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Kristen is a home­maker, home­schooler, and a home­keeper. Her experience includes nineteen years of practice, raising three kids, a husband, and a dog. Writing about her life helps her stay sane. She believes that sharing stories helps others by providing opportunities to share advice (and helpful hints) about homeschooling, and raising kids on the autism spectrum, while supporting marriages and families that are striving to thrive.

MWH blog april



We're All a Little Mad Here

Moose

 

I think moose are just about the cutest and grandest animals that God thought to create. They are gentle giants unless, of course, you make them angry-- then they’ll just stomp you. But, still, they are cute, and awkward, and beautiful all at the same time. Adorable.

Danielle, my middle child, was born two weeks early. She came in just under seven pounds, and not quite twenty inches long. She is the tiniest baby I birthed, and the easiest, most laid-back baby about everything else. By seven weeks she was sleeping through the night and mostly content about nursing, being held, being in her crib, and being a baby. It was awesome. 

 

 

So, she was my tiniest for all of two weeks. She grew so fast! By the time she was two years old she was wearing size six (child) clothing. When she was learning to walk at twelve months, she had a size seven (child) foot. Fast forward to fifteen and a half years, and she is just over six feet and one inch tall, and wears a ladies' size twelve shoe.  She is my moose.  I called her that early on, which mortified my mother, but it's stuck with her. She is cute and awkward, and beautiful -- inside and out - all at the same time.

 

 

She is my middle child, but she is also my oldest child.  She developmentally is older than Tommy, so she has two birth-order places to fill. Growing up in between two special needs siblings has been challenging, but we truly believe in the purpose of each of our lives in our family, and how God has orchestrated us being together. Danielle is special, too, and is definitely growing with grace.  

I forget, in fact, a lot of times that she is only fifteen. She is an old soul, and has been fifteen going on thirty all year long. She helps me out immensely, and approaches problems and conflict with a very unique wisdom. It is wisdom I definitely didn't have at fifteen, or twenty, for that matter. So, when she reminds me she’s fifteen with typical teenage angst or drama, I'm usually pretty floored. We definitely have our moments! Danielle, though, is a natural teacher, and a very patient sister for the most part. She isn't a saint (yet); she does argue for her way with her siblings, but siblings will be siblings- even those with special needs.

Danielle is also a very talented musician. She is a gifted artist.  She is wicked smart.  Her heart belongs to Jesus in a way that is beyond her chronological age. Danielle loves babies and young children, so much so, that she is going on a mission trip to work in an orphanage this winter. I'm so very, very proud of her.  Loving her is one of my favorite jobs here on planet Earth. It is beautiful.

I wanted to write about her because I know I give so much time and attention (and writing) to the other two. That's how it is in special-need homes and families. I know that it's not uncommon for parents to be wracked with guilt over the time and attention variant among their children with versus those without special needs. I'm certainly guilty of feeling guilty a lot of times. I'm quick to point out that there is a plan and purpose for all of us, but that guilt monster is a tough one to squelch. Again, sharing information about special needs issues is what makes our families stronger.  Kids like Danielle make us stronger.

 

 

Mark and I try to make sure she knows she is loved and appreciated for being her, not just because she is an awesome helper. She gets some privileges that her brother and sister don't have because she has greater responsibilites than they do. We do some things like date-nights or date-days with just Danielle, and we encourage her to do some activities that are just for her. She also gets a smart phone, because she is in charge when Mark and I have dates alone. We encourage her to not be afraid to talk about the frustrations she faces with her brother and sister, and to not let those frustrations become the focus of her existence. I know some schools are starting support groups for kids who have a special needs sibling (or two), and I have a friend who tells me her daughter really enjoys the support group at her school. I know support groups are extremely beneficial to anyone who feels alone in a situation. I know because I've been a part of a few over the years. Sometimes, someone just needs to be told that therapy is OK. It is ok. It is all good. It is OK for your kids. It is OK for your family.

Feel free to share in the comments section some special ideas you might have that would help families who might be struggling with this kind of challenge. Share what makes your “typical” child special! How do other families gel together? Let's get some responses and discussion about togetherness and specialness. We are stronger together! Parent on!

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Frugality is Fine!


I was thinking about my supposed reality TV show the other day… the one I have in my head that will make us a lot of money, and will provide us with enough money to fix all the things that need to be fixed in our house, in our cars, our furniture… all the things.

Life here in the fancy-schmancy area called Northern Virginia is not inexpensive. Our family has made the choice of living on one salary so I can homeschool our kids, and be available for the many, many appointments that come with having kids on the special needs spectrum. So, it has become necessary to live frugally and learn how to love that trash-to-treasure look (I prefer the term “vintage” actually).

I thought it would be great to share some tips our family employs to help defray the high cost of living here. Some things might sound a little radical, some things may be unrealistic, but in my opinion, every little bit helps! Plus, as I keep writing, the more we share as parents raising families, the stronger we become.

One of the biggest cost cutters for us was to get rid of cable TV. You read that right: No TV. OK. I’m exaggerating a little- we have a Roku, and we subscribe to Pure Flix. We have a DVD player, too. We even still have a VCR in the basement, but that is only because we can’t figure out how to get the DVD player to work without it being wired through the VCR. We’re a bit mad, I know, but honestly, it was just easier to keep the archaic set up.  We exercise in the basement, and some of those workouts are on VHS tapes… I know…old fashioned. And there is another tip:  no gym memberships! Why pay to exercise when you can exercise for free?

 

 

We don’t cut coupons but we do shop mostly at Walmart and Aldi. We have a Costco membership for those things that make sense, like toothbrushes, toilet paper, and almond flour (and gas!). We go to Wegmans for their awesome produce and truly great prices on family-packs of meats and snacks. If you haven’t tried Aldi, I highly recommend you try it! Bring a quarter for a grocery cart (you get it back) and your own bags (environmentally friendly, anyway). They have really great prices on gluten-free things, too, if you happen to be on a special diet. Walmart has a savings catcher app, as well. All you do is scan your receipt and if there are other stores in your area that have a lower price on anything you purchased, it will give you the difference in price, which you can then transfer to a gift card to use at your discretion (we like using the extra savings around Christmas-time). Very easy-peasy penny pinching!

We don’t eat out often. That saves tons of money. I’m a horrible cook, too, so this is truly a sacrifice for us! Pinterest has awesome recipes, and printable menu planners. Menu-planning (check out my fellow blogger's post: Meal Planning Made Easy!  for more about that) is so helpful to organize a shopping list which also is helpful in saving money. I’m not super organized, but I know when I menu-plan I save money at checkout, and it cuts down on the mad dash to the store because I’ve forgotten ingredients or food. Plus, I don’t see the really cute t-shirts that just went on sale as I breeze past the clothing display to get to the food aisle in a hurry… therefore saving me more money. I can’t buy what I can’t see!  

 

 

Here are few other tips to use at the grocery store: Don’t buy juice packs- buy the mix and a pitcher and make your own. Don’t buy stuff at the check-out lane- these items (candy, gum, mints, mascara) are always marked up. Consider using frozen veggies and fruits instead of fresh. Opt out of soda and always try to buy generic (store-brand) items.

We also try not to buy the latest and greatest of anything. Cars, cell phones, TVs, DVDs… these items last longer than eighteen months; you don’t always need to upgrade your cell phone, and you can rent DVDs at Redbox instead of buying the film (unless, of course, it is a Star Wars or Avengers feature). Even clothing can be found not brand new, and in great condition! This is especially true for baby clothes. Furniture, cabinets, pots and pans, toys—these can be found at consignment shops and garage sales for a lot less than at the store. The library has used book sales once a month and it is free to join to have access to movies, audio books, e-books, and real books every day.  My family love, love, loves the library!

Now, let me encourage you to save money, and be creative while doing it! Pinterest (can you tell I love Pinterest?) is awesome for “life hacks” and “money-saving-mom” ideas. I don’t always have a successful month in the frugality department, but taking time to plan, and actually looking at more cost effective options for things helps here and there. Take some time to think about it! Share some of the methods you use to save money. Let me know how it’s going for you!

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Happy Independence Day!

 

My family loves July fourth! We like cookouts, festivals, wearing red white and blue, and fireworks!! Especially the kids and the husband like fireworks! The big kind, of course, are the best. Last year we celebrated the fourth Downtown Fredericksburg style by going to the street fair,  enjoying concessions and finishing up with fireworks and a live band concert at Pratt Park. I highly recommend that experience!! We had a blast- no pun intended:). We will probably do the same thing this year, in fact, because we had such a fun time.

In the spirit of homeschooling, I wanted to share some fun facts and activities to enhance your Independence Day celebration. 

Did you know? The actual vote for declaring independence happened prior to the fourth (most scholars believe it was the second of July), but the document (the Declaration of Independence) was published on the fourth, and it was a month later that all the delegates finally signed the document.

Did you know? John Adams thought the second of July would be the most memorable day in history. The publishing date of the Declaration of Independence may have been the reason that July fourth became the more popular date to celebrate. Also,  interestingly, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both passed away on July fourth in 1826, just hours apart. Congress declared July 4th a federal holiday on June 28, 1870. Also, on July 4th, 1946, the Philippines gained full independence from the United States of America. 

One more- Did you know? The colors red, white, and blue of our flag all have meanings? Red stands for valor, white symbolizes purity, and blue represents vigilance, perseverance and justice. 

I love history and homeschooling, so we make it part of the every day as much as possible, and because I love reading, we start Independence Day with reading the Declaration of Independence. It's not that long, and it's a great reminder of what we are celebrating. My kids are older, so they also know about tyranny, the Revolutionary War, and the sacrifices that good men and women made for the sake of freedom and liberty (and continue to do so). At our house we pause to reflect on the fact that freedom isn't free, and that we need to remember and respect that. I feel that a little focus on the history of the holiday makes it a little more special.

 

 

We all wear our red-white and blue colors, and always make a flag themed dessert.  We like to decorate, too. Patriotism is alive and well at our house, and it's great to be able to celebrate! Again, a little history makes the day come alive, and makes the festivities more festive! Google and Pinterest have fantastic ideas for games and crafts. There are great ideas there to help already excited kiddos stay excited and engaged throughout the day.  

 

 

Are you going to or hosting a picnic? How about setting up game centers for the kids? Some ideas to include at an outdoor party: a squirt gun station (re-enact a Revolutionary War battle scene), a patriotic bean bag toss (colonial children didn’t have electronics), and a Fourth of July scavenger hunt (nature study!). What if it rains?  You can do July fourth inspired painting or paper projects. You can always watch a movie or some TV, but why not choose a movie that coincides with the history of the day? We like the School House Rock! America edition-you’ll be learning lots of facts by watching that! Plus, for us older parents it is nostalgic! You can suggest the kids do a patriotic Lego building challenge, or for those Minecraft crazy kids, get them to craft a patriotic world for you. There are lots of things to do inside in case it rains, or it gets too hot, or they just need a break from the sun.

 

Education and learning can go hand-in-hand with fun. School certainly doesn't have to look like school-especially in the summer. When learning is incorporated into games, music, and activity, concepts are absorbed so much better. I feel like the kids are growing up with Google in their pockets, now, so memorizing dates and facts may not be what school is going to look like in the future. Concepts like liberty, freedom, and sacrifice, though, are concepts that everybody should learn, and value.

July fourth is an awesome time to celebrate those concepts! Parades, picnics and fireworks are so fun, and celebrating freedom is an extraordinary privilege to protect. Learning a bit about history can help solidify these values for the future generation of leaders we are raising today!

Happy Independence Day!!!

 

 

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My Katiecat

 

My youngest and I are doing math together Monday-through-Thursday.  We need to stay consistent. We have to stay dedicated and on top of it because we both have brains that struggle with processing fractions.  Yesterday, I contemplated ripping the rest of the fraction exercises out of her workbook.  The math program is on the computer, though, and the workbook is merely a tool… so not helpful.  We soldier on everyday like weary Russian troops trudging through Austria and Germany trying to defeat Napoleon (I'm (trying for the third time) reading War and Peace)... They are tired, hungry, poorly equipped, and want a shot of vodka (I don't care for vodka, actually, but you get the point).  I am all those things by May of our school year… the same school year we are extending through the summer.  Math, however, makes us all crazy.  Especially fractions.  We have calculators for this, people.  My middle doesn't like math, either, and we’ve done three years of seventh grade math with her-- all because of fractions.  We'll get through it. Consistency.

But, I digress.

Katie...  Katie is also known as my Special K, my Katie-cat and my Katiebug.  She is that child.  She broke her collarbone at age 6, she has scaled the outside of our house up to her second story bedroom window, and has no fear of tall trees, approaching crocodiles, or possibly rabid opossums.  I'm serious.  She is the one that had me on the phone with poison control every week for the span of her second year of life.  She figured out blister packs, “push down and turn”, and “squeeze and turn” tops in the space of a month.  She mastered climbing onto countertops to get to the top shelf where I moved said medicines in the space of a week.  She sampled dish detergent and was overjoyed that she could blow bubbles out of her mouth.  The terrible twos had a whole. new. meaning.  I was either frantic or crying most days. I wouldn't trade her for the world and I'm fiercely in love with her.  I'm overprotective, too, because things that should scare her don't.  

She is deathly afraid of things that shouldn't scare her, though. Changing weather patterns freak her out. Loud noises cause panic. Bees affect her in a visceral way (I can't complain about this, specifically, though, because I, too, have an unrealistic fear of bees).  She frets when my husband and I daydream about moving to a less populated area, and really truly gets upset about any kind of change. She has always been my most sensitive child.  She is actually more challenging to parent than Tommy is, even given all his issues. Everything for her is too… too loud, too bright, too quiet, too dark, too spicy, too hot, too cold… The list goes on and on.

 

It's interesting to me that very early on I had an idea that Tommy’s development was atypical. With Katie, I would lament, “she screams at me all day long.”  In hindsight, I see a million little reasons that could have tipped me off about autism sooner, but it took us twelve and a half years to pursue diagnostic testing, and we pursued  testing because trying to educate her was becoming very difficult.  It was becoming very emotional- for all of us.

Why did we wait so long?  It might have been because she was our baby, “the caboose”, we called her.  Birth order can affect personality. Parenting your first is different than parenting your third.  I was always checking out parenting books from the library (I read them, too). 

She also is a she… autism in girls looks different than autism in boys. It is hard to articulate the specifics, but hormones and drama are just more expected among girls, so a lot of behavior just gets chalked up to “girl stuff”.  

Also, she has had anxiety and sensory integration “issues” her whole life, but those were diagnosed early on, so autism was never something we really considered (early on).  I guess we (my husband and I) might have been in denial, too.  Although, I think for me, it was in the back of my head that she was spectrum-y for a while (for several years).  A lot of Katie’s quirks, and reactions to things like noises and weather patterns started to look a lot like things I remembered Tommy doing.  A lot of close friends and family told me not to worry so much, and to not go looking for trouble where there is none, and not to try to put a label on everyone… and for several years I heeded that advice. And then the tween years happened. That “girl stuff” exploded into “GIRL STUFF”.  As she descended the stairs each morning the “Imperial March” from Star Wars would play in my head.  We needed some definitive help.

So, let me say this:  It's not about the label, and it's not trouble, and I did worry.   Knowledge is power. Sharing knowledge is even more power. I like understanding that some behaviors aren't bad behaviors, they are coping behaviors.  I want to help her navigate those behaviors with grace and dignity.  I want not just her, but my whole family to thrive- just not survive.  We aren't perfect by any stretch of the word, but being able to name emotions and behavior has helped us (all) immensely--  to communicate and enforce consequences when needed, and to recognize stimulation overload and anxiety so we can change activities if needed. 

 

 

We’re all still learning and growing, but progress is happening.  Family raising is a dynamic process!  The house is a little more peaceful.  We still have some meltdowns here and there, but everyone in my house (including me) can be a bit dramatic.  School is definitely better.  History and reading are back on track, for the most part. Fractions and factoring are still miserable, but I didn't really expect that to change too much.  But… We. Need. To. Stay. Consistent. Consistency is key (with not only math, but parenting, as well)!

Can I just say this?  The best thing about my family are the people in it, and I want us all to live and love well. These kids are a gift, my husband is a gift, and it's a great privilege to be able to share a little piece of them with you.

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Summer School

 

As I write this, I am in the middle of our school day, and summer is coming fast.  

We are not quite halfway through our curriculum.  

We just didn't get to it. While the anxiety side of me starts to panic at this thought, the rational side of me reminds me that it is OK.  It's not like we didn't do school at all this year, because we did.  I know that, sometimes, homeschool just doesn't look like school.  We belong  to a co-op where the girls took science, writing, foreign language and drama once a week.  We went to music lessons several times a week.  We just didn’t stay on top of history or grammar the way I had planned  We were not as structured this year because of health concerns for four out of five of us, which necessitated traveling to many, many doctors and specialists. Throw in the husband having foot surgery and being home for ten weeks… well, we just didn't always get to the curriculum.  We had a lot going on, to say the least.

I wrote a post back in the fall about how this is a season. Again, in my head I'm good with this, but in my heart I get all nervous and worried. I fret about achievement scores and the end of year testing we have to do.  The only testing we do.  I'm over aware of the girls’ sentence structure, while they're talking, mind you.  Things like subject verb agreement pop into my head during random conversations. Everything becomes a “teaching moment” which to the kids sounds a lot like a lecture-- I call it discussion. My little one is dyslexic, too, and can not grasp the usage of commas, semicolons, capitalization, and periods. Grammar is consistently the girls’ lowest score on the end of year test. This year, math anxiety is high for both girls, too.  We bake together, but fractions continue to be a road bump for everyone in the math world, including me. We watch a lot of videos explaining fractions. 

In a nutshell, we were all a little worked up about testing this year. So, did we wait to finish the curriculum before we tested? We could have. We have until August to submit scores to the Superintendent. But, no! We all (the girls and I) had the same thought to just take them and get them  over with. So, we did. Then, we prayed and hoped for the best. And, just like homeschool statistics consistently report, they did fine. They did more than fine, actually;  they did above average- even on the grammar and dreaded math sections. 

Here is the best thing about homeschooling:  you get to follow your own schedule, and work at your own pace. So, this year when we were driving back and forth to Fairfax or Richmond or spending all day in the car, we could still cover some history and reading with audio lessons, and we were able to discuss content, so we weren't really skipping school. Also, on bad days we could stop early or take a break altogether, because we could always do some things on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon if we needed to (which translated, meant if I was feeling guilty or panic stricken because of a perceived lack of progress). On the mornings after a bad night of pain or restlessness, we could sleep in and start slow.  And on the days when we were dealing with meltdown after meltdown, we could abandon school entirely and focus on character training. 

So, my angst over the end of the year testing and lack of completion of the purchased curriculum is just that. It’s angst. It’s unnecessary. We don’t need to get so worked up about testing, because “school” is happening in every day life. Now, we can relax and just take our time finishing up history over the summer. We usually read and do math anyway, so it won’t be all that different. The girls, of course, think their world is coming to an end with the announcement that we’ll be doing school through the summer.  I’m trying to calmly remind them we’ve had a different kind of year, anyway, and haven’t really done a full amount of schooling this year (even though we did, albeit differently)... but we’re all a little mad here. Anxiety runs in the family, I guess.

It is nice to see the sun again, and we’re totally excited that it's almost summer. We will be spending the mornings (hopefully) finishing up the Renaissance and early explorers and doing some math, and then we will be out enjoying the warmth and sunshine!  We will continue to sleep in and take our time.  I believe this is officially called unschooling, but I still just call it a season. I’d prefer a little more structure for the next school year, if we ever get there.  I suppose it’s possible, though, that we will just be used to this pace and continue on with it. Only time will tell.  

What are the plans for your summer days?  Do you tend to be willy-nilly, or more structured? 

 

 

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