Thursday, April 16, 2015

Ditching Common Sense for a Day at the Zoo



Sometimes life gets busy.  No, chaotic is probably the more appropriate word.  Sometimes our schedules are upended and our routines are ruined and we fall into that if-I-can-just-get-by-until-things-settle-down-a-little way of thinking that some might call "survival mode".

Living like that is hardly ideal, but sometimes it's necessary.  And, hopefully, temporary.

I'm sure you go through those chaotic times, too.  Maybe your chaos looks something like this.  Or maybe it looks nothing like this!  It really doesn't matter because either way, the craziness of the scheduling and the resulting breakdown of normal productivity are bound to look a little familiar...

On very little sleep you travel as a family to a 3-day homeschool convention in a neighboring state, which is both wonderful and thoroughly exhausting.  You come home long enough to wash clothes and repack so you can fulfill your commitment to chaperone a 4-day youth trip, from which you and three of your children come home sick.  
Now there are suitcases everywhere and piles of dirty laundry all over the house and fevers, coughs, and unbelievably snotty noses to go along with all of it.   
And what about the books and curricula you bought at the homeschool convention?  They're still in random piles, waiting to find a home somewhere. 
You keep homeschooling because the kids have already missed more days than you wanted and you want to take a spring break and still be able to finish school in May.  But Easter falls in there, too, and then there's also a ladies retreat to prepare for and a workshop to help with, though the coughing and hacking and nose-blowing continues and you still haven't found a place for all those books and curricula you bought. 
But then you find a great deal on a dishwasher, which is awesome because you've needed one, but it's a now or never purchase that involves some headache and then requires some cabinet repair and pieces and parts and tools end up all over the place and add to the mind-numbing, avalanche-prone clutter that's been piling up for WEEKS now.

You buy more books and curriculum, in spite of the fact you've never found places for what you've already bought, but it's spring and as a homeschooling mom you have to be thinking about next year NOW in order to take advantage of the best deals.

Keep homeschooling.  Keeping washing clothes.  Keep blowing noses.

You move clutter aside so you have a place for more clutter.  The clean laundry pile gets so high you can't really wash anything else until you have the time to fold it all and put it away, and who knows when that will be?  Maybe everyone will have enough clean clothes to get them through a few more days...   
The ladies retreat comes and goes and you collapse on the couch that night in something akin to a coma, but oh-my-word you haven't even thought about your Sunday school class tomorrow or children's church either.   
You realize the kids need clean clothes.  DESPERATELY.  In fact, you don't know, (and don't particularly care, so long as nobody else knows,) how many times they've actually worn dirty clothes in the past few weeks.

There's a stack of schoolwork a mile high to be graded and sorted.  The new books and curricula are still in messy stacks, still waiting for a home.

You haven't had a chance to change out the winter and summer clothes.  Your kids complain about wearing sweaters in 70 degree weather and you know the boots have to be packed away at some point. 
The house is no longer just messy and cluttered; now it's downright dirty, too, but there hasn't been time to worry about dust and soap scum and sticky floors.  The kids have been helping, but they've been as busy and tired and sick as you've been and things have just gotten out of control.   
You've been surviving.  And that's all that has mattered.

So when all the major events have passed and normal life resumes, (or, as in my case, spring break arrives,) the hardest decision is what much-needed household project to start with first.  Finally the sheets can be changed.  Finally I can finish changing out the winter and summer clothes.  Finally I can get that bathroom scrubbed from floor to ceiling.  Finally I can find a place for all those books!

So where should I start?  What long-neglected task should I tackle first? 

When I thought long and hard about it, I knew the answer:  I should start with a trip to the zoo.

Seriously.



Because in all the hubbub of the last few weeks, I'm pretty sure my kids may have often been left to wonder just where they fit in mom's list of important things to do.  They may not have said it, but I could see it in their eyes sometimes when I was too busy to listen or too preoccupied to give them my full attention.

Listen, moms, I realize we are busy people, committed to good causes and active in worthwhile things.  I also know there are certain tasks we have to do for the maintenance of our homes.  The family needs clean clothing to wear and clean sheets to sleep in and clean bathtubs in which to bathe.  A little organization really does make a home more peaceful by making us more contented, which goes a long way toward greater harmony in the entire family!  So many of the things we do we actually do for our children.

But I'm not sure they always see it that way.  And I'm not sure we recognize sometimes how much our busyness affects our children.  Our chaos becomes theirs.  Our stress is transferred to them.  Sometimes it's brought on by life circumstances beyond our control and we can't help that, but other times it comes as the result of our own mistakes of over-commitment.  Either way, if we're not very careful we can leave our children feeling lost in the chaos and convinced that they are very, very low on mom's list of priorities.

So sometimes, when the obligations have been many and the laundry is piled high and the dust is thick and the clutter is out of control and common sense is begging us to get to work on all the household tasks that have been neglected, it may be the perfect time for a trip to the zoo.

Or to the park.  Or to a farm.  Or to an ice cream shop.  Whatever.



Because a day, even a couple of hours, set aside from all our other responsibilities to do something fun with our children SHOUTS to them their incredible value to us.

Mom has things to do.  But she says she's been too busy lately.  And so everything else is stopping today.  For ME.  Because I MATTER.

So toss common sense to the wind and go to the zoo.  Just for today.  I don't care that this is your only free day to catch up on everything else or that you really should be working on Project A, B, or C.  Just do it.  Just go have fun with your kids.  Remind them, (and yourself!) how very much they mean to you.

And don't worry about the housework.  It'll still be there when you get home.  

You can trust me on that one.





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Thursday, April 9, 2015

Never Despise the Small Beginnings in Your Homeschool



I'm not sure where I first saw it, but it must have been in some bookstore or gift shop, just a small, decorative placard with the words, "Never despise small beginnings."

I was only a teenager at the time and I didn't even realize the words were a take on Zechariah 4:10.  I just knew that they me smile -- gave me hope for my future -- and I went home and made my own version of that little sign, even framing it and putting it on the wall in my bedroom where it hung for several years.  I haven't gone in search of it yet, but I hope it's still there in my parents' house somewhere...

Because as cliche as those words may sound when you say them, they're nevertheless true.  While it's so easy to look at small accomplishments and slow progress and be more discouraged by it than inspired, it is in the humblest beginnings that we start making steps toward big and beautiful and amazing things.  

And if that is true in other areas of our lives, moms, it's certainly true in our homeschools.

It's so easy sometimes to measure our kids' success and find it sadly lacking.  We just hoped for so much more.  Expected more.  We even tried demanding more!  But that doesn't necessarily translate into satisfying results.  And it doesn't help that we moms are NOTORIOUS for making comparisons that we know we should not make.  

You know the kind of comparisons I'm talking about, like agonizing because your publicly-schooled nephew just got a 2260 on his SAT and will be studying in Spain this summer, while your child is barely hobbling his way through algebra as a high school junior.  Or your friend's kid is competing in this year's National Geography Bee when you know your kid would do well to name half the U.S. states.  Or the lady at the co-op has a 12 year daughter who has already started her own business and, at the rate she's going now, will have her college paid for in another two years.

Okay, these are extreme examples -- maybe even unrealistic ones -- but you know as well as I do that we often compare and judge and analyze our homeschooling progress in some pretty harsh, and often unrealistic ways.

But here's your reminder, homeschooling moms, never to despise the small beginnings.  Progress, even when it's not at the rate we had hoped, is still progress.  Success, even when on a smaller scale than we expected, is still success.  Sometimes we may just need to stop the comparing and judging and analyzing and focus on the small beginnings.

Which is what I've tried to do lately.

Our homeschool year is beginning to draw to a close and I can sit and grieve over the things that haven't been accomplished, or I can embrace and celebrate the things that have, however big or small they may be.

So do you want to see some of my list?  Here goes...


Peanut

  • Peanut, my youngest, is finally starting to work independently.  A little.  Sometimes.  But, hey, that's progress!  He's only 6 and, to him, structured school is the worst kind of torture, so sitting still long enough to do a few math problems on his own is pretty incredible!

  • And though his reading is less-than-stellar right now, his grasp of phonics is actually very good.  If I can just get him to sit still long enough to do it, I believe he'll be reading well in no time.  

  • And either way, his listening and narration skills have improved by leaps and bounds this year.


Little Man

  • Meanwhile, Little Man, who is 8, is finally starting to enjoy reading on his own.  I still have to force the issue most days, but once he's reading, he really enjoys it and I'm going to do my best to keep cultivating that interest.  (By forcing it, if necessary.)

  • Little Man has always been good at math, but careless mistakes used to plague him.  I'm seeing far fewer mistakes now, however.  And my little lefty's atrocious handwriting is becoming...well, less atrocious.  It's even legible most days!  ;)

  • And did I mention he is becoming my regular breakfast help?  Maybe it's only because he's always hungry in the morning and the more he helps, the sooner we eat, but I don't really care his motive.  I'm just glad for the help! 

Yes, my kitchen is messy.  Don't judge me... ;)


Doodle

  • Doodle is still dyslexic.  Not that I expected that to change or anything, but the problems haven't vanished away with time.  And they won't.  Dyslexia is here to stay.

  • But I've watched my daughter begin reading her own word problems in math this year, which is amazing improvement for her.  Deciphering words can be difficult enough, even without having to also look for math concepts hidden in those words.  Can she read and comprehend all her word problems?  No.  But she's doing many of them on her own, which is great improvement.  

  • She's also reading for pleasure now, going through Junie B. Jones books at a rate that makes my head spin.  And, yes, I realize a lot of people hate Junie books because the grammar is bad and Junie is hardly a paragon of pint-sized virtue.  And, yes, I realize they probably fall under my own definition of twaddle.  (Does that make me a hypocrite?  Ah well.)  And, yes, technically these books are below my child's reading level, or at least they would be if she was an average reader, which she is not given her dyslexia.  

  • But if you had ever sat and cried with a child who thought they would never, ever learn to read, you might be as thrilled as I am to watch my daughter laughing her way through chapter books of her own choosing.  

PW

  • And, YIKES, I began homeschooling my first high schooler this year.  The effort has not been without its issues, believe me, and one nightmarish stretch finally resulted in a mid-year curriculum overhaul that wasn't pretty.

  • But through it all my Polly Wolly, PW for short, has read like crazy, FAR surpassing the reading list I had planned for her and leaving me wondering how I'll ever come up with an adequate list for next year!  She has breezed her way through classic novels and plays galore, reading more amazing material in her freshmen year than I may have read in all four years of high school, and loving every moment of it.  

  • Math is not her strong point.  Science sometimes makes her cry.  But I would be hard-pressed to find a 14-year-old who is more well-read than my PW!


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I don't say any of these things trying to pin flowers on me or my children.  Of course these little accomplishments probably wouldn't impress most people anyway.  No SAT-acers or potential National Geography Bee winners here, I assure you. 

But we're making progress. These are small beginnings; steps in the right direction that have the potential for big and beautiful things in the future.  

And I'm learning never to despise the small beginnings.  






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Thursday, April 2, 2015

Lies People Believe About Homeschooling Moms



You would think the word would have gotten out by now.  I mean, homeschooling has been growing by leaps and bounds in recent years, so it's not like it's some new and mysterious movement people are just now learning exists.

And yet I continue running into these silly misconceptions about who homeschooling moms are and what they do.  I'm not sure why that is, except that there are still plenty of people out there who may have heard of homeschooling, but who don't actually know anyone who does it.  And I also realize there are still a lot of people out there who are baffled by a woman who would choose to keep her kids home and teach them herself, even when there are free schools out there designed for just that purpose!

And so the goofy preconceived notions abound.  Here are just a few of them.  Lies, all of them, but that doesn't keep them from being spoken over and over again...


Homeschooling moms have more patience than the average woman.

Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Sorry.  That one just gets me every time, and it is undoubtedly the lie I hear the most often.

If you think homeschooling moms are all these sweet, demure, soft-spoken women, then you are sadly mistaken.  Homeschooling moms are just as impatient, just as moody, just as prone to grouchiness as any other mom you could ever hope to meet.  Trust me.

But let me also say that I do think homeschooling can sometimes develop patience.  It forces it, actually, though that is an effect of homeschooling, not a cause of it.

Even yet, I'd guess 99.8% of experienced homeschooling moms will tell you that they don't have the patience for homeschooling either.  They just choose to homeschool anyway.



Homeschooling moms are confined to home all the time.

Contrary to the belief of some, most homeschooling moms don't live in outer-Sclabobia, (don't ask me where that is, it's just a word we always used for way, WAY out in the sticks,) where their oppressive husbands keep them under lock and key, allowing them no contact with the outside world.

No, most homeschooling moms are busier and more social than they want to be, involved in more activities than they can often manage.  There are field trips and homeschool groups and co-op classes and music lessons and library visits and play dates and church functions...

Believe it or not, we don't grow all our own food, weave all our own cloth, hand-make our Laura Ingalls-esque clothing, and conduct religious services on compounds surrounded by razor wire.  We do go out.  Often.  More often than most of us would probably like, in fact.



Homeschooling moms aren't concerned about their children's socialization.

Actually, it's often because they ARE concerned about their children's socialization that many moms choose to homeschool!  A lot of them are probably like me:  I got LOTS of socialization in my years of public school, and most of it bad.  Not all of it, granted, but a whole lot of it.

But if 12 years of age-based segregation, which provides a social setting my children will never, EVER realistically experience again, is the kind of socialization you're talking about, then you may be right:  Most homeschooling moms probably don't care much about that kind of socialization.



Homeschooling moms are helicopter parents.

Okay, I struggle a little bit with this one because, particularly when our children are small, aren't we supposed to hover over them enough to prevent problems and control some of the things they're exposed to?  Isn't that part of loving and protecting them?  Am I a helicopter parent because I watch my children around a bonfire or because I choose what they can or can't eat?  Then why am I considered a helicopter parent because I don't want to hand my 6 year old over to total strangers for 6 hours every day?  Let's be honest:  People do that because it's the cultural norm, not because it makes good sense.

But regardless, homeschooling moms do NOT shield their children from every evil and hurt and disappointment and certainly not from experiences that will teach them something.  They don't sweep in to remove their child's every roadblock or solve their every problem.  If anything, homeschooling moms probably encourage independence in their children more than the average mom, since it's all a part of the process of developing life-long learners.



Homeschooling moms are organized.

The less said about this, the better.

(That's my easy way of saying no, not always.  Good organizational skills are not a requirement when it comes to homeschooling...THANK GOD...though decent organizational skills do come in handy!)



Homeschooling moms are creative.

No, homeschooling moms just visit Pinterest.  A LOT.  Sometimes I think I come up with some really good ideas and I go with those, but more times than I could ever count I find myself going to Pinterest or doing a quick internet search for some brilliant idea of somebody else's.  I can draw from other homeschooling moms, but also from brilliant thinkers and writers, experienced classroom teachers, and talented, crafty people of all types.

Maybe being naturally creative was more important back in the "old days" of homeschooling, but now it really isn't necessary.  There are plenty of other people out there to be creative for you!



Homeschooling moms LOVE homeschooling.

Listen, I don't regret my decision to homeschool.  I do love it.  Really.  I thank God often for changing my heart on the issue of homeschooling because I know I would be missing out on so much without it.

But that's not to say I love it every day.  Some days are tough.  Really tough.  Sometimes algebraic equations fry my brain and trying to look at words through a dyslexic's eyes leaves me exasperated.  Sometimes I get really tired of cleaning up Play-doh and organizing a zillion books and trying to teach my kids the Bible when I'm feeling anything but spiritual.  Sometimes I hate my kids' school subjects more than they do, (though I don't generally tell them so,) and sometimes I long desperately for peace and quiet and one day, JUST ONE DAY all to myself.  Some nights I even go to bed thinking, "Oh, please.  Tell me I do not have to do that again tomorrow..."

But then I wake up in the morning, start the coffee, pull out the Bible and some well-worn prayers for grace and patience, and we go at it again.  And there is always grace sufficient.  Always.

And I have a feeling most homeschooling moms will tell you the same.

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So what lies have you heard about homeschooling moms?  
Care to share any I might have missed?




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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Why We Don't Do Easter Baskets



We have never bought our kids Easter baskets for Easter.  Never.

Now maybe this is the part where you expect me to excoriate Christians for falling prey to the Easter-season commercialism.  Or maybe you thought I was going to point out the fact that so many of our Easter symbols, like eggs and bunnies and baby chicks, have pagan roots and so they should have no place in our Easter celebration.

But, no, I'm not going to say any of that stuff.  Our reasons for shunning Easter baskets are actually far less complicated than that.

Now I do hate the way Easter is commercialized.  But, then again, it's hard to find a holiday more commercialized than Christmas and yet I unabashedly decorate and shop and gift-give with the best of them every December, though I'm careful to keep in mind, and teach my children, of course, what Christmas is all about.

And as for the pagan roots thing...Sure, some of the symbols we connect with Easter are rooted in paganism, but the same is true of many of our common practices and customs, even in this country.  In most cases, the pagan origins have been long forgotten, so trying to consistently tow a hard-line on that issue can become really tricky really fast.

Personally, our reasons for refusing Easter baskets are really far more boring and practical than they are controversial.  I grew up with the tradition of waking every Easter morning to a pastel-colored basket of plastic eggs filled with candy and chocolate bunnies and packages of icky jelly beans, all resting on a bed of shredded plastic "grass".  (That was sometimes pink.  Because pink grass is such a common sight in Kentucky in the springtime, right?)

But then when my own kids got old enough for an Easter surprise of some sort I would go to the stores and look at all those ready-made Easter baskets lining the shelves and I would choke!

For one, they are ridiculously expensive.  Even the boring, mostly empty, more-bright-packaging-than-anything-else baskets are $15-$20!  Baskets of real substance start at $30 and go up from there.  Per kid, you can run into some crazy money very, very quickly!  Even putting together a basket, while somewhat more economical, can still be very expensive.

Not to mention the fact that Easter baskets are mostly just candy.

Now I am not one of those anti-sugar moms who confiscates all candy like it was a grenade in the hand of my children.  I don't mind my kids having candy on occasion, but a lot of it is both unhealthy and unnecessary.  If candy was something my children never got, maybe buying them some of it for Easter would make more sense, but it seems they're always getting candy from somewhere or somebody.  And once they eat it, it's gone!   If I'm going to spend money on a treat for my children, I would rather it be something that will last longer than the time it takes them to eat it!

So what do we do in our house for our kids for Easter?  Anything?

Well, of course!  Easter and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important holiday we can celebrate as Christians.  Even more so than Christmas?  Absolutely!  While we celebrate his incarnation at Christmas, His coming and even His dying would have meant nothing had He not risen from the dead.  As Paul the Apostle put it, "...if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain," (1 Corinthians 15:17,) so of course we do something special for Easter!

But in lieu of Easter baskets, we give our children Easter gifts.

It's the same thing, I suppose: a special treat to commemorate Easter, just in a different form.  And, no, we don't give as many gifts as we do at Christmastime, but my children usually receive at least one gift, wrapped in bright spring paper and set next to their bed during the night so that they'll see it first thing when they wake up on Easter morning.  They all go to bed excited, knowing they'll find a special surprise when they open their eyes.  My teen included!

And we don't spend a lot of money.  In Easters past we've tried very hard to make the gift meaningful:  Just something special to remind them that it's a very special day.  Others might even prefer to put the gift in a basket, or to fill a basket with odds and ends--small gifts their children might enjoy.  We would just rather invest the money we might spend on an Easter basket of candy on a more lasting gift.

I realize gifts don't make the holiday.  I do want my children to know, however, that Easter Sunday is a very special day.  It's the day our Savior overcame death, hell, and the grave that we might be saved, and it's an event to be celebrated.  

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How do you commemorate Easter at your house?  I'd love to hear how your make Resurrection Day a special event in your family...




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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Chewy Chocolate Chip and Cranberry Granola Cookies



My kids love granola bars and I love the convenience of quick, grab-and-go snacks.  On a busy morning or for a light snack at any time throughout the day, prepackaged granola bars are an easy choice.

But there's one problem:  Granola bars are really pretty bad for you.  

In spite of their reputation as a health food, most granola bars contain more artificial ingredients and preservatives than they do real food.  In fact, some nutritionists actually consider granola bars one of the worst snacks parents can give their children because they generally contain very few natural ingredients and the fact they are perceived as "healthy" leads many moms and dads to let their kids eat far more of them than they might otherwise.

Bad, BAD idea, moms.  And don't be fooled by all-natural or organic labeling either.  I've been disappointed to learn that many of the pricey nutrition and protein bars sold in the natural foods section are only slightly better for you, if at all.

I've tried making homemade granola bars, but I've never been thrilled with the results.  The bars I've made in the past are either mostly flavorless or very peanut-buttery, (neither of which appeals to me much,) or they're so crumbly they make an awful mess.

But granola cookies??  Maybe that's where I've been making my mistake all along!  Cookies are bound to be better than bars.  I found this recipe in an old magazine, did a little tweaking to suit my fancy, and oh my goodness did they ever turn out good!  Soft, chewy, DELICIOUS cookies that put to shame every granola bar I've ever tasted.  Even my picky, if-it-doesn't-look-right-I-won't-eat-it child loves these.

Now the ingredient list is a little lengthy, but these cookies aren't hard to make at all.  At the end I'll give you some ideas for different flavor variations.

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Chewy Chocolate Chip & Cranberry 
Granola Cookies


1/2 cup butter                                                                              1/2 cup milk chocolate chips
1/4 cup + 3 T. honey                                                                 1/2 semi-sweet chocolate chips
2 large eggs                                                                                    1/4 pecans, chopped
1 tsp. vanilla extract                                                                   1/4 granulated sugar
1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour                                                 1/4 cup light brown sugar
1 tsp. baking powder                                                                  1/4 roasted, lightly-salted, no-shell        
1/4 tsp. salt                                                                                         sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups uncooked regular oats                                          1/4 cup sweetened dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 350.  Melt your butter and allow it to cool to a lukewarm temperature.  Whisk together melted butter, honey, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl.  In a separate large bowl, mix together all remaining ingredients.  Add flour mixture to the butter mixture, a little at a time, stirring just until combined.  (Don't overmix, which will make your cookies heavy and less tender.)  Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper.  Bake 10 minutes or until very lightly browned at the edges.  Cool cookies on baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.  Makes:  About 4 1/2 dozen.  


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If you want to change these cookies up from time to time, here are a few ideas for some variations:  


For the milk chocolate chips, substitute white chocolate, butterscotch, or caramel chips.  

For pecans, substitute chopped peanuts, walnuts, almonds, or cashews.  

For sunflower seeds, substitute flax, pumpkin, or chia seeds, or pine nuts.  

For cranberries, substitute raisins or dried blueberries, chopped dried apricots or pineapples, or your favorite sweetened dried fruit.  

Personally, I think cranberries are wonderful combined with white chocolate and almonds, but I'm sure caramel or butterscotch chips combined with cashews and apricots would be fabulous!  Mix it up to suit your taste or to give you some variety.  You can freeze the dough for up to 3 months or freeze the baked cookies in freezer bags for about a month.

These cookies make a great quick breakfast or an easy, healthy snack.  The original recipe above produces cookies that are about 80 calories each, which isn't bad compared to most granola bars, and they are very filling.  Plus I know they're full of real foods and not a lot of preservatives and fillers I can't pronounce.

So have a good and mostly-guiltless cookie for breakfast in the morning!





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Thursday, March 5, 2015

The Essentials of Essential Oil Use: EOs for the Beginner


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It was just over a year ago that I started taking an interest in essential oils.  Before that, and for quite a while even afterward, I was clueless.

And I was pretty skeptical, too.  EOs just reminded me of old wives' tales or witches' brews.  You know, bury a bat's wing and two lima beans under an oak tree on a moonlit night to remove warts, or rub a banana peel spread with mayonnaise on your kneecap to get rid of a headache.  

It just sounded...kooky.

But again and again I read these shining testimonials that were very intriguing, if not entirely convincing.  Add to it that while I am NOT anti-modern medicine by any stretch of the imagination, at the same time I have a lot of concerns about the synthetic drugs we so readily pump into our bodies every time we're sick or tired or downhearted.  My own experience with a couple of drugs several years ago fuels much of my concern, (which is a story for another day,) but again and again as you look into many of these drugs, even over-the-counter ones intended to treat non-life-threatening illnesses, the side effects are only slightly better than the illness itself, and sometimes they're decidedly worse! 

So I figured, hey!  Why not give essential oils a shot?  What could it hurt?  

And a year later, I'm hooked.  And while I'm certainly no expert on essential oils, I run into other curious souls sometimes who are interested, but who have no idea how to sort through the barrage of information available online.

I remember thinking...If someone could just answer some basic questions for me, just to help make sense of this information-overload I run into every time I start reading about essential oils!  

Thus my decision to write this blog post, which will hopefully answer some of those questions.  

Now, let me tell you a few things straight up:  I don't believe essential oils are a miracle cure for anything.  I don't think they are sufficient to treat all illnesses and I would never recommend essential oils in lieu of professional medical treatment for a serious health condition, though I do believe they can provide a supplemental treatment in many cases.

I'm also not a seller of essential oils or a representative of any essential oil company, so rest assured I'm not about to hit you with a sales pitch for one essential oil brand or another.  I just want to give you some basic information by answering some of the questions I had early on.

What are essential oils?

EOs are just natural oils distilled from plants and plant parts.  Distilling, in case you're interested, is just the process of vaporizing and condensing a substance or liquid in order to concentrate and purify it.

Do they really have medicinal value?

Yep.  Even skeptics in the medical world will have to acknowledge there are at least some benefits to the use of certain oils.

Most of these oils have been in use for hundreds and even thousands of years, (though obviously not under any of the brand names you'll find at your local health store.)  Some are mentioned in the Bible.  Many have been used for generations.  I've even been listening to a zillion-page book about Kentucky's own Daniel Boone, who learned much about medicine from the Native Americans.  And they weren't medicines manufactured in huge pharmaceutical factories in the Kentucky wilderness!  These were very effective medicines developed from native PLANTS and used to treat various illnesses and wounds.

So this stuff isn't the latest medical discovery, though it certainly seems some of the "old ways" are being rediscovered, which I think is a very good thing.

How do I use essential oils?  

There are lots of ways you can use EOs.  Some people love to add a few drops to their bathwater or use them to make their own lotions or salves.  You can also add them to homemade laundry detergent or use them on dryer balls.  Many people use them to make their own household cleaners.  Some people even ingest essential oils, though with some oils that is NOT safe and with others it may be questionably so, depending on who you talk to.  

You can also use EOs directly on the skin. You need a carrier oil for this, though, since some oils can irritate your skin.

So what on earth is a carrier oil?  It's just a mild oil you use to dilute your essential oil.  I had no idea what I was doing in the beginning, so I used olive oil early on, which actually worked okay, though I smelled a little like a dip for Italian bread.  I learned later of other very good, very lightly scented carrier oils.  Fractionated coconut oil is my favorite now, but almond oil is another I have on hand.  Some people prefer oils like jojoba or grapeseed, all of which are available for purchase online or right alongside essential oils at stores.

My absolute favorite way to use essential oils, however, is with a diffuser.

A what?  An EO diffuser is just a little gadget that spreads essential oils in the air so you can breathe them in.  Some call it aromatherapy or inhalation therapy...meaning you're inhaling the essential oils.

There are different types of diffusers and they can range in price from $10 to $200.  I have a couple of small plug-ins like this, which work decently in a smaller room.



They include a little pad where you add a few drops of oil and the diffuser warms the pad to diffuse the oils.  These are usually on the lower-end of the price scale.  I think I paid $12 for mine, and you can find them online or at natural or health food stores.

I also have a cold-air diffuser which I LOVE.



I add a few drops of oil to some warm water in the diffuser reservoir, I turn it on, and my room is INSTANTLY filled with fragrance.  The scent is STRONG for a couple of hours, but the aroma will linger a couple hours more until the water inside is gone and the diffuser shuts itself off.  Some cold-air diffusers may work slightly differently.  Ones like mine can also be used as nightlights.  And let me just add that there are many of these available in the $30-$50 range.  

What brand essential oils should I buy?  

Here's where the subject can start getting a little sticky.  Some people are devoted fans of one oil brand or another and they can argue till doomsday why their favorite oil company is the best and why their oils are purer or their distillation process is better and the other guys are selling cheap-grade oils...blah, blah, blah.  The arguments can get tedious and in the end nothing is really proven anyway because there isn't an official "Essential Oil Board" putting their stamp of approval on EOs.  (Thank heavens!  Like we need another government agency...)

I have my own personal preferences when it comes to essential oils and you'll probably have yours.  Price figures into it a lot, too, of course, and sometimes the oils from the fancy-schmancy EO company just aren't affordable.  At that point all you can do it buy the best quality oil you can afford.  Anyway, I'm not opposed to trying oils from various companies and my own EO collection is a hodge-podge of brands.

One more thing on this subject:  I once had the opportunity to talk with a healthy living "expert" who was very, very knowledgeable in the area of natural and alternative health issues and products.  When I tried to pin her down on the best oil brand, she refused to put one company above another, saying only that, generally speaking, the cheapest oils are cheaper because they're heavily diluted.  In other words, if you notice that a tiny bottle of peppermint essential oil runs $15-$25 with various brands, you probably should be suspect of an enormous 8-ounce bottle selling for $6.  While you may not always have money for the more expensive brand oils, keep in mind you'll usually get what you pay for.

Which oils should I buy first?

This is largely a matter of opinion, but the basics I started with were peppermint, lavender, and lemon, all of which are fairly easy to find and are less-expensive than many of the other oils.  My local Kroger even carries a common over-the-counter brand of peppermint and lavender, so they're becoming more and more readily available.  The three oils I mentioned are just basic oils with many, many uses, both on their own and in various blends.

Is there anything else I need?  

If you intend to put oils on your skin, then you need a carrier oil.  Like I said before, fractionated coconut oil is my favorite, but almond oil, jojoba, and grapeseed are just a few of the other options available.

And if you plan to dilute or blend oils, you'll need bottles.



Many health food stores offer a variety of them, some with droppers or roller balls.  These can also be found online.  And always buy dark bottles:  the dark color helps protect the oils from light damage.


Okay, I've purchased a few oils.  Tell me how to start using them. 

Essential oils have so many uses and probably no two EO users use the same oils in the same way for the same things.  If I tried to write out every use for every oil, this would be the eternal blog post, so instead I'll just mention some of my favorite oils and the ways I love to use them.  No doubt my readers can share many more uses for these oils and others, and I gladly invite them to do so in the comment section at the end of this post.

Peppermint

I love this oil for treating headaches and joint pain.  For a headache, I dilute a few drops with fractionated coconut oil and apply it lightly to my temples or the back of my neck with a roll-on bottle.  I do the same around my knee to ease occasional joint pain.  Even if it doesn't end the pain altogether, it certainly tempers it.

Lavender

Lavender has a sweet, relaxing aroma.  Before I had a diffuser I would put drops of diluted lavender on the edge of my pillowcase to help me relax and sleep.  I apply it behind my ears when I'm feeling uptight or emotional, and I also like to diffuse it with lemon for the same purpose.  I also use it often as a soothing salve for cuts and scrapes, sometimes combined with lemon and tea tree oil.

Lemon

Citrus scents can be amazing mood lifters, not to mention the clean, fresh aroma they leave behind.  I mix lemon often with several different oils, mainly for diffusing.  I also like to add a few drops of lemon to homemade household cleaners.

Peppermint, lavender, and lemon

This is a wonderful mixture for cold and allergy issues.  When my kids are congested, I'll roll it on the bottoms of their feet or on their chest and it really seems to open airways and help them sleep, so much so that they all ask for it the moment they feel a stuffy nose coming on.

Tea tree oil  (also called melaleuca)

Tea tree has wonderful antiseptic qualities.  It has a very strong medicinal smell that may not appeal to everyone, but I find the scent very clean and fresh.  I always add several drops to my mop water, (which both disinfects and adds a little shine,) and I also put it in any homemade household cleaners I make as well.

Just recently I tried tea tree oil on my son's athlete's foot.  I rubbed it full-strength all over his feet and toes, applied cotton socks, and was pretty startled when it was almost completely gone by morning.  That's a little trick I'll be sure to remember!

Lemongrass

We use lemongrass primarily for muscle aches or back pain.  Massaged into the skin, it's very soothing.  But it has a uniquely potent smell, so be warned!

Tea tree, orange and/or lemon, and eucalyptus

This may be my favorite blend.  This mix is a natural air purifier and I love the fresh, clean scent that fills my home when I diffuse it.

Clove, orange, and cinnamon

I'm sure this blend of oils has some kind of therapeutic benefit as well, but I'll confess I just like it because it smells really, really good!

Young Living's Thieves and doTerra's On Guard

This is the only time I'll mention products specific to any particular EO companies.  Both of these blends contain oils like clove, eucalytus, rosemary, cinnamon, and a citrus scent.  The combination is supposed to have great antibacterial qualities and to help boost the immune system.

And I believe it!  I have used both of these oil blends, (which are very similar, though I hope I'm not about to be sued for saying so,) and both have what I consider an oddly lovely scent.  But at any hint of illness this winter, whether it was flu or colds or stomach viruses, I have immediately diffused this blend of oils throughout the house.  And though the less-optimistic side of me fears we'll all come down with flu tomorrow just because I write this, we have honesty had less illness of all kinds this winter than ever before, even with flu rampant this season all around us and scores of friends fighting awful stomach viruses and respiratory infections.

I've also spread this oil often on mine and my children's feet or I've rubbed it on my wrists when I felt ill or had been around someone else who was.

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Health-wise, we have done very, very well this year, and I have to credit that to the essential oils we've used.  Even if we all become terribly sick tomorrow, (and hopefully that won't happen!) we've still faired far better this year than the last several as far as sickness is concerned.  And I have to believe essential oil use has made all the difference.

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So do you have any advice to offer an essential oils newbie?  What oils are your favorites?  






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