Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Body Worlds RX: A Review of McWane's Newest Exhibit

My son raises his hands, formed in the shape of a heart, to my face and says, "Mommy, it's not shaped like this at all.  Why do people say a heart is shaped like this?"

We are examining an actual heart that has been preserved by Plastination.  It is clearly in the shape of a fist, not the traditional heart-shape we've all come to associate with love.  "Well," I respond, "I'm not sure where that depiction came from.  As you can see, a heart is more in the shape of a fist."  My son shakes his head and moves along to the next exhibit.

The human heart is just one of many fascinating organs on display at the McWane Science Center's "Body Worlds Rx: Prescriptions for Healthy Living" exhibit.  As a homeschooling mom, I'm often looking for ways to bring science to life in a meaningful way for my children; in this exhibit, science leaps from the pages of the textbook into a network of displays that could capture children's interest for hours.  As a long-time visitor to the McWane Science Center, this is easily my favorite of all the exhibits I have visited at the museum.

The kids had the opportunity to touch an actual brain and heart

"Body Worlds Rx" is located on the third floor.  When visitors enter the exhibit, they are greeted by the displays of actual human bodies, which reveal different organ and body systems.  Anatomist Dr. Gunther von Hagens, who invented a way to preserve the human body in such a way it can be displayed for viewing to the general public, has paved the way for an innovative way to educate the public on the intricate, delicate workings of the human body.  His science is called Plastination, which hardens the different parts of the body.  This new science was unveiled at McWane on January 27th.

My children pose with one of the models.  This model illustrates the network of bones and muscles in the body.

Visitors begin their tour of the exhibit with a close-up examination of the bones and muscles then travel through the different body systems, including circulatory, digestive, endocrine, neurological, respiratory, etc.  Each of the organs on display is an actual, preserved organ, not simply a man-made model.  The exhibit also highlights different ailments that afflict a body when it isn't properly maintained.  "Body Worlds Rx" presents an explanation of each body system that is easily comprehended, and even offers actual models of diseased organs and systems, often comparing them to healthy ones.  It is an exhibition that is perfect for educating young and old on the importance of healthy living.

A look at the large intestine

An up-close look at the organs and their actual location within the body

The exhibition includes many displays that are simply viewed, but there are plenty of hands-on activities including a dummy for practicing CPR and a working blood-pressure cuff.  The exhibition merges physical displays with technology, including an interactive display that shows what happens in the body when movement occurs.  Entertaining videos, perfect for children, further explain complicated body systems and the diseases that affect those.  My favorite section is on healthy eating; this exhibit captivated my children and clearly illustrated the importance of healthy eating in an impactful way.  While the idea of looking at preserved specimens of an actual human body might leave some squeamish, the exhibition is kid-friendly, especially for elementary and up.  I can't emphasize how ideal this exhibit is to use in conjunction with a unit on the human body.  I can't imagine a more realistic, impactful opportunity, outside of a university medical class.  Parents should rush their children to view this imaginative, if not astonishing, exhibit.  The first visit is free for members but costs $2 for subsequent visits.  Non-members can expect to pay $5.00 plus museum admission.

Watching one of the many short videos

A simple, but effective explanation of cancer

My children, captivated by a video on healthy eating

The importance of healthy eating

A pictorial display on the what people in other countries eat

Display of nervous system

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Do-over Please?

I walk into the dining room, which also doubles as our classroom.  The table is barely evident for the stacks of books and papers that cover it. I announce it's time for school to which my daughter rebuffs, "I'm not doing school today."  Her eyes narrow in determination and her arms cross her chest in defiance.

"That's not a choice," I respond.  "Now, where's your math book?"

"I'm sitting on it."

"A, come on, hand me your math book and let's get started."

"You can't make me," her voice is quiet and cold.

That helpless feeling fills my body.  She's right.  I mean, I could physically move her body from the book while she kicks and screams, but I can't force her to actually do the math.  "Well, if you aren't going to complete your school work then you can vacuum.  I lean over to pick something up as she tosses a book in frustration.  I look up just in time to catch the corner of the book in the cheekbone.  The culmination of a long morning of defiance and a rotten attitude.  I jump up and grab my face.  Tears of pain spring to my eyes.  "What is wrong with you!" I shout.  Jesus, help me, I think. I don't know how to parent her when she's like this.  "You," I say, pointing wildly like some deranged lunatic.  "I need you to go to your room."  My finger flies toward the stairs as if she needs directions to her bedroom.  "I don't want to be around you right now."  My stomach sinks.  I know that wasn't the right thing to say, but I'm truly at a loss, and my eye is throbbing so intensely I swear it's visibly pulsating.

I walk downstairs to alert my husband, who's helping our son. that I need to leave for a little while.  He looks at my eye, winces, and let's me know he's on it.  I jump in the car and erupt into sobs.  This is probably not the right course of action according to all of my parenting books on strong-willed children, but the introvert in me desperately needs to create distance and to be alone to process everything.  I drive a mile to McDonald's and order an large unsweet tea through heavy, wracking sobs.  I pull to the drive-through, eye-swelling, tears pouring.  The cashier is probably so unsettled by the crying maniac at her window that she refuses to make eye contact.  I know I need to deal with this properly, so I offer this prayer on the way back home:  Lord, I'm weary.  I'm baffled.  I don't know.  I just don't even know where to start.  Help.

I arrive home to see my husband teaching Annie multiplication of two by two digits.  "I'll take it from here," I whisper.  A looks up, tears brimming, and says, "I'm sorry the book hit you, Mommy."  I'd like to say the day improved from there, but alas, we had already pulled the thread and unravel it did.  My daughter, who is lovely 85% of the time, has difficulty pulling the emotions together once they start to get out of control.  Thank you, pre-teen hormones combined with a naturally spirited-temperamental personality.

An hour later, I find myself locked in another battle with my headstrong daughter.  "We need to leave for piano in ten minutes."  I walk into the dining room to find her desperately trying to complete fifteen minutes worth of written piano homework.  "A! You've had seven days to complete that."

"I know," she cries.  "I'm not going to finish."

"That's a consequence of your poor choice.  It's time to go."  I'm met with frantic wails, but I reiterate that she must face the music.  Minutes later, her piano teacher opens the door to greet a sobbing nine-
year-old and a harried mom with a bruised cheek.  I shake my head and assure her we're fine, just a little battle weary.  While A is in piano, I decide to walk the neighborhood and reflect on the day, otherwise known as beating myself up for all the parenting errors I made that day.

I was giving myself a good mental lashing when I heard Luke 22:31 (not audibly-the day hadn't been that bad) "Simon Peter, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat."  How strange?  What has that to do with a bad parenting day?  I thought about it again. "Simon Peter, Satan has asked to sift you like wheat."  Now, I don't know what happened in the heavenlies that morning when I asked God to guide each step of my day, but it certainly felt as if Satan had been sifting me, more like holding me upside down and shaking me by my ankles.  My thoughts drifted to Peter's denial of Jesus just hours later. Peter screwed up big time, but......but, Jesus forgave him.  Jesus gave Satan permission to sift Peter, perhaps, because Jesus knew that's what it would take to strengthen and to prepare Peter for the work ahead.  Maybe that's where the Holy Spirit was leading me. Because when it comes to parenting, I wish I just failed three times a day rather than ninety, and I don't always feel up to the task.

With each step of my walk, I recalled every mistake made that day.  Pushing too hard, shouting, emotionally distancing myself because sometimes it's just so hard, and that's how I protect myself from the outbursts of an emotionally charged child.  Peter failed Jesus in Christ's darkest hour.  He even denied he knew him, yet Jesus lovingly rebuked Peter simply by asking three times if he loved Him.  Gentle Jesus who's mercies are new every morning.  Jesus, I'm sorry.  I'm so sorry for all the ways I fail you, fail her.  Help me. Help me be the mom she needs, the mom you created me to be.  Washed in the cleansing balm of forgiveness, I continue to think about my beautiful, tough-as-nails daughter.

I'm an eternal optimist.  A sometimes makes Eeyore seem downright jovial.

I'm a people-pleaser.  She seriously could not care less who she pleases.

I'm a diligent hard worker.  A seeks out the path of least resistance.

I was expecting a min-me and God blessed me with something wild, wonderful, and unpredictable, yet to a woman who does not like her clear-cut goals and plans interrupted, that's scary.

A and I are so opposite, yet God gave me her because He knows we need each other.  I'm not going to lie.  It is sometimes so difficult to parent her.  There are days that though, I love her madly no matter what, I mean wildly love this bronco of mine, there are days, it breaks my heart to say it, that I don't always like her.  Just fleeting moments of this child isn't very nice.  Of course, parenting her is usually a delight, but on those days it's hard, it's back-breaking, bone-weary hard.  All those qualities that will create a wildly successful adult who refuses to accept rejection and laughs at the idea of following the crowd; those qualities are wrecking her mama.  Yet, I won't give up on me or on her.  Just as He's perfecting me and making me new, He's doing the same for her and has trusted me with assisting Him in the process.  I slow my pace as I near her piano teacher's house.  My grace is sufficient for you because My power is made perfect in weakness.  That's really what it's all about isn't it, Jesus?  In parenting, in marriage, in life.  God uses all situations to bring us to faithful dependence on Him.  He supplies strength to the weary, especially the weary mamas of the world.

A walks out of her lesson.  I greet her with a smile and take her arm as we walk to the car.  "I forgive you for hitting me with the book and for losing it over school.  Do you forgive me for not handling your defiance in the best way?  I'm sorry I yelled, but I though my eye was going to fall out."  We giggle.  I stop her, turn her to face me, kneel and take her shoulders.  "God tells us His mercies are new every morning.  Let's pretend it's morning and have a do-over."  I pause then continue, "You know I love you more than life, right?"  She nods.  "I mean it."  I feel the tears sting."

"Mommy, let's go.  You're being embarrassing."  I stand and she takes my hand.  Once in the car, I start to turn the ignition when I hear, "Mommy, I love you."  I don't bite back the tears but allow them to flow.  Parenting is literally the hardest job on the planet, but never forget, it's without a doubt the most rewarding, especially when you remember that God, through you,  is creating a beautiful, beautiful thing.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Working and Homeschooling: Finding Balance

I toss a stack of books into the leather ottoman that discreetly stores my children's textbooks.  A and C gather pencils , clean excess paper and schoolwork off the dining room table then rush off to read silently for half an hour while I dress for work.  My husband and I discuss dinner and practice schedules, and I leave a few last minute instructions with the kids before I head out to the library where I will spend the next five hours tutoring.  My husband steps in to handle the afternoon duties of shuttling the kids to practice, feeding them dinner, and preparing them for bed.  When I return home from work, I will run upstairs where my two little ones are waiting patiently for books and good night hugs, thus ending another day for our homeschooling family.

An oft-repeated comment I hear from moms who wish to homeschool is "I'd love to homeschool, but I have to work."  I'm often greeted with looks of surprise when I share that not only do I work but so do many of my homeschooling friends.  Working mom and homeschooling mom need not be mutually exclusive.   In fact, working while homeschooling can provide real-world learning experiences for your own children.

While working and homeschooling is possible, it isn't always easy.   If you decide to tackle working while homeschooling, you might need to rethink your vision of work.  It probably isn't realistic to assume you can maintain a career as a full-time doctor or lawyer and adequately school your children without reevaluating your schedule, especially when your children are young.  In my family, my husband and I both run businesses from home and are able to swap easily between work and school.  My son often works on his math and spelling while my husband fields business calls in his office.  C enjoys watching his dad in action.  If you happen to be a nurse, you could possibly schedule shifts for weekends or evenings and school on off days and in the mornings.  As children become more independent in their schooling, which is ultimately the goal (self-directed learning), schedules can resume a more traditional path.

Finding balance in work and homeschool is often the most difficult challenge, and some careers more easily allow this balance.  Here are a few traits, compiled from conversations with working homeschooling moms, that successful homeschooling moms tend to share.

1.  They work from home or work in careers with flexible scheduling.  

I run a tutoring business and meet with students in the afternoon and evenings.  This leaves the morning free to school my children.  I also schedule one weekday free for field trips and have chosen not to work on weekends to protect family time and worship.  I also teach one day a week at a co-op that allows my children to come with me to work and even provides childcare.  If you excel in a certain subject area and enjoy working with children, tutoring is an excellent career.

My friend, Jennifer, works the early morning and evening shift at a local YMCA.  She's home during the middle of the day with her children.  Any job that allows a split-shift is ideal.  Retailers will often allow this.  My friend, Michele, is a rep with Premier Designs.  Most of her work is completed at night, and she simply schedules jewelry showings around her children's schedules.  With a little research, you can find many careers that allow for flexible scheduling.  I have friends who monogram, friends who bake, friends who edit copy.  With ingenuity, most hobbies can become entrepreneurial endeavors.

2.  They include their children in their work.

If you run a business from home, your work provides an ideal learning experience for your child.  What better real-world experience than to allow your child to watch and to even participate in the running of your business.  Michele, a rep for Premier Designs, allows her young daughter to place labels on catalogs and assist in creating hostess packets. She even incorporates her business into their homeschooling lessons.  I, too, try to incorporate lessons from business into homeschooling.  Recently, my daughter was learning about sales tax.  My husband displayed several receipts from his business and illustrated for my daughter how his business charges and pays certain taxes in transactions.  We were then able to discuss how the government uses our tax money. 

Early in my homeschooling career, I bemoaned the fact I had to work, feeling it took time away from my children.  Now, I view it as an opportunity.  My children
experience a true laboratory of learning as they observe my husband and I tackle the day-to-day challenges that come with running a business.  They understand how entrepreneurship works.  As society changes, more and more people will work from home or will run small businesses.  They will learn how to better balance aspects of home, work, church, and family from experience rather than theory.  Michele's older children have shown an interest in entrepreneurship as she's shared her business with them.  In fact, several young homeschoolers run successful businesses now.  They are already honing the skills necessary to developing a successful career.

3.  They create balance in their lives and have a support system.

The key to successfully creating an ideal work/homeschool environment is balance.  When I first began homeschooling, I had just started my business.  I was trying desperately to build a network while also trying to both research curriculum and create a homeschool.  I was teaching 18 hours a day, either my own or children of my clients. I experienced burnout and was staring down the long, dark road of depression.  I realized that to adequately provide for my family, I needed to find balance, so I decided to trust God's promise to provide and prayerfully considered what was absolutely necessary to include in my day.  I narrowed the focus of my business to just include ACT/SAT tutoring, I turned down several volunteer and work opportunities, accepting only those I truly felt called to do, and I decreased my work hours.  Within months, I felt my health and faith restored, and my children learned a lesson by watching their mom evaluate her schedule and make difficult but necessary choices to improve her family's quality of life.  I also taught my children that it is okay to say no, even to good things because better opportunities lie ahead.  I hope I also taught them a lesson in having faith.

The moms I know who handle this successfully also carve out time in their day for themselves.  This may be a bible study, hour at the gym, or twenty minutes with a book.  It's also important to spend quality time with your spouse.  Give your children positive associations with work.  Michele places ten percent of her jewelry earnings in a "fun jar" and the family reaps the benefits of her hard work together in an enjoyable activity.  This, too, is an example of balance.  Money is tithed, saved, spent, and enjoyed.

Successful working homeschool moms also ask for help and delegate responsibilities to their children.  Your child is capable of cleaning the bathroom and of preparing simple meals.  Enlist the help of your spouse.  My husband is a true partner in our homeschool and folds laundry with more precision than I ever could.

So, yes, if you feel led to homeschool but feel that it's impossible to reconcile that calling with your need to work, know it's possible.  There are thousands of moms balancing work and school and not at the expense of their children but to their benefit.  Though it isn't always easy and requires a true evaluation of priorities and expectations, there are many fulfilling careers that fit your desire to contribute to your family's income with your desire to homeschool.  

Monday, January 25, 2016

What To Really Expect When You're Expecting

My baby sister is expecting her first baby.  As the youngest of two sisters and a brother (all parents), she will be the fortunate recipient of our advice and words of wisdom.  Of course, she could read about what to expect in any number of books, if she's looking for the tidy, sanitized version.  I find it my duty, though, to draw back the curtain and show her what to really expect in the months and years following her pregnancy, so my sweet G, I present "What to Really Expect When You're Expecting."

1.  Enjoy your pregnancy.  Relish every quiet, peaceful, uninterrupted moment of your pregnancy.  Go to bed at 8:00 pm if you feel so inclined.  Sleep in until noon.  Sit down at a table and enjoy all three courses of your meal.  Read a book.  Binge watch Netflix.  Then say good-bye to all of these activities for 18 years.  It's okay; I'll pause while you take a moment of silence.

2.  Once the baby arrives, well-meaning, often childless, or perhaps forgetful, people will advise you to sleep when your baby sleeps.  Pshaw......Don't listen to them.  When else will you catch up on Days of Our Lives and Reddit?  Stefano and Marlena are not going to wait for your baby to grow up, sis.  You may also want to use this time for minor activities like eating and showering and maybe, running the vacuum.  It'll be good for your princess to adjust to napping with noise, especially if you plan to have a little prince in the future.

2.  This may come as a shock, but there will be days you won't shower.  Your child will leave the house looking like an ad for Kelly's Kids and you will leave looking like an extra for the Walking Dead.   It's all right.  No one will judge you.....no one, except maybe that group of moms at Kindermusik who all look like they stepped out of the pages of Vogue.  They will judge, but who cares?  Those are not your people.  Trust me, there's a whole cast of Walking Dead extras stumbling sleepily across playgrounds and through the aisles of Target.  Plus, you watched an entire episode of American Idol and didn't drop the baby when that spider ran out of the closet.  High five!

3.  If you plan to nurse, prepare for your milk to letdown at the most awkward times:  singing in the choir at church, lecturing students on participial phrases, checking out at the grocery store, making a deposit at the bank.  You will be your very own Leaky Cauldron, and I'm not talking Harry Potter, friend.  This is a magic all of its own.  Buy lots of those little pads for your bra and be prepared because milk happens.

4.  Speaking of breast feeding, there is no such thing as pumping discreetly unless you work on an airport runway or at a bar with a heavy metal band.  That pumping noise can broadcast through steel walls.  If you pump in your classroom during your ten minute planning period, lock the door.  That's a difficult one to explain to the poor administrator who waltzes through the door.  Hang a sign that says "Pumping in Progress."  No one will come near your room.  Forget, leave it up the rest of the day, and catch a nap.

5.  I know you teach aerobics.  Bless you.  Plan on having a co-teacher for those five to ten times you have to dash off to the restroom during jumping jacks.  Trampolines?  Forget about it unless you also carry an extra pair of pants for you in that giant diaper bag you'll be hauling around.

6.  There will come a day when your precious is about three months old where you will want to venture out to the mall, just to make sure Jesus didn't return and leave you behind.  Don't bother.  Once you load the stroller, diaper bag, baby carrier, wrestle your little bronco into the seat without pinching off a finger, remember you're wearing pajama pants, go back inside to put on blue jeans, you'll be too tired to turn on the ignition.  The good news is the baby finally drifted to sleep after hours of attempting to put her down for a nap earlier.  Always keep a book or magazine in the car for this occasion.  Put on sunglasses and turn off the ignition.  It will appear you are reading, while you, too, catch a nap.  If your husband surprises you for lunch, pretend you just got into the car.

7.  Never say never.  Everything you learned in that child development class you took in college, all those precious parenting strategies you tucked away for when you had children will not apply when your child is projectile vomiting on your Karastan area rug or when your angel decides to decorate the kitchen counter with permanent marker or shred the stack of essays you were about to grade.  You will say that thing your mom always said and you swore you'd never say, and to add salt to the wound, it will leave your mouth in her voice.  You will find yourself saying things like, "Please don't bite your toenails until you at least wash your feet."  Or, "What did you think would happen when you shoved a grape up your nose?"

8.  The baby-apparatus companies will tell you it is impossible to rear your child without forty-five gadgets and three different cribs.  Please remember our parents did this with drop side cribs and walkers on wheels sans baby gates.  We just rolled to the next landing where our parents set us upright then we'd keep toddling along.  Thousands of generations of babies survived without designer diapers and boppity-boopy seats.

9.  Your friends will change a bit.  You'll swear to all of your childless friends that you guys will be BFFs forever, and you will with one or two, but your endless talk about how your baby smiled, pooped green, spit up, made adorable cooing noises will begin to wear thin.  You can't help it.  At this moment, your whole world revolves around someone who is 20 inches and weighs ten pounds and can shake the foundation of your house with screaming at 2 am.  If you do manage to keep silent about your little love, you won't be able to follow their conversation about the latest episode of Downton Abbey because you nodded off during the evening news.  It may seem intimidating or impossible at first, but before you know it, you'll be surrounded by a group of mommas who love to discuss breast milk storage and The Runaway Bunny as much as you.

10.  Finally, and seriously, your life will be rocked in ways you never imagined.  When the doctor hands you that tiny miracle from God, you'll never look back.  No amount of sleep or size 6 jeans or grown-up conversation over a glass of wine in a real goblet will ever tempt you to go back to life before this precious love.  Your and Jordan's lives will be given purpose you never imagined as you nurture this child into an adult.  The joy, even on those days when this child is ten and drives you to your knees before the throne of God in anxious, befuddled prayer, will far outweigh any burden.  Those first days can be lonely, but soon, so soon, you'll find your routine, hit your groove, and wonder why you didn't enter the wonderful world of parenting sooner.

So, baby sister, congratulations.  You are embarking on a journey that will forever transform your life.  You will wake up in ten years and realize you are gentler, more compassionate, more patient, kinder, more joyful, and more loving than you ever thought possible.  You'll thank God for using this precious miracle to cultivate within your own life the fruit of His spirit.  Now that you know what to expect, fasten your seatbelt, and enjoy the ride!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Whole30 Weekly Menu

Questions abound when I mention Whole30:  What do you eat?  Is it a diet?  Will you lose weight? How do you have time to prepare all that food?  I understand the inquiries; foregoing processed, pre-packaged foods, grains, and sugar can be intimidating.  Knowing it's just you, the exterior aisles of the grocery store, and the kitchen for thirty days may sound unappetizing, but the results from a Whole30 eating challenge (and from a Paleo lifestyle) far outweigh the initially overwhelming workload.

The keys to Whole30 success are planning and preparing.  I tend to plan meals, create my grocery list, shop, and complete food prep on Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings.  While the process for planning and preparing a week's worth of meals takes 5-6 total hours, keep in mind that I'm basically set for the week.  That means rather than panic about what my husband is serving for dinner while I'm tutoring at the library until 9, I can just text him which bowl to pull out of the refrigerator to heat up for a healthy meal.  Tossing a meal into the crockpot is easy when I have all the necessary ingredients in the refrigerator or freezer.  It's really simple when the veggies are already chopped.  So while it takes time on the front end, weekly meal prep becomes effortless and stress-free.

One very popular question I'm asked is what does a typical week look like.  Breakfast is usually eggs with leftover bacon or meat.  I'm also a fan of sweet potato hashes.  Dice sweet potatoes, toss with coconut oil saute until cooked, then toss in an egg and scramble or fry.  Leftovers also make a good breakfast.  Who says you have to eat breakfast foods?  When I'm not on Whole30, I find kale smoothies are a quick option,  Lunch tends to be a salad of spring mix, kale, and spinach, and leftovers.  I also prepare soups.  These two are my favorite, and I've linked the recipes:

Dinner is where my husband and I have fun finding and trying new recipes.  Here's our dinner list from the past two weeks, complete with linked recipes:

Pizza Spaghetti Pie  This was amazing.

Flank Steak and Chicken Fajitas  I prepared the meat by rubbing it with cumin and chili powder then sautéed with red onion and bell peppers.  The "tortillas" were Plantain tortillas.  

Shrimp and "Grits"  This was probably my favorite dish of the week.

Chicken and Sausage Gumbo  We substituted shrimp for chicken.

Tropical Slow Cooker Pork Roast My husband also puts a Boston butt on the grill every other week and we eat leftovers for lunch.

Sunshine Sauce  This isn't a meal, but it's divine.  I cut up a large plate of broccoli, peppers, celery and dip it into this.

Cincinnati Chili I served this over spaghetti squash.

Spaghetti and Meatballs served over roasted spaghetti squash or zucchini noodles

We also roast Brussel's sprouts, asparagus, sweet potatoes, and eat our share of salads.  So, there you go.  That's what a week of meals looks like.  We also eat easy meals or roasted chicken thighs, grilled fish, steak, all served with veggies.  Cauliflower rice will become your best friend.  That's just a sample of what Paleo eating looks like.  My favorite cookbooks include Well Fed, Well Fed 2, PaleOMG,  and Against All Grain. So, while at first glance, Whole30 might seem like an impossible challenge, with proper planning it can be an easy way to nourish your family for life.