October 2010


JR started reading two years ago when we went through the book “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons.”  Now M, who is 4, is going through it.  I have come to love that book for teaching reading and basic phonics.  JR, of course, has moved on to bigger and better stories, most of which are found in his daily reading assignments.  Every now and then, however, with increasing frequency, he will bring one of his story-books from downstairs, and excitedly exclaime, “Listen, Mom, I can read this!”  He wanted me to listen recently as he read a sentence from a bedtime-story book.  I sat down on the couch, and he got so wrapped up in his reading that his one sentence turned into two, then three, then a whole page, and then a second page.  Finally, he looked up with a grin, and said, “Mom, I’m really tired, but I really want to hear the rest of the story, could you please read me the last page?”  Of course, I did. 

This is one of the joys of homeschooling.  It makes those difficult moments so worth while.  I love seeing my son developing a passion and an enjoyment for reading.  He is still my perfectionist, and gets easily discouraged when he can’t figure a word out, but I find that as he gets more confident, those difficult words are becoming fewer.  I love seeing his excitement at picking up a story and reading it to his sister (who is always willing to listen!).  Then, there are occasional times when he just steals a quiet moment alone to read something, like in the pic above.  I found him laying on Will’s (the dog) bed in my bedroom corner, just looking through this book.  I thought it was one of the most precious moments of my week!  I only hope I can encourage that passion, as he comes to realize that those books on the shelves are so much more than dust collectors.  Rather, they can be his vessel to anywhere he wants to travel…truly, they can be his window to the whole world, and even beyond!

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I woke up this morning about as sick as I’ve been in over a year.   Over a week ago, S decided to take this morning off, and made reservations for us to go hike at a very popular area not too far away.  I couldn’t even sit up without getting nauseous, so he decided to let me sleep and rest, while he took 4 kids on the hike.  I am so proud of him!  Here are a few pics from the morning:

The area is popular because it is a privately owned and managed historic castle, surrounded by beautiful grounds and hiking trails. This is the kids in front of part of the castle.

Very shortly after they started their trek, just off the trail, a herd of bighorn sheep were grazing in a field. The kids were fascinated, but S made them stay close by. It is rut season after all, and he didn't want any bighorn rams heading his direction!

JR hiking down the trail. Along the way, they encountered another herd of about 30 bighorn sheep, on a rock facing just above them.

My little tomboy.

At the main end of the trail is a beautiful waterfall. With the snow they've had in the mountains recently, it was flowing well.

The waterfall was a great chance to take a rest, enjoy the scenery, and let the kids do some rock scrambling.

Even Will got to have some fun. Despite the fact the air temp was around 40 degrees, and the water much cooler, Will is a water-dog, and won't miss a chance to swim!

All in all the kids hiked over a mile, plus all the rock scrambling and playing along the way.  S said it was probably the slowest hike he’d ever done, but they all had a great time.  They returned just before noon, famished and cold, so I prepared warm grilled cheese sandwiches and some hot cinnamon-apple cider for everyone.  S claims some important lessons were learned to.  The kids mostly got to dress themselves before they left, and M (as usual) chose one of her long skirts.  S said between the tree-climbing, water crossings soaking her hems, and always getting her legs tangled in it as she climbed steep hills, we should probably convince her to wear pants on our next hike.  Another big lesson was for JR.  His dad told him it was cold and he needed a winter coat, but JR insisted on wearing nothing but his lined wind-breaker style outfit.  At 40 degrees in the hills, he was rather chilly, and suffered the consequences of his decision.  Fortunately, he was active enough he kept himself fairly warm, but I suspect he will listen to his dad’s suggestion next time! 

They all had a great time though, and want to go back again sometime.  One day, we would like to actually tour the castle itself, and go beyond the waterfall, where we’ve heard there are some hot pools you can swim in.  After lunch, though, all the kids went straight to bed and I think most were asleep in moments.  S headed off to work, and I am anticipating a quiet, relaxing afternoon.

I am feeling a bit under the weather today, and sat down at the computer to blog about something.  Wasn’t sure what, so I started looking through my photos, and realized I had never told you about my awesome dog.  He’s not one for the spotlight, as you can see in the pic above!  You’ve seen pics here and there, it’s obvious he is a great family dog, but my dog has quite a story!  Pull up a chair, and let me share it with you….

During our pre-kid life, S and I decided to sign up to be puppy raisers with Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael, CA–one of the largest and most reputable service dog schools in the world.  This was something I had done years before.  This school has a very selective breeding program for dogs with excellent physical and temperment traits.  When the pups are about 6 weeks old, they are weaned from their mothers and given some basic tests.  Some are culled, spayed or neutered, and adopted out due to not passing these tests.  Those that pass are sent to puppy raisers when they are about 8-10 weeks old.   For the next 12-14 months, the puppy raiser follows very strict guidelines in raising these puppies.  They teach the pup basic household commands such as sit, stay, come, etc.  They are responsible for house-breaking the pup, teaching it walk properly on a leash, and socializing the puppy.  Shortly after we signed up, we were given Will, an adorable 8-week old Golden retriever/Labrador cross. 

As required, we spent the next 14 months training him according to protocol.  Of course, the most fun part starts during the socializing.  Because the dog is being trained as a service dogs, many states offer the dogs entry rights similiar to fully-trained service dogs (though there are limits!).  As a result, Will was allowed to accompany us almost everywhere we went.  He had a special little jacket he wore that identified him as a Guide Dog in training.

At work with S, learning how to behave at an office job

He was granted access to air show we attended, and they even let us have some great and unique photo-ops!

We took him on all our vacations, into restaurants, grocery stores, theaters, you name it.  He quickly became a very well-rounded, well-socialized, well-behaved dog.  He was excellent representative of service dogs in general.  Hey, it’s what he was bred for.  Sadly, eventually our time was up and he had to be returned to the school for his formal “Guide Dog” training.  This is where all their training is fine-tuned, and they are taught in an actual leading harness, and they are taught how to guide a person who is somehow visually impaired.  This training lasts about 4-6 months on average. 

Shortly before Will left, I got pregnant.  After Will left I soon realized that the pregnancy was progressing quickly.  I became very nervous about caring for an infant, as a diabetic mommy.  My husband was gone a lot, and I was alone.  The thought of not waking up to care for a newborn one day terrified me.  I began researching options, and discovered a program where a dog could be trained to smell and alert to low blood sugars.  I was intrigued.  After further research, we located a trainer who was willing to help me learn more.  Using the knowledge I had gained through being a puppy-raiser, S and I began searching for a prospect to train.  Eventually, we found a Golden Retriever named Jack.  Long story, short, within a few short months, he was beginning to alert consistently, and, in addition to the other assistance training we gave him, he legally qualified as a Medical Alert Dog for Diabetes. 

Jack, my first alert dog.

Jack became my shadow, and took great pride in his job.  However, he had one fault….he was VERY sensitive.  If I had to correct or scold him for something, he had a tendency to pout for a while and take it very personally.  In the mean time, my first baby was born, and Jack helped me out on a number of occasions.  There were several nights I would awake very low and Jack would eagerly run grab me a juice box or something. I still had horses at the time, and he was excellent at “getting in my way” if my blood sugar got low while I was training a horse.  He would pester me until I tested and treated my low, and then he would leave me alone.  He absolutely excelled in this area.  He made a great service dog, but because I had a bolder personality, we just didn’t “mesh” personality wise as well as I would have liked.  Nonetheless, we kept at it for over a year, trying to improve that one area.

While all this was going on, we got word that Will was being held in training a bit longer than normal.  As it turned out, when he went through his final guiding test, they said he was an exceptional dog, and the trainers loved everything about him.  But, he had one major flaw–he was obsessed with playing with other dogs.  He worked beautifully until he saw a dog somewhere, then he would get so distracted he would forget to guide.  Because he excelled in every other way, the trainers decided to hold him back and continue to try to work through the issue.  After several months, though, a decision had to be made.  It was decided to “career change” him.  In the past, a career change dog was generally adopted out as a pet, and the puppy raiser would be given first choice to adopt it.  In recent years, though, it has been determined that a dog not suited for guiding work may be perfectly suited for another line of service work.  As a result, they began forming a new program where the school would give priority to other service dog organizations to take the dog.  I was a part of the last year where puppy-raisers were given priority.  So, they called one day and asked if we wanted him back.  Now, we loved Will–he was a spectacular dog, so we immediately agreed to take him, and it was decided we would just keep him as a pet.

Very soon after he returned, we realized Will was learning from Jack how to alert.  Will began showing great interest in performing the same tasks Jack did for me.  We decided he very likely had the potential and the desire since he had been bred for it, so we thought we would give him a couple months of down time as a pet to see what he did.  He began learning so quickly that Jack actually started to get jealous.  For example, if I had a low, Will would very proudly race to the cooler, grab me a juice box, and bring it to me–before Jack could get there.  This would send Jack into a pouting session.  One day, Jack rebelled and decided to break open the juice boxes and drink them himself.  I realized this wasn’t going to work.  Jack, however, was a great service dog, so we decided to put word out that he was available to a more sensitive person, with whom his personality would be a better match.  Then, if we could find someone, I would focus on re-training and fine-tuning Will for the new line of work.  After all, he was already half way there!

After several interviews and tests, we eventually found a family for whom Jack meshed perfectly.  They had a little boy who was having severe night time lows, and the parents were running short on sleep.  They needed another option.  We weren’t sure how Jack would handle the change (the dogs tend to bond very closely with “their” diabetic), but we agreed to give it a go.  The family went through an intensive training period to gradually get Jack acquainted with them as well as teach them the laws, rules, and methods of handling Jack.  Overtime, they proved to be a perfect match.  Jack very quickly learned to alert the parents that the boy was having a low, and potentially diverted several major crises.  And, the parents were finally able to get some sleep at night.  A very happy ending for all. 

Once my attention was focused on Will, thanks to his earlier training, he caught on with no problem.  Our personalities were perfect for each other.  With Jack out of the house, Will began alerting consistently, and responding as needed.  He would pester me even if I was actually riding a horse and developed a low blood sugar, always getting in the way until I treated my sugar.  Because I didn’t require his eyes for the job, his dog-distraction was an issue we were easily able to deal with.  He quickly qualified as a legal Medical Alert Dog, and life rolled on for several years.  When Will was about 6, he showed some signs of arthritis, I got out of horses, and we had 3 young children, making it difficult for me to keep up with a dog in public.  I had also grown better at stabilizing my blood sugars, so I didn’t need him in the same way.  We decided to retire him, and he once again became a pet.  He continued to alert for a while, but for some technical reasons, I quit encouraging it, so his alert (and thereby, his attachment to me) has gradually diminished over the last 2 years.

So, now, we have Will the retired service dog, and awesome pet.  I don’t believe in cloning animals, but if I did, he would be the one I cloned!  He is just the best family pet anyone could ask for.  Once in a while, his training shows and he will alert to a low for me, which is an added bonus and testament to the amazing ability of these dogs.  They thrive on having a job to do.  Now, though, we just let him live the good life, and we are witnessing his dark gold nose turn whiter as time goes by.  He always has the regal air about him though, and we hope for many more years with him.  We all dream of the day we can pay him back for his amazing service and loyalty by letting him run free on the farm like every dog should have a chance to do.

You may recall the housing saga we dealt with a few months back.  (If not, you can get the summary here.) We thought it was all over.  You may also recall that we received a recent offer to move into a house with some livestock property next summer, which we have been praying over.  I’m not yet sure, but we may have just gotten our answer. 

We were warned by a neighbor after we moved into our house that the previous tenant had left due to heating issues in the basement (where the children all sleep).  During our housing issue, I spoke with the folks performing all the maintenance and was assured that the problem was corrected after the last guy moved out.  Well, as it turns out, that is not the case.  We finally began requiring the heater about 3 weeks ago.  We keep our thermostat around 68, so it took some time for the outside temp to drop enough for us to notice.  That’s when we realized that the room where JR and N sleep is not receiving any heat.  We have cleaned out the vent and duct with the vaccuum, shut off other vents to try to force air in.  Nothing.  Over the last week, the outside temps have crept into the low 30’s and even high 20’s at night, and because that room has a drafty window as well, we began noticing the bedroom temp getting cooler as well.  Mind you, it is cool enough in this area that the kids slept in full, flannel, footed sleepers even in the summer, so now, they are in their sleepers, sometimes wearing their bathrobes, under their comforters, and snuggled into a warm blanket as well.  And the snow hasn’t even arrived yet!  So, I called maintenance to come check out the issue, which they did.  The conclusion?  There is no heat getting through that vent.  They will likely have to scope it to find the exact extent of the issue (most likely a collapsed duct), but since the duct is buried in the concrete foundation, our choice will most likely be either to move out so they can re-do that entire foundation area with new duct work, OR be temporarily relocated while they tear out the drywall across the length of the basement to run a new duct from the heater to the bedroom (dependant on where the actual blockage is).  Neither of which sound very appealing honestly. 

So, we have requested that the superviser notify us with our choices.  If nothing else, we have requested they provided us with a space heater for the kids’ bedroom to get us through this winter.  Then, if we have to relocate anyway, we may just take the offer of the property, and let maintenance deal with this house after we are gone.  It will be interesting to see what happens.  For now, I just plan to focus on keeping my kiddos warm at night. 

This time around, though, I am more positive in that I think it is, as always, amazing to think of how God always provides for His children (of all ages).  He may not want us to move into this exact offer of a house, but, through the offer, I take great comfort in the reminder that He WILL provide.

I don’t usually tend to be very political.  I do my duty like vote, but that has always been about it.  Yet, the more I learn about what is happening to our food supply, the more outraged I am.  I realized that I can be angry all day, but that really makes no difference where it counts, unless I put actions to my thoughts and try to DO something about it.   I have never seen “Do you want access to raw milk and local produce?” on a ballot.  So, I realized I had to do something different to get my voice heard.  Although my voice tends to be small, when it combines with thousands of others in unison, the sound tends to get quite a bit louder!  A big problem we are facing currently is in regards to our right to eat healthy foods.  I understand that there are many people who prefer to trust the FDA and other agencies for oversight of their food.  I understand that many folks out there truly believe there is no difference between conventional and organic foods.  The problem I have is when rights start being taken away.  My father and husband made full careers in the military, defending my (and your) rights.  Who would have thought the right to choose what to eat would be in jeopardy?  If you are one of those who prefer pastuerized, homogenized milk, that is totally fine with me.  I just beg you not take away MY right to drink raw milk or eat organic, natural, local, farm-produced foods if I should prefer that route.  I think there is plenty of room for both beliefs.  Many government officials, however, do not agree.  They believe it is their job to determine what we can and can’t eat.  I don’t like that idea one bit.  So what can you do about it?

 There are several websites I encourage you to visit when you have a chance….

http://www.ftcldf.org/  is a wealth of info of some of the initiatives, legislation, and government interferences taking place right now in this country.  I could spend hours perusing that site if I had the time!  It is loaded with factual info!

http://www.westonaprice.org/action-alerts/2010-alerts.html is a great page for getting actions taking place RIGHT now, many of which you can help by joining with others to have your voice heard.

One of the action alerts in particular is a pressing issue that needs attention RIGHT NOW!  This may seem a strange request for my blog, but I figured it is the fastest way to get word out.  I would love to see this type of stuff go viral!  A grass-fed, raw milk, natural dairy in Missouri is under attack.  They did nothing wrong, but unfortunately fell into a group of raw milk farms that were part of a massive raid over the summer.  You can read the details at this site:

http://www.westonaprice.org/action-alerts/2010-alerts/2050-support-morningland-dairy.html

This is a great chance to get involved.  Even if you don’t live in MO, you can help in several ways.  First, use the contact info on that page to express your outrage and your desire for freedom of choice to those officials.  It only took me about 5 minutes.  The page even gives you ideas as to what to say.  Secondly, show your support specifically to Morningland Dairy.  They are at risk of losing everything they have worked for, and it’s just not right!  In order to fight this, they have to raise money.  Money to pay their mortgage, cover the losses of their cheese, and to help with the legal bills involved.  They are asking everyone to “sponsor a pound of cheese.”  You won’t receive any cheese, but you are essentially showing support for the family, the farm, and the rights of every American citizen by pitching in in increments of $5.  I felt like the little I contributed was a great way to combine my voice with the thousands of others to let the government hear us.  Even if you are not a supporter of raw milk and organic foods, by participating, you can still help let it be known that you DO support freedom of choice in what we eat.  Just click the following link for a direct way to PayPal them (toward the bottom of the page).

http://uncheeseparty.wordpress.com/

Do you happen to be in the majority of our society that believes that the FDA, USDA, and EPA are there to protect us from dangers in our foods and in our environment?  Think again.  While they may have started out with that intent, that is not what is happening now.  Let’s put it this way, according to a legal document put out by the FDA in response to a complaint filed by the Farm To Consumer Legal Defense Fund, and in the exact wording of the FDA:

  •  “There is no absolute right to consume or feed children any particular food.” [p. 25]
  • “There is no ‘deeply rooted’ historical tradition of unfettered access to foods of all kinds.” [p. 26]
  • “Plaintiffs’ assertion of a ‘fundamental right to their own bodily and physical health, which includes what foods they do and do not choose to consume for themselves and their families’ is similarly unavailing because plaintiffs do not have a fundamental right to obtain any food they wish.” [p. 26]

 And THAT, folks, is the agency we are allowing to control our food supply!  Chances are you, or someone you know, has food allergies, asthma, autism, digestive disorders, cancer, or obesity.  Ever wonder why there are such increasing numbers of these cases?  The answer is right under our noses, and yet, as we walk in blind faith, listening to the above government agencies, the problems just get worse.  Did you know that 25 countries have banned the types of foods that our government agencies are freely allowing to enter our food supply WITHOUT SO MUCH AS A LABEL identifying that it is different?!  By now you might be asking what on earth I am talking about.  I implore you….Set aside an hour and a half out of your day, before the weekend is over if possible, and watch “The Future of Food.”  If you can’t find it anywhere else, sign up for a free 30-day trial on Netflix, and watch it there instantly.  Please inform yourself.  We aren’t messing around anymore!  Everytime you eat, you are potentially destroying yourself, the environment, and the future of your children.  It is absolutely frightening where we are headed.  Fortunately, there is another option.  Just so you know, this not one of those “someone’s opinion” movies.  It is a science and fact-based documentary that shows you, in detail, exactly what is going on behind the scenes.  It is shocking! 

Once you watch the documentary, I encourage you to follow it up by reading a book called “The Unhealthy Truth” by Robyn O’Brien.  You will find more details there, assuming you can handle more!  Let’s just say my weakness for the occasional much-loved Snicker’s bar is suddenly not so appealing!

As (I think it’s) Joel Salatin puts it, you vote 3 times a day–with each meal you eat.  Everytime you put food into your mouth, you are telling our government either it is OK to allow food altered with antibiotics, pesticides, and other foreign substances into our foods system, or that it isn’t.  (Did you know one of the most commonly grown types of corn has to be registered as a pesticide?!  Then, they can turn around and feed it to livestock in CAFO’s, eventually putting it on your dinner table?  Or worse, they can use it as high fructose corn syrup or a corn base and add it directly into the food you buy to eat (and feed your kids)?!)  When you eat, you are either telling them it is OK to use ever-expanding CAFO’s, and the horrendous unhealthy and even dangerous effects of such onto our dinner plates or that it isn’t.  You are either supporting big corporate industries in their greedy desire to dominate the food system, or you are telling them you won’t stand for such monopoly–that you want the freedom to choose what you eat.

Please, watch it before you forget, and be an informed American.  Trust me, you’ll be thankful you did!

I had a proud “Mommy” moment this morning during JR’s violin lesson, and wanted to share.  We started taking violin lessons in December of 2009.  Now, here is 6-year-old JR playing a duet with his instructor:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8B_mW2HhbUc

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