Thursday, March 5, 2009

Excuses, excuses

Ok, I know that I have been away from this blog for far too long. Starting back in December, my entire family became sick with coughing which turned into something just short of pneumonia. Of course, I had to catch it as well and it hit me very hard. After two courses of antibiotics, x-rays and a torn chest muscle, I am now nearly 100%. Did I forget to mention that just this week I caught something from Cruz that feels like a cross between a cold, a sinus infection and the flu? This is supposed to have been SUMMER in the Southern Hemisphere! I feel like I have just been through the worst winter flu season Chicago has to offer.

Anyways, I am attempting to get back to all of my usual activities and blogging is one of them. So please, be patient as I get back on the road to health.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Baking, Sort of

As Atheists, we don't celebrate christmas BUT that doesn't mean that we can't do a little baking! Yesterday my friend Shirley popped by with the most delectable treats I've had in a LONG time. After receiving the recipe last night, I thought that I would put it to the test and have the kids help too!

Here is my version of the recipe for Hazelnut and Cherry / Ginger Chocs

70g packet of hazelnuts
200g dark chocolate
1/2 tin (about 195g) of sweetened condensed milk
50g butter
1/2 cup crystallized ginger, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup candied cherries, whole or cut in half- you choose
24 small muffin (this is more like a candy sized paper cup) baking cups

Line the compartments of two muffin tins with the small baking cups, set aside.

In a microwave proof bowl, combine chocolate, sweetened condensed milk and butter. Microwave until all ingredients begin to melt. Remove and stir until all ingredients are incorporated. Pour hazelnuts into chocolate mixture and stir until well coated. Split the chocolate mixture into two containers and add ginger to one and cherries to the other. Mix each well making sure all nuts and cherries/ginger are well coated.

Spoon mixture into baking cups distributing the mixture evenly amongst the cups. Place muffin tins in the refrigerator. Chocs should be well set before removing to serve. Enjoy!

Ivy, Melody and Cruz really enjoyed helping with this recipe. It is easy for children to help with the measuring of the ingredients, mixing and filling the cups. There was plenty of spoon licking and still enough to fill all 24 cups.

I hope that you will try this recipe and let me know what you think. It is an easy one to pull off seeing that NO baking is required.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


Today is the one year anniversary of my one and only major surgery. It was on this day last year that my Neurosurgeon, N. Finnis, performed a PLIF on my spine in the L5/S1 region. It is hard to believe that all of this happened one year ago.


When I was pregnant with Cruz, I injured my back while cleaning out the chicken coop. I suffered for nearly nine months with horrific back pain accompanied by shocking/aching nerve pain and numbness in the pelvis and legs. I had seen specialists at the time who diagnosed me with a sprain to the sacroiliac joint and assured me that all would improve after I delivered. I struggled at times to walk and manage the pain. At that time, I thought it was one of the most challenging trials I had ever faced.

After delivering Cruz, my pain and symptoms escalated. I was able to have x-rays and an MRI and was diagnosed with Grade II Isthmic Spondylolisthesis. For the next nearly three years, I struggled with difficulty walking (often having a limp), debilitating pain, and the inability to find a surgeon who would treat me.

The problem, I was a breastfeeding mother. No surgeon would agree to do anything for my pain or back and I was continually advised to "soldier on". Luckily, in mid 2007, I was referred to Mr. Finnis and soon thereafter, he agreed to DO something to help me. It was on December 6, 2007 that I was admitted to St. George's Hospital in Christchurch for my spinal fusion/nerve decompression with instrumentation.

Here you can see the before and after radiographs of my spine.


If I thought the struggle leading up to my surgery was harrowing, I had no idea that the post-operative period and onward was going to be equally as agonising. I can vividly remember waking up in the recovery room and thinking that my pain was almost unbearable. I was quickly hooked up to a pain medication pump and started pressing the button like there was no tomorrow. The next nearly five days were a blur. I was in bed for nearly three days before I attempted to stand at the bedside and walking seemed impossible.

I was still breastfeeding Cruz who came to the hospital the day after my surgery and then once or twice every day thereafter. I was sleeping more than awake but still managing to press my pain med button. The medication seemed so ineffective in relation to the severity of my pain. On the last day, Arnold and the kids picked me up and drove me home. I still don't know how I made the journey sitting up in the front seat of the car.

The next several weeks were spent in bed, resting and taking pain meds. The girls' birthdays passed and I barely remember them. My fortieth birthday passed and I was lucky to make it to the dinner table. More time passed and nearly 5 months after my surgery I was able to stop taking my pain medication and begin to live a relatively normal life- yeah right.


I knew immediately after my surgery that the pain I had experienced due to my herniated disc was completely gone. Yipee! Unfortunately, nothing ever seems to be 100% and I am left with nerve pain in the pelvis and legs, numbness in the pelvis and legs/feet that comes and goes, and back pain when I attempt to do too much at once. Thankfully, I have been able to get some help with the tasks that I have found aggravate my nerves- repetitive bending and heavy lifting- but you can't exactly tell your child that you can't pick them up when they have fallen and hurt themselves. More often then not, I do what I must and grin and bear it as much as I can.

I'll just have to see what unfolds in this next year.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Beautiful Day in the Garden

Today was a beautifully sunny day after several days of cloudy and cool weather. I thought I would share some of my favorite pictures taken today from the garden. Here is a sunflower called Moulin Rouge...
a bee visiting a flower on my sage plant...
a peach colored hybrid tea rose...
and one of my favorite flowers. Can you guess what it is? My clue is that it is a flower from a fruiting vine.
I hope your day was as pleasant as mine.


Ivy's ability to read has really impressed me lately. We have used a balanced approach (both phonics and whole language) in teaching her to read. Other than using our home, local and Christchurch City libraries, I have purchased an American phonics program which had been recommended by the mother-daughter homeschooling advocates, Jessie Wise and Susan Wise-Bauer (The Well-Trained Mind).

Ivy has been completing the exercises in the Explode the Code series and is currently on book4.5. She also reads readers and other stories. She is able to decode texts while comprehending the content.

The day before yesterday, Ivy was able to read a lengthy story from a book called The Magician of Puddle Lane and Other Stories by Sheila K. McCullagh. I was interested to see the reading level of this book to be able to gauge where Ivy's reading is at. So, I used the Fry Readability Formula to determine the average grade reading level of the story. This is something that is fairly easy to do and it gives you a good idea of the difficulty of particular texts- which can differ greatly from what a publisher states as the reading level. I was surprised to see that the story, about a girl receiving a magical box for her birthday, scored at the 6th grade reading level. This blew me away. I had no idea that Ivy's reading was that good! She is only 5, turning 6 in late December, and a 6th grader, if my memory serves me right, is 11 years old!

Things seem so normal to us as home schoolers in our own little world of learning until we compare what we are doing with others out there. What a great achievement for Ivy!

Monday, November 17, 2008

How Bizarre!

The other day we received a publication called "Fruit and Fleece- The Community Newsletter of Loburn School, Friday 31st October." Even though we home educate, I always read this newsletter to see what is going on in the community. It usually carries advertisements from local business people and it was through this publication that I found a great massage therapist.

As I flipped to the third page, passing a typo in the Principal's letter to the community, I saw something that really left me perplexed. Here you can see a report on the activities of the Loburn School Junior Syndicate (not to be confused with gangsters or bankers).
As a former teacher I know a little bit about what happens in a classroom. I have no issues with the jigsaw technique which is a cooperative learning technique. In fact, I think it is probably quite well suited to situations where students are from various years and ability levels.

I do have concerns in relation to this activity used at Loburn School. My first problem is with the content chosen by the teacher or group of teachers to be explored by the children of the junior syndicate. As you can see, the teacher decided to have the children investigate one of two different people. One envelope contained a picture of the late Sir Edmund Hillary and the other a picture of the controversial figure Mother Teresa. I can't argue with choosing to study Sir Edmund Hillary. This man is an icon in New Zealand and I have no trouble with this choice. As you might guess though, I do have trouble with students researching Mother Teresa. Why would she be chosen? What significance does she have to New Zealand? Was the teacher not aware of, as Wikipedia calls it, the "diverse range of criticism" about this figure? Please read more about Mother Teresa here, here, here, and here.

I believe the teacher's choice of Mother Teresa unnecessarily brings religion into the classroom. How could this be done and then publicized to the entire community? This type of activity only reinforces our family's choice, as Atheists, to home educate our children.

Secondly, I find the answers given by the children to the first question to be bizarre. Unfortunately, we are only given a snippet of what was done during this activity. As you can see the children were supposed to answer three questions about the person in the picture, the first question being "Who am I?" I am left wondering... Why would a child answer that the old woman was a person in a gang, the first person born, or any of the other answers that seem so off? Has the teacher redirected these children and helped them REALLY identify the person? What role do Mother Teresa's religious beliefs play in her identification and what religious subtext is being pushed by the teacher? What did the teacher offer to answer or clarify the question, "Why is this person special?"

I am thankful that my children were not unwittingly subjected to this activity that, in my opinion, is masquerading as learning/social studies. Here in New Zealand the lines between religion in the classroom and secular instruction are blurred. While there is no State religion, christianity seems to get more face time in the classroom than most other mythical belief systems. With December fast approaching, I am sure we will see more of jesus and his crew than we as Atheists can tolerate!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

To Play Or Not To Play

Last week and again yesterday, we tried out our local Playcentre. Here, Playcentre is a place where children from ages 0-6 can go once or twice a week to engage in free choice play and parents can stay and play alongside their children. It is a parent-run cooperative with one hired supervisor. In the past I have stayed away from anything that IS public education (yes, Playcentre is an early childhood education option) because we home educate but after receiving an advertisement in the mail, I thought I wouldn't pass judgement on it until I knew exactly what it was.

On our first visit, all three of the kids had a blast. There were so many things to do, many of them being REALLY messy. Ivy enjoyed painting and created a slew of artwork. Cruz enjoyed using the scissors and cutting things into an unbelievable number of tiny bits and Melody enjoyed the gluing and collage area.

The Playcentre had many other things that the kids enjoyed including a huge sandpit with all of the toys you could ever want, a water table, a real woodworking area with saws, nails, drills and hammers (this would never happen in the USA as the possibility of hurting one's self would be too great), slides and other outdoor equipment, a goop station with slime and the like to play with and too many other things to mention. As you can see the kids would easily be able to find something to entertain themselves with for the two and a half hour session.

All was well until we turned up at the Playcentre yesterday. I had intended to enroll the children because the centre passed my inspection list of being fun and not providing instruction. As I began to ask more questions, I was quite surprised with the answers I received and the began to see a certain "Stepford Wives" look in the eyes of the other mothers.

Ivy is turning six in December and that would put her past the age for Playcentre. She would still be able to enjoy the rest of this term but after that she would be left out. I asked if she would be able to come along with us as Melody and Cruz would be 4 and 2 respectively and she would have her exemption from attending a regular school. I was initially asked if there was someone I could LEAVE her with. Then, I was told that she might be able to come and could do her school work at a table while the children played.

I was a bit surprised with both of the responses. The conversation devolved into me, the parent, being told I would be responsible for Ivy while we were there- to- me asking who is responsible for my other children while we are there (hoping they wouldn't answer, "The State!"). I guess the people really didn't see it coming but I couldn't help myself. I started questioning the underlying philosophy of Playcentre- where play and free choice are the way children learn- and asking how that mysteriously ended when the child turned 5 (the age when most parents send their children to school). I pointed out that once a child went to school, they had very few choices to make, their learning was planned, the topics they are to study are mapped out and books to be read are generally chosen by the teacher or democracy in the classroom. I tried to explain that as home educators, Ivy wouldn't have to sit there and do school work while the other children played-aren't kids in school allowed breaks/recess/play lunch-WHATEVER? Our learning doesn't have to take place from 9 am to 3 pm, Monday through Friday.

I also tried to explain that our family philosophy was not to DROP Ivy off somewhere (where that would be I am still unclear) but to include her as a valuable part of the family. I tried to stress that it would be a HUGE blow to her not to be able to come along. I would never sign up for something where she would be crushed like that. The woman, the information officer of the Playcentre, confided in me that she had to keep quite at home about what she and her 3.5 year old twins did during the day because her 5 year old at school would feel like she were missing out. And then, the woman said she was MISSING OUT! Oh no!

Needless to say, I left my concerns with the information officer. There was a meeting of the cooperative last evening and Ivy's case would be made. If the Playcentre is happy for Ivy to continue to come after she turns 6, I will most likely enroll. If not, we may look around for another Playcentre that is willing to work with home schooling families.