Heart-to-Heart with Diane

Hello and Welcome! Isn't raising a family the greatest!? I know I've got the best job in the world, just being Mom! I love sharing things I've discovered that make being "Mom" better, easier or more fulfilling, and that is what this blog is all about. Welcome!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Crash Course in Global Awareness

One of my favorite books for children is a favorite because of the impact it has made on my family. We live in a land of freedom with an amazing amount of rights and privileges. Most of us have enough food, access to education, freedom of religion, and the blessing of medical care. Many of us have air conditioning and heating. We go to the dentist. Our children have shoes. And toys.

Imagine the mind expansion that happens to a child when she reads the direct words of a girl her own age in Africa whose only toy is a ball made out of a wild tomato wrapped in grass! Suddenly she feels quite humble that she is privileged to live in such lush circumstances when others have so little. This is the incredible effect that Children Just Like Me had on my children, and had on me!

Part of feeling grateful is the awareness of differences. If everyone has shoes, I may feel whiny about what color my shoes are. But if no one has shoes but me, I am rich indeed. In my homeschool, we used Children Just Like Me along with our geography studies, reading each child's first person description of his daily life: what he eats, what he plays with, where he lives. Becoming more globally aware of how the rest of the world lives can have the effect of intensifying gratitude for our blessings! It also makes us realize that in regard to the important things in life—like being in a family or the joy of a new baby—we share these common experiences with other human beings all over the planet.

The authors of this fascinating book spent two years meeting and photographing children from more than 140 countries. The book is divided by continent, and introduces each country with photos of children, their names, and nationalities. Then a double-page spread shows you just where each child lives, what they eat and what type of utensils they eat with, where they go to school, their friends and family— all in color photographs! Learn about each child's favorite games, friends, and hopes for the future.

Children Just Like Me—a mind-expanding children's book that I highly recommend!
See it here.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

Heaping Coals of Fire Upon Their Heads

What do you do when someone treats you mean? When someone makes decisions that frustrate you? When you want to change someone's behavior?

Do you have a talk with them and try to persuade, lecture, pressure, scold or threaten them into doing things your way? Do you persecute them with snide remarks, shun them, or belittle them? Do you draw back from them, being emotionally distant and cold-shoulder them?

Christ's doctrine to love your enemy was rather shocking in the ancient world where revenge, protecting one's honor by violence, and cruelty were the norm. As Christians, we know in theory—but it seems even some adults haven't yet learned in practice—the very simple and wonderful truth that love is the solution. Or maybe we don't yet really down-deep-inside believe it.

I am inspired by this very insightful scripture found in the Bible:

If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: For thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee.
Proverbs 25:21-22

The way to deal with an difficult person, someone who is perturbing us, or frustrating us because they won't be nice (or accepting, flexible, cooperative, obedient, etc.) is to "heap coals of fire upon their head" through caring kindness. Love always wins. Whether it be a supervisor or your little child who is giving you trouble, love is hard to resist. Almost impossible to resist. And isn't it interesting that love is the exact opposite reaction than what springs up in our heart. The natural man inside us wants to fight, argue, get revenge, be hot-headed, and force somebody, too. Christ's doctrine is soothing, cooling words of peace.

Have you ever caught a glimpse of one of those judge shows on TV, where the opponents are accusing, shouting, and doing all manner of embarrassing behaviors because they are so upset with their ex-spouse, ex-partner, or ex-friend? It makes me cringe, because that is so not the way a Christian should act!

This idea of "heaping coals of fire" upon another's head by showing love and kindness is illuminated in one of my favorite Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories. It is a wonderful story, and I read it to my children over and over when they were young, and we talk about the concept still. (Read the story). And when they come to me upset by something one of their friends or associates did, I remind them to "heap coals" on their head with positive attention and kindness, and things will go better. And things do go so much better. The reminder is good for me, too.

Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories—fabulous character training through stories

Someone was causing me some grief and as I was praying about what to do, the thought came into my mind to pick some apples from my orchard and write a little note of gratitude to that person and deliver them. Those kinds of ideas come from God, as I sure don't feel like delivering presents to someone who complicates my life. It is wonderful to see how it softens and alters my perspective as I try to please and serve them. That is the magic. "Heaping coals upon their head" must burn the meanness out of them, too, so God can work with us both.

What a happier way to live!

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

Carrots? Really!

Carrots really can grow in just 6" of good soil

Carrots in the Square Foot Garden? How could that work? You only have 6" of soil in your garden box when you do Square Foot Gardening, and that hardly seems like enough for carrots. Of all the surprises I got this year, my first year of Square Foot Gardening, carrots were the biggest surprise. I never could grow a good crop of carrots because they require such attention to get started in my area, where the sun can be brutal. I could never keep the soil evenly moist for the long period that carrots need to germinate. I tried putting boards or burlap bags or even pieces of cardboard over the carrot patch to keep the sun from drying out the soil, but basically all I ever got was a few here-and-there carrots. And they grew so tight in the soil, that I had to shovel them out, breaking them often. They were not long, straight carrots, but multi-rooted creatures that looked like they'd had a battle.

So, imagine my surprise to get these beauties!

Square Foot Garden soil is a special blend of water-holding nutrients (peat moss, vermiculite, and compost). So just shaking your seeds out into the soil and patting it down is enough to get things germinating. I watered as usual, but didn't cover them or baby them, and I was stunned when carrots seedlings started popping up all over!

The great thing about carrots in this soil is that picking them is super easy! First, I rub off the soil around the top to see how big the carrot is. Then I poke my finger down into the soil next the the carrot to feel how long and fat it is. The soil is so soft and loose, that this is easy. If the carrot is big enough, I just slide it right out. No shovel needed. Wow! I can send the kids out to pick them as it is not job at all. And because the carrots didn't have to battle to grow, they are straight, sleek and only have one root. Amazing!

The carrots are sweet and delicious, too. This is fun!

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Monday, September 7, 2009

Easy Now, You've Got A Whole Childhood

My sweet granddaughter Rebekah, going no-where fast!

I talk to homeschoolers a lot. New homeschoolers seem to get into a flurry. They are so excited at the prospect of being able to teach their children, and perhaps so overwhelmed at all the wonderful things they want their children to know, that they can slip into hyper-speed mode which makes them tense. And homeschooling becomes rushed and stressful rather than the fun, easy, loving-learning, being together, happy experience it should be.

Over the years, homeschooling has ceased to mean schooling to me. It is a lifestyle, a way of living that draws your children into your world to share all things, not just academics. You have their whole childhood in which to transfer your values, teach your beliefs, explore God's beautiful world together, do the art projects and the science experiments, listen to great music, and read the classic children's literature. You don't have to do it all this week!

If I could give new homeschoolers some advice it would be this: relax and live with your kids. Most of what we teach our kids is caught, not taught. Our attitude, our religion, our worldview . . . these things are transferred by our expressions, the gestures we make, the look on our faces. Children are so perceptive!

When thunder roars and lightening strikes, I love to turn off all the lights, open the windows to let the noise and wind in, and enjoy the majesty of the storm, feeling awestruck at God's power. My children, of course, "caught" this attitude. My daughter was babysitting during a thunderstorm and the children all ran to her crying and hid their heads under pillows. She was so amazed that they didn't enjoy it! Later, while visiting their mother, I learned she was terrified of thunderstorms. Caught, not taught.

So, spending time with your children, drawing them into your life— your chores, your acts of service, the thoughts you think, the books you read, your music, your friends . . . your world—will teach them how to live and what to value and seek after. And there is a place for academics and study too. Just not first place!

While I had my 7 in homeschool, I rotated from child to child to help them, and I could get overwhelmed with the things they each needed work on. I could get boggled easily. So I started carrying a spiral notebook with me. I divided the notebook approximately into the number of children I was schooling and made a makeshift tab with a colored paperclip for each. As I helped them correct their writing, or do their math, or other schoolwork, I would privately jot down the glaring problems: Emily is making her "j's" backwards, Nathan doesn't have his 7x mastered, Julianna is repeating misspelling "because". . . and so forth for each child. Recording the teaching needs helped me remember, and feel assured that I could focus on it in days to come, without interrupting the flow of learning at that moment. This is especially important with teaching a child to write. Mechanics can bog them down and take the joy out of writing if too much correction is done at one time.

There is a lot of good food to eat in this life, but piling it all in a huge heap to force feed in one meal is overload and not enjoyable or even nourishing. There are wonderful things to learn, much more than one lifetime, or one childhood, can hold. But trying to cram it all in results in little really being absorbed. Choose carefully what you feel is important to teach, write out a reasonably-paced plan, and then teach your child according to your plan year-by-year in a relaxed, playful manner. Don't panic. Don't move into hyper-speed mode and try to stuff it all in. Kids don't need grammar in first grade. They don't need academic pressure. There is next year and next year and next year. You can make course corrections along the way. You'll get better at teaching your children as you go, as you learn. Get close to your children and get to know them and, you will know their talents and aptitudes and be able to fine tune your plan and offer just what they need. Enjoy. Don't get stressed.

Easy now. You've got a whole childhood.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Elegant Eggplant

My son Ammon (17) shows the beautiful eggplants he grew in our Square Foot Garden

This is the very first year of my life that we've been able to succeed in growing eggplant, even though we have a big garden every year. They are an amazing plant, with large lavender flowers, and it's so fun to watch their "eggs" grow day by day. Best of all, they taste so delicious! Eggplant makes a great meat substitute (taste-wise). Tonight for dinner, we picked and ate our eggplants and they were so yummy, I just had to share it with you!

When you pick eggplant, you have to have a sharp knife or some clippers because the stem almost seems woody. There are some spikes on the plant too, so watch out. Wash and slice the eggplant into thick steaks.

You're supposed to pick eggplant anytime after it is 6" long, but before it gets so big that the seeds are too big. This eggplant is just right. Isn't it an unusual and elegant vegetable?

Dip the eggplant slices in beaten egg and then dredge in mixture of whole wheat flour, a few shakes of garlic powder, Italian seasoning and salt. Cook over medium high heat in a frying pan with a little olive oil, turning just once, when the underside is crisp. Cook until the eggplant feels tender inside when you fork it—about 15-20 minutes.

Oooh, yum!

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Salsa Verde

Um-m-m! Love that green salsa in the Mexican restaurants! You'd be surprised how very simple it is to make your own. It only takes about 15 minutes, and turns out delicious! Here's how:

You'll need tomatillos. They are very easy-to-grow, and grow rapidly. I didn't start my seeds until mid-summer and already I have big, tomatillo-laden plants! Pick tomatillos when their husk is bursting, and they pluck easily from the plant. They will turn yellowish-green when they are ripe. You can buy them at the grocery store too.

Unwrap the outer husk and stem and wash the waxy tomatillos. Fill up a medium-sized saucepan, adding 1/2" water to the bottom of the pan, a jalapeno (stem removed) and a peeled clove of garlic. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until tomatillos are soft. Pour contents of saucepan into a blender and blend until smooth. That's it!

Green salsa (salsa verde) is fabulous with chips, or to use in Mexican dishes.

P.S. This recipe is not exacting. You can use more garlic if you like, or more peppers. If you don't like it hot, then use 1/2 of a jalapeno or another milder hot pepper, like Anaheim.

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