Destination Imagination

This past weekend, we headed to the University of Tennessee Conference Center in Knoxville to watch three of my nephews participate in events with Destination Imagination. My sister first told me about this organization last year, so this year we went to see what was involved and how it all worked.

At this regional level, there were quite a few different events students could participate in, and the top performers move on to the state contest. My nephews were in a drama contest in which each group had to come up with a mystery skit and props.

Before the competition, the students were given a list of famous detectives to research. Armed with only this information and miscellaneous craft items to make props, they waited for their turn to perform. They were then given the name of one of the detectives they had studied, three different movie genres, and a superstition to investigate; all of these had to be included in the skits. They worked for the next thirty minutes to put it all together into a six-minute play. Then, right before they performed, they were given a surprise element they needed to include as well. The students had one minute to figure out how to include it, and then the play began.

I was impressed with what the kids came up with! Each group had about five to six people who had to work as a team to pull it all together quickly. All of the team members performed a part in the play. And they had to present their skits before an audience and three judges.

There were other challenges as well, and groups from any type of school, whether public, private, or homeschool, could participate. I came home from the trip and searched the website for the Destination Imagination events in our area – I think we’ll get together a group for next year!  (Destination Imagination — www.idodi.org.)

Worm Castings

A friend of mine has a home business I had never heard of before I met her. She and her family sell worm castings. They raise the worms, gather the castings, and package them up for customers.

“Castings” is another name for worm poo. No, worm castings aren’t smelly or icky – they’re actually like rich, dark, soft soil. They act as an organic fertilizer, releasing nutrients and water to the plant only as it needs it. My friend gave me some to try, and the results were amazing.

We have a large field which includes an area we marked off to plant a garden. Each year, my husband plans to plow it up with his dad’s antique John Deer tractor, but every spring he gets too busy. Two summers ago, I decided to just plant a small area instead, one that I could prepare and tend on my own. I already had the castings, so I bought a few cherry tomato plants. Being homeschoolers, we decided to turn our garden project into a science experiement.

We divided the plants into two groups. One group we planted with the castings, adding a large handful into the hole before planting, and then adding a little more around the base of the plant when we were finished. The other group we just set into the soil with no castings at all.

That summer, our area suffered from a terrible drought. Unfortuantely for the plants, I had placed my garden quite far from the house, and I often forgot to water them. In fact, I think I only carried a watering can out twice to the little garden. It’s no wonder the plants without the castings died away.

But to our surprise, the plants we had treated with the worm castings thrived. Not only did they grow, but they grew beyond the supports we had set up. They produced…and produced…and produced! We had tomatoes through September and into October. I even had to pick a few tomatoes before they were ripe because we were beginning to get the first frosts of winter.

I’m convinced. We’re going to try it again this year, and I can’t wait for the results! Maybe we’ll even get that big garden planted.

A Gracious Guest

To add to the fun of Luke’s birthday, my sister, four of her children, and my mom who was visiting them came from Tennessee to spend the day. Towards the end of their visit, my oldest son, John, looked a little distressed; his cousin, who’s the same age, had wandered off by himself, and John couldn’t find him. John was aware that their time together was growing short, and he wanted to make the most of the last thirty minutes or so.

After a couple of minutes calling for him, the cousin emerged from our chicken pen holding one of the chickens. He was close enough that he must have heard John calling for him. My sister scolded him. “John’s looking for you,” she said. “Ask him what he wants to do. Remember, you’re the guest.”

Her comments reminded me of something she had mentioned to me a few years before. As we were growing up, we’d have friends over, and we’d spend the time doing the things they wanted to do. We were taught to be good hostesses, ensuring that our friends had a good time at our house. Now grown, my sister had a new view of the situation. A child, she said, should also be taught to be a gracious guest.

A gracious guest is one that doesn’t demand his own way. He understands that activities with his host don’t have to revolve around him; instead, he finds out what  his host wants to do. He helps out when he can and fits himself into the host’s schedule.

I thought about it again that day, and I believe my sister is right. I, too, want my children to learn to be a blessing, whether they are serving in the position of the host or as an invited guest – a gracious guest.

The Birthday Banner

This past weekend, my youngest, Luke, turned five years old. For the past month, he and his eight-year-old sister Lillie have been planning the party – decorating treat bags, looking through catalogs for favors, deciding on cake decorations. And, of course, bringing out his birthday banner.

Birthday banners have become a favorite tradition in our family. It all began seven years ago when my second child, Cassie, turned three. We were living in what we thought would be just a temporary home – a single wide mobile home on the same property as the house we planned to renovate. Because we were going to be moving again soon (or so I thought – it actually took two years), I didn’t unpack photos or pictures for the walls.

When Cassie’s birthday came around after Christmas, we decorated with streamers and balloons, but there was still one large bare wall where the Christmas tree had been. To fill the space, I pulled out some large pieces of felt my mother had given me and decided to make a banner. I used the large pieces as background colors, then cut flowers, butterflies, and “HAPPY BIRTHDAY CASSIE!” out of the rest. My mother was living nearby at the time, so when I was finished gluing all of the pieces down, she secured them with stitching and added tabs across the top. We hung the banner on that bare wall with a curtain rod and two sticky hooks, and it filled the space perfectly!

Of course, as each of my other children’s birthdays rolled around that year, I had to make a special banner for them too. My mom had moved, so after I created the patterns for the designs, I sent them to her to sew together. She even made banners for my husband and myself. Now we all have our own birthday banner, which we hang in our living room at least two weeks before the big day. It’s one of our favorite family traditions, and one my children can take along with them even after they’re grown.

Writer’s Conference

Late at night, when the rest of the family has gone to bed, I like to settle in at the computer and write for children. I have a file full of stories, poems, and articles, some of which have been published, some of which are still waiting to find the right publisher. Last fall, I attended a writing conference for Christian children’s writers to help me with my writing. Not only did I learn a lot, but I met many wonderful people who were supportive, encouraging, and helpful. The best part, however, was that this conference offered classes for students, so I got to take my two oldest children with me!

I’ve been to writing conferences before, but this one was the most fun, because I could share it with them. Their class was with author Jonathan Friesen, and he instructed them on story structure and ideas. They both came away inspired, as they’re still working on the stories he helped them begin.

At lunch, conference attendees had the opportunity to dine with the speakers. My children and I sat with a couple of other authors. Also at our table sat Suzanne Hadley, the editor of Focus on the Family Clubhouse Magazine, and Nancy Lohr, editor of JourneyForth Books. Wow! My children were sitting and talking with editors!

And, yes, they did talk. And talk. And talk. They told stories to Ms. Hadley about our life at home, and about how their siblings were faring at home with their dad. Their sister, they said, probably had so many tangles in her hair it was standing up on its own, while their little brother was most likely sitting bug-eyed in front of a computer game. They would laugh and she would laugh. As we talked, I found out Suzanne is the oldest child in a homeschooling family, so I’m sure she understood.

I was very impressed at that luncheon. I was so impressed with Ms. Hadley, who was willing to talk and laugh with my children at this conference that was designed primarily for adults. And I was so impressed with my children, who spoke to this unfamiliar adult with such ease you would think she was part of the family.

I’m thankful I had the opportunity to take my children along and to show them what a conference was like. They enjoyed it too, for, as my son mentioned just the other day, “That was so much fun!”

Bartering

I’ve read where many homeschoolers barter for goods or services, and I think it’s a great idea. In fact, I’m one of them!

I teach art lessons to children, and I know how costly lessons can be. Three of our children are involved in music lessons, and although the teachers have given us a very good price, the cost can add up over time. So when parents ask me if I’d like to trade, I understand, and I’m happy to oblige. The barter has always benefited both families.

At one time, I had two art students whose family raised goats. Each week, we traded art lessons for fresh organic milk, something I wouldn’t have been able to afford had I purchased it at the farmer’s market. Now I’m trading lessons for homemade organic bread. The mom who bakes it even grinds her own grain. It’s good for my family and tastes delicious, and it’s something that would be too costly for our grocery budget. It’s a wonderful trade!

I’m also trading a class for a class. One of my daughters spends a couple of hours one day a week at a nearby horse farm, where a friend who works there teaches her all about horses. My daughter feeds them, waters them, cleans the stalls, and learns about the different types of saddles, bridles, and bits. She also has opportunities to ride. In exchange, the friend’s son comes over once a week to practice his reading skills with me.

If you’re on a more limited budget and don’t have the funds for classes for your children, you might want to consider bartering, too. You can trade off household or yard help, childcare, sewing services – whatever you can offer. Don’t be afraid to ask – the worst a teacher can say is “no, thanks,” but you might just receive your “yes!”

I Love You Bigger

When my oldest son was about three years old, we began to play a game called “I Love You Bigger.” If we were taking a walk or driving somewhere in the car, I would start by saying something like, “I love you bigger than a table.”

Then, my son would think of something bigger. “I love you bigger than a tree,” he might say.

It was my turn to think of something bigger. “I love you bigger than a house.”

“I love you bigger than a tall building!”

“I love you bigger than the sky!”

“I love you bigger than the whole world!”

Eventually, we say the biggest thing either of us could think of, and the game would end.

Now I play the game with my youngest, a four-year-old boy. He played the game a little differently, though. He never quite caught on that we were supposed to think of bigger and bigger things; instead, he would say whatever it was he could see at the time. So our game went more like this:

“I love you bigger than a table,” I might say.

“I love you bigger than a leaf,” he would say.

“I love you bigger than a house!” I would say on my turn, trying to get him to think of something larger.

“I love you bigger than a napkin,” he would reply, or “I love you bigger than a book.” I knew I was something special when he loved me bigger than the potty.

Then, just last week, my four-year-old won the game. “I love you bigger than this couch,” I said, as we snuggled together watching a show.

“I love you bigger than you can imagine,” he answered.

I know I’ll hold on to those words forever, because I love him bigger than he can imagine, too.

American Girl Doll Help

Like many homeschooling families, we are on a limited budget, and I try to help stretch our income as far as I can. When both my girls wanted an American Girl doll one Christmas, I was able to purchase two very nice pre-owned dolls off of eBay at a fraction of the retail price. They’ve loved the dolls for just over a year now, and it’s beginning to show.

The Mattel Company (who now produces the dolls) has a doll hospital where you can send your doll for some TLC and repairs. There’s a charge for each repair, however, plus shipping charges each way. Our dolls had a few marks on them and frizzy hair – not quite enough for me to justify the extra expense. So instead I went online and searched for ideas.

I found where several people recommended using Clearasil (or the store brand) for getting rid of ink stains and pen marks on the doll’s plastic skin (not the soft body). We followed the directions, rubbing a little bit onto the stain and then placing the doll in direct light (we used a lamp) for almost the whole day. Imagine our surprise when the stain disappeared – even the permanent marker!

Next I came across a wonderful site called JustMagicDolls.com. The author of this site takes you step by step on how to repair your doll, from brushing the hair correctly to reattaching limbs. Following the steps outlined on the site, my oldest daughter and I washed, conditioned, and steamed her doll’s hair, making it look smooth, shiny, and beautiful again.

Now my daughter plans to open up small “doll hospital” of our own, where she can take care of her friends’ dolls as well. We were both excited — what a great way to serve others! Perhaps one day she’ll even turn it into a small business, learning those life lessons as well.

Colloidal Silver

Living in the country near wooded areas, we often come across poison ivy around our home. Sometimes the children come across it before I do, as was the case when my daughter, then five, broke out with a reaction. What started on her arms soon spread to her chin and cheeks. Not having much experience with poison ivy, I searched the internet for advice and information.
Some of the sites I found recommended using colloidal silver. It’s created by binding silver particles to water with an electric current, forming a natural antibiotic that can be used against infections. The silver disables an enzyme that bacteria, viruses, and fungi need to produce oxygen, in essence suffocating them. I couldn’t find any harmful side effects.
So why hadn’t I heard of it before? Apparently, colloidal silver was a common remedy until the mid-1930s, when it fell out of use. I decided it was worth a try, so I purchased a small bottle at the health food store.
Colloidal silver comes with either a spray tip or a dropper, so I chose the spray. I squirted the silver all over my daughter’s arms and face and told her not to wipe it off at all. We did this several times that day.

When I checked her the next day, the rash had stopped spreading and appeared to be improving; the following day showed even more improvement. By the end of the week, it had cleared up so much that it was difficult to tell she had ever been infected.

Since that time, we’ve found a lot of uses for our little bottle of silver spray. We apply it to minor burns, cuts, and scrapes. We spray it in our mouths when we come down with colds. I’ve even applied it to sores and cuts on our pets, and it works just as well. I read online where others have used it for sinus infections, sore throats, acne, boils, and athlete’s foot.

A word of caution, however: don’t overdo it. Apparently, California resident Paul Karason not only rubbed it on his skin, but he also drank so much of it that it’s turned his skin blue.

Seeing It Through

My second child, now ten, has been so easy to raise – she’s compliant, eager to please, and easy-going. When she has a new interest, she pursues it with a passion. Until this past fall, we had very little to work on regarding character issues. That’s when we discovered she has difficulty seeing things through.

It actually began about two years ago, when she decided she wanted a horse. She was so certain that she even chose to stop taking ballet lessons so the money could be saved for a horse. But purchasing a horse and all we needed to care for it was a big step for us, and we needed to more to be financially ready. In the meantime, I said, how about getting a puppy? We used to have two dogs, but we had to give one away when it kept killing our chickens. Another dog would be fine.

Because it would be a while before we could get a horse, she agreed, putting all her energies into the project. She read about all the different breeds and saved her money for dog toys and treats. When someone offered to give her a dachshund they couldn’t keep, she was thrilled…for about a two weeks.

As the novelty of dog ownership wore off, my daughter began looking again towards a horse. I might have thought that a dog just wasn’t a good choice, except that over the years she’s also tried a kitten, a bird, a hamster, and a guinea pig, all of which she eventually gave up to her siblings. There was a bigger issue here than just finding the right pet.

The struggle with commitment was apparent in her music studies as well. She took piano for a while, but quit as soon as I would let her. She began flute lessons last fall, and now she already wants to quit taking those. What would happen if we bought a horse?

I’m not worried about it anymore. This is an area where she struggles, but it’s also an area that she can improve. We’ve talked about it and decided she can learn to stick with something. She can learn to follow a commitment through to the end, even if things become difficult or uncomfortable. She might whine and beg, but I’ve determined that I won’t let her quit. We see the problem, and we have the time to work on it together. And we’re still saving for that horse.