Gratitude Journal…Thanksgiving

Sorry to have gone missing on you…what a whirlwind the last ten days have been!  We were blessed to have my parents in, and spent the week enjoying life with them.  The weeks around Thanksgiving bring three family birthdays, out of town guests, and often some frantic editing and photo work.  It was amazing to take last week to just relax and enjoy time with my family!

Nothing profound to say this morning…just sitting here in the midst of torn wrapping paper, birthday cards, a sink full of dishes, birthday cake crumbs clinging to holiday plates.  There is snow…lots of it…is drifting all around our little house, padding the rose garden and muffling the early-morning sounds.  The kitten is pouncing around, shredding tissue paper and hiding in empty gift bags.  Three children are sleeping soundly in their beds, our newly 8 year old snuggled up to the stuffed cheetah her brother and sister saved up to buy her. In a moment, I will get up from this quiet place and go pick up the scraps of last night’s birthday party.  In a moment, I will put back the chairs and re-arrange the living room and start the dishwasher.  I’ll put the laundry in the washer that has been waiting all week to be done, because some things are just more important than doing laundry.  I’ll put away the silver and the serving platters and the Thanksgiving napkins, and spot-clean the meringue off the holiday tablecloth.  I’ll clean the seven-minute frosting off the walls and possibly the ceiling (forgot to turn off the mixer when I checked for “stiff peaks”).  I’ll pull on my boots and shovel a path through the snow so that the car might…just might…be able make it through.

But right now, I’m just sitting here looking at pictures, sipping warm coffee, enjoying a quiet moment to just be…..Thankful.   

Happy, happy birthday to my Thanksgiving Baby!  Eight years old seems to have come too soon.  What a blessing you have been to all of us, sweet child!

 A couple of helpers, brining the turkey
 Layered cherry chocolate cheesecake
 Thanksgiving table….
 Long games of Mexican Train
 Her place, set the night before
 Gifts from Pops and Granny (love that headband!)
 How has it already been eight years?
 Family party
 Special cheetah from the siblings
It’s good to be enthusiastic…
 Eight Candles
 A tag-along
 Oh, the snow!

491. Thank you for family’s safe arrival
492. For planning together
493. For time spent in the kitchen, learning, laughing
494. For the blessing of family…my parents, their grandparents
495. For huge flakes of snow
496. For the smell of roasting turkey
497. And the new stove to bake in
498. For an abundance that sometimes makes me cry
499. For worship music and slide bass
500. For the blessing of eight years of Youngest

Thanksgiving Menu and Plans, Gluten Free!

 Scary turkey head from a stock photo program I own….

Our family looks forward to the Thanksgiving holiday every year, it’s one of our favorite weeks of the year.  My father, mother, brother and his girlfriend have joined us here for Thanksgiving for the last five years now.  This year, my dad retired and they will be here a little longer than usual!  My father and mother (step-mom, but that’s a technicality) are both wonderful foodies. When this family gathers, we eat well!  We’ve had a basic menu that we pull from for the last few years, and we don’t normally deviate too much from that since we don’t usually  have much time.  This year, since we have a few extra precious days with them, we’re changing things a bit and trying a few new things.

Oh, and did I mention that we’re doing dinner for 15 this year?

Yep.  Our little house is going to be full!

With the added element of gluten intolerance in our family, planning for Thanksgiving dinner takes a little extra effort (which is probably why we’ve stuck with the basic plan for so long!).  Here’s a rundown of the plans for this year:

Appetizers have not always been served, but with so many people coming I’m thinking it might not be a bad idea.  My dad has a salmon spread (at least I think that’s what he’s planning on!) that he’s going to make that apparently is amazing.  I’ve never tried it, so I’m really looking forward to it!  We’ll also do a cheese platter, because I’ve found a great co-op that sells amazing cheese at a huge discount.  I am planning on pretending that dairy does not bother me a bit that week, just so you know. 

We usually brine a turkey overnight and then roast it….so tender, juicy and good!   One year we wrapped the turkey in bacon and roasted it, which resulted in some very excellent gravy but also in an anemic-looking turkey that looked like it had been boiled rather than roasted.  Probably won’t do that again.  This year, my mom has a really interesting rolled turkey breast recipe that we might try.  I’m thinking that since we love leftovers (that’s the best thing about Thanksgiving dinner…the repeat performances for days afterward!) we will do one large turkey plus a turkey breast for the crowd this year.

The stuffing is probably my favorite part of the Thanksgiving meal.  I know that’s weird.  We do this wonderful gluten-free stuffing using sausage, apples, lots of sage, and gluten free stuffing cubes from Ener-G.  I know….the apples sound really strange.  I promise you…they don’t taste like apples at all, but make the stuffing really tangy, moist and flavorful.  I would never have believed it until I tasted it myself, so you’re just going to have to trust me!

I also always make cranberry relish…the last few years I’ve made it in advance and canned it so that we don’t have to worry about it on Thanksgiving day.  I toss in two packages of cranberries, two large cans of Mandarin oranges with the juice, four cups water and four cups sugar.  Cook until thick.  This makes enough to have relish on Christmas day, too!

We’ll do some mashed potatoes with gravy…thickened with corn starch rather than flour.  Always mix your corn starch with water before adding it to the gravy to avoid clumping!

My mom is bringing sweet potatoes this year…she has something really yummy up her sleeve, I’m sure.  In the past, we’ve done them this way…sweet potato rounds with pecans, butter and brown sugar.  So good!

Side dishes…we’ve made peas with turnips and bacon before, but this year Hubby’s mom will be bringing a green vegetable so we won’t have to worry about it!  Hubby’s aunt is also bringing her amazing Caesar Salad (sans croutons, of course), and if I get the recipe for it I will definitely share it with you.  

Somebody is bringing some rolls, which I will put in a bowl and wrap in cloth napkins and keep far away from the rest of the food, to avoid crumbing all over the place and contaminating things.  I used to try and make gluten free breads for Thanksgiving, but found that since Eldest and I will already be gorging ourselves on all the other food, we absolutely do not miss the rolls.  They just take up valuable stomach space that could be filled with more gluten free stuffing!

And….finally….dessert.  Ah, dessert!  I’m making pies in advance…and I’ve splurged and purchased a gluten free pecan pie from a local gluten free bakery.  That, and two dozen gluten free sugar cookies….yeah, I know.  But you only live once!  We’ll be eating the cookies over the week, not on Thanksgiving day.

Normally I make a pumpkin spice cheesecake with a crust made of Mi-del gluten free ginger snaps, covered in whipped cream and drizzled with caramel sauce (find the recipe here).  I’m kind of tired of that, though.  So this year in addition to the pecan pie and a regular pumpkin pie (made with the GF crust found in this recipe), I will make a three layer cheesecake with a crust from GF chocolate cookies (I am still deciding which cookies to use…maybe K-Toos sandwich cookies from Kinnikinnik

So, there you have it!  And if you are doing your first gluten free Thanksgiving and would like some help making family favorites edible for you this year, please, please don’t hesitate to email me.  I would be happy to help you out!  There’s no reason why a gluten-free Thanksgiving can’t be just as wonderfully tasty as a regular one, and I’d hate for you to be stressed out about it!

Here’s the recipe for those interested (its’ not my own invention, but I can’t remember where it came from):


Ingredients:

  • 1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
  • 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter
  • 5 cups chopped onion (about 3 large)
  • 2 cups chopped celery
  • 6 cups diced cored tart green apples (such as Granny Smith)
  • 1 tablespoon dried rubbed sage
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 5 1/2 cups Ener-G stuffing/croutons, gluten free (Order these NOW or find them at a health food store…or you could toast a loaf of Ener-G bread until it’s hard and cube it yourself).

Preparation:

Sauté sausage in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until cooked through, crumbling sausage with back of spoon, about 10 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer sausage to large bowl. Add butter, onions and celery to skillet; sauté until onions are tender, about 15 minutes. Add apples; sauté until apples are tender but still hold shape, about 10 minutes. Add sage, thyme and allspice; sauté 1 minute. Add to sausage. Stir in stuffing cubes. Season with salt and pepper. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover; chill.)
Preheat oven to 325°F. Generously butter a baking dish. Transfer stuffing to prepared dish. Cover with foil and bake until heated through, about 40 minutes.

The Gift of Giving

We push the cart down aisle after aisle, looking for just the right things.  What would you want, if this were the only gift you’d get this year?  How do you balance the needful things…flashlight, socks, batteries…with the joyful things that make a child’s heart happy?  We spent a long time looking, a long time thinking.

We’re not in a place where we have a whole lot to give.  But we quickly found that the painful thing is not parting with what we do have but wishing that we had more to give away.  Wishing those shoeboxes that were filled for Operation Christmas Child were bigger, deeper, wider, able to hold so much more.  Wishing that we could send the children more than a few small gifts…wishing we could fill a box with hope to send, with fresh water, with abundant food, with a safe, disease-free childhood.

In the end, we packed what we had in tight.  Filled as much as we could into each small space.  Then tucked into the empty places in each box our prayers, our hopes, our petitions for these precious children we will never meet…and for their families and others like them.  Prayers for the love of Christ to fill the empty spaces within them, the need that gapes where we are not able to reach.

Three small boxes, filled with not nearly enough.  The precious thing about a gift, though, is the way it changes not just the one who receives it but also the one who gives.  The children who open these small packages will know that they are loved, that they are not forgotten.  They will hear about the love of Jesus, and that, not these simple trinkets, will fill them in a way that lasts–will bring them hope.  The gift will live on in the hearts of the givers, as well…participating in this simple act broadens the horizons of those who take this very small step to act against poverty.  Pushing the cart down those aisles and thinking about what life is like for so many children around the world, putting yourself in their place for a few hours, thinking about what they want, what they need, has a way of changing your heart.  A way of broadening your vision, enlarging your point of view.  A way of opening within you a deeper desire to do  more with what you have, to make it reach beyond our lives, beyond our understanding.

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Gratitude Journal…The City

Here in The City we live in our little house, surrounded by tall old trees and enclosed by as tall a privacy fence as we could legally build.  When the gates are shut, we have our own private bit of country…fruit trees, pine trees, flowers everywhere.  Our little bit of land is a throwback to earlier times, the farmhouse and trees and the little cottage beside it.  When we built our fence, we pulled barbed wire from rotted old fence posts, clipped it near the trunks of trees where it had bit into growing wood, become part of the whole.  Our displaced farmhouse is an oasis, we are not far from the The City and yet it feels years away.

And so we forget to make the short drive into the bustle and fray, to enjoy the blessings that a City has to offer.  Funny, how that is.  When Hubby worked in the center of it all we’d make that trek at least once a week, to visit for lunch and take in some of the buildings, the sights, the things that go on in a city.  In the last few years, after a job change to a different nearby city, we have visited The City far less.

A friend’s child had a birthday last week, and her request (oh, it makes a reader so proud) was to visit the City Library for her birthday.  And so we did what we should do more often: ventured into The City for an afternoon of exploration.

You know what?  I am thankful that we live here.

And that, my friends, is something I thought I’d never say.  It’s been a long road.  I’ve been a pouting, tantrum-throwing Jonah along the way.  Over the years there have been at least a hundred other places in this world that my little human mind would rather live in.  Some of them don’t even have running water.  But right now, right here, I’m glad this is where God has us.

And that’s something to be very thankful for!

Here, some photos of our afternoon….
 

 465.
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holy experience

Gluten Free, Dairy Free Corn Dogs and Onion Rings

Ok…so, I feel that I need to throw out a disclaimer first.  I don’t usually….fry.  Anything.  In oil.  However, over the years we’ve spent living gluten-free, we have discovered that there are just some things you can’t find a substitute for.  A few foods that we used to enjoy, but can’t buy in a store or order at a restaurant.  Or, more accurately, can’t buy in a store without taking out a loan and risking paying way too much for a product that’s mediocre at best.

Recently we’ve noticed a hole in our lives.  A hole that had been growing for seven long years.  And it’s name was:  Corn Dogs.

You can buy frozen gluten-free corn dogs at the store, but you’ll be out over $10.00 for five corn dogs, which is a risk I’ve not been willing to take.  But when a friend of mine shared a recipe for gluten free corn dogs with me, I decided it was time to fry!  Hubby and I went to the gym first, in anticipation of the ridiculous number of calories we were about to consume.  Seriously.  And then I went crazy in the kitchen making some treats that we’ve missed for many years.  Why is it that the cheapest and quickest foods are the hardest to duplicate gluten-free?

As long as we were clogging arteries, I decided to make onion rings as well.  Onion rings are another food you just never get gluten-free, in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen them in a store or restaurant. My reasoning was, the oil was there, the batter was there, and I am unlikely to fry anything again for who-knows how long.

The whole experiment was a raging success…not only did the corn dogs and onion rings taste like the “real” thing, they were so far superior to the frozen type we used to get pre-Celiac that even the gluten-eating members of the family were thrilled.  These corn dogs tasted more like type you can buy at a food court in the mall, from a teenager wearing a ridiculous multi-colored hat.  And the onion rings…oh, bliss!  I had forgotten how good bad food can taste.  You’ll find me back at the gym tonight, but it was well worth it.  For one sweet dinner, we were in Corn Dog heaven.

The recipe I used (adapted from this one at Allrecipes.com) is doubled, and will make you a LOT of corn dogs and a LOT of onion rings.  We put the left overs (enough for dinner for all 3 kids, at least) on a cookie sheet and froze them individually, then put them in zip lock bags to throw in the oven for a quick dinner some time in the future.  We also decided to forgo the sticks and cut the hot dogs in thirds, next time I make these I’ll probably buy some wood craft sticks and make them the traditional way just for fun…but the smaller version turned out really good.  If you are not on a gluten free diet, just substitute the gluten-free flour for regular wheat flour.

Here’s the recipe and a photo-tutorial.  Enjoy!  

You Need:
2 cups gluten-free flour mix (I used Tom Sawyer, love that stuff!)
2 cups gluten-safe corn meal (Bob’s Red Mill is good)
1/2 teaspoon salt
dash of black pepper
1/2 cup sugar
8 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 to 3 cups rice milk (I found that a thinner batter worked better)
15-20 gluten-free chicken frankfurters (use whatever type you like, remembering to check the label of course!)
craft sticks (if you’re using them)
1 quart Canola oil (’cause it’s healthier, you know)
If you plan to make onion rings at the same time, you’ll also need:
1 very large onion, cut into rings.

You Do:
Cut the chicken franks into thirds.  Boil them for a few minutes until they are nice and fat.  This will make sure that they are juicy and that the frank part of the corn dog is hot, without over-cooking the crispy exterior. Let the cooked franks dry in a strainer while you prepare the batter (the batter will stick better to dry franks).

Mix up the dry ingredients in a deep bowl.  We had fun with the baking powder, as you can see!

Add the wet ingredients and mix well.  Using a skewer, dip the frankfurters into the batter (or, if you’re using sticks, poke the stick into the frank and use that to dip it).

Using a second skewer, slide the corn dog into the hot oil (I had the oil on medium heat on my stove top).  Cook for several minutes on one side, then turn and cook on the other…corn dogs are ready when they are lightly browned on both sides.  The batter will puff up considerably, so don’t worry if it looks a little thin to begin with.  Place the cooked corn dogs on a plate lined with paper towels and set in a warm oven while you cook the rest of the corn dogs and onion rings.

For the onion rings, repeat the process above, dipping each ring of onion in the batter and frying until the rings are browned on both sides.  Remove the finished rings to a paper-towel lined plate.

Enjoy your super-fried meal!  You’ll be surprised at how both the Corn Dogs and the Onion Rings taste just like the ones you remember.  So good, and so bad for you….but hey, you only live once, right?

Remembering to Remember

 

How the noise, the bustle, the busy gets in the way this time of year!  November isn’t  halfway over yet, and still I feel the press of the to do list, the encroaching panic as the calendar fills up one square at a time.  How easy it is to forget, how easy to get caught up in the string of days as they flow so quickly by, flick like telephone poles past the passenger window, going 70.

I forget to be thankful. 

To be thankful for these blessings, the big ones and the tiny ones, the piercing orange-crimson of a leaf hanging from an otherwise bare branch, the furled beauty of the very last rose, bravely holding out the last of summer in its deep, sanguine beauty.  To be thankful for the icy-cold bare feet that slip in next to me between flannel sheets early in the morning, and then two more pair as our bed turns to a game of Sardines and giggles fill the air in the hour before the sun rises.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the rattle-trap raucous of homeschool books, papers that need to be filed but instead have become cat toys for the kitten, pencils that are never where they ought to be (I know I bought a dozen packages of those in September!).  There is dust on my piano, which means I have not had time either to play it or to clean it.  The phone is ringing, ringing, and as I am talking, phone tucked between shoulder and ear, both hands packing baked potatoes into an insulated bag to take to church because if we want to eat together as a family we’ll just have to picnic there…the cell phone rings, too and the dog is scratching at the front door, marring the new red paint.  I toss the salt and pepper shakers in and zip the bag, instruct a child that no, when I said put on your shoes I meant shoes, not sandals.  I lose my temper and yell at Eldest to please do as I asked and get his guitar and hubby’s bass to the car right now and I bite my tongue through the construction and traffic all the way to church and I bite it even harder when I see that although the child I spoke to about the inappropriate footwear has changed her shoes, the one who is older and ought to know better is wearing flip flops.

 I forget to be thankful.

I forget that earlier that day I was brought to tears as I listened to the strains of music floating down the stairs, Worship music pulled from a guitar by hands that are now as big as mine, my son creating a new song for his Lord.  I forget the joy on that little face as she recounted a lesson we’d learned earlier, her face alight with enthusiasm, her hands moving as she spoke.  I forget that on my desk sits a new volume of written work by a child who is blossoming, overflowing with creativity.  I forget to be thankful for the quiet of the church as we hold hands, bow heads, and pray over a picnic-dinner spread on folding table, enjoying this oasis of time together before band practice and girl’s group.

How is it possible that it’s so easy to get caught up in the downward spiral of temper and frustration?  Why is it not just as easy to be caught up in the upward lift of gratitude?

Perhaps being thankful is a habit to develop.  Perhaps it is like any other habit, needing simply our conscious effort, our commitment, our willingness to exercise it daily.

Perhaps it needs a reminder, an alarm set four times a day to pull us back, remind us to remember, to praise God for each and every blessing He has bestowed on us.  To thank Him for forgiving us our tempers, our frustrations, our blindness and business and forgetfulness.

Perhaps it needs a place to rest, to be recorded, written down.  A journal of gratitude to remind us to stop, to listen, to really see.

Stopping to give thanks, taking moments to revel in simple gratitude, will change the way you see your life.  It will slow down the rush, give you pause to catch your breath, re-set your attitude and re-build your perspective.

I know this, because on the days when I do remember to be thankful, the time goes by more smoothly.  The bustle of life becomes a rhythm, a symphony rather than a cacophony.  When I remember to be thankful, the irritants become blessings, the burdens become reasons for gratitude.  When I remember, the world that was whizzing by at twice the speed of sound suddenly slows, comes sharply into focus.

Beauty blooms in every corner, rests on every minute.  In this busy season, I resolve to set my clock to it, to write it down, to remember to remember.

Will you consider remembering with me?  Start a gratitude journal and join the community of gratitude started by Ann Voskamp.  Set the alarm on you cell phone for 9, noon, 5, and 9 again and when it goes off, simply stop what you are doing and give thanks to God for the blessings in your life.  Perhaps we could pray, also, for those less fortunate…for those who live in need and despair, that we would find ways to reach out to them from our place of abundance. 


 Nine o’clock, noon, five o’clock and nine again…four pauses set to remember, to give thanks.

holy experience

Homeschooling a Dyslexic Child

I’ve been wanting to post about this for some time now, but haven’t really found the ‘right’ way to start.  I decided there probably isn’t really a ‘right’ way, so here goes.

Dyslexia has been a thorn in my side for some time now.  First of all, I had some dyslexic tendencies myself as a child and went through testing in fourth grade.  There were some oddities about the results but I wasn’t given the LD (learning disabled) label until later in school.  Whatever dyslexic issues I have, however, have not really slowed me down.  I was a good student who loved to read and write, and really didn’t have much trouble doing well, with the exception of math.  I suspect whatever problem I was having was due to having a worse than average working memory, and perhaps more to the fact that I wasn’t inclined to work very hard at things that didn’t come easily to me.  Whatever the case, it was more of an annoyance than a  hindrance.

Then I met Hubby.  Hubby is an amazing man, extremely smart and very creative.  He is also dyslexic, the type of dyslexic that caused him endless problems in school.  I will spare you the gory details, but suffice to say that when I met my  husband he had been so scarred by battling through school for so many years, it affected just about every aspect of his life.  He has an amazing auditory memory and can tell you in fine detail any historical fact  you’d care to know…he’s a walking history book, complete with dates and geography.  He sometimes has to ask me what his cell phone number is.  He got through college without buying most of his textbooks…he just showed up and listened, and for the most part he did very well in his classes.  He sometimes used books on tape from the library for the blind. It was a struggle, especially with working two jobs and having two kids, but he managed to get his B.A. and graduated with a good GPA.  It’s a hard thing to live with, but it has shaped him and given him unique strengths and a work ethic than few people have.  He has proven, through hard work and deep faith, that anything is possible despite (and perhaps in some ways, because of) dyslexia.  He has, in the past five years, passed several very difficult exams for his career, exams that have a very low pass rate among ‘average’ people…much less dyslexics.  He’s proven that dyslexia does not have to stop you.  He’s my hero.

So, considering this, I was prepared for the possibility that our children might inherit some learning differences.  Each of them do have an oddity or two…none of them are good spellers, all of them sometimes reverse letters, although the older two are finally showing progress in both areas.  Middle Child had a terrible time memorizing her multiplication facts, a problem that drug on for two years before we fixed it in two days with a miracle book, Multiplication in a Flash. Despite these ‘glitches’, however, both the older children are good readers and have been pretty easy to teach.  Keeping up with them is perhaps my biggest problem.

Then there’s Youngest.  Oh, Youngest.  She is a shining little light, so bright and funny and so sweet and loving.  She comes up with some of the most amazing things, some of the deepest thoughts, some of the most profound observations.  She has so much energy, I thought at first that that was why it was taking so much longer to teach her to read than it took for her siblings.  It’s hard to get a whole reading lesson in when you are bouncing up and down, falling off your chair, standing on your head. Later, though, as she calmed down and was able to really sit and work, the differences became more apparent.  She has worked and worked, memorized so many rules of phonics, spent so many hours struggling with pencil and paper and beginning readers and letter tiles and still she struggles with reading.  She could write simple words and read simple sentences before she could manage to say the alphabet in order.  She could add and subtract two digit numbers before she could count without forgetting numbers here and there.  She sometimes starts reading at the end of the word instead of the beginning.  She writes many letters and numbers backwards, and she can’t tell on her own which ones are wrong. She is embarrassed in Sunday School when other kids are reading things, things she might be able to slowly read herself at home, but is too afraid to try in front of her peers.

My heart just hurts for her.  It’s hard to see your child struggle so.

I could tell that this was going to be a problem early on, but it’s hard to get any intervention for a child before about second grade, third in many cases.  Before I quit working to stay home and homeschool the kids, I taught…and some of my experience was with kids with learning differences.  I have never been more glad to be homeschooling, thinking about what Youngest would be going through in a regular school just breaks my heart.  We have had the freedom to keep her learning at the level her little mind wanted, needed, by reading aloud to her, letting her listen in on the older kids’ lessons, using books on tape, and giving her a lot of hands-on learning opportunities.  Homeschooling has also given us the chance to work hard on the reading, at her level…using letter tiles, flash cards, writing on the white board, the black board, and paper, reading and reading some more.

Some days it takes us half an hour to read a few pages out of a simple early-reader book.  I smile and nod and encourage her all the way through, and praise her for her success.  While inside my head, where she can’t see, I cry out in frustration and sadness over how hard this is for her, how difficult and laborious every little step forward has been.

We are now at a point where the difference is clear enough…her peers are expected to read well enough…that it’s possible to get some outside help.  Because we are using the K12 program, we have been able to start Horizon Intensive Phonics Online, and we are already seeing some improvement in the month we have been using it.  We will also be starting some one-to-one therapy at a learning center soon, and I am excited for her to have this opportunity.  We have been blessed in that both programs, while ordinarily expensive, have been offered to us free of charge!

I have been encouraged because this year, even before we began the special phonics work, I’ve seen a lot of improvement with Youngest’s reading. Perhaps the hard work is finally paying off, or maybe there was some brain development over the summer that has helped her put things together.  Perhaps she’s gained enough confidence to relax, which helps so much.  Perhaps it’s all the prayer that’s gone into it….certainly that has helped.  But I have high hopes that she will learn, that she’ll eventually catch up.

In the meantime, we’ll keep working hard.  We’ll keep up the good fight, keep working with those letters and numbers until they straighten up and make sense.  She is doing well, she is proud of what she’s learning…and I am proud of her!  For a child of seven, she is having to learn early that sometimes it just takes hard work…day after day, week after week, month after month, and yes–year after year, of very hard work…to reach your goal.  Perhaps that’s one of the gifts of Dyslexia, the lesson of hard work and dedication, which is a gift most people don’t get until later in life (if ever!).

In the weeks to come, I’ll post more on homeschooling a child with dyslexia and share some resources that we have found helpful.   I also want to explore the gifts that a learning difference can bring.  God doesn’t make mistakes, nor does He turn a blind eye toward His children who struggle.  I know that by looking at this “disability” from all sides, you can see that there are some beautiful blessings worked in among the struggles.  It’s my heart to learn to embrace this journey and be thankful for it, and to teach Youngest both with words and by example to do the same.

Note:  I found a kindred spirit over at A Country Girl’s Ramblings.  She’s doing a series on homeschooling a struggling reader, here is part one.

Gratitude Journal…Let the Snow Fly!

There was something in the wind that whispered “Hurry…”.  Leaves scuttled across pavement, scraping out the rustling sound of Autumn.  Overhead, the sky was blue with small white clouds scudding by, looking like they were late for an appointment.  Flocks of birds passed over, stopping here and there to rest on telephone wires…neat rows of small black shapes, balancing forward against the wind.  Hurry, hurry.  Something in the wind spoke even to the birds, Winter is blowing in behind this last warm day.

We pulled out ladders, brushes, paint.  The last day to finish this Summer-long project, to get the house and cottage and garage completely wrapped up before the cold weather.  We had trim to paint, windows to finish, shutters to hang.  Little girls in over-sized paint shirts took up brushes and helped, music played and laughter rung through the near-bare limbs of trees as we worked.  So much work had gone into this, so many hours spent scraping in the hot sun with sweat running down your back, wasps buzzing around your head, so many hours with brush and primer and tape and tarp.  So many blessings, too, as friends offered their help and dropped off their extension ladders and grants made painting the big house possible.  Still, it had all looked undone for so many months and it had been so hard to picture what it would look like finished.  When I saw the house, I saw a thousand loose ends and for so many months I struggled in that unsettled place.
And then, in one weekend, the ends began to weave together.  How much difference do those finishing touches make!  The last of the shutters, painted red, were hung.  The ladders cleaned and put away, all cans of paint and tarps and scrapers, buckets and tape and mineral spirits tucked out of sight.  The last of the weekend was spent cleaning and trimming and raking in the yard, the roses cut back to their stubby, winter shape.

And finally, after all the time, the setbacks, the do-overs, the trips to Home Depot…

We stepped back and admired the job, the finished job, the fresh new paint covering what started out as an unsightly, toxic lead hazard.  This morning, the wind blows and the rain falls and the sky is November-dark.  And I am ready, finally ready, to enjoy it.  Because the job is finally done!  And you know what?

It feels really, really good.

Thank you, God, that You are there for us when the job feels never-ending.  Thank you for the joy of loose ends being woven together, for the feeling of joy in the completion of hard work, for the feeling of  unity we get from working together.  Thank you for church family, those dear friends who offered their time and their experience to help us.  What a blessing hard work is!

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Making Christmas

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s true…it’s time to start thinking about Christmas!  I was thrilled this morning to find a post about making Christmas gifts over at Raising Olives, it’s the perfect time to start browsing through Blogland to get ideas for making Christmas gifts.  Well, in all actuality, July would have been a better time to start…but I just can’t seem to get in the proper mood before November!

A friend of mine has been been making all or most of her Christmas gifts for a few years now, and has had wonderful success.  The kids take so much pride in making gifts to give away and they enjoy the wonderful gifts that their mother makes them.  I’m not as apt at sewing or crafting as she is, but I do love to make each child one or two gifts every year.

Our family has always made gifts to give to friends and neighbors, and we have fun thinking up what to do.  Actually, the years that we made most of our gifts for the kids were years that we didn’t make many gifts to give away, due to being so busy sewing during the weeks before Christmas.  Lesson learned:  Start now, friends!  You don’t want to be sewing seed beads onto felt sugar cookies at 3 a.m. Christmas Eve.  Trust me.
When my kids were very small, we started the “Smiley-Guy Soap Company”.  Every year, we’d take a day or two and make homemade soap to give away.  The kids created cute labels–the first year we made soap, Middle Child was in the toddler drawing phase where they draw a circle, two giant eyes, a huge lopsided smile and sticks for arms and legs growing right off the head…this became the label we used on the soap and gave our “company” its name.  We printed the label out on stickers, wrapped the soap in tissue paper, and secured the paper with a sticker.  As they kids got older, we’ve added lotion and even lip balm to Smiley-Guy’s selection of gifts.  Making soap is easy…we used the melt-and-pour soap, you just melt it in the  microwave, add whatever fragrance you like (you can even get fancy and add dried flowers, or any of the many add-ins soap supply companies offer) and pour it in a mold.  We sometimes add little toys in the bars of soap as a bonus.  Just let them harden and pop them out…it’s really very simple!

In the past, I’ve made felt food, doll clothes, pajamas, and mini-quilts and sheets for American Girl dolls.  This year, I’ll be finishing the felt sandwich set I started last year (just couldn’t do the 3 a.m. Christmas morning thing again last year!), Middle Child has requested that I make her a large, floppy stuffed animal (still working on finding a pattern for that one), and I’ll be finishing doll quilts for the girls’ friends and doll clothes for both girls.  I may make a little purse as well.  I will probably make some flannel pajama bottoms for Eldest, and maybe for Hubby, too.  And I have some cute applique dishtowels in mind as well.

Here are some links to Making Christmas posts from the past:

Matching pajamas for girls and dolls

 Mini-Doll Quilts and Sheets:  (I’ll put photos up when the girls wake up, and I can photograph the quilts for you)

Soap-Making supplies

Free Pattern for Felt Sandwiches (not the one I used, but similar…and free!)

Free Clothes Patterns for American Girl Dolls (these are amazing!  They are the real thing, very detailed period clothing made by Pleasant Company but discontinued.  They are not easy patterns, but you can make a whole wardrobe from these!)

I’ll be re-visiting this topic in the months to come, so check back again for ideas and photos!

Memory Madness

The line reaches halfway across the front of the church, bustling with people.  Mothers carry their babies on their hip, one hand holding colorful cards with verses…lips moving as they silently recite to themselves this week’s verse.  Children stand and fidget, eyes closed, verses scrolling through their minds.  Fathers listen to their sons recite, then take their turn…it’s a scene we see every Sunday morning at church between services:  Memory Madness.

At home, we gather each morning before school begins.  We pray, read from the Word, and then the cards come out.  Little book-mark sized strips of cardstock, some laminated, in different bright colors litter the table.  Each card contains ten verses to memorize, one per week.  We start the day reciting the week’s verse, taking turns around the table.  Youngest has her own card, the same theme with shorter verses, more manageable for young memorizers.  We go around the table, once, again.  Then we recite last week’s verse, to make sure it’s stuck…and every few days, we go over verses from previous weeks to brush up on those, too.

Later in the day, at dinner, we pray over the food.  Then, Hubby pulls out the Bible and reads the Proverbs for the day.  We discuss them, think about them, apply them to what is happening in our lives.  After dinner, the Memory Madness cards come out again.  We work on the verses as a family, memorize them together.

We carry the cards, one in the car, one in my purse, one in Hubby’s wallet.  We pull them out when we’re stuck in traffic, when we’re waiting in line, when we have a long drive.  The cards have become a part of our life, these stacks of dogeared cardstock mark places in our Bibles, previously memorized cards are kept in the back of a drawer secured together with a paper clip, they turn up frequently on the kitchen counter and occationally they are found in the wash.  Some day, when the kids are grown and have families of their own, the cards will bring back memories of those mornings and evenings spent together in pursuit of memorizing the Word of God, writing it on our hearts.

And yes, some weeks we lose track and yes, some Sundays we frantically memorize in the car and yes, some Sundays a few of us are unprepared, or are working back in Sunday School and don’t make it in time to do our verse.  But we catch up, we do.  Middle Child has made it a personal goal to never miss, and she will make it rain or shine to that Memory Madness line, no matter what.

At the end of ten weeks of reciting verses, the challenge begins.  Can we Mad Smash?  Recite all ten verses in a row, with no prompts?  I am amazed at how hard my kids work toward this, and at how they succeed.  Youngest, who struggles so with the written word, will work so hard and even though I wonder at times if she will make it, she always does.  Ten verses recited!

I am very thankful for the Memory Madness program at our church.  The emphasis on memorizing scripture is a blessing, and the program offers a challenge that families can work on together.  It also offers rewards:  points are earned with every verse, and extra points are earned when you “Mad Smash”.  The points can be redeemed at a Memory Madness “store,”  where prizes are purchased.  It’s amazing how valuable a cheap, plastic toy becomes when it represents weeks of work, committing the Word to memory!

There are times when we memorize verses apart from Memory Madness, and I am excited to try some of the memory aids mentioned in this post by Ann Voskamp, and others that bloggers have shared in related posts.  But it is a real blessing to have a church program dedicated to challenging families to memorize the Word together!

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