caption - title

The story of our precious little girl's 17 months of life with Trisomy 18 (July 4, 2010 - December 15, 2011) and of us, re-learning to live "after Lilly."
"I will praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made ...." Psalm 139:14

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Megan Whitson Lee: "Song from the Ashes"

Siblings:  Exhaust Pipe & Sherlotta

We had a wonderful surprise today, when we got home from church!  Frank said "Isn't that Exhaust Pipe?!" And it was!  After being missing for 5 days, he was home!

We have no idea where he was.  His collar with tag was still on.  He showed no sign of injury.

But he was ravenous!  He downed 3 bowls of food in a flash.

The chickens have started running over to the porch when they hear the sound of dog food being poured in the metal bowls.  Sherlotta did a good job chasing chickens off the porch while Exhaust Pipe ate and ate and ate.

Sherlotta standing guard while Exhaust Pipe and his Mama, Dixie, eat (note the hens on the rails)
Happy dog news is the perfect segue into the subject of my post.  Books written by my dear, longtime friend, Megan Whitson Lee.  Megan loves dogs and she and her husband own two greyhounds.  :)

I met Megan in the early 1990s.  We were both working at the Virginia Employment Commission and attending George Mason University.  (She was a music major and my major was administration of justice.)  We found we had some unique things in common: a love of heavy metal music and Dracula.  We also liked Renaissance festivals and historical events.  Besides those things, Megan had a love for God which I did not have at the time.  I fondly credit her with being one of two people in my life, who's influence lead me to finally accept Christ.  (The other person was one of the survivors of the government's massacre of the Branch Davidians in Waco in 1993.  But that is another story.)

Megan and I liked to dress up and have historical themed dinners, followed by movies.  That was a lot of fun.  Here is Megan at our medieval themed dinner.  I remember we watched "Braveheart" after eating.  :)

Megan
Another dinner was a civil war meal, in which we watched "Gone with the Wind" afterwards:

Me (on the left) and Megan
After collage graduation, Megan left for London, England on a year long work permit.  Before she returned to the United States, I went and visited her and saw many wonderful placed in London, York, Bath, and in Edinburgh, Scotland.  Some photos of that trip are interspersed below.

Megan - Parliament and Big Ben in the background
In 2009, Megan published her first novel, All That is Right and Holy.  This book follows the lives of several people involved in sex trafficking - at different levels.  From pornography addicts up to sex slaves.  Though none of the people in the stories are real, they are based on real people and circumstances.  It's been about 5 years since I read this book and it continues to haunt me.  I especially can not think of the country of India without thinking of the way girls are sold - by their own parents or relatives - to be sex slaves.  My review on amazon.com sums up how I feel about it:

"I read this book several years ago and I still think about it at times and often find myself praying for those involved. The story was riveting, haunting, and educational. I learned a lot about the sex trade industry and how it is truly all around us. I learned about the types of people that get involved and why. Many heartbreaking stories out there. I was thankful this book was not overly graphic. I came away from it feeling I know how to better guard my own children from being accidentally exposed to and sucked into that nightmare world. I urge everyone to read this book and learn these things for themselves. For those already involved in some way - this book offers hope and shows the way out. This book is a story that needed to be written, and it needs to be read by many."

Megan won second place in the 2009 Christian Choice Books Awards for the novel.

me in Bath, England ( I LOVE all the old architecture in Europe)
Earlier this month, eLectio Publishing published Megan's second novel, Song from the Ashes.  Here is a summary from the back cover of the book:

"A retelling of Edith Wharton's classic novel The Age of Innocence, Song from the Ashes explores the struggle with contentment in marriage and the dilemma between striving for personal happiness versus acceptance of God's perfect plan."

I do not usually read Christian fiction, so honestly, I only know the stereotypes of it.  I like that Megan writes about "messy" Christians.  Meaning she writes about struggles that real Christians have.  Though not all Christians are being tormented in a love triangle, as this book's main character  Landon is, we all have our own struggles and temptations with sin.

William Wallace (Edinburgh) - "FREEDOM!!"
Landon, a Christian man that is steady, responsible, and does the right things, is newly engaged to April when he meets her fascinating cousin Ella, a failed country musician.  He struggles with his feelings for Ella, but chooses to honor his commitment to April, and marry her.

However, since Ella has a part of his heart, his marriage to April is not easy.  His struggles with his feelings for Ella and it makes him miserable.

Me in the classic red phone booth! I wonder if they even still exist (because of cell phone use)
Towards the end of the book, April gives birth to a baby girl named Carys.  ("Carys" is Welsh for "loved one.")  Carys has Trisomy 18.  This is the part of the book I started to cry and continued to cry until the end. I'm sure I would have cried reading about any baby with Trisomy 18, but Carys is special to me because she is based on our Lilly.  How I miss our sweet Lilly ...  And just like Lilly brought amazing blessings with her during her short life to us and others, Carys blesses those around her in the book and brings healing.

On a fun note, there is a girl named "Tabitha" in the book mentioned briefly (if you don't know, Tabby's real name is "Tabitha") and there is a pastor named "Frank."  There is also a little girl named "Lilly" who is mentioned twice.  She is like a little angelic being.  :)

I will always be grateful to Megan for including the Carys character in the book.  Not just because of her similarity to Lilly, but that she helps spread awareness of what Trisomy 18 is.  On the "Author's Note" pages in the back of the book, Megan briefly describes Trisomy 18 and cites my blog for Lilly.  :)

Megan by a sign for "The Ultimate Ghost and Torture Tour" in Edinburgh.  This tour was a nighttime walk through the catacombs under the city. We had a bizarre paranormal experience at one point.
As I mentioned in my last blog post, I read The Age of Innocence right before reading Song from the Ashes and it was really neat seeing the parallels.  Though I did like The Age of Innocence, I liked Megan's story better.  I really appreciated how Megan brought God into her story.  Wharton's book was not from a Christian perspective.  (If you are not a Christian and are reading this, please know that you do not need to be one in order to appreciate this book!)

Megan set her story in Kingsport, Tennessee, the town she grew up in.  In the week before her book's release, she did a series of blog posts about Kingsport.  They were so interesting, especially as I remembered them while reading this story.  Frank, Tabby, and I attended Megan's wedding, years ago, in Kingsport.  So it was neat when she wrote about places I was familiar with there.  Megan's blog, called "Life Before the Hereafter" is at:    http://meganwhitsonlee.blogspot.com .

Hampstead Heath - beautiful open countryside, right in London
So ... I guess you can tell ... I highly recommend Megan Whitson Lee's book, Song from the Ashes!  The book is available in both paperback and Kindle.

"I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self." - Aristotle

"The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?" - Jeremiah 17:9

Me at Trafalgar Square in London (goodness - the main thing that shows up are my white hightops! How 1990s ...)

Thursday, August 14, 2014

The Book List - July

I've had several people ask me, "When in the world do you find time to read?"  My answer - I read for about an hour or so before bedtime each night.  It is one of my favorite times of the day.  :)  I start by reading a couple chapters in my Bible, and then I have a big stack of books to choose from.  Sometimes I focus on reading just one book, and other times - like now - I have 4 that I try and read a chapter out of each night.

So ... here is JULY's Book List:

I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy by Angie Smith - I wrote a whole blog post on this book last month, click here to read it.  Angie Smith and her husband Todd (of a Christian band called Selah) had a daughter that received the dreaded "incompatible with life" label while in Angie's womb.  When Audrey was born, she lived 2.5 hours.  This book is Angie's journey through grief.  Todd shares his view in a chapter too.  There is an excellent chapter on helping children grieve, and a listing of useful resources.

Tabby reading Nobleheart by K. A. Thomas, a CCS teacher 
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton - This novel was originally published in 1920.  The story is a love triangle set in New York City in the 1870s.  It involves the upper class and all the rigid customs that goes with it.  The main character is engaged, and then his world is turned upside down when he meets his fiance's cousin.  Will he choose to do the right thing or, as it's put in modern America - "follow his heart?" The book is well written and I found it intriguing, frustrating, and riveting.  As an aside, I read this book in preparation for the release of a dear friend's book which was recently published called Song from the Ashes.  Megan Whitson Lee wrote this book as a modern re-telling of The Age of Innocence.  I finished this wonderful book the other day and will write a blog post about it next week.

Hunter's favorite book - one on electrical repairs that Frank found at the dump!
Making Great Conversationalists by Steven and Teri Maxwell - (Note this book is not available on amazon.com right now, but you can order it directly from the authors on their website Titus2.com)  I hear repeatedly that so many young people today make a terrible impression in job interviews because they do not know how to make eye contact or how to hold a conversation well.  (I guess it must be a challenge if you grow up with your nose and fingers stuck to your phone texting all day instead of having regular conversations with people.)  Tabby and Hunter usually don't have a problem talking to people of all ages, but they both could use some work in some areas.  And yes, I can too.  This book is a wonderful resource full of practical lessons to teach your children (or yourself!) how to communicate clearly, interestingly, and effectively.  Each chapter ends with a real life example, a summary of the main points, and exercises to do.  The Appendix alone, is worth the price of the book.  It has a lot of lists that are helpful:  Basic Questions When Talking to Other Children, Conversation Starter Questions for Adults, What Are the Key Ingredients of a Great Conversation?, and What Annoys You Most About a Conversation?  (The last one is funny - I have to say for me I do not like talking to "close talkers" and I have a problem talking to "quiet talkers." I hate constantly asking "I'm sorry, what did you say?")  This book is an excellent resource and just about anybody could benefit from it.

Solomon's favorite book is Richard Scarry's Cars, and Trucks, and Things that Go
The Organized Home Schooler by Vicki Caruana - I always like reading a book like this before starting up another homeschool year.  This was different than any other organizing book I've ever read as it was filled with principles instead of lists of what exactly to do.  Oh there were plenty of suggestions of good ways to organize things, but the author reminded the reader often to ask God for help and look to His example.  There are chapters on organizing your thoughts, time, space, supplies and materials, paperwork, and family.  I enjoyed the book as I like organizing just for fun and am always looking for new hints for my arsenal.

At Home with Modern June: 27 Sewing Projects for Your Handmade Lifestyle by Kelly McCants - This book has some great project ideas - things for every room of your house.  I haven't made any yet, but have a bunch of pages dog-eared in hopes that I can make some things before too long.  Honestly though, my favorite part of the book was the pictures!  I love the author's vintage decorating style with pops of red.  (My aunt would call the pictures "eye candy.")  I first saw some of it on the "Life Made Lovely" blog - Kelly's home is featured here.  Kelly is also known as the "Oilcloth Addict" and has a website where she sells oilcloth, along with other sewing supplies and homemade goodies.

Exhaust Pipe (front) and Lucia
On a worrisome note, Exhaust Pipe has been missing for over 24 hours.  (That means we can call the police, right?  He's officially a "missing dog.")  He usually stays near the house, with Lucia.  But sometimes he wanders off with his mama Dixie and sister Sherlotta and they roam the woods and pastures surrounding us.  But none of the dogs have ever been gone for more than maybe, half a day.


I am feeling rather down about it as honestly, Exhaust Pipe is my very favorite dog of the four we have.  :( And as Tabby has pointed out to me, it seems like "our favorites are always the ones to die first."  Even Sherlotta has been walking around whimpering a lot.  Sigh.  I know, it's "only" been a day, I need to pray and not give up already.

"EXHAUST PIPE!! PLEASE COME HOME!!"  (LOL - his name still makes me laugh!)

Monday, August 11, 2014

An Angel Box and Meet Tiggy Winkle

A few days ago, a fellow Trisomy 18 mom tagged me on a Facebook post, after she recognized Lilly in a new Trisomy 18 mom's photos.  After I clicked to it, I sat in surprise with these images looking back at me:






I couldn't believe it.  I was looking at photos from one of the angel boxes my children and I put together and donated to UNC a couple years ago!  (You can see my original post about the boxes here and my post about the day we donated them here.)  The woman that posted the pictures is pregnant with a little girl with Trisomy 18.  Her baby has the sweet name of Mary-Margaret.  Thankfully she is still alive (due in October).  I am praying she'll wear the little dress for a family photo shoot.

I am now in contact with this mama and it is such a blessing to share some of the knowledge I learned from Lilly's life with her!  And how neat to meet someone that received one of our boxes.  I never really thought I'd ever hear from any recipient and I certainly never thought it would be another Trisomy 18 family!

Have you ever read Beatrix Potter's story, Mrs. Tiggy Winkle?  Mrs. Tiggy Winkle is a hedgehog that does laundry for all the animals in the Peter Rabbit books.  It's a very cute story, one I used to read to Tabby a lot.  We even had a cartoon version of it that was very good.

I read it to Hunter last Thursday in anticipation of a little visitor that was to arrive that evening.

What visitor?  A real hedgehog!  Yes we are pet-sitting a hedgehog, appropriately named Tiggy Winkle, for a couple we go to church with.  I've never even thought of having a hedgehog for a pet!  But this has been an interesting experience so far.

Tiggy Winkle looks just like Beatrix Potter's Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, though a whiter color:


Unlike porcupines, hedgehogs can not shoot their quills.  But they are prickly!  So it's a good idea when you touch them, to run your fingers along the quills from front to back.  Tabby and Solomon have both held Tiggy Winkle in their laps.  Tabby said she is definitely a prickly little creature!

Hedgehogs are nocturnal so Tiggy Winkle sleeps all day long.  We never see her as she slumbers in her little plastic igloo shaped house.  But at night she comes out to eat and to run in her wheel.  She runs in that wheel for hours!



Solomon helps me feed her.  She eats cat food and dried worms.



Her owners said they occasionally give her a bath and that she enjoys it.  They use a toothbrush to scrub her well.

Here is a funny sticker on Tiggy Winkle's cage - it says "Warning! This property protected by a highly trained hedgehog.  Not responsible for injury or possible death."


It is absolutely mind boggling the variety of animals that God has created.  Each type is so unique!

Friday, August 8, 2014

That mysterious Greek yogurt

I have been making my own yogurt for 15 years, at least.  That often surprises people.  Yogurt really is easy to make!  (Oh - or maybe they're surprised that I  am making it.  I am NOT a confident cook.)  I've noticed a lot of people are confused about what Greek yogurt is.  Greek yogurt is simply regular yogurt with the whey strained out of it.  The result is a thicker yogurt that is more packed with protein.

Yogurt is a super healthy food, as long as you're not buying the store stuff that is packed with sugar.  I used to feed Lilly my homemade yogurt, right through her g-tube.  It's also much cheaper, to make yourself.

It's so easy to make.  You don't need fancy equipment.  I have made it in my crock pot before.  Other people use hot water in a cooler.  There are easy to find directions online for a variety of methods.  I thought I would just share a series of photos of how I make it to show how easy it is to do.

I own a yogurt maker.  I like the size and the consistent results I get.  And since I use it at least once a week, it has been a great investment for me.  My first yogurt maker lasted 14 years.  Last year I finally had to buy a new one.  I have this Euro Cuisine 2 quart yogurt maker.

I start by pouring 8 cups of milk into a pot.  (I use 4 cups of organic whole cow milk, and 4 cups of our own goat's milk.  I just don't like the full goat milk taste, yet, which is why I use cow milk too.)

Warm milk to 180 degrees.  (The thermometer was included with my yogurt maker.)


Then I remove the pot from the burner and cool the temperature back down to 140 degrees.  Once it's there, I add in one cup of already made yogurt, as a "starter."  Sometimes I like to use vanilla yogurt as my starter to give it a flavor.  But usually, I just add some sweetener when I am getting ready to eat it.  (flavored stevia, or honey, or maple syrup, or flavored protein powder, etc.)


Then I pour it all into my yogurt maker and plug it in.  The yogurt maker keeps it warm.  I usually leave it in there for about 8-10 hours.  Then I take out the inner container and put it in the refrigerator overnight.


The next morning, if I want to turn my yogurt into Greek yogurt, I strain it.  I have this  Euro Cuisine Greek yogurt strainer for this purpose.   You can use cheese cloth or even a (clean) old t-shirt to do the straining.  But for me, since I do this so much, I like using the strainer.  Just scope out the yogurt into the strainer.


Then let it sit until it's the consistency you want.  If I'm going to strain for longer than an hour, I stick it in the refrigerator.  But I have found, straining a long time, leaves the yogurt too dry for my taste.  So I usually let mine strain for about an hour.  The whey is the yellowish liquid dripping into the bottom bowl.


When I'm done, I just scrape the yogurt out into glass jars, and then put them in the refrigerator.



I save some of the whey (it's in the blue jar pictured above) because I use it in things I make sometimes.  There are many things you can do with left over whey.  Here is a list of 16.  My favorite way is to feed it to our chickens!

Tabby's flock is happily drinking
There.  Wasn't that easy?  :)

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

A few Montessori activity links - to keep little kids busy!

A friend called Sunday and said how interesting she found my recent Montessori post.  She has 3 young children and is interested in activities that are quick and easy to set up and can keep the children occupied for a bit.  I have been finding, that if only I invest a few minutes in prep, it can keep the children happy and busy for quite awhile.

Recently on a hot morning, I gave my boys each a spray bottle of water and sent them outside on the deck.  They ended up squirting those water bottles for well over an hour!  And they wanted to repeat it for the next two mornings.  Nice!  :)



Here is a very interesting - and telling - quote from Montessori from the Start by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen:

"Parents in the early half of the twentieth century were primarily concerned with the development of character in their children.  They wanted to be certain that their children were ready to cope with adversity, for it was surely coming to them one day whether in personal or natural life.  The development of character involves self-discipline and often sacrifice of one's own desires for the good of self and others.  Montessori education, developed in this historic period, reflects this emphasis on the formation of the child's character. However, parents today are more likely to say their primary wish for their children is that they be happy.  In pursuit of this goal, they indulge their children, often unconsciously, to a degree that is startling to previous generations.  All parents need to remember that true happiness comes through having character and discipline, and living a life of meaningful contribution--not by having and doing whatever you wish."  (p. 187)

My husband can confirm about modern parents just wanting their children to "be happy."  He is the middle school administrator at a private Christian school, and when he conducts new family interviews, he will ask parents what their goal is for their child(ren).  (I hope I am remembering that question right.)  He is always disappointed when parents respond "We just want our child to be happy."

Now I'm not saying I don't want my kids to be happy!  But ... if they are taught that their only goal in life is to pursue happiness exclusively ... well then, they are going to have a very disappointing and frustrating life.

Now, for a few links for activity ideas.  Through Pinterest, I found a blog where a mom posted a lot of Montessori activities, along with pictures of her son doing them.  She divided things up by age, which was a helpful guideline to me.  Here they are:

15 - 16 months:  http://danaspinkribbon.blogspot.com/2012/02/montessori-for-15-to-16-month-olds.html

17 - 18 months: http://danaspinkribbon.blogspot.com/2012/04/montessori-for-17-to-18-month-olds.html

19 - 20 months: http://danaspinkribbon.blogspot.com/2012/06/montessori-for-19-to-20-month-olds.html

21 - 22 months: http://danaspinkribbon.blogspot.com/2012/07/montessori-for-21-to-22-month-olds.html

2 years: http://danaspinkribbon.blogspot.com/2013/02/50-montessori-activities-for-2-year-olds.html

Sunday night I read through Montessori Inspired Activities for Pre-Schoolers: Home Projects for 2-6 Year Olds by Jo Ebisujima.  This little book is packed with so many great ideas!  The author is a blogger that compiled her ideas of activities that worked with her son.  Each activity has a description and photo of her son doing the activity.  I can't wait to get Solomon started on them.  I think Hunter will enjoy quite a number of them too.

Solomon playing with dried Lima beans
Two final links for you.  One is a nice list on a blog called "40 Ways to Distract a Toddler."  Doesn't matter these aren't all Montessori activities.  There are a lot of easy things to do on this list.  You can see the post with pictures here.

The other is an e-book jam packed packed with ideas called Finding Educational Activities in the Most Unexpected Places:  200+ activities for Young Children Using Common Household Objects by Angie Kauffman.  You can purchase and download this book at http://www.reallifeathome.com/ebooks/finding-educational-activities-in-the-most-unexpected-places-ebook-2/ .  The cost is only $2.99.

Just a few minutes investment of your time can mean hours of happy and busy learning and play by your children.  ;)

Tabby and Solomon with their feet in beans - just like Lilly used to like to do!
I'll be posting more things like this in the future.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

"Dash it all, [Pooh bear] IS the project!"



My dear friend Christina is having a giveaway for this spoon rest over at her blog, The Haven Enterprises.  It was handmade by her husband.  You can enter by clicking here.  Check out their shop while you're there - so many wonderful, handmade heirloom quality wooden items with scripture on them.

Christina and her family visited with us this past winter.  It was enjoyable in spite of the fact that all our kids were terribly sick and we struggled too.  (Swine flu!)  As we talked about all the challenges and rewards of being mom's, Christina said that there was an exchange in a Winnie the Pooh book that she took to heart.  Gopher complains about Pooh bear messing everything up but Owl reminds him that Pooh bear is the most important thing.  Sort of like how our kids can get in the way of everything we have to do but we have to remember - THEY are what is most important.


I later found the exact quote - it is from Winnie-the-Pooh and the Honey Tree:

Gopher: First thing to be done is to get rid of that bear.
       He's gumming up the whole project.

Owl: Dash it all, he IS the project!

I ended up typing the quote into a document and adding pictures and hung one on a kitchen cabinet as a reminder.  I send one to my friend too.  Frank liked it so much he asked me to print one out for him and he made copies at school and gave it to the teachers to remind them that their students were the "project."  


I wanted to make this available as a printable for anyone interested, but I can't figure out how!  So if you'd like a PDF, just ask me and I'll e-mail it to you.  (And if you know an easy way to make a PDF printable available on blogger, please tell me!  The directions I found online all made my head swim.)  

Last month, I shared in a post about a homeschool course I was blessed to be asked to take part of online, and to give my feedback to.  The course is called Bloom: A Journey to Joy (and Sanity) for Homeschool Moms.  I found the course very, very helpful.  The course is now available to anyone online, and if you sign anytime through Wednesday, August 6, you can use this coupon code for $10 off enrollment:  $10OFFLAUNCH . See a description of the course here: http://www.vibranthomeschooling.com/pages/bloom   (And yes - I'm the "Lisa" pictured and quoted from on that page.)

Our guinea fowl are almost all grown up.  They have turned out to be very interesting to observe.  They tend to stay in a tight flock.  If one bird gets separated, it screams and they shriek back and forth until all are reunited again.  They like to roost high in trees and to walk around on top of the goat shed.


Their coop is part of the goat shed so they all hang out together.  The goats don't seem to mind.  Especially since guineas are great at eating ticks.


The guineas are odd looking yet they do have really neat feathers.  I just LOVE their polka dots!


A few evenings ago, Tabby and I were talking about how amazed we were that we had not lost any of the 8 guineas.  We then walked outside.  Exhaust Pipe came running up to me, happily wagging his tail, and dropped a ... dead guinea ... at my feet.  Oh no.

Did he kill her?  We don't know.  We're pretty positive Lucia wasn't the murderer this time.  Tabby strongly suspects the other puppy - Sherlotta.  But we don't know!   Is this the face of a guinea murderer?

Exhaust Pipe
Most sadly of all - both puppies are now on probation.  If there are any more murders here at "Death Acres", and we don't know who did it, then both puppies are most likely going to have to find new homes.  And that will break my heart.  I just love Exhaust Pipe and think he is going to make an excellent dog once he gets out of "teenage puppy" stage.  But ... if he's a chicken/guinea killer, then I know he can't stay.  :(

Only God knows who the culprit is:

"Are not two sparrows [or 1 guinea!] sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care." - Matthew 10:29

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Montessori - my latest obsession

My kids and I like to throw the word "obsession" around a lot.  Hunter loves to chat with the check out people at Walmart and tell them that he is "obsessed with nightlights and electricity."  He tells them that "Solomon is obsessed with tractors."  Everyone in the family knows whatever Tabby's latest obsession is. (Her's tend to change every few months, though all things Lord of the Rings has stayed for over a year now.) Tabby recently informed me that I was "obsessed with Montessori things."

I grew up in a family where my mom and my brother S. obsessed over things, so it's all normal to me.  And we come by it honestly - a long line of OCD types.  However, I think Frank thinks we are obsessed with using the word obsessed.  ;)

As I mentioned in a recent blogpost, I kept encountering activities labeled "Montessori" on Pinterest as I searched for ideas for things for Solomon to do.  (You can see my Montessori board here.)  Since he was very young (of course at 22 months he is still young!) Solomon has liked to sit and really focus on activities like pushing shapes into sorters, opening and closing things, stacking rings, stacking blocks, etc.  He likes using his hands and watching cause/effect type things.  He can focus very intently for long periods of time.  He used to love sorting pom poms into a divided tray:

Solomon at 18 months
When Solomon's not sitting and working on something, he zooms around the house on his riding toy at breakneck speed or doing the same outside on his tractor:

Solomon at 22 months
The only thing I knew about Montessori before my research, was that M., my youngest sister, had gone to a Montessori pre-school.  I remember picking her up in the summer to take her to swimming lessons.  But I can not remember anything else about the school.  (That was about 14 years ago I think!)  So I asked my dad and stepmom what their recollections were about M. and the school.  My stepmom recalled that there were a lot of rules and structure, which M. wasn't too fond of, but that she did enjoy the school overall.  Dad said that the school helped teach M. about structure and planning.

Oh, and I also had the vague idea that kids at Montessori schools just wander around and do whatever they want, when they want, if they want.  But as I read about Montessori, I learned that children were not "free to do as they liked" but were free to "work."  That work is productive activities.  That can be anything from cleaning up something to working on skills.  They have a need for freedom, but within limits.  In a carefully prepared environment with access to materials and experiences, a child - through their natural desire to learn - develops intellectually, physically, and emotionally.  An adults job is to teach a child to teach themself.

As I described in my last Book List post, I read the book Montessori from the Start: The Child at Home, from Birth to Age Three by Paula Polk Lillard and Lynn Lillard Jessen.  This book has a good summary of the beginnings of the Montessori education method.  It was started in the early 1900s by Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and professor of anthropology.  She said that education must begin at a child's birth as it helped children's brains to be constructed and mature.  Montessori studied children and then mapped out their characteristics and developmental stages in a way that had never quite been done before.

Most children involved in Montessori education go to special Montessori schools.  However, there is currently an increase of using the Montessori method within the homeschooling community.  I wish I had known about it and understood it earlier, so I could have immersed Solomon in more it it since birth.  But we'll go with it now, as I learn more and more.  I have a nice stack of Montessori books I'm working my way through, and I have subscribed to a number of Montessori blogs, and just joined the Montessori homeschooling community on Facebook (even though I don't get on Facebook all that often).  (I can hear Tabby's voice now "Did you pin much Montessori stuff on Pinterest today?  You're obsessed!")

Here is the first Montessori type activity I made for Solomon.  I put holes in the top of a spice jar and gave him a half dozen toothpicks to push through the holes.  He did it over and over for hours for a few days.  (He was 20 months.  This activity was actually for even younger kids.)




In some ways, I think Montessori's methods are very "modern anti-American."  They teach children that they are not the center of the universe.  Gasp!  Imagine!  ;)  I like this thought.  And something else I'm learning is just how much a child can do at a very young age.  I'm not sure what our problem is here in America, though I think some of it has to do with us being lazy in not wanting to clean up any extra messes from children or wanting to take the time to teach them things.  We seem to be continually lowering our standards as to what we expect from children continually.  The result: kids that grow up feeling entitled to everything and having very few skills and coping ability.

For example, up through the 1960s, children were consistently potty trained around 17 months.  Why did this change?  I think a huge part was because of disposable diapers.  The industry wants us to keep our kids in disposable diapers as long as possible because they get more money.  And it's so easy for parents so they don't feel as much of a push to potty train.  I did infant potty training off and on with Solomon (I was more consistent with Hunter) but earlier this spring I got serious in teaching him to go to the potty.  He still has accidents sometimes, and usually wets overnight, but during the days he most often does a good job in staying dry, wearing his underwear.  (He loves wearing underwear with Lightening McQueen from the Cars movie on them.  Every morning he picks up his underwear and says "Car!")

Another thing that we overuse in abundance here in the U.S. are sippy cups.  It's normal to see kids even at 6 years old still using them.  Why?  Young children actually do very well with drinking from little cups. Several months ago, I followed a suggestion in a Montessori book, and I bought Solomon two little glass votive holders.  (Less than $1 each at Wal-Mart.)  He uses them to drink from and rarely spills anything.  But when he does spill, he knows to get a little rag and wipe up the spill.  He also knows how to dustbust under his highchair after each meal.


Here is a fascinating tidbit from history in case you really like learning about World War II as I do.  Even though Maria Montessori taught the children to comply with society's rules and values, she did not want children to grow up complacent and dependent as adults.  Her own experience with fascism, Nazism, and communism lead her to see that freedom of thought was universally needed.  Because of her "insistence on fostering the ability to think for oneself--and the success of her educational approach in doing so--that both Mussolini and Hitler ordered all Montessori schools in their respective regimes closed in the 1930s.  Montessori schools were the only secular educational institutions so designated."  (from Montessori from the Start, p. 198.)

I know this post has gotten long, so I need to wrap it up.  But I will leave here with one last thought - is the Montessori method right for all children?  Those that deeply believe in it would say "yes" I'm sure.  But I wonder if Tabby would have ever enjoyed the activities.  She was an extremely high energy and demanding baby and little girl.  She wanted nothing more than to be free to run and play outside, preferably catching frogs and lizards.  But who knows, maybe being presented with these activities would have helped her learn to focus.

Tabby at 3 yrs. old holding a little tree frog
"And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." - Romans 12:2