Saturday, April 30, 2011

Does Anyone Use Towels Anymore?

What a week it's been! Actually a couple of weeks. Last week, I took two boys to get tested for strep (they didn't have it, fortunately); I was up all night with one boy who was puking. Then that went away, only to morph into a different form of stomach virus; that gave way to croup and an ear infection, which is what we're dealing wth now.

As if that wasn't enough, we recently learned through the rumor mill that the high school our property borders wants to buy up the neighboring properties and tear them down to have room for expansion. I did confirm this rumor with the school district, but we still have not received formal notice or information from the district. With a baby coming in August, this is not great timing. Actually, there is probably never a good time to learn something like this.

So we've tentatively been looking at houses to see if there's anything out there in our price range that we like. I thought that I had a lack of storage space in my house, but compared to some of the houses, I feel blessed.
After touring bathrooms--some with no vanities or cupboards or hall closets--I wondered:

"Where do people store their towels?"

Surely, they must use them! But where they put them is beyond me.

Maybe we just have too much stuff. After all, how many towels does a family really need? What do you think? Maybe two per person per week?

I'm in the mood for downsizing. I'd love to hear what you think!

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Healthy Mom, A Happy Family

I've been enjoying thumbing through the copy of a 1915 book called Your Baby by E.B. Lowry, MD. Although it was written nearly a hundred years ago, it is filled with practical, common sense instruction and advice for young moms.

One section I particularly enjoyed and thought I would share with you, because it was so motivational to me, is called "Exercise for the Mother." (I'm typing it as written, ignoring my editing instinct to add paragraph breaks and additional commas where they should be.) :)

"Fresh air and exercise are indispensable to the health of every woman. Both are classed with the luxuries in many a mother's life, whereas they should be looked upon as necessities. 
Every mother should make it a point to spend at least half an hour a day in the open air and another half hour doing something for her own pleasure. If her work is a drudgery she cannot accomplish as much in a given time as she could if it were not so. A half hour's rest or change will give a woman added energy so that she can attack her mountain of housework with increased zeal.

Exercise and fresh air are essential for the health of the baby also. A mother, who is tired out and suffering from oxygen starvation, cannot give her child the same care that she could if she were in a fit condition. Any one who is worn out with sleepless nights cannot expect her brain to perform the same work that it would if it had been rested.

The mother's work is never done, and it seems as though there were no time for exercise or pleasure. She cannot find a stopping place where she can leave her work for a few minutes. This is one of the cases where one must 'make time.' Drop the work, if necessary in the midst of ironing. It is much better that a family should wear a few un-ironed clothes than that the mother should become worn out, nervous and cross from overwork. As a child grows older it remembers and appreciates the happy moments spent with mother playing some simple game much more than it appreciates ruffles and embroidery correctly starched and ironed. The mother who holds her children's love and confidence is not the one who makes a drudge of herself that her children may appear in clothes better than their neighbors, but it is the one who finds time to go for a half hour's walk in the woods with the children, talking with them about the wonders of nature. It is the one who finds time for a game of blind man's buff. Begin while the baby is young making it a rule to spend an hour a day playing with the child, out of doors if the weather permits. It is in these hours of unrestrained freedom that the mother learns her child's nature, its longings and aspirations. the mother who is a chum to her children, who enters into their play and interests, not only keeps herself young but is the one best beloved by the children. The mother needs to keep her mind active by reading books in order to be able to interest her children and hold their respect.

Remember that the mother's condition, both of mind and body, will affect her child. Worry, anger, illness, or overwork on the mother's part are as harmful as improper food or lack of cleanliness."
We all have much work to do in a day, but let's try to schedule in a small break to get outside if possible, get some fresh air, and have fun with our children. This short break may just provide enough refreshment to keep a happy, less stressed home.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: Leftover Ham Ideas

Hope everyone had a blessed Easter, celebrating the resurrection of Christ Jesus!

Here are the meals I plan to make for the week ahead:

Oatmeal, bananas
Amish breakfast casserole (a good way to use up some of that leftover ham)
Puffed pancake with berries
Eggs in the hole, grapefruit
Overnight Caramel French toast

Ham sandwiches, salad
Red beans and rice with ham (beans cooked with the ham hock)
Award-winning Cheddar Ham chowder, bread and butter
Dinner leftovers

Easter dinner leftovers
Taco lasagna, salad
Linguini a la Anne (with ham), salad, french bread
Sloppy joes, corn, seasoned potato wedges
Creamy Chicken fajitas
Chicken alfredo pasta, broccoli

By the way, Taste of Home magazine subscriptions to Taste of Home, Simple and Delicious, Healthy Cooking, or to Rachael Ray are on sale for $5 for a year right now through April 26th! I really like Simple and Delicious (as well as Taste of Home). Just go to if you'd like more info!

Visit for more menu ideas!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Coffee Talk: Learning New Skills

One thing I wish I knew how to do better is sew. A few years back, my husband--knowing this desire of mine and wanting to encourage me in it--bought me a Singer Simple sewing machine. Partly because I was intimidated by it (even simple things like threading the bobbin), it sat in the box for a good year. Then I found a friend from church who sews and was willing to help get me acquainted with my machine. With her help, I sewed an apron out of dinosaur fabric for my oldest kitchen helper, who turned four that year.

Since then, I haven't sewed anything else. But my husband has! He made a set of curtains and a TV cover out of home dec fabric, and he even attached tassels. Now I have a new tutor--him!

Lately, though, my desire to sew is surpassing my intimidation of it. I think it must be a perfectionist tendency to be so reluctant to try something because of the fear of messing up. (I just need to sew myself a
pillowcase --which I know I can do--to build confidence.;))

My motivation also stems from the fact that we are expecting a girl this time around. Not that there aren't fun things to make for boys, there are just so many fun and frilly things to sew for girls--little dresses and tops, skirts, and more. I would really love to be able to sew some handmade items for my daughter to wear.

Making Children's Clothes: 25 Stylish Step-by-step Sewing Projects for 0-5 Years

So, the other day, I was thrilled to find Making Children's Clothes: 25 Stylish Step-by-step Sewing Projects for 0-5 Years in our local Hancock Fabrics. It was even 20% off. The patterns inside were so adorable, and the instructions were so clear, I bought myself a copy.

On Saturday, I stopped in the store again and picked out some fabric to make some simple baby bloomers. I thought that would be a good first project. The fabric is washed and dried; now it just has to be ironed. Then, when I get a few spare minutes, I am excited to sit down and begin!

For today's coffee talk, I'd love to hear if there are any skills you would love to learn. What holds you back from diving in?

A fun excerpt from Your baby: A guide for young mothers by E.B. Lowry, M.D., published in 1915, which I found at our local library book sale several years ago:
Sewing for the Baby:
Most mothers look forward with pleasure to preparing the clothing for the expected baby. They even may spend hours stitching at the machine and more hours sewing on lace. This is all right if the mother does not spend all her leisure in this occupation. However, some mothers neglect the necessary out-of-door exercise in order to have more time to spend in preparation of dainty garments. In this case the entire preparations are for the bodily coverings of the child while at the same time the mother is neglecting to prepare to give him health and a good disposition. The latter only come as the result of proper attention to the hygiene of living,--plenty of sleep, out-of-door exercise, proper diet and freedom from care and worry."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Reminders from Cheaper by the Dozen

Before I had children, I remember sitting in the movie theater with my husband watching Cheaper by the Dozen. I loved the opening scenes showing the hustle and bustle of the family waking up, getting ready in the morning, and eating breakfast together. I loved all the signs of life in the home: the numerous pairs of shoes kicked off by the door, the kid's drawings tacked up all over the house, the toys and sports equipment in every nook and cranny, and of course the kids and their energy. The house was far from perfectly neat; but all the kid clutter made it cozy. I remember thinking, "I want that."

Although we're far from 12 children, there are plenty of days with my three little boys (and my fourth baby on the way), that I forget that this is what I desired. I'm not talking about motherhood itself per se, but all that goes with it: managing the messes, the squabbles, the rowdy boy energy.  Rewatching the movie reminded me that I longed for a large family, and with that comes a certain amount of craziness. The beginning of Cheaper by the Dozen renewed my perspective: I wanted that craziness. Today, may I celebrate it with joy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Coffee Talk Thursday: Family Matters

You may have heard the tragic news story this week about the mother who drove her minivan in the Hudson River with her four young children inside. Only one child, her oldest son, escaped. Everyone else drowned.

While I can't begin to presume what drove her to such a drastic action, one news account said that she stated to a child care worker that she felt "so alone." This worker said, "She's a single parent. She takes great care of her kids, goes to school and works. She really needed a helping hand."

We all have bad days. Most of us, however, have support networks (primarily our husbands) to help us through those tough times. But when you're a single parent, or your husband is on active duty in the military or travelling for work, everything falls on you to deal with. It can be very, very stressful. Perhaps it was so stressful for this young mother that it drove her over the deep end.

I've been thinking lately about why family matters so much. Both my husband's parents and mine live hours away. We don't see them all that often. It can feel very isolating. When our parents do visit--even if for just a weekend--it just feels better, lighter in some way, like we're not as alone as we might feel on other days (however subconsciously).

Before she switched to Sirius satellite radio, I listened almost daily to Dr. Laura Schlessinger on the radio. She was a big proponent of living near family, even if it meant a move. The simple fact is you have help. Parenting still falls primarily on you and your spouse, but you have a larger network to share some of the responsibility.  If you're having a rough day, you can call your mom (or dad, or in-laws) and see if she can watch the kids for you for an hour while you run out for a quick sanity break. Even if you're not having a bad day, having the grandparents take the kids to lunch or to the park is a welcome refreshment for everyone.

In the absence of family nearby, I think we just have to be more creative with finding support systems. Sure, I could call a friend on a really rough day, but most of my friends have small children of their own, and I don't want to ask if they would mind watching mine for an hour. But there's always the option of meeting friends at the park or another place where the kids can play. Or you can take your children out on your own and just get out of the house for a bit. All good sanity savers.

While not having family in town can make the parenting journey more stressful at times, it also means that, in many ways,  your family unit will be tighter knit. That's because you all have to rely on each other. You'll have to find ways to work through stuff, because there's no one else to run to. It's like a yo-yo: you may get grouchy or impatient, and everyone pulls in their own direction for a bit, but at the end of the day, you come together again. Don't let the sun go down on your anger, as the Bible teaches.

The saddest part of the story for me of the mom and her children is that, in her final minutes, she realized she was making a mistake. ABC News reports she tried to put her van in reverse, but it was too late. I wonder how different it all could have been if she could have had some better coping mechanisms, or some family or close friends to turn to for support.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Milk and Honey

After those bumpy days last week, I've been doing some reading and reflecting. A few articles that really ministered to me are:
Bad Attitude - No More
and Flowing With Milk and Honey
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

If you could use a jumpstart in your mothering and in your home this week, I encourage you to read the links when you have time!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Healthy $10 a Day Menus

Here is what's on our menu this week:

Oatmeal, grapefruit
Granola, berries
Eggs, toast
Whole-wheat pancakes, orange juice
Cereal, bananas

Usually dinner leftovers
Beef Stew (from roast)
Grilled cheese, tomato soup

Chicken Stir-Fry with Pineapple, Brown Rice
Roast, potatoes, carrots, applesauce
Saucy Drumsticks in the crockpot, broccoli, sweet potatoes
Sour Cream Enchiladas
Homemade pizza, Caesar salad
Zesty sausage penne pasta, salad, french bread

For more menu ideas, visit

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Fighting Discouragement & A Cookie Flop

Coffee Talk Thursday

Take some bad days, add enough of them together in a row, and discouragement will soon set in. At least it does for me.  Once I hit the bottom of that downward slide, I just pull away. I didn't feel like blogging, or doing much else for that matter for the last few days. Except I did make time for journaling, reflecting, and longer-than-usual Scripture reading (I don't think it helped that my Bible reading plan put me in the beginning chapters of Job; today I switched to Philippians, and that helped cheer my outlook).

What I learned can be summed up like this: I can't hold grudges. I don't really hold grudges against adults, but my children? The ugly truth is I can hold a good grudge against one or more of them for a full day. They misbehave in the morning (or the afternoon) or whenever, and I can deal with it calmly, but if the pattern of misbehavior continues (or if the behavior was particularly heinous), it's much harder for me to simply discipline them, talk about it, forgive them, and move on. I may think I have done all of those things, but I haven't. I carry the irritation, the disappointment, sometimes yes, the anger around with me all day. It makes for one bad day. For all of us.

When I am upset, I become more sullen. I withdraw, becoming more emotionally distant, especially from my kids. I think the patterns we are raised with are ever so hard to break, no matter how desperately we desire to not repeat the same mistakes.

Here are some questions I asked myself during the past few days:
  • When we pray and ask God to change our spirits, how exactly does that happen?  (I think God does His unseen work through the Holy Spirit, but we really have to try on our ends to discipline our thoughts and let Him help us change our attitudes)
  • If I could turn back time, how would I have handled the situations that made me so upset differently? What can I learn from them? How can they be redemptive?
I think the bottom line for me is--

"When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise." (Proverbs 10:19)

After our mall fiasco, on the way home, I went on and on about the boy's behavior and why it was so wrong. I think I hurt their feelings beyond what was called for. I asked them later how they would have preferred I handled it, and both of my boys basically said I could have just said--"in a nice voice"--that what they did was wrong, here's why, and they would be disciplined when we got home. End of story. I could have done that. I should have done that. Dealt with it calmly, dropped the grudge, and moved on with the day, leaving that all behind us.  Lessons learned, for all of us. 

Now for a little humor...

Yesterday, when the hours from 3:00 until 5:00pm felt like they would drag on forever, I asked the boys if there was anything they wanted to do. They wanted to make cookies, so we tried to make our favorite cookie recipe. In between trying to keep everything straight as little hands wanted to dump in ingredients, and boys needed help in the bathroom, I forgot to add the oatmeal into the butterscotch oatmeal cookies. I didn't think the batter looked quite right as I was portioning it on the cookie sheets, but I couldn't figure out what was wrong. I wish the digital camera still worked to show you what the cookies looked like. They were terrible! Picture batter flattened all over a cookie sheet into a  giant, thin, greasy mess, with a bag's worth of butterscotch chips poking out. I scraped them and dumped them (the boys managed to eat a few and were so happy that we made cookies, they never once complained about how messed up they were). What a waste of butter and chips, but I suppose it is healthier for us that way!

So how do you turn a bad day around? What lessons have you learned to get over it?

(linked to Small Steps)

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

The Mall Trip

After a little bit of a rough week (more on that tomorrow), I decided to take the kids to the mall this afternoon, mainly to get out of the house, let them burn off some energy, and play in the play land (plus we needed toilet paper from Target). On the way in, one child couldn't resist playing in the clothing racks and managed to knock one over. We hung everything back up and continued on our way. We stopped in the Air Force recruiter's office, since my oldest is passionate about fighter jets and wants to fly a F-22 Raptor someday. So the recruiter was nice enough to talk to him about what he would need to do if he wants to be a military pilot someday.

Things were going well. Until we were about ready to leave the mall.

On the way out of Macy's, I stopped to browse the selection of newborn girl sale clothes. One son announced he had to pee and went into the fitting room. My other son said, "That's not the bathroom. That's a fitting room." I knew I needed to stop, drop and run to prevent the inevitable from happening.

I managed to take everyone to the bathroom, when the problems began. One son turned off the lights. The bathroom was full. I apologized to everyone in the stalls. I warned him not to do it again. A few minutes later, he did it again. The bathroom was still full, this time with a new group of women. I told him he would personally be apologizing to each woman as she exited the bathroom. He suddenly became "shy." He refused. My anger-mometer was rising rapidly.

As if that wasn't enough, another son--who was trying to wash his hands--decided to throw a horrible tantrum because he couldn't reach the sink to rinse his hands himself. I tried to help lift him, but that just made him more upset. Then, as I announced we were leaving the bathroom immediately, two of the three boys decided to go at it over the fact that one of them grabbed the other's new dollar toy from Target.

So now we have not only: 1) the lights turned off twice, 2) kicking and screaming and crying out of frustration with the sink, but also 3) a full-fledged break-it-up fight in the middle of the Macy's bathroom.

Not a mother's proudest moment.

I can't even describe how some of the women glared at me on the way out.

At least this time, no one knocked over the mannequin. Last time, she laid flat on the floor by the entrance. The more I tried to reposition her, the worse off she looked. Arms laying strangely on her body, legs twisted, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not get her to stand back up. So I found a customer service representative, told her what happened and apologized for it, and we stepped over the mannequin on the way out.

Next time, I am going to the mall by myself.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Tax Prep for Less

I was on the phone with a friend, checking if her daughter could baby-sit for us so we could go to our appointment with our accountant sans kids. My friend asked me if I have ever tried to do our own taxes online. She said that the software these programs use is much like what the accountants use, except you don't have to pay the accountant (which, in our experience, has added up to a fairly hefty sum). You can try the program, entering information as prompted, and it does all the calculations for you. You can even see your current refund amount, or what you would owe, as you go along.

At the end, you can preview your return and choose whether to submit it using the online service. By that point, I had already done all the work (with the software's help, of course!), so I felt like this year--as much as we like him--our accountant's help was an unnecessary expense. Besides, this way I am in control of when our return gets filed, which also means we can get our refund sooner than being dependant upon the accountant's schedule of when he could get to it.

The online site my friend recommended is TaxAct Online (although I'm sure there are others and this is not an official endorsement for them). You can file for free, but I opted to use the deluxe version (which is what my friend recommended too), and it was $9.95. Would I do it again next year? Absolutely. If you ever run into trouble (although the questions prompt you through everything clearly), you can email in a question for help from an online tax advisor with the service, or you could always consult with an accountant or decide to go see him or her after all.

If you haven't filed your taxes yet, and want to save on accountant's fees, I encourage you to try TaxACT!