How to Make a Homemade Shamrock Shake


Each March, as we prepare to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I remember those yummy, bright green Shamrock Shakes that I used to look forward to as a child.  The thing is, now that I eat a much more natural diet, they just don’t taste quite so good to me anymore.  Also, since my children have food sensitivities, they would bounce off the walls if they drank something that was so obviously artificially colored.  So, a couple of years ago, I started looking for a recipe to make my own.

This is how we make ours:

  • 4 cups of all natural vanilla ice cream
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon peppermint extract
  • 1½ cups whole milk (you could substitute any milk that you prefer)
  • Optional:
    • For green color, add 1 cup of spinach, kale, or peppermint leaves
    • For a sweeter shake, add 1 tablespoon of sugar

Blend well and top with whipped cream.  Serves: 3-4

The original recipe that I found calls for a tablespoon of sugar, but I didn’t add any sugar this time.  My family’s feedback was that it wasn’t necessary.  I also used some peppermint leaves that I had saved from my peppermint plant and frozen last summer, but I ended up adding spinach, too, in order to get the light, mint green color that I was looking for.  You honestly cannot taste the spinach and the benefit of using it is that it adds some nutrition.

This milkshake is dye free and Feingold friendly, although the use of peppermint and spinach make this a Stage 2 recipe.

I hope you enjoy making and drinking your own Shamrock Shake as much as we do.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!


Our Experience with Pediatric Stroke


Pediatric Stroke Warriors, a group that I follow on Facebook, shared this video recently to heighten awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke in a child:


Unfortunately, for our family, this is not new information.  My eight-year-old son, Jude*, was a full-term baby, delivered with the umbilical cord around his neck.  He was lethargic and his face was gray.  After a few deep breaths, he regained his color and appeared fine, but a few hours later, began experiencing focal seizures.  He was jerking his right arm, from the shoulder down, in a rhythmic manner which I recognized was not normal for a newborn.  I called the nurse, who rushed him to the neonatal intensive care unit, where they performed both a spinal tap and an MRI before he was twenty-four hours old.  The MRI found the cause of the seizures – he had suffered a stroke on the left side of his brain.

At the time, we did not know what his prognosis would be.  The doctors told us that newborn stroke patients fare better than adults because their brain is still developing, and other areas of the brain might take over functions of the part that was damaged.  As it turns out, he has been very blessed.  Because the left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, he has monoparesis (a type of Cerebral Palsy, muscle weakness caused by damage to the brain) in his right leg from the ankle down.  However, unlike many stroke survivors, he does not have speech difficulties or muscle weakness in his face, hand or arm.  He does not have any cognitive impairment, either.

He goes to physical therapy once a week, wears an AFO (ankle foot orthotic), and a device called a WalkAide.  He had a gait analysis done last year, and I had to answer a ton of questions about what he is able to do, whether he requires assistance to do it, how far he can walk, etc.  I was feeling a bit sorry for him, because we had come to the point where the brace was no longer enough, and his physiatrist felt that he needed more aggressive intervention.  Filling out that questionnaire was humbling, though.  I kept answering “yes” to almost every question, “no” to his needing assistance, and admitted that he can hike for a few miles.  The only thing I couldn’t say that he can do is play sports.  As my husband pointed out, it is unlikely that he would have been athletic, anyway, because neither of us are.

I will write a follow-up post about the more recent interventions that we have utilized, but I thought it was important to share this video and information about pediatric stroke for those who are not aware of it.  Until it happened to my son, I had no idea that a baby could have a stroke.  The sooner it is diagnosed, the sooner the patient can receive the care that they need.


*I have decided to use pseudonyms for my children, to protect their privacy.

Don’t Marry Your Method!

happy school girl on math classes

As I was preparing to embark on my homeschooling journey, I read books, consulted veteran homeschooling moms, and gathered materials.  One of those items was a set of vintage readers that was recommended for practicing oral reading.

I purchased another book to teach phonics, so we focused on that first.  My son hated it, though!  For a while, we tried practicing small passages in the reading primer instead, which he preferred.  Eventually, I resorted to splitting our time equally between the two books.  After all, the phonics curriculum had come highly recommended and I’d spent money on it.  I should use it; right?

This school year, we finally abandoned that phonics book in favor of the preferred vintage readers, and he is making significant progress.  I toyed with the idea of ditching his spelling curriculum, too, and just focusing on the new words introduced at the beginning of each lesson in his reader.  Again, though, I thought, “But I spent money on that spelling book,” and he didn’t dislike it.  As our year wore on, though, I didn’t think that he was making connections between the words in the spelling lessons when he would encounter them in other reading material, so I decided to revisit the idea of using the readers for that purpose.

As I searched for direction on how to do that, I discovered the original teacher’s manual online.  I discovered that the series was designed not only for teaching reading, but also spelling, grammar, vocabulary and composition and it seemed to me that the publisher’s intent in how they were to be utilized made perfect sense.  I believed it would be more helpful to him than what we’ve been doing so far, so I began the new year with this method.

I have asked myself why I fought these changes.  I know that I was afraid of steering away from curriculum with the teaching steps explicitly provided for me as well as overlooking the recommendations of other moms that I respect.  While reading the manual, this comment leapt out at me, “…we wish to warn the young teacher especially of the danger that the method will become a hobby unless he is careful, and that thus the end will be lost sight of in attention to the means.” 1  Consistency is important, but if what you are doing isn’t working, maybe you are putting too much faith in your curriculum, your teaching philosophy, someone’s advice, or valuing the money that you spent on that book a bit too much.   Depending on where your heart is, any of those excuses could actually be idolatry in disguise.  In the end, as I prayed for direction, God just steered me back to where I needed to be.

Maybe you have less of a tendency to get stuck in one way of thinking than I do.  If you’re like me, though, beware of marrying your method (or curriculum)!  In the end, consider what works for your individual child, pray on it and trust the leading that you receive.  Don’t be afraid to make changes.  It may be exactly what you and your child need.


1 The Eclectic Manual of Methods for the Assistance of Teachers.  Van Antwerp, Bragg & Co., 1885.

Trusting God’s Plans for My Children


This is my daughter’s third year studying classical ballet, and she loves it.  After her first year, her teacher decided to keep her in level one.  I agreed that if she hadn’t mastered the basics, it made sense for her to remain there until she was ready to move on.  After all, as a homeschool parent, I understand how important mastery is in any subject.

At the end of her second year, her teacher decided to hold her back again.  Most of her friends had moved on without her after the first year, and now, this year’s classmates would do the same, including her best friend.  I was afraid that watching her peers move ahead without her would damage her self-esteem and wondered if she should try a different activity.  Maybe she would be more successful at something else.

My husband was the voice of reason.  He said, “She loves dance.  As long as she wants to do it, who cares what level she’s at?”

So, she began her third year in level one, while taking some private lessons in addition to help her catch up.  She also wanted to try scouting, like her brother, but I had a lot of trouble finding a local troop for her.  Her best friend’s mom told me about a group that her daughter was attending that was similar to scouts, but Bible-focused instead, so we decided to try that.  However, it turned out that the time of her friend’s level two dance class conflicted with the other activity, so she couldn’t participate this year.  I briefly wondered if we should forget about it, but decided to let my daughter try it out, anyway.

She absolutely loved the new club and was very motivated to bring her book home to read the lessons with me and practice memorizing Bible verses.  Before I knew it, she was earning rewards almost every week and feeling proud of her accomplishments.  She also enjoys the time each week with her new friends.

This past week, I overheard her dance teacher compliment her during class and the thought crossed my mind that maybe she was getting ready to move up, which could happen at any time during the year.  I was initially pleased, until it occurred to me that attending the level two classes would prevent her from going to her other club.  I know that would disappoint her.

This made me reflect on how God has assigned each of us individual gifts and has a plan for us to use them.  While I was concerned about her lack of success in one area, He knew that he had another place for her, one in which she not only would excel but would do so while being immersed in His Word and learning to write the words of it on her heart.

As we enter a new year, I want to learn to trust His plans for my children more and worry less.  I know that I am leaving them in the best possible hands.


Wineberries and Trust


My little one, picking black raspberries in our yard.

A few years ago, I began picking berries to make jam.  My children have some food sensitivities, particularly to artificial ingredients.  We had some raspberries growing in our yard, and on a walk around the block, discovered an undeveloped property brimming with wineberries, a variety of wild raspberry.  My mission seemed clear – learn how to make homemade jam for my peanut butter and jelly-loving but ingredient-sensitive children.

The funny thing is, when we moved in to our home a decade ago, my husband discovered that one of our flower gardens was full of thorny red raspberry bushes.  He asked me whether I wanted to use the berries or whether he could tear them out and plant flowers instead.  I said that I wasn’t partial to raspberries, so do whatever you like.  I never dreamed that six years later, I would be braving thorns and poison ivy at the park and the property around the corner to collect as many raspberries as I could each summer.  I had a few stragglers left in my garden, but not enough to produce a jar of jam.

A couple of years into this, a friend pointed out that the berries in the park could have pesticides sprayed near them, which made them less appealing to me.  I still had some red raspberries in my garden, which were beginning to spread, and I discovered some black raspberries and blackberries in an overgrown area of my yard that my husband had partially cleared.  For wineberries, I still had my spot around the corner.  One day, though, as we took a walk, we discovered that the lot had been sold and was being cleared, so a house could be built there.  Our berry bushes were being dug up!  I suggested to my husband that we transplant one to our yard, which we did – a small one.  Eventually, that bush finally produced fruit and this year it has grown quite a bit, although it would never provide as much as we had been collecting from its original home.

Two summers ago, however, as I was collecting black raspberries on the outskirts of my property, I noticed a distinctive, fuzzy fruit developing nearby.  It was a wineberry bush!  It was not the one planted by me, nor close to it.  It was a new plant that had never been there before.  We speculated that a bird had spread the seeds there after eating some berries from our bush.  This particular bush now dwarfs the one that we planted, by far.  It is well on its way to replacing the place around the corner.  It produced so much fruit this past summer that I could barely keep up with picking it.

It amuses me to think about the time that I wasted worrying about my supply being cut off and tried to rectify it in my own way with my transplant, when God knew all along that He was going to bless me with this plant one day.  In my experience, that’s how it usually is when we rely on our own strength, instead of depending on God.  Our efforts will always be imperfect and pale in comparison to His perfect will and timing.

More importantly, that time spent waiting on Him to provide is usually the most productive in our own spiritual growth.  Learning to trust Him in a way that we never could with an earthly father (or any other human being, for that matter) stretches us in unimaginable ways.  When we stop striving to be our own God, making an idol of our own self-sufficiency, we can finally experience the peace that passes understanding.  We can focus on hearing His voice and being open to direction, which was once crowded out by our worries. .

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose hope is in the LORD.  For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” – Jeremiah 17:7-8

Maintaining a School Routine before Christmas

Golden christmas star

The homeschool community is a diverse group.  With all of the possible approaches, from classical education to unschooling, and the freedom to make your own schedule, school often looks very different for one family than it does for another.  The beauty of that is the ability to find what works for you, and that flexibility can come in handy at times.  For instance, when my husband was too busy to take time off from work this summer, we simply postponed our family vacation until October.  Homeschool families can do that!

pinkk flowers

I have found that what works best for us is having a set routine.  What that routine is can change from year to year and be adjusted as needed, but it is much less stressful for me and my children if we have a plan for each day.   Usually, this means getting up at pretty much the same time, eating breakfast, getting dressed, and beginning our school day at a set time.  The main reasons this works for us are:

  1. My children tend to cooperate more and offer less resistance to transitions when they can anticipate the next step. Knowing that there is an order to their day gives them a sense of security.  Leaving things too flexible makes them behave in an aimless manner – wanting to do one thing one moment and something completely different the next, while leaving a trail of toys behind them!  They’ll also fight requests to sit down and do seatwork, because they think that they can talk me into something else.
  2. Unexpected obstacles WILL happen sometimes. When we returned from our vacation on a Sunday evening, I tried to start school up again on Monday morning.  However, because we’d been away for a week, there was hardly any food in the house, so a supermarket trip interrupted our school day.  The next day was a holiday.  We still did school, but there were some preparations that needed to be done for that.  Next, my little one tripped and smashed her face into the kitchen floor.  A visit to the pediatrician and the ear, nose and throat doctor rounded out my week.  Then, both of my children caught a cold.  Some weeks are just like that, and if we hadn’t been productive in the weeks leading up to that crisis week, I would have been even more stressed.  Knowing that we are sticking to a schedule the rest of the time helps me ride out the crazy weeks a little better.

With the holiday season approaching, I know that there will be days that sticking to the regular schedule will be difficult.  Generally, the week before Christmas, we follow an adjusted schedule that looks something like this:

  • We continue to get up, get dressed and start school at the same time, although we usually make this week “half days.”
  • We have a lovely K – 3 Christmas learning packet that incorporates language arts, math, copywork, art and the Christmas story. I place whatever pages are grade-appropriate for the child in a binder and they take out their binders in the morning and we do a little from each subject area.  They enjoy the change from their regular curriculum, but they are still learning.
  • We spend time reading about the birth of Jesus and discussing it.

The goal is to keep things as normal as possible, so the transition after the holidays is smoother.

How do you handle the busy week before Christmas?  Do you stick to your regular schedule or do something completely different?


Using Guided Repeated Reading to Improve Fluency

Smart girl

I am in my fourth year of homeschooling my son and learning to read has been a slow process for him.  He’s made a lot of progress recently, but the one remaining obstacle that I see is for him to achieve enough fluency to feel confident reading in public.  In co-op, Sunday school or other activities, he avoids reading.  He confided in me recently that he doesn’t want to read in front of his peers because he still needs to sound some of the words out.  Most of the children that he encounters around his age don’t have to do that.

As a result, I decided that helping him to be a fluent reader needs to be our top priority right now.  I don’t want him to miss out on participating in activities that he enjoys.

We’ve often used the McGuffey’s Readers for oral reading practice, and years ago, I read on another mom’s blog that she had her children read the same lesson from a McGuffey’s Reader for five days in a row.  At the time, I was confused as to why she did that, as the lessons in the early readers are short and sweet.  As I searched for information on improving fluency, though, I discovered why – Guided Repeated Reading.  While our phonics curriculum had new passages to be read by my son each day, Guided Repeated Reading has the child read the same passage over and over until they can read it without hesitation, even if it does take five days.  The steps that we have been following are:

  • Practice reading for 30 minutes per day
  • Have the child read the same passage at least 4 times in a row
    • Supervise and make gentle corrections when needed
  • Read the passage aloud for the child at least twice to model fluent reading for them

pinkk flowers

One piece of advice that I’ve read is to model the passage at the outset of the lesson rather than having them sound it out first.  The idea is that having familiarity with it removes any anxiety that your child may have about approaching new text.  I see value in that idea, but my child is used to doing memory work (such as poems and Bible verses) and I notice that if I read through the passage for him first, he appears to be reciting portions back to me from memory, which isn’t reading.  For that reason, I have been having him sound everything out initially and then modeling it for him after he has gotten through the whole thing once on his own.

Within 3 to 6 months of following this protocol, your child’s reading is supposed to greatly improve.  We’ve been using this method for about six weeks and I can see evidence that it is working.  I’ve noticed a few improvements in particular:

  1. When he encounters a word that he has mastered in a passage that we’ve previously worked on, he often remembers the word on sight now, rather than having to sound it out as though he is seeing it for the first time.
  2. If we return to a passage that we’ve already done and moved on from, he can still read it easily.
  3. He’s becoming braver about attempting to read unfamiliar words in other situations.

Over the course of time that we’ve been doing this, he has gone from needing about three days on a new passage to being able to master it almost completely in one sitting.

If reading fluently is a struggle for your child, you may want to consider using Guided Repeated Reading as a tool to help them.

Why I Created a Blog

Spring forest in the Netherlands

For several years, people suggested off and on to me that I start a blog because they knew that I enjoyed writing.  I considered it, but I felt the same way about that as I did about acting when I was a teenager.  It’s great fun to be onstage when you are portraying a character, but if I was called on in class to speak my mind aloud, I was very uncomfortable.  I can write press releases and informational text all day long, but revealing myself to the world is another thing altogether.

So, about a year and half ago, when I felt God putting it on my heart to create a blog, I resisted at first.  He’d given me inspiration for an opening post and I composed it, but kept finding excuses not to take the next step.  I needed to finish our homeschool year first.  I had to plan my daughter’s wedding next.  In the meantime, my mind was flooded with things that I needed to say (and would periodically stop to put on paper).

Eventually, summer arrived and the wedding was over.  I opened up my local paper, which I rarely do, and spied a letter to the editor.  A councilman from the town that my church is located in had written it, making arguments as to why we should not be allowed to build our permanent church (rather than renting space, as we do now) on the land that we have recently been given.  Although he was attempting to veil it, I saw his prejudice of churches between the lines and that he had a false impression of what the Body of Christ really is.  I felt God calling me to respond to it.  Initially, I thought, “I’m not even a resident of that town.  What difference does my opinion make?”

That Sunday, however, as we read about the parable of the talents, I felt convicted.  When I was in middle school, my English teacher, Mrs. Kruvcyk, told me that writing was the gift that God had given me and I needed to use it.  When I ran into her years later and she asked me what I did for a living, I saw her disappointment when I told her that I was an administrative assistant.  Was I burying my talent in the sand instead of investing it in the Kingdom, as God would have me do?

I made up my mind to be obedient in this small thing that God had asked me to do.  I wrote a rebuttal letter and sent it off, careful to edit my flesh out and stick to what I thought that God wanted me to say.  That Saturday, my letter appeared in the paper and a couple of days later, one of the assistant pastors called me.  “I thought you’d like to know that we had two separate people visit our church on Sunday who said they came because they read your letter in the paper,” he told me.

I was flabbergasted.  Although I know that as a believer, I am called to spread the Gospel to unbelievers, I have always felt unqualified to do that.  I am introverted and socially awkward.  No one would ever visit church or get saved because of my influence.  Well . . . aside from my husband, that is.

The lightbulb went off then that it doesn’t matter what flaws or failings that I have.  All I really need to do is be obedient to what the LORD has called me to do and use the gifts that He has given me to His glory.  He’ll take care of the result.

That’s when I knew that it was time for me to take a step of faith and just create a blog already.  I’ve known since I was eleven years old what my primary gift is.  If God was asking me to use it, then I needed to stop hesitating and just do it, because He obviously has a plan to use it for His purposes.


Sight Word List for The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading


The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading (OPGTR) is a phonics curriculum written by Jessie Wise.  You can read my review of it here.  In this book, the focus is on learning to read by sounding words out, so the number of “sight words” that children are asked to memorize is minimal.  However, at some points in the book, common words that do not follow regular phonetic patterns or follow patterns that will be introduced later in the book are written down on index cards and introduced to the child to be memorized.

This year, my husband and I set up an official classroom for our children, and in the process of moving things, I misplaced my OPGTR sight word cards.  I resisted making new ones at first, convinced that they would turn up as soon as I did so.  As we are in November now, I decided to give up waiting and made new ones.  I searched through my book to see if there was a complete list of the cards in there, but there wasn’t.  I searched online to see if anyone else had compiled one.  No luck!  As a result, I had to sit down with the book and look at each lesson, one by one, in order to make sure I didn’t miss any of the words.  After all of that work, it occurred to me that there has to be at least one other parent out there who has had this same experience.

pinkk flowers

As a result, I have decided to share this sight word list.  I’ve also added the lesson number at which each word is introduced.

Lesson Number Word Introduced
29 the
31 I
36 a
50 of
66 have
70 give
76 to, two, too
91 do, who
92 friend
95 eye
97 buy
99 was
100 shoe
114 could, would, should
126 said
129 one, once
131 build, built
141 laugh
148 what, does
150 gone
156 are
173 where, there, were
174 their, here
189 choir
194 people
198 been
200 busy
217 only

I hope that you find this helpful!  I know that I am going to use it as a reference if my sight word cards wander away again.

Relationship, Obedience & Homeschooling

Relationship obedience pic for blog

Recently, as we were waiting for our daughters at dance class, another mom asked if my children had started school yet.  I explained that we had begun our school year, but we homeschool.  In response, she said, “I thought about homeschooling, but in the end, I decided that my relationship with my children would be better if I weren’t their teacher, too.”

A few years ago, a friend of mine who was considering homeschooling her child shared with me her worry that her son wouldn’t listen to her if she tried to teach him, and therefore, not get his school work done.

I cannot judge either one of these concerns.  I understand them well, because I’ve had them myself.  As I’ve prayed through them, though, God has shown me His heart about these things.

Relationships require interaction and time spent together to grow in intimacy, not time apart.  The reason that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” isn’t because you love someone more when you are apart; it is because the less you are together, the less opportunity there is for conflict to develop.  God’s Word shows us that He is very relational.  He is our Abba Father.  Jesus is His son.  The church is called His bride.  How can we model for our children an intimate relationship with God unless we have one with them?

Also, it is very important that we all learn obedience to God.  How do we prepare our children for that responsibility if we haven’t taught them to obey us first?  Personally, I’ve been very frustrated by a stubborn disobedience that has arisen in my 6-year-old lately.  I warn her that there will be consequences if she doesn’t make the right choice in a given situation.  Yet, she continues to push the limits until I end up having to take a privilege away.  Then, the tears flow, as though she didn’t already know that was going to happen.

I don’t want to chasten my children or remove blessings from them.  However, this helps me to realize how God feels about me.  He wants my obedience and for me to listen to His leading, so he can bless me also.  That just confirms to me that I need to stick with it.  My daughter will find it much easier to follow God in the long run if she gets her heart right in this area now.  It also helps me to keep my eyes on Him in my own walk.  If it hurts me this much to punish my child, I can imagine how much more my Father in heaven is grieved by me at times.

If I weren’t home with my children all day, I’d have a lot less time to help them build their characters and encourage their spiritual growth, but it would still be my responsibility, even if someone else was teaching them to read and write.  So, I embrace the challenge, trusting that God will work in their hearts to bring them closer to Him.

“Then I will give them a heart to know Me, that I am the Lord; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God.” – Jeremiah 24:7

 Note:  This post was written for The Old Schoolhouse Magazine’s Homeschooling with Heart Blog and the intended audience is parents who feel that they have been called to homeschool.