Parenting Breakthrough: Not Discipline, but Gluten?

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I never thought I’d be writing this post!

I used to say things like, “People have been eating bread for millenia. How can it be suddenly bad for us?”

But last night I gathered together all the remaining gluten-containing food items in my kitchen and will give them away today.

My family and my kitchen will be gluten-free now for one simple reason: Anna is happy.

After two solid years of reading parenting books and wracking my brain to find a way to parent our strong-willed, spirited daughter, we finally have had a breakthrough.

On August 1, in desperation, I began a novena to St. Thérèse (of Lisieux), Anna’s saint, asking for her intercession for our precious and very difficult daughter who seemed so unhappy so much of the time.

On August 8 I consulted with a naturopathic doctor regarding Anna. She told me to make Anna’s diet gluten-free because of suspected internal inflammation, probably in her small intestine. We started that night.

It was not until six days later that I noticed a difference. At first I thought she was responding to the stricter discipline I had been using. Then I realized that her whole demeanor, especially noticeable in social situations, had changed. As the days went on, it became increasingly obvious that something BIG had happened.

Anna was happier: warmer, open to other (even new) people, more interested in playing with her older brother, more cooperative in transitions or when she needed to change behavior that was affecting another person, and simply more engaged in life instead of fighting against it.

I do not know if I would have believed a story like this if I had not seen it happen before my eyes.

But it’s true! My parents, who babysit our children often, have confirmed the unmistakable change.

Caleb (husband) went gluten-free the same night as Anna, and he has noticed a big difference himself. He says that his head is clearer, he feels better internally, and it’s as if he always had a slight fever before (without realizing it) that now is gone.

So we embark on our gluten-free journey. It has been easier than I would have thought so far. I have a lot of learning and experimenting to do, and more questions.

But mostly I am thankful and happy. Thankful to God for providing this breakthrough. Thankful to St. Thérèse for her prayers on Anna’s behalf. And so SO happy to see our beautiful daughter embrace life with joy.

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Update 12/1/17

There have been a lot of ups and downs since I wrote this in August.  I’ve learned a lot and I think we’re on a good road, but I don’t have everything figured out.  Go here to see a more recent post about how I suspect leaky gut syndrome is the root problem and the ways I hope to help heal it.

How to Observe the Church Year (by ignoring most of it)

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Photo by Eric Rothermel on Unsplash

Almost exactly three years ago we became Catholic. One of the interesting aspects of Catholicism was the liturgical year with its feast days, fast days and memorials, etc. Growing up in the evangelical Christian world, as Caleb and I did, all of these special days and observances were new to us, but welcome. I looked forward to living out the liturgical year as a family along with the rest of the Church across the globe.

But then we never really did.

Yes, we went to Mass on days of obligation (holy days on which Catholics are required to attend Mass), and were vaguely aware of different feasts as they passed us by. Yes, we observed Lent beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending in the Triduum and the great Easter Vigil.

And of course there is also the weekly rhythm of going to Mass on Sundays and observing the different weeks of Ordinary Time, Advent, Christmas, Lent and Easter, as well as the special feasts that always fall on Sundays (Corpus Christi, for example).

But month after I month I look at my calendar (which I get from my parish each Christmas) and see the names…so MANY names of saints who are remembered on the days throughout the year. And there are simply too many to observe them in any meaningful way. Passing notice…maybe. But I can’t make THAT many cakes.

The shear volume of feast days (Or memorials? I’m not quite sure of the difference yet.) is overwhelming. What in the world do we do to observe a particular day, anyway?

I have looked for answers to these questions in books like The Little Oratory, The Year & Our Children and Catholic Catalogue, as well as websites and blogs. As much as these resources have to offer (and they do), I never feel like I come away with enough practical know-how to start observing anything with my family.

SO…I’ve come up with my own plan.

In order to observe the days of the liturgical year most important to us, I need to flat-out IGNORE almost the entire church calendar.

Yep! So that’s what I’m going to do.

There are just a few simple steps to my plan. They are:

  1. Observe our baptism days – We will celebrate the date on which each of us was baptized. For our family, two of us were baptized on the day we came into full communion with the Church, so that’s an especially special day.
  2. Observe our saints’ days – Caleb and I have saints whose names we took at Confirmation, and we have chosen saints for our children. We will observe each of their feast days.
  3. Observe holy days of obligation – We’re already doing this, but we’ll make more of an effort to make them special.

That’s 9 days plus 6 days of obligation = 15 days to observe as a family for the whole year.

That’s more like it.

Admittedly, I don’t have a super-duper ready-to-go way of practically observing all these days, but I hope you will stick with me as I go on this liturgical journey through the church year with my family and discover how to mark and remember some of the most important days and people in our lives.

Our anniversary of entering the Church (and two baptisms) is only nine days away, so I better come up with something!

Preschool (Age 3) Curriculum Plan (2017-2018)

I’m keeping it SIMPLE for preschool (which to me, by the way, is a completely optional season of “school”…three year-olds learn whether or not there is a “curriculum”).

For our three year-old daughter, Anna, I’ve planned a very loosely organized curriculum that follows Sonlight’s Preschool Package and added in activities that I know she will enjoy (and will keep her busy while I work with her older brother).

I ordered Sonlight’s Preschool Parent’s Companion from their website. It is titled “Fiction, Fairy Tales & Fun” and is a (much) more relaxed version of their Instructor’s Guides. Instead of a daily schedule there are simply checklists of books or stories and ideas/activities to go with them, plus inspiring quotes.

The book list is wonderful! It includes some that are already favorites, such as the Virginia Lee Burton books, two Richard Scarry books and stories illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. They also include a couple of fairy tale collections, which will be new for us. The more I look at the list, the more I want to buy all the books!

Aside from reading together, I bought the game “Mighty Mind” that was on Sonlight’s list for preschool, as well as a few scratch art books, paint with water activities (including one of Melissa & Doug’s “Water Wow” books), and a Melissa & Doug washable stamp set. Anna is our resident artist, so these are all right up her alley. I also have paper, markers, colored pencils, paints and preschool scissors ready for her.

I will see how interested she is in learning about letters/sounds and numbers this year. If she seems ready I will gradually introduce these through worksheets or activity books I find here and there.

And that’s it! More than anything I am looking forward to reading with Anna and discovering new favorite stories together.

1st Grade Curriculum Plan (2017-2018)

The beginning of the school year is right around the corner! I’m excited for more structured days and lots of reading together.

Our first two “school years” have been extremely relaxed.  Caleb began reading last year and made a good start in handwriting and math, but I’m pretty convinced that playing is more important for 4 and 5 year-olds than sitting down to “do school.”  Now our little guy is 6 and it’s time to become a bit more structured, although even this year I intend for him to have lots of play time.

My goals for this year:

1. Reading Proficiency

Some children are not ready to start reading until later, but Caleb was absolutely ready at 5. I would have been holding him back if I had not begun to teach him to read. We have a good runway from which to take off, so we will continue on with Sing, Spell, Read & Write. I’m using the 1st edition because my mom saved the teacher’s guide and the readers from when she taught me to read in the early 1990s!  This program covers reading, handwriting and spelling.

2. Basic Math Skills

We will continue on in MCP Mathematics Level A. It is quite dry and repetitive, and I will probably switch over to Saxon Math or something else down the road, but for now it seems to be laying a solid foundation of beginning math concepts.

3. The Adventure of Good Books

I have, quite suddenly, decided to use Sonlight for History and Literature. I only discovered it a few weeks ago, but I think it’s what I’ve been looking for. The whole goal is to invite the student into the delight and adventure of learning. If there is one overarching goal I have in homeschooling it is to help my children LOVE to learn. If that happens they will never stop learning.

We are using a pieced-together version of Sonlight’s Core A program. I bought the Instructor’s Guide (used) through Amazon, and am getting many of the read-aloud books through our local library system. The books I can’t get through the library I will buy. This is saving us a LOT of money, and I think it will work well for this year. If we like the program and continue on with it next year, I will buy the Instructor’s Guide directly from Sonlight and probably buy many more of the books, either from them or Amazon, depending on price.

And a few more items I intend to include in our curriculum:

Geography – Evan-Moor Beginning Geography Book. Caleb loves maps, so in addition to the geography included in Sonlight, I plan to use this book.

Art – Artventure is a possibility. I will see what the time frame of our school days ends up being, and if time and attention permit I may begin this.  I am not an artist, so I’ll definitely need help in this area.

So that is the basic plan for this year! In less than two weeks we will begin 1st grade!  I will update as the year progresses and let you know what is working and what is not.

Our Favorite Children’s Books

Books! There are so many we have grown to love since having children. Some of them are from our own childhoods and some are not. To make it easy I’ll put our favorite books in list form with notes.

  • Goodnight Moon – This became a nightly read when our oldest was a toddler.  Read it slowly and quietly and you’ll almost put yourself to sleep.
  • Sandra Boynton books – My introduction to these silly, fun books came via my oldest niece. Some of our favorites are The Going to Bed Book, Pajama Time!, Blue Hat, Green Hat, Snuggle Puppy and Night Night, Little Pookie.
  • Bread and Jam for Frances and other Frances books by Russell Hoban. Frances is just delightful.
  • Katy and the Big Snow, Mike Mulligan and His Steamshovel, The Little House, Choo Choo and Maybelle by Virginia Lee Burton. She was a mastermind at illustrations for children as well as the stories behind them. Our six year-old still loves tracing Katy’s path through the snow of Geopolis.
  • Just A Bath, Just Lost and other Critter books by Mercer Mayer.
  • The Please and Thank You Book and Cars and Trucks and Things That Go by Richard Scarry.
  • Big Dog, Little Dog and The Alphabet Book by P.D. Eastman.
  • The Boy With A Drum, My Good Morning Book, My Goodnight Book, Poems to Read to the Very Young, Baby Dear and others illustrated by Eloise Wilkin. Wonderful!
  • The Very Hungry Caterpillar and Polar Bear, Polar Bear, What Do You Hear? by Eric Carle. We give each animal in Polar Bear its own voice, and the last page becomes a song.

I look forward to adding many many more books to this list in the future!

Becoming Minimalist

Space. Peace. Breath. Order. Calm.  This is what minimalism has brought to our house.  But it took us an awfully long time to figure it out.   

I’ve thought for years that if I became more organized and worked out a good schedule, I would be able to run our lives smoothly.  The house would be tidy and clean, the laundry would get done (even put away!), dinner would happen every day, and I would have time to be with my children and husband.  

I read books about achieving that dream.  I knew that some women reach that goal, so I assumed I could, too, with enough discipline.  

But I never did.  

Nearly nine years into marriage and six years into motherhood proved to me that this “running a household” thing was an untamable dragon, at least for me.

I was drowning in stuff.  

There were toys…everywhere.  On a good night the toys would be corralled into their homes, their “organized” places, and things would feel better.  And then the first 30 minutes of morning with children would happen and the better feeling would be gone.  

There were so many clothes in a constant cycle of washing and drying and sitting in laundry baskets and (eventually) being folded, maybe put away and worn again.  

There was clutter: the evident clutter on shelves and counters and the hidden clutter behind cupboard doors and in closets…whispering to us that all was not right with the world.  Of course there were also the low moans of the “deeper cleaning” jobs that never happened.  Scrub the kitchen floor?  When, exactly?

The discouraging cycle continued day after day.  I was barely keeping my head above water, doing what was absolutely necessary for a very low standard of cleanliness and health.  I knew I needed to be better at this housekeeping thing, but it felt impossible.

And then we discovered minimalism.

The catalyst was a documentary by The Minimalists on Netflix that we saw in Januay of this year.  Around the same time I saw a video on YouTube called The Ten-Item Wardrobe.  These people were serious about getting rid of stuff and living a better life with less.

I was ready.

Clothing was the first category I tackled.  I discovered that I had been keeping clothing items for all of us that I didn’t need and didn’t like.  I had also kept lots of little boy’s old baby clothes for baby, and many of the items I’d kept I didn’t like and didn’t need.  Out the door to be donated or into the trash (stained or damaged items) went a LOT of clothing.  

Next came the toys, which we sorted and donated and threw out.  We kept everything our children love: Legos, Duplos, train tracks (both wooden and Thomas Take ‘n Play), Hot Wheels tracks & cars, a marble maze, etc. and got rid of everything that didn’t get played with or was damaged.       

We made a good start.  We had lots more room in our closets and drawers.  I could see that minimalism worked.  But there was still a piece of the puzzle missing.  

And then I stumbled across this article by Allie Casazza.  Almost instantly the puzzle piece settled into place…that piece connecting minimalism with motherhood.  All of a sudden I was given permission to get rid of things (MOST things), not for my sake or sanity alone, but also for my children.  The concept that less is more for them was a rush of fresh air against my overwhelmed face.  

With this new inspiration came a whole new wave of purging stuff, and this time it was even more serious.  I (slowly) went through much of the kitchen, the front closet, my closet, all the shelves, the cabinets in the living and dining rooms, the bathroom closet.  This time I got rid of things I liked but did not use – a beautiful large quilted pillow sham that I have been carting around for years because it’s SO pretty, the french press coffee maker, the Europress coffee maker, the hand grinder and pour-over coffee making system (sheesh, we had a lot of ways to make coffee).  

Simply put, I got rid of a ton of STUFF and we felt it.  Our 800-and-some-square-feet duplex began to feel honestly livable for five people.  

I started to have peaceful feelings when I walked in the door or looked at a bookshelf.  Even when toys got out of control, it took five minutes or less to get back to a peaceful living room.  

The bottom line was that I had killed the mess dragon!  

It turns out that I am not doomed to have a cluttered house.  I didn’t even have to get more organized or disciplined to achieve a level of tidiness I’d never known before.  I just had to get rid of a lot of stuff.  It’s so ridiculously simple.

And not only did physical space open up, but time began to open up.  Without the mental clutter of seeing stuff everywhere and knowing I needed to clean it, minutes started to be given back to me.    

So…are YOU ready?!  

If so, I’d say that the first big step is MINDSET.  You really have to want it because it’s a lot of work up front.  But if you’ve HAD IT with being overwhelmed and living in a mess no matter how much you pick up, then you are ready.  

Minimalism is not a gimmick.  Nobody makes any money if you decide to go minimalist.  It’s a very simple idea: if you have less, there’s less to manage (clean, maintain, move, put away, etc.) and more space and time left over.  It works.  You just have to do it.

If you’re really ready to dive in, go over to www.alliecasazza.com and get super inspired by her.  She even offers a course to help people go through their entire homes.  She was SO very helpful and inspiring to me.  

Then START.  

Start with your clothes, or your children’s toys, or the kitchen counter, or whatever is driving you crazy right now.  

Watch the space begin to open up and relish the freedom.  

Then watch out because minimalism is addicting.  You’ll start seeing all sorts of places to minimize (the top of the refrigerator!) and you will want to hit every single one.  It won’t happen in a day or even a week, but gradually it WILL happen.  

Then come back here and leave a comment so I can share your joy!