Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Quality Time Is Everyday Life!

A friend inspired me to post about children and quality time.

As a mother of many, I am often asked how my time is divided between our children. How can one mother give seven children quality time? I think this is a worthy question.

The more this issue swam in my head, it occurred to me that many opportunities abound each day for special one-on-one moments with my sons and daughter and husband as well. Perhaps a few may consider my answer to be unconventional....

I believe that every minute has the potential to be special one.

Almost every morning (like clockwork), my oldest sons (14 year old twins) arrive in the kitchen to give me their individual sports updates. Seriously, they come as individuals, but tell me almost the same story verbatim! That's identical twins for ya. "Mom, the Pistons won. The Tigers lost. The Redwings play tomorrow night." Just today they shared that the Green Bay Packers had not yet cleared out Brett Favre's locker and that he had not signed his retirement papers. Could this be ESPN Radio rumor? Who knows? Who cares! It is just my boys coming up to tell me something they want to share with "me", their mom. I smile and listen with great interest (because I really am interested in sports :o). You ought to see us during football season!

My son Greyson is a scientist. He is either doing an experiment, building some contraption, or dreaming of doing both. We will sit for the longest time discussing different scientific theories or doing scientific experiments. Our latest experiment was using a peppermint essential oil solution to kill bugs. We are also observing the seeds we planted in the garden to chart their progress. I just love these talks!

Elijah, my 9 year old, loves to talk about his passions...reading The Adventures of Tintin by Herge (his absolute favorite), Indiana Jones films, or his Lego movies on our computer. He asks often for my input on why Tintin did this-or-that or why did Indiana Jones have to get so old or "can I please make another Lego movie on the computer?" (No!)

Rachel, the dear 7 year old princess of our children, loves to help me in the kitchen. She also enjoys it when the two of us clean her room together. We have the longest talks while doing this. It is a special blessing when mother and daughter (who are SURROUNDED by testosterone) can spend some time together just being feminine and girly. We talk about babies, flowers, pretty things, birds, cats, etc.

John, the almost 5 year old genuine boy, says he is going to marry me. He wants to kiss me all the time. He then flaunts this in front of his daddy who in turn goes after him and jokingly tells him that I am already married. John also loves it when I read to him. He also loves to help in the kitchen and laundry room.

Samuel, our baby boy of 2 1/2, is so loving and huggy to me. If John kisses me, he is right there to counter it with a kiss of his own. He loves it when I sit with him, read to him, or lie down with him at nap time. Like John, Sam enjoys cooking and folding laundry, too. ("folding" has its own definition for a toddler boy :o).

My husband Roger, enjoys it when we can spend just about any time together. It is our daily routine to have morning coffee, before the children arise. We both value this time so much and hate it when it doesn't happen. It is rare that we miss our morning coffee time. Sometimes we are very tired and look forward to a nice cup of coffee. Our conversation may not be enthusiastic on the tired days, but we are there together. Just a touch of a hand or foot rub, and we both feel better. (the children are encouraged to leave us alone as we talk)

So, this is getting much longer than I anticipated. To sum it up, our culture emphasizes quality time with our loved ones. What a blessing that I get plenty of it everyday...just living in this household...walking, talking, working, struggling, smiling, laughing, eating, sleeping, bathing children, cleaning house, brushing little ones teeth....the list goes on-and-on!

Not everyday is perfect all the time...but I seem to remember many more happy moments than sad.

Quality time is perspective. It is everyday life!

Now I am inspired to smile and spend some quality time with my seven, wonderful children and fantastic, handsome husband. Perhaps you are inspired to do the same with your loved ones, too!

Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow!


Sunday, May 25, 2008

A Serious Homeschooler Issue: "What's For Lunch?"

As a homeschooler, I am concerned about many things for my children. What will they study? What math curriculum (or not) is best? When should we work on essay writing? etc...

But, there is an even more crucial subject that we cover everyday and can put the house in an uproar if it is not completed, and that is "lunch."

After a busy morning of homeschooling, we all get very hungry. The "What's for lunch, mom" question begins to fly around the room. It would often be met with a response like "Make some sandwiches" or "Have some yogurt and fruit." As my children have grown and are still growing, they are not thrilled w/ the aforementioned answers to the "What's for lunch" conundrum.

I came across a brilliant idea to help answer the question with a satisfying response. This answer was easy on the wallet and acceptable to the palate. Beans and Tortillas!

Directions on how to have a great lunch that is healthy, delicious, fairly simple, and inexpensive:

  1. Place pinto beans in a crock pot w/ enough water to cover by 3 inches. I normally use about 5 cups of beans. Soak overnight.
  2. When you get up in the morning, turn the crock pot on high (check to see if you need to add more water. Sometimes the beans absorb much of the water). Cook for about 3 hours. Check for doneness w/ a knife by breaking a bean in half. If tender, they're done.
  3. Warm your tortillas. We do this by either wrapping a stack of tortillas in foil and placing in the oven on 375 degrees until warm (about 15 minutes), warming them one at a time on a hot cast iron skillet, or popping them in the toaster one by one for a more crisp tortilla. Make sure to watch them carefully in the toaster. They can burn quickly if you are not careful.
  4. While tortillas are warming, drain cooked beans in a large strainer. Put beans in a bowl or back in the crock pot (turn on low). Mash the beans and add a shake of onion powder, garlic powder, cumin, & a dash of salt. You could also add a small can of chopped green chillies for more flavor. Take note to add more of the spices if you use more beans. Keep taste-testing to get flavorful results.
  5. Prepare any desired toppings (i.e. lettuce, cheese, tomatoes, onions, peppers, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, etc.) . We stay very simple.
  6. Serve mashed beans in tortillas and top w/ your choice of the above.

That's it! This is our favorite lunch. You could also serve freshly prepared raw vegetables on the side. If you have a capable child to prepare this lunch, that is very helpful, too!

Prepare a large amount of beans so you will have enough for more than one day of lunches. Just heat them in the crockpot that morning.

I purchase our tortillas at a Save-A-Lot store for 99 cents a package (10 tortillas). I buy the tortillas with the least amount of ingredients listed as possible to avoid all of the preservatives and chemicals. These are normally refrigerated due to their perishable nature.

For those of you skittish to any prepping, feel free to use canned beans!



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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Homemade Handwriting Lessons

If you didn't notice, there is a new icon posted in the sidebar for your reference. It is Donna Young's website for homeschoolers.

Yesterday I was there investigating a few things when I came across a recent idea added to Donna's site. It was regarding penmanship.

I hate to spend money on penmanship books, though using these books is convenient for daily practice and perfecting of handwriting skills. Though the books are usually under $20 each, they add up when considering the number of books needed.

I have 3 students who will be practicing penmanship this coming fall. That would add another $50 to our homeschooling order. Ouch. In comes Donna Young's idea.

It's called Homemade Handwriting Lessons Using A Composition Notebook.

As homeschoolers we know that you can either buy, borrow, or make your own materials when necessary. This is one of those instances where you can make your own penmanship book.

Donna recommends purchasing an inexpensive composition notebook, a frequent member of many homeschooling households, and use it as a base book for cutting and pasting in computer-made handwriting fonts.

The more I thought about it (this was spurred by the fact that our printer ink is running low :o), I could take old, used penmanship books that I have filed away, and cut out the instructional parts and paste them into the composition notebook!

I will leave space for the student to practice these new lessons on the page.

This could be done w/ any old workbook, even those that do not feature penmanship. Talk about a great way to recycle! My relatives who lived during the Depression would be very impressed with this!

If you view the link for the Homemade Handwriting Lessons Using a Composition Notebook, you will understand what I am trying to explain.

It takes a little work, but what a great idea!

Donna Young's site is a veritable goldmine for homeschoolers in need of a variety of forms, ideas, and wisdom. Check it out!



Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Ambidextrous Chainsaw Filing

I have receive my first complaint email. It was from my dad :o). Technically, it was not a complaint, but a helpful inquiry.

After nagging him to subscribe to the blog (I thought it was his responsibility as my father :O), he kindly did so. Many of the articles here are not going to be helpful to him (grin), so he requested some informational material for those blog readers like himself.

So, Dad, here ya go.....

This is an article entitled "Ambidextrous Chainsaw Filing". I just know it will be right up your alley. You may also want to check out the list of articles at the site featuring this article, Backwoods Home. From building a fence out of free wood pallets to building stone walls...they've got all kinds of helpful and educational articles!

Dad, I will also work on blog entries that feature physical fitness and nutrition info. All my education and work experience as a personal trainer/aerobics instructor/nutrition consultant have not gone to waste!

Speaking of work, my oldest twin sons are out pounding the pavement in their pursuit of employment. They have already been offered one job (a place willing to hire the both of them!), but it was not going to fit what they were looking for. Last week they walked miles around our city filling out applications and speaking with business managers. I think this is a great learning experience for them.

In the meantime, I and the littler ones are working hard at keeping our chickens in the yard, doing school, keeping the house tidy, and planting flowers.

Enjoy the day!



Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Most Perfect Place To Be

During the German/Nazi occupation of Holland in World War II, Corrie Ten Boom and her sister Betsie had one evening of fright.

As the planes of the Germans and British fought overhead, Betsie arose from bed to make tea. Corrie could not sleep and decided to join Betsie for a cup of tea.

They chat and comforted one another throughout the night and when things quieted down, returned to bed.

As Corrie felt in the darkness, she found her pillow. Blood trickled from her finger as she touched something there made of sharp metal. Here is what happened (from The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom):

"I raced down the stairs with the shrapnel shard in my hand. We went back to the dining room and stared at it in the light while Betsie bandaged my hand. 'On your pillow', she kept saying.

'Betsie, if I hadn't heard you in the kitchen---'

"But Betsie put a finger on my mouth. 'Don't say it, Corrie! There are no 'if's' in God's world. And no places that are safer than other places. The center of His will is our only safety--O, Corrie, let us pray that we may always know it!"

What an amazing thing to say.

May we always know that the center of His will is the perfect place to be and is not dependent upon our surroundings.



Friday, May 16, 2008

All In A Day's Work

So, today is the day we decide to plant our garden.

The soil is tilled up and prepared. The seeds are sorted.

I head out the door with Greyson (11), Elijah (9), Rachel (7), John (almost 5), & Samuel (2 1/2).

The littler ones go on their merry way to play while Greyson, Rachel, & I get the seeds planted. Rachel is thrilled to have her own raised bed for flowers and one pumpkin plant. Greyson asked permission to use 1/2 of one of the raised beds for his own.

The next thing you know, Rachel and Greyson are arguing over the pumpkin seeds.

As this commences, I survey the area for John and Sam.

"Where are John and Sam?" I ask Elijah.
"They're headed up to the fort," Elijah responds.
"Get them down here! They can't go up there alone!" I exclaim.

All seems to be fine. Greyson and Rachel have worked things out with the pumpkin seeds, and we manage to haul Sam and John down our very large hill (kicking and protesting!) back to the yard for better supervision rather than losing them to the woods.

After a messy and complex job of untangling 3 long hoses (that were left out all winter), I decide to see if they are still operable (after wiping the slime off my hands). Greyson takes one and hooks it to the faucet. It works. We then attach another hose to reach the garden and discover it is clogged and not working. As I attempt to disconnect the hoses, the blockage had put the water under a lot of pressure. When the hoses were unhooked a massive spray erupted and dampened Sam. Greyson and I look at each other, both of us thinking "GREAT!"

Sam, in turn, discovers how well the water that covers him mixes with the dirt (already on him) as well as the dirt on the ground. He begins to decorate his face with it. What a mess!

It occurs to me that Elijah is now missing. He decided it was more fun to play with his Legos than work outside.

"Elijah, get outside or you will be grounded from your Legos for one week!" I demand. This threat speaks plainly and clearly to Elijah, who loves his Legos with all of his heart. He comes running outside.

In the meantime, I realize that John and Sam are out of sight...AGAIN.

And so it goes.....

We did eventually get the seeds planted and watered, the children washed and cleaned up, and my nerves under control (grin).

This is, for us, all in a day's work.



Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A Little Fruit For That Yogurt?

A spring cold has been slowing me down this week. It has caused me to be very tired! However, the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter each day. Soon, the reminder of better health will present itself.

Here is a recipe for a delicious fruit mixture to put into the creamy yogurt posted yesterday:

2 cups of fruit (I like blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, peaches...or combo of them!)
2 tsp. corn starch
1/4 cup of honey

Combine the above and bring to a boil in saucepan. Stir until thick. Pour in a canning jar and use as needed for jam, ice cream & pancake topping, or yogurt flavoring. Refrigerate what you don't use.

note: You can use frozen fruit in the recipe, too! Also, you could skip the honey and use an alternative sweetener like sugar, agave nectar, or stevia (you would only use about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of stevia.....test the flavor to make sure you don't add too much stevia). Xylitol would be another option, yet I do not have the experience with it yet. I'm hoping to get some from my co-op soon.




Monday, May 12, 2008

Thick, Creamy Yogurt....HOMEMADE!

I've been making yogurt for many years. At first it seemed cool to be able to do it. The chemistry of turning milk and bacteria into a thicker substance by using heat.

At first it seemed to me that the yogurt would match the American store bought yogurt. Wrong. It was thinner and not as sweet. Thus began my long journey to duplicate American yogurt, which resembles more of a parfait.

This past weekend proved success, and it was a lot easier than the experiments I had been conducting for years w/ gelatin, pectin, and agar (seaweed) powder. Here are the instructions:

1) Mix the following in a 3 quart pan:

1 quart of whole milk (which produces the thickest yogurt. You could use a lower fat version but may not get the same results)
1/4 to 1/2 cup dry milk powder (increases thickening, but not necessary)
1 Tablespoon of corn starch

2) Scald this mixture on medium high heat for a few minutes. Make sure to stir constantly, scraping the bottom of the pan (so milk won't scorch!). Keep it nice and hot for about 3 minutes so cornstarch can activate). If it is getting too hot and threatening to burn, reduce heat to medium. Just make sure to keep stirring.

3) Remove milk mixture from heat. Add 1/4 teaspoon of stevia powder or 1/4 cup of sugar and whisk well to combine.

4) Let milk cool to between 100 and 115 degrees. This may take a few hours, depending on the air temperature. I like to use my instant-read thermometer to judge the temp. Add 1-2 Tablespoons fresh yogurt as a culture. Whisk well.

5) Put milk and culture into appropriate container (I use glass quart jars) and cover. Incubate at a warm temp that doesn't exceed 115 degrees for 4 or more hours until yogurt is thick and a spoon can tap the top w/o penetrating the surface of the finished yogurt. For incubation, I use my Excalibur dehydrator at the 115 degree setting. You could also use a cooler w/ a heating pad inside it. Set the heating pad on low, put the jar of milk inside, cover w/ a towel, and put lid on the cooler. (note: the longer the incubation period, the more sour the yogurt will get.)

6) When yogurt has finished, put in refrigerator until cold.

7) For a "fruit on the bottom" product, take 1/2 pint canning jars, put 1-2 Tablespoons of jam in the bottom, and then spoon plain yogurt on top until jar is almost filled. Cover w/ screw top lid. I make a few of these for my husband's lunch.

I make 3 to 4 quarts of this yogurt at a time. All of our children enjoy it.



Friday, May 9, 2008

Toddlers and Their Compulsions

Today was "one of those days." It featured a toddler, a spray bottle of wood cleaner, & a napping mother. This is a bad trio.

All of us have been more tired than usual this week. It could be due to the slight cold we have running through the house.

As the afternoon was in session, it suddenly hit me that a nap was necessary. My eyes closed without a struggle, and the catnap commenced.

I was awakened by the sound of our 14 year old son's voice scolding his little toddler brother Sam.

Half-awake, my sloppy form stumbled on a diagonal path toward the dining room. My countenance became like that of a deflated balloon as I witnessed half of the dining room covered in wood cleaner spray. GRRRRRR. Sam's compulsion for spray bottles had seized him once again.

The disappointing fact is that I had already cleaned this room earlier in the day.

After muttering my disapproval in a slightly louder than normal tone, Sam just stared at me with those big brown eyes (now edged w/ crocodile tears). The dialogue went something like this:

"Sam! You are NOT to touch the spray bottles!" (gee..I wish I had a dollar for every time I have said this to him!)

"Yes, momma." (his usual reply to the above statement)

I then hugged him and told him I was sorry for getting angry. Sigh.

Toddlers and their compulsions!

Blessings :o)

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Grocery Shopping Game

Many are frustrated by the latest economic forecast. The news media is full of hype about current food and gas prices.

It does seem that our economy is going through one of its occasional troublesome phases, yet I believe that in time, it will bounce back to fairer weather.

In the meantime, we clever homemakers need to put on our thinking caps and be a bit more deliberate in how we plan and manage grocery shopping.

Instead of becoming depressed and frazzled, let's be positive and make it a challenge. A challenge is good for the mind! How can we provide meals and sundries for our homes with the dollar amount we have budgeted (I hope you have a fixed amount predetermined for your shopping!)?

Sometimes I'll use my grocery money for homeschooling materials or clothing purchases. I then have to get creative with the reduced amount of money left for that budget. Here are a few things I do:

  • Have a menu system for the week. I do not like to be too strictly regimented, so my menu is extremely flexible: (Mon: Spag/salad/garlic bread Tues: Mexican Night Wed: Casserole or crockpot night Thurs: Beans & rice or baked potatoes/soup Fri (our family popcorn & movie night): pizza, hot dogs, or burritos Sat: Hamburger in some form (sloppy joes, taco salad, meatloaf, etc.) Sun: Large family dinner night (we eat early) pot roast, mashed potatoes, vegetable, & dessert.)
  • Use a lot of ground beef & sale meats. I try not pay under $2 per pound for meat. You have to pay attention to sales in order to do this. Perhaps your area's prices vary, so pay attention to a minimum price and stick to it. There have been times when I have used o ly ground beef all week to fulfill our menu's quite easy actually!
  • Institute one vegetarian meal per week (ours is usually Thursday or Friday)
  • Serve the same breakfasts and lunches each day, with a little variation. We have hot cereal for breakfast (cereal or homemade granola is a special weekend treat if budgeted), sandwiches or leftovers for lunch w/ homemade yogurt and carrotsticks or fruit, and fresh fruit, yogurt, popcorn, cinnamon toast, or homemade cookies for an afternoon snack.
  • Put a limit on how much milk, cheese, butter, and eggs you buy each week. I buy 4 gallons of milk per week, that's it. My children know that if they drink it up, they will have to wait until the next grocery day for more.
  • Plan how much you will spend at each store you visit. It's easy if you shop at one place. However, if you shop at multiple stores, determine a set amount of money for that store. For me, this varies from week to week. Some weeks I spend more at the warehouse club store. Other times, I may just buy more at the healthfood or grocery store. I like to purchase bulk items once per month.
  • Buy store brand items. In our experience, they have not differed much in quality.
  • Reduce the amount of paper towels you buy. Use rags for cleaning and wiping.
  • Try to eliminate buying processed foods. Substitute healthier choices of fresh fruit or veggies.
  • Split bulk items w/ a friend. Determine how much you pay per unit, and divide the cost. For our large family, we do not need to do this. Our purchases are often in bulk.
  • Do not buy commercial cleaners! Research the Internet or get a good book from the library that features recipes for homemade cleaners.
  • Make your own stuff. Examples: bread, babywipes, cleaners (as mentioned above), yogurt, cakes, cookies, granola, pudding, etc. See Hillbilly Housewife for some great ideas on menu planning and frugal recipes!
  • Think to yourself when you are shopping in the grocery store "Do we need this item?"

That's all I can think of for now.

I hope this encourages you :o)


Friday, May 2, 2008

Laundry Soap Wannabe

I love doing laundry. That's right. It's my dirty little secret. Well, I love most of the laundry routine...except putting all of the clothes where they need to go after they are washed, dried, and folded.

Our routine involves collecting the dirty laundry from all of the cracks and crevices of the house (it's amazing where I find dirty socks!!), sorting it by light or dark, and then transporting it to the laundromat. Our septic system is not re"septive" (get it? LOL) to the loads and loads of laundry that our large family produces, so we wash it at the laundromat and then dry at home.

There's something about the laundromat atmosphere that entrances me. Perhaps it's the white noise of dryers and washers tumbling away, the smells of clean clothes, the faces of different individuals saying "hi" as we share a common task, the kind attendant whom I am getting to know so well. I use the same 2 triple loaders each time. It is a pleasure for me to gaze through the front loading washer window as the dry clothes begin to slowly spin, get wet, and then slish and slosh.

I have discovered an effective laundry detergent, which really isn't a laundry detergent, but an automatic dishwasher powder. It is by Seventh Generation and I purchased it at Target for around 5$ for a good-sized box.

It is my goal to use the least amount of synthetic chemicals as possible in cleaning and laundry products, so I purchased the dishwasher soap originally for the dishwasher. Due to the extreme hardness of our water at home, the Seventh Generation powder did poorly in the dishwasher. I hated to see that big box go to waste, so I thought surely it would be usable as laundry soap. It has water softeners in it as well as other substances that would be practical for washing clothing. It is free of perfumes and dyes, a bonus for the sensitive skin people in our family.

My usual laundry soap, Dr. Bronner's Sal Suds (great stuff for washing anything in the laundry and home & is highly concentrated), was running low, so I grabbed the Seventh Generation Dishwasher powder. I used 1/4 cup of dishwasher powder, 1/4 cup washing soda, and 10 drops of tea tree oil per triple load.

What a joy when I realized it worked so well! I'm not sure how it would work in a top-loader washing machine. It is necessary for me to pre-treat stains (I do have 6 boys!).

So, there ya go! Perhaps you may want give the Seventh Generation dishwasher powder "laundry soap wannabe" a try!

Back to the dishwasher soap. I did find a great dishwasher powder and dishwashing detergent that is free of synthetic ingredients: Citra Dish. Both the automatic dishwasher powder and the liquid dish detergent work well, in my opinion. They work in spite of our hard water! I also like the mild citrus aroma of these products.

Happy laundry and dishwashing!

Blessings :o)