Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Cat Genie is a hit!

We were all a little unsure how the cats would adjust to the high tech litter box, and it's high tech litter. The thing is a monstrosity. We measured first, and it fits just like we expected, but it's still bigger than any of us were imagining. It's not nearly as loud as I had expected, though! The cleaning process is whisper quiet, except when the water is draining. Even that isn't bad, though.

We have 2 cats. Zoey is an old lady, nearly 14 years old. I don't think she even noticed her cheap, open top box was replaced by the Cat Genie. Aslan is barely a year old and into everything. He's quite the talker, too. He mews and chirps and you can carry on long conversations with him, if you are listening for vocal tone instead of words. That's him, in the picture. He spends a lot of time, now, standing just like that. He sniffs every surface of the interior, including each individual granual, about an hour after each cleaning process. He doesn't enter the room during that first hour for the same reason none of the rest of us do. It has an overpowering musky smell that takes nearly an hour to dissipate. Even though Aslan is neutered, I imagine it's a product of cleaning adolescent boy cat urine off the granuals. We're using the unscented cleaning solution, and I think the reviews would have mentioned if this was common for others.

Aside from an hour of musk after cleaning, the Cat Genie is everything is claims to be. Aslan was confused at first, and wandered around the laundry room mewing piteously the first night. I had to shove him into the box a couple times before he understood that it wasn't just a cool new cave to play in. After that, he's had no problem using it. He's also incredibly intrigued by the cleaning process. He absolutely HAS to be present every time it's run. We aren't using the auto clean feature. It's not recommended while your cats are getting used to the box. Also, we want to be in control of when the musk is released. I would hate for the timing to align with dinner or company visiting.

This box is much like a standard box. The cats don't track out as much litter, but we still have to sweep the area once per day. You can't just use any litter, so it makes sense to sign up for one of the Cat Genie "Very Important Cat" subscriptions. Running the Genie once per day per cat is recommended, but we are finding once per day to be appropriate for our household. So a single year subscription should actually provide us with enough product to last 2 - 3 years. That means we'll spend far less than we ever have on supplies. Even cleaning it twice per day, we would spend (at most) what we were spending to upkeep a regular litter box.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Church Attendance and ASD

It's Sunday morning and my family is at church without me...again. It's not because I'm sick, or having a crisis of faith, or even because I don't want to go. It's because my family needs a wife and mother the other 6 days of the week. It will take me 2 - 4 days to recover from the rigors of that kind of social experience, and I won't be back to 100% for at least a week (assuming I'm not obligated to attend any other social activities while recovering). I love church and I really miss it when I don't go. I think I attend about 1 - 2 weeks per month, though, and I only make it through all three hours a few times per year.

From the discussions I've had with other folks on the autistic spectrum, the way I experience church is pretty common for autistic adults. It's easier for those who are highly medicated, but never actually easy like it is for NTs. I thought today I would explain to the world what church is like for me, and a great deal of other faithful autistic members.

First, we arrive. I try to arrange for us to arrive early. +Liam Shepherd likes to help pass sacrament, and needs to be a little early for that. Also, if we are late I will have my first wave of petrifying anxiety upon entering the sacrament hall. While all eyes are on us, and we're interrupting the Bishop's announcements, we have to figure out where to sit. +Jason Shepherd will just follow whoever heads for a seat first. The three ASD family members will all feel their hearts beating, their breath tightening, and their minds become foggy. Even if our usual seat is free, one of the kids will make a B line for a seat that doesn't have enough room or where Jason (who's 6'7" barefoot) will block someone's view. I'll have to publicly and even more distractingly stop them and point out our seat. If our usual seat is taken, I feel a blinding panic. And when I say blinding, I mean my vision goes foggy and sometimes I get tunnel vision. I have to push past that and find a seat. Sometimes someone else will find one that works and I'll gratefully follow.

We have gotten pretty good at arriving early. We go to our usual seats, and I try to be invisible. The bishop always makes a point of stopping by and saying hi, and sometimes other people do too. If we don't exchange more than a couple statements each, it's kind of nice. More than that and I start to become a little anxious. Sometimes I feel a social obligation to try to socialize a little with someone. I always end up feeling awkward and pretty sure I said something offensive or otherwise inappropriate, but I almost never have a clue what that might have been. Eventually church starts. I really like the songs a lot. I feel the spirit strongly when we sing, and it's refreshing in the way church should be. I like that the ward we're in now sings a lot. Some wards only sing a single verse of each of 3 songs. This ward sings 4 whole songs! Prayer is ok. I find public prayers kind of distracting and very difficult to focus on. My mind tends to wander. Sacrament itself is a little nerve wracking. People really pay a lot of attention to what others are doing at this point. I don't think anyone is interested in me in particular, but most do end up looking at me when they are randomly glancing around. I feel a strong pressure to make sure I'm doing the right things and that my family is too. Otherwise, I'll face someone being convinced something is wrong and wanting to help later in the day or week. I make every attempt to look casual and happy. It seems to be the right thing to do. I smile if someone looks directly at me, but pretend they aren't looking if they don't. I like it best when Liam serves our sacrament because the servers always watch you and that causes an intense pressure not to do anything out of place. Liam doesn't care what we do, and gives me a look like he's in on the joke if we do something odd. That's soothing. Actually taking the Sacrament is nice. Everything else goes away for a few moments. I am completely internalized and nothing else exists. As I understand it, though, a lot of people on the spectrum get nothing out of it because all those people around them are so distracting that they really aren't doing anything but eating some bread and water. The talks are a lot like sacrament, except with someone staring at me for an hour straight. Sometimes the speaker or someone else up front will stare directly at us for a bit, but mostly they are staring blankly over the crowd. We'll be fine so long as we don't stand out in any way. I'm just going to repeat that. No NT drama will be unleashed on me or my family in the future so long as the autistic family who are the only autistic people in the whole ward, and that most of the local members have ever met...doesn't stand out in any way for an entire hour in a nearly silent room full of people sitting as still as statues. That seems likely, right? So, like 5 - 10 times per meeting groups of people snap their eyes onto us in reaction to something one of us did - often without knowing we did it. That number is so low because my kids are older and we have really got the hang of this. From what I gather, we are really blessed with more innate and instinctual camouflage than most people on the spectrum.

If it's been a good week, and a decent Sacrament meeting, I make it all the way through. Otherwise, I have to go hide in the bathroom and get myself under control for a few minutes, so I don't have a panic in the middle of church. So, Sacrament meeting ends and the socializing begins. I do best if I can just stand there uncomfortably and listen to Jason or the kids having conversations. The other ward members are very sweet and want me to feel included though. So, I smile and wear the body language of someone at ease the best I can. I make small talk and try to remember this is a sign of affection. It may be confusing and awkward for me, but it's how these people tell me they like me and care about me. I shake the hands that are offered. I even initiate the shaking when I know it's coming anyway. It's a sign of respect, and people appreciate that. I smile and consciously will my muscles not to tighten up when people hug me. I can't quite keep my muscles relaxed and hug back, but I make the motion and that seems to be good enough. Those hugs are stifling. I feel like I'm trapped and suffocating. They don't usually last long, though. And I understand they are expressions of caring. They are telling me I matter to them. As much as I hate hugs, I would hate if they stopped hugging me, too.

And suddenly, everyone disperses. It becomes calm and quiet in the halls. Usually, this is when I head home. I only recently started that habit though. For the past 14 years or so, this is when I slip into the bathroom, instead of heading to class. I don't often catch much of the Sunday School class. I have to spend that time recovering from Sacrament meeting and preparing for another hour in Relief Society. I lock myself in a stall and breath. Usually, in a manner that closely resembles hyperventilating. I cry. I shake uncontrollably. Sometimes I vomit. Whatever I do, I am as quiet as I can be. The last thing I need is to deal with the interference of someone that doesn't understand what I'm going through. It's hard enough to go through without an audience. When I can hold myself together again, I get myself cleaned up. I find makeup uncomfortable on my skin, but I usually wear it for church anyway. While this adds a little to my overwhelm, it's also a necessary coping technique. I wear so little that most people can't tell I'm wearing it, but it's enough to cover up what I am going through. It's taken me years of work to refine my process to such speed that I can actually attend the full Relief Society meeting. I am only late if I have to meet with the Bishop between meetings or something, anymore.

When the stars align to allow me into Sunday School, I try to just sit in the back and keep my mouth shut. I intentionally don't study the manual, in order to reduce my ability to contribute to the conversation. When we're studying a topic I am knowledgeable on, I usually leave. Teachers usually want specific input from their students, and I am prone to responding honestly and accurately instead. I have NO idea what is actually expected of me, and the answers they're looking for seem too obvious and shallow to have bothered asking for them. Not all teachers are like this, of course, but it's kind of the standard. I don't know if I'll ever understand how to function in these kind of situations. When I try, I just end up back in the bathroom crying anyway. Plus, it often leads to a really negative battle between my self respect and my frustration at being so damned different and weird all the time.

Relief Society is a mixed bag. It is the most intense and demanding part of the day. The singing is frustrating. I have a deep voice. In choirs, I usually end up singing Tenor. The pianist doesn't play anything I can sing with and I don't read music quite well enough to sing really independently against the crowd of higher tones. The smaller, more intimate group means significantly less people to be constantly aware of. It also means individuals are more likely to focus on me. Much more likely, as portions of the format often require the group to focus on specific members. I do best when I'm prepared ahead of time. Reading a verse, maybe, or having a prepared item to present. I'm VERY good at public presentations and speaking. I shake so badly I can't even hold notes, but I'm good at it. So, I don't like it but I always accept an opportunity anyway. I'd rather struggle and succeed than hide from challenges, and I always succeed at that.

I hate hate hate praying publicly, though. It's too private. It's like having sex in public or something. Plus, I pray weird. I sound like a child. Very simple and honest and from the heart. People love to hear me pray and always rave about how refreshing and pure and I don't know what else my prayers are. It's like wearing a sign that says "Freak" though. It's one place I really really stand out as clearly different from everyone else. That kind of thing has lasting effects on my relationships, my family, whether anyone will EVER give me a calling, whether my home and visiting teachers will feel comfortable enough to actually let me know I was assigned to them, etc.

There's more socializing after church. And always more hugging. When we get home, I go immediately to bed. Jason usually brings me some lunch and insists I eat. I eat a little and fall asleep with the plate next to me in bed. I sleep for hours, get up for dinner, and go back to sleep. For the next few days, I go to bed early, sleep late, and nap a lot during the day. And I'm overly sensitive. I yell or cry at the drop of a hat. That's not an acceptable lifestyle for me or my family. So, I usually just don't go to church.

Friday, January 25, 2013

FREE book from John Holt

The kindle edition of Escape From Childhood: The Needs and Rights of Children is being offered for free on Amazon.com. I'd jump on it, if I were you. These things usually only last 24 - 48 hours, and I don't know how long it's already been going.

You don't need a kindle to read the book. There are plenty of free programs that will allow you to read it on your computer, or convert it for reading on another device, or even for printing.

John Holt is often referred to as the Father of the Unschooling Movement. He's certainly one of it's most influential figures. His work is fascinating and enlightening for anyone with an interest in education, from unschoolers to school teachers. In fact, he started out as a elementary school teacher, himself. His observations and experiences within the classroom and the outside world are what sparked his controversial educational and youth rights theories. I highly recommend that anyone in a position of authority or influence over any child should read some of John Holt's writing on the raising and education of children.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Homemade Floor Wash - Yes, it's really that easy!

Over the years, I've slowly found myself in the habit of making more and more of our household products myself. It started with personal care items. Since our bodies absorb nutrients and toxins through the skin, not just the stomach, we generally try to avoid putting anything on our bodies that we wouldn't be willing to put in our bodies. Sometimes that's easier said than done, but we do try. Once I saw for myself how much cheaper and more effective these natural, homemade products could be I was hooked.

Today, I want to share an incredibly cheap, easy, safe, and natural floor cleaner. Here is the basic recipe;

1/2 cup vinegar
1 gallon water

Yes, it's really that easy. You'd have to stick your nose right in it to smell a faint hint of vinegar, and there's no vinegar smell at all once it dries.

 I find the floors have a little more luster if we rinse with clear water after the fact. Honestly, though, we almost never rinse. We just mop with our homemade cleaner, and let the floor air dry. It gets the job done well enough on the kitchen floors and makes the wood floors look absolutely gorgeous!

I like to get a little creative, though. If you like to get a little creative, here are some ideas.

replace the vinegar with;
lemon juice
lime juice

or just add one or more of the following;
1/2 cup mint tea (or other herbal tea you like the scent of or has antibacterial qualities)
a few drops of essential oils (some suggestions are tea tree oil, citrus oils, eucalyptus oil, clove oil, or lavender oil)

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Project Day - Cat Genie

It started off like any normal Tuesday. +Liam Shepherd alternated between eating, attended classes, and reporting on his every thought and action while not in our presence...and eating....and sometimes telling us about things we were there for...and eating. It was a generally positive and productive day. Cora is whipping through her new courses and had an exam to mail off. That puts her 1/6 of the way through a full year of Freshman Psychology in 2 days.

Mail drops off at our house, but we have to take things to the post office to send them. Liam joined Cora for the walk, while I enjoyed the rarity of a completely empty house for a bit. And that was when the excitement began! That was when the packages arrived. A late Christmas present. Something we've been wanting and talking about getting for as long as it's existed, but could never bring ourselves to splurge on. A Cat Genie.

If you're not familiar with a Cat Genie, let me explain. It's the most ridiculously expensive and indulgent litter box ever invented. It looks like a giant toilet for cats. I say giant because it's bigger than a toilet for people. It plugs into the wall, and taps into the water, and has a drainage tube that dumps liquidized waste into the toilet. If the data I've read is accurate, after the initial insanely expensive purchase, it shouldn't actually cost us any more than the litter we already buy. In fact, we spend a little more than most so we can have super environmentally friendly litter, and I think this thing will end up reducing our budget a bit. It takes a special kind of litter that it washes clean after each use, with a special kind of cleaner. It's pretty darned environmentally conscious for a litter box, is self scooping, self cleaning, and it even disposes of the waste for you. We can barely fit the damn thing in our tiny bathroom, and I don't think we'll even be able to attach to cool privacy dome accessory it came with. It possibly the most indulgent thing I've ever suggested. Our cats have no idea how good they have it.

There was jumping and screaming and roaring with excitement when the kids arrived home. I let them set it up as much as they could by themselves. They're always chomping at the bit for a new project. They're waiting until +Jason Shepherd is home from work to deal with the water and power issues, though. He wants to work on it, too, and the kids aren't 100% confident they can set it up without flooding the bathroom....again.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Let the Race Begin

Cora's first semester of books arrived this weekend. Let the sibling rivalry commence. She's decided that her goal is to graduate before +Liam Shepherd. It's not really important to her, but it gives her something to focus on. We're working on finding some less competitive inspiration for her. Liam's only real goal is not to let his little sister graduate before him. It's a very important goal to him and he's very motivated to accomplish it. 

Unfortunately, Liam is at a temporary disadvantage. The school had an administrative error and his courses are getting shipped out one at a time. He's been enrolled for almost two months and has only received one course. He finished it with ease, and is sitting around waiting for more. One course should arrive today or tomorrow, and another one sometime next week. Theoretically, a third should be shipped today or tomorrow - but I'm planning to email them Thursday to be sure. 

We're working out the lumps and figuring out the process. In a couple months, they will both have plenty of books and be working at whatever paces they find comfortable. For now, it's a frenzied and frustrating race for the lead, though. 

Monday, January 21, 2013

How did you become the parent you are?

I don't think my big sister realizes just how significant an influence she's had on who I am and who +Liam Shepherd  and Cora are. If it weren't for her, we would have ended up much more mainstream and socially acceptable. We certainly wouldn't have been capable of the kind of love and respect that has driven us to become so unusual.

There are many examples, small and large, of ways she's supported and encouraged us once we were already traveling our paths. The secret, though, is that she put us onto this path in the first place. It was the smallest of things. She gave me some art for the wall at Liam's baby shower. A poem about raising children.

Those first few years were very hard for me. It seemed like anything that could go wrong, did. On top of which, I didn't exactly have a sitcom perfect childhood to use as a template for how to parent. I actually went to sitcoms for specific strategies. When it came to my day to day ideals about how to live and how to treat my children, though, I went back to this poem. Over and over. Sometimes several times per day. I took it literally. I took it figuratively. It was my sacred text. It was the guiding principal behind most of my choices those first few years.

Those choices formed the foundation for my ideals as a parent. They taught me to value the attitudes and beliefs that I eventually found mirrored in the members of the LDS church. They are the basis for the values and beliefs I've taught my children. As such, they're the seed their personalities have been built upon.

Over the years, I've added to my library of resources and references to aid me in being the kind of parent I want to be....and in raising the kind of people I hope to raise. This poem will always hold a place of honor in our household, though. It was the beginning of everything for our family.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Lady Gaga Invades the House

+Liam Shepherd and Cora both love music. There is almost always music playing in both of their rooms. They sing together when they're doing chores or playing together. They take any opportunity to break into dance. Cora's all time favorite artist is K. T. Tunstall, but she enjoys a wide variety of other artists, too.

One such artist is Lady Gaga. She has expressed as much to my big sister, Aunt A. Well, Aunt A happened to attend a Lady Gaga concert last night, which Cora thought was just the coolest thing ever. Aunt A happens to be the coolest aunt ever, though. She arranged to call Cora when her favorite Lady Gaga song (Poker Face) was playing, so she could listen to it live over the phone.

So, Cora brought a pile of books to bed with her last night. Her plan was to stay awake reading until the phone call came in, however late that might be. Luckily, Lady Gaga chose to perform that number early in her show. I was barely asleep, at 10:39, when I was awakened by a text from Cora, letting me know she'd heard the song and was going to sleep. She will often text me when she doesn't want to get out of bed to say or ask something at night. That's a huge improvement on her not getting out of bed to tell us even important things.

This morning, she's bright and chipper, and I heard nothing but Lady Gaga all morning until the kids left for their Archery Club meeting. Luckily, it was super early today, on account of there being no school!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Went Off Without a Hitch

That's the theme of the day. The fuel company did, in fact, fill our tank last night. They got to us before the house even cooled down too much! We all slept comfy and toasty on our beds and went about our day today. This morning was pretty average, but this afternoon had a few twists.

First off, Cora had her 4-H Knitting and Crocheting Club meeting this afternoon. The location was changed at the last minute, to an mile or so away. We only have one car, and +Jason Shepherd  didn't get off work until half an hour into the meeting. Last meeting, a new assistant was so enthusiastic about "helping" Cora (in spite of my constantly asking her to back off) that I had to take her home early, in tears. She loves the kids and regular leader, but absolutely cannot attend alone until she's figured out how to manage this assistant. I was planning to walk her down and sit with her, but I'm going through a particularly inconvenient phase of healing from my most recent miscarriage. I'm frankly not up to the longer walk, and I would have caused a scene by the time I got there.

So, +Liam Shepherd walked her. There was a little confusion finding the place, but after a quick call home to double check their directions, they arrived right on time. He sat with her until Jason was free. Then Jason took over and Liam came home. By then, his friends were done with school and he was managing a text storm. It wasn't long before he had a buddy over to check out his new Star Wars Kinnect game. His buddy left about the time Jason and Cora came home. There was no sign of the assistant this week, so class was a smashing success.

Today, all the obstacles turned out to be smaller than they appeared in the mirror. Everything went off without a hitch. I'm looking forward to whatever culinary masterpiece Jason has commandeered the kitchen to create, and a few episodes of Star Trek: Voyager with the family, before bed.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Winter Weather

All the excitement around here, lately, is about the weather. It's not unseasonably cold or snowy, but the temperatures are cycling a little slower than they usually do. That's causing some local side effects.

You see, normally, the temperatures cycle throughout winter. We spend a few days around freezing (days above, nights below), then we drop down and spend a few days around 0* F (days above, nights below). It goes back and forth like that for the winter months.

This winter we've been spending 1 - 2 weeks around freezing, then 1 - 2 weeks around 0*F. The result has been evidenced all over town. Pipes have been bursting all over the place. Furnaces are breaking down from the constant use and effort.

And today, we found out that our furnace can't get fuel from the bottom three inches of our fuel tank. It's supposed to be filled in 2 days, but the furnace stopped blowing this afternoon. The fuel company added a couple extra routes this evening because so many people are in similar circumstances, but we called so late in the business day they weren't 100% sure they'd actually get to us tonight.

We have an excellent, high efficiency space heater that keeps the main part of the house at comfortable temperatures, even at -15* outside. If we go night without heat, we're almost guaranteed burst pipes, though.   That means moving the space heater to the basement to keep the pipes warm. Which means moving the whole family to the basement too, and hoping we don't wake up under burst pipes.

*le sigh*

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Overachieve Much?

The day has finally come for Cora to take the first step in achieving her dreams...of becoming a world class overachiever. First, I'm going to give you a little background on me - to explain her ambition and inspiration. Then, I'm going to give you a little background on her - her goals, her motivation, and the expectations that have been laid on her.

So, I was a chronic underachiever as a kid. I went to public school and they had no idea what to do with me. I had an absurdly high IQ, and was very eager to please. When it came to homework, though, I ranged from so distracted that it was never finished - to outright refusing to do the work because I could not comprehend the purpose. I rarely earned less than a perfect score on my tests, but since homework was 50% of the grade, I still flunked. The school kept promoting me to higher grades in the hopes I would take interest in the more advanced work, but it was never advanced enough to hold my attention. When I was 15, the school district basically forged some records, gave me a test, and handed me a diploma to get rid of me. It was a much longer and drawn out process, of course, and Cora has heard many of the funny or weird stories that it's made up of.

She's also aware that I'm not an anomaly  +Jason Shepherd  had a rough road in high school but it also resulted in an early graduation. One of my childhood friends, and one of my earliest crushes, was the youngest person to graduate college at the time. I believe his record has since been broken, but when Cora heard about him she became fascinated with the idea. She had once told me she wanted to have her college degree by the time she was 12.

Here is where my controversial parenting methods move to center stage though. Cora had the intellect to pull that off. She was reading med school anatomy books for fun at 4-5 yrs old. By 9yrs old, her favorite author was Shakespeare. My friend had talked to me about his experiences, though, and I'd later become friends with some of his old classmates that gave me an outside perspective, too. I don't think such early college attendance has to be bad for every child that's capable, but it certainly was for him. As much as he felt his issues were a matter of not fitting in because of his age, it has always seemed to me that it was a matter of being forced into an environment he wasn't ready for socially or emotionally. In order to succeed at the level he did, his father had to push him at downright unfatherly levels. It would be the same for Cora, and I wasn't willing to do that to her or our relationship.

Instead I told her that I would support her goals, whatever they were. Heck, I even put her in swim lessons when she was 2 and wanted to be a boat when she grew up! I would not be pushing her, though. If she wanted this, it had to be by her own efforts, not by mine. I won't make her be what I want her to be, or what she says she wants to be. Who she becomes should be determined by her choices, not mine. Until 2011, she never put more than a passing interest into studying and academics, which was fine by me. I didn't remind her of her desire, or push her to work harder. She did become motivated though, and has been putting more and more time and attention into academic studies. Jason and I both think she is developing the motivation to work toward and succeed at her goal of early graduation and college with support, but not pressure, from us. An accredited diploma will make that monumentally easier, and she has asked us to enroll her in American School of Correspondence. It's self paced so if she isn't really ready for it after all, she has 6 years to finish. If she's particularly motivated, she can finish as fast as she likes though. Jason and I signed her up last night, and I expect she'll work through at least the first year or two of courses at an extremely accelerated pace. I have no idea how long she'll keep it up, though, or if she'll be ready to handle more than a single class at a time when she starts college. Only time shall tell.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Fire Cider - for chest colds

We've had a nasty lingered chest cold going through town this winter. Even though we've all caught it, we haven't suffered from the severe and long lasting symptoms everyone else has. Here is our secret.

Fire Cider
The short explanation is that I take some fresh rosemary, everything spicy, and everything citrus I can find - and soak it in apple cider vinegar until it would kill just about anything. ;) I always use organic ingredients when making herbal remedies because they often result in a highly concentrated end product. It's irresponsible to risk the side effects a highly concentrated dose of pesticides or other common chemicals. Here's the basic recipe;

1) Start with a 1 qt mason jar.
2) Add 2 sprigs Rosemary

3) Then add "Everything Spicy" you can find. I've listed some suggestions below.
2-4 Cinnamon Sticks
1 tbsp Turmeric Powder
1 Onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped or crushed
1/4 - 1/2 cup fresh ginger, sliced or grated
1 - 2 tbsp of horseradish
1 each of any spicy peppers I can find. These are often jalapenos and habeneros, but my grocer can sometimes make other suggestions to.

4) Then add the juice and zest from "Everything Citrus" you can find. By that, I mean citrus tree fruits. I like to squeeze the least acidic first and work my way up. I tend to discover hangnails I didn't even know I had when working with very acidic juices, and prefer that happen toward the end of the process. I've listed some suggestions below.
1 Grapefruit
1 Lemon
2 Limes
1 Orange

5) Then fill the jar the rest of the way with Organic, Unfiltered Apple Cider Vinegar WITH THE MOTHER. If you're really having trouble finding this in your area, certainly make due with what you have...but be aware that this ingredient is one of 2 that determine if that nasty chest cold will linger for days or for weeks. The other is the honey you serve it with.

6) Place some cheesecloth or plastic wrap over the mouth of the jar so the metal lid won't touch the acidic mix - or the lid will rust! Seal the jar tight, and store it in a cool, dark place. The longer you store it, the more potent it becomes. If you need it the next day, you need it the next day. Ideally, you should make up a batch before anyone is ill so that it has been sitting for a month before you use it. We're usually lucky if ours has been sitting a couple weeks before we get into it, though, and it still works quite well.

7) Serve diluted with hot water, and 1 - 2 tbsp raw, local honey to taste. Obviously, if you can't find raw local honey, make due. Raw is more important than local, but something is still better than nothing. ;) We usually use about 2 tbsp of Fire Cider and 2 tbsp of honey in a mug of hot water. The longer the fire cider sits, the more potent it becomes. If you've only let it sit for a day, you may need as much as 1/4 cup Fire Cider in the mixture. If it's been sitting 3 months, a single tbsp of the stuff might clear you out in hours. lol

8) After opening, we store our Fire Cider in the fridge. I can't say if that's actually necessary  though, and if you use it within a few weeks it probably wouldn't be a problem to leave it out. I've only ever had it last a few months (if we don't use it ourselves, a friend or neighbor often does), but with the particular mixture of ingredients I imagine it would last at least 6 months, maybe years, before going bad.

Some people prefer to strain their Fire Cider into another container before using. So they have a bottle or jar of clear liquid to work with. We prefer to place fresh cheesecloth over the mouth of the mason jar, and seal it with the metal ring of the lid. Then, we strain the liquid out ever time we use it. This way, the Fire Cider is becoming more potent between uses.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

A Day in the Life

Yesterday was a pretty average, normal Friday for us. I've always found these kind of posts very interesting, so I thought I'd share.

5:00am +Jason Shepherd's alarm went off. He got up, got dressed, had breakfast, made his lunch, and left for work.

6:00am Jason's work day started. He works all of 5 - 10 minutes from our house.
            +Liam Shepherd's alarm went off. If he was well rested, he would lounge in bed and read or work on his American School homework. He has a cold and didn't sleep well last night though, so he just rolled over and went back to sleep.

7:00am Liam and my alarms go off. This time, Liam gets up and starts getting dressed.

7:10am I wander downstairs and make sure Liam is up and moving. He's usually in the shower or getting dressed by now. Sometimes he falls back to sleep though, and I'm his safety net. Liam grabs a bite to eat (usually an egg and something carby like toast, a frozen waffle, a banana, etc), and heads to the local Public School.

8:00am Liam's Algebra I class is starting. He tries to get to school early (sometimes as early as 7:30am) though, so he can hang out and talk with his teachers and the other staff, and say a quick "hi" to some of the other students.
            I wake Cora up. She always whines, but the past few months she's actually started getting moving after only one wake up call. She moves slowly, getting dressed, feeding the cats, cleaning the litter box, brushing her teeth and doing something with her hair. She's really into her hair. Then, picking the perfect hat to pull over whatever hair style she just crafted.

9:00am Liam is home by now. Cora is ready to start her day. Liam is hungry again. He usually makes some eggs and english muffins for himself, his sister, and me. I make up what we call "Vitamin Juice" for us to drink with our breakfast. That's a nourishing infusion that is nutritionally similar to taking vitamins. Only, it doesn't upset our stomachs like pills, tastes yummy, and I can adjust it daily based on our habits and needs. I tend to drink it throughout the day. Everyone else has a cup at breakfast, and more if they are feeling run down during the day. After breakfast, Liam goes in his room and works on his Algebra homework. Cora goes in her room to work on whatever she's working on that day. She wrote a 35,000 word story and ate through Teaching Textbooks Pre-Algebra and Rosetta Stone's first level of Spanish recently. It's going to be a few months until we can purchase more Spanish, and she has asked that we enroll her in American School, too, instead of buying higher levels of curriculum for her. American School operates at a painfully slow pace, though, so it will be late January before she gets the materials for her first class. Until then, she creates digital art, practices singing with her favorite songs, knits, crochets, dresses up the cats, plays with her toys, and reads for fun.

10:00am Liam is back at the local Public School for P.E. He walks to and from each time, regardless of the weather. It's only 4 blocks from the house. Cora is out interacting with me again. Maybe helping with some chores, or asking for help on some project of her own.

11:00am Liam gets home from P.E. Jason has just gotten home because he has a half day on Fridays. He works 9hrs per day M-Th, and 4 on F. If Liam hasn't finished his Algebra, he does so. Then he works on the American School program. He brings out questions for me to help with, and quizzes for me to grade. At least once per week, he has an Exam too. These I don't have an answer book for. I look them over the best I can, and we discuss his answers. Then we scan it (in case it's lost in the mail or something) and he prepares it for mailing.

12:30pm Liam stands in the doorway of the dining room, holds his head, and declares, "ohhhh man.....I have brainfry." Then he walks to the kitchen while telling us (or the air, if no one is around), "I need something to eat." Cora stealthily appears in the kitchen about this time to either ask him to make her some lunch, too, or offer to make something for both of them. This week was special though. One of Liam's friends offered to buy him lunch. So, he rushed off to meet his friend. Since they were meeting at the library, Cora joined him. She had books to return, and check out. Plus she and Liam's friend enjoy hanging out, too.

1:00pm Liam's new mattress arrived. This was a belated Christmas gift that has just had one shipping issue after another (or should I say "suffered from being shipped via FedEx"). The latest estimate had said it would arrive the previous day, so we weren't completely blind sided. We brought it in, and were going to set it up in Liam's room. We opened the door to find that his definition of "Did an extra good job cleaning my room" meant trash, books, papers, and dirty laundry everywhere. Luckily, he was still goofing around at the library, so we called him back and asked him to clean and vacuum properly before we set up the new mattress. Cora came home along with him. She made herself a tuna salad sandwich (Jason just made up some tuna salad and put it in the fridge), some pickles, and an apple for lunch.

2:00pm Jason realized I hadn't had any lunch and dropped some microwaved left overs in front of me with instructions to eat. If he or one of the kids doesn't remind me, I won't remember to eat until dinner time, usually. I have "task initiation" weaknesses and would mostly live off of Vitamin Juice if others didn't interfere. Every other Friday, Liam has a standard appointment. He meets his friend at the library. They return books, check new ones out, goof around, then wander out into downtown to goof around some more until it's time to go to their Archery Club meeting. If one of them has some extra pocket cash, he buys lunch for them both. This week, his buddy had earned a Subway gift card for some achievement, so he bought.

2:30pm Cora started walking to the Archery Club meeting. It's about 6 blocks away, on the same street we live. She always has the option of being driven, but generally prefers walking.

3:30pm I started calling the kids. They're both supposed to call to let us know when they arrive somewhere, if they are going to leave, and if they run into problems on the way. Neither Jason or I had heard from either of them in an hour. Warm ups started at 3, and the meeting had just started. They had both been there since the doors were opened shortly before 3 and both forgot to call. They're both very apologetic. We were supportive and positive and don't harp on them or mention punishments on the phone, for fear one or both would become unmanageably upset at the meeting. Consequences can wait until later.

4:30pm The meeting is over. The kids called and asked if they could stay late to practice and hang out with their friends. We gave permission.

5:00pm The kids called to let us know they're coming home. We asked if they'd like a ride, and they both opted to walk. They were both being super respectful about keeping us informed. We decided that our brief earlier discussion seemed to have been enough correction. So, we let the matter go.

5:30pm The kids were home, and Jason and I were on our way out. It's date night for us. We reminded the kids that, other than the meat that's marinating, we have a whole kitchen full of food they can make for dinner. We expected them to eat something solid, not crackers or toast, for dinner.

6:00pm Jason and I had dinner at the local burger joint. There isn't really anything formal in town, and the food is better there than most of the family style restaurants available.

7:00pm Jason and I saw a movie together. I'll make a whole post about the movie theater another day. It deserves it's own post! There's only one moving playing in town, and only 3 showings per week. Friday is discount pricing, so we usually catch whatever is playing on Friday night- unless one or both of us has strong feelings against seeing that movie. This week it was Red Dawn. We were both really excited to see this one, because the original is a childhood favorite for us.

9:00pm Back home again. Cora took her evening shower while we were gone. The kids told us they had tuna salad sandwiches and about 1/2 lb of baby carrots for dinner. Could be worse. We gave them our leftover popcorn (we ALWAYS do this. I don't think I've gone to a movie without them without bringing home leftover popcorn for the kids since they were old enough to eat popcorn), and pop on an episode of Star Trek: Voyager (this will also get it's own post eventually. It's a "thing".) to watch as a family. Then, we sent the kids to bed.

9:30pm Cora was in bed reading The Hobbit. We have a rule about having to read the book before you're allowed to see the movie, and it's playing next week. Liam was saying his final round of good-nights and hugs before bed (he's a big hugger), and copped an attitude about some stupid thing or another. Before we know it, he and I were in an impassioned argument about him taking responsibility for his actions instead of trying to convince himself he isn't in control of his choices. Jason chipped in a little here and there, but mostly stays out of the spur of the moment things like this. He's an NT and can't quite keep track of where Liam and I are logically or emotionally when this happens, and doesn't want to aggravate things.

10:30pm We've resolved the issue, hugged it out, identified key problem behaviors Liam wants to work on, and determined a reasonable plan of action. He was exhausted and fell asleep as soon as his head hits the pillow. Jason and I cuddled up on the couch to watch some not-kid-friendly tv. All our favorite shows are still on hiatus so we ended up watching a couple episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We haven't watched it since it first aired and have forgotten so much it's almost like new, watching it again. We've been working through the series from the beginning when there's nothing else we like on tv.

11:30pm Jason went to bed. Most nights, we're in bed around 9ish, even with a little tv together. Fridays we can stay up as late as Jason can stay awake. He really had to fight to make it this late! I wasn't far behind him. First, I needed to make up tomorrow's Vitamin Juice, plus turn the heater down, check the locks, turn off lights, and make sure Cora is asleep or tell her it's time. She'll stay up all night reading, even though she's tired, if we don't help her remember to sleep. That messes up her sleep rhythm and has a ripple effect of negative symptoms and behaviors. She's really been making an effort though, and is usually asleep before I check on her.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

What Do You Mean by "Unschool"?

Unschooling is probably one of the vaguest descriptions ever. By itself, it doesn't really mean anything. This is because every single person that has anything (good or bad) to say about unschooling has a very specific definition...that doesn't match up with anyone else's definition. I'm sure they'll all disagree with me and insist their definition is right, everyone else's is wrong, and I clearly have no idea what I'm talking about. More power to them.

Unschooling can mean anything from "I let my children help pick their curriculum" to "I think it's offensive and demeaning to ever correct, guide, or in any way parent my child".

I usually use the term "homeschooling" unless I'm dealing with other homeschoolers. Then describe us as "unschool-y" because they undoubtedly have a strict idea of what unschooling is, and we most likely don't meet their criteria.

A better term for what we do would be "Child-led Learning" but people just clarify by saying "you mean unschooling?" when I use it. Being stubborn about my language is something people really tend to hate, so this is an area I kind of translate myself.

So what do I mean by Child-led Learning? I mean the children are essentially responsible for and in control of their educations. I'm still their parent. I still nag them to clean their rooms and do their chores. I don't decide what they are capable of or interested in and then expect them to comply, though. We've moved a lot over the years. When we lived in very permissive states, that meant they were free to study what they wanted, when they wanted, or not to study at all. Because they were never pressured to learn what someone else wanted them to, they never learned to be resistant to knowledge. If they wanted to spend all day trying to dig to China, so be it. When +Liam Shepherd decided he wanted to read and work out of my college statistics textbook at age 7, so be it. He worked 3 chapters with 100% accuracy before tiring of the subject and focusing his attention on the culinary arts instead.

When we lived in areas with fewer freedoms, we handled things differently. Even when they were very young, I would sit down with the kids and explain the laws of the land. We would discuss, together, how they wanted to go about abiding with those laws. That could mean as much as annual testing and choosing curriculum for a variety of subjects. I know a lot of unschoolers just do what they want and try to evade detection, but that doesn't align with my personal sense of morality. As such, it's not a behavior I want to teach my children.

Now, we're back to a fairly permissive state. The kids can basically spend their days outside playing if they'd like, so long as they don't test incredibly dramatically low on standardized tests every few years. That's not what they want, though. The local high school offered to let Liam attend part time and he accepted. So, he's enrolled as a Freshman for Algebra I and P.E. He has enjoyed the academic discussions with his teachers, but finds all the disruptive and immature demonstrations by the students to make 2 classes per day his limit. A couple months ago, he asked us to enroll him in American School of Correspondence. Cora mostly plays with the cat and knits or crochets scarves right now, when she's not reading Shakespeare or something. I suppose I could have just entered that last sentence instead of this whole long thing. It sums up what I mean by "unschooling" quite well all by itself.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Free Range Bearded Dragon

An aspect of my life that people seem to find fascinating is our bearded dragon, Buddy. Buddy is a free range lizard. He lives a cage free life. No one in my house is an expert animal trainer, though. Buddy earned this right completely of his own accord.

Several years ago, I was approached by my neighbor. He was a young man in his mid-twenties. He explained that he had noticed that our family seemed to be animal lovers and wondered if we would be willing to take in two bearded dragons, complete with tons of supplies and large tanks. It seemed he and his wife were expecting their first child, and needed to turn the spare room into a nursery. We happily adopted both dragons.

Neither was very accustomed to being held or interacting with people, but they weren't aggressive, either. We quickly introduced them to the joys of family life. They were running around the house, and riding our shoulders around town in no time! After a couple years, I was offered a job as a travel writer. The whole family decided to join me in traveling around the country, while I wrote about different locations. We moved into an RV and hit the road. The only problem was that I couldn't find a home for our dragons. We decided to bring them along, just until we found them homes.

Our other dragon was named Black Beard. Black Beard had poor instincts. On cold nights, he would borrow in behind the walls and furniture to sleep. He might as well have been outside. We kept a close eye on him, and sent him to the first adoptive family we found. Buddy was another story entirely, though. On cold nights, he would climb into bed with a member of the family. He would crawl under the covers with us, and curl up against our necks or armpits. He didn't seem to mind at all when we rolled over on him. He even deduced that tapping on the door (like he used to on his cage) would prompt us to throw a leash on him and put him outside. Perhaps he noticed the cat was relieving herself outside, or perhaps he just developed the habit at random, but he began asking outside to go to the bathroom regularly. We decided he was cut out for the traveling lifestyle and didn't rehome him.

Well, now we live in a house again. When we landed, he still asked out when he needed to go. He's recently even started using the cats' litter box. The whole family agrees that an entire house is a much healthier amount of running room than a traditional vivarium. Buddy hasn't had a tank for about 2.5 years now, almost 2 years of which have been in a house. He is very happy and social, and I'll titillate you with stories of his adventures in future entries.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year

Happy 2013!

I hope your New Year celebrations were amazing. Ours were Stressful but Successful. You'll hear that term from me a lot. It's a kind of family tag line. As a result, today everyone is content and mellow.

Usually, we spend New Year's Eve at home as a family. This year, everyone had different plans, though. +Liam Shepherd had his heart set on attending a big, formal dinner and dance at our Stake Center (about 2.5 hr drive through snowy mountains). Cora had her heart set on attending the Bishop's Breakfast and Board Game Night with our Ward (only a 5 minute drive). +Jason Shepherd and I were hoping to do something special, just the two of us, too. With the help of some friends from church, we were able to pull it all off!

Jason got home from work at about 3:30. Just enough time to shower, change, and get on the road. We left Cora with a very nice (if early) dinner, and clear, simple instructions. She needed to be at her friend's house by 6 so they could give her a ride to her event. We also called every 1 - 2 hours throughout the evening, to check in and remind her of each impending part of the evening.

Our drive was a little icy in spots, but overall not too nerve wracking. Liam arrived about ten minutes early. We had drilled him on proper etiquette for this event, on the drive. We've really been drilling him his whole life, but he tends to just mimic the behaviors of others in new environments. He needs to be reminded of what's appropriate and that we expect no less. We walked him in, said hello to the leaders, and headed off to dinner.

Dinner was incredible! I made reservations weeks ago for this trendy little Asian Fusion restaurant. We wanted a nice meal, but we didn't want to spend our 5 hours in the car while wearing dressy clothes. Well, mainly, I didn't. I don't think Jason would have cared either way. Anyway, this is the kind of restaurant where jeans and a nice shirt are totally appropriate. Perfect! And wow. The food was just ... WOW! Jason had huli huli beef, and I had peppercorn seared ahi tuna with Asian slaw and avocado wasabi mousse. It was even better than it sounds. Plus, it was an artistic masterpiece. You know, where the chef uses different sauces to make your plate look like modern art, then stacks the food onto it like a sculpture. We had one of the house specialty sushi plates for an appetizer  coconut limeades, and croissant bread pudding with yummy sauces for dessert. It was heavenly. It was also significantly cheaper than we had expected, and we plan to make dinner there a regular thing when we go into that town.

The restaurant was understaffed and we really took our time anyway, so we just wandered around downtown a bit. Then, it was time to pick Liam up. The celebrated an East Coast New Years at 9pm our time. The dance was over at 10. As we entered the building, we were practically accosted by the adult leaders. In turn, they all came over to rave about how much they love Liam and how polite and well mannered he was. I think every girl in the place made a point of saying goodbye to him. We had pointed out how much time and energy the girls went through getting ready, and that they all wanted a boy to ask them to dance (though the girls around here are really good about asking the boys too), and it wasn't about crushes or finding them attractive. It was about having fun with friends, and making sure your friends have fun too. Apparently he took it all to heart. He danced every single slow dance, and made a point of asking girls that weren't getting asked (and one boy. lol). He wasn't at all intimidated by the kid that tried to tease him for his fast dancing because, "Of course I looked weird when I was dancing. Everyone looks weird when they're dancing. It's dancing." There was no food on his clothes, which indicates far better than his usual table manners! He even came home with phone numbers of several kids, both boys and girls. It was a total win.

Then we drove home. It was a long, treacherous drive, and I think even the driver was asleep for part of it! We made it to the Bishop's Breakfast ten minutes after midnight!!! Just barely missed it, but earlier than we'd expected. We thanked the family that had brought Cora, and were again overwhelmed with compliments. I think this quote sums it all up well. "Cora behaves the way we hope our kids would behave when they're with someone else." As far as I can tell, she really just did everything right all night (except turning the lights and closing the front door all the way when she left, but those aren't surprises). She also had a wonderful time and was running around playing happily with other kids until we wrangled her down and forced her to come home with us.

I don't really remember anything past that. We all passed out as soon as we got home. I don't think any of us even made it out of our party clothes, and Jason didn't even make it all the way upstairs to the bedroom! He sat down on the couch "for just a minute" and was still there when I woke up in the morning!