable. There is vinegar involved here. Metal and plastic are no-nos. Glass, crockery, even "non-pitchy wood", whatever that means, are fine. When in doubt, go with glass. 

Wash your containers. There is no need to sterilize as in canning. Just soap and water. 

These pickles are sliced the long way, and a sprig of dill rests at the bottom.

Next, pack your jars. If you wish, put a sprig or two of fresh dill in the bottom of your jar, or whatever spices you wish. You don't need dill or pickling spice. Most "dill pickles" in the grocery store have no dill. They are just plain pickles. My first batch was plain. They are quite flavorful all on their own. 

Then lay the jar on its side. Pack the cucumbers firmly into the jar. When the brine goes in, everything will loosen up and shift around a bit. You want them to stay in place.


Leave a bit of room at the top. The pickles must be completely submerged. If one piece sticks out, the whole jar will spoil. 

Brining solution

Now it's time to mix the brine. 

To one gallon of clean, filtered drinking water, add 1 cup vinegar and 3/4 cup salt. You can use whatever kind of vinegar and salt you like. This is a very mild brine. It's NOT a pickling solution. This solution alone will not preserve your pickles. The vinegar in this brine will only protect your cucumbers until the fermentation can kick in. It's just a booster. 

I chose raw, organic apple cider vinegar, mainly for the antifungal benefits. It's the only vinegar approved for Gem's Candida Diet. Because these pickles have no sugar, and no additives or preservatives-or dyes, did you know most pickles have yellow dye? Why?!!?-they are safe for Gem, and anyone else on a variety of special diets.

Choose your salt wisely. The salt will concentrate in the pickles. My kids reported that the pickles I made were very salty. (They still downed a quart for lunch, so they weren't bad, just saltier than expected.) Pickling salt is a low-quality salt. It has a strong flavor. I would recommend using a good-tasting salt with a flavor you prefer. I used an inexpensive sea salt

You will need half as much solution as the volume of your pickle containers. One gallon of brine will fill 2 gallon jars, or 8 quart jars. 

Fill the jars with brining solution to the tops. Make sure that the pickles are completely covered. If jars aren't packed tightly enough, the cucumbers may float to the top and spoil. 

Place the lids loosely. Don't screw them tight yet. Label them with the date. 

Place the jars in a safe, warm place. Heat speeds fermentation. I put mine on top of the fridge. This is my usual fermenting area :)  You can see my kombucha and my oil infusions up there as well.
In a day or two, you should see a few bubbles if you gently shake the jars. There's no sugar in here, so it won't get fizzy. Leave them up there for about a week. 

After they are sufficiently fermented, check the tops for scum. If any has formed, skim it off. Screw the lids on tightly. Move the jars to the refrigerator, a root cellar (if you don't live in Louisiana and you have one), or eat them up right away.