Friday, March 21, 2014

Time for a Break!

After several months of nearly constant posting, it's time for a bit of a break! I have some things on the home-front to take care of, plus wrapping up our school year, so I'm going to be scarce for a bit. After that I hope to be back with you all (probably within a month or two) with lots of fun things to share.

I may be around in the meantime - just not too often. Rest assured, I'll be back!

In the meantime, enjoy the beautiful weather! Love to all!

(P.S. Yes, I do have one more installment to publish in my series. Unfortunately, that post is the one post that wasn't actually written before I started publishing - so it will have to wait till I get back!)

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Inside the American Medical System: Lessons Learned II (Part 10 in the Series)

And yet more lessons learned from our time in the American medical system...

This time I will focus on essentials of successful involvement in one's medical care.

Organization is Essential

When you are trying to connect information between multiple specialists, it is essential that one's papers, calendar, and assorted information be organized and easily accessible. If not, information will fall through the cracks, and your doctors will not have the information that they need to help you. Keeping lines of communication open and making sure each individual has all of the information from other specialists and departments is your job, and being organized is the only way to do it.

Keep files. Make a medical notebook. However you do it, stay organized.

Along the same lines...

Take Charge of Your Own Care

When working with doctors' offices, you have to be aggressive and persistent.

There are a good number of your phone calls that will not be returned. Keep calling. There are a lot of your questions that will not be answered. Keep asking. There are a lot of requests that will not be granted. Keep knocking on those doors. 

Doctors are fallible. Office staff can be horribly inefficient and forgetful. Messages are lost or communicated badly, and a lot of things will be lost in process. To get anywhere, it is essential that one is persistent. Keep asking, keep calling, keep requesting.

Otherwise, you will be lost in the system. And you - or your child - will not get what you need. Depending on your circumstances, this can be a minor annoyance, or it can be life-threatening. I can think of two examples (personal acquaintances) who came close to losing their children through the sheer inefficiency of hospitals and caregivers. Thankfully both sets of parents were vigilant and persistent in pursuing their needs, and both situations turned out positively.

In the medical system, one must stand up for one's needs.

Do Your Own Research

It isn't possible for an individual to know as much as a doctor does over all, but it is possible for an individual to learn as much or more than a doctor about an individual condition. Additionally, it is very helpful to be able to discuss a condition in medical terminology - it aids communication, and greatly aids in a doctor's respect for the patient. For example, when I told our doctors, "The geneticist found no sign of hepatosplenomegaly," things usually improved from there. Doctors like involved, interested clients!

Other things, like keeping symptom lists, question lists, and medical record notebooks (see early installments of this series) greatly aid in doctor-client relations.

If You Lean Toward Crunchiness, Be Prepared for Awkward Silences

"Why no, his vaccines aren't up-to-date. Where was he born? In the bathtub. Where does he sleep? With us! And yes, at seventeen months of age, he's still breastfeeding."

All of the above will lead to nice awkward silences and sometimes caregiver prejudice. "Oh, they're one of those families." 

Independent thought is not always welcomed.

Sometimes people surprise you. There's always the nurse who cheerfully pipes up, "Oh, that's wonderful! My sister had her babies at home, and I think it's much healthier! Good for you!"

But they're still in the minority.

There's nothing you can do about this prejudice, except work against it by showing responsibility and organization with your child's care. And most of the time it doesn't cause problems. But it's something to be aware of, and to be prepared for.


In my next - and hopefully last! - installment, I will share my final conclusion about the American medical system. I hope you'll join me!

One of his favorite activities - pulling hair!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Inside the American Medical System: Lessons Learned I (Part 9 in the Series)

During our several-year stay in the American medical system - that confusing web of specialists, appointments, and who-knows-what - we learned many things. Some were a surprise, some were expected confirmations of what we already suspected.

In no particular order, here are some of the lessons we learned:

Specialists Don't Necessarily Breed Answers

When we first got our appointments set up with Genetics, Neurology, etc., I breathed a sigh of relief. All we had to do was wait a month or two till those appointments, and we would have answers.

Ha ha ha ha ha ha!

That, of course, didn't happen! First of all, we never got any answers. But secondly, I had really put too much trust in those medical specialists. They are very smart people, but they are not God! Having never seen a specialist before, I believed that a visit with a specialist would answer all questions, reveal all mysteries, and leave us completely satisfied and taken care of. Instead, a visit with a specialist was simply that - a visit with a specialist. The specialists poked, prodded, nodded their heads, and said, "Okay, great, we'll see you in three months." Specialists don't necessarily breed answers (though they sometimes do), and answers, when they do come, can be very slow in arriving.

Specialists Breed More Specialists

When we visited our specialists, we didn't always come away with answers - but we did come away with requests to visit more specialists.

Pediatrics sent us to Neurology, Developmental Pediatrics, Therapy, and Genetics.

Developmental Pediatrics sent us to Cardiology. Genetics sent us to Gastroenterology and a second branch of Neurology. The therapists sent us to other therapists.

It got pretty crazy.

Anyone who's been in this web-of-specialists knows how insane the specialist visit-list gets, and we were no exception. It's exhausting and overwhelming, and I have complete sympathy with anyone who is dealing with this!

Some Doctors Won't Work Well For Your Family - and That's Okay!

Sometimes you'll meet with a doctor and things just click. Your family loves him, he loves your family, and things go swimmingly from there. (Our example of this was our excellent neurologist. We love him.)

But sometimes, things don't click. A relationship is awkward, or strained, and things just don't go well. This is usually due to one of two causes:
  1. A personality clash between doctor and client
  2. A difference of care-philosophy between doctor and client
We experienced both of these at different times.

In the first type of doctor-client conflict (personality clashes), there are simply some personalities that don't work well together. For example, when one of our specialists thought that she had discovered that our son had an extremely rare condition, she was excited - in a scientific way - about her discovery. My husband, who was in a state of shock, took offense to her excitement, as many would. "What do you mean, you're excited that my son has a dangerous disease?" I, on the other hand, being of a similar turn of mind, was able to join her in professional interest. "Really? He has something really rare? Wow! Let's investigate!" Not that I was happy about it, but simply that we were of a similar personality that rejoices in scientific inquiry and rare finds. But that doctor didn't work out for us, mainly because of that personality clash between the two of them.

In another example, we had a specialist who, unfortunately and through no fault of her own, reminded me strongly of another person whom I find highly intimidating. Every time we had to see her, or even communicate, I rolled up into a ball of stress. It wasn't her fault, but it didn't contribute to a great relationship. 

In the second type of doctor-client conflict (a difference of care-philosophy), huge issues can arise between doctor and client when they are of different mindsets - Western v. naturopathic, interventionist v. observation-based, etc. 

We experienced this clash several times.

For example, there was the gastroenterologist who wanted us to wean our special needs baby and put him on formula. (We said NO.) Thankfully she moved to a different state before we had to fire her officially. 

We had another specialist who was extremely high-intervention, high-test and high-stress - none of which fit our family's personality. We are very laid-back, and we do not like to volunteer for tests and procedures unnecessarily. If they're necessary, we'll do them. If not, lay off. That eventually led to a rupture in the relationship, though I'm not sure in the end who fired whom. One way or the other, we're thankfully out of her hands. 

When you're dealing with serious illness and serious conditions, it's essential that you find doctors who fit your personality and your philosophy of care. Not every care provider will work out, and don't be afraid to change. 

Modern Doctors Tend to Be Test-Happy and Intervention-Happy

In other words, very few doctors are willing to sit back, relax, and wait. They are trained, and are encouraged by current medical culture, to do something right now - whether it's order tests, perform a procedure, or intervene in some way. 

Unfortunately, this is in many ways a matter not of good medical practice, but of liability. If something bad happens, it is much easier to avoid being sued if you were actively intervening, rather than waiting on nature. 

It's rather like that unfortunate saying in the OB world - "The only surgery you get sued for is the one you didn't do." This philosophy is present in every arena of current medicine, and leads to some very unfortunate consequences. Doctors are pressured to do something in order to avoid getting sued, or to provide documentation in case of a lawsuit.

As an example of this, some time ago I read on the internet a doctor saying that he had that day ordered 18 MRI procedures - and he knew that only two of them were medically necessary or even advisable. The others were done simply for liability-protection purposes. 

The threat of liability saturates every bit of the current medical world. Unfortunately, it results in doctors who are very test-happy and procedure-happy. We had one doctor who wanted our son to undergo a seizure test (he's never had seizures or symptoms of seizures). Another wanted him to do a very toxic swallow test, just to make sure on a minor non-essential issue. (Thankfully another doctor got him out of that.) The same doctor wanted him to undergo repeated painful blood draws in order to test one number that was slightly off on his labs. We ended up refusing after the second time through that nightmare. 

If nothing else, these experiences forced me to grow a backbone! 

One of the problems is that doctors do not experience the stress and pain that repeated tests and procedures cause families. When a doctor prescribes a test or procedure, he doesn't see that Dad takes a day off from work, the whole family is stressed out, the child undergoes tremendous stress and sometimes pain during procedures and tests, and the whole family goes through quite a bit - often repeatedly. He or she just sees a neat sheet of numbers after the results come in. 

When tests and procedures are necessary, all of that just has to be dealt with. But when the tests are just to cover a doctor's backside, or to pursue non-essential trivialities, then they are just ridiculous. And telling the difference can be quite a trial.

I'll finish up my "Lessons Learned" section in the next post!

Cuddled up on our camping trip!

Click on Part 10 to keep reading! 

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My "Best Things" List (Life-Focus Areas)

Last month, I read a book that I highly recommend - "Say Goodbye to Survival Mode" by Crystal Paine. (Visit Crystal's blog here.) Definitely check out this book!

In her book, Crystal encourages readers to write out a priority list of "best things." Where do we wish to focus our time and energy as we move through life? Each woman will have different priorities, but we must be aware of those priorities. Otherwise, we risk frittering away our time on the less-important things that threaten to distract us.

Crystal also encourages her readers to "flesh out" their priority lists - to write down what their priorities will look like in practical living.

I found this challenge interesting, so I grabbed my notebook and started writing. I thought it would be fun to share!

My "Best Things" List:

(1) A growing and maturing relationship with the Lord

  • What this looks like: Reading the Bible and taking it seriously, reading theologically-sound spiritual books, prayer, family devotions, church attendance, placing myself under my husband's spiritual guidance and authority. 

(2) Real friendships with women

  • What this looks like: Minimizing my time on social media and making time for friends and neighbors.

(3) Mental and emotional calm, joy, and peace

  • What this looks like: Prayer. Because prayer is the only way this can be achieved.

(4) An unhurried life and schedule

  • What this looks like: Learning to say "no" a lot more than I say "yes" - a very difficult thing to do as a home educating mama! Practicing as much ruthless minimalism as I can manage so that our "stuff" does not cause a huge daily "must dig out of this mess" problem.

(5) A clean, organized, and uncluttered house

  • What this looks like: Saying no to the computer so that I can say yes to my home. Realizing that a clean home is important to me, and making time to see that happen. Again - ruthless minimalism is the key for my sanity. 

(6) Successfully loving, training, and educating my children

  • What this looks like: If I fail here, nothing else really matters. Thus, this is a huge priority. What does it involve? Everything! Teaching, playing, discipling, training, planning, organizing, loving and enjoying. I have come so far in this area, but I have so far yet to go. It is a daily challenge. 

(7) A strong and enduring marriage

  • What this looks like: In all honesty, romance isn't important to me. Flowers, cards, candy, candlelit dinners? Skip it, please! Instead, I look toward those old-time marriages in which couples were intertwined for life simply by living and working side-by-side for decades. Ways to make this happen - preserving and treasuring our daily coffee time, protecting our relationship from destructive influences, trusting and respecting my husband in thought and word, and making it a priority to spend time with him rather than being out on my own. 

(8) Time to write and improve as a writer

  • What this looks like: It has come to me only this past year that writing is something that I enjoy for itself, not just as an emotional outlet. I would like to improve in this area, and to work toward learning more and improving my abilities. 

(9) Continually improving my homemaking skills

  • What this looks like: Right now, this includes budgeting and bargain-hunting, learning to be a crock-pot master, learning to cook and buy in bulk, and more. The challenges change with every season in life, but they are never-ending. There's always something more to learn.

Dear friends, I'd love to hear about your "best things" - leave a comment and tell me about them! 

Friday, March 14, 2014

Inside the American Medical System: Making a Medical Notebook IV (Part 8 in the Series)

In my previous three posts (see links at bottom of page), I shared how we created a medical notebook to keep our notes, visits, and caregiver information reasonably organized.

Today I want to share two additional things that really helped us with all our appointments: a symptom list and a question list.

When visiting doctors, we always had a hard time (1) making sure that the doctor got all of the pertinent information (thus the symptom list), and (2) getting the information that we needed (thus the question list).

The Symptom List

When we visited each doctor, I immediately handed the nurse a "symptom sheet." This was a bullet-point summary of every symptom, change in health status, etc., for the child in question, and it was an awesome way to communicate effectively, clearly, and quickly with doctors. Otherwise, a lot of details get lost in transfer - and doctors are so busy that they are hard to pin down and actually talk to. This is a great way to accomplish clear communication with a minimum of lost time or lost information.

Because our time in the medical system was spent trying to track down a mystery condition, my symptom list includes all sorts of symptoms - developmental, physiological, etc. However, it would vary greatly depending on the medical circumstances. In a different situation, for example, a symptom/informational list might list other information, briefly stated, such as:
  • Surgery and/or procedure history
    • Example: "Had a shunt put in on 2/1/11; recovery has been uncomplicated."
  • Quick summaries of visits with other specialists
    • Example: "Saw Dr. Smith in neurology on 2/12/13; he recommends a second brain MRI based on symptoms."
  • Current prescription list
    • Example: "Currently taking 15 mg of Drug A three times per day."
It's very easy to individualize a symptom list for an individual situation, and for our family, it was an essential part of communication with our doctors. 

I should also say that, without exception, doctors loved this. When we handed them detailed symptom lists, most of them showed visible enthusiasm and excitement. "Wow! This is awesome! Thank you so much!" They loved having summarized information quickly available (without hours of interviews), and they also loved seeing parents who were intensely involved in their child's care. I can't say enough about how keeping symptom lists improved and bolstered our doctor-client relationships. 

Below is a partial list of the symptom list that we took to our doctors (abbreviated for privacy purposes):

[Patient Name]
[Patient Birthdate]
[Visit Date]

  • Cannot: walk, crawl, scoot, sit independently, pull up, sit in exersaucer
  • Can: grab toys, roll from side to side, turn over, grab feet
  • Sometimes will arch back strongly when picked up or when held for more than a few minutes.
  • Hates being on his tummy – will become hysterical and/or hold breath
  • Can roll over but doesn’t, as he hates being on his tummy so much. Will roll from side to side while being careful to avoid falling onto his tummy
  • A bit floppy with head/body, though getting better
  • Is developing physical skills – just slowly 
  • Characteristics noted upon physical exam: 
    • Clinodactyly of the fifth digit
    • Simian crease
    • Unusual facial morphology (lowered ears, wide-set eyes, small mouth, etc.)
    • Mild syndactyly on both feet
    • Delayed motor skill development
    • Speech also seems to be delayed – no babbling yet, only cooing, moaning, humming, squealing, etc. 

Other notes:
  • Needs a lot of water – very thirsty
  • Diet – Nursing well, baby food (rice cereal, banana, avocado, kale, carrot, prune)
  • Initial challenges post-birth:
    • had a difficult birth with a slow start
    • problems with choking and establishing respiration during first 48 hours
    • tongue-tie and subsequent weight loss issues (corrected by age 2 months)
  • Has always been a more “delicate” baby – i.e. sensitive to hot and cold, wind, sudden changes, etc. 
  • Seems otherwise healthy – active, alert, bright, happy, etc. 
  • Extremely docile, easy-going, mild-mannered, quiet, happy, lazy
  • Has been very early (3-6 mos.) with all of his teeth
  • Extremely fond of finger/thumb-sucking 
  • Gets bloodshot eyes while nursing/sucking
  • Seems to have a harder/longer time with illnesses – his last cold (9/2010) lasted over 10 days
  • Is very particular about his food – if it isn’t perfectly smooth, or something else upsets him, he will vomit during eating (in large quantity, not just spitting up)
  • Skin picking/scratching
  • When very upset, will hold breath for 10-20 seconds (till skin color is blue/grey). Doesn’t do this as often as when he was an infant – then, it was every 1-2 days; now it is only when truly upset (for example, when someone makes him do tummy time). 
  • Does not like to be held for long periods or to sit up. Prefers to lie on his back.
  • Likes to stroke hair/beards.
  • Does not like very noisy/active situations or sudden changes, etc. 
  • Has episodes of night-time crying.
  • Has sudden episodes of crying. 
  • Gets cold/sweaty when crying.

The Question List

Additionally, at each specialist visit, I presented a question list - a list of questions that we wanted to ask the doctor.

Why not just ask the questions?

As many of you know, it's not that simple. Doctors are pressed for time, conversation tends to be fast-paced and headed in many different directions, and it's very easy to get side-tracked and find that one has ended an appointment without getting any questions asked, let alone answered.

When handing a doctor a list of questions, however, he or she will often stop and go systematically through the list and answer each question in turn. It's very helpful, and again, I highly recommend it.

Questions for Dr. -------
[Visit Date]

(1) Should we be concerned about [A]?

(2) Do we need to change our prescription for [B]?

(3) We have noticed [C]. Do you have any advice regarding that?


The Symptom List and the Question List were the two key points to making our specialist visits effective!

Our little guy two years ago, with his new baby brother! 

In simpler situations - for example, taking a child to the doctor for an ear infection - the symptom list and question list can be combined easily. We do this whenever we take a child to see a physician. Here is a made-up example:

Patient Kayla Brown (birthdate 12/13/12)
For visit on 3/13/14 with Dr. Smith


- Low fever (99.8F)
- Fussy
- Up at night
- Rubbing ears


(1) Can we treat this at home, or do we need antibiotics? (If we need antibiotics, note that Kayla is allergic to penicillin.)

(2) What comfort measures can we take for her at home?

(3) Will it be safe for her to attend her cousin's wedding with us on Saturday?

Again, even for simple visits, this makes everything so much easier!

I hope that these tips are a blessing to your family in whatever situation you find yourself!

Click on Part 9 to keep reading!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Adventures in (Leaving) Facebook!

I have long had a love-hate relationship with Facebook.

I love all of the fun, conveniences, information, conversations, and ability to find like-minded interest groups.

I don't love the addictive time-sucking nature of Facebook, the seemingly inherent negativity, and the ability to unwittingly make an idiot of myself before a large audience.

Several years ago, I wrote a short series about Facebook. Read the first part here: "Facebook: Flighty Friend or Fiendish Foe?" In that post, I detailed all of the different things that I liked and didn't like about Facebook, and I find that I still agree with what I wrote in that post.

When I wrote the above post, I realized that many things needed changing at the time.
  • Firstly was the fact that I was part of many birth groups that tended to have combative or negative attitudes. "You don't like what we've got to say? Well, in your face!"  It was very negative, and very depressing. I immediately went through and deleted those type of birth groups. Indeed, in the intervening years I have deleted almost all of my birth groups - I've only kept a small handful. 
  • Secondly was a large number articles appearing in my newsfeed that ridiculed my beliefs, my politics, my parenting, my religion, etc. (Not that they were intentionally targeting me, but it sure can feel like it.) Again, incredibly depressing. I spent some time cleaning up this area of my account. Again, a big improvement.
  • More about the changes I made here
  • You can also read about what I learned about the benefits of Facebook breaks here.

After I finished cleaning up my Facebook account, it was a much cleaner and happier and more positive place to be.


The addictive nature of Facebook remained the same. The "complete huge waste of time" factor remained the same. And a lot of the negatives of Facebook - namely, the arguments and negativity, seemed to be constant regardless of what I did.

And even though I had changed to more positive groups - like Christian mothering and parenting groups - my account was still filled with argument and debate threads. Just have one woman in a group post something like "I want more children, but my husband doesn't. What should I do?" - and watch women fly for each other's throats.

About two months ago, around 10:00 p.m. one evening, all of the unrest I'd been feeling for years about Facebook came suddenly and unexpectedly to a head. All of a sudden, I'd had enough. I walked into my husband's office and said:

"I want to get rid of my Facebook account. Right now. Okay with you?"

He was fine with it, and so I went ahead. I dashed off a quick, "Goodbye, world!" post, and then deactivated (not having the guts to do the final deletion).

My first feeling was a feeling of intense shock and grief. It was like receiving a death blow.

My second feeling was a feeling of intense relief and freedom.

I stayed Facebook-free for about six weeks.

Here's what I loved leaving behind while off of Facebook:

  • The temptation to gossip about or eavesdrop on issues and conversations that were none of my business
  • The never-ending time-suck
  • The drama. Oh, the drama.
  • Arguments, fights, and squabbles of various sorts - And even worse, how those arguments sucked me in, both time-wise (being glued to the computer) and mentally (having my mind fixated on an issue and preventing me from being emotionally present with my family).
  • Violent politics
  • Seeing posts I would rather NOT see
  • The dangerous side of Facebook*
  • Facebook-regret - that nasty feeling you get when you suddenly wake up and think, "Oh, my goodness - I can't believe I posted that on Facebook!" I can't tell you how often this happens to me (though thankfully not nearly as often as in the past).
  • The risk of hurting someone accidentally - usually by unwittingly revealing information that was meant to be private. I still feel sick about the time I face-planted in this area. 
* Several months ago, I witnessed an unknown troll (a troll is someone who joins a group in order to intentionally hurt people) take a member's innocent status update, twist it, and get the family in trouble with the law. True story. This incident really made me rethink Facebook and the internet in general.

Here's what I missed while being off of Facebook:

  • Sharing family pictures, especially for those who don't see our family in person often.
  • Sharing our home education journey - I love Facebook as a way encourage others considering home education and also to educate those who are ignorant about or even hostile to home education, and I've had a wonderful response to my home education posts. I really missed this.
  • Sharing articles - Okay, I know - I share way too many articles. But I really missed this while being off of Facebook!
  • Promoting books and events - I love promoting great books and upcoming local events. This is something I definitely couldn't do while off of Facebook.
  • Participating in like-minded niche groups - Facebook is great about having niche groups for just about anything, and I was a part of several otherwise hard-to-find niche Facebook groups. I haven't rejoined those groups due to the time-suck issue, but I do miss that fellowship of like-minded mamas.
  • The ability to post requests for local information - I really do use Facebook for this. "Does anyone know of a good local source for raw milk? Who has an extra SCOBY? Where is a good mechanic in the east valley?" etc. 
  • Receiving friends' family news - Especially the wonderful news items of engagements, pregnancies, and new babies!

At the end of the six-week time period, I came to a tentative decision. I would go back on Facebook... but I would share my husband's account. That way, I would receive absolutely zero notifications, invitations, messages, etc. I would not participate in any groups. I would only log on once a day to make posts, and then scram.

And that's been the status for the past month.

It's worked beautifully.

I am on Facebook for five minutes or less per day. I stop by once a day to post pictures, articles, and updates, and then log off within a few minutes. I don't see the drama or the endless debate threads that can take my attention and my peace for hours and days at a time.

I miss a lot, but it's worth it. It's a huge improvement.

Right now we're in a holding pattern. I don't know if I will keep this method, or if I will end up permanently deleting my account in the end. But I love being mostly Facebook-free, and I don't want to go back to the bondage that I felt before - of the relentless pull to the computer to "check on developments" of the latest debate, or scrolling through my news feed for the hundredth time, or of feeling the irresistible compulsion to check Facebook every single time I sat down at the computer.

Now that I don't have a Facebook addiction to battle, I can use the computer much more constructively. Computer time is still addictive, but not nearly as much when it's just email and my blog reader. And now that I'm not receiving endless Facebook notifications, my email load has been reduced by an easy 50% or more, meaning that my inbox is much more manageable. (Additionally, I have more time to devote to blogging!)

Facebook was fun. But for me, it was also a form of slavery.

And life is much better (mostly) without it.

I'll write at a later date to let you know how it comes out in the end!

Dear friends, I'd love to hear how you manage Facebook! Do you battle Facebook addiction? Do you choose not have an account? Do you have a way to manage it effectively? Write and let me know!

(Note to friends: My personal Facebook account has been reactivated, as I found that I needed access to information within my message inbox, but I am no longer using it.)

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Current Homeschool To-Do List for Summer Break!

With four weeks of our school year left, our "summer" is quickly approaching! I have chosen to give our family a six-week summer break (extendable to eight weeks if needed), and I'm really looking forward to it.

In all honesty, summer vacation is more like "summer vacation." In other words, it may be a break for the children, but it sure isn't for mama! Even though there's no school work, I find (in common with many other mamas I've talked to) that non-school days are actually harder on mama than school days. There is less structure and fewer things for the children to do, and thus more mess, more chaos, and more sibbling squabbles.

(Not to mention that the children insist on having all of the usual amenities like food, diapers, snacks, reading time, baths, and all the extras even though it's vacation! Sheesh.)

Added on to all of that is the fact that I usually make up an enormous to-do list for myself that is impossible to complete - especially while the children are making noise and messes underfoot, and needing me just as much as usual.


There are many tasks to be done in finishing up one year and preparing for the next! And they have to be done. I find myself fitting many of these items in before the children are up and after they're in bed. Having a good list gives me an idea of how I'm doing, and it feels good to knock things out whenever I have a chance to steal a few minutes.

With that in mind, I thought you all might like to see my summer to-do list! Some of these items apply to every break, and some are specific only to summer break. Additionally, this is my "stock list" - it consists of the things that must be done every summer, not a list particular to this summer.

Here it is!

Summer Break To-Do List

  • Plan next term's six SCIENCE EXPERIMENTS (pick experiments, check supplies)
  • Pick COUNTRY for next study
    • Set up country on EVERNOTE
    • Plan next term's six country-study CRAFTS
    • Plan next term's six country-study RECIPES
    • Order first set of books for new country
  • Clean out my homeschool planning notebook
  • Clean out school supplies, replenish
  • Write new goal sheet for myself and for each child
  • Write student progress reports (this is done three times per year)
  • Make Summer BREAK notebook - one outing or craft/activity per day, plus a big idea list
  • Also make a Summer SEASON notebook (for coming May/June/July/August season)
  • Order new curricula
  • Projects - house, organization
  • Start new chore assignments
  • Buy new school supplies - crayons, markers, colored pencils, pencils, paper, printer paper, ink, cardstock, colored paper, paints
  • Type up yearly curriculum/study summaries for each child (what subjects, curricula, and materials were covered and completed in each child's studies over the past year)
  • Type previous year's Field Trip List, print one per child
  • Finish compiling student notebooks: School papers, plus copies of:
    • (1) science experiment list
    • (2) craft list
    • (3) field trip list
    • (4) picture study list
    • (5) poetry book list
    • (6) completed unit study print-outs
  • Redo my homeschool notebook - clean out, print new copies of needed pages
    • Print year of calendars
    • Print first Bible memory chapter
    • Print catechism sheets
    • Print new record sheets: (1) science experiments, (2) crafts, (3) field trips, (4) picture study, (5) poetry books
    • Update safety curriculum
  • Start new student notebooks for coming year
  • Plan family party for night before school starts
  • Plan special first-day back (new supplies, donuts, signs, cards)

Will I get it all done? I can only hope!

How do you use your summers? I'd love to hear about your plans and strategies!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Inside the American Medical System: Making a Medical Notebook III (Part 7 in the Series)

In the last two posts, I shared (here and here) about the forms that we used to make our medical records notebook. This notebook went with us everywhere, and I referred to it many times a day.

Every person's medical notebook will look different based on his circumstances. I am going to share the different sections of our medical notebook simply to give you ideas, not to dictate what a "perfect" medical notebook looks like! Feel free to use as much as is helpful to you!

Sections in Our Baby's Medical Notebook:

I. Baby's Information
  • Copy of our insurance card
  • Baby's birth information
  • Information sheets for Mom and Dad
  • Copy of baby's Social Security card
  • Copy of our prenatal ultrasound report

II. Contact Information
  • One sheet per physician or therapist, with all of that caregiver's contact information listed 
  • A list of available Sonora Qwest labs, with contact information

III. Test Results
  • Copies of results from all tests, including blood tests, MRI's, etc. 

IV. One section per physician. For us, this included....

  • Pediatrician
  • Developmental Pediatrician
  • Geneticist
  • Neurologist
  • Chiropractor
  • Cardiologist
  • Ophthalmologist]
  • Audiologist
  • Gastroenterology
  • Radiology
  • Department of Disabilities
  • Physical Therapy
  • Occupational Therapy
  • DSI Therapy
  • Speech Therapy

In each of these folders, we placed:

  • Communication pages (here)
  • Doctor visit records (here)
  • Lab results
  • Doctors' reports
  • Copies of prescriptions
  • Everything else pertaining to that office or doctor 

After our medical notebook was set up, it was a cinch to keep it updated (though it did consume many hours per week, as some of you have experienced). However, having our records organized was an enormous blessing and sanity-saver.

In our next installment I'll share the two additional things that we did to organize our doctors' visits!

Click on Part 8 to keep reading! 

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Must-Try Homeschool Elementary Science Experiment!

This week our homeschool elementary science experiment was a huge hit around here! The whole family participated in what was one of the most fun projects we've had yet, and I wanted to share a few pictures.

The experiment was the famous Testing pH with Red Cabbage project, something about which I have read for years but never experienced.

Starting with a red cabbage and a blender:

Leftover cabbage pulp after draining.

Red cabbage puree - unfortunately the picture doesn't do justice to the gorgeous purple color! 

The puree is added to various household chemicals (ammonia, vinegar, baking soda solution, etc.) and the resulting color is an indicator of pH. According to the aforementioned link,

pH 2 = red
pH 4 = purple
pH 6 = violet
pH 8 = blue
pH 10 = blue-green
pH 12 = green

The color changes were dramatic - and beautiful!

Results (after adding cabbage extract) left to right are: Baking soda solution, ammonia, vinegar
After doing those standard three, the guys went wild testing all sorts of household liquids and solutions - shampoo, vanilla, you name it!

They had a great time - this was definitely a keeper. It's very easy and inexpensive to do - buy a red cabbage and round up some household chemicals you probably already have, and you're set.

I love home education! In my entire elementary school years, we did a total of perhaps two science experiments. Now that I'm getting to do science experiments weekly with my children, I feel like I am educating them and making up for all that I missed. It's awesome, and we're really enjoying the fun and great learning.


Thursday, March 6, 2014

CHINA Crafts - Painting China!

In casting about for new China crafts, I came upon this super-easy craft - painting China! Or rather, "painting China." Super-fun, super-easy.

For older children, you will need:

One plastic white plate per child (or glass, if you want!)
Blue acrylic paint and brushes (and newspaper and art smocks)

For younger children, you will need:

One white paper plate per child
Blue markers

If you have a sample (physical or online) of Chinese blue-and-white China pottery, you can use it as a model. Then let the kids give it a try!

Our model:


The 7yo's:

This project held our 7yo's interest for a solid five minutes, which is something remarkable! I had a good deal of fun too, and would have spent a lot more time on it just for sheer pleasure had I been able to. 

Highly recommended as a fun craft while studying China! 


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Who Doesn't Love Savage Dogs? (And Other Adventures!)

Today was a crummy day!*

It started off quite innocently, when my 7yo and I decided to go for a late-morning walk down a pretty country lane that we'd often admired.

And it was indeed very pretty. Pretty, that is, until we got near the end, at which point one of the homeowners on the lane decided that it would be a good idea to release her guard dogs on us. 

Have you ever looked over your shoulder to see two enormous, snarling guard dogs hurling themselves at you, in a situation in which you are utterly alone and unable to defend yourself or your child?

I fervently hope you haven't.

The only thing I could remember, in the two panicked seconds we had before they reached us, was to turn and stand my ground rather than run. This I did. I don't know if it would have done any good in the end - probably not. But when the dogs were about ten feet from us, the owner stepped out of her gate and stopped them. She then proceeded to yell at us at length, while the dogs held us at bay, that we were trespassers and we had to get out right now.

(If anyone was wondering, the lane down which we walked was not marked as private property, either with a sign or any sort of gate. Whether or not it was private I do not know, but it appeared to be a normal public road, with houses and businesses on both sides.)

We turned and left, quite shaken. The 7yo was horribly frightened, and I can't say that I was much better.

Thankfully that was the worst part of our day, but it wasn't the last of it. Several additional minor events contributed to the mess.

Episode II came later that morning, when we found an enormous female black widow spider crawling in the same space where our 4yo had been playing 30 seconds before.

Episode III came this evening, when my hand slipped in the kitchen, resulting in my spilling half a gallon of coconut oil down the drain in one instant.

Anyone who knows and loves coconut oil is now screaming uncontrollably and hitting the computer screen. "Forget dangerous dog attacks, you spilled coconut oil!" I don't blame you.

This day was really a winner. And I didn't even write everything that happened! (Trying to keep it brief, people!)

Of course, in all of these things I recognize God's mercies.

The 7yo and I could now be in the hospital after being mauled (or in the morgue after being killed) by two extremely savage guard dogs. We're okay.

The 4yo could now be suffering the toxic effects of a black widow bite. He's okay.

And... I suppose I could have spilled the whole gallon of coconut oil. But I didn't, and I was even able to recover some of what spilled. Worse things have happened.

This day may have included fear, stress, and tears - but it could have been so much worse. Tonight I'm so thankful for the Lord's mercies that have been meted out to us in so many ways.

And the embittered and angry woman whose actions both endangered our lives and ruined our peace this morning has earned herself a permanent place in my prayer list. I have rarely seen any person with such bitter unrest and hatred in her heart, spewing words of such rage with no good reason. I can only describe it as soul-rot. It was quite clear that she was not just a cranky homeowner having a bad morning - she was a very bitter person whose heart was seething with rage looking for any outlet. She needs God's love in her life. I won't be the one going back to befriend her - there are a couple of canine obstacles in the way of that - but I can and will pray for her.

In the meantime, God help her neighbors. Living next door to that really would be something.

Okay, y'all. I'm headed to bed. I've had enough for one day!

Happy Sunday, everyone! Love to all!


Later notes:

Several sequelae came of the dog incident:

(1) Pepper spray and a dog stick just became part of our stroller accessories. Period. They wouldn't have done us any good in the above situation, because we had only 3-4 seconds of reaction time. But for the future, we need something in case of dangerous situations.

(2) In an instant, my habit of carefree "exploration walks" with the kids ended. I realized that I had trusted too much in the fact that we were in a "safe" area. Women in America have long been accustomed to walking alone safely in public places in daylight. But yesterday I realized how horribly vulnerable we were, and how unable I was to protect either myself or my child in the face of a sudden vicious attack, either animal or human. Any exploration we do in the future will be done with my husband along, or not at all.

Ladies, I'd love to hear your thoughts and ideas. What do you think about animal attacks, public safety, encounters with hostile citizens, and etc.? This was so new to me, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

* The day in question was several days ago, but I've left the time references as originally written.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Inside the American Medical System: Making a Medical Notebook II (Part 6 in the Series)

In my last post I wrote about the two major forms that I used to make up a medical notebook for our baby with special needs. In this post, I'll share some additional helpful minor forms that we used for our notebook!

Other Minor Forms:

Some other forms that I kept in my notebook included....

(1) Doctor Information Sheets

I often found that I needed to give contact information for all of our various doctors. Thus, I kept one sheet per doctor, listing that doctor's name, location, and all contact information - and sometimes driving directions to their offices! I also added any additional details (parking fees, etc.) that I needed to remember for myself or other caregivers. Here is one example (identifying details removed):


Dr. ------- ---------- 
1919 E Thomas Rd
Phoenix Children's Hospital
Bldg. B
Phoenix, AZ 85016

Phone: (602) 222-2222

Fax: (602) 222-2222


Driving Directions:

From the 60 fwy.... 

(2) Pharmacy Information:

Doctors often needed contact information for our pharmacy in case they needed to call in information. It was incredibly helpful to have our pharmacy information on one sheet so that they could just make a quick copy and stick it in our file.

Pharmacy for [Patient Name]

123 Main St. 
Anytown, AZ 55555

Phone: 480-222-2222
Fax: 480-222-2222

(3) Basic Client Birth Information:

In evaluating a baby with special needs, one area that was always asked about was birth information. Was he term? Birth complications? Apgars? I made a sheet for birth information and had it ready to hand over.

 [Patient Name]

Born: September 1, 2009
Due date: Sept. 3 or 5, 2009
Pregnancy Length: 39w, 3-5 days
Labor Length: 7h 11m
Birth location: Home
Attendants: [Names of attending midwives]
Birth Weight: 7#15.5
Birth Length: 21”
Birth Head Circumference:


(4) Parent Information:

In filling out office forms (especially for insurance purposes), offices often requested personal information for DH or myself - information I didn't know by memory. I made one of the following forms for each of us so that I could have this information available at all times:

[Parent Name]

Work fax: 480-222-2222
Work phone: 480-222-2222
Work address:

Company Name
123 Main Street
Anytown, AZ 55555

Driver’s License:
Exp. Date


These forms, plus a couple that I've probably forgotten, formed the basis for our medical notebook, which was a real life-saver! In the next section I'll share a basic outline of what our medical notebook looked like in order to give you some ideas for your own!

Click on Part 7 to keep reading!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Cooking through CHINA - Fortune Cookies!

This week our "Cooking through CHINA" project was.... fortune cookies!

I've actually been meaning to make these since high school - it only took me 15-odd years to get around to it.

After all that build-up, I'm afraid to say that this cooking project was an utter disaster. I believe my mistake was whipping the egg whites too much (they're supposed to be frothy, not stiff), and the batter turned out far too stiff, and the resulting cookies had to be hacked off of the cookie sheets.

It was ugly. Really ugly.

I'll forward those photos to my culinary school instructors, and then we'll all get to see grown men weep. Then again, maybe I won't. Too cruel.

We did finally get a couple to behave themselves enough to fold into fortune cookies, and they tasted good. But go into business as Chinese bakers we will not!

What can I say? It was fun, and the children enjoyed it. Next week I'll choose something easier!

{Thinking of trying it? Our recipe, which we doubled, is here. Remember not to beat the egg whites too much!}

Saturday, March 1, 2014

CHINA Craft - Writing Chinese Characters!

One of our first crafts in our unit study on China was copying Chinese characters. This is a super-easy craft that's lots of fun!

Materials: Card stock, paint brushes, black poster paint, and you're set! We found plenty of characters to copy in the various books we'd checked out (like "In the Snow" and others), and we used those as models for copying.

Mine on the left, the 7yo's on the right.

As you can see, the 7yo was easily distracted. My one big error with this project was in setting my expectations too high. Since I found this fun, I wanted each of us to copy lots and lots of characters. With an easily-distractable 7yo who is not fond of putting pen (or brush) to paper, I should have found just one easy character and had him copy that one alone. I'm learning! But it was still fun, even if the end was a bit messy.

I highly recommend this project as part of your study on China!