Saturday, December 25, 2010

Tough Christmases

I received this from a friend who has lived abroad as a missionary, and thought it was such a great perspective-check.  May it encourage you to prayer and passionate living!

"To me after living in countries where Christianity is often overtly and officially persecuted, Christmas has some meanings that had not been as clear to me before.  Christmas, being the only Christian holiday that many Muslims and Communists can locate on a calendar, becomes a lightening rod for many terrible crimes against Christians.  You see, the leaders of nearly every large pulic organization that puts up a "Merry Christmas" sign in their place of business will get threats from Muslim and Atheist groups.  The wimps will cave in.  Here in the US we're just starting to get a tiny taste of what many Christians in the rest of the world live with on a regular basis.

Christmas, for them, is the time when...
--many house church pastors in China, Vietnam and other places will be put in prison.
-- large numbers of active Christians in Muslim countries will be martyred.
-- churches will be burned in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, and other countries that are moderate or chaotic enough to allow them to be built in the first place.
-- Christians throughout the world will be falsely accused on trumped-up charges.
-- North Koreans who won't bow down to the "Great Leader" will be exiled to prison camps.
-- Christian women will be taken from their husbands and forced to marry Muslim men.

Christmas is also the only day of the year when Mainland Chinese Christians have any true freedom to openly evangelize.  Believers throughout the Chinese world, including Taiwan, do not spend much time celebrating Christmas themselves, but use the day for Gospel rallies and other outreach.

Almost all these things happen somewhere in the world every Christmas.  Rather than waiting for it to be reported by Voice of the Martyrs  or one of the other few organizations brave enough to publish the facts, let's go ahead and pray for our Christian brothers and sisters in repressive country. The first century Roman Empire was certainly not friendly to him.  Like Communist leaders who fear any loyalty directed to anybody but themselves, King Herod feared the birth of this one prophesied to be king.  Herod tried to deceive the wise men into showing him the place of the birth. "And when ye have found him," said Herod, "bring me word again that I may come and worship him also" (Matt. 2:8).  Had they not been warned in a dream, they could have fallen for the deception.  Joseph's young family even became refugees in Egypt to escape this cruel, jealous, and unstable king.

Taiwan, like the US, is a free country, but fear of spiritual opposition plays a big part in the lives of people there.  Pray for courage for God's people around the world this Christmas.  Opposition will happen in one form or another."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

So What About that Burning Bush?

A few years ago I wrote a post on teaching kids about God's holiness.  It came to mind as I explored this topic of "what do we let kids read?" so I've dusted it off and tweaked it a bit, and voila. Here it is. :) As always, your comments are welcome!

One more thing many parents struggle with is perhaps the most frightening, and definitely the most important area of possible "restriction." I'm not talking about monsters, nor bad examples. I'm talking about the terrifying reality of God's pure holiness. Our kids, like us, know deep down just how sinful they are. Until God saves them, they automatically feel guilt when they disobey, steal, lie, or sin in other ways. Before my daughter was one, I saw it in her big blue eyes-- as she looked at me in the rear-view mirror immediately after pulling off her hairbow as she was instructed not to do. Mention "sin" in a preschool classroom and you immediately get blame-shifting; stories of how bad their brothers and sisters are... so Garden of Eden. Our kids know that they are guilty sinners.

When you start talking about God hating and punishing sin... that has the potential to cause huge fear in a child. Have you ever had to think about this? The plain ol' fact is that "holy God + sinful us" equals our doom! To some, this seems too harsh or frightening to teach to children. Being a preschool teacher and curriculum developer, it's something I DO think about... a lot. It's hard to know what kids can understand, what is beyond them but good to start teaching anyway, and what is unbalanced. The holiness of God, and how that interacts with us is one especially touchy issue in our culture these days. But, if it's in the Bible and if it's necessary to salvation, it must not be kept from a child! is frightening. But if we do not first know our own damnation, we will never be desperate for salvation. And it is only the self-admitted "sick" who get the Doctor. (Mark 2:17)

One word picture is that of a fire. God is holy and perfect, and anything less than holy and perfect is incinerated in His presence. I know many people immediately assume "hellfire and brimstone!" with this word picture, but that's not primarily what I mean. Feel free to tell me what you think of the following:

YHWH (Biblical name for God in Hebrew-- usually pronounced "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" in the King James Version) is a consuming fire, as Hebrews (12:29) emphasizes, and those who have sin inherent in their being will be consumed by that Glory, by that holiness. Adam & Eve were sent away from the Garden as punishment (Gen 3:22) and because now they faced the possibility of eternal corruption, but later we see that it was in mercy, too. Had they stayed in God's presence in their sinful state, they would have been utterly consumed. They passed on this inability to face God uncovered to all humans (Ex. 33:20). That's a crucial part of why why Moses had to function as a mediator for the people of Israel (Dt. 5:24-25), why the sacrificial system was instituted-- the sacrifices were literally "burnt up" so that the people didn't have to be.

Knowing all this about Who God Is really prepares us to marvel at the Incarnation; that God would put on flesh SO THAT we could see His glory without being consumed (2 Cor 4:6). I'm not advocating trying to push Hellish images on our little ones, but rather to give them the same word pictures that the Bible uses for God; including that of a fire. Only when we are in Jesus are we like the Burning Bush: on fire but not consumed. Certainly I don't want to over-emphasize any one attribute of God (His holiness) at the expense of another (for example, His mercy...which interestingly enough is the attribute He called out as He covered Moses with His Hand)... but we also want to give a real enough picture, according to Scripture, to instill in our children a "holy fear of God." Then calling Him "Abba," and knowing that HE made promises to US to make a way for us to be NEAR Him again is so much more marvelous and incredible!! That's the message I start teaching in week 3 with the promise God made to Eve (Gen. 3:16), and which we keep teaching until the last day of school, with the possibility of being like Jesus.

To make it a little more personal, it was fear of my own sinfulness in the face of God's holiness which first awakened my three-year-old soul to my need for a Mediator, and which finally led me to Christ. It wasn't until I was 9 or so and God opened my eyes more fully to my main sin of pride that I actually ran to Him for Grace, but all along that holy fear kept me from a lot of sin, and kept me knowing I needed Jesus.

The truth is that children CAN come to Jesus. Likely, they know deep down inside that they do need salvation; a sense of guilt seems quite natural, a merciful product of our Image-bearing. They still need to be taught, to be given the knowledge that will lead them to Jesus. We are commanded not to hinder them-- oh let us urge them to run!!

I hope this is good for thought-fodder... it has helped me better love my Savior!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

So What About that Grouchy Ladybug?

Yesterday we talked about whether it is truly wise to restrict children's "interaction" with scary situations via story (ghosts, goblins, monsters, dragons, bad guys, etc.) I've interacted with other children who were similarly restricted, not so much about scary things, but about  "getting the wrong idea" from reading about disobedient, or disrespectful children.  I was one of those kids, actually.  There were several movies we weren't allowed to see, because the characters "were rebellious," or "had bad attitudes."  One of these was Disney's The Little Mermaid.  Looking back, I have to kind of laugh at that restriction, because Ariel's sinful rebellion against her father is very clearly portrayed as wrong-- disastrously so.  Her actions put her father's very kingdom in jeopardy, and in the end it's his loving self-sacrifice for his disobedient daughter that saves her life, and everyone's.  Talk about a missed opportunity to discuss the consequences of rebellion, the wisdom of following Scripture's command to obey parents, and even to find an allegory of the Gospel!

One friend recently mentioned a book I have recommended as a favorite on my book blog and aStore; Eric Carle's The Grouchy Ladybug.  It's a gorgeous book with splendid illustrations, that very cleverly portray the passage of time.  The story of the very grouchy ladybug, who tries to pick a fight with every creature kind enough to say "good morning," to her is one with which kids readily identify (ok, I admit.  I identify with that feeling!!), and they love the justice that puts her in her place, ready to sweetly say "good morning!" to those she meets instead.  As a teacher, I appreciate the text's repetition as well as the collage illustrations for which Eric Carle is so well-loved.

As is my habit, this topic has been stewing in my brain for the past few days... As parents, is it wise to let our children see, hear, or read about those who act foolishly?  What about "scary" things?  What does Scripture say about this?  While it doesn't directly speak to children's books, it is itself meant to be a tool used to teach children (Dt. 6:6-7).  Even if we take that verse in the narrowest sense, and say it only means we are to teach our children the Law of God (what was given on Mount Sinai), that law includes plenty of graphic details which most would hesitate to teach their youngest children.  Ok.  Say we say we'll teach the principles of the law, and use discretion in introducing our children to the more difficult-to-deal-with portions. Next, my mind went to the book of Proverbs-- written specifically for children.  Immediately two examples of kids-with-bad-attitudes came to mind "the Leech has two daughters, Give, Give! they cry." (Prov. 15:30), and "the sluggard says "there is a lion outside! I shall be killed in the streets!" (Prov. 22:13, 26:13).  The Proverbs are chock-full of descriptions of different types of fools; we taught through them last summer in Sunday School, and they were such potent tools in helping kids see both the consequences of folly, and to judge their own hearts.  The more I've thought about it, the more convinced I am that it isn't a bad thing to let kids experience foolishness (including rebellion and disrespect) vicariously through stories, so long as the account shows a true-to-life ending.  I mean this:  if the kid in the story is always rude to Mom and that's never addressed, you need a discussion with your child and possibly a chucking of the book, but if the kid is rude to Mom, gets a big talking-to, apologizes humbly and makes her cupcakes at the end, cheer!

Trust me, your child does not need a book to teach them how to be selfish or mean.  They've got that down pat all on their own.  They may use a book's language to convey their frustration and sin, but that just makes it even easier for you, the parent, to point the sin out and deal with it in a Biblical way as you point them to Christ.  "You're acting just like the Grouchy Ladybug, aren't you?  Do you remember how she got smacked by a whale when she tried to pick a fight?  What did she learn?  How does God's Word teach us to treat others?  Now, you can either learn the hard way (like the Grouchy Ladybug did), by me disciplining you, or you can pray in your heart right now for God to help you to act in kindness instead of selfish grumpiness.  Go sit in your room for one minute while you think about it."  Hug, sent to room, and hopefully comes out with a better outlook on life.

I think I need to hear that myself sometimes.   :)

Monday, December 20, 2010

So What About that Scary Ghost?

I especially remember my first preschool class. Precious, sweet kids... lots of them, full of energy!  One day we were sitting and reading a familiar fairy tale, and one of the little girls flipped out at the word "witch."  This was a "good witch," mind you, not a scary or evil one.  She wasn't scared, just concerned because she "wasn't allowed to say witch, or to talk about them."  Hmmm... ok.  This was my first encounter with this particular family's standards on what their kids were allowed to hear, see or say. Ghosts, witch, fat, stupid... all were on the "taboo" list.  Wolf in the Three Little Pigs? Nope. "Mommy doesn't want me to see anything scary."  As a teacher, of course you never want to undermine the parent, but it was also getting pretty impossible to read any fairy tale or even describe "same and different" without an alarm bell going off in this little girl's mind (saying "this crayon is fat, and that one is skinny" was what got me into trouble over saying "fat.").  She was a real sweetheart, and it got to the point where she knew if she felt that her mom wouldn't want her hearing something-- say an audio-book kids were listening to in center time-- that she'd just go do something else.  And we made it through the year both unscathed.

I've since thought a lot about her. Don't get me wrong- she was from an amazing, supportive, fun family whose parents were some of my greatest encourager and cheerleaders.  I know her mom had reasons to be so protective of her little eyes and ears, one being her tendency towards bad nightmares.  I wonder, though, if she'd been allowed to experience "frightening" things as frightening instead of as forbidden, and then freely discuss them, if she'd have been better able to deal with her fears.

Children in ages past were expected to confront a lot more fears than ours are.  Have you ever read Grimm's original fairy tales?  Totally gory.  Yuck.  Kids back then usually saw death firsthand; they either lost a grandparent living with them to old age, or a relative to war, plague or an accident.  Certainly they watched animal death regularly as their parents butchered chickens & hogs and hunted fowl and deer.  They lived through natural disasters and actual dangers.  What would they think of our reluctance to let our preschoolers read about monsters?

I've thought about this on and off for the past several years. As parents, is it wise to let our children see, hear, or read about "scary" things?  What does Scripture say about this?  The Bible is plenty full of scary situations-- not from pretend creatures like ghosts and goblins, but from very real-life evil men and angels.  Fear in children is natural.  As G. K. Chesterton put it,
“Fairy tales are more than true – not because they tell us dragons exist, but because they tell us dragons can be beaten.” 
Some of you might be at this point shaking your heads, thinking "what the heck is she saying? Dragons do NOT exist, and the LAST thing I want is to fill my child's head with a new fear over something that doesn't even exist."  Think about it this way:  to a child, so many things are frightening, most of them involving potential physical harm.  They're scared of stuffed cows, of quick-moving dogs, of strangers, of the dark.  One day they'll outgrow all those fears by bullying or avoiding them;  they'll learn that they are bigger than those things, or that they're so improbable that they don't need to think about them.  But unless they've been taught not just to avoid or bully fears, but to face them, they'll "graduate" to fears of other things-- fear of failure, of rejection, of humiliation, of being alone, of being wrong.  Christ calls us to face those fears head on, and to fight them-- not in our own strength, but with His.  We are to stare them down and cry "you can do everything you threaten me and more, but you cannot take my Father's love!"  His love sets us free from fear. "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." (1 Jn. 4:18)

There are other things to fear in this world-- wicked men with evil thoughts, wild animals ruled by hunger, uncontrollable forces, the unpredictable sin of others, and even celestial enemies.  Those, too, need to be faced, wrestled, and put down, not merely by pulling out a bigger gun (literally) and playing by all the rules (seatbelts, speed limits, airplane security checks), but by putting our faith in a sovereign and ultimately just God.  We stare down those dragons and whisper "you can kill my body, but you cannot harm my soul, and one Day I will eat at the Table prepared for me in the presence of you, my enemies, and I will laugh with Joy in the Presence of my Lord."

Please don't misunderstand me-- I'm not about to park Eowyn in front of Star Wars 3 where Anakin murders children in their beds and talk about it with her.  Nor am I going to pull out Grimms fairy tales and read every frightening bit every night to her.  (Though at this point she wouldn't even know enough to be frightened; she's only 1)  We are always called to use discretion, and to help our children to think about "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." (Phil. 4:8)  All of our parenting speech should be "only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Eph. 4:29).  You know your child, what would be good for them, and what would be exasperating or tempting to your particular child.  That said, don't shy away from hard conversations!  Letting our children experience scary things vicariously through story is one way to talk them through "scary" things.

I was recently asked by some men working on our (hundred-year-old) house if I was ever afraid at night.  Thinking of the neighborhood in which I live, and the fact that my husband was out of town, I admitted that, sometimes, yes.  To my surprise, he then asked, "of ghosts, and all that, right?  Do you believe in ghosts in these old houses?"  I almost laughed, but caught myself, because you know, there really are scary supernatural forces at work, and my confidence isn't in just saying that "ghosts aren't real."  I answered instead, "well, even if they are real, I believe that my Jesus is stronger, so I don't need to be afraid."  One of the other workers immediately grinned and started nodding, and I wonder if one day we'll remember our conversation in Heaven.  As I said goodbye to the workers and shut the door, I realized that my fear regarding the all-too-real rapists and thieves who live in our city (as in all cities), was gone, too.  My Jesus is stronger, indeed.

Friday, December 17, 2010

For All those Last-Minute Gifts...

Maybe my new Amazon Store (Mama Szrama's Book Pics) will help you!  This is in tandem with my book review site, and has links to all the books referenced and recommended on that site.  I hope it helps you find just the perfect book for those precious children in your life, whether they're 18 months or 18 years old!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Using Veggies as Frugal Fillers

This post on one of my favorite sites (Keeper of the Home) is great, especially for those who are trying to lessen processed foods, and/or grains.  Since I don't like to cook separate gluten-full, and gluten-free meals for my family, and gluten-free baking is expensive and rather unwieldy, I'd rather do something else.  This post is all about using readily available, inexpensive fruits & veggies in our meals.


PS-- AND THE WINNER IS ....Jeannette!  A code for 50 free photo cards will be in your email inbox. :)  Check out her blog here.

(Each entry was given a random number, then I used a random number generator to pick an entry.)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Photo Cards

There are still a few hours to enter my free photo card giveaway, where you could win 50 free photo cards from Studio Dayspring (potential Christmas cards, baby announcements, greeting cards, New Year cards, birthday cards... you name it!).

But for those who aren't going to win (sadly), I do have another way to point you: I got to know them as a photo-sharing and digital-picture-printing site years ago.  Since then, they've expanded to every type of photo-product that you can imagine:  calendars, photo-books, and other photo-gifts.  As a teacher I used it as an easy way to upload pictures of my class which any parent could choose to print out.  I also printed some (adorable!!) folded notecards featuring some cute pictures of Eowyn, using them for thank-you cards and notes to doting fans.  I like their site for two reasons:  the user interface is fairly simple and easy to use, and they're always offering some sort of promotion on various photo-products.

Ok, so some of you are thinking, "I don't have time to go around designing this kind of stuff," right?  I'll bet that if you added up the time to get to a store, walking around picking out a gift, bringing it home, wrapping it, and either wrap it or mail it, the time designing a personalized gift on a website like shutterfly (then you can mail it straight to your intended recipient) is well worth it.  Additionally, you could order multiple copies of, say, a calendar full of family pictures, and then give them to several family members-- still more personal than a store-bought gift, yet less time-intensive.

Shutterfly's run a promotion for us bloggers-- we get the word out about them to you, and we get some free cards.  Since I've already one my Christmas cards this year, I'll be using them to design and print Christmas cards for my parents & family.  I like the ones which have spots for than one photo, and have a sleek and simple design... like this one:

If you are interested, check out these special promotions:  50% off photo books & calendars, 20% off cards, among other things.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Two Old Andrew Peterson Favorites

While you all should have Behold the Lamb of God on repeat this time of year, I've got two AP songs on my playlist that bring tears to my eyes pretty much every time.  These videos are great, too.

Holy is the Lord (using footage from the movie "The Life of Abraham," which is very well done.)

And his first official music video, for an amazingly poetic and powerful marriage song, "Dancing in the Minefields." For some reason right now, my favorite part is the backup line "Don't give up. Don't give up. Don't give up on me."

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Free DaySpring Photo Cards

Wow, I am so excited to do this!  My first give-away!  

For anyone who read my post on our family Christmas cards this year, photo cards from Studio Dayspring, and was wishing they could do some... this is for you!

I have the opportunity to give one reader 50 free photo cards from Dayspring!  To enter, all you need to do is to leave a comment below saying you'd like to win. (I'm looking forward to seeing who reads this stuff!)

For an extra entry, go to Studio Dayspring's site, look around, then leave a comment below saying which style of card you liked best.  A winner will be randomly selected on Wednesday, December 15th.  This will leave you plenty of time to design and receive your cards for Christmas!  Even if you don't end up winning, Dayspring is offering 25% off your total order if you order by December 22nd.   Use the coupon code CHRISTMAS25.

That's it!  Happy Hunting, friends! :)

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Turkey Enchiladas (gluten & soy free)

In the spirit of Thanksgiving leftovers, here is my newest favorite recipe. Ryan swears he can taste the turkey, but I sure can't.  My friend Sina originally engineered this recipe for shredded chicken, and I'm guessing you could even do it with beef or fish.  The key element is the homemade sauce.

This is the one time of year when the entire Szrama household enjoys poultry, since we shell out the bucks to buy me a soy-free, pastured gobbler from Tropical Traditions (believe me, I use EVERY BIT of that bird, even the neck, bones & organs!).

Enchilada Sauce (makes ~3 cups)
2 T butter or cooking oil
2 T maseca (corn-flour), rice flour (or wheat flour)
2 T chili powder
1 t cumin
14 oz. chicken or turkey broth (just under 2 cups)
8 oz tomato sauce (I did 4 oz. tomato paste thinned with 4 oz water)
1 t sea salt
1/4-1/2 t garlic powder, to taste

Melt butter in med. saucepan.  Stir in flour & chili powder.  Cook for 1 min.  Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  Cover until needed.

Turkey or Chicken Enchiladas
3 c. enchilada sauce
2 c. shredded, cooked turkey/chicken
1/2 c thinly sliced green onions (I omitted these)
1 c diced tomatoes (optional)
1 1/2 c. shredded cheese-- use combo Monterey Jack, mozzarella, cheddar
1/4 c plain yogurt or sour cream
1/2 c diced chili or bell pepper
1/4 c fresh cilantro (I omitted this)
12 6" corn tortillas
aprox. 1/2 c butter, for frying

Preheat oven to 350. Grease 9x13 baking dish.
In med. bowl, mix turkey, veggies, sour cream, 1 c cheese and 1/2 c enchilada sauce.  Mix well.  
Heat 1/2" oil in pan. Fry tortillas one at a time until soft (aprox 10 sec. per side at med-high heat).  Stack in baking dish.
Spread small amount of enchilada sauce on bottom of baking dish.  Spread 2 heaping tablespoons of the chicken mixture in each tortilla and roll it up.  Place seam side down in baking dish. Once all tortillas are filled and rolled, pour remaining sauce over top.  Sprinkle with remaining cheese.  Bake, uncovered, for 15-20 minutes.  Garnish with extra sour cream, green onions, cilantro as desired.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

14 Months Old

My darling Eowyn-

It seems like every day you are doing something new. amazing me with your propensity to learn, and your knack for being cute.  You're more fun than ever, and for the first time in my life I can see how some people could be content with only having one child.  (Don't worry, you will get brothers and sisters some day, just not quite yet!)  I have an urge to document everything so I don't forget it...but I also don't want to spend so much time chronicling that I neglect snuggling, so I've compromised by waiting three months to write this behemoth post.  Every smile, every antic, every shared laugh and cuddle is a gift, to be treasured up and counted in my heart and remembered yearly at Thanksgiving, and all the days in between.

I think one of my favorite Mommy moments had to be teaching you how to "clean out" the fondue pot.  I loved watching you get your spoon full of chocolate just like I did, giggling and enjoying it every bit as me (don't worry, it was high-quality dark chocolate).  I've loved getting your "help" in the kitchen; teaching you to dip one tiny finger in to taste the mashed potatoes, or letting you lick off the spoons or dump ingredients into the pan.  You're learning to really enjoy the preparing and eating of all the deliciousness God has made!  I love how snuggly you are.  You still want to be on my hip as much as possible, and when tired stand at the kitchen threshold and wail for me, but you're getting so much better at playing happily on your own!

You are trying to run, but still fall over at random times.  Just now I watched you strategize and attempt several times to retrieve a prized lotion bottle from under your high chair.  You held onto the low bar for a while, trying to reach it without going under, then finally took a deep breath, got on your belly and crawled.  Victory!  You slithered out with the prize clutched in your fingers, then clapped for yourself.  Do you know how cute you are?

At Thanksgiving (down in GA at Poppy & Gram's) you learned the art of ducking under and crawling over things, usually the legs and feet of aunts & uncles.  You have a love-hate relationship with their boxer, Sarah, calling "Hi, Rah-rah! Hi!" as you approach her with an eager smile... then at the first glance she gives you, you cry and run away, arms outstretched to any adult (especially Mommy).  How DARE she look at you!?

Your newest & cutest tricks are... bouncing on your new ladybug pillow pet while trying to sing "Ride a little pony, ride to town, ride a little pony, don't fall DOWN," at which point you fall off, or at least lean your head over very far; resting your head on the floor and look through your legs for long periods of time; declaring with appropriate amazement "oh, no!" when you fling your bow to the floor or your doll from your bed; greeting us with enormous smiles, happy 'hi!'s, and outstretched arms every morning; coming (usually fake crying) to me pointing to an injured spot explaining "boom, boom," then making kissing sounds so I know to kiss it and make it all better; blowing your nose (just not when you try it in your board books... random??); identifying your nose, belly, feet, fingers, hand, teeth & mouth when asked (in Spanish); supplying necessary animal sounds for dogs, cats, cows, owls, mice, dinosaurs, lions, elephants, hyenas, kukkaburras, fish, ducks, frogs & birds when asked in Spanish (or whenever you see them, live or in books); saying "po'vo?" (please) and "dah-yah" (gracias) appropriately, usually unprompted; trying to sit on anything at your knee-height (including my face if I'm lying down); sitting and "reading" to yourself quietly, always turning the pages right-to-left, and making appropriate sounds; make-believing cooking ("hot!" blowing sounds, eating & drinking sounds with play dishes); helping to clean up, one toy at a time; re-enacting of past injuries, involving hitting self or falling, saying "ow!"; adding in a new dance move of your fists pushing down; and lastly, your "surprised face," scrunching up your face and inhaling "oooohh!" as if looking at something amazingly cute.  People ask me if I sit and work with you on this stuff, and some of it, I have, but most of it is just you mimicking whatever you see.  You are always learning!  You are still obsessed with trash & trash cans, identyfying any trash can, dirty diaper, or plastic bag as "urk."  If I tell you it's clean, you respond by smelling deeply, then going "ahhh."  You say "awww" and cuddle when Daddy tells you to "give Daddy loves," or when Mama tells you to dale un beso.  You clasp your hands together to pray and say "Ahhh mah!!" as we Amen.  In long car trips you start straining at the car seat harness, while signing "down," then in frustration wag your finger at the harness shouting "no no no!!!"  You try to match pitch to everything-- car horns, swings, alarms-- and have a pretty good sense of beat.  My little musician!  You LOVE music and dance to everything.

Your favorite books are "No More Monkeys Jumping on the Bed!" "Mr Brown Can Moo, Can You?" and "Good Night, Gorilla."  You act out every part of "No More Monkeys," and LOVE the picture of only the eyes in "Good Night, Gorilla."  This has led to your "surprised face."

Words... You call out "Poppy" and mimic everyone else's name, usually using exclusively Ps & Ts (Aunt Courtney= ToTee).  You say 'tante (elephant), doggy, gato (cat), d'n (down), up, all done, hi, bye, ta-ta (cup), ma (more), p'vo (please), 'che (milk), am-beh (hungry), da-ya (thank-you), bebe, yum, night-night, Ellie, & oh no very clearly.  You know a lot of people, and call them by name- Jay (Jane), y-y (Ryan), Eh-en (yourself), Abuh (Abby), Na-na (Nina), Bubub (GB), Poppy, and some version of Uncle Colin which I cannot recreate.  Daddy is still your favorite word.  Many of your words sound very similar; bee-bo (libro, book), bo-bo (blandito, blankie), or daddy, doggy & ducky.  Best are moo-moo (cow), ma-ma (mommy), mah! (your repitition of "si, mama," -yes, mommy,- which I have you say after each instruction), na-ma (no more, as in "No more monkeys jumpin on the bed!, said with furrowed brow and wagging finger), na-na (either means "knock knock," with accompanying gesture, or "nariz/nose"), and no no no (obvious).  Context clues are crucial!

I've been working with you on communicating instead of whining, and in the past 4 days have seen a huge difference!  You usually sign/say "ay-dah" (help), or "down," or "please," then what you want.  You've even started repeating combined signs like "down, please."  You obey very well for a toddler, requiring correction but mostly obeying.  When you disobey it is usually with a very mischevious smile...uh-oh.  Ocassionally you still randomly bite my leg or toe, which I do NOT appreciate.

Well, you're coming up to my leg and smacking it, grinning up at me "hi!" so I think my time is up.

I love you, munchkin.  You are a treasure-- Mommy is so thankful for you!!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dayspring Christmas Cards

Most years, I'm scrambling to get gifts wrapped, our yearly newsletter done, and our cards in the mail.  That last part especially sneaks up on me!  This year I feel pretty on my game for once (maybe not working full-time helps?)-- gifts are for the most part purchased, wrapped and already mailed or delivered to our far-away family; and for the first time EVER, our family Christmas cards are done and sitting beside me!!

I've used various photo Christmas card websites before, and most often have designed my own (using PowerPoint or Picasa), saved them as a jpg, and then ordered photo prints through whomever offers the lowest price I can find.  It's frugal, and more versatile than those in-store kiosks with the 7 backgrounds to choose from.  My method ensured I liked what I got (or at least knew what I was getting), but it is rather more time consuming than those afore-mentioned kiosks, not to mention the necessity of purchasing envelopes in appropriate sizes.  I pondered ordering photo cards through the photography studio that did our family portraits this year, just for ease and so they could be off-the-list, out-of-mind.  But the price tag of 30 for $20 kind of deterred me.

I had an opportunity to review some photo cards for DaySpring, and I was very pleased.  Here are five reasons you should check out Dayspring's Studio:

  1. ease of access:  no lines, no fuming when the kiosk deletes your pictures.  Log in from your own desk chair
  2. ease of use:  the user interface was simple and straight forward.  (The only thing that was kind of weird was getting your pictures put how you want them in your card, but after dragging the pic around I figured it out.  One thing I wish they had was a way to view all the cards with room for ___ number of pictures.  I knew I wanted to put in three particular photos, so would have benefited from that.  Just don't waste time looking for this option.)
  3. variety of design:  whatever your taste, you'll find a card that acurately represents YOUR family.  They really have SO many more options than most sites, too; you can do large numbers of photos on the back or the front of your cards.
  4. SCRIPTURE!! It's what all those other sites are lacking.  I loved seeing verses not usually quoted at Christmas applied very nicely to different card designs (not hard to do, considering the whole Bible hinges on the events of that First Christmas) 
  5. quality of service:  this area has impressed me about DaySpring overall. Our cards arrived promptly, and look nicer than I'd even imagined.  I opted for flat cards, and I love that, while the front has a beautiful matte photo finish, the back is good card stock so I can actually use them as cards!
Disclosure: I received 50 free Studio DaySpring Cards for free in exchange for sharing about it here. The above photos and opinions are my own. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Don't Toss It, Re-Toy It!

I mean, repurpose it into a toy!  Or into anything, for that matter

In an effort to be ever-more thrifty and green (and as stewards of God's creation, yes, that does matter), I've taken my recycling to a new level.  I still keep the paper bag by the back door for all those paper scraps (including junk mail), I continue to flatten boxes, and ruthlessly separate out any and all recyclable plastics.  But now I'm trying to find new uses for some of that stuff.  Like all kids, Eowyn is soooo entertained by unconventional toys-- like they're more "grown-up" or something, so here's some things I've done.  I can't wait to hear your ideas!

- large cylindrical coffee canisters w/ plastic lids -->as blocks & small toy containers; the advantage is that they roll,  making very interesting noises when containing blocks, and they double as little stools.  (For Eowyn, pretty much everything doubles as a stool)
- lids off juice & similar bottles --> colorful sorting objects (stored in rinsed-out baking powder containers with plastic lids).  Rinsed off, these are a great cheap way to start learning color, to practice pulling in & out, and to just stack.  Eowyn chooses this "toy" over all her others!  (The lids are non-toxic, and are often non-recyclable anyway)
- empty spools of thread -->  blocks (perfect for turrets on mini-castles).  Eowyn also puts them in with her caps and loves cleaning them up & dumping them out... over and over again...
- mis-matched socks--> sock puppets!  All it takes is drawn-on eyes, or 2 over-sized buttons VERY securely sewn on.
- paper still blank on one side--> great for all those daily "drawing projects"

Not toys, but more useful:
- holy socks--> either stitched up & turned into puppets, or cut off evenly and used as wrist or leg-warmers.
- glass jars w/ lids (salsa & the like)--> washed and used for food storage (who needs tupperware? =D), as glass won't absorb smells, and doesn't leak anything into food like plastic can. Dry-erase markers write on them and come right off!
- glass jars with lids--> great for beverages on-the-go for adults, like milk or water or kefir.
- plastic jars (peanut butter, etc.) --> used for a myriad of containing purposes.  Most recently I've taken two in my shower for my homemade shampoo alternatives (baking soda & apple-cider vinegar suspensions).  This way they won't shatter if they fall.  Others are at Sunday School holding markers, crayons & pencils. Others have gone to friends in "mercy meals" containing sauces, dressings and soups.

The key to re-using anything is making sure it's easy to keep clean, with no sharp edges.  Don't re-purpose anything that has held anything toxic (duh, I know).  Also bear in mind whether or not it will be in situations where it could be dropped.

Please pass on any tips you have!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Picky Eating Regime

I've got a little girl who's just learning what it means to eat.  Up until now, the majority of her diet has been liquid, there for the sweet drinking.  Now she's got to face a world of new textures, tastes, smells, skills, and even rules (such as "food goes in mouth, not in hair"). I have found myself already wondering what the balance between discipline and grace should be in this issue.  As another friend put it, what's our goal?  To raise obedient kids?  Thankful kids?  Non-picky eaters? Healthy eaters?  All of the above?  If so, to what extent of each?  This little article is (my first!) a guest post by Heather Mora Wood, a mama of three with much experience on both sides of this subject.  I found her story extremely helpful and reasonable, and thought this voice of experience might help moms in a similarly unfamiliar situation as my own.  Please feel free to add your own thoughts and experiences!

My children, (3,7,11) will eat almost everything and I pretty much don't ever hear the words "I don't like it" from them. The way I raised them was as a baby we started with the most disliked veggies and sweetened it up from there moving into fruits. I've always produced 1 meal for everyone to eat and would give a small amount of the new stuff for them to try. They had to eat everything on their plate, which was portioned out according to the normal amount they ate (to avoid overeating), and if it wasn't eaten then, it would transfer to the next meal. I would mix it with what ever we had at the next meal, with whatever was appropriate, and we'd talk about those starving kids in Africa. It also helped that we had a friend who literally grew up eating out of garbage cans and I could point out how blessed we are. I also exposed them to TONS of styles of food. The way I cook is basically by choosing the ethnicity for the day and make food according to it. And restaurant exposure is the same: tons of variety. From Thai to Mexican, from African to French, from Italian to Greek, they've tried it all and liked it! I've also been kinda strict on sauces. I expect them to try things "naked" before adding sauce, so they can learn the flavor on its own. I also have them help me in the kitchen so they see where food comes from. Most importantly, I didn't let anyone say that they didn't like something around them! I call them gourmet babies.

NOW, the opposite. My little sister came to live with me for a month and wouldn't eat anything except hamburgers, fries, noodles and some fruits plus tomatoes or carrots. She was the ultimate picky! She didn't even like bananas or pbj! She went through the drama about how she wouldn't eat what I prepared and I'd explain that as long as she lived with me she'd be eating what I made every meal. No choice. SO, for a few days she wouldn't eat anything. She drank water. Then she got brave enough to try things. For about a week it was gag this, throw-up that, cry about it all, I want something different. That's when I realized it truly was mental and will against will. I was going to win this battle I decided! My plan: trash can was her new best friend, we turned it into a game, and I put rules into play.

Rule number 1: she had to try everything on her plate at least once. If she threw it up, she'd have to take another bite. It had to be swallowed to count.
Rule number 2: she couldn't get up from the table until she did. I would sit with her while the rest of the family went on with their day (and to make sure she wasn't lying about the bites.) 
Rule number 3: I gave her different ways to try to get the food down and she could use all or some of them as long as they helped her accomplish her goal but NO WHINING (including pinching her nose so the taste wasn't as strong, chasing her bite with a huge glass of water, pretending like it was her favorite food and eating blindly, racing someone at the table to swallow the bite first, etc.) (Whining resulted in discipline.)
Rule number 4: If she could eat everything on her plate (which was baby portioned,) she was given a special dessert that she liked. 

It took about 2 1/2 weeks before she was eating along side us without whining and rarely throwing up! She learned to try everything without preconceived opinions and appreciate each item for what it was. We also started learning more about why to eat the different foods, like the vitamins in them. So she was making better choices also because she knew it was healthier for her body (and she's a sporty girl.) She was gradually allowed to start making educated opinions about certain foods that she seriously had tried but really didn't like, but they were few. She grew to love some foods she had hated, like bananas and pbj! Most importantly, she became more obedient learning through this experience that I had wanted to do what as best for her and better for her. She was grateful to now know what things like turkey, smoothies and cheese tasted like. 

So, to sum it up...yes, it will be hard work to fix but I do believe that most children's issues with certain foods are simply about who holds the power. The texture issue can always be resolved by turning it into a different texture, such as smoothie, cookie, casserole, soup, etc. Be creative and try what you know will work for your child and be prepared for a little vomit! :o)

Heather is passionate about equipping parents to deal with aplastic anemia, which her son Josef has struggled through and from which he is now enjoying remission (praise the Lord!).

Friday, November 19, 2010

Little Reminders of Grace

This is a different sort of post for me; my first "sponsored" review of a product (rather than a book).  Dayspring (yes, the Christian card makers), has a division of home products called (in)courage, and they sent me something to try out for free in exchange for my honest opinion on this blog.  An intriguing idea, which works out wonderfully if, as in this case, I end up really liking the product.

What did I get? this red-and-white Christmas pitcher from their "Jesus is the Gift" collection.  Now, if you know me, you know that I am frugal, and quite the minimalist.  My sisters called me "Mrs. Save-y-saver" because of my obsession with saving & re-purposing items rather than buying a new item specifically for a new purpose.  I've hardly given the seasonal house decor a second look (I'll make my own decorations, thank you!), and especially dismissed the "Christian" versions as yet another commercial marketing gimmick aimed sole-ly to get more money out of Christian consumers.

Going to the Relevant conference and seeing the room Dayspring put together changed that perception.  All of a sudden I was surrounded by beautiful reminders of God's character, His kindness, His provision, His Word & His care.  They had plates, paintings, mugs, platters, wall-hangings, bookmarks, journals, centerpieces and even paperweights.  I realized how helpful they were; daily reminders all around me that God is good.  Now, those reminders are around us whether we have special plates and wall-hangings or not.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, whether our spouses or our children or our plants or that yummy pumpkin pie.  And every event is a grace, every bit of food a mercy.  With some effort, we could make our own visual reminders-- Bible verses on index cards or in photo frames, embroidered towels, paintings, wreaths, and honestly, I will keep doing those things as long as I live, I hope.  But I'm also a busy mom these days.  When am I going to have the time to make those things, much less take up pottery or painting?

I love having people over, many of whom are unbelievers, the rest of whom are believers in need of reminders of God (just like me!).  Using serving items with these beautiful affirmations of truth is yet another way to proclaim our love for our Lord.  They are daily reminders for me as I walk by my dining room table (where they pitcher will soon replace my Fall arrangement), in this case, that Jesus IS the gift-- have I thanked God for Him recently?

Dayspring's delivery was wonderfully fast, too.  Within 4 days of my order, the pitcher was FedExed to my door in perfect condition. The pitcher isn't unwieldy or hard to use; neither is it difficult to clean. It's cheery and matches the Christmas decor I already have (red & white is pretty universal).  I find the swirls, dots and snowflakes to be fun, yet not tacky or childish-- tasteful.  I will be trolling the DaySpring store for gifts this Christmas and in the future!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thinking Through More Vaccines

Today we'll go through the other major vaccines, and I'll explain why we decided to get or avoid them.  Don't worry, I won't be so in-depth as I was with my example yesterday (pondering the chicken pox, or varicella, vaccine).  Of course, if a reader requests a similar analysis of a vaccine, I'll be happy to oblige!

Remember, these are the conclusions we came to for our family in our situation.  One of the biggest problems with the CDC schedule is that it forces a one-size-fits-all approach to children who are VASTLY different.  Your conclusions could be totally opposite because of where you live or what your genes are!!  That is OK!  Real quick, here are the 10 questions I use to evaluate each vaccine (or medical procedure) I'm given the option of having:

1. What disease(s) is this vaccine aiming to protect against?
2. What is the a) probable outcome of this disease, and b) worst-case scenario outcome?
3. Today, is this disease treatable and/or preventable by other/natural means?  
4. What are possible dangers in this type of vaccine (look up whole list of ingredients)?
5. What is the a) probable outcome of this vaccine, and b) worst-case scenario outcome?
6. How much has this vaccine been tested, and are those tests by objective testers?
7. How effective is the vaccine?
8. Are there any benefits to gaining immunity to this disease through actual infection, rather than through the vaccine?
9. What is the rationale behind getting the vaccine?  Is this valid/applicable to my situation?
10. Is the disease generally worse than the vaccine?
Now, each vaccine in turn briefly:
-Hepatitis A- No, because of #9.  This disease passes through feces-oral transmissions (diapers), or contaminated water/food.  Common in poor, crowded, unsanitary communities, which we do not inhabit.  If we travel internationally to an affected area, we would consider this vaccine.
-Hepatitis B- No, because of #9.  This is a sexually transmitted disease, which can only be passed to infants through an infected mother (which I am not).  There is absolutely no reason for a baby of a healthy mother to receive this shot.  If our child were to begin a career in health or public service, an adult vaccination would be appropriate.
-Polio (IPV)- No, mainly because of 2 & 5.  Even during epidemics, 95% of those exposed to polio will exhibit NO symptoms, and of those, 5% will have only mild flu-like symptoms.  Even among those 1 in 1000 who do exhibit muscular paralysis, the vast majority have a full recovery.  The real clincher, though, is the high percentage of contaminants which this vaccine has had over the years, and still can have now.  Monkey tissues are used to culture the disease, and diseases which monkeys carry harmlessly are deadly to humans. SV-40 infected at least 30 million (some estimate as high as 200 million worldwide) children in the 1960s vaccination campaigns, and is still being treated today in the form of numerous cancers.  Some evidence has shown that SV-40 has even been passed from vaccinated-infected-mothers to their children in the form of brain tumors!  While monkey tissues are now tested for SV-40 and various other diseases, the threat of viral contamination is still very high, and utterly probable.  Some postulate that HIV is the human version of SIV, which infects 50% of all African green monkeys (the kind most used to culture polio vaccines). Several doctors have warned that only about 2% of existing monkey viruses are known and are tested for, and since you can't test for something you don't know is there, who knows what might be in the vaccines. It just isn't worth the risk.(The definition of "polio" as counted by the CDC has become drastically more restrictive since the development of the vaccine, which further confounds the problem of judging its effectiveness; the numbers are falsely lowered.  Now a patient must exhibit the worst possible symptoms in order to be counted as having polio, as opposed to having mild symptoms and being counted.)  I've judged polio (which my child may well be immune to, like most of the population), to be less a risk than a cancer-causing virus.
-Rotavirus- no, mainly because of 2.  This vaccine is to prevent a disease which, while unpleasant (vomiting & diarhea) is treatable-- the main danger is dehydration.  The actual sickness only confers partial immunity (though repeat infections are usually less severe), so of course the vaccine-weakened form of the virus provides spotty protection at best.  
-Meningitis (both Hib & Pc)- Yes, mainly because of 10.  Meningitis begins with flu-like symptoms, yet can turn deadly in toddlers very quickly, though death is relatively rare. It was not uncommon, though breast-feeding and avoidance of day-care lowered risks considerably. While long-term effects of the vaccine are still undermined, and there are the usual cases of serious vaccine-associated reactions to the vaccine, the vaccines do seem to have been effective in drastically lowering meningitis cases among toddlers.  Even if the vaccine-granted immunity does wear off, meningitis in older children is far less serious than in very young children.  Pc also does effectively protect against pneumonia, to which our daughter is susceptible (thanks to her GB's genes).
-Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR)- no, because of 2, 4, 3, 8 & 10- none of these diseases tend to be serious in children, and naturally-obtained immunities are permanent, even passing on to their later infants as long as breast-feeding lasts.  That last advantage is not true for infants born to mothers who only have the vaccine-immunity.  Malnutrition is responsible for measles complications, which are nearly eradicated by supplementation of vitamin A (along with avoidance of fever-reducers during the illness). Combination vaccines and live vaccines are a deadly combination, assaulting the still-developing neurological system of little bodies ill-equipped to fight off 3 diseases at once.  Both combination shots and live-virus vaccines are especially linked to auto-immune disorders (diabetes Type I, Celiac's disease, ADD, autism spectrum disorders, asthma). It seems clear to me that this triple vaccine poses far more dangers than contracting any & all of the 3 diseases, especially if our children's diet is rich in vitamin A.
-DTaP (diptheria, tetanus & pertussis/whooping cough)- yes, only for the tetanus component (tetanus alone isn't available for children under the age of 2, at least not that I could find), because of #2 & 9.  Tetanus is severe & life-threatening, occuring due to injuries with contaminated objects (such as are plentiful in our inner-city neighborhood park and street).  The vaccine is 100% effective in providing tetanus immunity, as long as 10 year boosters are given.  If we did not live in this neighborhood, we might delay the shot until only the tetanus component could be given.  I wrestled most with this vaccine decision because pertussis is the most controversial and reactive of all the shots, linked to brain damage and seizures in an alarmingly high number of children (I know a woman whose daughter is suffering exactly that).  However, it seemed to us that the likely-hood of our children reacting so violently to the vaccine were less than them cutting themselves on a rusty iron nail if they tripped in the park.  It might be different for you!
-Human Papiloma Virus-no, because of #9 & 6.  This protects against a sexually transmitted disease, for which my child is not at risk.  If she chooses to become promiscuous in adulthood, it will be up to her to weigh the risks of the shot v. the disease. The shot is brand-new and is showing alarming side-effects after only 1 year on the market.  It may not even be around by the time our children are old enough to get it.

I welcome your thoughts and questions!

Very Helpful Story on Candida and Women's Health

A friend's blog had this two-part guest post on how yeast can hi-jack your health... and not in just the way you think. It can cause thyroid problems, among other things. A great little series highlighting how we are what we eat:  it can hardly be overstated just how necessary REAL food (not "food products") is to enjoying REAL health!

Part 1, Part 2.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Vaccination Thought Process

My goal in this post is to bring you along with me as I have wrestled through asking questions about childhood vaccinations.  The thought processes I've come to use and the questions I've come up with expand beyond just this one issue, and into every medical procedure and practice.  My desire is to serve you and equip you to become the most informed, critically-thinking guardian of your child's health that you can be!

While of course I would be thrilled if I "convinced you" of my point of view, I feel like a sucess if you are inspired to research this on your own!! If you start asking questions, digging around, reading studies and books by people smarter than me (doctors, public health specialists, immunologists, naturopaths, etc.), and come to a different conclusion than I have, that's still great!!!  My goal is to help you learn to think!!  Medical decisions can be so intimidating, especially since we feel so much is at stake-- our kids' health!-- but we are not helpless, forced to blindly depend on even a brilliant guide.  To a certain extent, we can think things through and come to our own conclusions.  WE are responsible for our children's health.  We can delegate that out to another, but it still comes back to us.  I want to help you do even that delegating thoughtfully!  Whatever conclusion you come to, if you come to it after critical, intentional thinking and looking from both sides of the issue (and not neglecting prayer for wisdom and trust in God's sovereignty!), I applaud you!  THAT is the kind of parent we are called to be!


First, three foundational statements to keep in mind:
1. God has created our bodies to heal themselves, living in dominion over all creatures (including microscopic ones) yet not living isolated from all creatures.  In other words, we don't "exercise dominion" by killing everything within a 10 mile radius from us.
2. This world is fallen, and man has a battle to survive in front of him-- sickness and pain is a part of that.  Neither vaccination nor lack of it is risk-free; both have risks.  Additionally, part of our dominion now includes shaping our environment (one example- agriculture instead of tending an already-planted, perfectly yielding Garden of Eden).
3. Vaccines are drugs and should be thought of as such.  They come with their own side-effects, risks, and imperfections, just like any other medicine.  In each vaccine is not only a weakened form of a disease, but "adjuvants"-- preservatives and metals that kick-start the immune reaction. 

Hopefully I'll be able to flesh out the way I see those 3 interacting in my Friday post.  For now, just keep them in mind.

Ok, now 10 questions.
1. What disease(s) is this vaccine aiming to protect against?
2. What is the a) probable outcome of this disease, and b) worst-case scenario outcome?
3. Today, is this disease treatable and/or preventable by other/natural means?  
4. What are possible dangers in this type of vaccine (look up whole list of ingredients)?
5. What is the a) probable outcome of this vaccine, and b) worst-case scenario outcome?
6. How much has this vaccine been tested, and are those tests by objective testers?
7. How effective is the vaccine?
8. Are there any benefits to gaining immunity to this disease through actual infection, rather than through the vaccine?
9. What is the rationale behind getting the vaccine?  Is this valid/applicable to my situation?
10. Is the disease generally worse than the vaccine?

Now before you freak out and think "that's a LOT of questions!," be assured that at least numbers 1-3, 9, and perhaps 10, should be answerable with just a quick search in a medical handbook, reputable website or even by asking your doctor. You may be able to stop there if it's obvious (I felt that varicella was fairly obvious, but am stepping through the whole process in order to explain fully). Look up vaccine information from the manufacturers (your pediatrician can copy the info off of the vaccine box for you, or at least give you the name of the company and you can look it up online or in a vaccine-guide book) to answer numbers 4 & 5. Numbers 6-8 are the hardest to find answers on, and you probably need to enlist a medically knowledgeable source to read study results and findings, but there are GREAT books out there to help with that! You can do this!!

Let me step through those in detail, using the varicella vaccine:

1. What disease(s) is this vaccine aiming to protect against? chicken-pox
2. What is the a) probable outcome of this disease? itchy rash with runny nose, cough, and uncomfortable fever lasting about a week.  According to Merck, chickenpox vaccine manufacturer, "Chickenpox is generally a benign, self-limiting disease." (Varivax insert, June 2009)
and b) worst-case scenario outcome? older male (adult) contracts chicken pox and becomes sterile due to the high fever, or infection reaches child's brain and causes encephalitis (this is a risk for nearly every disease).  Also a recurrence of chicken-pox (shingles) in an other-wise immune adult.
3. Today, is this disease treatable and/or preventable by other/natural means?  chicken pox is not dangerous nor overly uncomfortable for otherwise-healthy children (only one in every 10-15,000 cases requires hospitalization). Oatmeal baths relieving the itching. Avoidance of aspirin during sickness drastically reduces risk of Reye syndrome (type of encephalopathy). As with all diseases, immune-system boosters vitamins A, D, E (for skin) & C help to lessen severity and duration of disease.
4. What are possible dangers in this type of vaccine (look up whole list of ingredients)? it's a live-virus vaccine (this kind causes the most adverse reactions), containing a weakened form of the virus which remains in the body indefinitely, MSG (a soy-based neurotoxin), the antibiotic neomycin, and fetal bovine serum.  MSG is a no-no, especially for my likely-to-be-allergic-to-soy-child. Over-exposure to antibiotics results in a whole host of problems.  The chickenpox virus can reactivate any time immunity declines, causing herpes zoster (shingles).  The vaccine can also transmit chicken-pox to others, including vulnerable pregnant women only having the partial vaccine immunity.
5. What is the a) probable outcome of this vaccine? My child will probably have a mild fever, and nothing else at the time, but her immunity will fade with time, allowing her to experience relapses (shingles) during times of stress in adulthood, and could quite possibly infect others who may be vulnerable to the disease.  b) worst-case scenario outcome? my child's vaccine-gained immunity fades to the point of contracting full-blown chickenpox as an adult, rendering a son sterile or causing a daughter's unborn baby to have fetal defects; alternatively could cause life-altering vaccine reactions and/or all the risks of the wild version of the disease.
6. How much has this vaccine been tested, and are those tests by objective testers? This vaccine is relatively new; as late as 1985 the CDC's position was that the costs of treating chickenpox were too low to justify spending money on a national vaccination campaign.  The studies used to test the vaccine contained up to 17,000 units of chickenpox virus (as opposed to the 2700 units in our vaccine), and no placebo-controlled trial was carried out using the current vaccine.  So... no valid testing, and unknown future effects.
7. How effective is the vaccine? In all pre-licensing trials, some children contracted chickenpox.  According to an FDA report, about 1 in 10 (10% of) vaccinated children contract "breakthrough" chickenpox when exposed to a wild version of the virus (the longer from the vaccination date, the more serious the case).  The vaccine manufacturer claims a 98% success rate after 2 doses in trials, which sounds amazing-- BUT in the clinical trials, the shots used contained up to 17,000 units of the chickenpox virus, while the shots used today contain no more than 1,350 units.  This means that there actually are no clinical trials using the current vaccine.  We do know that about 10% of the cases of chickenpox today occur in vaccinated children. (see product insert, part 14.1)  It is also difficult to judge vaccine failure rate, because doctors are hesitant to label a chickenpox-like rash "chicken pox" in a vaccinated child.  During a recent outbreak, doctors did not count vaccinated children who contracted chicken pox as "vaccine failures" because they claimed that they had fewer poxes, meaning the vaccine did not fail (though the children still did contract varicella.)  To sum it up, it's hard to judge the actual efficacy of the shot, but we do definitely know that any protection it does give significantly drops 5 years post-vaccine.
8. Are there any benefits to gaining immunity to this disease through actual infection, rather than through the vaccine? Yes, for both the patient in question and those around them. Wild chickenpox in children is usually benign, and confers a more lasting immunity than the vaccine.  Immunized children can still contract wild chickenpox-- and will suffer far more as teens or adults.  A child with chickenpox also re-immunizes adults & children around them against the disease:  those who have the natural antibody gain an antibody boost every time they come in contact with the live varicella virus, and this further protects them from a relapse (shingles).
9. What is the rationale behind getting the vaccine?  Is this valid/applicable to my situation? The main justification is "primarily to reduce the loss of parental income[of parents taking sick days to care for sick children]." On average, the vaccine "saves" parents 1 day of work per child vaccinated.  This seems a fairly poor reason to vaccinate for anyone, much less me as a stay-at-home mom. The vaccine was originally developed for immuno-suppressed children (for ex. those with leukemia). So, no; not applicable.
10. Is the disease generally worse than the vaccine? NO!

Our conclusion:  we will not get the varicella vaccine for our children, but will instead seek to put them in contact with a wild form, while boosting their immune systems with plenty of real foods, sunshine & good bacteria.  To protect our vulnerable babies (the vaccine isn't safe for children under 1 anyway), we will breast-feed them for 15-18 months each.  The vaccine is untested, relatively ineffective, has its own set of risks plus all the risks of the disease, a disease which is harmless in healthy children anyway!  If our children do not contract chickenpox by age 11 or so, we will consider the vaccine to give them at least partial protection as they leave the "safe infection zone" of childhood.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Why I Read About Heroes

My mind has been impressed with variations on a theme from my readings lately. I've been noticing over and over that "heroes" are just ordinary people who keep doing what is set before them to do, even when it's hard and when it's not what they want, nor what they would naturally do.  Sometimes I think we should just assign chapters in great fiction in counseling. :)
"The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Frodo:  adventures, as I used to call them.  I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say.  But that's not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind.  Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually-- their paths were laid that way... But I expect they had lots of chances, like us, of turning back, only they didn't.  And if they had, we shouldn't know, because they'd have been forgotten."  (The Two Towers, Book 4, Chapter 8 "The Stairs of Cirith Ungol," J.R.R. Tolkien)
"Piper's dad had called him a hero earlier.  And Leo couldn't believe some of the things he'd done-- smacking around Cyclopes, disarming exploding doorbells, battling six-armed ogres with construction equipment.  They seemed like they had happened to another person.  He was just Leo Valdez, an orphaned kid from Houston. He'd spent his life running away, and part of him still wanted to run.  What was he thinking, flying toward a cursed mansion to fight more evil monsters?"  (The Lost Hero, Chapter 47, Rick Riordan)
"Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for His body's sake." Colossians 1:24 [...] " This call has nothing to do with personal sanctification, but with being made broken bread and poured-out wine. God can never make us wine if we object to the fingers He uses to crush us with. If God would only use His own fingers, and make me broken bread and poured-out wine in a special way! But when He uses someone whom we dislike, or some set of circumstances to which we said we would never submit, and makes those the crushers, we object. We must never choose the scene of our own martyrdom.   (My Utmost for His HighestOswald Chambers,  September 30th)
I think the Holy Spirit's helping me to be strengthened through the examples of others, to be reached and motivated at the "heart level" rather than the intellectual.

We don't get to choose our own adventures, usually.  We just get to choose whether or not to turn back.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

RUF Chili

This past week we managed to surprise my friend Jenny with her first birthday party ever (25 is a big year, you know).  I served up a pot of chili which I learned to make in college.  It became the staple of our RUF "core group" meeting eatings. :)  It's the type of chili anyone -even single college guys- can make and enjoy.  Thank you, Eric, for passing it on!

By request, I'm putting the recipe on the blog. Of course, you can vary which beans you use, or make them from dry instead of canned. The one I served last week had some canned beans and some which I'd previously cooked up from dry beans and had frozen.

RUF Chili
2 (15 oz) cans (or 3 cups cooked) pinto beans
2 (15 oz) cans (or 3 cups cooked) black beans
2 (15 oz) cans (or 3 cups cooked) great northern or navy beans
1 large can (28 oz size) (3 1/2 cups cooked) baked beans* 
1 (28 oz) jar salsa (as hot as you want)
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatos or 1 1/2 cups diced fresh tomatoes (~3 tomatoes)
between 1/2 & 1 cup of filtered water (to taste)
(optional: browned ground beef or chuck-- we didn't add this in RUF b/c several members were vegetarian)

Rinse the pinto, black & white beans, then dump into your stockpot.  If desired, brown beef and add to pot. Add the can of baked beans, tomatoes & salsa. Add water to thin to taste, taking into account how long you will let the pot sit out/on the heat (longer time = more water needed)

Heat to boiling.  Serve with sour cream and grated cheddar or colby jack cheese.  


*(Bush's Vegetarian Beans are gluten & soy-free)  However, I usually make our own beans (were you surprised?).  I'll post my recipe for them later-- I love it because I can either use the crock pot or the oven.

Some pictures are here.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sign Me Up to Go Down Swinging

I had this string of realization as I ran through a vibrantly autumnal local park.  I like to be efficient.  Put forth the minimum effort required to achieve desired goal.  Then, more resources are available for doing more.

Hmmm... spiritually, that bites me.  Well, it bites me when I'm trying to move too quickly and I ram into corners and low gates -ow.  This is totally against the heroic maxim "If I must die, I will at least take as many foul enemies with me as I can!"  My heart would rather say "if I'm going to die anyway, what's the use avoiding it a bit?  Sounds useless and tiring-- not to mention messy."  Go down swinging, why?

Right now, I'm in hermit mode:  don't want to talk, think, or make the spiritual/mental effort to deal with certain things.  I'm sad, hurt, ashamed, struggling to trust.  I tell myself, "I don't have the energy to fight-- what's the point, anyway?  If I'm just going to lapse back into this rut, may as well plod along in it, right?"

Lord, please give me a determination, the resolve to at least "go down swinging."  

It's what the Ents did.  And Frodo, and Sam.
"Of course, it is likely enough, my friends," he said slowly, "likely enough that we are going to our doom: the last march of the Ents. But if we stayed at home and did nothing, doom would find us anyway, sooner or later. That thought has long been growing in our hearts; and that is why we are marching now. It was not a hasty resolve. Now at least the last march of the Ents may be worth a song. Aye," he sighed, "we may help the other peoples before we pass away." (The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien)
It's what Dumbledore explained to Harry once:  
"It is important to fight, and fight again, and keep fighting, for only then can evil be kept at bay, though never quite eradicated." [not eradicated by human strength, in this Age, he means] (Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince-- aka HP 6) ~JK Rowling
Oh for such a high view of Truth & Beauty & its Creator and a low of view of ourselves that we might be glad to fight for holiness, with every bit of strength we- I- have.  Yes, even our last breath-- my last breath.

Most inefficient.

But most worthwhile, I think.