Rachelle

I think I felt the urge to push this time.”

I was leaning over the birth ball, trying to focus on deep breathing through a painful contraction when I felt that familiar sensation that signals the beginning of the end.

This was exactly what Cliff did not want to hear. He glanced out the window into the darkness, nervously scanning the driveway for the expected car lights.

Nothing.

Holding onto my hands, he began his own deep breathing as I entered another contraction…

* * * * *

I had given birth to two children at home with a midwife. This was my third, and though I had a history of quick labors (at least from the point that the contractions actually became painful enough I felt I was in serious labor), and though the midwife lived an hour and a half away, I was determined to have another homebirth.

I had had a good pregnancy. Having struggled with some health issues after my second child, I had taken the time afterwards to try to rebuild my health. Eventually I had gotten the “green light” from my doctor. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, this had been my best pregnancy.

Of course with a due date at the beginning of September (Labor Day, coincidentally), July and August were extremely uncomfortable months to be carrying a third trimester baby. As the time drew near I grew more anxious to meet her—and to have my hot, tired, bloated blimp of a body return to normal. 🙂

One night I awoke in a cold sweat, shaking and feeling nauseated. Having had something similar happen a few days before labor with my second pregnancy, I knew this time what was going on. My midwife then had explained that I was having an unusual hormone surge in preparation for labor. She assured me that though it was rare, it was okay.

This time I moved to the couch.

And promptly puked all over it.

After this I knew it would not be long. As the hormones began to change toward the end I felt emotional and weepy, and as the reality that it was really near sank in I began to struggle with the typical mommy doubts and fears: Would the baby be healthy? Would the midwife make it on time? Would my labor go smoothly? Would I be able to handle the pain again? Would everything work out alright? Would I be able to remain healthy after birth?

It was at this time that God began to comfort me from the Scriptures with the image of the Lord as our Shepherd. Passage after passage seemed to leap off the page at me or come to my mind as I turned to Him for peace in the midst of the mommy hormone storm. Isaiah 40:11 had been particularly relevant and comforting:

He shall feed His flock like a Shepherd: He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.

He shall gently lead those that are with young. I clung to this picture of His tender care, and when my anxious thoughts multiplied within me, His consolations delighted my soul (this verse from Psalm 94:19 had been sent me by a friend).

On Friday the 24th of August I began to have fairly frequent (though mild) contractions. I called the midwife and she was soon on her way.

But after six hours of very mild labor, my contractions weren’t getting much stronger and I wasn’t dilating very fast. In fact, it all just seemed to fizzle out around midnight. The midwife didn’t think the baby was ready yet; she would not engage and stay down in the cervix. The midwife left shortly after that.

Frustrated and disappointed, I knew I would just have to wait a little longer.

Nothing happened the next day until 4:00 in the afternoon. Mild contractions began again—a little stronger than the day before (and some of them actually rather painful), but not strong enough or consistent enough I could be sure I was in labor.

And around 6:00 or 7:00 p.m. they seemed to be getting ready to fizzle out again. I was tired, weepy, sore from the many contractions, and feeling anxious at this point. It was then a friend messaged me, letting me know she was praying for me. I messaged her back and admitted to feeling anxious and discouraged. It so happened that she was with my sister-in-law at church that night and she showed her the message.

Soon I got a text message from Robyn who wanted to check up on me. Instead of responding with a text message, I called her.

“Would you come over and pray with me?”

“Yes, I can do that.”

By the time she got there sometime between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. the contractions were becoming more painful, but I still didn’t think I was in labor yet. I thought I was “done” for the night. Robyn saw my distress and gently massaged my back through these contractions. Cliff was asleep in the bedroom.

But the contractions didn’t go away. They became stronger, closer together, and lasted longer. After Robyn had timed them for awhile we decided it was time to call the midwife again. She woke Cliff and together they took turns massaging my back through the contractions while we waited for the midwife to arrive.

When she was still about 20 or 30 minutes away I first felt the urge to push. For Cliff this was deja vu—my first labor had been fast and furious and I had been ready to birth long before the midwife arrived (fortunately I had been able to hold off and slow it down by pant-breathing till she got there). He tried to remain calm as he and Robyn continued to work my back. My contractions were extremely painful at this point, and I began to pant-breathe (as per the midwife’s hurried instructions to Cliff). Robyn assured me everything was okay—if the baby came we would just deal with it, lol.

At long last the midwife walked through the door at 11:48 p.m.

The baby was born at 11:50 p.m.

Two minutes. One hundred and twenty seconds. That was it. But we’d made it!

I found out later that my midwife had been stopped by the police for speeding to make it to my birth, lol. But everything about the birth had worked out so perfectly. Robyn had been there when I needed her (even though neither of us knew I was going to need her that night!). She had been able to stay and witness the birth, and she told me later that had been a very special thing for her. It was for me, too. Then the midwife was able to make it in time—by the skin of her teeth!, but in time.

 I got to hold Rachelle Adrienne Alloway in my arms for the first time that Saturday night.

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It only occurred to me later how fitting her name was, as the picture of the Lord as our Shepherd was a continuing comfort to me in the days leading up to her birth.

Rachelle means “little lamb.”

Know ye that the Lord He is God; it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.

Psalm 100:3

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No, Death is Not Beautiful

It was 4:00 in the morning. The phone call and recorded message jerked me awake. I shook Cliff.

“Your mom says your dad fell out of his chair and needs help getting back up.”

Cliff stumbled out of bed and sleepily put some clothes on. A few moments later he headed across the yard to his parents’ house with flashlight in hand.

Too awake now to fall asleep again immediately, I got up and sat on the couch waiting for him to come home.

Then I heard the sirens.

Hurrying to the window, I saw the lights flashing in my in-laws’ driveway. The first vehicle was joined by two more.

It seemed an eternity before I finally saw Cliff coming toward the house again. I met him at the back door…and knew the news was not good.

He was stooped as though having a difficult time breathing, heaving in deeply with tears pouring down his cheeks as raw, visceral emotion was released.

“I think he’s gone.”

We held one another and cried.

* * * * *

Our kids were blessed to live so near Papa they got to see him almost every day. They have some wonderful memories to treasure. Papa would bring Brianna home from work (Daddy sometimes takes her with him in the mornings) and he would always stop at Braums first to get her an ice cream cone. He taught her to play checkers. He sat with the kids this last 4th of July as they squeeled at the sight and sound of the fireworks. If they were involved in a play or presentation with the homeschool group, he was there.  Many times I would look out the window to be greeted by the sight of my son or daughter working alongside their papa in the yard or garden—hauling brush or sticks, cleaning up this or that, carrying firewood to the house.

Despite his failing health, Dad stayed active and industrious. I’ve never seen such a work ethic.  Rain or shine, good health or poor, Dad never let any excuse keep him from working hard and beiproductive. He instilled this strong work ethic and a sense of integrity in all four of his children. As his health failed he never complained about anything. But he had never been a complainer, simply
taking life as it came.

He was a man of few words, believing actions spoke louder. Accordingly, he was well-reputed for his generous support of Christian ministries and missions around the world. He usually had his Bible laid open on his desk where he had been reading it. He loved sitting in his chair, listening to great hymns of the faith, or preaching and teaching.

He had been listening to the preaching of J. Vernon McGee when he passed away.

* * * * *

At 6:30 that morning, our kids (aged 7 and 6) awoke. I wasn’t sure exactly how they would take the news. We sat down with them on the couch and broke it to them as gently as possible. I was surprised that they both took it without any show of emotion. I think they were in some shock and did not grasp the reality of it at the time. But later in the day Bri walked off by herself and cried. The next morning my sister-in-law saw Marcus sitting in a chair, staring at a picture of him and his grandpa together. When she asked him if he was okay he burst into tears, buried his face in the picture, and sobbed his heart out.

The funeral was delayed for a week because one of Cliff’s sisters and her husband were already scheduled to adopt a girl from an orphanage in Bulgaria. Just two days after they all arrived back in the States, we laid Dad’s body to rest. What made it poignantly painful and beautiful at once was to
observe the cycle of life: just as a family member left this world, another was added to the family, and yet another will soon enter (child #3 is due in just a few weeks!).

Death is not a beautiful thing. It’s wrong. Horribly wrong. In trying to come to terms with it the modern consciousness has tried to accept and embrace it as a “normal” and “beautiful” part of life.

But there is nothing inherently normal or good or beautiful about growing old and dying. In view of all life declared “good” in the Garden, it should not be. It is part of the curse that sinful man brought on himself. Death entered through the first Adam.

But the believer finds hope and reason to rejoice—even in death—because Life has come through the Second Adam.

Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned…(…For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.) Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.

Romans 6:12, 17-19

As believers, we sorrow when our loved ones pass on. But we don’t sorrow in the same way as those who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). Christ has triumphed over death—it is described
as an enemy He will destroy at the last (1 Corinthians 15:26). Those who believe in Christ and trust Him for their righteousness have everlasting life. And when believers die they are simply shedding the shell of death which is under the curse and exchanging it for life.

In our morning devotions together the kids and I had just started into The Attributes of God for Kids about a week and a half before Dad passed away. The first one we read in the book is that God is unchanging, therefore we are secure. I had sent the kids out to bring back a piece of an evergreen tree and a leaf from a deciduous tree. We compared them and talked about how God is like the evergreen tree which never fades. We, however, are like the leaves that change and fade with the seasons.

Remembering our little lesson in the week before the funeral, I realized just how timely and appropriate it was. The two pieces of greenery were still sitting in the kitchen so I retrieved them and
sat down with the kids. We compared the two again: the needles from the evergreen looked about the same, but the leaf was curling up and dying. We talked about Papa. And about Jesus. How we change, fade, grow old, and die, but He is unchanging and eternal, and we can put our hope in Him for eternal
life.

Later Cliff talked with them about putting off this old “tabernacle” to be clothed with new life (2 Corinthians 5:1-4, 2 Peter 1:13-14). What we would see in the casket would not be Papa. Papa was with Jesus. He had left the body of death behind. It was a “tent” he didn’t live in or need anymore.

Brianna understood. She excitedly exclaimed, “Just like a bug sheds its ‘skin’!”

From the adjoining room where I overheard her I had to smile to myself at her analogy.

Yet, crude though it may be, it’s not a bad one.

For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?…But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory
through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:53-55, 57

No, death is not beautiful.

But the Life Who conquered it is! And Papa is rejoicing in Christ our Life now…

(Healthy!) Icy Treats for Summer Days

20180630_124257Some days in Kansas it feels like there’s more truth to this meme than science will admit, whatever astronomers may say. 😉 Sticky days when it’s near (or over) 100 degrees and you walk outside and the air is sweating on you—this is summer in Kansas…and sometimes spring… It seems if we’re not having sub-freezing temperatures we’re cooking on the pavement.  They say if you don’t like the weather in Kansas, just wait five minutes.

 But if “five minutes” hasn’t fixed it, here are a couple of tasty treats to beat that summer heat. 🙂

Pineapple Lemonade Popsicles

My family loves these! They don’t last long around here. Adjust them to be as sweet or as sour as you like.

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Cut up a fresh pineapple and measure out approximately 12 oz. freshly chopped. Put this in a blender and add ½ c. fresh-squeezed lemon juice, ½ c. water, ¼ c. raw honey, and a half-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated (if you don’t have fresh ginger you can use a pinch of powdered ginger). Blend this on high until smooth. IMG_3934

Do the taste test. Do you want it to be sweeter (perhaps the pineapple wasn’t as ripe as it could have been and the lemon is overpowering it)? Add a bit more honey. Or do you love to pucker? Add a bit more lemon juice. (I remember once making these when we had friends staying with us. I must have skipped the taste test because we were definitely puckering, lol.)

And before you pour this frothy mixture into popsicle molds, you can (optionally) add 2 drops of ginger oil, and 4 drops of lemon oil (if you happen to be an essential oil junkie).

Freeze in molds until firm. (And don’t let Daddy find them too soon.) 😉 IMG_3938

Kombucha Kooler

During hot summer days as a kid I would go to the Hawaiian shaved ice stands and order a cup of ice, generously doused with a colorful, sugary flavoring. Or I would go to the gas station and pump a big Coca-Cola icee.

Ice cold sugar heaven. Happy sigh.

But, trying to skip on all the sugar, corn syrup, and food coloring, I haven’t had a “snow cone” (as we called them) or a soda pop icee in years.  

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Over the last couple of years, Cliff and I have taken to really enjoying kombucha, a healthy fermented drink. And it occurred to him one day that we could create a healthy version of our favorite frosty treats from childhood.

So we froze Gingerberrry kombucha in ice cube trays (the brand I buy is GT’s and can be found at Wal-Mart–in the refrigerated fruits and veggies section–and health food stores). Then we blended the cubes to make “shaved ice” (I did mine in a Vitamix). 

Finally, after apportioning this into fancy glasses, I poured some more kombucha over the ice.

Oh. My. Goodness. It took me right back to those glorious snow cone days. Sweet, cold, and refreshing. Incredibly satisfying. 20180503_203808

There are many things you could do with this. You could do part juice and part kombucha and freeze it in trays before blending it. There are also many different flavors and brands of kombucha, and I have even found some that are made to taste like root beer! Sometimes I just freeze the kombucha in trays and my kids help themselves to the cubes. (You can save quite a bit by buying the kombucha in large rather than personal drink sizes, available at health food stores. Or even make your own, like my sister does.) 20180503_204050

So just what is kombucha and why is it good for you?

It’s made by fermenting black and/or green tea and sugar with bacteria and yeast (called a “SCOBY,” which stands for “symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast”). The fermentation process produces lots of healthy bacteria…also known as probiotics. I discussed fermented foods and the importance of healthy bacteria to our gut in a previous post, so I won’t go into too much detail here. But essentially it’s very good for gut (and brain) health. The kombucha becomes naturally carbonated, giving it that wonderful fizzy, bubbly characteristic, reminiscent of soda pop. It’s high in B vitamins, enzymes, antioxidants, and probiotics, and the good bacteria found in it actually helps combat bad bacteria (lab studies found it to have antibacterial effects).

Dr. Josh Axe writes,

Research from the University of Latvia in 2014 claims that drinking kombucha tea can be beneficial for many infections and diseases “due to four main properties: detoxification, anti-oxidation, energizing potencies and promotion of depressed immunity.”

The main thing when choosing kombucha is to make sure it is raw (not pasteurized), and the sugar content is not too high. My family has been enjoying this drink for a long time. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea (pun intended), if you haven’t yet, give it a try! 🙂

Swim Lessons and Children’s Devotionals

Mom, look at me! I can do it!”

I sweltered in the near mid-day sun next to the pool where my kids were both excitedly calling for my attention, but repeatedly smiled, nodded, and gave them the “thumbs up.”

They were taking their first-ever swimming class.

Water has been a little initimidating for us, so some milestones were observed that first day as Bri ventured off from the reassuring steps and rails and began to actually play in and enjoy the water (even jumping off the diving board!); and Marcus, of his own free will, let himself touch bottom.

The next day it had rained and it was cool, so the instructors did not have anyone get in the pool. Instead, they had the kids watch water safety videos. It was not “swimming,” but it provided some important information.

* * * * *

A few weeks ago while searching Grace and Truth Books  for a gift for someone, I came across Lydia White’s The Attributes of God for Kids. Seeing that it was loosely based on A. W. Tozer’s Knowledge of the Holy, I was intrigued. (Yes, an extra book made it into my order. Cue cheesy grin emoji.) IMG_3913

This bright, cheerfully colorful devotional appears exceptionally kid-friendly. Simple and to the point with relatable illustrations (and a touch of reverent humor), this looks like a great doctrinal introduction of the character of God for children.

The book is divided into two parts: the first covers ten of God’s UNIQUE attributes (unchanging, infinite, creator, eternal, self-sufficient, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, sovereign, and trinity); the second covers eleven of His MORAL attributes (He is good, just, righteous, merciful, gracious, loving, holy, jealous, wise, truthful, and faithful). IMG_3914

Each attribute of God is paired with a very simple symbolic picture; these serve as memory pegs as the kids wind their way through the Attributes chart (free download included; also, stickers can be printed off on Amazon that correspond with a blank spaces chart so kids can fill them in as they go; plus there are free downloadable flashcards and other extras).  IMG_3921

Each attribute is also paired with a corresponding truth about me. Because God is Unchanging, I am Secure. Because God is Gracious, I am Accepted. And so on. This brings these truths down to a personal level—what they mean for me, today. As we learn Who God is, our faith and trust in Him can grow.

Each lesson has its own two-page spread and is broken down into several short sections: a brief explanation, an application (what this truth means for me), suggested Scripture readings, verse to memorize (and even a suggested reading in The Jesus Storybook Bible), a prayer, and Scripture praise songs (from Seeds Family Worship). IMG_3920 

Because I want to extend each attribute to a week-long study, I’m making some notes as I come up with additional activities. And because it’s been by my bed while I’ve been in the process of doing this, I’ve actually been using it in my own worship time in the morning. (Yes, a children’s book!) But its truths are enduring and worship-inducing.

* * * * *

So what do swim lessons and kids’ devotionals have to do with each other?

I’ve just been thinking about the teaching of doctrinal truths to children and the place of books—such as The Attributes of God—in their lives. We read the Bible to our children. We help them memorize Scripture. We read books to them. We inculcate them with doctrinal truths—facts. Yes, plain old facts. These facts in and of themselves are not life-changing. Reading a book about the character of God will not automatically make a child understand Who He really is. Knowing God goes far beyond the academic, piercing more than the frontal lobe of our brain. It is grasped both in life relationship with Christ, and through the Spirit’s illumination of the Word to the believer.

But I believe that ingraining our children’s minds with these truths—these basic facts—about God can be used by Him to draw them to Himself through the work of His Spirit, as they learn that He is good, trustworthy, and sovereign. They have their place. They are not, of themselves, transformative; but in the hand of the Spirit they are tools. They are not Life; but they can point to Life. We pray for our children that truth will awaken their conscience and touch their heart.

Our hope is not in cramming our children’s heads with knowledge; our hope is in the Lord who can take the truth we give these precious little minds and use it to draw them to Himself.

My kids are in Level 1 swimming lessons this week (and next). They don’t actually learn to swim yet, of course. They blow bubbles. They float. They kick. They dunk their heads and bob for rings. Even outside the pool they receive rudimentary instruction on water safety. Is all this a waste of time because it’s not actual, “experiential” swimming?

Of course not. They are being carefully prepared to experience real swimming for themselves. In the final analysis it’s up to them to get in the water and swim. All the books and videos and instruction in the world can’t be a substitute for that. But all this technical instruction is leading up to that by preparing their minds and bodies for it.

In the same way, our children can only truly know God by seeking Him for themselves as He draws them to Himself. They can only experience Him by taking that plunge and casting themselves on Christ. As parents our role is to make the most of the time we have with our children, patiently instructing, line upon rudimentary line. Doctrinal truth upon doctrinal truth. Fact upon fact.

And then, to let them see us “swimming”: “doing life” in Christ. Acknowledging our own daily need of Him. Sincerely seeking to grow in grace, knowledge, and truth.

First steps. First kicks. Even a little bubble-blowing. It’s the way of life. 🙂

 And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart: and thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up…And thou shalt write them upon the posts of thy house, and on thy gates…And when thy son asketh thee in time to come, What mean the testimonies, and the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord our God hath commanded you? Then thou shalt say unto thy son, We were Pharaoh’s bondmen in Egypt; and the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand…And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always…

See Deuteronomy 6

But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the Lord.

 

Jeremiah 9:24

Books and Resources Part 2: FREEBIES!

In Part 1 of this two-part post, I listed websites and resources for purchasing used and new books and curriculum. In this Part 2, every resource listed here is free! I’ve organized it into:

Books/Texts

Full Curriculum

Informational/Partial curriculum or full curriculum (organized by subject)

Games/Interactive (organized by subject)

Videos

This list is by no means comprehensive; it merely scratches the surface of the vast amount of free resources currently available online.  Also, please note that I cannot verify the appropriateness of the content of each of these sites. Some are secular, some are Christian. Use your own judgment.

Sites with Free Books/Texts

LibriVox. You can download and listen to free audio readings of books in the public domain; a good source for classics.

ICDL (International Children’s Digital Library). Free children’s books from around the world; choose your language then you can filter results from there.

Many Books offers more than 33,000 free ebooks, including titles that are not in the public domain.

Open Library has over 1.7 million free ebooks, including high school and college textbooks; available in a number of formats.

Authorama offers more free ebooks of the classics/public domain literature in HTML and XHTML format.

Read Print. Lots of classics; lets you keep track of what you’ve read in a user-friendly way and provides the opportunity to discuss books and join online book clubs and groups.

Questia has 5,000 free classics, rare books, and textbooks.  

Project Gutenberg. For the older texts and classics; over 50,000 free books.  Also good for research purposes when looking for original source material; along those lines, see also texts from  Wikisource and Google Books.

Internet Archive boasts a rich collection of over 16 million free downloadable books, plus movies, music, software, etc.

Wikibooks. Free educational books/textbooks; note that these are open content and anyone can edit them.

FreeComputerBooks. For the geeks, a site with tons of free computer programming/coding books; see also FreeTechBooks for free computer science books/textbooks—over 1,200 available.

Local library. When you’re looking for a particular title you need for a school assignment, don’t forget this resource! And many times even if you’re local library doesn’t have it, you may be able to procure it through inter-library loan.

Free Full Curriculum Sites

The sites listed here offer lessons in all academic subjects, for free.

Easy Peasy All-in-One Homeschool. This is a laid-back, Christian curriculum with a bit of an “unschooling” flavor. It teaches preschool through 8th grade, with a separate site offering high school curriculum. It covers reading, writing, grammar, spelling, vocabulary, math, history/social studies/geography, science, Spanish, Bible, computer, music, art, PE/health, and logic.

Kahn Academy. Spanning kindergarten through high school, Kahn Academy has millions of students the world over, while their resources are being translated into 36 different languages. Their mission is “to provide a free, world-class education for anyone, anywhere.” The bulk of the course relies on instructional videos and practice exercises. (I even signed up for its math instruction to fill in some of my own gaps!)

Ambleside Online offers a classical/Charlotte Mason-style homeschool curriculum. It relies heavily on living books—real-world literature, as opposed to textbooks. Thirty-six week schedules are outlined in detail for each grade. (This would be one of my top picks.)

Free World U is a pre-K through 12 academy that teaches the subjects through electronic flashcards; a $19.95/month upgrade to the free version provides exams, an exam portal, a feedback function, a year plan, and progress bars; several other upgrades/extensions are also available.

See a list of more full, free online programs here

Informational/Partial or Full Curriculum (remember that these subjects can also be found at the “full curriculum” sites listed above)

Science

Teach Preschool Science. Complete, free science curriculum for ages 3 through kindergarten; lesson plans, learning experiences involving various projects, and related books, websites, and resources are included.

Science Sparks. All kinds of fun, hands-on projects, activities, and sensory/messy play for little tikes—looks like a very fun site!

Magic School Bus science curriculum (for elementary grades). This includes free lesson plans, worksheets, and experiments to go along with the episodes—which you will need to purchase or borrow.

Classic Science Life. Free downloadable science ebooks for children of all ages.

Guest Hollow . Science of Seasons is a free literature and activity-based science curriculum for a younger grade (this one is more classical/Charlotte Mason style). This site also offers other science courses for elementary, upper elementary and even high school students, relying on living books and hands-on activities (while some are free, some require the purchase of a curriculum schedule, $25). Check them out—they’re pretty awesome!

Try Engineering. Lesson plans for 141 cool projects can be found here as downloadable pdf files; ages 8 and up.

Micropolitan Museum. This science site features image galleries of microscopic specimens.

Zooborns features “the newest, cutest animals from the world’s zoos and aquariums.”

Math

Do the kids need a little extra math practice in a certain area, or maybe just need a worksheet here and there over the summer to help them keep up what they’ve already learned? The following sites offer free math activities and printable worksheets for many different grades: K5 LearningHomeschool MathEducation, Math Aids, and SoftSchools.

History and Geography

Bringing Up Learners. Free, full year history curriculum: lesson plans, guides, and resource suggestions.

Guest Hollow also has free American history curriculum (grades 2-6)!

Timeline Index. Everything is organized by “who,” “what,” “where,” and “when.”

Check out this LONG list of free geography curriculum, resources, and supplements.

Language Arts

Scott Foresman grammar and writing curriculum. Free online grammar and writing handbooks for grades 1-6.

National Treasures Workbooks. Downloadable spelling and grammar practice books for grades K-6.

KISS Grammar . Instructional materials and workbooks for grade 2 through high school.

Spelling Words Curriculum. Complete spelling curriculum for grades 1-5.

Bible Based Spelling Lessons. Spelling lessons for lower elementary grades.

Art

Hodgepodge .  Over 100 free art lessons for many ages.

Kinder Art. Preschool through high school arts and crafts projects.

Music

This find made me so excited! Years ago when I taught piano I used the Mayron Cole music curriculum. This complete course begins as young as kindergarten or pre-K and spans through high school. Lessons, music theory, performance music—everything is here; this course is good for both group and private lessons. The books were always a little pricey, but I felt they were worth the cost: they’re fun, heavy on theory (no, those two things are not mutually exclusive 😉 ), and encourage mastery.

Then a few weeks ago I received an email that made my day: Mayron Cole was retiring and she had decided to gift her music curriculum to the world…for free. More than 3,600 pages, 525 solos, 1,000 worksheets, 60 ensembles, 650 midi and mp3 fully orchestrated accompaniments, and several games are available as free downloads—every product and book she ever created! I’ve already started downloading the books and accompaniments—it’s like Christmas, people! So check this incredible offer out here. Screenshot_20180515-141026 

Miscellaneous/Multi-subject

Rudiments of Wisdom Encyclopedia . Informative and entertaining, this online encyclopaedia is written up in the form of cartoonish drawings with text.

Virtual Homeschool Group . This site offers free, online courses for IEW, Fix it Grammar, Saxon Math, Spanish, Photography, Mystery of History, Apologia science, and more! Video lessons and computer-scored quizzes and tests included!

Games/Interactive

Science

Science Kids offers interactive science games, as well as projects, lessons and more.

Math

Johnnie’s Math Page. Math practice and games for ages 5-15.

Math Game Time. Free math games, videos, and worksheets.

Math Goodies. Free math games, interactive lessons, and downloadable worksheets.

History and Geography

History Mystery. Search for clues and enter the answers as you read.

Mission US. For grades 5-8. These role-playing mission games help students explore historical time periods and events. “Each mission consists of an interactive game and a set of curriculum materials that are aligned to national standards and feature document-based activities.”

DOCSTeach is a free tool for teaching from original documents; it provides primary source materials, then allows you as the parent to create your own interactive learning activities with these sources.

Ducksters Geography. I’ve played some games from this site with the kids.

National Geographic Kids. Lots of videos, games, and information for kids. It covers more than geography, of course; science and history are also touched on.

Language Arts

Grammar Practice Park. Grammar games organized by grade.

BBC grammar games. Alphabet, spelling, and grammar games.

Education Spelling Games. Spelling, letter knowledge, reading, and word games.

Home Spelling Words. Lists, games, tests and practice.

Spelling City targets spelling, writing, phonics, and vocabulary.

Art

NGAkids Art Zone. Interactive art activities at the National Gallery of Art.

Miscellaneous/Multi-subject

Starfall covers a variety of topics. There is a free version and an upgraded version which you can pay for. I have only used the free version with the kids and this has allowed them to practice reading and math skills. I noticed a difference, that they had gained ground in their phonics skills, when they started using this.

Apples4theTeacher. Interactive site with lots of games covering a vast array of educational subjects.

Sheppard Software has a variety of games, videos and quizzes on a variety of subjects.

Apps—there are many free educational games you can download. 

Videos

There are so many educational videos on every subject under the sun available on YouTube and elsewhere that there’s no way I could even begin to scratch the surface. But for history and art, here are several compilations others have made of these offerings:

History Videos for Kids from Brookdale House is a great educational resource as it gives extensive lists/collections of YouTube videos for different periods/subjects of history (was having trouble with the link this morning so I don’t currently have one in this post, but you should be able to google it).

YouTube Art Lessons for Kids. List of art channels for kids.

A Big List of Free Art Lessons on YouTube. A lengthy list of YouTube channels that teach art, sorted by style/subject; many are probably geared toward older students.

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Do you have some favorite free resources you use? Share in the comments!

Books and Resources Part 1: Budget Hacks for Incorrigible Victims of Abibliophobia (Homeschooling Mom’s Edition)

We’ve nearly reached the end of the school year! Many of us will be (or already are) taking some sort of a summer break (including this Mama!). And it’s early on (sometimes even before our break begins) that I start searching for and purchasing next year’s curriculum. In this two-part series I’m compiling a list of tips and resources for purchasing, borrowing, or even finding free curriculum/books/resources!

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Ahhh, books. Anyone else relate? And for me, having children has only made the “bug” worse. Fortunately there are a vast amount of both free and affordable resources out there. (In this first post I’m focusing on purchasing curriculum/books; the second post will give links to a vast amount of completely free resources.) So whether you’re looking for a new novel or trying to find a specific, elementary academic textbook, here are some ideas, tips, and sites for finding great deals. 🙂

When to Order

It probably goes without saying, but if you know what you want before you start shopping, you can save yourself a lot of money. I often do my research on the specific curriculum I want months before I actually start shopping. I make my list, then familiarize myself on what the typical “going price” is for each book/item so that I can objectively compare prices and know whether I’m really getting a good deal. I note this price next to each item.

Then I start looking early, searching for one item at a time. This way I have time to find things, compare prices, make bids (on ebay for instance), etc. (If I visit my favorite sites and can’t find what I’m looking for, I have to time to wait a month or two and come back to look again.) Screenshot_20180507-161551

What to Order

Should you buy the item new or used? Sometimes you’ll be better off buying the item new, and other times it really doesn’t matter if it’s used. As a general rule of thumb, I would categorize it this way:

Best things to buy used:

Teacher’s manuals

Non-consumable books/textbooks

Living books, classics, other novels and miscellaneous books

Best things to buy new:

Consumable workbooks

DVDs/CDs/CD-ROMs

Games (educational board games, logic puzzles, etc.)

If you purchase used consumable workbooks, they may be partially used. This isn’t always the case and I have been able to buy “used” consumable workbooks that had never been written in, or perhaps only had a handful of lessons completed. Check descriptions carefully and when in doubt ask the seller, if possible. When purchasing used media (DVDs, etc.) it’s hard to tell what shape it may be in. Even slight scratches on the discs may cause problems. I ordered a used set of history CDs last year, and while most of them played well, several lessons had to be skipped because the discs were scratched.Screenshot_20180507-161338  

A tip for using consumable workbooks: tear the pages out and slip them into plastic sheet protectors; keep these in a 3-ring binder. Now they can be used repeatedly with an unlimited number of children by using dry erase markers and an erasor. Alternatively, take a sheet protector, cut a slit down the side and slip it over a new page each day. If you feel you need documentation that your child completed the workbook, simply snap a photo of each page before it is erased and keep these pictures in a file on your phone or computer. Now you will never need to buy more than one workbook, regardless of the number of children who will use it! Even if you only have one child, you will be able to resell the book in “like new” condition when you are finished with it (provided you use the second option of slipping a protector over the page each day rather than tearing the pages out).

Before you finalize your list, see if any of the books you need could be borrowed or found for free online (I’ll list resources that can be checked for this in Part 2). Screenshot_20180507-161302 

Where to Order

When you have your list, you know what each item costs new, and you’ve decided what things you can buy used and what you want to purchase new, it’s time to start comparing prices! If you’re looking for…

New and/or used:

Amazon and Ebay. I’ve been able to find some really good deals on both these sites. (And of course another reason I like to start shopping early is because I may or may not win bids I place on items on ebay. I don’t want to shop two weeks before I need the curriculum, lose the bid, and then not have the book or resource when it’s time to start school. This way if I lose I still have time to find it later or somewhere else.) Screenshot_20180508-144138

Homeschool conferences. The conference I attended in Wichita last year included a number of vendors selling used curriculum as well as new. I was able to find some unusually good deals.

(Mostly) used:

While there may be a few new items here and there, most of the items purchased from these sources will be used.

Local homeschool swap n’ sales. Many local homeschool groups will hold these once a year. Many of these used items are greatly marked down; some are often even free.

Library book sales. Two weeks ago I purchased almost $300 worth of health and medical textbooks in like new condition (original prices still marked on them)…for $3.50. A few days later I visited another library’s book sale and came away with a whole box of books for $3.30. It pays to stop and take a look. Screenshot_20180507-161806  

Facebook groups. There are a number of pages on which to buy or sell used curriculum and books. Homeschool Curriculum Sale or Trade is my favorite. With over 6,600 members, there’s plenty of good pickin’s here. I’ve found some awesome deals and been able to save a lot of money. Homeschool Curriculum Marketplace is another site with over 11,000 members.

Used Curriculum WebsitesHomeschool Classifieds: this site won’t win the prize for clearest design and friendliest user experience, but they’re still worth checking out as they have a lot of good deals.  Homeschool Trader: this site doesn’t have the same number of offerings as Homeschool Classifieds, but it has a much friendlier user interface.  Homeschool Books for Less: to shop on this site, choose a grade, then a subject, then a publisher; what is available will then be shown to you. Screenshot_20180508-144346

Used book sites (these will not necessarily carry many textbooks—though they’ll have some; but for filling in with classics, novels, living books, etc., these are great places to shop). Thriftbooks is probably one of my favorites. The prices are amazing (many books are under $4!), plus a purchase of $10 or more will snag you free shipping. AbeBooks and Goodwill Books are two more good sites. Better World Books carries an array of new and used books–with free shipping!

 Book Finder. This site simply helps you find the book you want at the best price—new or used—by searching a number of different sites for you. Save yourself some time!

What if you don’t have extra cash on hand but do happen to have some old paperbacks you don’t want? You can trade them for books you do want on Paperback Swap! Swap your book out for your choice of over 1,600,000 books. Screenshot_20180508-144414

…New:

Finally, when I have crossed everything off my list that I can possibly buy used (or new at a bargain price), I shop for my remaining educational “ingredients” at Christian Book Distributors and/or Rainbow Resource. The latter usually offers the most competitive prices, free shipping with orders over $49, and the largest collection of curriculum to be found anywhere (over 40,000 homeschooling and educational products!). For (new) purchases they have been my go-to over the past few years.

…And if you can’t make up your mind:

So what if you’re not sure you actually want to invest in a certain curriculum or textbook because you don’t know if you’ll like it or if it will be a good fit for your kids? Screenshot_20180508-144532

Have no fear, Yellow House Book Rental is here! Yes, this actually gives you the option of renting the curriculum for a semester or a year, for perhaps half the cost of purchasing it new.

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I have used many—though not all—of these sites in my own shopping. Over time they have saved me hundreds of dollars on books and various curricula (each year I add up the cost of the books new, and then compare it to the total I actually paid for them).

So if you’re planning out next year’s curriculum, or just have an abibliophobia and happen to be on a budget  😉 , you might check some of these websites out. Have fun! 

The Day of the Sauerkraut

20180501_102700Today was the day!

With great anticipation I unscrewed the lid from my mason jar and lifted it away. A pinkish-red color greeted my eyes. One more layer to remove. I picked off the large piece of red cabbage lying atop my “green gold” at the mouth of the jar. Into the trash can it went.

And now for the smell test.

I held the jar below my nose and took a deep whiff.

Fermented cabbage. Honest-to-goodness, homemade sauerkraut.

Oh. Yes. Mmmm.

The green cabbage towards the top of the jar was tinged a faint pink where it had come in contact with my red cabbage “weight.”

Funky color or no, it smelled amazing. I wanted to dig in, but remembered what my mother had said about the prospective product a few weeks ago when she had first instructed me in the fine arts of fermentation: “It’s best to eat it raw,” said she, “but since you’re pregnant,” said she, “you’d better heat it first,” said she.

Mothers know best.

I dutifully warmed a small serving of this gut-nourishing goodness in a saucepan on the stove—just to kill any potential naughty “wee beasties,” as Anton van Leeuwenhoek so quaintly dubbed them (though it probably unfortunately killed some of the nice “wee beasties” too).

My Brassica olaracea var. capitata which had soaked in a sea salt-water bath like a Persian queen for two weeks delivered.

It was divine.

Metabolically, a hunky heap of carbohydrates had been converted by the efforts of bacterial organisms into organic acids. Metaphorically, heaven had met earth. Oh la la. (A bit dramatic, you say? Oh maybe slightly. 😉 )

My five-year-old took a whiff. “Mmmm,” he said with a smile. Then a strange look came over him and he scrunched his face as he walked away.

Apparently first impressions didn’t last for him.

No matter. If you’re a sauerkraut lover, a health junkie, or simply an adventurous soul, check out the recipe and instructions below for making your own invigorating victuals.

Enjoy. 🙂

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1 Head of cabbage

Water

Celtic sea salt or Himalayan salt

To clean cabbage, soak it for 5-10 minutes in a bowl of filtered water with 1 Tbs. apple cider vinegar added. Rinse.

Slice (or shred) cabbage and put in a clean bowl. Add 1 Tbs. salt; let sit for 10 minutes, then knead and squeeze the cabbage for 10 minutes (this helps break it down and release its juices). When finished, add another ½ Tbs. salt (1 Tbs. if it’s a particularly large head).

Fill glass jars with cabbage (I filled them just up to the bottom of the neck; one large cabbage filled 2 quart jars and 1 pint jar). Add any juice (left over from the cabbage) from the bowl to the jars. Now fill the jars with a salt water brine (be sure all of the cabbage is covered in liquid).

Brine:

1 ½ tsp. Celtic sea salt for every 8 ounces of water

The last thing to add is something to make sure the cabbage stays pushed down into the liquid so it doesn’t mold. Special stainless steel “weights” are made just for this purpose but I didn’t have any on hand. Two other options would be to either use a large, round onion slice, or another cabbage leaf that can fill the neck of the jar and keep the shredded cabbage pushed down into the brine.

Screw the lids on and label the date. Store in a dry, preferably dark place for 2-3 weeks. Check every 2-3 days for white mold (I never had a problem with this).

When ready to eat, place in refrigerator (it can last 6 months here).

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So why sauerkraut for health?

The wonder-working properties of this food lies in its live probiotics, which have amazing benefits for our guts. When we eat sauerkraut, healthy little “gut bugs” take up residence in our digestive tracts; some even form long-lasting colonies! The probiotics feed these “good guys” and help fight the “bad guys” (bad bacteria).

This leads to improved digestion and immune function, a reduction in inflammation and allergies, and a host of other health benefits. Food allergies, autoimmune disorders, and many other health problems are being linked to an unhealthy gut microbiome.

The modern American diet wrecks havoc on the gut. One young man ate nothing but fast food for 10 days to see what would happen to his gut. Before he started, he had about 3,500 healthy bacterial species in his gut. By the end of this experiment, 1,300 of those species had been wiped out, and his gut was dominated by an unhealthy species of bacteria.

Antibiotics are another gut enemy, of course. One microbiologist who studied the link between antibiotics and asthma was astounded by his findings: mice treated with certain antibiotics experienced “a profound asthmatic reaction.” He concluded that this was due to a change in the gut microbiome following adminstration of antibiotics.

The composition of our gut microbes have been drastically altered through unhealthy foods/imbalanced diets, antibiotics, pesticides (like glyphosate, which damages the gut lining and contributes to an overgrowth of harmful bacteria), reduced exposure to parasites and diseases, etc. Yet the state of our health will reflect the state of our gut microbiome.

So one of the best things we can do (not just for our gut, but for the health of our whole body), is regularly eat fermented foods which help to “re-colonize” our digestive tract with our body’s first line of defense against a myriad of health issues: “good guy” bacteria. Many pills and supplements touted as containing “lots of probiotics” are practically worthless. You may basically only be paying for expensive poop (because that’s where most of these “probiotics” are going in the end—no pun). Consuming live, fermented foods is one of the best ways to help you get what your gut needs, in nature’s own complex balance. So eat up!

And happy gut health to you! 😉 20180501_133359