Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Would Someone Please Get Me Out of the Kitchen?!

this just speaks to me!

Is it just me, or do you feel like you are in the kitchen all the time? If you're not making something, you're cleaning it up, and then a small 2-legged creature under 42" whom we shall endearingly call a child ;) is in the kitchen again, rummaging around for something to feed his growing body.

With the holidays here and no extended family in town, feeding my family falls solely on me. I enjoy it, really I do. But sometimes preparing all these meals and snacks, plus extra baking for Christmas, gets quite overwhelming. For some mercy and advice in this area, I emailed Marybeth--a Southern cook who keeps quite busy feeding her family of 8.

Here is part of what I wrote:

I am reflecting on how to help next year's Christmas run smoother, mainly regarding all the food prep. We did not have any family in town, so it was just us (five of us, my three boys are under 5 so that in itself is busy!). I wanted to (and tried to) finish baking for neighbors (saving it for Dec. 23 and 24 was not the best idea). I planned to make appetizers for Christmas Eve dinner, and ham, cranberry fluff, hashbrown potato casserole from scratch (as in making my own hashbrowns), cherry cream pie, glazed baby carrots, and rolls. We had a sausage/pepper/cheese pie and Maple Apple nut bread for breakfast (which I did make the night before). Long story short, there was a lot of food prep and cooking; many, many dishes; and I found myself spending more time than I would have liked in the kitchen (and getting quite stressed about getting it all done and still enjoying time relaxing with my family).

I wanted to ask you--since you've been cooking and hosting longer than I--for your best tips on getting it all done and getting it done smoothly. I've heard for food safety, it is not a good idea to keep a dish longer than 3 days in the refrigerator, so it's a little tricky to make too many things too many days ahead of time. But how do you prepare your menu and prevent a major overhaul day in the kitchen?

If you were solely responsible for all the Christmas cooking, setting the table and cleaning up, what principles would you follow?

Preparing all the food takes a lot of time and hard work obviously! What tips have you found to get it done joyfully, and manage to also enjoy quality time with your family (instead of segregating yourself to the kitchen for several hours at a time)?
Here's what Marybeth said in response:
Cheryl, unfortunately I have no good tips for that... I find myself in the kitchen an awful lot during the days leading up to Christmas too! I think as women there is just no way around it. I try to take comfort in the knowledge that my kids will not remember all the gifts they got but they will remember my traditional foods I made year after year.

I would say simplify your menu some-- you don't have to have all those side dishes. On Christmas Eve we had meatball stew that I made that morning and put in the crockpot, some Sister Schubert's rolls and a brownie trifle that I made that afternoon. Everyone raved about the food and it was very simple to come home from church and serve quickly. So that's something to think about-- not doing so much and searching out simple alternatives. We did not do a meal on Christmas day-- we did do a big breakfast of egg casserole and cinnamon rolls. The rest of the day was leftover stew and some pasta I had made on the 23rd. The kids knew I was not cooking and was going to enjoy my day!!

Good advice!
All this brings me to the reminder of the once-a-month cooking festival right here on the 1st of every month. This month we'll be looking at ways to help get ourselves out of the kitchen for at least a few hours every day. :) We'll consider cooking co-ops: how do you start one, how do they work, and we'll also talk about ways to streamline holiday hosting. If you have any great tips, please let me know (ahem, Jodi!).

Happy New Year and see you January 1st!

Making Do With What You've Got

(funny how I never noticed the film negative on the floor until this picture! That's why taking pictures can help your eyes see things around your house more clearly!)

Our couch is at least 30 years old. It's been sat on, jumped on, and rested on probably enough times to set it in the Guinness Book Of World Records. It was handed down to me from my aunt and uncle when I moved West for my first news reporting job right out of college. But before that, it was handed down to my sisters' for their college apartment. It was my first couch while single, and it became our first couch as a married couple. It continues to serve our family, and it never complains even when jumped on like a trampoline by three little boys.

For a long time now, I've been aware that the lifespan of this couch is slowly drawing to a close. Many days, I've wished to speed up that process and find a replacement...but of course, that takes money, and this couch was, after all, free. We did receive some money for Christmas that could be used to purchase a new couch; however, after thinking about it long and hard, my husband and I realized this couch just isn't done yet.

We can make do with what we've got. The zipper of one seat cushion broke, but this weekend, my handy husband fixed that. Good as new 30 years old! There are some tears in the upholstery and a hole in the back of it thanks to a child playing with Dad's screwdriver in the house ("Look, Mom, if I poke this in here, it makes a big hole! If I poke my finger in the hole, it gets even bigger! Isn't that cool?!"). But we realized that's nothing a slipcover can't fix. You can get them from Walmart for around $50; I know if I looked around hard enough, I could probably find one for less, but I'm willing to spend $50 for a "new" couch that I paid nothing for to begin with, even though that goes against my frugal grain.

Now onto our kitchen table--

I never thought I would say this when we were first married (it was my husband's bachelor pad table), but I actually kind of like it now. It is that '50's retro Coca-Cola style. As you can see, it is supposed to have four matching red chairs. As you can also see, there is only one red chair around the table. The other three are in the garage waiting to be repaired, again thanks to the boys! So we have mismatched chairs and a table we are slowly outgrowing.

That's why it was so tempting when we heard from a furniture store owner that this time of year is the best time to buy kitchen and dining room sets. You can get a nice oak table with 6 chairs for less than $400. So we thought maybe we'd forgo the new couch and get a new table instead. And then we realized we can save our money and make do with what we've got. For $5-$15, I can create a totally new look just by purchasing a pretty tablecloth. Being my frugal self, I would normally never spend $15 on a tablecloth, but again, it's a bargain compared to the cost of a new table. To me, it's a few dollars (ok, several) for a little "pick-me-up" that encourages me to be content with what we've got.

I love what I read this week from Edith Schaeffer in The Hidden Art of Homemaking:

"There is great satisfaction in making something out of nothing, in restoring some old cast-off to a place of usefulness and beauty, or rescuing some discarded piece of wood, stone or metal from the dump and turning it into an object that has purpose and charm in your home. Among other things, this would also help to limit the ghastly filling up of dumps and the wrecking of woods and fields with everything that people toss out in order to make room for the latest plastic replacement. Ecology is of vital importance in our moment of history....You are adding to the problem if you are carelessly tossing out things which could be useful. On top of that, you are neglecting to stimulate your own creative talents if you throw away things and adopt an attitude of 'buying whatever the local store might have.'"

So slipcovers and tablecloths, here I come! (By the way, Jodi, do you think they're still on clearance at Walmart?!)
P.S. If you do go furniture shopping, know that the mark-up is incredible. Always ask when the piece you're interested in will be going on sale; a friend of mine even offers lower than the sale price (she brings cash). The salesperson usually takes her offer, or dickers a bit, but they still arrive at a figure lower than the advertised sale price!

Making do with what we've got instead of buying new works for me!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Maple Apple Bread

This bread is so delicious. It is probably not the healthiest thing you'll ever eat, but it will rank right up there as one of the tastiest! A friend gave me this recipe. I think she found it in A Taste of Home magazine several years ago. We love it at our house; hope you enjoy it too.
Visit Tasty Tuesday for more recipes!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Menu Plan 12-27

Sunday dinner
Leftover Ham (fried in pan), scalloped potatoes, cranberry fluff

Caramel Pecan Rolls
Ham and corn chowder, rolls
Hacienda Chicken, Rice, Guacamole

French Toast, cottage cheese
Ham and cheese quesadillas, carrot sticks

Scrambled eggs, toast
Broccoli Cheese soup, bread
Pasta Putanesca (still meaning to try this), salad

Smoothies, baked oatmeal
Teriyaki Pork Stir Fry, pineapple and rice
Roast, potatoes, carrots

Beef Stew, biscuits

snacks (maybe burritos if left over beef)
London broil, twice-baked potatoes, broccoli

*This week I am not listing snacks because I am trying an experiment. The boys (at least one of them) are not eating well at meals. My husband and I want to try to see if cutting out snacks for a bit (other than fruit) will help improve their appetite at meals. So yes, if they're starving, I'll feed them some fruit or yogurt, or string cheese, but I'm going to leave it at least until Tuesday!

Visit for more menu ideas!

Messy Monday: How You Go About the Process

I love this picture, because more often than not it represents what my kitchen tends to look like as I cook or bake. This past week, for example, with Christmas coming and myself being the only one responsible for my family's meals, I did a lot of cooking and baking. Even though I thought I was doing great to put my measuring cups, spoons, mixing bowls, and pans in the sink right away instead of leaving them on the counter to deal with later when I was done, my husband walked in the kitchen once and said "Whoa, what a mess!"

This spawned an interesting discussion about the process of any aspect of homemaking, whether it be cooking or baking, sewing, laundry, or anything else. In the process, I stay strictly on task with my eye toward the immediate goal: get dinner made and clean up once it's in the oven or on the stove (or afterwards), make the muffins (cookies/bread/etc.) and clean up once they're in the oven. I am improving as I go about the process by at least getting the stuff to the sink, but I still have a sink full of dirty dishes awaiting me once I'm done making whatever it is I'm baking.

I asked my husband if he ever remembers his mom making a mess in the kitchen as she went about her cooking (even if she cleaned it up all the way immediately afterward), or if it was always under control. He said she went about the process much differently than I do. She never let anything get out of hand. So she slowed down the process to keep up with the used items, and found once her baking was done, so was she. The kitchen was spotless because she had kept it that way as she went about the process. Interesting, hugh? :)

For those of us for whom this does not come naturally, we can train our mental responses and start to learn new skills. I truly believe some of us are more skilled in tidy homemaking than others, and some of us struggle much more in this area. I struggle.

So this week, as I go about the process of whatever it is I'm doing, I'm really going to try my hardest to keep it under control at every step. Use a measuring cup; wash it right then, dry it right then, put it away right then. That way, if you stopped over for a surprise visit, I wouldn't be petrified as you look at my disastrous kitchen; and you would never know I was in the middle of baking!

What tips do you follow to keep things under control as you go about a process?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Frugal Food Tip: Pig out on Ham!

After my piece of cherry cream pie just now, I can hardly think about food, but I am willing to get past that   to bring you a money-saving tip!

My pig on a platter

Now is the time of year to stock up on ham, or "pig meat" as my two-and-a-half year old calls it. Our Safeway store has shank hams for .89 cents per pound. A half ham will cost between $6 and $8. I fully understand you probably don't want to cook a half ham several times a year. That's why you'll kindly ask your butcher if he could cut it up into ham steaks for you. I've never known one to say no (usually meat-cutting is an unadvertised courtesy).  Wearing perfume and lipstick before you ask will also help increase your odds. Just kidding (however, butchers may appreciate a whiff of a flowery smell). :)

When you get home with your ham steaks, you can package them up individually in freezer bags, or freezer paper. During a busy week, just grab one out of the freezer, cut it in large pieces (I usually take it in triangles but that's just me) and fry it up. So easy it almost makes me cry (except I don't cry easily, so nevermind).

Oh, the butcher will also give you the rump. You can use this for soup. When you do, make sure you don't leave your pot on the stove and head to the mall, thinking you'll be back in a half hour so you don't really need to add more water, but then several hours later, you arrive home, notice it smells like someone's roasting coffee, hear--from outside your house--your smoke detector sounding loudly (the one with issues), and realize you forgot all about your ham and beans. Which are now charred to the bottom of your Calphalon pan. Oh, and when you go to dump it out, don't dispose of it in your flower bed, thinking it will be good compost. The dog will just find it and eat it. And cleaning up the aftermath from that on the stairs as your dog tries desperately to make her way out in the middle of the night will really not be a very good thing at all. And you will just wish you would have added more water and turned the heat down. Or better yet, turned the stove off when you left the house.

So go get yourself a pig at these prices, but do be careful cooking ham and beans!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Brokenness and Birth

It's been an eventful week around here, not just because of the busyness of all the last-minute details and food preparations before Christmas. The boys are sick, and Xave came down with such a bad case of croup we were ready to rush him to the ER in the middle of the night two days ago because he was working so hard to breathe. Happy to report he's getting better (thanks to modern medicine and God's healing hand!), the gifts have been wrapped (and opened), the food's made (and almost all eaten), and I'm finally getting ready to blog!

Other than busy, the theme of this week was broken. I can't even begin to tell you all of the things around the house that the boys managed to somehow break. I blogged about it here. The final straw came when I broke one of our good Mikasa cereal bowls we received for our wedding (we are now down to two for a family of five). As I was wiping up the broken ceramic shards, and reflecting on all the other special things that got destroyed this week, I realized sometimes brokenness can be a good thing.

When we come to the end of who we are and get a good long raw look at ourselves and realize how desperately we truly need a Savior, this kind of brokenness--this falling on our knees before our God and begging for His mercy and thanking Him for His grace--this kind of brokenness is indeed a good thing.

This Christmas, brokenness reminds me how grateful I am for the Birth.

"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." Luke 2:10, 11

And the God who spoke is speaking still
And the God who came still comes
And the miracle that happened still happens in the heart
that will believe
And we receive the miracle of Christmas

So come to Bethlehem again and see
The one who's come to rescue us, our Savior and King
Bring your past, the joy, the sorrow, all your hope
to find tomorrow
And hear the words again, fear not and know that
God is near..." ("The Miracle of Christmas" by Steven Curtis Chapman)
Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Mom's In Need of Mercy

Today was one of those days. You know, the kind that have you thinking about leaving your children with someone you trust and going somewhere by yourself for a few days hours. Ever had one of those?

First thing this morning, trying to cook pancakes, the smoke detector repeatedly kept sounding, thanks to the teeny bit of hot oil on my griddle. (It is a very sensitive detector, which is probably good but very annoying). My husband whacked it, breaking a ceiling tile in the process (he fixed it tonight; thanks honey!). After breakfast, I sent my boys up to get dressed. My oldest came down and told me that my middle son had managed to break the shower door. It was hanging precariously in the first place; when I got upstairs to inspect the damage, sure enough, there was a shower door on the floor.

Hoping to redeem the day, I took my crying baby who has a cold and is getting his one-year molars up for his morning nap. I came down to find granola poured all over the kitchen floor, with the boys--and their stuffed animal puppies--trying to eat it up. Turns out they were trying to "feed" their pets. Yeah.

They got into more mischief in the garage while I was taking a few minutes to read some Scripture to help me through the day. Once in the house, my oldest plugged up the toilet, which overflowed. He tried to wipe it all up with our nice, clean washcloths, and promptly shut the door, without telling me (I will admit I was not in a very good mood by this point anyway).

On a day like this, I thank God for the gift of His mercy and a new day full of opportunities tomorrow (for good and not for mischief, I hope!). When I most needed some encouragement, I read this:
"You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed. How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered." (Psalm 139: 16,17).
 God already knew everything that would happen today before it ever even happened. It was not spinning out-of-control, as it felt like to me. It was completely in His sovereign control. Even though I became discouraged by what was happening around me, God's thoughts toward me--and my sons--are still precious. So precious they cannot be numbered.

At lunch, I received a Christmas card from a friend that simply said "Joy in the Journey."

That is my prayer; perhaps it is your's too--that God's mercy and grace will help us to find joy in the journey. Every moment of every day!

holy experience

Menu Plan Monday 12/21-12/27

Banana-Granola Pancakes
 (so easy, just make pancakes, slice and top with thinly sliced bananas while one side is cooking, flip, then butter, and sprinkle with granola and syrup when done!)
Crockpot Potato Soup, cornbread (I really am going to finally make this today!)
Tuna oriental, rice, salad

Scrambled eggs, toast, grapefruit
Macaroni and cheese, mixed vegetables, milk
Pinto beans, rice, tomatoes, lettuce, tortillas, coleslaw (carry over from last week)

Oatmeal, brown sugar, raisins, milk
Leftover bean and rice burritos
Cranberry Chicken, rice, sugar snap peas, Chinese Cabbage Salad

Pancakes (kids' request)
Pork Stir Fry with leftover coleslaw
Chili Cheese Dip, chips, other snacks and appetizers
Make cookies

Christmas Morning Pie
Maple Apple Bread
Spiced Tea
Cranberry Fluff
Glazed carrots
Hashbrown potato casserole
Rolls (possibly)
Cherry Cream Pie
(assorted baked goods and leftovers as snacks)

Snack Ideas this week:
Baked goods that we'll make
String cheese
Fruit and veggies
Yogurt parfaits
Nilla wafers and milk
Boiled eggs

Merry Christmas!! What's on your Christmas menu for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? Do you have any fun traditions you do and foods you make every year? The boys are loving gingerbread cookies, so I think we'll try to make up dough early on Christmas Eve and then decorate them after church. We may also go look at lights after church Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Messy Monday: Take It One Foot at a Time

If you look around and are overwhelmed by the amount of clutter everywhere and wonder how you’ll ever dig yourself out, take it one foot at a time. Literally. Or if your home is usually pretty tidy but there are a few places requiring more focused work, break your work into square foot chunks. Concentrate your effort in one square foot of space at a time. If the immediate square foot you’re looking at is clean (let’s say your dresser), you can expand your radius to find a section of square footage awaiting your work!

This tip really helps me because sometimes a large area with many items out of place (for example, my kitchen counter) can overwhelm me. I feel like I don’t know where exactly on the counter to start; and if I picked a place, how much do I do before I need to stop due to time or pressing demands like changing diapers, stopping squabbles, wiping up spilled drinks, and more? It is very easy for me to lose my focus and do a little here and there without finishing the “big” project. Consequently, it’s never done. Not even one square foot of it is ever fully clean (usually).

So breaking cleaning up into small chunks of one square foot at a time is very helpful for me. It’s fairly quick. It’s a small enough chunk I can keep my focus. Once it’s done, I feel successful and am more inspired to move on to the next square foot, and the next, and the next, and so on. Taking it one foot at a time is very doable. Now I just need to go do it!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Husbands (and Wives) In Need of Mercy

I heartily recommend Feminine Appeal: Seven Virtues of a Godly Wife and Mother by Carolyn Mahaney. When I read this, I knew I had to share it with you. In a chapter entitled "The Pleasure of Purity," Mrs. Mahaney quotes from an unbelievable text called Instruction and Advice for The Young Bride. It was written in 1894 by Ruth Smythers--a minister's wife, of all people. It sounds more like "Satan's Tips and Techniques to Ruin What Otherwise Could Have Been a Great Marriage." Ready? Read on.
"To the sensitive young woman who has had the benefits of proper upbringing, the wedding day is ironically, both the happiest and most terrifying day of her life. On the positive side, there is the wedding itself, in which the bride is the central attraction in a beautiful and inspiring ceremony, symbolizing her triumph in securing a male to provide for all her needs for the rest of her life. On the negative side, there is the wedding night, during which the bride must 'pay the piper,' so to speak, by facing for the first time the terrible experience of sex.

At this point, dear reader, let me concede one shocking truth. Some young women actually anticipate the wedding night ordeal with curiosity and pleasure! Beware such an attitude! A selfish and sensual husband can easily take advantage of such a bride. One cardinal rule of marriage should never be forgotten: GIVE LITTLE, GIVE SELDOM, AND ABOVE ALL, GIVE GRUDINGLY [doesn't that sound so opposite of  biblical advice?] Otherwise what could have been a proper marriage could become an orgy of sexual lust.
On the other hand, the bride's terror need not be extreme. While sex is at best revolting and at worst rather painful, it has to be endured, and has been by women since the beginning of time, and is compensated for by the monogamous home and by the children produced through it.
It is useless, in most cases, for the bride to prevail upon the groom to forgo the sexual initiation. While the ideal husband would be one who would approach his bride only at her request, and only for the purpose of begetting offspring, such nobility and unselfishness cannot be expected from the average man.
Most men, if not denied, would demand sex almost every day. The wise bride will permit a maximum of two brief sexual experiences weekly during the first months of marriage. As time goes by she should make every effort to reduce this frequency. Feigned illness, sleepiness and headaches are among the wife's best friends in this matter. Arguments, nagging, scolding and bickering also prove very effective if used in the late evening about one hour before the husband would normally commence his seduction.
Clever wives are on the alert for new and better methods of denying and discouraging the amorous overtures of the husband. A good wife should expect to have reduced sexual contacts to once a week by the end of the first year of marriage and to once a month by the end of the fifth year of marriage. By their tenth anniversary many wives have managed to complete their child bearing and have achieved the ultimate goal of terminating all sexual contacts with the husband. By this time, she can depend upon his love for the children and social pressures to hold the husband in the home." [as a forlorn prisoner, I might add.]

Can you believe it? This ridiculous advice would almost be funny if it weren't so awful. Provoke arguments, start nagging, scolding and bickering to avoid intimacy? Her pathetic advice is definitely not Christian. For God's greatest command is to love Him and then each other. 1 John tells us we know (and show) we love God by how well we love one another.  The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control (Galatians 5). Mrs. Smythers sure had the self-control area down, but that seems to be about all!

"Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." (1 Cor. 7:5)

Another quote from Feminine Appeal--"I've heard many excuses for not having sex--not in the mood, headache, too tired, don't have time. Prayer and fasting has never been one of them."

So without getting too personal, let's do something Mrs. Smythers wouldn't do this weekend. :) I'm sure our husbands won't mind.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Is Preschool a Necessary Expense?

image from

What I’m about to say is very politically incorrect.

In our area, preschool programs cost about $100 a month. Is it a necessary expense in order to have a well-educated, properly socialized child? Or can your hard-earned money be better spent on other things while your child still grows into his or her perfectly-rounded, well-adjusted, very-socialized, brilliant self? I would argue the latter.

You can send a child as young as two to preschool five days a week, and you’ll be asked to attend parent-teacher conferences, where the teacher will probably point out areas needing improvement in your child’s life. What could those areas possibly be at age two or three? Maybe the teacher will say he is not holding a crayon properly and is not sharing toys as well as she would like. And you will go home and cry.

Or you could just remember, your child is two (or three or four), for goodness’ sake! Coloring with crayons and learning to share will come in due time. Let’s keep our perspective. But that’s hard to do when the “educational expert” on your child (the teacher, not you) is pointing out all of your wee little one’s faults and areas needing improvement. Can we just back away from the situation and relax a little? (I’m sure you know all of these areas anyway as the parent, and as a good parent, I’m sure you’re working on all the character training anyway).

You can save your money and teach your child everything he or she will need to know for success in school in the comfort of your own home. Read quality books to your kids every single day. Their vocabulary and comprehension skills will soar. Involve them in your lives; that in itself will educate them.

You can pick up an early learning workbook for $3.86 at Walmart and take them through that closer to four or five if you want. Or you can teach them their letters and numbers, shapes and colors on your own without any workbooks. (By the way, I am not against workbooks; I actually own several --Developing the Early Learner, Singapore Earlybird Math, and the Ready, Set, Go series that I’ve ordered from Sonlight. But I don’t force my four-and-a-half year old to do pages every day, or even every week.)

One of the best tips I ever read about homeschooling (or schooling in general) is this: children have an innate, God-given desire to learn. You would have to lock them up in a dark room and starve them educationally to keep them from learning and growing. Obviously none of us is going to do that; the point is—they learn even when we’re not aware of it. (I believe this point came from Better Late than Early, or Homegrown Kids by Raymond and Dorothy Moore--great books, by the way!)

Now about the big “s” word, socialization—

Parents send their children to preschool usually for one big reason: they, more than anything else, want them to be socialized and learn how to “properly interact” with 10- 20 other two, three, four and or five year olds. Yet studies (and perhaps more importantly, teachers and parents) will tell you that preschool actually negatively socializes our kids. The reason is because no teacher, no matter how wonderful she is, is going to watch your child and several others as closely as you would at home or at a play-date. Therefore, behaviors will occur that you would be quick to correct; yet, in preschool, these actions could very likely go unnoticed or uncorrected. My friend’s five-year old actually came home from preschool once and called her a “b----”—a word he had learned from another kid at preschool. Hence your child is picking up and bringing home character qualities and bad habits you’d wish you could have prevented. But that’s all part of “proper socialization,” right?

Interestingly, a second grade teacher told me recently that the best socialization for a preschool-aged child is to be around his or her parents, siblings, and other adults. This way, they learn from you proper manners and proper interactions with people of all ages. With you, more so than with anyone else, they learn what is and is not acceptable. As long as you take them out on errands, to church, to the library, and a host of other places, they will be getting all the right kinds of socialization. And you won’t be paying $100 a month for it.

Going back to skills—

One of my best friends, who taught 2nd, 3rd and 4th grades before becoming a full-time mother, told me that kids who have gone to preschool may have the edge in kindergarten for about a week, but then it all evens out. Her encouragement was to teach our preschool-aged kids skills they’ll need for later-learning success, such as:

  • Develop fine motor skills by doing projects like stringing beads
  • Learn to trace shapes and patterns, with their fingers, and later with pencils
  • Spend time coloring (as they’re ready) to develop those muscles. She said many kindergarteners have a hard time coloring because their fingers and wrists get so tired so easily.
  • Help them develop their creativity by giving them large blocks of unstructured play. One teacher said kids are losing their creativity. You can given them a toy, and they don’t know what to do with it—how to play with it. She said it’s a great trait in a child if we as parents and educators can back away, not micromanage, and watch our child’s creativity bloom.

That’s really about all. They stressed the importance of reading to our kids, and then they also stressed the importance—and value—of relaxing about the whole “school thing” in these early years. They’ll get enough of that soon enough, whether we homeschool or not.

Now what if you would like your children to experience preschool but without the expense? You could pick up a little workbook and help them learn colors, shapes, letters, numbers, things that are similar/different, etc. You could even purchase a preschool curriculum package, and you will still be saving compared to enrolling them in a program outside your home that will cost you $100/month or more. I myself am taking my boys through Sonlight’s pre4/5 curriculum, mainly because it is literature based, and at this age, I think the biggest thing is to read great books to our children. But we don’t follow our recommended curriculum plan every day, because again—they’re little, and I don’t think they need such structured instruction quite yet.
You could skip the curriculum and find great books at your library and read, read, read. The Very Hungry Caterpillar helped teach my two and four year old to count (and colors). Blueberries for Sal, Make Way for Ducklings, The Story about Ferdinand, and The Berenstain Bears Big Book of Science and Nature are some of my favorite books for this age.

If you have strong opinions in favor of preschool, that’s great! We can, I hope, agree to disagree. I myself am a preschool graduate and have fond memories of my time at Maple Tree preschool (what I can remember). As a friend reminded me, it is a personal decision.

 My purpose in this post is not to bash preschool (although I think I’ve given that impression); my goal is to help other parents who feel like they have to send their kids to preschool because everybody else does it, and how will their darling children be “socialized” if they don’t, but they can’t really afford the whole preschool expense, so what do they do? It is to those parents I write this post. It is my hope that what I’ve shared may help you consider it perhaps not a necessary expense after all.

Visit Frugal Fridays for more money-saving ideas!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Saving Hundreds of Dollars on Spices

Yes, you read that right. I did write "hundreds of dollars on spices", and I meant it!

If you do a lot of cooking, as I do, you may find it a good deal to buy spices from Sam's Club (or Costco if you have one--we don't). For the price of one tiny .8 (or less) ounce jar of McCormick, I can buy the equivalent of at least 20 jars. This saves me time and money--time because I am not running out of my spices as often (and thus needing to pick more up at the store) and money because I get twenty times the amount for the same price. At roughly $4 a jar, you've just saved about 80-bucks on one spice by buying the large version. If you buy more than one, you'll be saving hundreds on spices in no time!

I am not a spice snob...but even if I were, I think the money I save would convince me to buy the bigger-quantity, less-expensive brand. Besides, I think these spices seem to taste just fine, and I really can't tell a difference between them and their more expensive counterparts. (I do like my Watkins cinnamon and vanilla, but when I'm out, I will probably give the Sam's Club versions a whirl!).

As far as bulk food prices on spices versus Sam's prices are concerned...I'm really not sure. We don't have a bulk food outlet here, so for me, getting them at Sam's is the best, most frugal route. However, even at .20-.50-cent per ounce, as a rough guess, you may still be saving to go the Sam's route. My large spices range from 16-21 ounces, and they cost about $4.

Since I just bought some paprika, I thought I would share a little paprika trivia :)
  • Did you know it helps a pie crust brown? Just sprinkle a little on the bottom and sides of your pie plate next time you're making a quiche or something similar. 
  • Paprika is a better source, pound for pound, of vitamin C than citrus fruit (good thing I have a lot, hugh?!)
  • Paprika is actually one of the three most popular seasonings. Seek out the highest quality paprika by looking for Spanish, rather than domestic (my Sam's Club kind is Spanish--gourmet in a bulk disguise). :)
So buy your spices in bulk, and you'll be on your way to saving hundreds of dollars in the new year!

Visit Works for Me Wednesday for more helpful hints!

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Times in Which We Live

There are many issues that sadden me about our current culture--the steady turning away from God and Biblical Truth, the prevalence of abortion, the rise of relativism, and don't even get me started on the state of today's government.


There is so much to be thankful for about these times as well. For one, we don't have to settle this land. It's already been done for us.

Back East in the 1800's when the West was settled, newspapers called traveling the Oregon Trail "homicide." Many women and children, didn't dare head away from home. According to information in an historic trails museum about the settlers, women of faith were more likely to take risks other women weren't willing to and travel the trail with their husbands.

On the trail, the settlers encountered many hardships and heartaches. In one camp, 150 out of 156 people (including children) perished due to unexpected freezing weather. Accidents were very common--the most frequent involving children falling out of the wagon and getting injured or run over by the wheels. I was not aware that many Indians were actually quite friendly to the pioneers, until they saw them making more permanent settlements in their area.

As I looked at the exhibits and read the information in this museum this past weekend, I was just so struck by how blessed we truly are. We drive in our heated cars to our houses. I doubt we worry that our children may be crushed by the wheels on the way. When we move, we are not limited to only a few boxes and no more than 15 pounds to pack. When we, or our children, get sick, we have a variety of medicines with which we can treat ourselves; or we can pick up the telephone and call the doctor. Usually we can even get in that very day. We have never watched one of our children freeze to death, because their only set of clothes is frozen solid to their skin.

Sure we may have bad days, and struggles are a part of this life. Looking at our current culture can certainly be disheartening. But even so, we're still overwhelmingly blessed to live in these times.

linked to Gratituesday

holy experience

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Last week, I was able to find stretch our leftovers into new meal ideas, so some meals are carrying over to this week's menu since they never got made. I also had more meal ideas from what I have on hand, so I planned dinners until next week Wednesday. I can usually come up with breakfast and lunch ideas pretty easily for those days but I have not listed them here now. So without further adieu, here is what we most likely will be eating this week!

Baked oatmeal, orange juice
Chicken salad sandwiches, oranges
Calzones, salad (if I get to the store to buy some)
*Make granola
*Make bread
AM snack: Berry smoothies
PM Snack: Crackers, apple and cheese slices

Yogurt parfaits
Slow Cooker potato cheese soup, cornbread
Chicken and chickpeas skillet with butternut squash (never got made last week thanks to the creative stretching of leftovers!)
AM snack: Oatmeal apricot cookies
PM: fruit

Bagels, cream cheese, bananas, yogurt
Cheese and spinach tart with glazed carrots
Slow Cooker Pork Roast, broccoli, potatoes
AM snack: oatmeal apricot cookies, applesauce
PM: Peanut butter yogurt dip with fruit or veggies

Cereal and juice
Bbq pork sandwiches, Ranch potato wedges, coleslaw
Cranberry Chicken, rice, sugar snap peas
Rum Cake (husband's birthday!)
AM snack: yogurt
PM snack: granola, milk
Cranberry upside down muffins, scrambled eggs
Chile Relleno casserole, salsa, chips
(kids pick snack choices)

Pancakes, eggs, bacon, juice
Mac and cheese, corndogs
Tacos, avocado dip, chips

Roast, potatoes, carrots

Whole wheat peanut butter waffles
beef stew or burritos

Chicken casserole, crescent rolls, broccoli

Pinto beans, rice, tomatoes, onions, lettuce, cheese, tortillas

Visit for more menu ideas!

Messy Monday: Clean Begins in the Kitchen

The kitchen, for me, is the hardest place in my whole house to keep under control. It's not just that five people eat there, at least three times a day (and several snacks for the boys). At a minimum, that means 45 dishes to clean every single day.

Our kitchen area includes an eat-in-dining area, as well as an in-and-out-of-the house area. We have no mudroom or coat closet. So you come in, take off your shoes, put them in our shoe box farm crate (if you're being good to me), drop everything else somewhere nearby--the counter, the table, the floor...and get a snack, dirtying dishes in the process and probably smearing some sort of food somewhere and/or leaving a trail of crumbs as a little two-legged creature with arms transports said food from the kitchen to the eat-in dining area. This is my life. I love it--usually :) But I never really have a clean kitchen, and I would love it if I did.

Now that we have established the dilemma, let's get to some Messy Monday solutions!

Several clean friends have said that one of the keys to their housekeeping success is their kitchens are consistently clean. One friend (Jodi, that's you!) said no matter what else is going on in her house, as long as her kitchen is clean, she can climb every mountain (she did not break out into a Whitney Houston song; I'm adding that in). :) Another friend said when she committed to making organizational progress in her home, she started with the kitchen. If she could keep her kitchen clean, she could do anything! (well, exaggeration aside, you get the point). :)

I have spent some time in deep thought over this, and I am glad to bring you my reflections. :)

If my kitchen is constantly messy, it clouds my outlook on every other part of my house. When I have a dirty kitchen, there are these little voices of condemnation in my head. I feel like I will never be able to succeed at keeping a clean home, because, well....look at the kitchen. The doom and gloom carries with me as I go about the rest of the day: look at the laundry stacked up, look at the clutter everywhere. I'm so behind. I can't do this. Even if I try, I'll never really succeed at having a tidy house.

If, on the other hand, the kitchen is relatively clean, it showers me with encouragement and optimism. "Look at this! I might be on the track to learning better habits after all! I think I can keep up with this for good!" That attitude, then, of feeling like a success at housekeeping carries over into all other aspects of my home and day. I feel more upbeat, and my optimistic attitude helps me feel like I truly can conquer other clutter and chores. They don't have to conquer me.

If you can keep your kitchen clean, you can keep the rest of your house clean--if for no other reason than you think you can. You'll still have 45+ dishes to do each day, and other clutter to banish, but you'll know you have what it takes to get it done. Because after all, clean really does begin in the kitchen.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Safety Tips for Online Shopping

Christmas is almost here, and many of us can save both time and money by shopping online. However, if we're not careful, online shopping can be costly.  A few months ago, someone stole my credit card number and shipping information and used this to charge $699.99 at (plus several small purchases) to my credit card. Fortunately, the company contacted me, and we were able to stop this transaction. I thought I shopped securely, but apparently not securely enough.

So when I saw this email from my cousin with online shopping safety tips, I wanted to pass it along to you.

How to avoid getting ripped off.
Provided by Timothy E. Holman

Whether you shop online routinely or infrequently, it will help to follow some precautions this holiday season as you hunt for bargains. The risk of identity theft rises as you offer more and more information about yourself online, so the holiday season is a time to be careful as well as resourceful. Here are some do’s and don’ts.

  • Don’t use a debit card, and use only one credit card. If you use but one credit card for all your online shopping, you’ll just have to cancel one card if your card number is stolen and have just a single credit card firm to deal with. It would be wise to keep a low credit limit on that particular card. If your debit card gets hacked, the thieves can go straight to your bank account and drain it. You know that $50 limited liability common to credit cards? You have to report identity theft within two days to get that $50 limited liability with a debit card.
  • Some credit card firms give you a really nice option – the choice of creating a unique, protected online transaction number for each purchase you make over the Web. So in other words, the retailer you’re buying from doesn’t actually see your credit card number – just this unique purchase number. In this case, should your credit card information be stolen, you don’t have to cancel your card, and the credit card issuer has records of specific transactions that may help catch the bad guy.
  • Do look for the "https://" when you enter personal information. When you see that, it means you are transmitting data within a secure site. (You’ll see a padlock symbol at the bottom of the browser window.) Look for the VeriSign or CyberTrust mark of security.
  • Do watch what you click – and watch out for fake sites. Pop-ups, attachments from mysterious sources, dubious links – don’t be tempted to explore where they lead. Hackers have created all manner of “phishing” sites and online surveys – seemingly legitimate, but set up to siphon your information. It is better to be skeptical than to visit a fake PayPal site or to download spyware that is allegedly Norton Utilities or Panda AntiVirus. If anything seems weird, Google or Bing or Yahoo the merchant name and see what comes up.
  • Do protect your PC. When did you install the security and firewall programs on your computer? Have you updated them recently? Think about buying the latest and greatest from a credible retailer before you shop online this season as a present to yourself.
  • Don’t shop on the job – or if you do, do it after five. If you tell your boss “But I only have dial-up at home,” how sympathetic is he or she really going to be? (Of course, if you own a business or work for yourself, no one’s stopping you.) If for some weird reason you just can’t shop from your PC or Mac at home, at least make it quick - bookmark the sites you need to visit at lunch and go there after 5:00pm or during your lunch hour the next day.
  • Do update stored passwords – and make them really obscure. If you visit a site a lot, it is a good idea to change your password once in a while. Mix letters/words and numbers.
  • Don’t shop using wi-fi. You are really leaving yourself open to identity theft when you use a public wi-fi connection. Put away the laptop and wait until you leave that coffee emporium or airport terminal. Yes, hackers can tap into your Blackberry, iPhone or Smartphone via the same tactics by which they can invade your PC.
Timothy E. Holman is a Representative with G.A. Repple & Co. and may be reached at, (877) 780 – 3455 or
Securities and Investment Advice offered through G.A. Repple & Co., a Registered Broker/Dealer and Investment Advisor, Member FINRA & SIPC. Supervising office located at 450 West Grand Avenue, Hot Springs, AR 71901 (501) 623-1141 ext #2

These are the views of Peter Montoya Inc., not the named Representative nor Broker/Dealer, and should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representative nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information.

I really liked the reminder to only use one credit card for online shopping and to never use your debit card (although this would be a little tricky for the Dave Ramsey devotees who only have a debit card). And I thought the unique code for your credit card was a good idea. I may have to look into that.

I'm still wondering what someone ordered with my credit card for $699.99 at! Any ideas??!

Visit Frugal Fridays for under $10 gift ideas!

When Your Car Gets Hit and You Give a Plate Of Cookies...

How ironic that I just blogged about conquering anger with kindness and goodness! God must have been preparing me for what was coming today. Luckily, I woke up early and had a few minutes to fuel up for the day in the Word and prayer, so I started the day on the right foot so to speak.

My friend hosted a cookie exchange this morning. Several moms from our church were there. I chose to park on the street, along with several other of my friends.

About a half an hour into the fellowship time, one of the ladies who was leaving early came back in and asked who drives the white mini-van with the car top carrier. Me. She said it just got hit. Great.

So I went outside. The damage wasn't too bad fortunately. I have no idea why, out of all the cars that were on the street at that time, God chose that it should be mine that this young woman should hit. However, I was able to invite her to church with us, get her phone number (she's a retired Marine who's now working as a nanny, so maybe some babysitting in the future??!), and I've already chatted with her on the phone for a bit. So maybe God orchestrated a small fender bender to bring about a Christian friendship for His purposes in her life.

When my friend gave her a plate full of cookies, she was completely taken back. She said where she was from, if she would have gone to the door to tell someone she just hit their car, they would scream at her. And here, she gets kindness, a cup of coffee, and a plate of cookies. (Please don't sideswipe me in the future. You may not get cookies next time). :)

So sometimes, anger is a natural response (I should have clarified that better in yesterday's post). Still, as Jesus taught, "In your anger, do not sin." I wasn't thrilled that my van got hit (who would be?), but I tried to respond kindly. And that just may make all the difference in my new friend's life.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Conquering Anger with Kindness and Goodness

We're a little long today, but what would you expect for Coffee Talk Thursday? :) So pour yourself a cup and let's get to talking!

It isn’t really that hard to be kind and good toward our children. Until you walk into the bathroom you just cleaned a few minutes ago and find your two-year old pouring Johnson’s baby wash all over the toilet lid cover, down the toilet, on the floor... (This becomes more sudsy as you wipe it to clean it up). Until you go to check on your boys outside and find them playing in the garage, unscrewing bulbs from your husband’s childhood Christmas lights and then throwing them on the ground (where of course they shatter). Until you find your two-year old has gotten your expensive lipstick out of your purse and is using it as a marker to write not on paper but on the floor.

When you discover these unforeseen foibles, it takes a Herculean effort to remain both kind and good. It takes such a Herculean effort, in fact, that it is nearly impossible in our human nature. “Difficult interactions or trying experiences are not the cause of our angry reactions; rather they serve to reveal the sin that was there all along.” (Feminine Appeal).

We elevate our own desire for something (a clean home, or a few minutes to ourselves, for example), and when something—or someone—interferes with the fulfillment of that desire, we become angry because we want the thing more than we want to be kind to the person. “The evil in our desires often lies not in what we want but that we want it too much” (a paraphrase of Calvin, quoted in Feminine Appeal).

That’s why, if we are going to respond without hasty anger, we must respond in the Spirit. In order to respond in the Spirit, we must be filled with the Spirit. Otherwise, we have no hope of overcoming our natural sinful response.

To be filled with the Spirit, we must take time to withdraw from the demands of the day to meet with the Lord (I do so much better when I spend this time early before everyone’s up…but if that can’t happen, may it still happen even amidst the activity of my day).

In reading through the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, I find it interesting that kindness and goodness are listed after peace and patience. It takes much patience to consistently respond to our children (or anyone for that matter) with kindness and goodness. Of course there are still times when we respond with discipline, but even that can be executed with kindness and goodness.

When we acknowledge our sin to God about our anger toward our children’s “creative works” and plead for His mercy to respond with kindness and goodness, He works in us for His good pleasure. I don’t understand how this all comes about, but I know it works. Only through the strengthening in my spirit that came through prayer was I able to take a deep breath and respond without yelling when I discovered the Johnson’s baby wash bathroom incident (and many others). Sure, I talked to my son about why that wasn’t a good idea and disciplined him, but I did it without an angry outburst.

In Feminine Appeal, author Carolyn Mahaney writes, “Please do not try to lift the ‘heavy objects’ of kindness and goodness on your own! You won’t be able to do it. But our heavenly Father has provided the Holy Spirit—the Helper—to assist us (John 14:26)…So let’s cease straining in our own power and turn to our Helper. Let’s ask Him for the strength and ability to demonstrate kindness and goodness. Our vigorous effort is still required, but it is only effective in cooperation with the Holy Spirit.”

Just as we train our children to not do the wrong things, we can train ourselves to not respond angrily and instead be kind and good. Remember, as we approach God's throne of grace to receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16), "we have God’s pledge that He will give grace to the humble (James 4:6). He will help us turn from anger and cultivate kindness.” (Feminine Appeal).

With that, I think it’s time for a cup! Your turn to talk :)

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Great Gift Idea: Digital Scrapbooks

I just finished making a Shutterfly album for my dad for Christmas. It's filled with pictures of him and the boys. I know he'll just love it! I made one for my husband for Father's Day, and it continues to be one of his all-time favorite gifts.

Digital scrapbooking is one of God's special mercies to us busy moms! Jesting aside, I find making an album online to be a complete help. My pictures are already on the computer, so all I have to do is upload them into Shutterfly (or whatever photo service you use), pick a book style, and load the pictures onto the pre-arranged layouts. You can add text boxes, play with background colors, pick a layout for each page based on the number of pictures you want per page, and more. They come out looking super slick, like a magazine with your child on every page!

About the pricing...I think it's very reasonable and perhaps even more economical than creating a scrapbook from scratch the "old-fashioned" way. Even at Hobby Lobby half-off, a scrapbook will cost $10. Then you have to add in the papers, stickers and letters (if you use them), plus the price of printing your pictures and any other scrapbooking supplies you'll need. Plus, it takes longer to do it this way. (That's why I haven't worked on a "real" album since my second boy was a baby). :(

Digital scrapbooking makes it so easy for me I just may get those baby books finished and still have time to put our other pictures into albums. And that works for me!

Parmesan Pork Chops

I am not a huge pork chop fan, and I realize chops on a platter do not look all that appetizing.
Nonetheless, once I came across this recipe for Parmesan Pork Chops, I was hooked--as was my family. I will eat these pork chops time and time again; they've become one of our favorite dinners!


1/4 cup butter (I sometimes just pour some olive oil in a shallow bowl and use that for dipping instead)

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons Italian seasoning

2 teaspoons dried parsley flakes

1/4 teaspoon pepper

4 boneless pork loin chops (3/4 inch thick and 6 ounces each)

2 tablespoons Olive Oil


In a shallow microwave-safe bowl, melt butter. In a large resealable plastic bag, combine the Parmesan cheese, flour, Italian seasoning, parsley and pepper. Dip each pork chop in butter; place in bag, one at a time, and shake to coat.

In a large skillet, cook pork in oil over medium heat for 7-8 minutes on each side or until juices run clear. Yield: 4 servings.
linked to Tasty Tuesday

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

Oatmeal, brown sugar, raisins and milk
Bananas and Juice
Brunch Casserole, toast
Roast, potatoes, carrots, applesauce, milk
*make granola

Fried eggs, toast, oranges
*Make bread
Tuna salad sandwiches
Carrots and celery sticks
Chili, cornbread

Fruit and yogurt with granola
*Make master mix
Broccoli cheese soup, breadsticks from master mix
Pork roast, sweet potatoes, salad
Berry cobbler
*Make minty cheesecake bars

Blueberry muffins
Cottage cheese
Roast beef sandwiches, apple slices, string cheese
Smoked sausage, potatoes, corn

Scrambled eggs, fried potatoes
*Baking day with the boys
Potato soup in crockpot

Pancakes, eggs, bacon, juice
Chicken and chickpeas skillet with butternut squash
Roasted Broccoli

Cereal and juice
Chili-cheese dip and tortilla chips
Spaghetti, green beans, french bread

*snacks during the week: walnuts, string cheese, graham crackers, yogurt, bananas, smoothies, muffins (From my Christmas in the Country Cookbook:..., I'd like to make Cranberry-upside down muffins, Gingerbread scones, and Nutty brown sugar muffins; plus orange-blueberry muffins), veggies and Ranch dip, yogurt parfaits, cookies (During the weeks leading up to Christmas, I am going to try to take a morning (maybe Friday morning) and bake some cookies with the boys. Last Friday, we did Gingerbread cookies. This week, I need to make Minty Cheesecake bars for a cookie exchange, and we'll bake whatever else time and desire allow!)

Have a great week!

linked to Menu Plan Monday.

Messy Monday: Training Our Responses

If you grew up in the home of a tidy mother, you started life with a homemaking advantage. Even if you didn't follow Mom's ways as a homemaker, at least you heard her voice in your head instructing you in the proper ways of keeping house. While my mother has modeled for me many aspects of homemaking (like cooking and decorating), unfortunately she did not train me well with regard to regular weekly cleaning.

It was while I was in college, living with roommates, that I first learned the whole idea of cleaning certain areas of the house on a weekly basis. Shocking, isn't it? Growing up, we cleaned only when we felt like it...which wasn't terribly often. Nothing was ever enforced. So as I embarked out on my own, I had to study how to clean and learn how to go about it from the ground up.

Of course, I'm still learning (why else would I write a regular feature called Messy Monday?!). :) It helps, and at the same time, doesn't help, that my husband grew up in the home of a very neat mother. I've learned countless cleaning tips from her, and been reminded of them on occasion by him (when I've asked him for advice on how his mom did things).

Really it all boils down to this simple fact: our mental reactions to out-of-place items, dust, and dirt--and the physical actions we take based on those responses--are the biggest defining factors for how our house will consistently appear. These reactions, both mental and physical, are largely ingrained in us by our mothers (or fathers perhaps as well). But even if we were not trained to have tidy thoughts and habits, the good news is we can learn them (if we want to)!

Here's an example of how different mental reactions affect our responses:

I asked my husband the other day what his first thought is when he sees something out of place. He said it's like a red-flag: "Ding, ding, ding--item not where it belongs. Return to where it should be," and he follows through with a physical response immediately (usually). Me on the other hand--I will see the same things, but my response is so much different: "Gee, there's a pair of shoes in the middle of the kitchen floor. Hugh." I still register the response, but I haven't trained myself to respond to it right away, as my husband--and other "tidies"--have. I can ignore it and walk away. My husband can't.

So I am going to work on training my responses. Instead of just seeing something, and thinking, "Hmmm, look at that there," I'm resolving to combine my mental response with a physical response: "Hmm, look at that there. Let's put it away now." Sometimes I may not feeling like following through with the physical work, because....well, it's work. It takes time, and with little children, I don't always have the time. But  disciplining ourselves to work hard (and cheerfully) is always of value (Col. 3:23).

Since the whole "tidy-mental-response-and-fast-follow-through" is new to me (somewhat!), if you are that way, I'd love for you to share what goes through your head when you see things out-of-place or otherwise needing cleaned. Can you ignore them and walk away (like I can)? Why or why not? What were some of the best tips your mother taught you? Let's learn from each other on this one!

Disclaimer: If you're not terribly tidy and it doesn't bother you or anyone in your family, please know I am not trying to change you. I am trying to learn new responses and habits, because my husband prefers a tidier house so he can relax mentally and physically; and it is important to me to please him. He extends me much grace in his leniency; I should extend him the same consideration by learning how to more effectively manage our home.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Saturday Evening Blog Post

As part of Elizabeth Esther's Saturday Evening Blog Post, where we are invited to link up a favorite post of the past month, I decided to enter this one. It's about some touching lessons we can all take away from a Little House Christmas.

If you're visiting for the first time, I also had a lot of fun writing the Housework Rewards Program, and this post was practical. Feel free to look around, and let me know your favorite!

I'm busy on working on some Christmas projects so I can finish on time, so blogging might be a little light this week, but then I'll be back!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Rising Early

Coffee Talk Thursday

Oops...I think I've been off a day almost all week. I just (at 7pm) realized it was Thursday, and I hadn't written a Coffee Talk post! So a little later than usual, here we go!

When I worked in news, I produced and anchored the morning show, which began at the bright and early hour of 5:30 AM. This meant I needed to be at work no later than 3AM (although toward the end of my pregnancy with my firstborn, I pushed it to about 3:30 and worked like a maniac until 5:10, when I rushed to do my hair and makeup, and got on set a few minutes...sometimes a few seconds...before we went on air. Whew--what a rush!). One of the things I loved most about this shift, though, was watching the sunrise (I could usually run to the lobby during a commercial break or during weather).

Now that I am home with my boys, my hair and makeup is never done at 5:30 AM (sometimes not even at 5:30 PM!). I am often up throughout the night, but at this stage in life, it's to nurse a baby or help get a child (or two or three) back to sleep. Night after night of broken sleep (or no sleep) can really take its toll, and for health and sanity reasons, as much as I would like to rise early, I just can't.

That said, the nursing is tapering off, and after one-year molars break through, I see an end in sight for sleepless nights--at least for a day or two. :) I've been reading about the benefits of rising early, and friends swear by it (thanks, Jodi!), and I'd really like to give it a whirl--at least a few times a week on the nights I get at least a few hours of steady sleep.

This morning, I did wake up a little earlier than usual AND got out of bed to come downstairs, drink a cup of coffee, and read my Bible and pray. Even though I try to make this a habit right after breakfast, it felt much different; I felt like I started my day more grounded and focused. I felt better all day long and was better able to cope with the unexpected occurrences that arose throughout the day (Johnson's baby wash all over the bathroom floor, tub, toilet...).

I am borrowing a friend's copy of Shopping for Time: How to Do It All and NOT Be Overwhelmed, and the authors stress the importance--and benefits--of being a member of what they call the 5AM Club (getting up early). They write: "The 5AM Club is still extremely unpopular between about 5:00 and 6:00 each morning; however, it is much appreciated every hour after that." While they point out that rising early to have a quiet time is not Biblically mandated, they do offer this encouragement from John Piper:
"I earnestly recommend that it [devotions] be in the early morning unless there are some extenuating circumstances. Entering the day without a serious meeting with God, over his Word and in prayer, is like entering the battle without tending to your weapons. The human heart does not replenish itself with sleep. The body does, but not the heart...We replenish our hearts not with sleep, but with the Word of God and prayer."
If you are thinking about trying a free membership to the 5AM club, here's a few tips from the book that may help you get past the trial period:

  1. Place your alarm clock in a strategic location...
  2. Set your alarm for the same time every day.
  3. Never, never, never hit the snooze button or lie back down to catch a few more winks. The second your alarm goes off is the most critical moment in getting up early.
  4. Proceed directly to the coffee pot or caffeinated drink of choice [if you don't drink caffeine, try tea. The key is to get yourself going with something warm to drink--or ice cold, I guess, would work too!]
  5. Be prepared to feel absolutely miserable for about 10 to 15 minutes. But the misery soon turns into pure gladness as you experience the delight of meeting with God and reap the benefits the rest of the day. Fifteen minutes of misery is certainly worth fifteen-plus hours of peace and productivity.
  6. Remember that our bodies eventually respond to a standard wake-up-time. In other words, it gets easier.
I'm wondering if you wake up earlier than everyone in your house? If so, what do you like about it? If you don't, do you have any desire to give it a try? If you're in a season of your life where you just can't (baby up several times a night, etc.), don't feel bad! All of life is made up of seasons. I think I'm entering the season of the 5AM club (or 6:30am). :) I'll keep you posted!