Monday, September 24, 2012

Where is Your Focus?

A few days ago, I saw this video on a blog I like to read.

If you don't have time to watch the whole thing, at least watch from 6:00 to 9:00

Crap? Or Cone? Everyone has some crap and everyone has an ice cream cone. It's up to us where we keep our focus. This is a difficult skill for me. Every single time I focus on the cone, it's a conscious effort. It does not happen on its own. Ever. And I'm certainly guilty of getting stuck in, "dude, this smells terrible, check it out!"

I like this analogy though. I think it makes it a little easier to be aware of where your focus lies. The ice cream cone is always there, we just have to remember to look toward it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Freedom For Birth

I had two of my babies at home.  Well, actually, I had one at home.  The other was born in a hotel because we were living in another state, but we wanted to deliver with the healthcare team we knew and trusted. 

Our first baby was born in a hospital.  It was a non-medicated birth with relatively few medical interventions.  It was only as intervention free as it was because I only labored in the hospital for about 2 hours and we fought every step of the way.  When I said I didn't want an epidural, the nurses scoffed and said I would change my mind and I better sign the consent form anyway (then they marked in my chart I wanted an epidural).  As the baby was crowning, we were fighting over whether a local anesthetic was necessary or not.  I could on and on about the delivery.  After delivery, the battles continued. I was brought Celabrex on a regular basis, which I didn't want and refused to take (good for me, it was recalled 2 months later for increasing the risk of cardiovascular events).  I was not brought regular tylenol, which I repeatedly requested.  My baby would be taken to the nursery and not brought back for hours (despite repeated requests) because "the doctor is going to do rounds soon".  All in all, for me and my personality, it was a terrible experience. 

I did some OB shopping at the beginning of my second pregnancy.  While the first pregnancy lasted until 36 weeks, it was filled with preterm labor and treatment to stop the labor.  I was looking for someone who would address this issue and work at preventing it rather than treating it after the symptoms appeared.  I couldn't find that.  Instead, I hired a fabulous direct-entry midwife, also known as a Certified Professional Midwife.  The state of Texas allows these practitioners to attend home births.  For a one time fee of roughly $2,500, which covered every prenatal exam, the delivery, and postpartum care, I was able to visit with my midwife for 30 minutes to an hour at every prenatal exam.  We talked about every aspect of my lifestyle and how it impacted the pregnancy.  I did not go into preterm labor and I delivered at 38 weeks.  My midwife was right next to me for the entire labor, offering support and natural pain relief in addition to regular fetal monitoring and vital sign checks on me.  When a malpositioned baby made pushing difficult, my midwife supplied me with oxygen and guided me into different positions that made it easier to deliver.  Had it become necessary, she had a back up doctor on call to meet us at the hospital.  After delivery, she did a thorough exam of the baby, helped me get cleaned up and stayed until the baby and I had eaten, and baby was maintaining her temperature (of course, she was already breathing well at that point, but the equipment and skills necessary for neonatal resuscitation were available had they been needed earlier).  Postpartum recovery was infinitely easier, even having delivered a significantly bigger baby.  There was no tearing or cutting, there was minimal postpartum bleeding.  We didn't have to leave the house for postpartum checks, the midwife came back to us several times in the first week to be sure baby and I were recovering well. 

On top of the excellent medical care, our entire family was treated with respect.  We opted to hire the same midwife for the next baby.  This time there was no malpositioning and the only difficulty was how fast pushing went.  That meant baby required a little more suctioning and a close watch for a little while.  Things my midwife was perfectly qualified to handle.  Once again she was with us through the entire labor and delivery and until everyone was cleaned up and settled after delivery.  Once again, she came to us for postpartum checks. 

Home birth is not for everyone.  First of all, direct-entry midwifes are only certified to handle low risk pregnancies.  Second of all, a stressed mom is unlikely to relax enough to labor well.  If mom feels comfortable in the hospital, the hospital is where she needs to be.  This second point is exactly why I, personally, do not belong in a hospital.  After my first experience, there is no way I could relax enough to labor effectively in a hospital.  I personally do not support unassisted birth.  I feel home births should be attended by trained midwives with MD back up ready to take over if a hospital transfer is necessary.

But home birth is not legal everywhere.  In fact, there have been court cases in the United States where it has been affirmed that women do not always have the right to refuse to consent to medical procedures.  At any other point in your life, you can refuse surgery, even life saving surgery, but women have been successfully prosecuted for refusing c-sections. They've also had their families scrutinized by CPS because they refused to consent to certain procedures.  This can happen even if baby does completely fine without the intervention. 

Last week, I had the privilege of attending a screening of Freedom for Birth.  This film on the legality of home birth focuses on the case of Agnes Gereb.  Agnes is an obstetrician in Hungary, where home birth was in a gray area of not being specifically allowed.  Agnes was prosecuted after a woman unexpectedly experienced a precipitous (very fast) labor at her birth center.  Agnes (wisely) called for EMT support, but the police came along and arrested her for delivering the baby.  She was sentenced to 2 years in jail and is currently on house arrest while the case is on appeal.  One of her previous patients became pregnant with her 2nd baby while Agnes was in jail.  This woman, Anna Ternovsky, appealed to the European Court of Human Rights.  Her appeal said that she was being denied the right to choose where she delivered her baby because the threat of prosecution kept any healthcare providers from attending her birth at home.  She won. 

Let me clarify that.  The European Court of Human Rights agreed that it is a human rights issue for women to decide the place they give birth.   In European Union countries, if a woman is giving birth at home and the police show up, she can defend her rights, backed by the ECHR, to deliver where she chooses.   In other countries, a pregnant woman who wants to deliver at home and can't because of laws that hinder her ability to obtain a qualified provider, has the option to approach the legal system with the argument that this has already been determined to be a human right in Europe. 

But it's safer to be in the hospital, right?  Can't I and all my home birth friends just get over it and go have our babies where there is a OR down the hall?  All those machines, all those medicines, those are good things, right?  Not exactly.  Despite spending more on maternal hospital care than any other area of health care, our infant and maternal mortality rates are abysmal.  In particular, our maternal mortality rate is actually increasing.  The hospital is the best place for some women to be.  Obstetricians are an incredibly important part of the healthcare team.  But a lot of women are also better off at home with a qualified midwife.  They should have that option available to them.  Thanks to Agnes Gereb and Anna Ternovsky, new doorways are opening for us to assert our rights.

Suggestions for further reading:

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fall Garden Planting

Have I mentioned homeschooling takes up a lot time?  Homeschooling takes a lot of time. 

A week ago, we got the fall garden planted though, so an update is overdue!  There isn't much to see yet, but I've got to have the before pictures so I can look back in a few weeks and see how much everything has grown.

The right side of the garden.  First are the strawberries from last year.  They have grown a lot and put out new shoots.  We'll help them through the winter and hopefully they'll produce well enough next year to make some jam.   The second bed has some tiny cabbage plants of questionable health.  I'm not real sure they're going to survive transplant.  The third bed has carrot seed and onion seed.  We plant onion seed very densely now, then early next year the bulbs can be dug up and spaced out to grow full sized onions.  The fourth bed has green beans.  There is canteloupe in the fifth bed and pumpkin in the sixth.  

Over on the left side, we have summer squash in the first bed, green beans in the 2nd, cauliflower in the 3rd, and broccoli in the 4th.  The 5th bed is empty and the 6th has lingering chili pepper plants.

Remember what our sweet potatoes started out like?  Here's one of the slips back in May:

Now they have really taken off. The vines have spread out and put down roots over a large area. 
We even dug up our first sweet potato this week.  We saw it poking up out of the soil, so we ahead and dug around to see what things were like down there. I've read up on sweet potato harvesting at Mother Earth News.  You have to leave the potatoes outside to sun dry for a few hours, then store them for about a week and half to cure.  This makes them sweeter and heals any damage from harvest.  I've read sweet potato yield around here is about 16,500 pounds an acre, which would translate to something like 15 pounds if we really have potatoes under all those vines.  We shall see what we really get!

Over in the weeds, we have some volunteer cucumbers coming up.  That broad leafed sprout right in the middle is a cucumber plant.  There are others in the area too.  I'm thinking I left a few cucumbers out there and they just self planted.  I doubt they'll get anywhere before winter hits, but I'm leaving them alone.

We tried to focus on things we would eat fresh this season.  I feel like we've really let too much garden food go to waste lately.  I'm avoiding adding up how much money we've spent versus how much food we've eaten.  I feel like we utilize the fall garden foods better, plus they're cheaper to grow because we don't have to water as often. We have harvested over 100 pounds of food so far this year though.  There's still a chance we'll reach our goal of 150 pounds for the year!

I'm looking forward to harvest time again.  Gardening is always more exciting when you're harvesting!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Kindergarten Science Lessons

I am (quite belatedly) putting together a full lesson plan for Kindergarten science.  Sedona has followed along with some things Sierra has done, and we had an impromptu lesson about prisms one day when she asked where the colors come from for a rainbow.  For the most part though, she has not started science yet. 

I am working on creating a full plan for her and planned to share it here when I was done, but seeing as how time keeps slipping away and it'd be nice to get it up at the beginning of the school year, I'm going to go ahead and make it available. 

Keep in mind, this is a work in progress.  I will definitely be adding to it, but everything up to the 5 senses is completed.  Past that, things may change (including the objectives).   You'll notice the column on the far right has notes on what Sierra will be doing in her science class.  This is for my own reference while I'm planning.  Where possible, I'm overlapping the two curricula to minimize the prep work I have to do before each lesson.  Sierra's studies on each topic are much more in depth than what Sedona needs for Kindergarten, so there are plenty of places where the final plan will not follow the notes on the right hand column.

I will update links here as I add more to the plan.  The top of the first page will state whether the copy is a draft or final and what date it was posted.   If you'd like to get started now, the lessons are completed through Thanksgiving, though!

Here's the link!

Enjoy!  These are free for your use for a single student or classroom.  They may not be sold, and I ask that you share the link to this post if you want to share them with a friend.  

That Day

This is re-posted from September 11, 2011.  It's still relevant today and I'd rather bring it to the front again than add more words when I've already said what I have to say.

We all know what today is. And what happened 10 years ago.

I don't really have coherent thoughts on it that I can wrap up into a pretty post with a bow on top.

Here's what I got: I was living on my own at college. I had an early biochem class to get to and I had an assignment due, so I was up getting breakfast and had the TV on. I walked by and saw one tower on fire. I heard something about an airplane, so I called my parents. My dad answered the phone and I asked what the hell was going on. Then the second plane hit. I was in shock. I didn't know if this was fairly isolated or if we would be seeing all out war on our soil. I was irate that the university (with a very strong military history) didn't cancel classes. I went to campus to turn in my assignment and walked straight out of the room again and back home. I felt it was disrespectful to carry on with normal daily activities and I was fearful of being at any public institution.

I've read a lot about what happened and what lead up to it. I strongly disagree with a lot of what has been done to supposedly protect us. In particular, I think the Patriot Act costs us a lot of rights and liberties for little to no gain in safety. It never should've been tolerated and shouldn't continue to exist today.

I wish there was more tolerance and less hate. I wish there was more thoughtful conversation and less 24 hour news. I wish there was more reading and less talk radio. I think of what has changed in the last 10 years and I'm saddened to see extremism and blind anger in many different forms all around me. Perhaps for this anniversary everyone can be a bit kinder to each other for at least one day.

Monday, September 10, 2012

"Sounds Like Life To Me"

Last week was a bit Murphy's Law for us.  Nothing terrible, but several of those "that's life" moments.  One of the bigger ones was the large crash we heard late Monday night.

First, we checked on all the girls, thinking maybe some large piece of furniture had fallen over in their room.  All was clear there. 

Then Josh checked the front yard, while I checked the back.  I found this:
Doesn't look like much, does it?  That limb across the house was not supposed to be there.  Up close, it looked like this:
That's our power line it's hanging over.  The loud sound was the leafy end of the limb hitting the roof:
We couldn't do anything about it in the dark, so we just left it there overnight.  Several years ago, one of Josh's friends died in a tree trimming accident, so we weren't about to take on this problem by ourselves.  The tree is not in great shape, plus the power line was involved.  Less importantly, the house was in the way and I didn't look forward to accidentally dropping a limb through the roof. 

Tuesday morning, we called out the electric company thinking they might trim the branch because of the power line.  Turns out they won't do any work over the house though.  Next, we called several tree trimming companies for quotes. 

The whole tree really needed to come down before we ended up with another limb on the roof.  It took a few days to get organized, but on Friday, the electric company came in the morning to unhook the power line from our house and move it out of the way.  Then the tree trimming guys cut down the tree, we paid them a rather significant sum of money, and the electric company reconnected our power.  We won't be eating out for a while, but all is well.

Josh had the idea to ask the guys to just leave the stump.  He cut steps into it and moved the trampoline over there.  The girls are excited to have an easier way to get in there, there's no longer a big tree dropping leaves and twigs on it, and the weather has been cooler, so the trampoline has gotten A LOT of use this weekend.
The song mentioned in the title of this post is by Darryl Worley and it's worth looking up if you don't know it.  Part of it goes:
I say hey man, what’s going on
He said I don’t know where to start

Sarah’s old car’s about to fall apart
And the washer quit last week
We had to put momma in the nursing home
And the baby’s cutting teeth
I didn’t get much work this week
And I got bills to pay
I said I know this ain’t what you wanna hear
But it’s what I’m gonna say

Sounds like life to me it ain’t no fantasy
It’s just a common case of everyday reality
Man I know it’s tough but you gotta suck it up
To hear you talk you’re caught up in some tragedy
It sounds like life to me

Definitely a reminder most of us could use at times, I know I can let little things start to look like big things if I don't take time to put things in perspective!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Homeschool Planning Step By Step

As I sat down to plan out next week's school lessons, I decided it might be helpful to someone if I did a step by step post of how I plan our days.  While it's not right for every family, this set-up is working really well for us and I'm sure someone out there can pick up a few tips. 

Step 1: I created lesson plans for each subject before the year started.  I've made some of these available for free on the blog, so you've probably seen what they're like.  While not strictly necessary, having these prepared and on my computer makes my weekend planning easier on me. 

Step 2: I need to have a paper calendar, it's easier for me to keep up with than an electronic one, so I have a planner that gives a monthly calendar (where I write appointments, meetings, theater rehearsals, sports practices, etc...) and then a weekly section with space to write on each day.  This year I had to upgrade to larger sized one so I had room to write everything. 

Step 3: At the beginning of the year, I decided how many days we needed to spend on each subject each week.  This was based on how many lessons there were to cover.  Something like math, with about 160 lessons, is going to have to be 5 days a week.  Something like history, with only 90 lessons, only needs to be about 3 days a week.   Based on this, I decided which subjects would be covered each day.  I spread out the 2 and 3 day a week subjects to make each day roughly equal.

Step 4: EVERY TWO WEEKS, I write the lesson plans in my calendar.  I do this because that's easier than doing it every day, but it's not so far ahead that I have to totally redo everything if we get ahead or behind.  It's easy enough to change a few days on the planner, I don't want to change an entire year or feel like the schedule is completely inflexible.  I start out by writing the subjects for each day (based on step 3, it's the same all year long), leaving a space between each one:
Step 5: I take one subject at a time and fill in the specific plans for each day based on the lesson plans that are on my computer.  They are organized in my files according to subject and grade level:

Something like history, where I've created my own plans, will have a lesson number, the topic, the assignment, and an approximate date (we don't strictly stick to the dates, they are just to help me plan the year and facilitate things like studying pilgrims around Thanksgiving, or studying flowers in the spring).  For art, which I also created, there is a project and the list of materials I need gathered for that project:

For something like math, where I am following a purchased curriculum, I simply have the lesson number, the worksheet number (if there is one) and the supplies required:
In my planner, I will fill in all of Sierra's history, then all of her math, and so on until all the subjects are filled in for all the days.  I write down the lesson, any worksheets needed for that lesson, and in the notes section in the margin, I make note if there are materials I will need that I don't already have on hand:

Step 6: EVERY WEEK (usually late at night on Sunday because it's my procrastination tendency that requires this sort of organization in the first place), I get the papers that will be needed put together.   I have a binder with several weeks worth of worksheets:
 There is some debate in homeschool circles about whether you are allowed to copy workbooks, or you should buy a new one for each child.  Most of the books we use actually explicitly allow copying and it's been financially beneficial for us so far to do that.  I buy printer ink once a year and bought a case of paper over 2 years ago that I still haven't gone through (we run old worksheets back through the printer and use the back sides).   I like having everything in one binder like this because it's less for me to get out when I'm planning, it's easy to grab when we go out of town, and if I'm sick or need to be out of town or otherwise away from our little school, it's easy for dad or grandma to find and know where we left off.

Another binder is set aside for the current week's work.  Check out my creative labeling:
This binder has 10 vinyl folders in it.  Sierra's are blue, Sedona's are green and they are labelled for each day of the week:
I grab my planner (where I've written down any worksheets I need for each lesson), and my worksheets binder and get out all the worksheets needed for the week and put them in the appropriate folders in the "this week" binder:
Step 7: EVERY NIGHT, I use my planner to write the next day's lessons on the white board.  This gives myself and the kids a checklist to work on throughout the day.  We erase assignments as they're completed and can see at a glance how much school is left.  This "work at a glance" system has been really key to quickly picking up where we left off and maximizing our time while Secora is occupied with other activities.
 I also put that day's vinyl folder for each girl in a wall file that's hanging on our pegboard (at the beginning of the year, Sedona had picked yellow for her color, but I couldn't find more yellow folders at the store, so she had to change). 

This system has been great for us so far.  It minimizes the work I need to do during the week and prevents delays in the morning by having everything ready to go as soon as the girls are ready to get started (which is often before I'M ready to get started).  I can't imagine going back to when we first started homeschooling and I was looking over lessons every night, running to the store in the morning for materials we needed that afternoon and copying worksheets as needed.  It's definitely a stress relief to have everything set-up and ready to go. 

It's taken me two and a half years to slowly work my way towards this set-up, what other great organizational ideas am I missing?  If you have other tips, leave them in the comments to share with everyone!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The First Brisket

Today, I'm turning the floor over to my husband so he can tell you about the brisket he smoked for us last weekend:

Here in Texas, BBQ is a big deal and the holy grail of all BBQ in Texas is the brisket.  Done right, it is a tender, melt in your mouth, full of smoky goodness, flavorful piece of meat.  Texans respect a good brisket and the person who made it.  So I have been smoking various meats since my wife got me a smoker for my birthday last year.  We have had some missteps but overall most things that come out of the smoker are good and others are great.

Last week Kim was going over the shopping list and mentioned brisket.  I thought she was talking about a pre-cooked brisket.  She said, "no there's a good sale on brisket, but you would have to cook it."  Well, OK, I’ll give it shot.  After some serious internet searches, the following is what I ended up doing:

Get yourself a brisket, fresh not frozen.  Get a small one because even a small one is 8 -10 pounds.  You have to make sure it will actually fit in your smoker.

Mix up your rub:
¼ C Brown sugar
¼ C Kosher salt
¼ C paprika
¼ C chili powder
1T garlic powder
1T Onion powder
1T Cumin

The day before smoking, prepare the brisket: trim much of the fat off and leave about ¼ inch thick fat cap.  No need to be precise but more fat just means longer cook time and too little fat means you end up with boot leather. Slice the fat cap diagonally both ways so the smoke and rub can penetrate better.

Smear mustard all over both sides of the brisket not too thick but enough so your rub will stick.

Now layer on your rub to both sides being careful to get all the crevices and not to knock it off when you turn it over to do the other side.

Place the brisket in plastic wrap and make sure no liquid will leak out.  Put the wrapped brisket in your fridge over night.

Early the next morning pre-heat your smoker to about 220F - 250F.  Unwrap your brisket and place it in the smoker, put some mesquite chips in and let the games begin.

Hope you are going to be around because it will be an all day affair.  For the first 2 hours DONOT open the smoker, resist the urge.  Every half an hour add some more chips to keep the smoke going.  At two hours open the smoker and mop the brisket with sauce (1 part Apple cider vinegar, 1 part Olive oil and ⅛ part paprika).  Every hour now mop and add chips.  Once you get to five hours you can stop adding chips as the smoke will probably not penetrate anymore.  At 6 hours a thermometer stuck in the thickest part read 162F for me.  Technically it is done, that is, safe to eat.  But to get that tenderness you have to go on up in temp to 180F - 200F.  That is when all the fat inside starts to melt creating a tender brisket.  There is a phenomenon in smoking meats called the plateau and it usually occurs around 150F - 160F.  It can take hours to pass this point depending on the meat.  But hold yourself in check and it will pass and continue to rise.  Scientifically, it is not magic just the point where the fat is melting, absorbing the heat and until this is done the temp will not rise very much.

The outside of the brisket will look like hell.  It might be burnt and chared to a crisp but inside is what counts.  Once you are happy with the temp, take it out of the smoker and let it rest for at least 15 minutes, 30 would be better.  It was so hard not to cut into it right away and take that first bite.  Would it be good or would would it be a chunk of leather?

It was most definitely good brisket.  Would I serve it to friends and family?   Absolutely, we actually took some to the neighbors.  Would it win awards at a competition?  Sadly, probably not.  But that just means I have to practice more.

There are a lot of good resources out there to read.  Don’t be scared to try, it will turn out fine.
If you have any questions about how to smoke anything and I do mean anything, this forum is the place to ask.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Still Here!

Hello from the homeschool abyss!  Turns out this homeschooling more than one kid gig is pretty time intensive.  I'm still happy with my set-up and I think we're as organized and "put together" as we can be, but we're dealing with a few growing pains.  Sedona is a little disappointed to learn kindergarten does not consist solely of painting and pasting all day long.  Sierra is having to take on more responsibility for herself this year and struggling a bit with that.  The school work is not a problem, but the idea that I expect her to have her independent work done before her daddy gets home is a big problem.  She has not yet learned that if she chooses to play all morning, she is going to have to work for 4 hours straight in the afternoon.  We're slowly, but steadily, coming around to the idea that starting early and taking frequent breaks is much more enjoyable. 

Since they are so far apart academically, I need to work with each of them separately.  That means I spend a lot of the day bouncing back and forth between the two of them, while retrieving Secora from the latest mess she's created.  I've been cleaning quite a bit of crayon off walls and tables lately. 

I'm able to catch snippets of time here and there, 5 or 10 minutes to pay a bill, run through emails, update the budget book or do the dishes.  There's just not time to sit down and do chunks of work until the evening though.  By then it's time to get out the next day's schoolwork, work on girl scout stuff (more on that later, I'm enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would), and just take some time to rest my brain. 

I do have several blog posts started that I hope to get up soon, hopefully I have time this weekend.  I plan to share the kindergarten science lesson plans I'm working on, tell all about the brisket Josh smoked for labor day, update about our fall garden planting, and I also want to write up a full financial rundown of how much chickens cost (and earn). 

So bear with me!  I'm hoping there's more wiggle room in the day as we settle into our school year!


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