• Art,  WIP Fridays

    Art Friday Returns!

    Well, technically it never left, exactly. It just wasn’t here.

    If you follow me on Instagram you know that I never stopped making art over the last year. There was a significant lull from August to December-ish. Part of that was due to illustrating a book for a dear friend, Vince Costa. I couldn’t manage any more brain space than that! Towards the fall it was sheer exhaustion and keeping one’s head above water, as Elliana steadily deteriorated and was just not sleeping well, which meant I wasn’t sleeping well.

    I kept drawing and painting as time allowed, but not in any significantly formal way. I picked up my 365 Handbook project again sometime mid-March, and finally filled in the second of the two Handbooks. If I had kept to the original intention, I would have filled up six of those little sketch books in one year, but that clearly didn’t happen. I’m happy with the two I have now. I don’t know that I’ll return to that project ever again, but it gave rise to such fertile ground for further explorations.

    I got a bit sidetracked after I finished the Handbook project on my watercolor work, because the sketch book I chose that was supposed to handle wet media profoundly did not. Oh the bleed! The muddiness! The wrinkling! It was awful. I had made my choice oh so carefully because of my limited finances and was so disappointed when it turned out so bad and wouldn’t be fit for watercolor or gouche at all. I resigned myself to having to use it for awhile.  Funny thing, though. It was perfect for charcoal and pencil work. And would you know it? All of the sudden, these little characters came pouring out on the page. These old-timey ladies and gents. They’ll come for a visit next week, but you can see them over on Instagram.  Somehow, I can’t help but think that the sketch book snafu was the best thing to happen to my art process lately. I had no idea these people lived in my head!

    Thanks to my brother’s kindness, I was able to purchase another sketchbook for watercolor, and I chose the Handbook Journal Co. Watercolor 8 x 8. I should have known after using the smaller 4 x 4 Drawing ones for my 365 project. They were meant for charcoal and pencil work, and they held up to all sorts of media throughout the project, even when they weren’t intended for it. The Watercolor is dreamy. It takes the media so beautifully. I am itching to get to work in it! I never thought I’d have two sketchbooks going at one time, or have a billion more ideas for both sketchbooks than I’ll ever get time to do in them, but Glory! What a wonderful ‘problem’ to have.

    I told you yesterday of my intense artist’s crush on Breezy Brookshire. I have been following her for ever so long, all the way back to the olden blog days. She is self-taught, and it was her illustrating style that I first fell in love with. There’s a direct line between my ever starting an art pursuit and Breezy’s work. She inspired me so much! Without her, I wouldn’t be here, three years into pursuing art and illustration. I still have such a long way to go, but the journey is so much fun.

    The other artist that I just discovered this week via Jeanne Oliver is Mish Wooderson. I am falling head-long down the rabbit hole of her IG feed and blog! I love the sense of rootedness and place you get from her work. It’s making me think. I love her decorating style too.

    I’d love to see what you’ve been up to lately! Share in the comments. It doesn’t have to be “art” either- poetry? Good bread? A delicious steak? A cozy corner? I wanna see!

  • the kitchen arts

    ‘Beyond gluten free’ and other woes, and the life-saving solution!

    Feeding my large family is always well, interesting, but it got so much more…erm…challenging after Elliana’s Celiacs diagnosis. Oh my word, that first grocery bill afterwards! I still shudder when I think about it. I realized very quickly what a friend of mine meant went she said “we eat beyond gluten free”, echoing Joel Salatin’s “beyond organic” quip. If you buy the gluten free counterparts to your normal processed food (like macaroni and cheese), you will pay double and triple what it usually costs, and don’t even get me started on gluten free “bread” that runs $6-8 dollars a loaf and tastes like, well, cardboard. Over half of the things we bought her that first month she never ate because it tasted so bad.

    Then we tried to have two separate cooking areas and cooking her meals separately from ours. This never worked properly. Up until recently, she was extremely sensitive to cross-contamination. For her, cross-contamination meant at least twenty four hours of severe gastrointestinal upset and high fever for three or four days. It was not. fun. For her or for us. It also felt doubly expensive to me, and much of her food would sit in the refrigerator until it was eventually thrown away because she was only one small kiddo with a near toddler sized stomach and never could fully eat even the single sort of portions we’d make for her.

    The only option left, as my friend gently and teasingly tried to tell me, was for us all to eat gluten free from scratch. We figured that out about oh, month two.

    It’s taken me FOUR years to finally get a handle on it. Our grocery budget has been all over the place over the intervening years. I’ve tried all sorts of gluten-free and vegan cookbooks (vegan/vegetarian cookbooks are often easy to make gluten free). It’s been a mess. What’s also been a struggle for us, too? The unpredictability of our schedule. I always meal plan and shop for the week (our finances would never survive without it), but there have been times that a whole week’s worth of food rots in the refrigerator because someone has been admitted or something else unexpected and without James or I available, the meals planned can’t be made. It was always one thing when we knew that something was coming up- there would always be caregiver friendly meals on the plan- frozen, crockpot, simple type things. I swear, though, that seemed to happen only one time out of five. It has been a formidable thorn-in-my-side for years now.

    On one such occasion sometime in January of this year…an ER visit, if I’m not mistaken…a nurse heard me bemoaning this very aspect. I can’t remember if I was on the phone with someone or if I was speaking to my husband as she came in or out but the bottom line is, she said that she overheard me talking about the whole gluten free, kids, meal-planning thing, and “had I ever heard of Trim Healthy Mama?” She said, their “plan” aside, the cookbooks were chock full of kid friendly gluten free (or almost gluten free) recipes “and a lot of them can be frozen ahead of time”.

    Y’all, I wish I had her name. I could literally kiss her and name my first grandkid after her. It has been a tremendous life saver, and we are finally on track in both meal prep and planning and our grocery budget. Actual predictability? Sanity? What is this rare bird of which you speak? <weak grin>

    We have yet to hit a THM recipe that my kids have hated. Do you have any idea how impossible this is? Do you know how many ‘gluten free’ meals I’ve made from recipes over the years have sat poked at and barely eaten and some we’ve just given up and thrown away because none of us could stomach them? It’s like angels are singing somewhere, seriously. We also choose to eat vegetarian due to religious reasons during parts of the year, and it was, quite literally, something that would leave me in tears trying to deal with and plan for. For something that was supposed to reduce distractions, it was a profound distraction. Not anymore. Glory!

    Obviously, we started using the THM recipes just for survivals sake, not worrying what it was (E, S, FP, or XO)- I didn’t even look at that! We just wanted good food that didn’t cost an arm and a leg and was relatively easy to make. I have ever so slowly been transitioning my family “on plan” since about half of us have some weight issues we need to deal with, and I’ve found it very doable. That being said, I noticed right out of the gate using those recipes just for dinner that it started making a change in my kiddos. They were fuller, happier, and calmer, and some health issues started to shift. And that was one meal a day. It will be interesting to check in again in another six months to see what we think with us eating on plan. The best part, though, is Elliana. She loves the food- she eats seconds and thirds and fourths sometimes, a miracle I never thought I’d see. She gets ‘bread’ that she likes. (We like it too.) My child is eating! Can I put it in all caps? MY CHILD IS EATING.

    Most of the meals can be made and frozen ahead of time. We take an afternoon one Saturday a month and have at it. No more grabbing food on the go, no more caregivers being caught in a lurch, it’s already there, easy to pull out when it gets all harum-scarum. Cue angels singing again.

    Our favorite book, of course, is the Trim Healthy Table that came out just over the last year. It is especially geared to families. The Trim Healthy Mama Cookbook is good too (and it has some single-serving recipes that might be helpful if it’s just one person), but it doesn’t seem to have as many kid-flavor friendly recipes, so if you’re debating with kids in mind, go with Trim Healthy Table first. I recently checked out the actual Trim Healthy Mama Plan book from the library, and I’m learning tons. My favorite online sources for help? Breezy Brookshire’s mom, MamaShire, and Briana Thomas. I have a crazy artist crush on Breezy, but that’s a story for another day. If you have diet/allergy meal issues, I can’t recommend these cookbooks enough. They’ve already done all of the hard work for you, and it’s one less thing you have to puzzle over. Whether or not you ever use ‘the plan’ itself, they are worth every penny.

  • the learning arts

    Measuring time: Chronos and Kairos and learning…

    I could start this post off with some wise quote about homeschooling, but sometimes, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig. Sometimes, things just, well, stink.

    The 2017/2018 school year went upside down, sideways, and so far off center it still leaves me fighting back tears to reflect on it. We have managed to homeschool through some incredibly difficult situations (like the first year that Elliana and Josiah fell sick, for example). We’ve homeschooled through great, smooth years. As stress and all goes, this year was nowhere near as complicated or intense as that first year of illness was, and yet somehow, we managed to accomplish so little. We had a great start. We got through about a third of our Term 1, and then things just rapidly deteriorated. Elliana’s hospitalization happened early November; James’ car accident followed closely after, and then the holidays swept through.

    We started back in January with every good intention, and then the whole family promptly got sick, as families tend to do in the winter months. Each kid kept up with their individual work as they could, but our group studies, which had already taken a substantial hit late in the Fall, fell behind even further. Elliana began to deteriorate again towards the end of the month, and then Cincinnati Children’s happened- meaning we’d have to leave all of the other children home with a caregiver while we spent almost a week away. Our group studies fell even farther behind. I blinked, and it was suddenly early April before everything stabilized again.

    I was shocked to discover in mid-April that we had not come close to completing our Term 1 work- a term that usually ends the last week of November. It’s not that our Term 1 work was overly difficult or demanding (which can sometimes be the problem-expectations too high- but that’s another post altogether), but the sheer amount of time to actually sit and work was utterly lacking this year in ways that haven’t been true previously. And it really showed. A lot of our learning days together in late March and early April felt just awful. One student was taking ages and ages to read a short, short passage. Another child was crying over one math problem for half an hour. And read alouds? What read alouds? It’s not unusual for us to read somewhere around a hundred books (picture books, audio books, novels) each year together. This year? Three. We all felt miserable.

    With Easter/Pascha coming up, I decided to take a true break and reconnoiter. This was also a weird situation, too–the fact that it wasn’t until ‘Spring Break’ that we were actually taking a true, official, put it all away and breathe, break. Because things had been so off kilter we hadn’t been taking any Sabbath weeks, like we usually do. We just kept picking up where we left off prior to whatever appointment or crisis had occurred. I think this was my first mistake. As much as was possible, we should have tried to stay true to our original rhythm. It works well for us; it’s been honed over many years of learning together.

    The second mistake I made, truthfully? I forgot that the point of education is not to tick off some box or finish some book or what have you, but mastery. And mastery moves on a completely different time table. If you’re getting locked into plans and schedules and all, or (like me) you’re guilting yourself into finishing a whole bunch of lessons because ‘you’ve gotten so far behind’ due to illness, you will, as I learned to my sorrow this year, shove your kids forward into concepts they aren’t ready for or you will overwhelm them with too much to learn in too short a time. This is when a kids starts crying over one math problem, another kid struggles mightily for much longer than they should need to read aloud a short passage, and everyone is miserable. You lose the joy and the reason why you all wanted to do this in the first place!

    Don’t confuse kairos and chronos time. If you’ve only got ten minutes, make sure it’s ten minutes of kairos with that kid! Love on them. Listen. Read. Talk. Don’t let those precious minutes get stolen away in a pile of ‘things needing done’. Ten minutes of kairos will add up to hundreds of chronos minutes, trust me. That’s the juicy, lovely, wonderful, best-kept secret of homeschooling- that God’s grace and your little loaves, lovingly given, will multiply. And how!

    I am grateful to report that we returned from Spring Break with fresh perspective (and I stepped off the guilt train), things rapidly improved. I went back to what I knew to be true: spend time with your kids, play games, read books. Really listen to what’s going on. The kid that was struggling with math needed to play some math games with me for a few weeks to reinforce the missing link that was causing so much terror with that math problem- after that, not only that problem but whole pages of math disappeared under the student’s pencil, done with a smile and a laugh and “hey, mama, did you notice that when you do this to this it can make this happen” aha moments of mastery. Same with the kid that was slogging through their Reader. Has it been perfect since? No. But we’re all wanting to come to the table each morning, and that’s the difference.

    As it stands, we really just needed literal time to invest where we want to go, so we’re working through the summer, which is new to us. We are getting together on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the rest of the the week left to more typical summer pursuits. I’ve been surprised at how much gets accomplished in a few short hours, and also, at the one on one tutoring time that is somehow happening again. It wasn’t exactly ideal to work through the summer at first, but I do feel like it has been a wise investment: a kairos investment, the way I want to spend my time.

  • the home arts

    Mindful Money: Medical Budgeting

    I’m hoping to tuck in here a little bit each week-day. I used to write very long form posts, and I’m sure I still will, but I feel like I’m also starting to write to my children a bit. Little bite sized lessons for later, if they find themselves in similar situations. And who knows, maybe someone else finds them useful too?

    So how are we doing financially? It’s where I left off, a year ago, and a good place to pick up.

    By the end of this month, we will have paid off all of the current medical bills. These are all of the bills we incurred over this last year, especially the ones related to Elliana’s hospitalization in November and her surgery in June.

    There were other things as well: one of the big kids had some seriously weird blood work come back during a routine physical that had to be followed up with an abdominal ultrasound to check his liver/spleen, and etc. (He was fine, eventually, but it was a bit of a scare.)

    My husband hasn’t ever been in the best of health since his near death from mononucleosis the first year we were engaged. (What an adventure that was. My oh my.) He’s constantly had upper respiratory issues–he was hospitalized  five times in our twenties, once in the ICU, for pneumonia– ever since, and it seems like his ‘bucket’ of health overflows quickly because of it. He’ll often catch something the rest of the family has much worse and much longer. You can only imagine how the sudden stress of two chronically ill kids affected him. He’s been running on fumes for three years, probably longer. As you can imagine, that came to a head. He was involved in a pretty nasty rear-end car crash not days after Elliana was released from the hospital in November, and it was the last straw. He had a bad concussion. His body finally said, enough is enough, and he’s been working ever since to get healthier. They had to run quite a few tests (including an MRI and ultrasounds) that weren’t related to the concussion at a few separate points. It was hard not to see the dollar signs just clicking past. That ran from November well into March. He is doing quite a bit better lately, and we’re hopeful that we can get him back to a pre-mononucleosis level of energy and immune-response.

    As I mentioned a year ago, our finances have taken such a huge hit. Going into this August, I feel like I am finally breathing a bit easier in that realm. We still have a tremendous way to go, of course. We couldn’t pay for our homeschool curriculum for the upcoming year; my parents assisted us. James’ parents have had to chip in on home repair issues that have come up this last year.  We’ve had to depend on not just our parents but extended family members and friends for help with gas and groceries at various points. When the sudden trips to Cincinnati loomed, friends raised the funds to pay for it in about three weeks. The good side of what seems sort of cruddy in this is that we aren’t going into any more debt and haven’t for a bit now. We have quite a load from the kids’ original hospitalizations that will take much longer to pay off, but I feel like things are finally beginning to stabilize and we can begin the baby steps again.

    What would I tell myself four or five years ago as I was digging into Dave Ramsey’s advice for the first time?

    Rethink your medical budget line. The more annually-related budgeting categories, I’ve noticed, often catch short shrift. Yes, most of us probably think “I need to divide my car insurance premium that I only pay twice a year into a monthly breakdown” for the budget, but it’s the more nebulous things that invariably come up at least once a year (a car repair, home repair, medical expenses) that are harder to understand and budget for.

    I’ve found in talking to so many that how their health insurance premiums work and what their co-pay obligations are hardly on their radar, let alone on their budget lines. This is the blessed ignorance of good health. If you and your family are relatively healthy and only visit once or twice a year, maybe a broken arm here, a bad case of the flu there, it won’t ever really bump your radar. I pray that you get to stay in that blissful state of health, but I won’t let you stay ignorant.

    I’m not an insurance specialist or educator, but let me tell you what I’ve learned in the school of hard knocks.

    Learn what your responsibility is for your healthcare.  What is your member (or individual) deductible? What is your family deductible? What is your split on care? 80/20? 90/10, 70/30? As soon as you know what your deductibles are, save for them. If it’s a $300/member deductible and you have eight members, that’s $2400 that needs to get tucked away. This member deductible and the family/group deductible often do not correspond. Know what the difference is between your individual number is and the family deductible and save the difference. If it’s $3000 and you know that individual is $2400 total, you need to save $600 more dollars. Keep making a line for this for at least two years- the first year you will most likely dip into this number, and you want to keep it at a fully funded level which should be reasonably easy to do the second year (unless all heck hits the fan like it did with us!). Your deductible is in addition to your premium- don’t confuse them!

    Keep in mind that copays do not apply to your deductible. You might look at that package that comes from Human Resources and think, well, $20 for a primary care and $35 for a specialist is okay, especially if you only have to deal with it once or twice a year. THIS is what can routinely send our family underwater on any given month. When you have multiple family members who are ill and who have to see not only their primary care but also multiple specialists in a given month, that co-pay number can quickly climb into four digits a month and there is no way to budget for them during an emerging health crisis. It’s one thing once specialist visits become recurring and scheduled- you can begin to get a feel for what you need when. But this is rarely the case in a sudden medical crisis. You want to see co-pays as low as possible when you are looking at your insurance. Check your co-pays against market norms to know whether they are reasonable or not. If you have completed all the Ramsey baby steps, I’d encourage you to budget at least one primary copay and one specialist copay each month. You might not ever need it, but if you do, it will give you yet another cushion on top of your deductible cushion to deal with just such occasions as have happened to us. I can’t express to you how fast this happens. They are called medical emergencies for a reason.

    KNOW YOUR SPLIT. This is the item you can’t really budget for, but not knowing what it is will devastate your finances in a medical emergency. You also need to know if both your health insurance and your automobile insurance covers ambulance/helicopters. Most do not. You want this split to be as low as possible. If your child is suddenly hospitalized (as ours were) in a non-trauma way, you are on the hook for your split of it. Say a surgery for a kid costs $6000. Your insurance pays 80% of that, and you have to pay the 20% in addition to your deductible. You have to pay $300 deductible, PLUS the 20% of the split before the insurance will pay anything. Trauma is most often covered by your homeowners or automobile insurance, which is also important to know- car accidents, fires, acts of God type injuries are rarely covered by your health insurance and they will make sure you know it and there is tons of subrogation paperwork that has to be waded through. Again, you want to have the lowest split or no split possible. No split insurance plans are exceedingly rare and if you’re that lucky, I’m kinda jealous.

    Frankly, I’d love to hear from someone with major medical issues/chronic health issues children that use a cost-sharing program in lieu of insurance. I’ve often wondered what the differences would be.

    I’m no expert, by any means, but I’d be happy to answer any questions you might have. I’d much rather help you find the experts you need now when it’s all going swimmingly than have you wait until you’re completely underwater like we were. How I wish I had known how byzantine and convoluted medical insurance was then. I would have started to educate myself about it well, then. If wishes were horses.