Friday, February 23, 2018

{SQT} Getting Back to Routine After Illness

1. St. Valentine's Day

Last week, we were in the midst of influenza and I was going to skip St. Valentine's Day altogether, but the kids were distressed that they wouldn't receive my love notes. This tugged at my heart, so I put something simple together (the day before, since St. Valentine's Day prooper was also Ash Wednesday) with all that I had: white printer paper, markers, and some candy that was intended to take to CCE.

2. New Train Pieces

There has been renewed interest in our old and basic set of Brio train tracks (which I bought used when my first born was a baby!) because Joseph's godparents sent him a few special pieces for his baptismal anniversary. Such excitement for all!

3. Television Alternatives

I'm trying so hard to keep television reduced. We had just instituted a new (old) rule of no television during the school week when we got hit with illness for two weeks, and so that rule was temporarily suspended. Now we're back to the regular routine and the children have to be weaned off show again, which is especially hard when you're two-and-a-half years old and want to "WATCH POOH!" (Winnie-ther-Pooh!). I got out dried pinto beans and some stacking cups, and that's filled a good amount of time, as well as given us even more reasons for sweeping the kitchen floor.

We even got out the Play-dough one day, which I'm sure I haven't gotten out since before I had David six months ago.

4. David Turned Six Months Old

Speaking of, I put up a belated post about my sweet baby and his first two teeth: click here.

5. Back to School

After missing two entire weeks due to illness--an illness so hard that we actually couldn't do any school, which is unusual for homeschoolers--we got back to the grind this week. It's always a tough transition back, but I think we did pretty well and I was pleased with my kids' overall attitudes (although we certainly had our moments).

I also wrote a piece this week about why I love being a DIY homeschooler: click here.

First grader finished her science book for the year

6. Helpers

My 9-year-old helped me manage my dental appointment with the baby in tow: it's such a blessing to have old-enough children to help in that way. (And I'm reminded, sorrowfully, that I used to schedule all my dental appointments for when Grampa Neil would visit, and he would sit in the van with all the kids, so I could go in alone. But, since he passed away, I am now coming up with new strategies.)

Does any other mothers of larger-than-typical families find it so hard for Mama to get to her own appointments? In the last few months, I have repeatedly had to reschedule my own appointments for dental, eye, and hearing check-ups, due to kids' illnesses, my illnesses, or babysitting falling through. Life happens!

7. Doughnuts

This week, we tried out the new mini donut maker I'd received for my birthday: so cute and fun!

Now, it is Lent, so we skipped any frosting or glaze on the doughnuts, and the recipe we used calls for only 1/4 sugar for about 25 mini donuts, so I considered that sufficiently Lent-ish. A double batch fed my family of six children.

Making the doughnuts was equally time-consuming as making waffles from scratch: not terribly hard, but I don't do it on a busy school morning. We'd make that kind of breakfast only on a weekend morning or on Wednesday mornings when we enjoy a late start.

Note that these donuts will be easier to make if you, too, have an eager 6-year-old standing by to trim off the edges.

For more 7 Quick Takes Friday, check out This Ain't the Lyceum.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Learning to Love Being a DIY Homeschooler

I am not a "DIY" kind of person when it comes to home decorating or repair, but six years of formal homeschooling so far--more if you count the preschool years--has shown me that I am decidedly a DIY kind of homeschool parent.

All these elementary school years, I have cobbled together my own curriculum. Note that I'm on the cusp of launching into the sea of Middle School Waters next year, and often families that design a very fluid curriculum during elementary years, become more formal during middle school and more formal yet during high school in order to meet college entry requirements . . . but maybe not!

My favorite core homeschooling book to this day remains Laura Berquist's "Design Your Own Classical Curriculum: A Guide to Catholic Home Education," which I first read as a mother only of toddlers. Berquist empowers parents to understand the scope and arc of a K-12 education, and how to choose what curriculum works for one's own family to fulfill each subject. (Building one's own education is not limited to Berquist's classical approach; for example, I greatly appreciated this post on designing one's own Charlotte Mason education.)

Most recently in our family, I am reminded that I like to retain the freedom to design and adapt my own curriculum because of the different desires for science education among my fifth and third graders. I have no interest at this time in a boxed curriculum.

You see, I had visions for how I was going to teach science--Charlotte Mason-style--but my way resonated with neither of the children God gave me.

My vision of elementary science education

The Fifth Grader

My fifth grader devours science. This year, he completed his Apologia Chemistry and and Physics textbook in 12 weeks when it should have covered him for the year. I started throwing other science resources at him, such as Eric Sloane's "Weather Book," "Adventures with a Microscope," and a starter microscope. He reads through them avidly, does his own experiments, and tells me at length about what he's learned. We even paused his homeschool curriculum to send him to a week-long science day camp hosted by the Department of the Defense (check out my post on STARBASE).


Last year, when he finished formal science before Christmas even arrived, I spent the rest of the year giving my then third-grader books about cars and the internal combustion engine. Those books are well worn and continue to reside by his bedside for evening reading, while I continue to ponder how I might be able to organize the amazing Crankin Engines Lawnmower/Small Engine Course course for homeschoolers locally this coming summer. (Anyone with middle school boys interested? Email me!)

I've come to a place where I think it's perfectly fine that this particular child does not want to read the living science books with animal characters. This child likes a kind of science I never did, but I have the freedom as a homeschooling parent to feed that passion of his. And it's fine that he writes essays competently but he isn't going to hole up in his room and write creative fiction the way I had hoped and dreamed. It's a blessing that he prefers to compose his own music rather than necessarily memorize the music of greats gone before.

The Third Grader

Meanwhile, my third grader quite dislikes science, to the point of avoiding it if at all possible. Frankly, the memorization of scientific principles is unnecessary in elementary school. It is far more important to create wonder and interest in God's creations (creatures, earth, stars) and a love of learning generally, which will serve that student more over the years and decades than memorizing science at this young age. I took this particular child off of science textbooks (having tried several), and gave her living science books and how-to books to read.

I assign her a bare minimum of weekly science reading--by which I mean one short chapter one day per week--and I am now far enough into my homeschooling journey to be okay with that.  This is the same child who is a feverish fiction writer, pores over Shakespeare, Wordsworth, and Tennyson, and blossoms under the rigor of playing two musical instruments competitively. It's going to be okay if not every subject in every child is developed equally.

The First Grader

Goofing off

Lastly, I just assumed due to gender that my first grader girl would feel about science the same as my third grader girl. Yet the other day, I was pleasantly surprised when, upon a toddler digging out of a closet, our several sets of Snap Circuits that my firstborn played with for hours upon hours when he was younger, my six-year-old discovered them for the first time. My third grade girl would probably rather do almost anything than assemble Snap Circuits, but it turns out that my first grade girl is really good at figuring out Snap Circuits intuitively, just like my son did when he was that age. Once he understood the electronic principles, he didn't use the instruction booklet anymore, but built delightful, working creations of radios, lights, and alarms on his own . . . just like I'm now watching my excited first grade daughter do.

I cling tenaciously to my freedom to home educate how my husband and I see fit. I'm very glad school-in-a-box curriculum choices exist for homeschoolers, but I'm also glad I'm not using one right now. I don't even want to be restrained within my homeschool that a particular grade child "should" be at this level in this subject, and must be learning all these eight subjects equally. Don't box us in!

I grew up with the Gadsden flag flying at our home, and that attitude fills me today as I treasure my ability to be a DIY homeschooler.

Monday, February 19, 2018

David James Is Six Months Old!

David's six-month photos were delayed by a week because we were all so sick, and photos of him with red-rimmed eyes, a vacant stare, and drippy face would be too pathetic.

Almost to the day of his six months birthday, David sprouted not one, but two, bottom teeth!

David now sits up to play for several minutes (fewer than five), which means we're entering the easiest and most blissful period of babyhood: when the baby can be sat upright, surrounded by toys, and left to his own content for significant stretches of time without being mobile or getting into mischief.

Due to the illness, we're starting back at Square One with trying to get David on some kind of sleep routine. When he was so sick, he was sleeping 14 to 15 hours overnight and couldn't stay awake longer than one hour during the day, so took innumerable naps. I knew he was healthy again when he began waking for the day at 4:00 a.m. again, bright and chipper!

He hasn't started eating solids yet, but now that he's well, maybe I will offer them this month. I'm pretty slow about solid foods.

We all love David and it is becoming a faint memory to think of our family before he came along!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

{SQT} How to Manage Illness in a Large Family

Posting this one day early just in case it helps others in the thick of their own illnesses . . .

We are experiencing a terrible illness season in our country and, in particular in our city, lately. With so many families around us succumbing to terrible illnesses--and with our family being almost two weeks' homebound so far due to influenza and an intestinal illness simultaneously savaging all of us--I am inspired to share some tips and tricks I've learned over the years, as managing a large family through illness (and with the added complication of a sometimes-traveling husband) is different than managing a smaller family through it.

I think I earned my "General's Stripes" during what was probably our worst illness: I was four weeks postpartum with our sixth child, I was still pumping exclusively to bottle because he hadn't grown strong enough to nurse yet, and my husband went on a business trip for a week, during which time all five children fell ill with Norovirus . . . and my husband fell ill with it in his hotel room 3,000 miles away. There was one 24-hour period of that week when I didn't sleep at all because so many children were vomiting so frequently. Using my techniques below--most especially using latex gloves--I held off catching that extremely communicable illness for five days until my a few hours after my husband got home.
  • First, if you want to read up on alternative or 'natural' methods to stay well or get well, there are innumerable blogs or websites to share those ideas. This is really about some pragmatics to function when you're in the trenches.
  • Second, if I may, let me direct you to reading this lovely post by Leila Lawler at "Like Mother, Like Daughter" in which she tries to teach the beautiful art of taking care of sick loved ones and shows why it is such a vital role.
  • Third, I don't think I write as beautifully as she does, but I still think there is a place for this blog post detailing a few more pragmatic ideas.

1. Cancel all events and appointments and stay home.

I always wish some other sick family had stayed home and not infected us, so I make every effort to keep us home until well past being contagious.

It's very useful to get to know various illnesses by studying reliable sources, like the CDC: know how long gestation takes so you can figure out where your child likely caught the illness, know how long your child is likely to remain contagious from onset of symptoms!

For example, Norovirus continues shedding for two weeks (source: CDC), so a child trapsing around to activities who has not washed his hands absolutely perfectly after visiting the bathroom is still spreading that virus to other families. Norovirus can survive for weeks on surfaces not disinfected (source: Wikipedia). Norovirus does not confer future immunity, so you can catch it again and again.

Another example is influenza, which can cause five days of fever--significantly longer than most average illnesses--and two weeks of lingering cough. When one medicates in order to go to school, work, or church, one is still spreading the virus (and maybe more of the virus because the fever is not doing its job), potentially causing serious illness or death to the frail among us (babies, elderly, those with compromised health). Note this older article: "Study: Fever Treatments May Cause More Flu Deaths." (The editor in me doesn't like the title: people going out in public while sick is what causes more influenza deaths.)

Knowing the facts about Rotavirus, enteroviruses, influenza and influenza-like viruses is very helpful. Know that antibiotics do not help viruses whatsoever (but do cause other harm). Know to be on alert to a fever that resurfaces later because that is indicative of a secondary infection, like pneumonia (which antibiotics can sometimes help).

I have downloaded a free app to my iPhone called Doctors Report, which shows the illness trends throughout the country. As I write this, my town of Charlotte is one of only four in the whole United States under a special (bad) warning about influenza, and I can see on the map that my area of the city is hit more severely than any other.

Know thy enemy.

2. Keep a List

At the first sign of a highly communicable illness, I grab a spiral notebook so all the papers are together and start to keep notes. Each child gets a page, and I track by the day the symptoms and medications given. This becomes so useful when Mama is sleep-deprived and addle-brained and has to remember when the last medication was given, or when taking the children to see a doctor.

This list is also vitally important for a husband and wife to work together. If my husband is handling the wakings of certain sick children during the night, he does not need to wake me to ask when so-and-so got his last dose of what medicine: he can check the list. Then if I take the early morning shift with the sick kids while my husband sleeps later, I can check the list and see what any children received in the nighttime.

3. Use Plastic Barriers

I'm hoping this blog post will be known as "that one about latex gloves." Wearing latex gloves has been the most important tool for my keeping myself healthy while I care for sick children.

Because I have a larger family than average, I have started to think about what hospitals do to prevent the spread of illness and often, these practices are very helpful. I am running a mini hospital!

I keep latex gloves (which I buy off Amazon) stocked in my house at all times, in bathrooms upstairs and down. One must be prepared for illness to strike. I buy them in size XL so they fit my husband's hands too, instead of buying my smaller size or buying multiple sizes.

Transmission of certain of the vomiting illness is virulent.

For example, "Noroviruses are highly contagious. A person with norovirus infection can shed billions of norovirus particles. But, it only takes as few as 18 viral particles to infect another person." (Source: CDC) Don't mess around, folks.

When a large family has an illness going through the house is not the time to try to reduce, reuse, and recycle. It is time to desperately try to halt the illness, spread it to as few vulnerable people as possible, and keep the parent who is handling the majority of the infected material from getting sick herself--because then the whole household is sunk!

Would a doctor or nurse ever handle a sick patient, or literally handle the vomit of a patient, with bare hands? Never! You'd be horrified to see it! So why do mothers do this? We are not more "loving" by handling our children's vomit bare-handed: we are more foolish.

When there is sickness in the home, I use latex gloves liberally and throw them away when handling all laundry, cleaning all toilets, scrubbing vomit or collecting up snotty tissues strewn about by a feverish child.

Plastic trash bags are highly useful to stuff with infected sheets and bedding, and dirty pajamas. I keep a box of these in my upstairs and downstairs bathrooms at all times. In some severe illnesses, those bags of laundry have built up in my laundry room, but at least they were contained carefully and no child was digging into them. Then throw away the bags: do not reuse them!

Face masks would also be good to use (although I haven't yet used them) because vomit "aerosolizes," which means the tiny particles float into the air, and Mama is breathing them in while on her hands and knees scrubbing the carpet. Face masks would also help minimize the spread of influenza within a home.

4. Protect the Beds and Carpets

Scrubbing vomit out of carpet is challenging, to say the least, and it often stains permanently. Laundering towels is much easier, so I lay beach towels near all the beds where a sick child might wake up in the midst of vomiting and not make it to the bathroom in time.

I lay a trail of towels from the sick child's bed all the way down the hall to the bathroom.

I remove the pretty bath rugs from bathrooms and replace them with towels or with nothing at all, as it is easier to wipe and disinfect tile.

Also, I remove any expensive or difficult-to-wash bedding from beds when illness is sweeping through the house. If a gorgeous, large comforter requires going to a laundromat or a dry cleaner to be laundered, I do not want it vomited upon, so I hide it away for several weeks until the danger is passed.

Each time one of our children graduates to a big boy/girl bed, I spend less than $20 to buy an inexpensive, waterproof mattress cover to protect that $200 mattress (for example, I've bought this one several times). I also have waterproof protectors on the master and guest beds. Even if a family does not cosleep, if a sick or potty training child is ever in a big bed, I want the investment of that mattress protected.

What if the child is sick and it soaks through the mattress protector in the night? And the vomiting is going to continue all night? I will lay bath towels in layers on the bed because those can be stripped very quickly in the night, replaced with another bath towel.

5. Never Stop Cleaning

During my down moments of an illness, I disinfect toys, objects, door knob handles, dishes, and laundry. Like McDonald's says, "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean."

Use bleach, or Purell Surface Sanitizer, which is food safe. Note that "Clorox bleach wipes" and "Lysol wipes" do not have bleach in them, nor do they kill Norovirus.

I will disinfect the toys I take to Nursery on Fridays before I let them be in my house again.

I try to stay on top of the laundry, even when I am sick. It builds up too fast and it would be really bad to have six children vomiting and no more towels or sheets left.

I temporarily label all cups to decrease likelihood of sibling sharing and I run the cups through the dishwasher each night.

6. Sickness Supply Station

Each night, during the thick of things, I will set up a Sickness Supply Station in the upstairs bathroom near all the bedrooms.

This is the bathroom where you or your spouse will stumble, bleary-eyed, responding to yet more vomiting children. I like to set out a box of latex gloves, baby wipes (to get the bulk of material wiped off of a child), plastic trash bags (in which to contain all vomited-upon laundry or infected trash), and any medications one might be using for said illness (fever-reducers, Zofran or other anti-emetics, Benadryl to dry up mucus, etc.).

Another tip: I always check dosages with every single medicine with every single child. I don't trust myself to remember "Oh, Mary gets two of these Advils." Which Advil? Which dosage is that pill? Is it Mary, or her older or younger sibling who gets two? I check every time.

7. Get Help

As I said, my husband is one who travels for business, so I've had to manage some doozies of illnesses in his absence.

It's important to have outside help in a true emergency. Some people have family living nearby, but we don't, so I rely on friends and businesses.

Who can I call for help? Will a neighbor or friend or church acquaintance drop off a meal on my porch? Or pick up emergency supplies for me at the pharmacy?

If I had to take one child to the hospital, is there an adult who would come stay with my other sick children?

There are so many businesses now for shopping without going into a store: I almost never shop in a store even when I'm well, so I certainly don't do it when we're sick. Amazon Prime ships to one's door in two days, one can pay extra for same-day shipping, and now I hear there is 2-hour grocery shopping. There are innumerable online grocery shipping services. If one can still drive, one can do online shipping and go pick up the order. Also, many of those local stores offer delivery of groceries for a fee, such as $10, which I would pay if we were desperately ill (or, as above, I'd ask my neighbor to go get them). Even the pharmacy offers drive-through service.

Bonus . . . Getting Better

In a large family especially, an illness will drag out as it infects one person at a time and all the folks' illnesses overlap each other. An illness might take two or three weeks to finish in a family. At some point, as normalcy is returning for some children, but not the sick ones yet, Mama has to start returning the healthier children to a bit of regularity.

I may let the sick ones watch TV but I'm telling the healthier ones that they're no longer allowed to watch TV all day and literally must leave the room and go occupy themselves. We homeschool, so, if they're well enough, they need to do independent work (but I can't teach until my duties taking care of sick children are concluded). They need to help out more, even if it's "not my turn today!" These are opportunities to explain that we all must pitch in, it's "time for all hands on deck," and anyone who is healthy enough must help serve the family in times of need.

Also, there may be a point at which the first sick kids are well and not contagious, but the second batch of kids is still contagious. Maybe we parents can divide and conquer, but maybe those healthy kids are just going to have to learn a character lesson about sacrifice by continuing to stay home. Maybe mom is just too exhausted to start taking healthy kids on their outings while she is still caring for sick kids and getting little sleep at night . . . and that's okay. Kids who have been bored and home for one or two whole weeks aren't going to die from having to be bored a few more days. They can even be required to pitch in and help with the current sick kids.

Practice saying "life ain't fair" while tousling a kid's hair affectionately.

For more 7 Quick Take Friday, check out This Ain't the Lyceum.

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Friday, February 9, 2018

{SQT} Before We Got Sick

1. Birthday

I had a lovely time celebrating my birthday (click here) before everyone got sick. I happened to write most of this blog post before I was up to my elbows in it.

2. Outdoor Scenes

When playing after CCE, I do regular spot-checks of where my kids are, and, if Mary is missing, I can guess pretty quickly where she has gone. I spotted two of her friends standing beneath the big magnolia tree with their heads craning upward. I followed their gaze and, while she does not show up in this photo, I can inform you that Mary was up the tree, almost at the very top of where the photograph ends: yup, too high. She informed me that our pastor had the branches cut off ("limbed up") but that she can still climb up the trunk anyway.

Is it any wonder that our 2-1/2-year-old is already climbing some trees independently?

3. Sweet Sons

My five-year-old and I are often awake alone (with the baby) in the wee hours, so I've been trying to be more intentional about that time: playing games with Joseph or doing preschool with him over coffee.

"Be quiet, Mama will never find us under the bed!"

Note the illicit lollipop

"I'm not tired, Mama."

Thomas coloring while David eats his foot

Thomas and his counting bears

4. Getting Out

Last Saturday, a dear girlfriend of mine and I brought our hoped-for breakfast date to fruition after two months of trying to find a good time. I skeedaddled to the diner early in order to get fifteen whole minutes of quiet reading to myself before she arrived. The days of my reading for hours, or even fifteen minutes, are over (or, at least, temporarily suspended).

5. More Space for the Fish

The siblings all banded together to upgrade from a 5-gallon fish tank to a 10-gallon tank during a 50% off sale.

6. Bonus Reading

"How to homeschool and still get (most) things done" by Pam Barnhill--The key is being proactive. There will be bad and off days, but being proactive will help us stay on track.

"Sometimes it’s easier to do school than not to do school" by Dawn Garrett--I feel like I could have written this post. I find that being consistent pays its benefits back exponentially. Being relaxed and irregular in our routine might be fun in the moment, but, for us, it leads to rebellion and unhappiness in future homeschooling.

"Why I need a scheduled routine" by Dawn Garrett--I also work in these similar blocks of time and now I'm eager to try using phone alarms like the author does.

Clearly I was in an organizing mood regarding our homeschool because I also drafted a new chore chart (click here).

7. Sickness

And that's as far as I'd drafted my SQT before we got sick. Now I'm drafting in my head a blog post on managing illness in a large family.

For more 7 Quick Takes Friday, check out This Ain't the Lyceum.