Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Yesterday, I was getting cranky.

It had been a beautiful, perfect summer day.  Low humidity.  Enough breeze to make the 80 degree sunshine tolerable and even enjoyable.  We went to our local park with some friends for a picnic and bike ride.  (It was the first time we went and weren't utterly alone!).  We came home to enjoy some time with Daddy before he had to go to work for the night. We ate raspberry crisp made from our own hand picked berries.  Mister was given a broken coffee maker to tear apart and explore and was relishing every moment of it. The girls were playing nicely together.

And I was cranky!

I hate when that fleshy side gets the best of me.  I had nothing to be cranky about.  I was just getting a little tired physically.  The noise and commotion, though happy, was irritating me.  The endless stream of words from Mister regarding his inventions and science-y stuff was overwhelming me.  I had dinner to make, a house to clean, and a tired body and mind.

I kept telling myself, Go take a break!  I know me and my mind just needed rest.  I can't go full speed ahead all day long without crashing.  After dinner, I finally listened to myself. The kids were all upstairs.  It meant I could slip out onto the deck and enjoy the cool air, alone with a good book.  I grabbed this one off my shelf:

Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson

This is probably my favorite book on home education, aside from  The Successful Homschool Family Handbook by Raymond and Dorothy Moore.  I read the third edition last summer and was so inspired and encouraged.  It is a gigantic resource and gave me such a vision for making our home even more of a learning environment.  And not just that, but more of a place to call home.  One of the things I  really wanted to implement were the Discovery Corners- places for exploring different arts, sciences, and other interests.  My book had been packed up until recently (the new school room is pretty much DONE!) so I took this opportunity to refresh myself on these Discovery Corners.

As I perused the pages, I fell in love with it again.  Maybe it's because they encourage- and give permission!- to buy lots of books!  The Clarksons believe in lots and lots of reading... so they are dear to my heart!  Maybe it's because they are not formulaic or legalistic.  They stress building a relationship with your children and making learning together a lifestyle, not a start-to-finish part of your day.  Maybe it's because so much of what they have to say makes me yearn to be a better mom, an exceptional mom, a mom who lays her life down for the love of her children.

I only took a half hour or so to skim some parts of the book, but I felt God speak to me as I did.  The Clarksons recommend having a Learning Room, which of course they recognize is not possible for all.  Overall, they encourage parents to make the whole house a place of learning, that nearly every room would be a place the kids want to be- and are allowed to be. 

We are blessed with a lot of space in our home.  We don't have a Learning Room, per se. The kitchen seems to be the best place for us to homeschool.  My new school room isn't actually where we'll do school (it's too small) but it's the place where our books and supplies can be organized and easily found and hopefully we'll maximize their use.  But I thought of our living room, the one room that feels mostly "done". Painted, decorated, curtains up at last!  And I thought of the spot at the bottom of the stairs, between the living and dining room.  In my mind, I dream of our home being Better Homes and Gardens worthy.  Looking like our house is staged for a photo shoot.  Why?  Not so anyone will be wowed by it, but because I simply love beauty and order and the lack of STUFF everywhere.  The upstairs can be whatever it is- stained furniture, colored on walls, popcorn on the floor, and STUFF everywhere, but the downstairs is MINE!

Really Steph?  Just look around you. Look at all the spots you have to dedicate to your children and the whole family.  Who's house is this?  Yours?  Or Mine?

This is not the home of your guests.  They are here but rarely.  This is the home of your family.  Make it theirs, not just yours.  In doing that, you are making it Mine.

I felt refreshed.  Yes, I love when God speaks to me, even if it is an admonishment. He is always sweet and gentle with me.

The other day, as I painted shelves for the new schoolroom in the basement, I listened to a CD by one of my favorite artists, Watermark.  This song has always been a prayer of my heart and seems appropriate with what the Lord is teaching me.

Jesus, come and walk the halls of this house
Tread this place and turn it inside out
With Your mercy...
Jesus, teach us the prayers that open these doors
Until Your light floods in and illuminates these floors
And let Your truth be on our steps and in these rooms
Jesus invade...

I'm so thankful for the gift of being able to create a home for my family, not just a house I let them live in with me.  There will be scuff marks on the walls and floors, everlasting crumbs, odd collections of cheap items that I will never cherish... and more than anything, I pray, the presence of Christ.
P.S.  That spot at the bottom of the stairs? Already being transformed in a Learning Corner.  Little Tykes table with mismatched (and nail polished!) chairs included!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Homeschool Mother's Journal for the end of July

Join the meme at it's new location: So You Call Yourself a Homeschooler

In my life this week... We were back to "real life" after a week of vacation.  I put quotes around "real" because hey, it is still summer, and nobody is working as hard as usual (except Josh of course).

In our homeschool this week... I haven't done nearly all the things I had hoped to with the kids this summer, as far as educational stuff goes.  We're still on our first read aloud and I had planned at least four.  Math has not been touched.  They have been reading.  But I find that though we are not homeSCHOOLING much this summer, the kids are always being EDUCATED.  Though I haven't read aloud as much to them as I had hoped, they  have listened to the audio books of Dr. Doolittle and The Secret Garden, along with numerous other audios by Jim Weiss and others.  They are adding more chores to their workload and learning the basics of Give-Save-Spend with their allowances.  And everyday I hear more than I ever want to know about strange and unusual creatures they have learned about on Wild Kratts.  So not much school, but lots of education.

Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share...  hmmmm.... have you got a plan for the new school year?  Even if you're not a planner, it's time to start. But then again, it's never too late to start home schooling!

Places we're going and people we're seeing... Yesterday we picked up one of Caleb's buddies and went to the park for a picnic, then to play mini golf and get some ice cream.  It was a perfectly, gorgeous day, not hot, a little cool breeze.

My favorite thing this week... Getting the best news EVER!  My braces come off next month!

My kids favorite thing this week... Mini golf and ice cream.

Things I'm working on... priming and painting the shelves for the new schoolroom.  And since I had the primer out, I figured it was a great time to repaint the second hand dining set we use as our school table!

I'm cooking... way too many carbs lately! Pizza Pasta makes a giant dish that provides many leftovers that the kids actually LIKE, but oh, the carbs!

I'm reading... Since finishing North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, I've yet to pick up another work of fiction.  I've got to "feel" it....

I'm praying for... the upcoming school year and our road trip to Florida.  I'm really excited for this once-in-a-lifetime trip, but really nervous too.  It's a long drive with three kids, lots of things could go wrong,  the planning and prep can be stressful, just trying to make the best decisions.  But....

I'm thankful for... finally making our reservations for where we'll be staying when we go to Disney.  I got the Unofficial Guide to Disney with Kids and it's a fabulously helpful book. I used a small, privately run company that they recommended to book our townhouse with private pool.  I talked to the owner, he was so kind and helpful, and I saw the actual pictures of the home where we'll be staying!  We're not high class folks (especially with three kids) but I was worried we'd end up in a dive about an hour from the theme parks with no customer service to help us if we had a problem (common complaint from those who use larger booking agents).  Best of all, the cost of renting a whole house is comparable to staying at a low-budget hotel with one room.  Sigh of relief that this stage of preparation is complete...

Something I'm ogling or have my eye on... I'm in the market for the perfect art print for our new school room- something that inspires and captures the essence of home and education and family... Mary Cassatt has several I like.  She is one of my favorite artists for her beautiful paintings of family.

A quote, video, or picture... I've begun back-to-school shopping!  Gotta love Target and AC Moore this time of year!  A new pack of Sharpies just makes me smile!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Seven Day Grocery Stretch

I'm so not a fan of grocery budgets.  I can work on a budget in just about any area, but the food one hurts the most. So, typically, I don't do it.  But every now and then, I like to challenge myself.  See how much we really spend on groceries. I have an amount in my head, but is what we really spend even close?  I like to use up things that have been hanging around in the cupboard and freezer.  And I know it's good to deny myself every now and then and be content with what we have.  Including that stuff in the cupboard and freezer.

Plus, I get tired of running to the store all the time.

And it's kind of like a game.  What can I make with what we have?

So I challenged myself the last time Josh got paid.  I set a very reasonable budget for groceries and determined to stick to it.  Now, Josh gets paid every two weeks, and I had spent the entire budget in six days.  First of all, I bought a 25 lb box of almond meal, one of my newest, most favorite things in the world for cooking.  More on that another time, perhaps.  That baby wasn't cheap, so it put a large dent in my budget.  A few more trips to the store, and the money was gone.  I spent the last $25 on produce and milk.  I knew I had to make this work and make this last.

So I made a list of what was hanging around.

In the pantry:
2 lbs of dry beans
plenty of flours and baking ingredients
dry pasta
snacks for the kids
cans of beans
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
tomato paste
1 can of diced tomatoes
canned milk
sweet potatoes

In the freezer:
Corned beef
Chicken breasts
A bag of shredded hash browns
A pound of bacon
Frozen veggies
1 package of Twinkies
10 lbs of hot dogs (for a BBQ)
Ground turkey
shredded mozzarella

In the fridge:
6 slices swiss cheese
2 dozen eggs
3 gallons of milk
1 quart half and half
salad fixins
about 16 oz fiesta blend cheese
flour tortillas
white grape juice
about 20 baby carrots
grapes, apples, oranges
cheese sticks
plain Greek yogurt

Is it possible to live off this for a week?

Well, here's what we ate!

Friday night: Pizza night!  I discovered I only had the one package of mozzarella, no pizza sauce, and a little bit of pepperoni.  Solution: I made my own pizza sauce using the tomato paste, and some of the jarred spaghetti sauce. I mixed some fiesta blend cheese in with the mozzarella.  The grown up pizza was sautéed peppers and onion with some of the bacon. The other two pizzas were cheese and pepperoni.

Saturday night: Cereal.  Salad.  I confess we went to Denny's for lunch and we were all stuffed, so I didn't feel the need to make a meal. (Hey, the eating out budget is entirely different than the grocery budget!)

Sunday:  For breakfast I made (the night before) a quiche with crust made from most of the bag of shredded hash browns, the six slices of swiss cheese, and real bacon bits (saving the other half of the packaged bacon for something else).

Lunch: leftover pizza

Our neighbor, who sells us eggs, brought us two more dozen (I'm paid up for awhile, too!).

For supper: Boiled dinner with corned beef, the last of the potatoes, sweet potatoes, and baby carrots and the last onion.  Biscuits I had frozen that were leftover from a party we had.  We invited Grammy and Grampy to join us.

For dessert, we made homemade ice cream using milk, half and half, a can of sweetened condensed milk, eggs, and peanut butter.... plus I found a small package of Oreos and some peanut butter sandwich cookies to crumble up and mix in!  We are eating SO well!

NOTE: I was SO tempted to go to the store on Sunday!  My boiled dinner looked so measly with just six small potatoes and 20 baby carrots.  But then I added the last of the sweet potatoes and figured I could cook some peas to go with it.

Also, we met a new family at church and invited them to lunch.  THIS is why I hate being on a food budget, I told Josh.  I always like to be ready "in season and out of season" to invite people over for a meal!  I never want to be more concerned with my budget than I am hospitality and generosity.  I was mentally preparing my stop at the grocery store or pizza place, when I realized it really didn't matter what we fed this family. I had the giant pack of hot dogs, buns, chips, grapes, apples, oranges, salad stuff, we could make smores.... it would be just fine!  It turned out that they were unable to come, but this is a lesson I learn over and over again: It's not what we feed people, it's the invitation and fellowship that matters most.

Monday: Breakfast was the last of the Honey Nut Cheerios and a packet of oatmeal for the kids, the usual Alive shake for me.

Lunch: Leftover pizza for the kids and a giant Cobb salad for me that used up the last of the blue cheese.  I sent leftovers from last night's dinner with Josh.

Supper: Grilled chicken, mashed cauliflower, and grilled Normandy blend veggies.

I also made a double batch of pumpkin muffins using almond flour (hey, I've got plenty!), one can of pumpkin, the last of the Greek yogurt, with some added chocolate chips.  I started planning our menu for our trip to camp for the 4th of July and packing up some of the food we'll need.  We were going up Tuesday morning and returning late Thursday night after the fireworks... so that's three lunches and three suppers to plan with a dwindling supply of food!  Why did I challenge myself this way before a major (feasting) holiday???  Oh, but the good news- July 4th is Thursday! (When I can shop again.)

I planned the following meals:

Tuesday night: Baked nachos using up some of the Tostitoes, ground turkey, last of the fiesta cheese, and anything else I could scrounge up to add to it.

Wednesday night: I was on a desperate search for some kind of chicken crockpot recipe that didn't use cheese or cream of something soup (cause I had none of either).  I settled on chicken topped with two bags of steam-in-the-bag broccoli and cheese over rice pasta.

Thursday, the 4th: My last pound of hamburg for, what else? burgers, the giant package of hot dogs, smores fixins, and buns.  Thankfully we'll have a crowd of contributors to help round out the menu :)

I confess that I forgot to pack the chicken for Wednesday night, so I went to the grocery store and bought some pork chops on sale and a packet of marinade, plus a bag of potatoes for mashed potato.  And 2 containers of ice cream.  But I made up for it on Friday, by still not making a trip to the grocery store and using what was on hand.

Friday: A trip to the beach bringing snacks we had on hand and using the last of the bread for sandwiches.  Dinner was homemade mac n cheese using a can of evaporated milk, the last cup of shredded cheese, and the last of the bacon, cooked and crumbled inside it. Served with steamed sugar snap peas.

I have to say, I am really proud of myself for pretty much doing what I challenged myself to do.  We're out of lots of things so it is definitely time to make a grocery run.  But I stuck to my budget and we didn't go hungry. A little creativity and telling myself no, I couldn't run to the store, made this seven day grocery stretch challenging, but not painful.