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!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Why Not Me?

Louisa—she made it to earth!

I've talked about asking the question "why" before—the good it can do to question and wonder about your life. Now, I want to talk about asking the question "why not me?"

When I was pregnant with my seventh child, I was almost 43 years old. I knew in my heart that a little girl was waiting to come into my family and I fervently wanted to bring her to earth. I read the idea somewhere that children must come from God on a very fragile thread of spider-web, and I believe that to be true, as I had experienced miscarriage four times before Louisa made it across that tightrope into my arms.

It was a difficult pregnancy because of my age, and I struggled against daily contractions and impending miscarriage. My children prayed that "Mommy's baby will stay in!" I didn't lift a milk jug, or open a window or climb stairs or do anything that might strain myself and start the miscarriage process. Every morning for breakfast I took a bowl full of supplements and capsules of herbs to strengthen me and prevent miscarriage. I was morning sick, and this was a superhuman challenge to get them down and keep them down.

When it seemed the baby really would "stay in", my worries increased as I realized that I was soon to celebrate my 43rd birthday, and the chances of birth defects are dramatically higher as a woman ages. My chance of having a Down's Syndrome child was 1 in 30. I fussed thinking about it, and tried to rely on prayer to calm myself. One day I confided my fears to my midwife, hoping she would soothe them, and she said something that changed me forever. "Someone makes the statistics".

Someone makes the statistics!
What a fear-inducing thought! Why not me?! If someone makes the statistics, then why not me?

And that has been a life-altering thing to realize. I think about it everyday. There are so many car accidents daily—why not me? There are birth defects and heart attacks and electrocutions and robberies and people who slip and fall and others who are scammed and lose their life savings . . . and so much more. Bad things happen. It is a fact. And someone makes the statistics. Why not me?

That may seem like a very gruesome thought, but it is a huge blessing to me to ponder! We seem to think we are invincible. As teenagers, we are just sure we will be the winner, be the star, win the race, get the scholarship, marry the handsome prince, and live happily ever after. We feel like Superman, untouched by troubles that afflict the common human race. Realizing that someone makes the statistics helped me realize the tremendous blessings that I do have!

At that time, though, pregnant with Louisa, I was fear-struck by my midwife's comment. Then I looked into the faces of my six healthy children, and realized that somehow by God's grace, I had not yet made the statistics. And even if I did, He would be there to help me and make a good thing of it.

Why not me? That thought has served to make me count my blessings every single day. I have my troubles, like everyone, but it is amazing, almost beyond belief, that so many good things have come my way! God has blessed me so very much! Somehow I have escaped the divorce statistics, the infertility statistics, the unemployment statistics, the fatal car crash statistics, the world hunger statistics, the heart disease or cancer statistics. I have not even added to the swine flu statistics!

Facing the reality of all those possibilities makes me even more filled with gratitude! I live out in the country. Right now as I gaze out the window at the huge looming mountains near my home, God's evidence and power seem so apparent. Just stopping and thinking of his tender care of me personally makes tears spring into my eyes. I have been so blessed, so blessed in so many ways!

Why not me? And even if it was me, I know there would be meaning and personal growth and His caring arms around me.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Comfort Apple Crisp

Apple-picking Ammon

Oooh, yum!

If you still have apples on your trees, don't miss this delicious autumn dessert that Louisa made tonight for dessert. It comes out of the oven with a crisp crust on the top, and a pudding sauce in the bottom of the dish. It was so comforting and wonderful, I just had to share the recipe with you!

Comfort Apple Crisp


apples (approximately 8-10 cups sliced)

3 T. whole wheat flour

1 tsp. cinnamon

1 T. honey (or 2 drops of liquid stevia extract)

1/4 cup water


1 cup whole wheat flour

1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

2 1/2 cups oatmeal

2/3 cup softened butter (or melted)

1/2 cup + 1 T. honey

Fill a 9 x 13" glass baking dish to the top with sliced unpeeled apples. Sprinkle with flour, cinnamon and toss to coat. Drizzle honey (or drop stevia) over the top of the apples, and add 1/4 cup water to the dish.

To make topping, combine flour, nuts, oatmeal, butter and honey. Spread over the apples evenly and bake at 350° for 45 minutes or until top is brown and crisp, and apples are tender.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Get A Hold of Your House

Does homeschool have to equal a messy house?


Your house can be cleaner than ever, because homemaking is an important life skill, a valid school subject, and working side-by-side with you, your kids can learn to be pros! In my case, Mother is the worst problem . . . my clutter, my lack of follow-through. My kids know how to clean, and as long as I check their chore charts, the jobs get done.

How does a overworked mom get a hold of her house?

First, make a list of all the jobs that have to be done to maintain the level of cleanliness that you are comfortable with. (This will be different for each mother, because some like a more relaxed environment than others.) Divide the jobs into the frequency that they need to be done.

Write this on a paper:



(or Weekly, if you do chores on another day)

Now brainstorm and make a list under each heading. Here's mine:

Sweep dining and kitchen and spot clean floors
Take all garbage out
Sort laundry into each person's bins
Fold and put away family laundry (towels, sheets, etc.)
Quick clean of blue bathroom
Quick clean of yellow bathroom
Quick clean of downstairs bathroom
Clean/declutter living room
Clean/declutter dining room
Clean/declutter family room
Clean/declutter school room
Keep phone counter cleared off

Set table
Clear table
Put away food
Unload and load dishwasher
Wipe off counters
Empty dishdrain

Deep clean bathrooms (tub, mirrors, mop)
Mop all wood floors
Vaccum all carpeted floors
Clean pantry
Clean stove top
Windows/mirrors/light fixtures
Fridge clean-out
Mow lawn

Now, let the fun begin! Announce to the family that each one will get a chance to pick out the chores they'll be doing. Go around the family one by one and let each child pick a number out of a hat to see what order they will get to choose them. Start with the child that picked #1, and let him select his favorite daily job. Keep going around, in number order, until the daily jobs are gone. (It doesn't matter if someone got more than the next person.)When there is complaining, reinforce how fair it is, and how these chores aren't permanent but will change in time.

Move on to the mealtime jobs, and then the Saturday jobs. Give everyone as much free choice in the job selection as possible, overseeing to make sure it is fair and no one takes on too much or gets all the easy jobs. If your children spand a wide age range, you might mark the easy jobs with a star and only allow those to be selected by the younger children. Make this process as happy and playful as possible.

When the choosing is finished, make a chart for each child of his jobs. I put a week's worth of check-off boxes next to each chore and slip these charts into a page protector so the children check off each task with a wipe-off marker. Here is one of my children's chore charts:

If you haven't taught your children how to house-keep, you have some rigorous training to do. It helps to tape a detailed step-by-step how-to chart up inside a cabinet door in the room that explains just what to do. Young ones will need a simple picture chart so they can follow illustrated directions.

If you have older children, your workload is going to be hugely reduced once they can do their part to maintain a clean house. Little ones (and big ones until they are trained) need mother to work side-by-side with them until they are competent. Or you can give them an older sibling (that has been trained), the job to partner up with to teach a younger one. Don't underestimate young children and cleaning ability, though. For one thing, the younger ones have the greatest enthusiasm for chores! Even a 3-year-old can do a pretty good job of cleaning a sink. Even if your family is mostly just young, housekeeping training is essential. And even if you end up working side-by-side with each child to train him, the truth is that you are getting more help than you had before!

Obviously, the more children you have, the less each one has to do. If you have a big house, it will get less dirty as it will have less occupancy per square foot, so some jobs may be reduced to twice a week, instead of daily. If you have a small house, it gets dirtier, so something like sweeping a heavily trafficked area might need to be done in the morning and after dinner.

Mom and Dad take on the jobs that the children can't yet do, such as grocery shopping, changing the oil in the car, household repairs, baking bread, etc. Because Dad is earning a living and Mom is teaching school and caring for children, I feel as parents we are already doing our part. The kids need the skills, and the chance to contribute to the family, so they do the majority of the house upkeep.

As well as household chores, I expect the children to wash dishes, gather and put away their possessions, take care of their own rooms, do their own laundry, and eventually take on a Dinner Night.

Doing Dinner Night at my house means deciding what to make, thawing frozen foods ahead of time, checking that we have all the ingredients, and preparing the whole dinner. They get to choose whatever they want to eat as long as it follows our Balanced Meal chart that I have posted in my kitchen. Young ones need lots of mom-help to make a meal, but by about 11-years-old, they can cook dinner all by themselves—something they find very gratifying. They enjoy everyone's compliments and the praise for making a good meal! And they love the freedom to choose what to eat. I love what it does for them by way of training. My kids will never go hungry for lack of know-how!
Once you get the kids' chore charts up and posted, it is just up to us, Mom, to check them after morning chore time, and in the evening before dinner. Being consistent is the biggest factor in our success. If we can discipline ourselves to check and follow-up on the children's chores, the whole family will soon be enjoying a much cleaner house. And the children will be more self-reliant, more responsible, and more capable!

A-h-h-h, this feels good!

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Sunday, October 18, 2009

100 Days!

My daughter Louisa (13) and I

We made it, Louisa and I! Yesterday was our 100th day without sugar! Of course, we had to celebrate, so she and I went on a dinner date, and NO, we did not eat any sugar . . . hee hee.

How did we ever make it to Day 100? It seems impossible, but Louisa and I stayed sugar-free all summer long—through a graduation party, birthday parties, a camp-out, and 3 family reunions.

What have we learned in the last 100 days? We learned it is definitely not about willpower, it is about making up your mind! The book, Suicide by Sugar, really helped me realize (once again) that I was doing a "self-destruct" and as I treasure life, and value my body, I really don't want to harm myself, or cause my family to suffer the repercussions if my health is impaired. I don't know if God will remove the desire from us, but we can pray for God to help us with changing our mind, and once your mind is made up, the rest is comparatively easy—it truly is!

That first week can be a little rocky physically for some. My daughter Louisa felt better than normal. I felt dizzy, sort of ill, constantly craving sugar, shaky and headachey for about 3 days, proof to me that I was totally addicted. And I still thought about sugar continually and wanted it a lot for about a week or two. After 21 days though, (the time it takes to break a habit), it really became pretty effortless. I don't think about sugar or treats anymore. It's just not for me. I know that. It isn't good for me, it harms me, and I won't be able to eat it again. I look at the treats in the grocery store the same way I look at cigarettes or liquor. Not for me. That is that.

Before I started this crazy idea, I would talk to the weird people who had gone off sugar. I would think they were nuts and/or lying. How could they just be "over it"? Over something that had its hold on me daily? Last night at the restaurant, the waiter asked what we were celebrating, and when I told him "100 sugar-free days", he just laughed if off: "Yeah, right. Who can get through the day without it?!"

I don't care about dessert much anymore, now that I don't eat sugar. I'd like a cherry, a piece of watermelon, or a ripe juicy peach or something like that, but the whole man-made sweets thing no longer has very much appeal. Honestly, I don't know how it ever happened, and I sure didn't expect it to!

Do I still want sugar? Sure! I want all of it: the whole carton of ice cream, the whole jumbo bag of peanut M&Ms, the whole package of Oreos. A little sugar is not enough for me. One cookie does not work for me. I wish I could understand people who have a candy bowl in their living room. I'd have that finished off my 9:00 AM every day! I'd take a handful on the way to the laundry room and detour over to it for a handful on the way back, I'd stash them in my pockets . . . it would keep me coming back and back and back. Can you relate?

I don't tell anyone except my close associates that I am sugar free. I am not trying to make anyone feel guilty! Or spoil the party. Or make a political statement. Or seem unappreciative for a lovingly made dessert. Or give them (more) reasons to think I am odd. Louisa and I came up with some "rules" for dealing with social activities where sugar is served (which means, all social situations!):

How-to Instructions for Being Cool, Sugar-Free and Not Making Others Feel Guilty

1. Don't mention you are sugar-free.
2. Smile and say "thank you" when someone serves you dessert. Then just leave it on the table.
3. If someone comments, reply: "Oh, I've had plenty to eat, thank you."
4. Give it away. Most people (especially kids) will think you are being incredibly nice and generous!
5. If you are being served something when not seated at a table, just circle back and return the plate to the serving table nonchalantly.
6. Under extreme duress, cut a bite sized piece with your fork and move it around on the plate, and then leave it. It will look like you had intentions to eat it.

What has being sugar-free done for me?

It has taken a huge load off my body. I feel so different. More stable physcially and more energetic. Lighter. Less draggy. I used to feel very fatigued, and easily dizzy or headachey. I looked at bed longingly. There were days when I felt "toxic". I don't feel that way anymore. I have lost about 10 lbs. That isn't much considering how long I have been off sugar. I have other body chemistry issues that keep my weight on. But others I know have lost dramatic amounts of weight. Depends on if you have a soda pop habit (which I did not) and how much junk food you are used to eating. I started out eating whole grains, veggies, etc. so my sugar habit was an occasional (to regular) indiscretion from an otherwise healthy diet.

I removed an addictive substance from my life, and it has empowered me! Made me feel strong, able to control and direct my life. It gave me some spiritual freedom. Choosing to take in addictive substances seems to dull our sensitivity a bit, limits our freedom, and controls our soul to a degree.

Being sugar-free helps me feel in harmony. Self-betrayal is what happens when you know one thing and do another. And self-betrayal does not feel good to me. It has an element of shame with it, a feeling of living beneath my full potential. Since I teach my kids to eat healthily, I was acting pretty incongruently to feed them nourishing meals, and then break out the treats afterwards (or once they went to bed).

I am so much more even in my moods. I generally feel happier, less uptight. Sugar can cause mood swings, irritability, and depression. I wonder why I always believed that sugar was a fix for those things, and that it would make me happy?

Some of my friends are undertaking this project on their own, and tell me what day they are on. And some of my blog readers. That is so gratifying to know we are in this together, and that we can take action to improve our health dramatically! If you have any question if sugar is affecting you negatively, try a 24 hour challenge. Can you stay off that long without craving it?

I asked Louisa where we were going with this, on day 101, since she has been the director from the start. She said we'll finish out the year and then go from there. Sounds doable to me!

Now, my mode of operation is "Diligence". Knowing that it is an addictive substance for me makes me feel determined not to get hooked again! Life is still great without sugar. Even better, really, as I am not a slave anymore. There are sweet things I can eat when I feel a need. Only I seldom feel a need. Dessert, sweetened with something else than my hook (sugar), just looks like more food to me. And after I've eaten a meal, I really don't want anymore food. No thank you.

Louisa and I decorated our paper table covering at the restaurant

P.S. I found another yummy sugar-free product that helps me along the way. This is a product of Brazil and it is rich, delicious, real chocolate cocoa powder mixed with stevia that stirs easily into milk. It's like Nestle's Quick for the sugar-free. Actually better, because it is not chocolate-flavored, but real chocolate! Just stir a teaspoonful into a big glass of milk and you'll have real chocolate milk supreme! For Louisa, it fills the need for sweets. I love it too! I am still debating if chocolate (without the sugar or fat) is good for you or not. In the meantime, it is ultra delicious and helping us stay off sugar!

See it here: Stevia-sweetened Chocolate "NesQuick"


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Capturing Summer's Flavor

Fresh fragrant rosemary drying in my dining room

It has been so nice to have fresh herbs all summer: parsley, basil, rosemary . . . I didn't want to part with them. So I dug up my rosemary plant and brought it inside. We'll see if it likes that or not. The rest of the herbs, I cut and hung to dry.

It is amazing how potent and delicious homegrown herbs are! They capture summer's flavor, and I know I'll love that basil in a pasta dish in January. Preparing your own culinary herbs is a snap. Here's how:

1) Pick your herbs, preferably several long stems. (There is an ideal cutting time, but suffice it to say, if you can get out to the garden and get them cut, you've done good!)

2) If they look fairly clean, just go on to step 3. If not, rinse and shake well. Lay on your empty dish drain rack to drip dry.

3) Gather the dry stems into a bunch no bigger than an inch across. If you get too big of a bundle, the inside will mold. I've never had it happen, but keep the bundles smaller just in case.

4) Put a thin rubber-band around the bundle. (Thin rubber-band so the herbs gets maximum air exposure.)

5) Secure a twistie or a paperclip onto the rubberband to make a hanging hook for the push pin.

6) Hang from your ceiling in a dry, warm place—not in the sun.

7) Leave for several days, or longer. Crumble the brittle leaves, keeping the stems out of the leaves. I just leave the rubber-band on and squeeze and the stems stay connected and the leaves all fall off. Rub them to break them smaller.

8) Store in a recycled spice bottle. Label. This one says: "Parsley, 2009 Garden"

You've got yourself a strong, fragrant, delicious capture of summer!


Sunday, October 4, 2009

Gourmet Zuchinni

Zucchini in the home garden can be overwhelming! Not quite sure how those huge monstrosities grow overnight, but they always sneak up on me. Here's a gourmet recipe to the rescue! It is so delicious, you'll be searching for zucchini just so you can make it one more time.

Um-m-m-m, this is so yummy. Something about the oregano and sour cream makes this so tasty!

My Favorite Zucchini Casserole

1/2 lb. hamburger (optional or substitute chicken)
4 medium zucchini, chopped
1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1 cup cooked brown rice
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup sour cream
4-5 large ripe tomatoes, chopped (reserve a few for garnish)
Italian cheese (mozarella, parmesan, asaigo, etc.)

If using meat, brown hamburger in a large skillet. Drain and set aside. Put chopped zucchini in the skillet with a tablespoon or two of water, sprinkle with oregano, and cook over medium heat with a lid on the skillet, to steam it. (You can add some other veggies to sneak in some extra nutrition here, such as a few leaves of swiss chard, shredded, or a bell pepper.) When the zucchini is tender, turn the heat to low and stir in brown rice, hamburger, salt and pepper to taste. Top with a thick layer of chopped tomatoes (you should have equal portions of zucchini and tomatoes. Dot sour cream on top of tomatoes. Sprinkle cheese generously on top. Add the reserved chopped tomatoes as a garnish. May either cook covered on low heat until the cheese melts, or pass it under the broiler to melt the cheese. You don't want to cook the tomatoes. Serves 6. Nutritiously delicious!

My son Ammon cooks up a skillet-full of my favorite zuchinni casserole

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Structure: A Beautiful Word

Structure—such a beautiful word, and such an essential concept! A structure is a framework on which to build. A skeleton is the structure your body's muscle and flesh hang on. A curtain rod is the framework that enables soft draperies to hang at your windows. The frame of your house—whether it is stone, brick, steel beams or wooden 2 x 4's—is what the walls and ceilings and floors are built on. Nobody would argue that structure is not absolutely necessary.

Likewise, structure is essential to a child's day. Homeschooling is a lifestyle in which we enjoy a lot of freedom to choose our activities and learning subjects, but structure is still vital. Consider structure in your home: do you have a good framework for your child's daily activities?

Mealtimes should be the most reliable event in your dally life. There is plenty of research that verifies the fact that family mealtime is critical to a stable family life, good transfer of family values, self-esteem in children, reduced drug use in teenagers, less teenage pregnancy, and more. Pick a time for each meal and let those times become the anchors of your day. All other activities should arrange themselves around mealtimes. It gives the family a chance to come together, to talk, to nourish their bodies, as well as socialize and love each other. If the family can be together at meals, it will really pay off in the long run.

Waking up and going to bed routines are very important. With them in place, children know what to expect. Family life feels reliable. Children are well rested and don't have so many emotional breakdowns. Mom can cope better. Sometimes I see children late at night out in grocery stores, just a-crying and losing it, and it really is no wonder. I listen to the parents scold them, but really it is the parent's fault that they are crying. Children need to go to bed at a regular time and expecting them to behave properly when their bodily reserves are expended, is expecting too much. 8 o'clock is a good bedtime for little children. Older children can go in their rooms and quietly read, but the home needs to quiet down at night. Off with the TV and the music. This can be a real challenge, but it makes a big difference! Any day in which we don't keep our waking up and going to bed routines is termed "vacation" at my house. Staying up late, not having a dependable bedtime, sleeping in, not knowing when the day is going to begin—these can wreck havoc in family life! Plus, sabotage your homeschool.

What is a "waking up" routine? Alarm clocks set (except for Saturday, our sleep-in day). Personal prayer—your first "good morning" to Jesus. (I teach my children to slide out of bed onto their knees in the morning). Scripture study first thing, still in pajamas, and before chores or breakfast. That's our waking up routine. Learning to take responsibility for one's self, contributing to the family's happy function, is a priority in the morning: grooming, chores.

Bedtime routine: Stories or games together, the house settling down and getting quiet, scripture reading, quiet talking alone with each child privately about their day for a few moments. . . these activities end the day and get children ready for sleep.

God's word can take any form you like, but getting it into our children's minds and hearts before they sleep and when they wake has made all the difference in my family. It gives them a stable set of standards and conduct to live by.

Now that structure has established the framework, we have those lovely long hours in between for some creative thinking and freedom! This doesn't mean freedom to do nothing. This means freedom to pursue interests, to choose to use your time wisely. Kids depend on mom to order their day, and as they grow, they learn to govern the use of their time and order their own day.

I think an ideal homeschool day would look something like this:

Wake up
Family Devotional
Chores (while breakfast in being prepared)
School time (3+ hours to enjoy learning!)
Quiet Time (some nap— including Mom, some finish up school work)
Afternoon time: service, outings, activities, play, hobbies, work projects, errands
Bedtime routine
To bed

Never underestimate the power of structure in your home, and in your homeschool. It gives us order, establishes a framework for children to rely on, and frees up time to enjoy life more fully.

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