Thursday, April 1, 2021

I Started a New Blog! Head on Over

Married Longer Than Not

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Part 2 of Pride and Anger: Accepting Yourself

 "God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference."

This post is Part 2 on parenting exceptional kids.  Click here to read Part 1.  

Lord, make me humble but not yet.

Marriage and motherhood can force us to see ourselves as we really are.  It's hard to accept yourself!

A recent thread on the Facebook group "Not So Formulaic" discussed how we can cultivate love for our difficult child.  One mom, Julie, commented that it's all very humbling when you didn't expect being a mom to be so hard.  She wrote:
"...before I became a mother, I was fairly successful at most things I had tried.  Motherhood has brought out things in me that I didn't even know were there.  I had always been taught that being a parent helps you to grow in holiness, but I don't think I was prepared for what that really meant.  Even though the blackness of my heart is not what I wanted or even thought was in there, I think God has used it to reveal and prune things in me I didn't even think I struggled with."

It can be jarring when the focus on "fixing things" turns from fixing your child's behavior to fixing your mindset.  I remember wanting to scream to one of my kids who was dawdling as we were piling into the car, "GET WITH THE PROGRAM!" when in reality I was the one who needed to chill and adopt some reasonable expectations.  Ginny, of the Facebook group "Not So Formulaic," wrote:
"There was a time that I spent a lot of effort wallowing in my despair, feeling like things were never going to get better and becoming increasingly more convinced that I was raising menaces to society (I'm being dramatic but you get the drift).  I was very angry, and my kids knew it.  When I had a massive fit and collapsed in a heap of tears only to have my 5-year-old kneel down next to me and beg God to save her mommy, that's when I finally resolved to get help."
She writes about this here.  Since then she has developed a treasure chest full of resources for parents having some of the same struggles.  For many of us it takes hitting some kind of rock bottom to let go of our pride and get the help we desperately need.

Getting help may mean a parenting class, counseling or medical consultation for you along with a professional evaluation, diagnosis, and therapies for your child.  It may also mean a big change in lifestyle, job, or schooling choices.  Since anxiety and depression can make parenting even harder than it already is, getting holistic help and re-setting family dynamics are crucial.  Be prepared:  your marriage may improve.  And that's where you can begin to see the hard work and long-suffering pay off.  You are becoming a better person (even if some days you'd be happier to go back to who you used to be).  You are being stretched to the limit and that's when you can grow in humility.

It's refreshing when your struggles lead to a sudden "Eureka!" moment, like one mom, Jessica, describes after finding herself resentful of her son's repeated misbehavior:  
"Wow, how unfathomable is the love and mercy of God.  Because how many times have I sinned the SAME sin a thousand times again and again?  God probably has the same exasperations when I do what He's 'told me not to' over and over...He forgives me as many times as it takes.  He never resents me, He is always completely willing to welcome me back with open arms, even knowing I'll screw up again.  And I realize I'm called to have this kind of love and mercy for my son.  As the Father loves me, so am I called to love my own son."
And that's when you realize that by accepting yourself, embracing humility and asking for God's grace everyday, you are in a much better place than you were before.  Oftentimes it is by accepting your child, and then yourself that your faith life grows by leaps and bounds.  Your marriage and all of your personal relationships can only improve, and you have that difficult child to thank for it.

A Montessorian's Examination of Conscience: Pride and Anger

“There are two sins, in particular, which tend to distort our true vision of the child. They are pride and anger. Hence, humility and patience – their opposites – are the virtues most needed by the would-be directress.”  E.M. Standing

The above quote could just as easily apply to a parent, especially one in a constant state of anxiety over her child.  But our anger, anxiety and frustration can get all mixed up.  Sometimes what looks like our anger is really fear--that our quirky child will never make friends--or sometimes it's our shame or frustration with his behavior--ohmygoodness, would you PLEASE stop screaming because everyone in the checkout line is staring at us!  We may not always realize that our desire to be respected by those around us--at church, at a family reunion, at a work-related barbeque--has slowly eclipsed our desire to love and nurture, and our drive to responsibly raise the child God has given us has lost out to our drive to impress.  

Everyone's children embarrass them at some point.  In response we may giggle or we may get angry and harshly correct them.  Or maybe we calmly correct in the moment and laugh about it later.  Which response is for the child's best interest?  Which is just the result of our pride? 

A child's behavior can cause us to question his future, our sanity, or our own parenting.

In this recent post  "To the Catholic Mom Raising 'That Kid'" Ginny Kochis writes eloquently about her frustrations as her then 3-year-old daughter throws a tantrum in a diner.  She assumes she's doing something wrong as a mother.  She feels judged.  She compares her daughter's behavior to that of children at church and the homeschool co-op.  Later, long after her daughter's diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder, she came to some important realizations, such as:  "Your child’s struggles are not a result of poor parenting."

Parents can feel alone in the trenches when their child is different.  Ginny Kochis writes a blog for parents of differently-wired kids called "Not So Formulaic:  Raising Exceptional Kids Rooted in Extraordinary Love" in which she gives suggestions on educating your children with a mixture of flexibility, ingenuity, and advocacy.  She also started a Facebook group and a members-only community called The Zelie Society to support families with exceptional children.  It's a blessing to have that kind of support, but what about the parent who isn't there yet?  Who has brushed aside suggestions their child may be more than just "quirky," or "SO sensitive," or "intense," or "hyper"?  There's a world of difference before and after diagnosis, with many parents relieved when the results of evaluations finally come in.  When an objective observer and a "childhood milestones" checklist or a genetic test tells it like it is, we can finally start on the road to acceptance.
It's a watershed moment in our materialistic culture to realize that our children are not our own.  Yes, we have a sacred responsibility to raise them the best we know how.  To teach them to know their creator, to have concern and self-less love for others, to control their own base impulses and to use the brain God gave them and His gifts to follow some kind of vocation in life.  But mostly we need to remember ourselves that each child is a gift from God, no matter whether Grandma can't stand the way your daughter chews her nails or the neighbor thinks it's weird your son spends hours spinning upside down on the swings.  It may be really, really hard to raise your child with special needs--whether those needs are visible or invisible--but your struggles are part of your path to Heaven.

Cold comfort when you are exhausted from the latest meltdown or resentful that you can't socialize or entertain like you used to.  Maybe you feel guilty again because she's just pushed all of your buttons and you lost it, or maybe because he's just SO HARD TO LOVE.  Extra guilt if you have other children who are perfect angels and you find yourself wondering why he can't be more like them.  

When you don't feel up to the task of loving your child, ask God for the grace to.  Beg Him for humility, humor and patience.  Do little things, like one mom, Anne--mother to a boy on the autism spectrum.  She wrote:
"My ASD boy was so, so difficult, and I felt my heart hardening to him, resenting him, etc.  I made a conscious effort to spend time with him when he was calm, to look at his face and think of God's love for him, and to actively be kind to him.  I thought a lot about St. Therese and how she went out of her way to be kind to the nun she didn't like.  Gradually, it became easier."
Taking practical steps helps.  When Standing used the word "patience" above I think he meant putting our own timetable aside, but not ignoring issues (see this post to learn what I mean by that).  And I agree with those who say we need to try to help our child be agreeable and sociable--that's part of our job as parents and teachers.  We just need to do the hard work of learning what reasonable expectations are for our child.  If your child were blind, there are many things you would not expect him to do.  But you would also make sure he had special classes in reading Braille, how to use a walking cane, and maybe get a guide dog.  You also, as a parent, would seek out support groups or agencies to help you on your journey.  The support, information and encouragement you would receive would be critical!

In the same way, parents of children with other kinds of special needs have to let go of unreasonable expectations and find support.   The key may be their moment of "annunciation," where parents are fully aware and can embrace the special calling to which they've been invited.  It may not be what they expected at all, but many special needs parents will tell you that they wouldn't change their circumstances--despite the crosses, toils and disappointments they may endure.

You are not alone if you pray for the grace to accept your child.  Read about the next step, accepting yourself, in Part 2, here.  

Even once we accept our children for who they are we may still worry about them being misunderstood or bullied for being different.  This is a song my sister wrote after watching her own child bullied by the neighborhood kids (click for music):

I Have Watched You
© Marie Bellet, Ordinary Time Music, 2001

I have watched you standing there
Acting like you just don’t care
While others laugh and point and stare
And oh, how I love you

I have watched your hopeful grin
Get back up and try again
Right back in the lion’s den
And oh, how I love you

I have watched you from afar
Can it be that you don’t know how beautiful you are?

I have watched you and I see
All you suffer patiently
And the wonder of a heart that’s free
And oh, how I love you

I have watched you from afar
Can it be that you don’t know how beautiful you are?

Gentle child, now, don’t despair
For I have counted every hair
If you could know what I’ve prepared
And oh, How I love you
Oh, how I love you

Friday, February 26, 2021

Montessori at Home: Work in the Kitchen Can Be Math, Sensorial, Practical Life and Science All at Once

Your Kitchen Can Be Your Learning Hub

This lovely "Fruits and Seeds" printable matches together some of our favorite fruits with their seeds. I created this printable to be a conversation starter with the child. The fruit and the seeds are the beginning and ending of the plant life-cycle. -
(For a free download go to website.)

From Smells and Taste to Botany, Chemistry, and Physics

Outgrown Beginning Practical Life Works?  Level Up!

During this past year, many of us are spending more time at home than in years previous.  You or your spouse may be working from home; your children may be schooling from home; or your normal circuit of volunteering, errands and socializing may be severely curtailed.

Dinner burnt.  Again.  My friend lost her sense of smell recently due to Covid-19 and has burned dinner every night for the past week!  Montessori Sensorial works include the smelling bottles (easy to DIY), and stopping to smell spices, ingredients, and dinner while it cooks can "count" as school, too!

For all of these reasons, plus the fact that your favorite restaurants may be closed, you may be spending more time in the kitchen than ever before.  I know I have!  I am grateful that, unlike some of my friends with Covid-19, I still have a sense of smell (see photo above of my sick friend's burnt casserole) and to still have decent hearing so that I can still hear the oven timer going off, the pot of water boiling and the sizzle of fresh veggies in hot oil.  I'm actually pretty new to cooking on a regular basis so I need to use all of my sense to navigate novel recipes.

If your children are learning to cook alongside you, they'll have lots of opportunities to learn more than the culinary arts in the kitchen.  As mentioned in this previous post, there's lots of math involved in cooking.  Let's consider also the obvious sensorial components to cooking (the sense of smell, taste, and hearing) and higher level concepts, such as botany, chemistry and physics.


All Montessori classrooms include Sensorial materials, which help a child from age 3 and up to classify his sense impressions by noticing similarities and differences.  Exercises such as the Smelling Bottles help fine tune a child's sense of smell; the Color Boxes help the child distinguish between different colors; the Taste Bottles help a child discriminate between different tastes; and so on.  (Sometimes you hear about our eight senses, which include the proprioception, interoception, and vestibular senses.) These works are sometimes called the Keys to the Universe because they help a child make sense of the world he's been absorbing since even before birth!

Next time you are in the kitchen with your child, stop to smell your ingredients together.  Sniff the yogurt to see if it's gone bad.  Or smell the difference between a vine ripe tomato that's room temperature and a grape tomato that's been in the fridge.  Get a whiff of each spice as you measure them out.  Or just enjoy the smell of a cake as it bakes.

It's not hard to imagine using taste as you go.  One example:  if you aren't sure if a white crystals are salt or sugar, taste it. Another:  taste a soup as it cooks to determine if it needs more salt.

What about hearing?  The sizzle in the pan, the buzz of the timer, the rolling boil of the water all can be indicators.  There was even recently a contestant on The Great British Baking Show who claimed he could tell when his cakes were done baking by listening carefully to a slight bubbling!

The sense of touch can indicate if a fruit is ripe, unripe or overripe.  And it can guesstimate whether your water is "warm" for proofing yeast.  Or tell you if your eggs and butter have come to room temperature.  You can even determine whether your pasta is ready by doing the "al dente" test.

Finally, you can use an eagle eye to spot mold on the tortillas, pick out a banana that's just right for baking banana bread, or determining whether the tomatoes you're roasting are just brown enough to begin adding to your soup pot.

You get the idea.  All of these can be part of further training the senses.  It's interesting to note that practicing can really improve your ability to make distinctions.  For instance, I learned that Covid-19 sufferers who have lost their sense of smell can actually regain that sense through Olfactory training.  (There is a second video as well.)  For a demo of how to use the Montessori Smelling Bottles and how to DIY your own, check out At home.  


All Montessori classrooms have a Botany Cabinet (sometimes called a Leaf Cabinet) as part of their Sensorial area.  While the leaf shapes are the main focus, you could easily "branch out" (pun intended!) in other directions.  Just this week I used fresh basil leaves, oregano, thyme and a dry bay leaf while cooking.  A child could identify what sort of leaf shapes spices have, as well as looking up what continent they come from.  Here's some background:  Botany Cabinet.  And here's a resource:  Leaf Shape Chart.

Some veggies, such as parsnips and scallions, are easy to propagate from cuttings.  


"Please pass the NaCl," said no one, ever, at the dinner table.  But you could teach your child the chemical symbol for salt as well as "H2O."  Another chemistry-related topic came up just this week in our fifth-grader's science homework:  when you cook an egg, is the change a chemical one or a physical one?  (Answer:  although there are physical changes, it's considered a chemical change because, once cooked, you cannot change the egg back into its original state.). Carmelization and burning are also chemical changes.  Also, the Maillard reaction (or browning) is easily shown.  

If you save, rinse and dry eggshells for pounding with a mortar and pestle or crushing up by hand, the children can add the calcium carbonate to plants.  If you save scraps and eggshells for composting, look up a little about the chemistry of that.

If the kids really seem to be interested, check out this page!  Or for a lesson plan for a simple experiment of how the taste of a cracker changes in your mouth over time, see this page.


My husband the physicist is constantly nerding out about simple machines in the kitchen.  It turns out there are some good videos about this, relating knives, graters and can openers to these simple machines.  Simple machines in the kitchen in one and here is another. If you really want to delve into this topic, the creator of the first video goes into more detail here.

You might wonder out loud why the baking times for a cake are different if the pan is glass rather than metal (they conduct heat differently) or point out that the boiling water on the stove is evaporating (two states of matter).  Another simple heat demonstration is to show that a wooden trivet under a hot pot protects the dining table or countertop better than, say, a thin sheet of aluminum foil (don't ruin the table or countertop, though!).  

Books for YOU

If you are really getting interested in this topic, there are several good books for adult food geeks out there.  Here are just two:

EDITED TO ADD:  Just for fun, try this---maybe it could even work with a plastic knife that's safe?

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Montessori Book Review: One Mom's Journey to Her Son's Autism Diagnosis and Treatment

As a Doctor, She Saw the Signs but Nobody Would Listen

At First Her Baby Boy Was Developing Normally

From Feeling Helpless to Recognizing a Special Connection and Later a Miracle

Children with special needs can benefit from therapeutic horseback riding.

Years before opening her first school in San Lorenzo, Dr. Maria Montessori studied and worked with children with special needs.  She spent two years training teachers in her unique way of observing and educating, always experimenting with what methods were the best at helping the children develop.

Today careful observation and a thorough knowledge of child development are foundational to the Montessori method.  That's one reason why trained teachers will often spot atypical development very early on--long before others will pick up on it.

Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a great example of a condition that a keen observer may suspect at an early age.  A person with ASD has challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, all of which may be observed while a child is a baby or toddler.  That's what mother and author Suzanne S. Cleland-Zamudio, M.D., described in her book, Evolution of a Miracle:  A Medical Family's Journey Through Autism.  

In it, Cleland-Zamudio described her son Antonio, who went from hitting all of his neurological milestones at 1 year old to regressing by 18 months.  Her concerns grew and grew as he developed, but the specialists she took him to reassured her that he was fine.  The fact that he was non-verbal, had big tantrums, and rocked back and forth worried her, so she persisted in getting a diagnosis.  He was extremely sensitive to any change in his routine, he screamed when she washed his hair, he insisted on wearing the same clothes.....the list went on and on.  As a doctor, she knew this wasn't normal development.

Luckily, Antonio was finally diagnosed, getting the therapy and interventions he needed to improve his chances of progress.  Eventually the horseback riding his mother did as a hobby became a wonderful outlet for him, too, and Cleland-Zamudio and her husband founded a therapeutic riding center for people of all sorts of abilities.

I am not a doctor, but as a mom and a 
part-time teacher I can count several families I know of whose child has been diagnosed with ASD and other families on the journey to diagnosis.  That doesn't include acquaintances who have been diagnosed as adults (which is more common in women), families whose child has a developmental disorder which share some overlapping traits with autism, or those families who, I suspect, have at least one child on the spectrum but who are not seeking diagnosis.  That's a lot. 

It's important to add that some individuals with ASD are diagnosed later, either because their symptoms are less obvious and/or intrusive, or because they are very good at mimicking their typically developing peers in order to blend in (this is called masking).  If they make eye contact, have acquired typical language skills and don't have any outwards behaviors like hand flapping or spinning, their neurological differences may not be as apparent.  They also may not regress.  But they can still struggle to fit in at school, work, and with peers, and are at risk of much higher rates of anxiety and depression than their typically developing peers.  Sometimes their sensory sensitivities make everyday background noise distractingly loud or irritating, or the gentle breeze on an uncovered arm excruciatingly painful.  You can imagine how activities we take for granted--relaxed chitchat in a restaurant, playful wrestling on the playground--may be draining and overwhelming.

I think this topic is important for Montessorians three reasons:

  1. Montessori preschools begin at age 2.5, a good age for observing a child's development and assessing critical areas, such as language, social skills, and self-regulation.
  2. There is a growing interest in Montessori homeschooling.  Parents need to recognize red flags when their child's development is atypical so that diagnosis and early intervention can help the child early on.  Resources such as this one are important to share.
  3. Parents oftentimes cannot see their own child's development objectively and may need to hear concerns from an outside source.  Among teachers, Montessorians are particularly well-trained in observation and in child development, making us important people in a child's life.
In some ways a Montessori classroom can be a very supportive environment for those on the spectrum (for instance, there are lessons in Grace and Courtesy similar to social stories and scripting they may otherwise be practicing in therapy); in other ways the Montessori approach may not provide some of the supports some children thrive with, such as behavior charts and rewards or a highly-structured schedule.  How to best accommodate special needs students is definitely a hot topic on professional discussion groups and public forums right now.

Thanks to the internet and social media:
  • there are TONS of Youtube channels now produced by families with children on the Autism Spectrum, many of which share early videos of their child's behaviors--the very ones that lead to diagnosis.  
  • even though the pandemic has kept some concerned families home instead of seeking an evaluation in person, there are Telehealth sessions in many places.  Both evaluations and therapies may be available right from your own living room.
If you are concerned your child may be on the spectrum, this guide gives suggestions about what you can do about it.  Careful observation and sticking to the facts of typical development will be your best guides.

Montessori at Home: Practical Skills in the Kitchen--Opening Cans, Measuring Spices, Equivalencies

Pantry Full of Canned Goods, But Can You Open Them?

And How Do You Shove a Tablespoon into the Chili Powder Jar?

Problem Solving, Occupational Therapy and Executive Function Skills in the Kitchen

Does your child know how to open the can of kidney beans?

It was September 1977, an autumn day on Princeton University's campus.  My husband, a new freshman early to his dorm before most students arrived, was thirsty, so he bought a grape soda (that's what they call fizzy drinks in the Midwest).  But he was used to pull tabs and didn't recognize the new stay-tab opening at the top!  ARGH!  Eventually this physics major at an Ivy League college did figure out how to open the drink.  (Here's how.)

Fast-forward to the current pandemic.  My "Armageddon Closet" is full of canned goods, from garbanzo beans and tuna to V8 and coconut milk.  But do my children know how to open any of them?  Should the power go out (ahem--Texas Snowmageddon 2021), could they still whip up some chili and heat it over a fire in the backyard?

Silly as it sounds, I've discovered over the years that this stuff matters.  There are ten different can openers out there (not counting the screw driver on your Swiss Army Knife) and your kids may be hard- pressed to use some of them unless they've been taught.  Add to that, if they are easily frustrated or weak in executive function skills, there are lots of little problems that can be hard to solve in the kitchen.  As I mentioned in my previous post, this mother to a son with cerebral palsy wrote about how many smaller steps go into even simple recipes.  If this is something interesting to you, check out occupational therapy articles on helping the elderly, who can have a lot of the same struggles with the skills of daily living.

In America, 1 T = 3 t

Yesterday I made a new chili recipe from one of my new favorite cookbooks, The Honeysuckle Cookbook, by Dzung Lewis.  I paid close attention to small "issues" that cropped up as I cooked--things I could imagine a young child would ask for help with:
  • how do you measure out a tablespoon of chili powder when the tablespoon won't fit into the jar? 
  • how do you unwrap the plastic off of this new jar of smoked paprika?
  • how can I scoop out this garlic powder when there's this plastic grill thing on the shaker?
  • how do you use a church key?
  • etc.
(For the record, my husband's answer to these questions is usually, "Easy!  Just dump out the spices and measure what you need."  But that's wasteful and messy, so .....). Not only are these good life skills to teach your kids before they leave for college, but you can easily incorporate math and tons of other subjects while cooking (chemistry, geography, etc).

So enjoy this video of how to make Smoky Slow-Cooker Chili!

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Montessori at Home: Sourdough Hacks

Five Sourdough Tips

To Overcome Epic Fails

Don't Give Up!

omg this smells so amazing....

One of my most vivid memories from Montessori school as a child was of making whole wheat bread in tiny little loaves.  The smell was TANTALIZING and filled the whole classroom for hours.  I had never eaten homemade, warm, fresh bread before,  but it wasn't until fifty years later (during the pandemic!) that I've had it again on any kind of regular basis.  

Thanks to Youtube and Facebook I've learned a lot of trouble-shooting tips--things I normally wouldn't have the time or patience to learn.  So I'm passing these along to you!

  • During the winter, when the house may be very dry, oil some plastic wrap and place on top of dough before the bulk rise.  I also covered with damp towel (probably overkill) and then covered the bowl with a snug-fitting shower cap.

  • Put a cookie sheet on the lower rack under the rack you're baking on.
  • Preheat your dutch oven and lid.
  • Use a spray bottle of water to mist the top of dough right before baking.
  • This last tip is tricky.  Normally you are supposed to bake this bread for 20 minutes in the dutch oven with the lid on, 30 minutes with the lid off, and an additional 10 minutes without the dutch oven, where the loaf sits directly on the rack.  But this can sometimes lead to overbaking.  I recommend using a digital thermometer like this or this to check the bread's temperature right before the last step.  If it's at 208 degrees Fahrenheit, it's ready.  Especially if you'll be reheating or toasting slices of this bread later, this temp will keep if from being too dried out.  Of course it's fine to leave it in for the last 10 minutes, but keep an eye on it.  You want it crispy but not crazy crispy!

I used a recipe for Everyday Sourdough from Artisan Sourdough Made Simple by Emilie Raffa.  And while you can use a sharp knife or razor to score the dough, my Mother's Day gift last year was this lame.  

Here's a video recapping some of these tips, starting with the morning after you've done an 8-10 hour bulk rise.