Thursday, July 31, 2008

That's how it's supposed to work!

Last night our three year old told us that he had told his Sunday School teacher that he did not like to share.

Really? This is somewhat interesting, because he generally does a better job sharing than my others did at his age. Granted, he has less competition since he doesn't have a one year old taking all his stuff, but still . . . The fact that he would articulate this to another adult, and then share that conversation again with us (about the only sharing he did knowingly, I suppose), shows that he had some serious determination to avoid sharing.

As I talked with him about this my eight year old daughter joined the conversation. She has about the sweetest heart when it comes to sharing and putting other's needs first, so she can definitely talk with some authority on the subject. What does she bring up? The little boy who shared his lunch with the large crowd. The preacher just spoke on this Sunday in church and so it was fresh in all our minds, but I had not thought of bringing it up here anyway.

"Don't you want to share like the boy in the Bible that shared his lunch with Jesus and fed thousands of people?"


"But you never know what might happen when you share with others."


"Would you want all those people to starve?"

"Yep, or they can eat their own food."

"But they didn't have any. Sometimes you need to share what you have. Everything good comes from God anyway, so you should share what you have."

"Oh, okay."

My three year old may have acted somewhat unmoved and less than impressed, but Paige's wisdom in turning him toward Scripture and her gentle speech toward him were like a cup of cold water to me, and I'm sure the message got further than it appeared at the moment. Or maybe the learning in that experience was for her benefit . . .

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Works for me Wednesday - workouts

This is a first . . . my first Works for me Wednesday post (ironically, my inspiration hits during a bloggy break from that meme, so this will have to wait a month to be part of that if I decide to resurrect it at that time)
. . . my first time to have two brilliant ideas in one week (after all these years, my husband's ability to come up with a solution to anything with MacGyver-like instincts is finally rubbing off on me)
. . . my first time taking a picture of an old sock

So, here is my brilliant idea number two . . . In the morning I enjoy going running three to four days a week, more on the great program I use for that in a minute. My husband bought me this nifty refurbished Ipod thing that I actually know how to turn on and off and push play on (beyond that I am mostly lost, oh I do know how to turn the volume up, too). Problem is, I don't like holding it in my sweaty little hands while I run. The clothing I wear running has no pockets, and I already carry a water bottle and the dog leash, with the dog at the other end, and trying to hold one more piece of equipment wasn't working well. This week I figured out that if I take one of my little one's missing partner socks I can tuck the ipod inside the sock and tuck the sock into my waistband. This has worked amazingly well for a spare pocket where none existed.

Now, as for my routine . . . I did this last summer as well and loved it. I couldn't keep it up during the school year because my schedule was too stretched already, but hopefully this year I will be able to maintain it. I came across this through an internet search last year and it is amazing how you can truly go from totally out of shape to running a 5k comfortably in just a couple months. Here is a more thorough description of the plan and getting started. I truly believe almost anyone could do this. If you can spare 20-30 minutes 3 days a week you could be running 3 miles in about 8-9 weeks time. Right now I am on week four so after my warm up I run 3 minutes, walk 90 seconds, run 5 minutes, walk 2 1/2, run 3, walk 90 seconds, run 5 minutes and cool down a little bit. My goal this year is to settle in around 2 miles. I know I could do more, but that fits my schedule better and still gives me a 20 minute workout.

The great thing about this couch to 5k program is I hardly ever feel like I'm really pushing myself. You work up so gradually that you hardly notice the increase in run times. I think the first week might be the hardest, but almost anyone can run for 60 seconds with a little motivation. Last year I could not believe the day I first ran three miles. It was almost too easy! I got up to almost four miles before the school year started and I didn't have time again.

Of course, before you start any exercise program you should check with your doctor. I love being more active though. It gets my dog out for her exercise, keeps my energy levels higher, and I definitely feel healthier.

Hopefully some encouragement to some of you to get moving or keep moving. I would love to hear from others how they fit exercise into busy schedules.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Kitchen tip -- avoiding the crumbs

I don't consider myself a great chef or baker by any stretch of the imagination, but now and then I do come across a little idea that makes my life a bit easier when it comes to feeding my family.

Last night as one of my kids was having a bowl of cereal for a bedtime snack (for the record, I am quite capable of preparing cereal) we got to the bottom of the bag. You know, the bottom where it becomes difficult to distinguish between the full cereal, the crushed cereal, and the crumbs that turn to a coating of mush on the bottom of the bowl when you add milk. I begin to pick out the distinguishable whole pieces and think, "There must be a better way."

And I thought of it! I pulled out my sieve. Then, over an open garbage can I dumped the cereal into the sieve and poured the remaining whole cereal into my daughter's bowl. Voila!

I can now prepare an even better bowl of cereal.

I'm sure someone somewhere has already thought of this, but it was an epiphany to me and maybe will help someone else as well.

I learned three things in this process:

- 1. This is very simple and could have other practical applications as well (pretzels, crackers, etc)

- 2. I get way more excited about these little discoveries than my kids do (or possibly any other sane person should for that matter)

- 3. Sieve follows the "i before e" rule although for some reason I thought it was spelled seive, which my spell check keeps telling me is wrong.

As always, for more great kitchen tips head on over to Tammy's Recipes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Phonics Focus

When I go running each morning I also use the time to listen through the sessions from the homeschool convention from last year. I took advantage of the opportunity to buy the whole enchilada while at the convention for less than the cost of my registration to the convention. I have thoroughly enjoyed hearing the many session that I missed (because I can't be in five places at the same time), and visit again those that I enjoyed so much the first time around.

Yesterday I was challenged by a speaker in regards to teaching effective learning skills to our children. He offered a number of statistics that really challenged me to go against the norm and also gave lots of practical advice for the homeschooling mother and family.

One area that he talked about concerned reading. This really struck a chord with me, because he described my current 6 year old to a 'T.' He said that when kids fall into the habit of whole word reading as opposed to automated phonics reading they will struggle to transfer those skills to other similar words. This is the problem with using Dr. Seuss type books as a basis for reading skills. So, if your child can read the following words: dribble, pibble, dibble, wibble, and fibble. But they cannot read these words: scribble, tibble, mibble, and nibble (I know those aren't all real words, but neither are a lot of the words in a Dr. Seuss book), then they aren't really learning to read the letter patterns, but just the whole words.

This is exactly what I am facing with my daughter. We have learned only through phonics based programs and now she is drawn toward a more whole word approach, but somehow can't sound out "pet" when she comes to it. She knows "horse" and "little" and "best," but not "pet."

He challenged me to get back to phonics. As much as she loves reading those books, she needs to have those phonics sounds automated or she will likely struggle to read as easily or to move on to more advanced passages.

So, here's my plan. I typed out all of the basic sounds. Took up about two pages with 5 columns at about 28 size type. Then I cut them all apart and spread them out on the floor. I picked a couple out for her to read and we put them in an envelope that says, "I know these!" She got excited about this then and started pulling out all the ones that she did know quickly and easily. Of course she knows all 26 basic letters and she also knew a good bit of the rest as well. The ones she did not know quickly I tucked into a blank envelope.

My plan: daily (even multiple times a day) we will go through the ones that she knows to solidify and gain speed in recognition (just like flash cards in math). Each day we will also add some new slips of paper into that envelope depending on how quickly she learns/remembers them. Within a month she should have all of them into her "I know these!" envelope. We will also continue reading at least one story together each day, with me focusing more on sounding out words she gets stuck on rather than figuring them out from context or pictures (which she is notorious for.)

After about a month, we will begin working on more blends. I know this is what she struggles with, even with knowing the sounds she sometimes has a hard time blurring them together to make the word. So, we will sing them as blends, and read them, and reread them until they flow more easily from her tongue. I used the Sing, Spell Read and Write material when I taught kindergarten before I had kids and I still carry the songs from that into my reading instruction. They had a Ferris Wheel song that helped kids blend the starting sound with the first vowel sound. Basically we hold the letter next to each vowel and say, "ba, be, bi, bo, bu, bu, bo, bi, be, ba," and so on through the alphabet. This is a great exercise for kids that struggle with this skill.

She is already a good reader, but I hope this will improve her reading and her word attack skills and help her to continue to excel and enjoy more challenging books. Hope this might help some of you out there also. Any other advice for helping kids cross that final hurdle toward reading independently?

If you are interested, here are the letters (and a couple sight words) that I put together for her to use as 'flash cards' each day:

a, b, c, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, m, n, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z, ea, ee, ai, the, oa, o_e, a_e, i_e, e_e, u_e (2), two, ck, e (me), o (go), y (fly), ay, st, pl, fr, tr, sh, th (2), bl, cl, fl, gl, br, dr, pr, gr, sm, sc, sk, sp, cr, tw, spl, spr, scr, squ, sn, sl, str, sw, thr, ar, ch, or, ou, ow (2), er, ur, ir, oi, oy, oo (2), wor, igh, all, alk, ing, kn, gn, ang, ing, ong, ung, ank, ink, onk, unk, wa, a (adopt), y (baby), le (little), -ed (3), wh (2), tch, ear (3), old, -mb, ew (2), -ly, -en, -es, ild, ind, au, aw, ought, aught, dge, ph, un, ould, ough, -ful, tion, sion, do, to, come

Minimizing Monday -- book shelves (yikes!)

This morning I excitedly logged on to Handprints on the Wall to get my marching orders for the day. For the past couple weeks each Monday they have given a task to complete to help minimize all the material goods we seem to clutter our lives and homes with. These challenges have really spoken to me about a lifestyle focus of simplicity and I have enjoyed the process and new revelations I have found throughout. I still enjoy the clear counters I found in my kitchen last week. Unfortunately, Kendra had a "good-bye" post up. Due to an injury and the resulting unemployment and financial strain, she has to turn off her internet for the time being. She will definitely be in my prayers. I would encourage you to head over and offer some words of encouragement to her as she heads "off-line." I know the internet and blog world can be such an encouragement to stay at home moms, and I pray that she continues to find the support and strength as God alone can provide.

So, although I did not have an assigned task, I decided to continue in the Minimizing Monday theme and tackle my bookshelves. Now, this past year I already went through and weeded out about twice this amount of books that I did not want. Now I needed to weed out the things I do not need. I think that is the difference between decluttering and minimizing. Decluttering removes the clutter, minimizing only preserves the essentials.

As always, I know I could probably do even more. Someone else would still see 20 books I could do away with from their perspective. Minimizing continues even after the initial purge as the mindset takes hold.

Here are the books and videos that I removed from my shelves. Most of these I haven't used or could easily borrow from the library if I want to reread them some time:

Of course, as always, my kids had a hard time parting with their "favorite" _______ that I had put in the pile. However, I persevered and was rewarded with this:

That holds all my kids' current homeschool books as well as items I need to keep on hand for the coming year(s). I used to have the base of the hutch full of books as well, but was able to move all of that onto the shelves and still have some room to spare. In addition, I cleared off all the dog paraphernalia that we kept on the windowsill and stored it in the hutch now. Not only do I have a neater bookshelf, I have an almost empty windowsill (aside from the bag of library books).

Feeling motivated to minimize? Please, feel free to go after your bookshelves or some other deserving nook and cranny of your home.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Verse of the week -- I Thessalonians 5:18

What does God want me to do?

What direction should I take from here?

How do I know the will of God?

Some questions I don't know the answers to. Sometimes the directions seem foggy. Sometimes I feel a bit uncertain, afraid, lost. Still, some things I should never doubt.

Regardless of the amount of uncertainty pressing in around me, I must give thanks. I Thessalonians 5:18 says, "In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you."

Two truths jump out of this verse at me. First, "in everything." Sometimes I wish that said after a victory, in the midst of celebration, at the birth of a baby, at successfully reached milestones, in the good times, when the weather is nice. But, it doesn't. It says in everything. When the kids are whiny, when I feel sick and weak, at the death of a loved one, during failure and defeat, even through cabin fever. Definitely still working on practicing that truth on a regular basis. Thankfulness to God for all He has done doesn't necessarily change the situation, but it changes our outlook. I am reminded of the promise in Philippians 4:6,7. If we choose to lay aside our anxiety and come to God in prayer, with thanksgiving, His peace will guard our hearts and minds. I need to remember that tomorrow when potty training drains my patience, when messes spill onto the floor, and lessons meet with resistance. It's not my wise handling of these situations (ha, ha) that brings peace, it's God.

The second truth that hung around my mental ponderings was that this is God's will for me. Sometimes we face times of significant change in our lives and we wonder what God wants us to do. What's His will? That we give thanks, in everything. Again, the decision still may seem hazy, the direction still uncertain, but His peace will control us through it all. What a great reassurance. For some reason I keep coming back to the passage in Isaiah that says His ways and thoughts are far above ours. We so often get stuck in our human perspective of life, but as we surrender it all to Him with thanksgiving for His working in our lives, we find His peace, and the reassurance that He is in control with vastly more wisdom than we could ever bring to the table.

The challenge of the week, to give thanks in everything . . . out of obedience to His will.

In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.

~I Thessalonians 5:18~

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Frugal Friday -- Eating by candlelight, an ode to my mom

About a year ago I started to seek out ways to live more frugally and heard from many corners the whisperings, and shoutings, to check out the book The Tightwad Gazette. It took me a while to succumb, but I finally checked it out from my library (it somehow seemed an oxymoron to pay for a book by that name) and began to read through it.

Quite honestly, I almost laughed out loud as I read. Not because the ideas were so humorous, but because I realized my mom could have written this book! I daresay she lived out nearly half of the ideas in that book at one time or another, and could write a few more chapters of her own as well.

My mother was an amazing woman when it came to living frugally, and still has a lot to teach in this regard. We had seven children in our family and numerous foster kids in and out over the years. Add to that the dogs, cats, rabbits, snakes, chameleons, fish, and other pets that called our place home at one time or another ("Mom, can we get a . . . ?") and you have yourself a budgeting nightmare! My mom stayed home and truly held down the fort while my father worked diligently to provide for all of us. Yes, we wore hand-me-downs, drank powdered milk, shared bedrooms, kept the air up and the heat down, and lived as frugally as possible, but we also enjoyed annual vacations to amazing places. We traveled everywhere from Israel to Japan, and took road trips all across the USA and Canada. How in the world could we afford to do that with seven kids on one income, even 30 years ago? My mom. That's how.

Today I was reminded of one of her many frugal habits. Eating by candlelight. Almost every night, on the shorter days of the year at least, we ate dinner by candlelight. Now, as kids we didn't care much about the frugality of this. We loved dripping melted wax on our fingers, making scary faces at each other across the table, and blowing them out when we were done (I was always in awe of my older siblings who could lick their fingers and snuff out the flame in an instant -- ooh, aah!) I don't think my parents ever fooled themselves that this was a romantic way to eat dinner with the seven of us crowded around either. No matter how dim the lighting, we still all made our presence known.

However, these candlelit meals were another small way that my mother saved money. No electricity to light our meals, and she re-poured the wax into new candles. I remember she kept an old teapot on one of the back burners of the stove and would pour the wax drippings into there as part of dinner clean up. She then had a few molds that she refilled occasionally with the multicolored wax left overs and a new wick and we were good to go for another round of 'romantic,' frugal dinner light.

I've never done it myself (well, with homemade candles anyway), but thought someone out there might want to start some frugal memories for a child of their own.

For more frugal ideas, I'd encourage you to check out Crystal's blog. Probably not as sentimental as this post, but maybe just a bit more practical.

Some helpful links and teacher appreciation

In seeking to streamline my blogging time I have been learning about RSS and decided to finally jump into it.

If you want more information about how to start up your own RSS check out this helpful blog post.

I know some people already subscribe to my blog, but for those of you who do not and would be interested, I will try to explain how. I haven't added the link to my blog yet (hopefully I will figure that out soon, too!) However, if you look next to my web address at the top of your screen you might see this icon:

If you click it you will have the option of adding it to your RSS feed. I am very, very brand new to all of this, so would encourage you to check out Simple Mom's post that is very easy to understand and follow along. Hope that info is helpful to some of you that may be bumbling through blog land with me.

Another website I was excited to find contains the full text of a book I would like to read called Henry and the Great Society. Now I can read it from my computer as I have time. Thanks, Handprints on the Wall, for the tip! I have heard great things about this book. Here is just one review of the powerful story that this book offers.

And for teacher appreciation . . . if you homeschool (or are a teacher outside the home) and have a Staples nearby you can check out this site for the date of their teacher appreciation day. They have great, FREE goodies to get your school year started right.

Here is one more site that lists all the other stores that have teacher appreciation events. Most of these have great goodies. I especially love my Office Depot Star Teacher cloth bags. I use them all the time for grocery shopping and hauling stuff around.

Some of these require that you have school identification. If you would like to make one to bring with you and feel official, this site will allow you to make your own card (or a child's school ID). If you would like to pay $7 they will even send you a sturdy, plastic one to carry around with you.

The school year is definitely right around the corner as we head into August!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

New Year -- preparing your brain

Homeschooling does not always follow the traditional yearly schedule, especially not in our home. However, I do look at each fall as the start of a 'new year.' I enjoy using the summer to prepare the groundwork for the year ahead and work to start the school year stronger and better than ever. Our schooling will never be perfect and I want to continue to strive to improve each year building on what I learned last year and flexing with the growing and changing needs of each child. Homeschooling affords us a unique opportunity to meet the individual needs of each son or daughter and I want to capitalize on that as much as possible.

Summer also gives me a little extra time to make sure that my house gets back in order and do some decluttering. I have had extra motivation in this department thanks to Handprints on the Wall, and while I have work yet to do, I feel confident that things will be in order in that department come September. With my house humming more smoothly, now I turn to preparing myself for the year ahead. Before I can think about the academics, or schedules, or anything else I want to implement, I need to make sure that I have my own focus, motivation, and encouragement flowing.

As the teacher in this one house school I need to set the standard, establish the atmosphere, and know where I plan to lead. Part of this leading means I must constantly learn as well. Reading plays a huge part in that. Each summer I try to read a book, or a few books, that will advance my knowledge as a teacher and seek out more books to add to my reading list for the coming year. Some years I need more spiritual encouragement and choose my books accordingly. Other years I want to get a peak into what my kids will be reading, so I take extra time to do that. This year I decided to sink myself into Charlotte Mason's works. I have just made it about a third of a way through the first volume of this 6 volume work, so this choice may well take me all school year to finish.

This first book in the series has done what I hoped it would do. It has encouraged, inspired, and motivated me as we prepare for the year ahead. It has given me practical ideas that I want to incorporate into my schedule, as well as general purpose and goals.

In the past I read through summaries of this work, but I like to get to the source of information and found that I could get the series, a book at a time, through my local library. So, here I find myself in the midst of the first book and I know that by the time I get to the end I will not remember all that I want to. I have started journaling about what stands out to me as I read. This way, I will have my own compact handbook of Charlotte Mason's works when I finish that I can refer to anytime I want to without having to check it out from the library, and without having to buy the set and have it filling my bookshelves.

Here are some snippets that have caused me to stop and think:

- Charlotte Mason talks about children starting out as beings with potential for both good and evil. Now, unfortunately, this almost made me stop reading, because the Bible clearly teaches that man is sinful. We are born with a sin nature inherited through the ages from Adam. However, I could still agree with her resulting actions in this regard, although I don't agree with her philosophical motivation. She said that because of this, we need to expose them to as much good as possible. On the other hand, I believe all the more strongly that we must do our part to expose them to God, His Word, and His creation because they have a natural bent against goodness.

- In the practical world, she encourages children to spend time out of doors as much as possible. While I agree with this, I am often lax to promote it. This coming year I want to get out more, hold class outside more, and keep my windows open more. I definitely see the difference when I have to go for my morning run inside as opposed to breathing the fresh air of God's great creation. She said even 22 hours inside each day is too many. I don't know if I can get out more than 2 hours every day all year long, but do want to make a conscious effort in this regard.

- The Mason method is well known for its nature studies and I have only half heartedly agreed before reading her book. Does it really benefit a child in modern society to know the difference between a white oak and a red one? A swallow and a tern? A daffodil and a buttercup? Then, as I read, I realized that what all of this really taught was the power of observation (and then drawing conclusions). So much can be learned from books, but they need to get out and see the real thing and determine for themselves what type of tree and flower they see. Look for the buds on the real deal, not just in a picture where someone else already found the perfect example and circled it for you to halfheartedly glance at and return to your own activity. We have already started our local tree study and I love that each child jumps in with their own level of learning and builds from there. It has already stretched their observation skills as we try to classify all the trees around us. More on our tree studies in another post . . .

- Charlotte Mason also talks at length about instilling habits in our children. Again, I don't completely agree with her philosophy, but gained valuable insight nonetheless. I don't think I would completely agree with anyone, but I can almost always learn from them, even if it is what not to do. She talks about the power of habits. How much of what you do everyday is habit? Getting dressed, eating, using the bathroom, etc. We don't need to think about how to button our shirt or tie our shoes. Habit truly does dominate our actions throughout each day. I do think that habit differs from character (just because a child always turns off the light doesn't equate responsibility), but they may be intertwined at times, and habits can be teaching opportunities for character.

- Growing good habits in our children takes diligent, consistent effort. I want to start easy, so I am going to work on having my kids consistently turn lights off when leaving a room. Her tips have influenced how I will approach this project. She said that we sometimes try to come up with rewards when instilling a new behavior, but the habit gained is reward in itself.
Nothing against sticker charts, and fun rewards, but I realized that I don't really need to 'come up' with anything. The success of the habit will instill pride and joy in the child without it, and sometimes the reward may become the focus of the change rather than the habit. I saw this in my own children some time ago when they kept their room clean to earn a prize. It worked, but then fell apart once achieved. A habit is for life.
And that, leads into the other point that stuck with me . . . don't let them slip when they start showing success in an area. Sometimes we grow lax and think since they do a good job most of the time, I won't worry about this one time they forgot. This starts the cycle all over again, sometimes from an even worse place. I must remain consistent throughout and consistent until the end.

That is how far I am in my Charlotte Mason journey, and what I have learned so far, and look forward to implementing in the coming year. I would encourage you to find a good book to read this summer to grow your own brain a bit and find the motivation that you need for the year ahead. I think it is so critical for homeschooling parents to be always learning and setting the example in that regard.

Here are some other books I would recommend:

- Teaching the Trivium by Harvey and Laurie Bluedorn
- Lies Homeschool Moms Believe by Todd Wilson
- Let Us Highly Resolve by David and Shirley Quine
- Different Children, Different Needs by Charles Boyd
- Celebrate Home byAngie Peters (a great encouragement, especially for moms of preschoolers)

Again, while I may not agree with everything in each of these books, they have all helped me to continue down the homeschool journey at one time or another.

Any others to add?

Next in preparing for the new year . . .organization!

or more homeschooling thoughts, take a look at Happy to be at Home.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Sharpie Art, or Science

Today, after working hard to get my kitchen wonderfully clean! The kids and I did a really engaging project together. I came across this one through an email from The Old Schoolhouse Magazine which linked me to this site with various fun, simple science experiments. We have found lots of fun, educational activities to spark lively conversations and times together the past week or so.

This one involved Sharpie markers, white cloth and rubbing alcohol.

First, we assembled our supplies:

- Sharpies (these we got mostly on sale at Office Max for 10 cents this week!)
- an old t-shirt cut into 6 squares of material, one for each of us to decorate
- rubbing alcohol
- plastic containers (or cups)
- rubber bands

It would have been nice to have some kind of dropper, but we didn't, so we just poured carefully. I don't mind having to improvise, things usually work fine, just our own unique way and experience in the process.

Then, time to get to work!

We stretched the material across the plastic container and secured across the mouth of the container with a rubber band.

Everyone decorated the cloth with various colored Sharpies using mostly dots and lines. The instructions on the site said to keep it in a small area no bigger than a quarter each time. We didn't quite follow that, and filled the whole work space with dots or designs.

Once we were done decorating we poured drops of rubbing alcohol in the center (and a few around the edge to make sure that we got all the dots) to blur the ink in amazing patterns and blends.

Then, we secured a new area of our cloth and made another original design.

Since we did this on cloth scraps we didn't bother heat setting the designs, but if you wish to actually wear your creations then you would want to either heat set them in a dryer or wash them with vinegar and water to set the colors.

The kids all enjoyed this, it was very easy, and since the Sharpies were either ones I had on hand or cost 10 cents, the whole project cost less than a dollar. And, most importantly, my craft nut (the one in the green shirt) is satisfied that we already got a craft in this week and it is only Monday!

Give it a try! I would love to see others' pics and projects.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Gearing up for a new year

As we begin that slippery slope toward the start of another school year I enjoy getting the house in order so we can start off on a strong note. I have pints of homeschool ponderings and enthusiasm coursing through my veins right now as we rev up for next year. I plan to publish a number of posts on preparing for a new school year in the next couple weeks, sharing how I am preparing, and hopefully encouraging some of you as we jump into the 'newness' of another school year.

Before I can focus my attention fully on the academics, I need my house in order. Summer offers a more relaxed schedule with our job (of which I only have a few weeks left) so we always try to do a little decluttering and housecleaning. This year we anticipate a bit of rearranging as we will have quite a bit more space to spread out in, and the minimizing challenges at Handprints on the Wall have offered me great motivation to get to work. I started last week on my clothing, and today I jumped into the kitchen. I think my kids have a harder time with the decluttering than I do.

"Oh, that's my favorite hot cocoa mug" (that you haven't used in a year)
"That's where my recipe book went" (yeah, because I got tired of picking it up off the floor in your room and stuck it with mine)
"Can't we light one of these candles before we get rid of it?"
"Are you sure we won't need any of that stuff?"
"What's wrong with that?"

Not quite the accountability partners I had hoped for, but my own motivation drove me on this task well enough. I don't have any exciting before and after pictures, but I have not seen my counters this clear in over a year, I'm sure. I was able to clear out space in the cabinets for some things (like my coupon box) that have sat on my counter for so long I didn't think about finding it a new home. While my kitchen is also our medicine cabinet and our linen closet, it doesn't need to be a clutter magnet.

So, a couple things I learned today from my clearing out:

- I need to stop now and then and look at every little thing in order to really see it. I often open a cabinet and think, "it's clean." However, if I really took the time to look at each shelf I would realize how much unneeded stuff filled the spaces.

- Some things I thought I would get rid of, I didn't. Some things I could do without, but since I have them, and have room for them, I had to weigh them differently. With a home full of children that I want to spend time with each day, items that save me time (and I can afford, have room for, etc.) are worth keeping around. I don't want to too easily jump up and say I can't live without something, but there might be times when a material thing affords me more immaterial treasures. That was something I hadn't counted on learning or accepting on this "road to less."

- And, as always, balance, balance, balance. I have a tendency to overdo when I start on a project. It is easy to tackle a job until completion, ignoring the times I am missing around my ankles. I am glad for what I accomplished, and in the long run it will give me more time, but I need to take it a little more slowly and not forget to snuggle and play, and involve my kids in the process. A great post on this at Happy to be at Home.

I know I won't miss any of this stuff:

But, I don't want to miss any of this either:

More joyful thoughts, or thoughts on joy

More about joy. . .

my joy should not ebb and flow with the

- cleanliness of my house
- the obedience of my children
- the smoothness of my schedule
- the size of my house
- the health of my family
- the balance in my checking account
- the success of my investments
- the strength of my marriage
- the progress of my homeschool

. . . but it should remain constant, founded on the never changing work of Christ on the cross.

The joy of the Lord is my strength.

Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation!

Yesterday, today, forever the same.

In Christ alone.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Verse of the week -- Matthew 13:44

God continues to lead me on a journey of discovering joy, what it is, what it should look like in my life. As I meditate through the hundreds of verses that talk about joy I have found another gem that challenged me anew to keep my priorities and perspectives grounded in His Word.

As Christians we must give up a great deal from the world's perspective. Like Moses, we must choose to be mistreated along with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time (see Hebrews 11). Yet, do I hesitate to give up everything? Do I hold something back?

. . . a time frame,
. . . a habit,
. . . a comfort,
. . . a possession,
. . . an 'indulgence,'
. . . a deserved reward,
. . . a goal,
. . . a desire?

One of these verses about joy gave me a new perspective on the choices that I make, both long term and day to day. In Matthew 13:44 it says, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field." Did this man have any hesitancy in selling all he had to buy that field? No, because he knew it held unspeakable treasure.

That needs to be my outlook on this life. I know that at the end of this life I will inherit a field with unspeakable treasure, and the joy of that promise should drive me to give up anything necessary to serve God without hesitation. His joy should overshadow anything else I may need to 'give up' to follow Him.

This joy needs to permeate my life and control my decisions as mom, wife, follower of Christ, teacher, housekeeper, and neighbor. I read an encouraging blog post in this regard yesterday. It is exciting as I see God working at something in my life to read about God at work in others' lives in the very same area and enjoy further thoughts on growing this quality in my life.

What should joy motivate me to change this week? What should we willingly remove from our lives because of that eternal promise of joy?

Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.

~Matthew 13:44~

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Bread making - frugal and nourishing

Each year I work to establish another healthy eating habit into our routine. This coming school year my goal will focus around eliminating white breads (hamburger buns and tortillas included) from our diet. For starters, I worked with regular loaves of bread until I had the recipe and routine down. In order to receive the maximum nutrition I soak the flour for at least 12 hours before proceeding with making the dough. Sue Gregg talks a bit about this. The Weston A Price website also has a lengthy explanation of the benefits of this process.

Here is my routine for making bread. The day before I plan to bake I mix together the following in a glass bowl for each 2 pound loaf I plan to make:
- 4 cups flour
- 11 ounces water and 2 Tbsp whey or yogurt

The whey separates from the yogurt in the container and makes a great addition to the recipe without giving it the sour taste of replacing all of the liquid with yogurt.

The dough is rather thick at this point:

I then cover it with a glass lid and leave it on the counter until the next morning:I have incorporated flax, instead of oil or butter, into my recipe to also increase the nutritional value. To learn more about flax, check out this website. In the morning I add the rest of the ingredients including the following:

- 4 Tbsp ground flax
- 2 Tbsp honey
- 2 1/4 tsp yeast
- 1 1/2 tsp salt

I allow this to mix in my Kitchen Aid mixer with a dough hook attachment for 6-8 minutes, or until I see the bubbles throughout the dough. At this time I transfer it back into a glass bowl to rise for about an hour, depending on the temperature of my kitchen, until it is about doubled in size.
After that hour, I punch it down, shape it into a loaf and put it into the lightly greased stoneware loaf pan where it rises for another hour

Then, bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes and we have a wonderful, fresh, healthy, frugal loaf of bread. I have figured my cost to be around 70 cents a loaf even with current wheat prices.

The result is a delicious bread that is somewhat dense, but not crumbly or too heavy. It is suitable for toast, sandwiches, or just eating plain.

I use this same dough in different forms including cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, hamburger buns, garlic bread, etc. I've also made a cinnamon swirl loaf which is amazing toasted or as French toast. When I first started bread baking I enjoyed finding inspiration as well as some troubleshooting on the following sites:

King Arthur's Flour (this page you now need to register to access, but I found lots of helpful information when I was getting started.)

Natural Ovens (less information here, but inspiration in how the company came to where they are today in producing nourishing foods.)

And, from Bob's Red Mill site I found this great baking resource. That one is probably my favorite.

And, one more site I came across today that has some helpful tips.

I learned a lot by trial and error. I tried adding eggs, but we didn't like how heavy it turned out. I added a teaspoon of vinegar which should lengthen the life of the bread, but it altered the flavor. I also played around with soaking times. My kids don't like the bread too sour, so I keep it much closer to the 12 hours as opposed to the 24 hours. It's all about getting the bread just right for you and your family.

My greatest motivation down this path was actually only partly nutrition. I also had grown quite tired of paying over three dollars a loaf for quality bread in the grocery store. Now, I offer my kids the freshest bread and I know exactly what went into making it. Once I had worked it into my routine it didn't really take much extra time, but it saves me about five dollars each week just for the bread. Now I just need to get more consistent at making all the other breads we use and we will save close to $10 each week ($520 a year)! . . . That's a lot of dough (sorry, couldn't resist, comes from an upbringing in corny humor).

For more frugal tips, check out Crystal's blog.

And for more frugal, nourishing recipes, specifically side dishes, check out Keeper of the Home.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I appreciate the brutal honesty and passionate faith of David and the other writers of the Psalms. Today I found great encouragement in Psalm 77. This passage shares the grief when we 'feel' that God is distant or ignoring our lives. It shows the irrational thought pattern that I recognize in my own life when the days seem overwhelming or the journey too hard.

The psalmist sets a wonderful example. He doesn't hear some voice from heaven, or have a miraculous sign that "God loves you."

Instead he ponders, meditates, on God's working in history.

He makes a conscious choice to praise God.

He recognizes that there is no god like our God!

While we may not know his footsteps, He holds our hand and leads us.

Not that He needed to, but He has proven Himself time and again throughout history. We need to remember that when we feel lost in the jungle and distant. I need to ground my perspective on the truth played out through eternity, not on my own perception of how today seems to be going.

Who is so great a God as our God?

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Verse of the week -- Hebrews 13:15-17

In the Old Testament days sacrifices offered a constant reminder of their sin, their need of a savior, and their need to daily choose to live for God. Our sacrifices, while less tangible, should accomplish the same needs and decisions in our lives. Sometimes we may view Sunday as our day to bring a sacrifice, as it affords us that opportunity to corporately enter the throne room of Grace and worship our great and awesome God through song, tithes, teaching, commitments, etc. However, our sacrifices should overflow each and everyday, continually directed heavenward at God's great goodness, mercy, and working in our lives.

This morning I had the privilege of leading the early elementary kids at our church in worship and their sincerity and energy inspired me. Their verse for the week was Hebrews 13:16, but after reading the context, I of course couldn't stop there. Verses 15-17 say, "By him (Jesus Christ) therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. 16But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. 17 Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you."

The verse before their key verse had great significance for our time of worship as it encourages us to offer our praise as sacrifice to God, as we speak His name with our lips. Verse sixteen encourages us to turn that worship into action toward others, and that too is a sacrifice. And the following verse carried special bearing for me as I led the worship, but also as I walk in my role as mother throughout the week. It is not written to the leaders, but I think it was more intended for their hearing than the actual audience's. I have a serious responsibility in parenting. I have to keep watch over my children's souls. That easily gets lost in piles of laundry and dishes, stacks of schoolwork, and daily schedules. But, that is what I should be about. The remainder of the verse reminds me of the weight of that responsibility along with some advice on methodology. I have to give an account for every moment with my kids, every moment I choose to spend on the computer instead of interacting with them (yikes!), every word spoken in haste, every missed teaching opportunity, every choice in lax discipline, EVERYTHING! God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He knows better than we do how human we moms are. But, He does expect us to take our role seriously, and constantly strive to honor Him with our days.

Not with a somber attitude though! Not dragging ourselves around grieving over lost time or missed opportunities outside the home, or whatever else may bring us down. It does not profit our children to have mopey leaders watching over them. We must find His joy in this daily work. Even if at times it is sorrowful work, our future promise gives our heart a foundation of joy that drives us on.

Of course, you have to continue to read the whole chapter to really get the feel for the writer's closing chapter of this amazing book, but these few verses carry a significant message in and of themselves. This week as I watch over my children I pray that I will do it with joy offering up my life, my daily walk, as wife, mom, and follower of Jesus Christ as an offering to God continually.

By him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to his name. But to do good and to communicate forget not: for with such sacrifices God is well pleased. Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

~Hebrews 13:15-17~

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Frugal Friday -- Magazines

I have never paid to subscribe to a magazine, and yet have enjoyed the benefit of reading many different publications from Organic Gardening to Homeschooling Today to Family Fun. I used to think of the library as just a place to read books without buying them, but I have recently started looking at the many other services and resources the library has available.

Magazines in particular grabbed my attention. How long is a magazine's productive life in your household? For me, they usually aren't around more than a week or two. Now, I check them out from the library and have them for free for that long and they don't just go in the recycle bin when I finish with them (another benefit to getting them from the library rather than subscribing to your personal copy).

Now, I did run into a bit of a snag because my library, and many others as well, don't loan out the current copy. Instead I was stuck checking out a season-old copy. I fully understand their reasoning, and yet a friend once recommended a way "around" this policy. Since I am generally looking for seasonally relevant articles, and my library keeps just over a year of magazines on hand . . . I merely check out the year old magazine and find advice for my summer garden, back to school tips, and family outing ideas to keep July interesting, rather than reading about spring flowers, finishing the school year strong, and Easter craft ideas.

While you browse the magazine offerings don't forget to check out the movies, audio books (great for long car rides, or just running around town), CDs, etc, etc. And, many libraries are very accommodating if you request a certain magazine or resource that they do not have on hand. May as well have your taxes paying for something that you will truly benefit from, right?

It never hurts to ask.

For more Frugal Friday tips, check out Crystal's blog.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008


Just one among many

Yesterday a friend asked a question prompted by her own growing family:

How do you make time for each individual child?

I don't think she knows me well enough to know that this subject rests near to my heart. I grew up in a large family and while I know that my parents love me, I don't think that spending time with us on an individual basis was a priority in our home. I was loved, well cared for, raised to love the Lord, but I knew that I wanted something different in my own home. For that very reason, I had only wanted to have a couple children, maybe three at the most. Obviously, God worked on my heart, and as my husband and I watched each child come into our family, we could not imagine having only one or two of these amazing people around us. So, now I face this challenge that we will all find a different answer to, how do I spend time with each child? Whether the family has one or twenty, this is something to consider. Even with one or two it is easy to get caught up in 'things' and not truly spend time with a child. Therefore, I don't think that this question belongs only in the larger homes. I doubt many moms have not at some time considered how to find balance in this area of nurturing relationships with our children.

While the answer will look different in each home, and in various seasons, I wanted to share a bit of how I have worked this into my day, as well as plans to continue more intentionality in this area. I would also love to hear how others have incorporated the meeting of this need into their own plans, routines, dates, times, or activities.

First, when I find myself busy with housework I try to call a child along side to talk, help, interact. While many hands do make light work, when any of those hands belong to a child, sometimes that maxim does not hold true. However, my motivation does not come from a desire for a shortened work time. I realize that in order to know my children, and build and maintain that relationship, I must make the most of every opportunity. Each day I have a designated "Cook's Helper" that helps prepare meals and set the table. This provides a great opportunity not only for one-on-one training in housekeeping skills, but more importantly, ample time to talk about life, laugh together, and share thoughts, dreams, questions, and challenges. I think both the child and I thoroughly enjoy that private time even in the midst of a busy day and active household. Similar to this, when either my husband or I have errands to run we will often take just one child with us for some special time together.

Second, in homeschooling I have worked into my schedule a set time with each child. This started for academic reasons, but has grown into more than that. I like to have individual time that comes in a variety of contexts because we different conversations in a school setting, and a cooking setting, and a laundry-folding setting, etc. Each environment opens different opportunities to mentor my kids, know them, and for them to know me.

Lastly, I like to close each day with time spent with each child before they go to sleep. Sometimes this takes over an hour, but it is well worth it. Lying down, discussing the day's events, so many topics come up and bind us together. This offers a great time to clear up any misunderstandings, encourage a vision for the future, pray for that child or their circumstances, and in general talk about life from the perspective and take the time to place it through a Christian world view. Those bedtimes are a very important part of spending time with each child.

One area I have often thought of, but have done little to implement, involves special outing with each child. This is something I would love to do on a more regular basis, but it is difficult to plan without taking too much away from together family time. I have never done it in an organized way because I figured I could never take each child out every month. That thinking failed to show me that the end result would be no outings, rather than the sporadic ones that I could have potentially had if I had at least tried. So, that would be an area that I would like to see develop. Even if I only take them out once a year (hmmm, maybe around their birthday . . .) that could be something looked forward to and enjoyed, and maybe it will grow to more.

At times I do wish I had God's ability to listen to each child as they talk over each other at the same time, and have a personal interaction even in the group settings. But, since I remain only human, in His design, I will continue to seek to have one-on-one time with each of my children both now and when they move beyond my household.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Verse of the week -- Psalm 126:5,6

Sometimes joy seems fleeting, temporary, elusive, and sometimes even superficial.

As I continually found myself last week encouraged not to grow weary in the daily tasks of motherhood, I also found myself thinking about joy.

What is joy?
Where does it come from?
What does it look like in day-to-day life?
What is its focus?
Should I be more joyful?
Can I be more joyful?

While I do not pretend to have the answers to all of these questions, it set me on a quest that will last beyond this blog entry, and beyond the next week or even two. I started by looking up each time that the words 'joy,' 'joyful,' or 'joyfully' appeared in the Bible. I'm still working through the list, reading the verses with their context and jotting down notes. I chose a couple favorites to focus on this week, as they highlight a couple themes I saw emerging on the topic of joy.

In Psalm 126:5,6 it says, "Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed, Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him."

Not all references to joy talk about sorrow and weeping in the present, but I was surprised how many references to joy were future references. It is a promise of joy, a hope of the joy to come. The joy that should exist in our lives (it is after all a fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:22) does not stem from the temporal things of this world, but of the great promise to come. This world and all that it offers is fleeting, but heaven offers joy, the joy that enabled Christ to endure the cross, and can draw us through days that may at times seem sorrow-filled. Just as faith relies on a promise of future reward, so our joy finds its fertilizer in the future. I love the picture of bringing my "sheaves" with me. The journey may at times be tough and the days of a mother wrought with challenge, but the reward of seeing my children walking in the Lord will leave an eternal spring in my step.

Another theme that I found in joy came in its form of expression. So many of the references to joy say, "shout of joy" or "shout joyfully." Joy is not quiet. Joy is not something that will go unnoticed in your life. Joy is something you cannot keep from escaping noticeably from your lips. How often does just the opposite proclaim itself boldly from my lips? My criticisms and disappointments are sometimes too loud, are my affirmations and joys even louder?

I look forward to continuing this journey to joy, remembering that on this path I need to always have an eye on the future, and not to stifle the joy that He gives.

Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting.
He who goes to and fro weeping, carrying his bag of seed,
Shall indeed come again with a shout of joy, bringing his sheaves with him

~Psalm 126:5,6~

Thursday, July 3, 2008

A couple items of importance . . .

In the last couple days I received a couple emails that I hope many of you are aware of, but if not I wanted to spread the word. Two very different circumstances, but related to the same issue -- the state of the traditional family in our world, and in particular our nation, today.

First, for just over a year now there has been an organized movement to get a Parents' Rights Amendment proposed, and hopefully ratified. This has now been proposed, and I would urge each of you to contact your representative about sponsoring this. The website also has more information about the actual wording proposed and how to support this effort.

Here is the text of an email that I just received from the organization:

Parental Rights Amendment Introduced!
Contact your Representative today and urge them to support the Parental Rights Amendment.

The Parental Rights Constitutional Amendment bill has just been introduced in the House of Representatives! Our bill number is H. J. Res 97. Rep. Pete Hoekstra introduced the proposed constitutional amendment which is designed to preserve and protect parental rights from future erosion. Preserving parental rights for generations to come is an issue that concerns every parent across this nation. That’s why now is the time to get your Congressperson to support this vital bill.

The introduction of the Parental Rights Amendment signals the opening of an important discussion in Congress. So we encourage you to begin engaging Congress on the issue of parental rights today.


You can contact your member of Congress here.

Write, call or email with a short message urging your member of Congress to stand in support of H. J. Res 97, the Parental Rights Constitutional Amendment. Encourage them to contact Rep. Pete Hoekstra to add their name to a list of potential Co-Sponsors.

And look for more updates as we move forward with this vital effort!


Kristin Wright
Deputy Director

It only takes a few minutes to send of a quick email to your representative asking them to take a stand for parents.

Secondly, the American Family Association has organized a boycott of McDonald's because of their proactive support of the LGBT community through sponsorship of the National Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. You can find more information about this here, as well as sign an online petition. Boycotts like this have been effective in the past with persuading companies to reconsider where they place their financial backing.

Although I feel it is important to educate myself and act on issues like these as I have time, their prevalence also reminds of the importance of my own family. I don't respond maliciously or with hatred, or with a sense of superiority. I see with sadness that so many families and individuals have lost their way in this world. Tricked into thinking that happiness will not allude them if they simply try a different path in this life.

I know the truth that guides my actions in this life and promises me victory and joy for eternity. Being a part of movements such as these I pray that the swell of support will make some of those that disagree to reconsider what we have to say. I also pray that in my own life, in my own home, it will be clear that we walk according to a standard that was laid at the foundation of the world, not arrogantly or out of bigotry, but with love, inviting others to join us in this journey. Walking step by step in the feet of my Savior who died for my own sins as well as those I see around me.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Today's prayer

A while back I shared about my prayer time for my family, and in particular for my children.

Today, as I always do on the first of the month, I prayed through John 17 for my kids. There is such power and assurance in praying through Scripture. I have prayed from this chapter so many times now that I underlined the applicable phrases and pray through them for my kids (a few alterations of pronouns because it is me speaking, not Jesus Christ):

Father, I pray that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. Now they have come to know that everything You have given me is from You; I ask on their behalf; I do not ask on behalf of the world, but of those whom You have given me;

They themselves are in the world, and I come to You, Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Jesus Christ, that they may be one even as You are.

That they may have Your joy made full in themselves. I have given them Your word;
I do not ask You to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.

That they also may be in You, so that the world may believe that You sent Jesus Christ.

That they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Jesus, and loved them, even as You have loved me.

And I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known, so that the love wherewith You loved me may be in them.