Monthly Archives: February 2008

Talking to the principal

Okay, so you all know that we put our ninth grade son in a private high school this year, after seven years of homeschooling.  And he has been doing incredibly well for the most part.  Except for the part where he’s doing really, really badly.  There are a variety of factors, which I can’t really get into here.  But that’s what I went to speak to the principal about.

I’ve been paying close attention to this situation from the beginning of the year, but was reluctant to jump in and take over.  But finally my husband and I agreed that we needed to take steps to deal with the issue.  I told the principal that I want to homeschool him for the four afternoon classes – one of which he’s doing fairly well in, one is a complete write off because there’s a new teacher who can’t control the class, and two that he’s doing poorly in.  I told him that I don’t expect the school to bend to meet my son’s needs, but I’m not willing to watch him spend hours every day and put in the effort and not get the education I want him to have. 

The principal countered and said that the school will do whatever they can to make it work for him.  Knowing that this flexibility only exists in words and won’t extend to anything meaningful, I thanked him and told him that it won’t help.  The school day is obscenely long – my son is up before 7 am and out the door by 7:30, and gets home at 8:45 pm.  Then he does homework and studies for tests, prepares lunch for the next day, or just relaxes a little – until midnight.  On the days he’s off, he totally crashes – he just falls asleep on the couch for hours in the middle of the day, something he’s never done before.  I told the principal that the day is very long – too long.  By 3 pm, when these classes begin, he’s put in a full day and done well.  He just doesn’t have any energy or motivation left to keep him going in the later classes.  Will the school shorten it’s school day? Clearly not. 

So the principal tells me it must be some social or emotional problem, because he doesn’t raise his hand to ask questions and sits in the back of the class.  I didn’t expect it to be hard to understand that a kid who doesn’t want to be there and isn’t understanding all the material doesn’t want to participate.   Why look for deep psychological motivations?  It’s pretty obvious what’s going on to me. 

Anyway, back to the principal.  He told me I could hire a tutor to work with my son in the class he’s struggling with.  I told him that was unreasonable, given the long hours and the private school tuition we were already paying, that there literally was no available time for tutoring and even if there was, I wasn’t going to do it.  Then he suggested that he only take the first two classes, drop the second two, and come back for the night.  I pointed out that picking him up from school at 5 pm and then having to begin working with him on his most difficult subjects wasn’t realistic or fair to him. 

He admitted he had a bias, that kids need the social structure of school, and asked me how I would handle the credit documentation.  I didn’t bother pointing out that my son was the best behaved in every class (that’s what all the teachers say, I’m not just saying that), had no behavior issues, and got along with all the kids – the social thing is so ridiculous that I just don’t have patience for it.  I’m at the point in my life that I’ll just let anyone look at my kids and they can judge for themselves how they’re faring in dealing with others.  If they want to ignore the obvious, why should I bother pointing that out?   And I didn’t mention that he’s in school to learn, not for vague ‘social’ stuff.

I told him how I’d deal with the credits, and then told him that my biggest concern is that my son gets the skills and education that he should, and that if I had to choose between him getting credits and getting an education (meaning staying in school, though I didn’t directly say that), I’d choose the education every time.  The skills and abilities are my priority, not a piece of paper.  He countered by saying that a student needs to be successful in school to be successful in life.

Now I’d been quite polite until now, and I remained polite.  I’m not looking to change his philosophy about education, just get my son out of a difficult situation into something that would work better for him.  But time to take off the kid gloves – I couldn’t let something like that go by.  So I told him, ‘I can’t disagree with you more.  There is never another time in a person’s life once they are outside of school that they need to spend hours a day in a place they don’t want to be, doing things they don’t want to do, with people they don’t want to be with – and to have absolutely no say about any of it.  And not only that, if you look around at the vast majority of hugely successful people today, the majority of them weren’t superstars in school.  There is absolutely no correlation between success in school and success in life.’  He reluctantly conceded the point.

So he agreed that I could take ds out for four hours, if I got him back in time for the evening class.  And if I got permission from the other principal, who is responsible for a different part of the curriculum.  So off I go to the other principal, who fortunately was in and had time to speak with me.  This principal loves my son – he told me he’s a real asset to the school and student body, can’t say enough good about him.  He was very surprised to hear how poorly he was doing in the two classes I mentioned, since he knows he’s a smart and motivated student.  I explained the situation to him, and he understood my concerns, but told me he doesn’t have the authority to release my son from that part of the program.  Who does?  I inquire. The board.  The problem is, that the only reason they allow something like this is when a student has special needs that the school can’t meet.  And since ds is in honor classes, the argument that he has special needs isn’t going to go over well, because the response would be to put him in a lower class. 

So he said he’ll have an answer for me in a week.  Interestingly, both of the principals mentioned in passing that the tuition might be an issue – meaning that I would want to pay less if he wasn’t there for all of those classes and that had to be taken into account.  I told them that the tuition has been paid for this year, and we have no desire to get a refund at all.  Just a desire to get our son in a situation where he’ll be learning again.  Then I was told that they’re afraid to set a precedent that other parents will want to do what I’m doing.  I found that amusing, as I know full well that very few parents of high school boys want to pull them out of school and be responsible for them academically, especially as that means dealing with their child for hours more a day. 

As I said before, you have to look out for your child.  No matter how wonderful someone else is, your child isn’t their child.  All I care about is what’s best for my son, not what’s easiest for me, or my ego.  Both of these principals are wonderful people – really, good quality people.  But they have to juggle other agendas besides my son’s interests when they make decisions.


Good day, bad day – who decides?

Today was another tired day – as soon as my oldest daughter saw me this morning, she asked, “Mommy, are you tired?”  She never asked me that before.  It made me wonder what I looked like – usually a shower is enough to wash away any tiredness I’m feeling but today it didn’t work.  Then she looked down at the baby and said, “Is he tired also?  He has the same look on his face as you!”  LOL – there was a reason for that – we spent lots of time the entire night long bonding instead of sleeping!

But – it’s amazing how attitude makes all the difference!  I told you that yesterday started off with me feeling uptight and antsy about everything.  Today should have been the same or worse, if it was just the stuff going on that causes someone to be upset. But the truth is, it’s always our thoughts about something that are the source of our problems. 

The people from the city came out and told me that they aren’t responsible for our sewage problem, and I thought how good it was that they came at 10am instead of later in the day.  So that gave me time to call a plumber to take care of it (he’s here now – it’s 10 pm).  Then I was late for the appointment I made with my oldest son’s principal, and being late is something I hate.  But I just called, told him I’d be there 15 minutes later, and didn’t get uptight about it.  I was given more opportunities to work on letting go of things I can’t control during the drive there, since I hit every possible stop light, road work delays, and then had to wait for an 18 wheeler to pull into a tiny driveway (which blocked traffic on both sides until he finished).  And I thought how lucky I was to have more time to relax in the car myself, listening to music I don’t usually listen to when the kids are around. 

As far as the appointment with the principal – that deserves a post of its own.  I’ll just say in short, that a parent has to be willing to advocate for their child, because your child may be your first priority, but never is someone else’s top priority – no matter how nice they are.  I’ll try to share more about this later on today – I’m trying to catch up here since I’ve hardly had time all week without a baby in my arms to write. 

I got home from the appointment, delighted that my baby was still sleeping.  I don’t like to leave him awake for my older girls to take care of, because I want them to have the time to use the way they want or need.  My oldest daughter hurt her hand yesterday, and told me when I got back that it was really hurting.  She’s not one to complain, so I called her pediatrician and got an appointment for 40 minutes later.  I always end up waiting a very, very long time, so I took a book and my 5 year old, so I could read with him while we waited.  Amazingly enough, my closest friend in town who I’ve been leaving messages for in response to her messages – had the appointment right before me.  And so we had a chance to connect for 15 or 20 minutes while my daughter went into see the doc.  

The arm isn’t broken, which is all I wanted to check for.  I was concerned about a fracture, but it seems it’s okay.  She iced it after she hurt it yesterday, then I wrapped it up to compress it, and gave her arnica (a homeopathic remedy I keep in my purse because it’s so good for bumps, bruising, traumas, and aches).   The doctor gave a good little memory device to remember how to deal with things like this: RICE – R- rest; I – ice; C – compression; E – elevation.  She commended my daughter on doing all the right things – but my daughter didn’t tell her about the arnica.  :)

We dealt with the sewer problem by not doing anything to make it worse – no laundry, dishes, toilet flushing (unless absolutely necessary) – and all of the water subsided and drained back away.  But yes, my kitchen is a huge mess and when the plumber finishes, I’m going to have a lot of cleaning up to do before I can get to sleep.  It’s amazing how many dishes a family our size uses, even when we’re keeping it simple. It’s really noticeable when they aren’t done in a timely way!  When the plumber came, he told me it will be $500 to fix it.   I had to take a deep breath at that, since I wasn’t expecting it to be nearly that much.  But he’ll clean up all the stuff from when it overflowed and everything will be nice and sanitary.  And for that price, my 9 year old son gets some nighttime entertainment, as he’s been watching it all and finding it very fascinating!

So was it a day of exhaustion, overflowing sewage, doctor visits, a messy house, and expensive home repairs or not??  Like I said, it’s all in the attitude!


An attitude of acceptance

Yesterday I woke up tense and the day just kept going from there in that vein.   I started getting breakfast ready, and noticed someone in a government car taking a picture of my back yard.  She zoomed off before I could ask her what she was doing, then my son saw her taking a picture of the front.  I couldn’t imagine why she was taking pictures, but thinking about it was getting me nervous.  I was outside when she zoomed by again so I flagged her down to find out what was going on.  She told me we were in violation of some code because we had two small kitchen cabinets leaning against our garage.  I pointed out that bulk trash pick up was scheduled for the next morning, but she said they shouldn’t be out until 6 am the next morning.  I think she realized how pathetic that sounded because she then said we had piles of debris all over the yard.  I was like, what are you talking about?? since we did a major clean up of the yard a couple of weeks ago and it looks pretty good.  I asked her to specifically tell me what was a problem, and she claimed we had piles of boards on our deck and it was a breeding ground for rats.  Turns out we had one 2×4 and one piece of countertop (which we were in the process of moving to the garage)- not quite a rat’s breeding ground, but the government will get their money from the fine so they’re happy.  The irony is that the house across the alley has a huge pile of boards leaning against their house, but she didn’t stop to fine them.  I wasn’t going to point that out and get someone else fined, but it’s a truism that I sometimes tell my kids – life isn’t fair so you have to get used to it. 

Then my kids tell me there’s water leaking from the big freezer – turns out to be a sewer backup.   Then we see stuff coming up from the basement bathroom.  Ah, delightful.  I call the city and they tell me they’ll be out within 24 hours.  24 hours is a long time when there’s raw sewage flooding the basement.  And I do mean flooding. 

When I took my husband to the train, I was grumbling about the nonsensical rules and random enforcement of rules by our city government.  Then told him how fed up I was of having to stay on top of everyone all the time for things to get done.  He asked me if that was always a problem, so I told him, ‘No, I’m in a lousy mood and overtired and everything is bugging me.”  As soon as I said that, I realized I had a serious need to reframe my attitude, and suddenly remembered something I got just a couple of weeks ago. 

It is a piece of card stock folded in six, each sixth with an inspiring message on it.  The one I thought of is called, Acceptance, and I find this incredibly powerful to read out loud.  It’s taken from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, but has been printed up in many other venues.  I pulled it out and read it out loud to myself at the next traffic light.  I find this so powerful and helpful that I want to share it with you:

‘Acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.  When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of my life unacceptable to me and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.  Nothing, absolutely nothing happens in God’s world by mistake; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy.  I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.’

Isn’t that wonderful?  I just love those concepts, and it immediately snapped me out of my funk.  Hope it helps you, too!


Self cutting

It’s an important thing to keep the lines of communication wide open with our kids, because as they get older, they’re going to encounter things that are bigger than their life experience to that point has prepared them for.  Knowing there is a loving adult that they can share their concerns with is very, very important.

Today my 9th grade son came home and shared something that he witnessed while in class.  Another student who was sitting close to him, opened up a paperclip  behind his desk.  The boy then ran the sharp end down his arm, repeating this action until he had cut open his arm and the blood was running down his arm.  My son found it particularly eery how the boy started smiling broadly once the blood was flowing.

 My son obviously knew something was unusual, to say the least, about this behavior.  He found it so disturbing that he spoke to me about it as soon as he got home.  He didn’t understand the significance of what he was seeing.  But I did.  (That’s one helpful aspect about reading so much about so many issues – lots of info is sitting there in my brain waiting to be used. :))  Self cutting, or self mutilation, is usually a sign of depression and a tool that kids in a lot of emotional pain use to relieve the overwhelming their pain.  My immediate concern was to find out if there was an involved adult in this child’s life who could help him get the help he needed.

But my son said he lives quite far away, and is dorming locally.  I think I’ve written about this here before, when parents have problems with a child and then think they’re dealing with the problem by shunting the kid off to somewhere out of sight like a boarding school.  But of course the issues are still there, just the parents can tell themselves that they’ve dealt with it. 

So I decided to call their teacher about it, who I know to be a very compassionate person who the kids trust because they know he cares.  I described to him what I heard, and though I purposely didn’t ask the boy’s name, gave him details I felt would be obvious to identify him.  He said he will take care of it from here. 

So this leaves me hopeful that somehow this kid will get some help, but just as much, leaves me thinking once again about how our kids need us.  They don’t stop needing us because their bodies get bigger. 


A funny thing

Remember I said last night I gave my oldest daughter a haircut?  Well, my son took the ‘after’ picture of her and showed it to me.  And I was taken aback by how much she looks like me.  I mean, I know she looks like me, but I didn’t realize how much she looks like me.  I never noticed it or thought much about it.  But now that her hairstyle is much more similar to mine, it’s really, really obvious. 

So this morning, the 11 year old was holding the baby, and he started to whimper when his 13 year old sis went by.  Usually he only cries when he sees me go by (it must make him realize that I’m not holding him :)).  They thought it was a coincidence – until the next time she walked by when he did the same thing.  And then they tried it again, and the same thing.  The baby thought she was me!  And he sees both of us every day, all day long.  That was a definite first for me, for one of my babies to mistake a siblings for me.  :) 

And this week, I shared some of my clothes with her.  She’s five inches shorter than me and much thinner, but this was a fitted sweatshirt for me that was baggy on her – she loves it.   (So much that I told her to just keep it.)  And she loves the idea of borrowing my clothes. :)  They grow up soooo fast!


Donating hair

Last year, my then almost 12 year old daughter got a haircut, donating over 10 inches of her hair to an organization that makes wigs for kids with cancer.  Since then, she’s encouraged her two younger sisters, who also have long hair, to do the same.  And today they finally did!

I usually cut my kids’ hair (saves time and money!), but I don’t know what to do regarding donating hair – they obviously don’t want mothers here and there sending them baggies in the mail with long ponytails in them!  So for this, they go to a professional stylist.   My mother in law offered to take the girls for hair cuts when they donate hair.  Though there are places that give free haircuts to kids who are donating hair, the salon she goes to isn’t one of them.  And since it’s something I think she really enjoys doing, I let her, though I would love to be there with them to watch them get it cut, after years of growing it out.

When my oldest daughter came home from her appointment last year, she was disappointed that the stylist just cut the hair, and didn’t do any extra styling.  After all, once you’re getting it cut, it’s nice to get something a little different!  Since I wasn’t there, I wasn’t able to help her out, but she was determined that her sisters would be able to have what they wanted.  So for the last week and a half, all three girls have been discussing new hairstyles.

I suggested they tell the stylist they wanted something different, and to ask her for ideas.  I also gave them some guidelines for what I thought were suit them.  When they walked in, my 11 year old daughter looked fabulous.  She donated 15 inches and still has hair to her shoulders, in a style that suits her beautifully.

But the seven year old?  I was horrified.  Really.  This little girl with gorgeous long hair came back with choppy bushy hair with long chunks hanging down each side of her face so fifty percent of her face was covered.  She looked like a neglected child who hadn’t brushed her hair in a week.  It is beyond me how a hair stylist could do something like that just because it’s the style.   I feel that part of a stylist’s job is to think about how a style will look on a given person, not just to cut hair.

When their little sister was on the far side of the room, my older two girls quietly asked me if there was any way I could fix it.  But there wasn’t enough left for me enough to work with, though it was nice that they thought I was capable of doing a better job than the stylist. :)

It was really hard for me not to cringe when I looked at her, but I didn’t want her to be aware of my ambivalence- she was so filled with the happiness of having donated her hair, showing me the certificate she received and running to show her brothers.  So after commenting with excitement about how different she looked (!!), I asked my oldest daughter to see if the front layers were long enough to pull off her face (since I was nursing the baby).   I was so grateful that they were.  And even more pleased to see that she looked quite adorable with some hair off her face in a clip.

Then my oldest daughter asked me to give her a haircut (since her hair wasn’t yet long enough to donate again, she’d just gone along to watch the others).  She wanted a style I’ve never done before (I usually stick to something pretty basic), something similar to the 11 year old.  After telling her I made no guarantees how it would look, I got started.

Just so you know, I don’t have any training in hair cutting.  I haven’t even read any books on the topic.   I’ve just done it for the kids since they were little, and I figure if they have enough confidence in me to be open to my experimenting, then I should trust myself.   I cut off five inches, layered both sides in the front, and then did a varying layering in the back, with the top layers slightly shorter than the bottom.  (As I did this, I told dd that it seemed backwards to me to cut hair like this, but there’s no accounting for what is stylish.)  I looked at the eleven year old’s hairstyle for a minute or two before I started to figure out a basic approach.

I’m glad to say that my 13 year old LOVES it!  It’s nice when you do something for your kids that is so appreciated.  It did take me longer than usual – it usually takes me about 10 minutes per child (boy or girl), and this took closer to 20.  I had to work a little more cautiously because I was figuring it as I went along.  Is it perfect? Probably not.  But I’ve already told you what the ‘professional’ did.  :)


Parents – the anti drug

Today is the last day of my 14 year old son’s six day school break.  It has been soooo nice to have him around all day again.  He just finished a game of Risk with his five year old brother that lasted several hours, because he kept letting his brother get more pieces to keep the game going.  It’s very sweet to see how his little brother idolizes him – he wants to sit next to him, walk with him, whatever – and it’s understandable, since my oldest is really nice to him and does lots of special things with him to make him feel good.

Today when I was out, someone told me about a speaker she heard yesterday.   He speaks across the country about drug abuse, and said that the amount of street drugs kids use pale in comparison to prescription drugs for kids, even young kids of 7, 8, 9.  These kids on prescription drugs are very often experiencing the drug highs common to street drugs, but all in legalized and parentally sanctioned manner. 

We’ve probably all heard how important parents are to keeping their kids off illegal drugs.  But what can be done about reducing the use of legal drugs?  Don’t kids really need them to function properly?  Apparently not as much as many would like to think.  The response of this expert was, “Parents need to be present for their kids.”  Meaning, parents need to be tuned into what is going on in their child’s heart and head so that kids aren’t left with too many tough emotions for them to handle on their own.  Why is it that something so obvious as a child’s deep need for his parents’ love and attention needs to be stated repeatedly by an expert to get parents to pay attention?  And even then it’s a tough sell?  Shouldn’t it be obvious that parents matter, that our kids need us in a deep and crucial way?  Guess not.

I’ll agree that sometimes meds are needed.  But definitely not in the huge majority of cases.  But it’s so much easier to deal with something superficially by giving the child a pill to pop than to figure out what’s going on that’s causing the problem.  And then taking the next stap and actually doing something to address the root of the problem.  But I know why most people won’t take that path – because it seems too hard.  But what seems hard and what actually end up most difficult are often very different things.

I’ve said it before, but it’s so important that I think it bears repeating – when you’re willing to do tough things in the short run, the long run will be much easier.  Yes, it’s hard to discipline your child appropriately when you’d rather let him do what he wants, or make time in your busy day to talk to a child who needs you when you’re so tired you’d rather just be left alone.  But the price down the road, of having kids who don’t need us, don’t want to be around us, and don’t care much about themselves or us is so, so, so much higher.  Catastrophically higher. 

So as the radio ads and billboards pronounce, “Parents – the anti drug.”  It couldn’t be truer.


Learning history

I realized that I’ve hardly written anything here about homeschooling, even though that’s a big part of our life.  So today I decided to share some of what we’re doing. 

I don’t believe in using a boxed curriculum, because a family can easily lose the flexibility and fun of homeschooling when they get caught up in a program like that.  I also don’t like the idea of trying to do whatever the schools are doing, which is based on the assumption that whatever the schools are doing is the best thing to be doing.  So I create our curriculum myself. 

This has meant different approaches in different years, but for the last 2 – 3 years, I’ve been using whatever historical period I want to cover as the spine for our reading, and occasionally writing.  I find that it ties things together well and naturally integrates history in a way that isn’t usually done.  Don’t you remember history being the most boring topic in school?  But as a homeschooling mom, I’ve learned how fascinating history actually is.

This year, I decided to do American history, beginning with Christopher Columbus.  My basic approach is to choose some nonfiction books on an appropriate level for each child and some historical fiction books for each child.  Then I make up a list for each child of what books need to be read in what order, so that they can independently learn without needing to wait for everyone to be ready.   Everyone is simultaneously learning the same material but on different levels. I get picture books to read with the kids who aren’t independent readers (and they’re so interesting that often the older kids listen in :)), so all of us comfortably can discuss whatever we’re learning.  I’ve also found historical videos to watch with the kids that have been a very helpful supplement to our studies. 

Here’s an example of how it works.  We’re currently studying the French and Indian War, (which was pivotal in changing the face of America, leading directly to the American Revolution – I never knew anything about it before :)).  We watched a four hour dvd by the History Channel (from the library) over a period of time.  Meanwhile, the kids were reading fiction books like Calico Captive, Calico Bush, The Ransom of Mercy Carter, Indian Captive: The Story of Mary Jemison, Sign of the Beaver, to get a view of what it was like for the pioneers of the frontier, the native people, those who fought for Britain and France, those who were taken captive by natives and what their lives were like. 

Together with this, we read factual books about the buffalo, lives of the pioneers, and Native American life.  We watched a reenactment of a buffalo jump after reading about it (when large numbers of buffalo were driven over a cliff in a hunt), and watched a couple of videos about different Native American tribes and their history.  We’ve had many discussions about what we’ve read, why things happened in the way they happened, and though provoking talks about different aspects of what we’ve read. 

I’ve found this an enjoyable and natural way for all of us to learn together.   The kids use the books I assign for their mandatory reading time (an hour daily), so I know that they are reading quality literature during that time.  We use the videos or dvds for our free time, never during our morning learning times.   I’m also hoping to make a trip to a living history place to further boost up all that we’ve covered.  Colonial Williamsburg is having a special price for homeschoolers for the next three weeks, and I am longing to take advantage of it.  The kids know so much that they could really benefit from interacting with all of the reenactors.  But it’s so far away that the costs involved in that trip right now are too high. :(  So I’ve been researching places closer to home that we could go.

Hopefully this gives you a clear enough idea of my approach to be helpful!


Thinking for yourself

Last night I was speaking with someone I’ve gotten to know over the last month or so who just got a cancer diagnosis.  She got the impression that I’m more healthy than her typical aquaintance, I guess.  So she told me about her diagnosis and said she was open to alternative approaches, but didn’t know where to start.  I love Google and the amazing amounts of info a person can find to help themselves, but I also know how overwhelming a huge amount of information can be to someone not used to doing this kind of research.  So a couple of nights ago when I was up with the baby, I figured I’d do some reading on natural cancer cures and get her started with some good links.  I have a decent sense of what is good info and what isn’t, plus I’m a fast reader, so I thought I would help her by giving her a solid starting point.  After 3 hours of reading, I sent her an email detailing three sites I suggested she start with, as well as some specifics regarding vitamin C. 

But it seems to be so hard for someone not used to thinking for themselves to make decisions, even when they have the information!  People have gotten used to thinking of people with degrees in a field as the experts (like doctors), and have disempowered themselves with this kind of thinking.  It’s hard to overcome that kind of disempowerment just because you want to suddenly do things differently, and I understand that. 

At the same time, my approach to everything from childbirth to parenting or homeschooling is based on empowering others to think for themselves, not telling them the exact steps to follow.  The steps that each of us need to follow to be successful is different, since we each define success and happiness differently.  She kept asking me what she should do, and after discussing some basic points to work on with her, I told her she needs to make these kind of decisions about her health herself.  You can’t turn to others (including me) and say, “Just tell me what to do so everything will be okay”.  Who can make that kind of guarantee for someone else? 

 So she asked what I would do if it were me.  And I told her that I personally wouldn’t do chemo and would only deal with it alternatively – but that was consistent with who I am and my holistic approach to life.  (I actually had to deal with this three years ago, when I had a swelling on my neck.  A friend noticed and told me to get it checked out-  I did and the endocrinologist took one alarmed look and started talking about immediate surgery for a tumor that large, suspecting thyroid cancer.  To make a long story short, it disappeared when I eliminated sugar from my diet, without the help of chemo, surgery, or further diagnostic testing after the initial biopsy.)  She had to think about who she is and what approach she can feel good about, and she would have to feel comfortable about her decision.

But after almost an hour of conversation in this vein, she plaintively said, “But you aren’t telling me what to do!”   I’ll be honest – I  don’t know how to help those who want me to do their thinking for them, and once I’ve tried my best to help, I don’t have a lot of patience to keep having a conversation.  I have very, very little time that I can speak on the phone, I was jiggling a cranky baby the entire time, and it was 10:30 pm by now.  I’m willing to spend time with people when they are truly open to what I’m saying, but I can’t listen to someone go in circles.  It’s not productive for them and frustrating to me.  I realized that nothing I was saying was helping, since I had spent so much time speaking to her not only about specific things she could do, but explaining how crucial it is to claim her personal power with a diagnosis like this and not depend on everyone else to take care of her. 

So I finally said, “If you want someone to tell you what to do, go to your doctors.  They’ll be happy to do that.  And if you’re okay with the results of their decisions, then fine. But regardless of who makes the decisions about your health, you’re the one who is going to have to live with the consequences.”

So my point in sharing this is to say, don’t give away your power by being afraid to learn more and to apply what you learn, by feeling insecure that you don’t know enough or you aren’t enough in some way.  Personal power doesn’t come from depending on other people to tell you what you need.  It comes from taking the initiative in any area to see what you need, and finding a way to accomplish your goals.  It is so empowering to realize how many things we can do in various areas of our lives to help ourselves and our families! 


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Once a month shopping

Have you ever heard of once a month cooking?  Basically, you prepare a month’s worth of meals in one day, then stick them in the freezer and just pull one out every night.  This isn’t realistic for me because of the logistics of doing this on the scale necessary for a family of our size, but a couple of months I started doing something different with my shopping that reminds me of this basic idea.

And that is – once a month shopping!  I’ve drastically cut down on my shopping by only shopping at the beginning of the month for staples, plus once every two weeks for veggies.  This has been great!  Here’s how it works: I start the month by buying all the chicken and meat I need (whatever is on sale that week is what I use for the month).  Then when I get home I roast all of the chicken and freeze it in meal size pans.  I bag the fresh meat into meal sized portions and put that in the freezer, so I can pull out one package to prepare a meal without needing to defrost the entire family pack.  This is where the biggest part of my food expenses go.

I buy a month’s worth of eggs (around 18 – 20 dozen) at the beginning of the month, and keep it in an unheated room in the basement where they stay very cool.  This might not work as well in the summer, but for now it’s good.  I go to as many as 3 or 4 stores in two separate shopping trips within the first four days of the month, and buy lots of whatever staples they have on sale that week, so that eliminates the need to keep a weekly eye on the sales flyers.  I suppose basic staples are always on sale, because I haven’t had a problem finding what I need at sale prices on this schedule, with the exception of cheese.

As far as vegetables go, I can’t do all of that once a month for obvious reasons.  So I go twice a month.  I get about 100 lb of potatoes, a bunch of onions, and maybe 30 lb of sweet potatoes close to the beginning of the month.  Then I buy the perishable type veggies like tomatoes, peppers, cukes, and I use them within the first week after I buy them, since they don’t stay fresh very long.  I also buy lots of squash and cold weather vegetables (carrots, turnips, rutabagas, beets, turnips, parsnips, cabbage) that stay fresh longer.  These are also kept in the basement room along with the eggs.    I make some of these into jars of lacto fermented veggies, and I use these more the second and fourth weeks of the month, when the less hardy veggies are used up.  I buy several bags of romaine hearts each time and find that they easily stay for two weeks, so I use that as the basis for daily salads with whatever veggies I want to throw in.

Cabbage has become very popular here because it’s so versatile and stays fresh a long time; I can do so many things with it!  (And at 3 lb for a dollar, you can’t beat the price!)  Lacto fermented sauerkraut and cortido, coleslaw and other salads, sauteed in stir fries – today I made a lunch dish called colcannon that the kids enjoyed.


Simmer 1 1/4 lb chopped green cabbage in 2 c. water and 1 T. oil.  Saute 1 c. onions/leeks in 1/2 c. butter until translucent. Add 1  1/4 lb. cooked potatoes, quartered and 1 c. milk to the potato mix and simmer it all until warm.  Then puree this mix -but I just quickly mashed it because as you know I like to save time – and add it to the cooked cabbage.  Mix it all together, season with salt and pepper and top with some more butter if you like.  Filled with protein, carbs, healthy fats, and veggies -a balanced meal and cheap to boot!

Carrots are also great – the kids like carrot sticks and I shred and then bag a large amount of carrots so I can add them to fresh salads.  This is in addition to all the other veggies they eat, but carrots are easy to always have around.

I used to shop weekly to stock up on the sales for whatever the three main supermarkets had that I wanted.  Now it’s just the main shopping the first week, two trips to the vegetable market, and that’s it for the month.  The hard part about this is that I use about two thirds  of my monthly food budget within the first few days and that leaves the much smaller amount for the remaining 27 or so days!  After years of budgeting equal amounts per week, I sometimes feel momentarily nervous.  Then I remind myself that I have lots of food and I’m certainly not going to run out before I replenish my budget.  After my shopping trip last week on the 4th, I had $7 remaining to last for eleven days (my shopping cycle begins the 15th of each month).   As meager as that sounds, my fridge, freezer and pantry are all full, even now, in the last few days before the month runs out – I have at least 50 lb of potatoes, many pounds of oats, rice, wheat, a freezer with poultry and lamb, lots of canned goods, plenty of milk, butter, and eggs, and some root veggies and lettuce so I’m nowhere near suffering any lack!

I’m very disciplined about sticking to my food budget so I don’t give myself leeway by shopping a day or two earlier or spending a penny more than I allocate each month.    I have had to raise my food budget in the last year, since staples have gone up significantly in price (and my kids keep getting bigger and bigger!), and now spend about $540 a month; that includes everything.  I choose to be disciplined, because I don’t think I could maintain my budget without this discipline.  Since I spend less than half of what is typical for a large family, I know I could easily significantly increase my monthly expenditures without having any qualitative improvement to show for it, and this discipline guards me against that.

So this new approach has benefited me by saving lots of my time, gas, and energy, leaving more time to enjoy my family, while spending the same amount as before, and feeding my family as well as ever!