Monday, December 2, 2013

Why You Won't Be Hearing From Me Again Until 2014

After years of dreaming about having more land, my husband and I have been blessed with finding a new place to live.  We just bought a small house set on nearly 5 acres of land. No longer will my gardening and homesteading projects be limited by the amount of space we have available, and my children will now have plenty of space to explore nature in our own back yard.

Since we need to do some work on the new house and get moved in, I will be taking a break from blogging until early 2014.

If you need a little holiday help with grain-free recipes, check out this post from last year of 18 Grain-Free Christmas Cookies and Treats. I wish you all a happy and healthy holiday season!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Holiday Gift Ideas for 2013

As the holidays near, I thought I would share a list of some of my favorite gift ideas for 2013. Many of these are homemade and frugal. Please share your own favorite gift ideas in the comments section.

Skin Care

  • Homemade hard lotion bars are a favorite for many of my friends and family.  Hard lotion works wonderfully as an all-purpose moisturizer as well as for extra-dry spots such as winter-time feet. A few of my friends even use a dab of hard lotion to style their hair.
  • Homemade whipped body butter is an all-purpose moisturizer that is lighter than hard lotion and applies very smoothly and easily.  One good way I have found to store it is in a deodorant-type container; that allows for it to be easily smeared on legs, arms, or anywhere else. Whipped body butter would also make a great belly moisturizer for any expectant mothers. 
  • Naturally tinted balm for lips or cheeks is a wonderful girlie gift.  Although I've never been much of a lip-color-wearer, I like to use this colored balm on my lips for special occasions.  My daughter has never been allowed to wear any makeup (she is only 6 & 1/2 after all), but when I received this colored balm it was great that she could try it out too because the ingredients were so natural and safe. In typical 6-year-old fashion, my daughter used the balm on her lips, cheeks, and eye lids too.  The color looks very natural, so even on a 6-year-old it didn't look gaudy (although obviously she is too young to wear makeup on a daily basis). 

Homemade Candles

  • Homemade tallow container candles are made using rendered beef tallow as candle wax. Tallow was traditionally used to make candles hundreds of years ago, and makes for pretty white candles.
  • Homemade beeswax and coconut oil candles impart a light, sweet smell to the air. This tutorial shows how to make them (I used unrefined coconut oil instead of palm oil).
  • Pure beeswax candles clean the air, burn slowly, and smell wonderful.  You can make your own using this tutorial.

Nature-Inspired Gifts

  • Sock bird feeders attract the cutest little birds.  I love to hang one in a spot where I can watch the birds from my living room. 
  • Flower seeds can make a great gift for any young child.  We like to collect seeds from our own flowers and package them up to give as gifts. 
  • A field guide for the local area makes a wonderful gift for any nature enthusiast or child.  We love to use our National Audubon Society Field Guide for the Southwestern States whenever we find a new creature in our yard or for exploring in the desert.

Real Foodie Gifts

All of these recipes store well, which makes them great for gift-giving. They are all grain-free.

Grandparent Gifts

  • Photo albums featuring the grandchildren are always welcomed by grandparents.
  • Handprint or footprint ornaments are gifts that can last a lifetime. Paint some silver paint onto your child's hand or foot, then place onto a large glass ball ornament; allow to dry and then write the year and child's name with a silver Sharpie
  • Letters, stories, or pictures made by the kids are also among our favorite grandparent gifts. If they are too young to write themselves, type up a story dictated by your child and print it on nice paper; I like to leave a space on each page for my daughter to draw a picture to accompany the text.

What are your favorite homemade gifts?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Book Review - Food Ninjas: How to Raise Kids to be Lean, Mean, Eating Machines by Matt Stone

When I learned that Matt Stone had a new book about feeding children, I was very interested to read it.  Some of you may remember that Matt's Diet Recovery book was very beneficial for me in starting on the path back to adrenal health (after my total adrenal crash while on the GAPS Diet).  Matt's new book is Food Ninjas: How to Raise Kids to be Lean, Mean, Eating Machines.

This book is relatively short and to-the-point.  Readers who want more of a scientific basis for Matt's ideas would probably benefit from reading Diet Recovery or one of Matt's other books that delve into more scientific details. For busy parents, the length of Food Ninjas is perfect.


Are We Setting Our Kids Up to Have A Poor Relationship With Food?

One of the overarching themes of Food Ninjas is that we need to foster healthy attitudes towards food in our children. By overly restricting their food options or by forcing them to eat certain foods, we may create in our children a very unhealthy relationship with food. One way to tell whether or not a child has a balanced relationship with food is to see what happens when they go to a birthday party with the usual cake and ice cream. Do the kids binge, or are they content to have a little and go along to something else?  

The premise of Food Ninjas is that, by teaching our children to listen to their bodies' hunger and craving cues, they will learn to eat in a way that will be the best for them.  Rather than urging parents to strictly control their children's eating habits, Matt gives the surprising advice that it is better to let the children figure out what to eat.  Parents should still make sure their are many healthy options available, but they need not worry about or try to control access to other foods as well.

I find Matt's Food Ninjas to be a great dose of fresh air.  By forcing our kids to eat what we decide for them, and by restricting what the kids are allowed to eat, we do set our children up psychologically to want the forbidden foods an inordinate amount.  For instance, the more I try to control how much ice cream and candy my kids are allowed to eat, the more they want to eat ice cream and candy.  Matt makes a very good point that the best way for kids to look at foods is to have a neutral attitude about all foods, rather than feeling like they are being deprived of certain foods and forced to eat others, which subsequently creates in our children the desire to have more of the foods we restrict and to hate the foods we want them to eat.

Matt says that, when we allow our children to eat as much as they want of any food that is available, we allow them to become in touch with their bodies' needs.  This allows the children to naturally eat more of whatever they need at any given time through intuitive eating.  Sometimes the children's bodies may signal them to eat huge amounts of meat or ice cream or bread, other times their bodies may signal that that not much food is needed. For this to work, we have to have an innate trust that the body does actually know what it needs, and move out of the way to allow our children to get in tune with their bodies.


My Own Experience with Intuitive Eating

When I was recovering from adrenal fatigue in early 2012, I finally gave in to what my body wanted after reading Matt's Diet Recovery book. What my body wanted was ice cream, lots of ice cream.  I had been restricting my sugar intake for years, thinking this was good for me.  When I finally gave in and allowed my body to eat as much ice cream as it wanted, I was amazed.

My energy levels skyrocketed and I felt so much better than I had in months. Though I had to struggle with the urge to micromanage my diet by thinking about what was best nutritionally, once I started actually listening to my body the signals were very clear.  My body wanted 3 bowls of (mostly homemade) ice cream a day; over time, my body's desire for ice cream naturally decreased, so that by 2 months later I really didn't want more than 1 or 2 bowls of ice cream a week.  It was very interesting for me to watch this process and see that my body really did show strong urges for what was needed at a specific time, and that following those urges really did lead to better health. (And did you know that ice cream is actually a superfood?)

Could This Really Work For My Kids?

Although I have had good experiences with intuitive eating myself, I am still a bit skeptical that my kids could both find a natural balance of healthy eating by using Matt's techniques.  My two kids have dramatically differing food personalities. 

I think my son (age 3&1/2) would do totally fine with a free-to-eat-whatever-you-want environment, as he seems to have been born with a preference for healthy, balanced eating.  He loves meat, pickles and all things sour, fruit, some veggies, bread, salmon, and pretty much anything we put in front of him.  He loves dessert, but he also self-limits the amount of dessert he eats (often leaving some behind if there is too much in front of him). 

My daughter (age 6&1/2) is totally different. Although she has always been raised in a "real food" household with lots of homemade foods (including dessert), my daughter has always had a poor appetite and poor weight gain (although her weight gain and appetite have improved dramatically in the last year through constitutional homeopathic treatment).  It seems like her metabolism was broken from the start, possibly because of the placenta issues I had while pregnant with her, which resulted in her being only 4 pounds at full term. Because we've always had a "no dessert until you eat dinner" policy, she does eat her dinner most of the time now, but what she really wants to eat (and would eat more of) is ice cream, chips, roasted/fried potatoes, raw milk, and anything sweet (fruit, candy, chocolate). 

Early last year, when I had such success in kick-starting my own adrenal health through Matt's Diet Recovery program, I decided to let my daughter have free reign on her diet. For about 3 months, I let her eat as much ice cream as she wanted, and pretty much eat as much or little of our meals as she wanted. I was really hoping this would help her start to finally gain weight (at the time she was only 29.5 pounds and 5 years old). And I hoped that by letting her have as much sweets as she wanted, she would get to the point where her body was no longer craving sweets so strongly and move onto more expanded food horizons.  But, at the end of the three months, her desire for sweets had not diminished at all, and I decided to stop this experiment upon realizing that she was actually losing weight.  She had lost 1.5 pounds over that 3 months of being allowed to eat whatever she wanted, and given how small she was to begin with, I was not comfortable with her losing weight.

 Things might be different now, though.  As I mentioned earlier, over the last year my daughter has had great weight gain through her constitutional homeopathic treatment; her appetite is much better now and she wants to eat a wider variety of foods now.  She's gained 7 pounds in the last year (previously she averaged 3-4 pounds a year, and had lost weight for the six months previous to starting the homeopathic treatment), along with lots of other signs of improved health (such as far fewer illnesses). Since her metabolism and appetite are much more balanced now, I am interested to implement Matt's suggestions to see if my daughter can develop a more healthy relationship with food.  She is rather fixated on sweets and dessert, and I would like her to be able to feel more neutral about those foods.  My restriction of her sweet intake could certainly be part of the reason she wants sweets so much (since she may feel deprived from them from a psychological standpoint).

Food Ninjas is Worth Reading

Overall, Matt's Food Ninjas book is worthwhile reading for any parent.  Whether or not you agree with his conclusions, taking some time to really think about our children's attitudes and relationships with food is valuable. In the end, I want my children to naturally eat what their bodies need, and to not be fixated on what they can't have.

Do your children have a healthy attitude towards food? Or do they binge on candy whenever they get the chance?

Disclosure: Matt Stone did provide me with a free copy of the Food Ninjas ebook (normally priced at $2.99) when I asked if I could review it for this blog. 

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Sunday, November 3, 2013

Our Top 10 Nutrient-Dense Breakfasts, Including How to Fry Eggs in Cast Iron

I've always loved breakfast.  As soon as I awake, I always feel a strong desire to eat breakfast.  And since first-thing-in-the-morning is the best time of day for us to homeschool, our breakfasts need to require little time or effort to prepare. Because I periodically make large batches of make-ahead breakfast items, getting breakfast on the table during the week is very quick and easy.

Our Top 10 Nutrient-Dense Breakfasts

These are the staple breakfast items in our home.  Most of these require preparation ahead of time.  I usually spend an hour or two each weekend making breakfast and snack items for the coming week.

  • Applesauce Spice Custard Cake: This is my husband's favorite breakfast.  It is smooth, creamy, a little bit tangy, and wonderfully spiced. This can be served warm or cold, and it works for GAPS, Primal, gluten-free, and grain-free diets.
  • Homemade Freezer Waffles: Smeared with butter and drizzled with maple syrup, this is our version of a classic breakfast.  These waffles are made from soaked whole grain and are gluten-free.
  • Mushroom and Cheddar Quiche: This quiche is an absolute favorite of my 3-year-old son, and the rest of us love it too.  It is great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and it works for GAPS, Primal, gluten-free, and grain-free diets.     
  • Pumpkin Pie Clafoutis: In the Fall and Winter months, we particularly enjoy eating pumpkin pie clafoutis.  I use my homemade pumpkin puree to make it, but canned pumpkin works well too. This recipe works for GAPS, Primal, gluten-free, and grain-free diets. 
  • Cinnamon Raisin Bread: This bread is soft, moist, and delicious! We usually eat cinnamon raisin bread as toast, with either a smear of butter or butter/cream cheese/honey on top.  I make a double batch of this bread, then slice it and freeze it in single servings so it is quick to prepare in the morning. It works for GAPS, Primal, gluten-free, and grain-free diets.
  • Fully-Loaded Toast (or Waffle): Both of my kids love to eat "fully loaded" toast. It is made by topping toasted white sourdough bread with butter, cream cheese, peanut butter, and jam. Since my daughter doesn't yet tolerate gluten well, we make hers a Fully-Loaded Waffle instead.
  • Fried Egg with Toast: My favorite breakfast includes a slice of toasted white sourdough bread, slathered with nutrient-dense butter, with a fried egg (or two).  For a side dish, I'll sometimes enjoy some tomato, avocado, or bread and butter pickles along with the toast and egg. My method for perfect fried eggs is as follows:
    • I like to cook my eggs in a well-seasoned cast iron skillet. The trick to preventing the eggs from sticking is to melt plenty of butter in the skillet, swirl it around well, and then add the eggs once the skillet is rather warm. Do NOT add eggs to a cool cast-iron skillet, else they will stick! I use about 2 tsp of butter per egg. 
    • Fry the eggs over medium heat in the melted butter. To make sure the yolks won't break, wait to flip the eggs until the whites are well set.  I then give the skillet a gentle shake to loosen the eggs before flipping them. 
    • I have one very small cast iron skillet that is perfectly sized to fry one or two eggs, and with a quick toss of the wrist I can flip the eggs without having to dirty a spatula.  My kids love to watch me do this, and they call it my magic trick.  If you're not feeling brave enough to flip eggs in that way, use a plastic spatula instead. (Flipping eggs is one of the rare uses for my nylon spatula; I prefer not to use plastic in any heated applications, but I find that my metal spatula breaks the egg yolks very frequently.)
    • As soon as I flip the egg(s), I turn off the heat and let the eggs cook for just a few seconds in the residual heat left in the skillet. Don't leave them too long, else the yolk will cook completely.
    • Sprinkle some celtic sea salt over each egg before serving.
  • Maple Banana Yogurt: My kids enjoy maple banana yogurt for breakfast. It is made by simply topping sliced banana with plain whole milk yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup over the top. This is grain-free, gluten-free, Primal, and can be used for GAPS by just substituting honey for the syrup. 

  • Homemade Cookies: Homemade cookies make a wonderful breakfast, and my daughter especially likes to have cookies for breakfast. Since they are homemade and loaded with healthy ingredients such as butter/coconut oil, unrefined sweeteners, and pastured eggs, these cookies are a wonderfully nutritious breakfast treat any day of the week.
  • Egg on a Waffle: One breakfast we all enjoy (and sometimes eat for lunch, too) is a homemade waffle smeared with butter, topped with a fried egg, and drizzled with maple syrup over it all.  This unlikely combination is absolutely delicious!

What are your favorite breakfast foods?

This post is part of Traditional Tuesdays, Fat Tuesday, Natural Living Monday and Mostly Homemade Mondays!

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Thursday, October 24, 2013

Avoiding Halloween Candy Overload

Although we've never allowed our kids to have much candy, Halloween is still a holiday they greatly
Volcano and Dinosaur, ready for trick-or-treating
enjoy.  Pumpkin carving, costumes, and trick-or-treating! Here are some tips for avoiding Halloween candy overload. With all of these options, make sure you talk to your kids in advance of Halloween so they know what to expect. 
  1. Non-edible treats: In advance of Halloween, I buy a few small items that my kids will enjoy, such as small puzzles, coloring books, animal figurines, and even Halloween socks.  I leave these items at my mother's house so that, when we arrive there and say "trick-or-treat", these items get dropped into my kids' goodie bags.   
  2. Natural sweets: Since my kids aren't often allowed to eat things like fruit leather, they serve as a great candy replacement on Halloween.  I'll drop a few natural sweet treats in their bags along with the other items they've collected while trick-or-treating.  Here are some ideas for natural sweet treats (many of these are GAPS-legal): 
  3. Candy Fairy: Before bed on Halloween evening, my kids leave their bags of candy on the
    back porch for the Candy Fairy (they knows that the Candy Fairy is really just me, but nonetheless they enjoy the idea that it is a fairy).  In the morning, they find that their bags of candy are gone, but instead there are a couple new games or toys.  This has worked particularly well for us.  It may not work as well for older kids, but may be worth a shot. 
  4. Teach moderation: In advance of Halloween, take the time to talk to your kids about moderation.  They should know that, while tasty, candy is not good for their bodies.  This can help soften the blow when they are not allowed to gorge on candy.  
  5. Compromise: I would guess that moderating the candy intake gets more difficult with older children. A compromise may be in order, such as allowing the child to select a few pieces of candy that are favorites and then allowing the child to pick a toy or game to have in return for the rest of the candy.
  6. Trade money for candy: Where we live, there are several dentists who will pay kids for their candy.  This may be a good option for some kids.
  7. Celebrate without trick-or-treating: Having a Halloween party or going to a harvest festival at a local school or church can be a great way to enjoy Halloween without trick-or-treating. (This great idea was shared by a commenter.)

Do you have any ideas for limiting candy on Halloween?

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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Is the Wrong Toothpaste Preventing Your Teeth From Re-Mineralizing?

In the real food community, it is fairly well known that tooth decay is not caused by bacteria, but is actually an indication that the diet is lacking in nutrients.  Tooth decay can be cured through a nutrient-dense diet, and reports abound of people curing their teeth through eating traditional foods such as raw dairy, bone broth, grassfed organ meats, and cod liver oil.

What is Remineralization?

The process of curing tooth decay is known as remineralization. Remineralization of teeth can occur when the diet has enough vital nutrients to allow the tooth to rebuild itself.  This happens when the tooth is given the nutrients it needs via the blood that feeds the root of the tooth, as well as the saliva in the mouth.  Saliva contains calcium and phosphate which the tooth can use to remineralize.

How Can the Wrong Toothpaste Interfere with Remineralization?

many of the expensive organic toothpastes contain glycerin, too
Most commercial toothpastes, even organic ones, contain glycerin. According to Dr. Gerard Judd, the glycerin in toothpaste coats the teeth and prevents them from remineralizing because it blocks the flow of calcium and phosphate (from the saliva) into the teeth. Judd explains that glycerin adheres so well to teeth that it would take more than 20 brushings to fully remove it from the teeth.

In researching this topic further, I have found that there is definitely no consensus on whether or not glycerin does actually prevent the teeth from remineralizing.  There are now plenty of people that doubt whether this is actually the case. But back in 2006 when I first read this theory about glycerin preventing remineralization, there wasn't much information about it available on the internet, and we decided to go ahead and stop using toothpaste with added glycerin. 

My Family's Experience

Before my husband and I switched away from toothpaste containing added glycerin, we both had some issues with tooth sensitivity. My husband's teeth, especially, were very sensitive to hot and cold, so he used Sensodyne toothpaste to help with this problem.  We decided to switch to Tooth Soap (at the time, it was the only non-glycerin tooth cleaner I could even find).

We were a bit doubtful about using Tooth Soap, and it did take a little while to get used to the taste. But one thing we noticed right away was that our teeth felt very clean, much cleaner than they had with our conventional toothpaste. 

Over the next few weeks, we noticed something surprising: the Tooth Soap stopped our tooth sensitivity problems! We were amazed that both of us lost our tooth sensitivity after just a few weeks of using Tooth Soap.  Whether or not the lack of glycerin was the cause of the improvements can't be said for certain, but we were very happy to find that neither of us had any longer had tooth sensitivity.

Tooth Cleaning Options

Now it has been over 6 years since we switched away from using toothpaste containing glycerin.  We've tried quite a few different tooth cleaning options over the years, and they all have their pluses and minuses. None of these tooth cleaning options contains any added glycerin.

  • Tooth Soap
    • Pros: This has the best flavor of any of the soap-based tooth cleaners we've tried. It comes in a nice glass bottle with a glass dropper to apply the liquid to the toothbrush.
    • Cons: It is very expensive, and not available locally where we live.
  • Lemon EarthPaste
    • Pros: We love Earthpaste! It is a non-foaming toothpaste based on Redmond Clay (which is rich in more than 60 trace minerals that may aid in tooth remineralization). It tastes great, and is easy to apply to the toothbrush since it is thick and not drippy. It is also available locally.
    • Cons: It is somewhat expensive.
  • Dr. Bronner's Liquid Castile Soap
    • Pros: Because Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soap is very concentrated, only a little bit is needed in the tooth soap mixture. This makes it very inexpensive. Dr. Bronner's liquid castile soaps are also readily available at the local healthfood store.
    • Cons: Dr Bronner's definitely doesn't taste as good as the tooth soap, but it works just fine for us.
    • How to make it: You can vary the amount of soap depending on your preferences, but I generally use about 1 part Dr. Bronner's to 8 parts filtered water. We use old Tooth Soap glass bottles with droppers to hold the homemade tooth soap, and the dropper makes using it very easy. (Or you can buy a reusable glass dropper bottle here.)
  •  Coral White Toothpaste
    • Pros: This is the most similar to "normal" toothpaste.  It tastes great, and people who want something more "normal" will like it just fine.  This toothpaste also contains minerals such as calcium which may help in tooth remineralization.
    • Cons: It is somewhat expensive and not available locally.
  •  Homemade Tooth Powder
    • Pros: My kids don't do so well with liquid tooth soap, because it is so watery and easily drips off their toothbrushes.  Tooth powder works much better for them.  Tooth powder is very inexpensive, and all of the ingredients are readily available at the local healthfood store. Since tooth powder is somewhat abrasive, it works well as a tooth whitener as well.
    • Cons: Since tooth powder is somewhat abrasive, I don't like to use it on a daily basis, as I want to protect my enamel. Using tooth powder just once or twice a week works well for us. 
    • How to make it: The tooth powder we use is made very simply with just baking soda, french clay, and a bit of essential oil. Instructions for making the tooth powder are here.  A little goes a long way: I made a batch over a year ago, and we still have lots left!  I store most of the tooth powder in a tightly-closed container, and just pour out a small amount at a time into a small glass dish on the counter. That way, we can all just dip our wet toothbrushes into the dish to apply a bit.  I tell my kids to use it only a few times a week, and on the other days they just brush their teeth with plain water.  (It works just fine this way; neither of my kids have any plaque on their teeth and their teeth are easily cleaned just by the action of brushing.) 

Have you switched away from conventional toothpaste? What is your favorite non-glycerin toothpaste?

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Thursday, October 10, 2013

Lessons in Weaning

Long before I had children, I had lots of ideas that later turned out to be false. For instance, I remember thinking that my kids would sleep through the night at a young age, that my kids would never behave badly in public, that I wouldn't want to be a stay-at-home mom, and that having kids wouldn't have any impact on our sex life. Regarding breastfeeding, I remember saying something along the lines that, "If they are old enough to ask for it, they are too old to be breastfeeding!" Now that I'm older and more experienced, I've had the joys of learning that so many of my ideas were wrong and advocating for some of the very things I was so wrong about.

My First Time Weaning

While I was pregnant with my daughter, I thought that two years would be a good length of time for breastfeeding.  After she was born, despite many of the usual early nursing problems, I fell in love with breastfeeding.  The closeness it promoted, the ease of nighttime feedings, the sheer wonder of my body producing a perfect food: I absolutely loved breastfeeding!  As my daughter neared two years old, I knew that my arbitrary plan to wean by the age of two was unnecessary.  Why should we stop doing something that we both enjoyed so much, and that was so healthy for my daughter? Breastfeeding was so much more than I thought it would be, and instead of feeling like I couldn't wait to be done, I found myself thinking of how sad it would be when we were done.

And yet.  As she neared two years old, my daughter was still nursing several times every night.  How I longed for an uninterrupted night's sleep! So when my daughter was 22 months old, I decided it was time to night-wean her.  I spent three miserable nights trying to comfort my daughter in every way I could, except the one way she really wanted: breastfeeding.  Over those three days, it became readily apparent that my daughter was not ready to be night-weaned.  She cried for long periods during the night (even though she was still in our bed and being held by me), but even more troubling were the differences that I noticed in her daytime behavior.  She became increasingly clingy and very insecure.  Anytime I tried to put her down or leave the room, she was upset. And then she became ill, and I realized that this attempt at night-weaning was not working, for any of us.

So I backed off, and let her once again nurse at night.  All was well. My daughter's behavior returned to normal, and we got back into our previous routine.  About 6 months later, I decided to try night-weaning again.  It was a breeze!  There was a small amount of resistance from my daughter, but I was amazed at what a difference 6 months could make.  There was no negative effect on her daytime behavior, and it was obvious that she was developmentally ready for night-weaning at this time.  This illustrated one of the most important lessons of parenting:  every child is different and trying to fit my daughter into a mold of what she "should" be doing was not good for any of us. By balancing my own needs with my daughter's needs, we were able to advance towards weaning at a time that worked well for everyone.

My daughter was 26 months old and still nursing fairly frequently when I became pregnant with my son.  By the middle of the pregnancy, my milk disappeared completely, and nursing my daughter got to be so uncomfortable/painful for me that I really didn't enjoy it anymore at all.  I think my daughter could tell that I felt this way, and she self-weaned herself by around the 4th or 5th month of my pregnancy.  But, at the same time, I could tell that she wasn't really "ready" to be weaned, as she started having temper tantrums for the first time ever, as well as other signs that the milk had been very beneficial for her (such as less immune resistance to illnesses).  I think she would have benefited from nursing for longer, if I had been able to do that.  After her brother was born, I let my daughter try to nurse again, and was surprised to find that she had completely forgotten how to nurse.

My Second Time Weaning

Right now I'm in the process of weaning my son, but this is a much different experience because I am letting things develop more on their own (since I am not pregnant this time and am able to do things much more gradually).  Ten years ago, I never could have guessed that I would someday be nursing a 3&1/2 year old. But life has a way of showing me that I am not always right, especially when it comes to "planning" the way I will do things that I have no experience with.

This time around, I wasn't even thinking about weaning as my son neared 2 years old. Why? Because he had sleep problems, starting from birth, which got gradually worse and worse over time.  By the time he turned 2 years old, he was waking every hour, every night.  Getting 3 hours of sleep in a row was a very rare treat for me.  Around this time I also suffered from strong adrenal fatigue, which was exacerbated by the lack of sleep.

My son could not sleep away from me, and if I tried to let him go back to sleep on his own during the night waking, he would just become more and more awake, eventually getting out of bed even if it was 2am.  The only way I could get him to go back to sleep easily (without having to carry him around for 30-45 minutes each time) was to nurse him back to sleep.  If I could respond quickly enough as soon as he started waking up, I could even get him to go back to sleep in less than 10 minutes, whereas if I was too slow, it would take closer to 30 minutes of nursing to get him back to sleep. Weaning was not on my radar as breastfeeding was the only resource I had to help us try to get more sleep.

Around the age of 3, I talked to my son about how we would no longer be nursing when we were not at our home or grandma's house.  Because of his age, he was able to understand these new rules and he was fine with them. It was no issue whatsoever. A few months later, I established that his only daytime nursing would be at naptime; this was again accomplished with hardly any resistance from him (and no behavioral changes to show that he was not ready).  And then last month we stopped the naptime nursing session, again with only minimal resistance.

Over the last eight months, my son's sleeping problems have had a dramatic improvement through his constitutional homeopathic treatment.  His sleeping pattern has changed from waking every hour to sleeping straight from 9:30PM until 4:30 or 5AM each morning. Since he is sleeping so much better now, I have been able to transition to only nursing him once a day, when he wakes up around 4:30-5am. Retaining this one daily nursing session allows my son to go back to sleep until he can wake up at a more "normal" time of 6:30-7am.  Without nursing, my son would be getting up to start the day at 4:30-5AM every morning.

Fulfilling the Child's Needs While Weaning

While weaning both of my children, I have tried hard to make sure that I still meet their needs.  Breastfeeding certainly provided my children with excellent nutrition and immunity, so I made sure that their diets were nutritious and wholesome as they stopped nursing. As my children grew older and were eating plenty of nutritious foods, I found that their main need for breastfeeding stemmed from the desires for closeness, security, and comfort. Making sure that I still spent plenty of time snuggling and cuddling with my children even when we were not nursing really helped to meet these needs.

Weaning Should Balance the Needs of Both the Mother and the Child

Through my experiences in weaning both of my children, I have learned much about parenting.  Trying to impose my own arbitrarily chosen timeframe on the process of weaning was counterproductive and did not work.  Even though my daughter was over two years old and may have been considered too old for breastfeeding when she weaned, it was still apparent that she was not ready to be weaned in terms of her health or her emotional development.   

Because the timeframe has been so much more relaxed with my son, I've been able to see just how un-stressful weaning can be.  Since we have been able to wean gradually, there has not any big effect on his behavior or his feeling of security, as he still feels like his needs are being met.  And allowing him to nurse well beyond the "normal" timeframe has allowed us to survive through his years of deteriorating sleep.

Of course, every child is different. I've heard of lots of kids who weaned or even self-weaned easily at around 1&1/2 to 2 years old.  My kids just didn't fall into that category, so I had to adjust my own expectations to match their capabilities.  Being able to meet each of my children's individual needs requires me to be willing to do some things in an unusual way, but they don't deserve any less. 

What have been your experiences with weaning?

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Fruit and Nut Power Bars (Primal : GAPS : grain-free : gluten-free)

During a recent out-of-town trip, my family fell in love with my mother-in-law's homemade Fruit and Nut Bars. Upon our return home, my husband begged requested that I learn to make some of the bars.  Chewy, slightly sweet, and nicely filling, these Power Bars make for a quick breakfast or a great grab-and-go snack any time of day.

This recipe is based on my mother-in-law's delicious Fruit and Nut Bars, of which the original recipe can be seen on the Honey Pacifica blog. When possible, the nuts and seeds should be "crispy nuts," which have been prepared with the traditional method of soaking in salt water and then drying at a relatively low temperature.  This traditional method helps in reducing the naturally-occurring anti-nutrients that are present in nuts and seeds.

Fruit and Nut Power Bars
Makes 16 small bars, or 8 large bars
Version 1: Peanut Apricot Power Bars
Version 2: Pecan and Fruit Power Bars
  1. Line an 8X8 glass baking dish with parchment paper.  The paper should be long enough that it hangs out of the dish on two sides.
  2. Stir together the salt, nut butter, coconut flour, and honey in a large bowl. 
  3. Add the chopped fruit, nuts, and seeds. Mix well to combine.
  4. Dump the mixture into the paper-lined glass dish.  Use a spoon or the extra-long sides of the parchment paper to press the mixture firmly and evenly into the pan. Do not trim off the excess parchment paper, as it will be used when removing the bars from the pan.
  5. Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes.
  6. Allow to cool completely.  Then use the long sides of the parchment paper to lift the bars out of the pan and place them on a cutting board. Use a sharp knife or pizza cutter to cut the bars to the desired size.  We prefer to make the bars small, so they are the perfect size for our kids to eat.  
  7. Store the power bars in the refrigerator.  To make them easy to grab-and-go, you could wrap the bars individually with plastic wrap and/or parchment paper.  These bars get a bit soft if they get warm, so take along an ice pack if you'll be packing these along for later.
 *Measure the amounts after chopping the ingredients rather than before.

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Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Surprising Food That Has A Regular Place In My Healthy Diet

Prior to the GAPS Diet, my family did not eat any refined grains, such as white flour and white rice.  Instead, we ate whole grains, prepared by soaking or sprouting to reduce anti-nutrients (such as phytic acid, which can prevent mineral absorption). While transitioning off the GAPS Diet, I was interested to find that whole grains actually caused me to have digestive problems, and they caused a recurrence of my joint pain (which was the main reason I started the GAPS Diet in the first place). Surprisingly, refined grains such as white rice did not cause me to have any of those problems.

Now I've been off the GAPS Diet for about 18 months. After GAPS, I initially avoided eating wheat because ingesting gluten caused me to have headaches and restless legs. But through my constitutional homeopathic treatment, I've now reached the point where I no longer react to gluten.

So now I regularly eat sourdough bread made with white flour, and I consider it a healthy part of my diet. I still have digestive issues if I try to eat whole wheat bread, or even sprouted whole wheat bread, but white sourdough bread gives me no issues whatsoever.

Those of you who have been following my blog for awhile may recall that, after suffering from adrenal crash while on GAPS, I learned that I need to make sure to eat enough carbohydrates to keep my energy levels stable. Sourdough white bread is a healthy, delicious, and easy way for me to get enough carbs.

Is Sourdough White Bread Truly Healthy?

The bread I eat is a true sourdough bread. This means that it is naturally fermented, and there is no yeast added to make the bread rise. True sourdough white bread actually has a more beneficial affect on blood sugar than (non-sourdough) whole grain bread. According to an article in Wise Traditions,

Using white, whole wheat, whole wheat with barley and sourdough white breads, researchers at the University of Guelph examined how subjects responded after eating bread for breakfast and again after lunch. The ten male subjects, who were overweight and ranged between fifty and sixty years old, showed the most positive body responses after eating sourdough white bread. With the sourdough, the subjects’ blood sugar levels were lower for a similar rise in blood insulin, and this positive effect remained during the second meal and lasted hours after. Surprisingly, the worst results were seen after consumption of whole wheat and whole wheat with barley bread, which caused blood sugar levels to spike, with high levels lasting until well after lunch. According to Professor Terry Graham, head researcher on the project, the fermentation of the sourdough “changes the nature of starches in the bread, creating a more beneficial bread.”  

Additionally, there are some in the traditional foods movement who actually don't advocate eating whole grains. For instance, Rami Nagel, author of Cure Tooth Decay, has found that in traditional cultures, much of the bran and germ was actually discarded after the whole grains were ground into flour. While it is true that the bran contains many nutrients, it also contains anti-nutrients such as phytic acid. Sprouting and soaking of whole grains can reduce the amount of anti-nutrients, but those processes often do not completely eliminate the anti-nutrients. (There is lots more wonderful information about this topic in the article Whole Grains Can Cause Tooth Decay.)

I know that, for me, sprouting and soaking are not enough to make whole wheat easily digestible (nor for my 3-year-old son, who is very gassy if he consumes sprouted wheat bread). To my surprise, we both just do better eating sourdough white bread rather than sprouted whole grain bread. For many months, my son and I have both eaten sourdough white bread several times each week, with no issues.  We are fortunate enough to have a local bakery that makes true sourdough bread.

(At this point, my daughter and husband still do best by eating very little grains of any kind, and especially avoiding modern gluten-containing grains.  There is one startling grain that they can both consume, which I will talk about in a future post.)

Are there any surprising foods in your healthy diet? Have you tried true sourdough breads?

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cowboy Salad (grain-free : gluten-free)

This scrumptious salad combines some of our favorite foods: steak, fried potatoes, avocado, and fried eggs.  Served over a bed of lettuce and topped with a simple herb vinaigrette, this salad is a sure hit for everyone in the family.  It will even please those carnivore-types who think that salads aren't filling enough to eat for dinner.

This salad works great with leftover or freshly prepared steak and potatoes.

Cowboy Salad
Serves 2
  1. If using leftover steak and potatoes, reheat the steak gently in a 225 degree oven or toaster oven for about 20 minutes.  Warm up the potatoes in a small skillet with a touch of butter.
  2. If using freshly-prepared steak and potatoes, start the potatoes cooking first and then work on the steak.  
  3. While the steak and potatoes are cooking/reheating, prepare the salad fixins by washing/tearing the lettuce*, chopping the avocado, and shredding the cheese.  
  4. For the dressing, combine everything except the olive oil and stir it up with a fork.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while stirring vigorously with the fork.  This dressing will separate a bit while it sits, so just give it another stir before you drizzle it onto the salads.
  5. Prepare the plates by arranging the lettuce and adding avocado chunks around the sides.
  6. Slice the warm (not hot) steak across the grain into thin strips.
  7. Melt the butter in a warm skillet.  I like to cook my eggs in well-seasoned cast iron.  The trick to preventing the eggs from sticking is to melt plenty of butter in the skillet, swirl it around well, and then add the eggs once the skillet is rather warm. Do NOT add eggs to a cool cast-iron skillet, else they will stick!
  8. Fry the eggs over-medium in the melted butter. To make sure the yolks won't break, wait to flip the eggs until the whites are well set.  I then give the skillet a gentle shake to loosen the eggs before flipping them.
  9. Once the eggs are done, top the lettuce with the sliced steak, fried potatoes, and an egg atop each salad.  Sprinkle with cheese, drizzle with vinaigrette and serve!
*My method for quick-and-easy lettuce preparation is to rip the lettuce straight into the basket of a salad spinner.  Fill the salad spinner with water and slosh the lettuce around to wash it.  Then pull the basket out and let the water drain.  Repeat the washing once more with fresh water.  Then drain the basket and use the salad spinner to dry the lettuce.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Healing Chronic Constipation in an Infant

When I met 11-month-old Stephen*, I was struck by his easy-going personality.  He entered my home with a smile on his face, and was ready to explore his surroundings. Right away, Stephen started playing with toys and was content while I talked with his mother Melanie for nearly an hour. 

Stephen was largely breastfed, but had started some solid foods at the age of 9 months old.  For the last 2-3 months, Stephen had been severely constipated, only having a bowel movement once a week, and doing so with much straining, screaming, and even some blood. Melanie had tried everything she could think of: doctors, chiropractic treatments, and dietary changes.  But Stephen's constipation persisted despite all of these efforts.

Melanie contacted me to see if there were any homeopathic remedies that might help Stephen. I've been studying homeopathy for nearly two years now, and actively working on homeopathic cases for the last 6 months, so Melanie was referred to me by a mutual friend.** I was happy to guide her in finding a remedy to help Stephen.

How Remedies are Selected

I use classical homeopathic methodology to aid in the selection of remedies. There are many different homeopathic remedies that can help with constipation, but what sets homeopathy apart is that remedy selection must be individualized for each person.

In classical homeopathy, the goal is to find a single remedy that matches the totality of a person's symptoms.  Thus, classical homeopathy takes into account much more than just the main complaint (which in this case was constipation). Symptoms relating to the physical body are just one part of the total symptom picture; understanding the totality of symptoms must encompass mental and emotional symptoms as well.

The total symptom picture is used as a guide to point to the correct homeopathic remedy. Each remedy is well understood in terms of what specific symptoms it can affect. Each remedy has its own set of very specific symptoms (as defined in homeopathic repertories), and even its own personality (as defined in homeopathic materia medica).  In chronic cases such as this, the homeopath strives to match up the total symptom picture and personality of the person to the remedy.   


Guiding Symptoms

In selecting a remedy for Stephen, I sought to understand the total picture of his symptoms and personality. 
  • Main complaint: constipation
    • infrequent stools passed with much difficulty
    • much pain during bowel movements
  • Other physical complaints: 
    • dry, red skin
    • dairy intolerance (even when breastfeeding mother consumed dairy)
    • diaper rashes
    • redness around anus
  • Mental/emotional characteristics:
    • happy-go-lucky personality
    • very curious
    • excess energy before bedtime
    • hates having diaper changed or getting dressed 
    • has to be forced to get into bath, but loves it once he is there


Remedy Selection

Based on Stephen's total symptom picture, I chose the Sulphur homeopathic remedy. Sulphur closely matched Stephen's constipation symptoms (although not quite as specifically as some other remedies), but it especially matched his personality.

In "Homeopathic Treatment of Children", Paul Herscu describes the "happy-go-lucky, smiling type" of Sulphur child.  This child has a "winsome personality" and is "curious".  This type of child also may "kick and fight any time a parent tries to change the diapers. They may likewise to bathe and will put up a fight until dragged into the bathtub; then they often love it."

Sulphur is also a well-known homeopathic remedy for skin eruptions of all kinds, including the red anus, dry red skin, and diaper rashes that Stephen exhibited.  I told Melanie about Sulphur and how well it matched Stephen's overall symptom picture and personality. She decided to give it a try.

Did it Work?

Stephen reacted very well to homeopathic Sulphur 30c. In fact, with just a few doses, he had a non-painful bowel movement for the first time in months. At that time, I recommended that Melanie watch-and-wait before giving any more remedy.

Ideally, homeopathic remedies are given only as often as needed, and not more than needed. The general rule of thumb is that, whenever there is obvious improvement, watch-and-wait to see if any more remedy is needed (as indicated by a plateau in healing or by any regression).

Within a couple weeks, Stephen had established a pattern of daily bowel movements with no pain or discomfort.  As of now, he has had painless daily bowel movements for several months with no need for further doses of homeopathic Sulphur. 

In addition to the dramatic healing of Stephen's constipation, he has also experienced other significant long-term improvements: Stephen no longer has dry, red skin and he has stopped fighting about having his diapers changed.  The correct homeopathic remedy, chosen individually to match the totality of symptoms, can be amazing!

*This is a true story, but I have changed the names to protect privacy.
**I am not a physician or licensed healthcare practitioner. The information I provide is intended to educate, and should not be construed as a prescription.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Our 2013-14 Homeschool Philosophy and Curriculum

We are a few weeks into the new school year, so I thought I'd share our current homeschool philosophy and curriculum.  Currently, my daughter is 6&1/2 and in 2nd grade, and my son is 3&1/2 doing preschool work.


Big Changes in our Homeschool Philosophy

Previously, we were doing a rather rigorous Classically-based curriculum (described in The Well-Trained Mind), with a few ideas from Charlotte Mason Companion thrown in (such as incorporating Nature Study for science). But I knew I needed to change something towards the end of spring when my daughter mentioned extra schoolwork as a good punishment for the kids who stole her bike. This made me realize that I was pushing way too hard, and killing her love of learning. At the same time, I was reading Thomas Jefferson Education (TJED), and a light-bulb just clicked on.

TJED is kind of like a mix between classically-based schooling, unschooling, and Charlotte Mason. It is more structured than unschooling, but much less rigorous than Well-Trained Mind. (You can read about the 7 Keys to Great Teaching on the TJED site here.) There is also a huge focus in TJED on the parents furthering their own educations, and focusing on that, which serves as a great example for the kids to want to further their own educations. And that has really worked in our house. The more the kids see me doing my own reading, studying, and writing, the more they naturally want to do those things themselves, without any of the pressure that I was putting on them before. They are getting to learn lots of things that are interesting to them, and I am getting to learn lots myself rather than focusing so much on their curriculum. And overall we are spending less time on school than before. It is just what we needed.

We are still using some of the ideas from Well-Trained Mind and Charlotte Mason Companion, mixed together with ideas from TJE.  Our school is now much more relaxed and the kids are getting to focus more on their own interests within that framework. We are all thoroughly enjoying the changes we've made to our homeschool.

Preschool Curriculum for 3&1/2-year-old

The methods and topics I'm using for preschool with my son are the same as described previously in this post. My son is allowed to choose whether or not he'd like to do any school work (and he usually
chooses to do school once or twice a week). The specific books he is using right now are:

2nd Grade Curriculum for 6&1/2-year-old

We've been using these resources for a few weeks, and my daughter is really loving it all. No fighting or whining about doing school. She actually now calls it "Awesome School".

In keeping with the TJED philosophy, my daughter is allowed to choose what school work to do (and I make suggestions each day). She (and her little brother) never say "No" to Life of Fred, Story of the World, or science read-alouds, and about twice a week my daughter also chooses to do some work on paper.

  • Virtues and Morals - According to Thomas Jefferson Education, the main learning focus for ages 0-8 should be learning right/wrong, good/bad, true/false.  Previously, I didn't feel like I had much time to teach my daughter the everyday activities around our home, as we needed to spend so much time doing school. But now that we are focusing somewhat less on academics, it has been great for me to be able to focus more on teaching my daughter to be a helpful, courteous member of our household.  She has more daily chores now than previously, and she is given plenty of opportunities to help out with other daily activities as well.  This has enabled my daughter to become a nicer, more considerate person. Right now as I am typing this, both of my kids are washing up our lunch dishes with minimal adult assistance. 
  • Reading - We are no longer doing any formal reading lessons since my daughter's reading level is well above her age. She chooses to read for 1-2 hours every day on her own. To help in learning the correct pronunciation of complex words, I allow my daughter to read aloud to me whenever she asks to (which is typically once or twice a week). I also provide lots of varied reading materials for her through library books that relate to our history and science lessons, as well as fiction books. 
  • Math - We are using several different resources for 2nd grade math.
    • Life of Fred - My kids LOVE Life of Fred, which is a series of math books that tell stories about Fred, a 5-year-old math genius who teaches classes at a university. The chapters are nice and short, and the end of each chapter gives a chance for us to practice math from the chapter (which we usually do on a lap-size dry erase board). In addition to teaching math, Life of Fred also teaches much more. For instance, we learned about the Orion Nebulae in Life of Fred: Butterflies. My daughter gets to choose whether or not she wants to do the problems at the end of each chapter, and she usually chooses to do a few of them.
    •  Miquon Math Labs - Miquon is a math curriculum for grades 1-3 that uses wooden blocks of 1-10 cm to aid in learning addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. My kids are really enjoying playing with the wooden blocks (called Cuisenaire Rods), and my daughter is enjoying using the blocks to figure out the answers to math problems. The Miquon program includes workbooks, which my daughter can use as she chooses. Unlike most workbooks, the Miquon books are designed to be done with the parent assisting the child, and this really seems to motivate my daughter to want to do the workbook sheets. The workbook sheets can also be done in any order (rather than from the front of the book to the back), and my daughter enjoys the freedom of being able to flip through the book and work on any sheet that she wants to.
    • Math games are a wonderful way to learn math while having fun. We play the following games: 
      • Addition or Subtraction War is a great way to learn math facts without having to do lots of worksheets. 
      • 21 (also known as Blackjack) is a great way for kids to learn addition and strategy as they try to reach 21 without going over. Both of my kids love to play this game. I've made this game even better for teaching a real understanding of what the numbers mean by using a number line. (I made a number line on the wall using painter's tape and a permanent marker.) We each select a colored token (which are really poker chips) and with some masking tape we show how many we have on our cards. As we get more cards, we move our tokens along the number line. This way it is easy to tell how close we are to 21 and also to see what happens when we bust (and go past 21).
      • Yahtzee is great for teaching addition, number recognition, and writing.
      • Monopoly is a great game for teaching larger numbers and the concepts of buying/selling. Since it can be such a long game, I typically limit the game to one hour long and we each start the game with two properties. 
      • Milles Borne is a great game for learning to recognize larger numbers, understand which numbers are greater, and add numbers together. 
      • Khan Academy - Once or twice a month, my daughter asks to Khan Academy. This is a free site that has short arithmetic demonstration videos and it allows my daughter to try her own arithmetic problems as well.
  • Writing - I've stopped requiring my daughter to do writing lessons. I can tell that I was pushing way too hard in this area because she did not want to do ANY writing at all for several months once I stopped requiring it. Now she has passed that period of high-reluctance to write, and she chooses to write about twice a week. I am amazed that, by simply letting my daughter choose when and what to write (and giving her plenty of opportunities to do so), she is writing almost as often as I was forcing her to previously. This method of letting her choose is so very powerful, as she now loves school.
    • I give her lots of options, such as writing in her Nature Notebook, writing letters to friends/family, and writing poems. She most often prefers to have me write out the words for her and then traces over them herself.
    • One writing project my daughter is very excited about is creating her own book. We have put together about 20 pages of colored cardstock paper, and she can write about anything she chooses in her book. She also enjoys drawing pictures to go along with the words in her book.
    • Writing games - My daughter also enjoys writing games such as the following: 
      • Hang-Man - One of us comes up with a word or phrase, and the other person has to guess the right letters to solve the puzzle before the man gets hanged.
      • Writing Conversation - We pretend we cannot hear, so that we write to each other to have a conversation. To make this work, my daughter uses a chart of words to know how to spell the words she wants to write.

  • History and Science - We use the 4-year-cycle outlined in The Well-Trained Mind for history and science. There cycle starts with 1st-4th grade, and then gets repeated again from 5th-8th grade and again in 9th-12th grade, with more detail and rigor each time.
    • History
      • For 2nd grade history, we are using the audio book of Story of the World Volume 2: The Middle Ages as our history backbone. We are all much enjoying using the audio book for Volume 2 this year (as opposed to the hardback version we used for Volume 1 in 1st grade). 
      • In addition to Story of the World, we supplement history study with relevant books from the library. I am using All Through The Ages: History Through Literature Guide to aid in finding books that apply to the topics we are studying.
    • Science
      • For Earth Science, we are using Usborne Encyclopedia of Planet Earth as our backbone, which is supplemented by books on specific topics of interest from the library. We are using More Mudpies to Magnets for science experiments related to Earth Science.
      • For Astronomy, we are using H. A. Rey's Find the Constellations plus specific topic books from the library.
      • Once or twice a month, we do nature study. This may be as simple as collecting and studying Fall leaves or paying close attention to the changes in our yard throughout the seasons. We also take nature walks, looking at the flora and fauna in our neighborhood as well as the nearby desert landscape. Each of us has a Nature Notebook, where we can write about our observations or draw pictures of creatures and plants we encounter.
  • Art - At least once a week, my daughter gets to work on art projects. Sometimes, these projects are as simple as freeform painting, and other times they are full-blown craft projects. Once a month, we have a family drawing class using Drawing with Children as a guide. This is a great activity for our whole family. My daughter also likes learning to draw on her own using Draw Write Now.
  • Music - At her own pace, my daughter is learning to play piano at Free Piano Lessons 4 Kids. She typically practices piano 2-4 times a month.

What changes have you made to your homeschool for the coming year?

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