Monday, December 29, 2008

Gramma's Treasures

I hope you're enjoying your holidays! Christmas week is always filled with social activity around here -- lots of visiting, game-playing, eating and movie-watching.

On Friday we had my paternal grandmother's annual Grandkid Christmas Luncheon. Gramma has 15 grandchildren, not including spouses and great-grands. Nine of us, plus SOs and one great-grandbaby, joined her for lunch on Friday. Only a few of us live in town still, so it's a nice time to catch up with what new things everyone is doing.

My sisters were here for the luncheon, but had to return to San Francisco and Tuscon this weekend. Then Sunday night, my aunt, uncle and two cousins arrived from Portland, Oregon to spend a few days with us. They haven't come to California for Christmas for years, so this was a special treat.

Today my grandmother, who is 79, invited all the aunties and granddaughters to her home to look over her jewelry collection and choose what we liked. Most of her jewelry was made by her father, my great-grandfather, who was a lapidary (as well as a Harley-Davidson motorcycle dealer).

It was lovely to be there with my aunts and cousins and Gramma, admiring the stones my great-grandfather polished and set, and I know she was thrilled to have us all together.

I don't like to think about why Gramma wants to give things away now, though she seems determined to make us think about it. She is systematically reducing her load on this earth, and I do appreciate that she wants to make things easier on everyone when it's her time to go.

For now, I'm just grateful for the time we have with her. I hope I can age as gracefully as she has. She is more beautiful now than ever. I love you, Gramma!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tidings of comfort and joy

Joy To The World

Joy to the world! The Lord is come.
Let earth receive her King
Let every heart
Prepare Him room
And Saints and angels sing
And Saints and angels sing
And Saints and Saints and angels sing

Joy to the world, the Saviour reigns
Let Saints their songs employ
While fields and floods
rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat the sounding joy
Repeat, Repeat, the sounding joy

Joy to the world with truth and grace
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness
And wonders of His love
And wonders of His love
And wonders and wonders of His love

No more will sin and sorrow grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He'll come and make the blessings flow
Far as the curse was found,
Far as the curse was found,
Far as, far as the curse was found.

He rules the world with truth and grace,
And gives to nations proof
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love;
And wonders of His love;
And wonders, wonders of His love.

Rejoice! Rejoice in the Most High,
While Israel spreads abroad
Like stars that glitter in the sky,
And ever worship God,
And ever worship God,
And ever, and ever worship God.

--Isaac Watts(1674-1748)
One of my favorite things about Christmastime is listening to Christmas music as much as possible (right up until my hubby starts to go nuts). I don't want to hear anything else in December.

For me, nothing beats a traditional carol. I love folk, pop, rock and classical Christmas music, as long as the lyrics are traditional. If the lyrics aren't about Christ's birth, it's holiday music, not Christmas music. (Although I'm also a sucker for anything sung by Nat King Cole -- who isn't?)

I've had Pandora Radio Christmas stations on pretty much every waking minute at home. I LOVE that website! I've been totally out of the music scene since college, so it's very nice to be able to put in one favorite song and have them create a station of new (and old) music I'll like. Especially since I don't own an iPod.

We've been listening to Pandora's Folk Holidays (Scott's favorite), Classical Christmas, Peaceful Holidays and a station I created based on "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel," which is in my top three Christmas songs.

When our Internet connection has gone down lately (cable isn't supposed to do that!), I get out the Christmas Songbook CD collection I picked up last year at Costco. It has all the classics, sung by everyone from Bing Crosby to Billie Holiday, Perry Como to Gene Autry.

I found this great site for Christmas carol lyrics.

What's your favorite Christmas song or album?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Advent: The Christmas Pageant

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
--Isaiah 9:6
This weekend the boys were in our church's Christmas pageant. Instead of the traditional nativity story, the volunteer directors chose a short musical about a fourth king who comes late to Bethlehem and misses meeting the Christ child.

After a last minute scramble of rehearsals to get all the songs, movements and lines learned, the kids donned their costumes and the parents and Sunday school teachers got to sit back and watch it come together.

My older two enjoyed learning the songs, but were mostly grateful to finally be shepherds instead of sheep! My littlest didn't mind being a sheep for the first time.

We attempted to teach the little angels and sheep a song to sing, but mostly they rang their little bells while the Sunday school teachers sang softly below the stage. It didn't matter, they were totally adorable. That's my little lamb on the far left...

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Chilly, lovely, Christmas-y days

Oh, it is FEELING like Christmastime today! The weather forecasters have been teasing us with the possibility of snow all week, but so far we've had to be content with the cold rain. This morning the boys slept in later than usual, and I turned on just the tree lights and enjoyed the sound of the rain.

This afternoon they decided they wanted to play outside even if they'd get wet. They stayed out until the sky was dark and their hands and faces were bright red from the cold. The bath was filled and waiting when they came in.

We've been baking and making like crazy the last few days. This is the spot I kept coming back to at my mom's house last weekend:

Here's a peek at the goodies...shh! Don't tell!

Today I finally mailed packages and the last few Christmas cards. I get a little frantic when it's time to gather all the piles and ship out. I want things to arrive before Christmas, and earlier for friends who won't be home next week. I have to set my deadline early, or else I'll never finish. Last year I think I only mailed cards out through letter P in my address book!

It feels good to have it done, and know everything should arrive on time. I don't want to have to think about anything but enjoying the week with my family after Scott's vacation starts.

The boys have their Christmas pageant this weekend, and then my sisters arrive on Tuesday. I've done all my shopping -- presents and groceries both. I planned gluten-free, dairy-free meals (for my sister Brook) for the week so we can eat together at my mom's house.

Now I just have to finish baking, wrap family gifts, and maybe squeeze a few more knitted things for the boys out of the week. Tomorrow we go make graham cracker "gingerbread" houses at our homeschooling group's Christmas party -- fun!

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Twelve Days of Christmas, A Homegrown Life Version

Last Friday my mom and I joined my aunts and uncles at their church's junior high Christmas program fund-raiser. During the intermission, the pastor led the audience in a localized version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas." You'll have to read my mom's post about that one. I told the boys about it, and they've been singing it nonstop since.

Today they helped me make up our own version to reflect the blessings of the past year. Be sure to sing it out loud for the best effect!

On the First Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
A stolen car that wasn't really stolen.

On the Second Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Two weekends camping,
And a stolen car that wasn't really stolen

On the Third Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Three Warcraft gamers
Two weekends camping
And a stolen car that wasn't really stolen

On the Fourth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Four skeins of yarn
Three Warcraft gamers
Two weekends camping
And a stolen car that wasn't really stolen

On the Fifth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Four skeins of yarn
Three Warcraft gamers
Two weekends camping
A stolen car that wasn't really stolen

On the Sixth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Six Hogwarts lessons
Four skeins of yarn
Three Warcraft gamers
Two weekends camping
A stolen car that wasn't really stolen

On the Seventh Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Seven hens a-laying
Six Hogwarts lessons
Four skeins of yarn
Three Warcraft gamers
Two weekends camping
A stolen car that wasn't really stolen

On the Eighth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Eight homeschool skate days
Seven hens a-laying
Six Hogwarts lessons
Four skeins of yarn
Three Warcraft gamers
Two weekends camping
A stolen car that wasn't really stolen

On the Ninth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Nine dozen cookies (That's the understatement of the year.)
Eight homeschool skate days
Seven hens a-laying
Six Hogwarts lessons
Four skeins of yarn
Three Warcraft gamers
Two weekends camping
A stolen car that wasn't really stolen

On the Tenth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Ten Lego Bionicles
Nine dozen cookies
Eight homeschool skate days
Seven hens a-laying
Six Hogwarts lessons
Four skeins of yarn
Three Warcraft gamers
Two weekends camping
A stolen car that wasn't really stolen

On the Eleventh Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Eleven prolific tomato plants
Ten Lego Bionicles
Nine dozen cookies
Eight homeschool skate days
Seven hens a-laying
Six Hogwarts lessons
Four skeins of yarn
Three Warcraft gamers
Two weekends camping
A stolen car that wasn't really stolen

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas, my True Love gave to me:
Twelve trips to the dentist (between just two kids)
Eleven prolific tomato plants
Ten Lego Bionicles
Nine dozen cookies
Eight homeschool skate days
Seven hens a-laying
Six Hogwarts lessons
Four skeins of yarn
Three Warcraft gamers
Two weekends camping
A stolen car that wasn't really stolen
Now that my silliness is done, go learn about the true meaning of the original song in Fr. Peter's post about the Twelve Days of Christmas.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My mom's gingerbread

Apparently, spending all morning and part of the afternoon eating chocolate cookies and making salt dough Christmas ornaments yesterday was just not enough fun for one day.

So while I spent two hours scrubbing paint, glitter and glue off my $5 plastic Christmas tablecloth (we're in a Recession, people!), my mother decided it was the perfect time to make up some gingerbread dough. Have I mentioned she has a lot more energy these days? Er... nights?

I can't blame her, really. Last year was our first Christmas without my grandmother. The year before that my mom was recovering from a broken ankle and surgery to fix it. And three years ago she was in the hospital just days before Christmas with some unknown, extremely painful gastro-intestinal illness.

This year? She's blogging. (Yes, I know. The potential ramifications are great. These are the sacrifices a devoted daughter makes.) And you know what that means -- no shortage of motivation to crate something fun to blog about!

So, we cleared the dinner dishes, washed the salt dough off the rolling pin, and got to work cutting out gingerbread men and baking them into deliciousness. And, believe me, my mother's gingerbread is the BEST.

Best Ginger Bread Cookies Ever

1 cup butter, softened

1 1/2 cup sugar

1 egg (cage free, of course)

4 tsp. grated orange peel

2 tbsp. dark corn syrup

3 cup sifted flour

2 tsp. cinnamon

2 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. ginger

1 tsp. cloves

1 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350. Cream butter & sugar, add egg, beat until light & fluffy. Add orange peel & syrup. Stir in dry ingredients. Form into ball, and chill at least one hour. Roll out and shape. Bake for 10 minutes, cool & decorate.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Advent: Salt Dough Ornaments

What's way more fun than mopping and still gets your floors sparkling? Playing with glitter, of course!

Yesterday I decided to invite a few friends over to make salt dough ornaments with us. We hadn't done this before, but it sounded like fun and I knew our friends would enjoy it.

I baked cookies last night so we'd have treats to snack on, and then scurried around this morning trying to make the Christmas decorations I'd scattered around last week look a little more intentional. (The smell of fresh cookies and the pretty knickknacks distract from dustbunnies and dirty diapers.)

Here's the recipe (if I stole this from your blog, let me know, I can't remember where I found it!):
Salt Dough Ornaments

4 Cups of Flour
1 Cup of Salt
1 1/2 Cups of Hot Water
Holiday Cookie Cutters
Paint, Glue, Glitter, Beads, Etc.

Knead the dough and roll it out to cut out shapes with cookie cutters (just like if you were making sugar cookies). Place them on a microwave safe plate and microwave on high for about 2 minutes. Paint and decorate as desired. Most of all, be creative and have a lot of fun!

My kids love playdough, so the rolling and cutting out was fun. I made a second batch of dough, thinking we'd need more with nine kids making ornaments, but we ended up with a lot leftover for the mommies to play with. (Include mine, who was painting long after the kids got up to play.)

We took a break to eat chocolate crinkle cookies and wait for the nuked ornaments to cool. And then we decorated snowmen, angels, ice skates, stars, snowflakes, gingerbread men, stockings and Christmas trees with paint, glue, glitter and googly eyes -- until our hands were as sparkly and colorful as our creations.

After our friends left, there were still a few undecorated ornaments. The big boys were ready for something different to do, but my littlest and I spent another hour or two painting and glittering.

I think this will have to become a new Christmas tradition.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Friday, December 05, 2008

Advent: The Jesse Tree

I have really been enjoying Deb's Rethinking Christmas series on her blog As We Walk. This was the post that inspired me to do a Jesse Tree with our boys this year. She referred to this Advent study, and that's what we're using. I printed out the coloring pages for the ornaments. And then made the tree out of brown construction paper and some leftover Christmas ribbon.

Considering that we're unschoolers who rarely do the same thing two days in a row (besides eating, sleeping and gaming, of course), I suppose it was a little much to expect us to consistently keep up with Jesse Tree lessons. But we're doing our best. Each reading takes only a few minutes, so it's not too difficult to do more than one at a time.

While I'm reading, the boys color, cut and glue, each according to his interests. (Littlest is very fond of glue. Oldest only likes to cut.) They all love sticking the finished ornament on the tree at the end.

Other links for Advent activities...

Advent Coloring Pages

Advent True or False

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Advent: Gingerbread traditions

Whew! Thanksgiving dishes were barely washed, and suddenly it's Advent already! I really hoped to be more prepared... but I'm doing my best. (I just wish my 2-year-old hadn't chosen November to give up the need for naptime. In case you wondered why I didn't blog all month.)

It's been a tradition the last few years for the boys to decorate a gingerbread house with their Nana and Papa soon after Thanksgiving. The weekend was busy with grown-up visiting, but yesterday my mom picked up a kit, and invited us over.

When my sisters and I were growing up, my mom baked her own gingerbread and used a paper pattern to cut out the roof and wall pieces. We got to eat the cookie leftovers while she used her homemade icing to construct the house. And then we all helped "glue" gobs and gobs of candies onto it. The nice thing was, it was still edible (at least by kid standards) after a couple of weeks decorating the dining room.

These days at Christmastime, you can hardly get out of a store without finding a ready-to-build Gingerbread House Kit, complete with icing and candy. And my mother has accepted the simplicity of the mass market. We'll get to baking next week. Yesterday we needed some instant fun.

So, Nana and the boys cracked open the box, set up the pieces and iced them together with the premade "mortar." Then they got to the fun part -- mixing the frosting and sticking as much candy onto the house as possible before it hardened. (And yes, she insisted they wear their chef's hats and aprons for the photos!)

The fun was over too quickly. "Can we eat it now?" asked the boys the second the house was finished. Um, since the candy is now cemented into rock-hard icing on stiff, stale gingerbread, I'm afraid that's a "no."

Fortunately, yesterday was only the beginning of our Advent activities. We have much more to do as we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus. Today I put up our first "Jesse Tree." We've never done this before, but I loved the idea, and the boys are the right age for it now.

I'll post about the Jesse Tree tomorrow, since I didn't get a photo of it today.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!!

The turkey's roasting, the dressing is ready to be put in, the table is set, the pies are tempting us...

I am SO grateful to be safe at home with my family today. With all the craziness happening in the world right now, I have never felt more blessed. BOTH of my sisters came home for Thanksgiving. Brook called on Tuesday to say she was going to have a ride home if we had room for another guest. Of course my mom said yes. The day is going too quickly, and I've been busy in the kitchen, but enjoying every minute.

I meant to post this sooner, but this recipe would be good for Christmas, too! This is our favorite stuffing recipe. I make a double batch of cornbread the day before Thanksgiving to eat with soup for an easy dinner.

Rosemary pecan cornbread stuffing

12 Tbs. butter (No, this isn't a lowfat recipe! LOL)
3 medium onions, finely chopped
Half bunch celery, finely chopped
1 Tbs. finely chopped fresh rosemary
salt and pepper
2 cups pecan halves, lightly toasted
6 cups crumbled cornbread
Half bunch parseley, trimmed and minced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions, and cook until soft, about 20 min. Add celery and rosemary, season generously with salt and pepper; cook for 5 minutes more. Transfer to large bowl. Add pecans, cornbread and parseley, and mix well. Transfer to buttered baking pan, and bake until top is golden, 30-45 minutes.

I hope your Thanksgiving is filled with blessings, joy and gratefulness!

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Simple Woman's Daybook: Thanksgiving preparations

FOR TODAY, Monday, November 24...

Outside my window... the sky is grey, the leaves are blowing gently and beginning to cover the ground with orange, yellow and brown. It really feels like fall.

I am thinking... about how to make Advent really meaningful for the boys this year.

I am thankful for... all the help from our friends this weekend. They came for a work co-op day, and helped trim the mulberry, paint the picnic table, and mulch the garden. Plus we just enjoyed their company!

From the learning rooms... we've been watching "Sarah: Plain & Tall" while folding laundry this morning. ("Why can't we have a farm, Mom?" "Because Daddy doesn't want to be a farmer.") The boys have been re-learning to knit this week after a few months away from their needles.

From the kitchen... grilled cheese sandwiches and strawberry/banana smoothies for lunch. Later we'll make apple cobbler for tonight's dessert.

I am wearing... jeans, my dark green Camp San Joaquin Episcopal t-shirt with a long sleeve underneath, raspberry pink socks, and my Uggs with their holey toes.

I am creating... lists of want-to-dos for holiday activities and memory-making, photo gifts on Kodak Gallery, socks on my knitting needles.

I am going... to finish watching "Sarah: Plain & Tall" after I do the lunch dishes.

I am reading... "The Irresistible Revolution" still. Very good, but best to digest it slowly for it to really do its job.

I am hoping... that Scott can forgive his mom for not coming home for Christmas.

I am hearing... the clank of Cootie toys and Legos.

Around the house... I'm excited to get Christmas decorations out this weekend! In the meantime, I have to finish all this laundry.

One of my favorite things... "The Sound of Music"! We watched it again a few days ago while knitting for a few hours.

A few plans for the rest of the week: Getting ready for Thanksgiving! I'm making lentil soup tomorrow to last us until Thursday. Wednesday I'll bake apple pies. My sister is coming from San Francisco, and bringing a pumpkin cream cheese tart from a favorite bakery. I get to do all of the cooking this year, including my favorite stuffing recipe, which I'll post later.

Here is picture thought I am sharing...

The first apple pie I ever made! I baked it last week for our homeschooling group Thanksgiving feast at the park. I'll share the recipe later this week. :)

Find more Daybooks at The Simple Woman.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

It's finally Fall!

"So if you faithfully obey the commands I am giving you today—to love the LORD your God and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul. Then I will send rain on your land in its season, both autumn and spring rains, so that you may gather in your grain, new wine and oil."
--Deuteronomy 11:13-14
After weeks of 85-degree afternoons, we woke up to gray skies and weather that actually felt like autumn.

Yesterday we celebrated my middle son's sixth birthday at the park, and it was so warm the ice cream melted before we got to the cupcakes. We've had plenty of sunny Octobers, but none so consistently warm that I remember.

But today the wind has been blowing, and the front yard is covered with leaves from our mulberry tree. I had the kids come inside to play when the wind picked up and the air began filled with dust. Hopefully it will actually rain soon.

In the meantime, we've been carving our pumpkins, drinking hot chocolate and cider, and eating too many sweets. I made rice krispy treats, and our neighbors made the most adorable cupcakes with peanut butter cup bats on them. Then we traded, of course.

I love being able to spend the day at home when the weather is too nasty to go out. We've had so many busy days lately, lots of running errands and doing fun things, too, but I've been craving a day just to stay home and play. I've been craving this change in the weather after the Indian summer we've had.

I would share pictures of today's fun, but my camera gave out again this week. Fortunately, I was planning to replace it soon anyway, and I found a great deal on eBay. Now I'm just hoping my new digital SLR arrives soon!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Pumpkin blessings

I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.

--John 12:24 (NIV)

We attempted to grow pumpkins this summer, and were not very successful. But I learned some things:

1. Do not try to grow 8 pumpkin plants in the same mound just because all the seeds sprouted and you hate to kill a baby plant. Thinning is crucial to healthy growth. (That goes for my list of to-dos, too.)

2. Compost is wonderful, but steer manure is even better for pumpkins. The food should fit the seedling. (Chocolate soymilk for one. Beef jerky for another.)

3. Don't get lazy when it comes to watering. (Or listening.) Pumpkins need more water on hot days, not less, just because you don't feel like getting off the couch.

Fortunately, the local farm we visit each fall had no trouble producing enough pumpkins for what appeared to be our entire city. (Everyone in town seemed to be visiting the same day we were.) The farmer's daughter even gave us an awesome lesson on how pumpkin grow. (Though I thought she made it seem easier than my personal experience.)

Plus, they had some really cool tractors to look at, including this enormous machine:

We even got to follow the Children in the Corn Maze:

After the pumpkin patch, we headed to a nearby park to meet some friends for treats and crafts. The kids made Monster Hands with popcorn and candy corn stuffed into gloves. They decorated (and ate) sugar cookies. They glued cotton ball teeth onto Jack-O-Lanterns. They bobbed for apples. (And hopefully didn't spread too many nasty germs.)

I made vegan pumpkin cookies for the party, and while I probably posted this last year, I'll share it again. Because I'm just nice that way.

Vegan Pumpkin Cookies

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup shortening
1 cup pure pumpkin puree (canned, or roast your fresh pumpkin and scoop out a cup)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups flour (I use half all purpose, half whole wheat pastry flour)
1 tsp each: baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon
1/2 tsp each: salt, ginger and nutmeg
1 cup chopped, toasted pecans

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix sugars and shortening. Add pumpkin and vanilla and mix well. In separate bowl, mix dry ingredients. Blend flour mixture into pumpkin mixture. Add pecans.

Scoop spoonfuls onto greased cookie sheet, press down with a fork, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for approx. 12 minutes at 350 degrees.


For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

--Isaiah 61:11 (NIV)

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Back from the dead

"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."
--Matthew 11:28-30
Crazy as might seem to some, it is possible to be spiritually burdened by too many good things in one's life -- if that life is not centered in Jesus Christ, resting in God's mercy, upheld by His Love, disciplined by His Word.

I'm coming out of a spiritual funk brought on by too many cookies on my plate, so to speak. I've been doing, planning, rushing, trying too hard, falling exhausted and weepy on the couch -- and failing to put my trust in the Lord.

So, this Sunday I stayed home from church to spend some quality time with Him. Funny that it has to work that way sometimes, but for me, I just needed to be alone for awhile. I needed to go to the desert of my dusty living room, and listen for God's voice.

Of course, I heard it. Oh, how I missed that voice. I don't know how anyone lives without it. I don't think they truly do LIVE. I have never heard anyone who has known the Lord and left Him say how much better their life is now. I know there are people who've never known Him, and say, "I'm just fine, thanks." They don't know what they're missing.

I don't want to live without Him again EVER. He has given me the most blessed life -- but it is nothing when it's not focused on the Lord, I cannot appreciate it or enjoy it when I am not giving Him the glory.
I will praise You, oh Lord, my God, with all of my heart I will glorify you forever!
--Psalm 86:12

Monday, October 13, 2008

I'll stop screaming now.

I'm sorry about the angry rant. I really shouldn't post when I haven't had a snack.

I wanted to bake cookies this afternoon to warm the house up, but I was missing too many ingredients, and the kids weren't up to running to the store. Anyhow, what I planned on posting about today was something much more uplifting...

That's my nearly-6-year-old climbing the rock wall this morning during the class he and his brother are taking with a bunch of other homeschoolers.

And there's my oldest at the top of the boulder, which the kids climb without a rope in between turns on the rope wall. It's so much fun to watch them! They've been doing really well and enjoying it.

Now we're off to have dinner with friends. It's so nice not to have to worry making dinner once a week. And we'll take some Newman's Own cookies instead of homebaked. Just this once.

Suzy Orman makes me want to scream.

Not to get opinionated or anything. (After that, this is my blog.)

But did you happen do watch the first segment of Oprah today? This is not my regular habit, but sometimes I look to see who's on. Anyhow, today Suzy Orman told a woman expecting her second baby that she wouldn't be able to afford to stay home with her two kids.

Despite the fact that her husband would still make over $6500/month after taxes, despite the fact that she wouldn't have to pay for expensive childcare, which costs almost as much as her own salary, despite the fact that they have over $100K in a 401K, a $6000 cushion in savings, and $800 left in the revised, one-income budget each month, Suzy determined that this mother hadn't factored in the cost of diapers or formula, and therefore should keep working.

HELLLOOO??!!! ARRGGGHHH!!!! For HEAVEN'S SAKES, Suzy!! This, after saying that we all need to remember WHO we are instead of WHAT we have. I'm sorry, but do you think that newborn baby or her 2-year-old really care whether their parents have $6000 or $12,000 in savings? Does Suzy have so little confidence in this family's common sense that they couldn't reduce their $6000/month expenses in order to spend more time with their babies?? And why the HELL are they asking Suzy Ormond what's best for their family in the first place?!

I'm not even going to go into the statement that they need to budget for formula if she's a stay-at-home mom. I'm sure you can guess how I feel about THAT.

It's pretty clear to me now what Suzy would think of our finances. I would've gotten one huge smackdown if she'd had anything to say about me quitting my job seven years ago -- back when Scott was making less than $2500/month -- and we had NO savings.

He's still not making anywhere near $6000/month, and we're doing beautifully, thank you very much. No, actually, the thanks goes to God's grace, a supportive family, and yes, the fact that I breastfed all three babies and never once had to include formula in the budget.

Cloth diapering didn't hurt, either.

Friday, October 10, 2008

On the bright side

To answer my own question...

Attack Ye Old Crayoned Castle with a giant dragon:

Turn all your stuffed animals into superheroes, complete with capes made from Daddy's old ties. And underpants, of course.

Pull your favorite animal books off the shelf to look through.

Teach Daddy a new card game with the Star Wars cards.

Teach Daddy how to play LIFE: Pirates of the Caribbean edition.

I am so grateful that my boys get along really well, even after days of Not Much Going On, and that they are able to create their own fun, even when Mommy isn't much help. Even when the baby is cranky, the older two are patient with him and try not to take it personally. They are such good examples for me. :)

One of those weeks

Well, I missed posting yesterday. Afraid I'm not very good at keeping promises at the moment. It's been one of those weeks. My 2yo still isn't feeling well, so he's clingy all day and nursing all night. Not much sleep happening.

I spent last night attending a mandatory child abuse prevention seminar at church. Freaky stuff if I let myself think about it too much, which I couldn't. Not exactly the most uplifting meeting.

Plus we had three more dentist appointments this week for the three oldest boys (including Daddy). They each had fillings, and it went smoothly, but it sucked a lot of time and energy from the week. Our one fun thing planned, another Hogwarts day, was cancelled because of Littlest's cold. Scott took today off because he's fighting off the cold now, and was worn out after being in the dentist's chair all evening. So, it feels like a weekend, except we didn't have any plans.

It's such a beautiful, cool, breezy day today that I really just wanted to spend it outside. We were out for a little while this morning, after a lot of whining and dragging of feet. The boys actually got me up on the trampoline, which was probably good for, but reminded me how out of shape I've gotten in the last two years. I think I was in better shape when I was pregnant!

I've been waiting to get my seedlings in the ground because the temperature keeps going back up to the 90s. I thought today would be a good day to it, but it's more work than anyone around here has the patience for.

I have the hardest time adjusting my expectations and finding ways to have fun when I'm really low energy.

What do you do to keep spirits up when half the family's not feeling well?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The 7-Hour Fast

Yes, I was serious. No, it wasn't that interesting.

Last week I spent three hours lying in the dentist's chair. (This was after playing musical bookcases for three days.) Nearly all of my old, nasty mercury-based fillings needed to be replaced in order to avoid root canals.

I didn't know how long the process was going to take, so I took along a book I'd just bought, "The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical," by Shane Claiborne. It was such a good read, that I honestly had no idea how long I was in there until I left the office and checked my phone. I'll have to share more about the book when I finish it. Unfortunately, I seem to have misplaced it among my recently re-organized bookcases...

When I left the dentist, I stopped at a nearby grocery store to pick up a few things for lunch. Walking through a public space with your face only half-working is an interesting experience. I'm the type who usually walks around with a big dumb grin on her face. I'm generally a happy person. It was strange not to be able to smile fully, and to wonder what people were thinking. They were friendly anyway.

I picked up an iced soy latte while I was there. As kids, my mom used to get us milkshakes after we had teeth filled. Drinking out of a straw was lot more challenging than I remembered. It took me all afternoon to finish my iced latte.

Back at home, I lay on the sofa, watching cartoons with whichever boy was interested, and waiting for my face to feel normal enough to eat some lunch. Even mac and cheese was difficult. And my new teeth felt strange, like there was something stuck between them -- except there wasn't. Just the filling.

I don't usually do well without food for very long. My blood sugar drops and I get cranky. Which is why lying around was a good idea. If I didn't use too much energy, my blood sugar wouldn't change too drastically. If only I could follow that routine every time!

My face was numb for almost seven hours. By dinnertime I was starving, and I did get a little cranky. But overall, it wasn't too bad.

Good thing, because I get to go back and do it all again for the other side! Yay, bad teeth genes and lazy flossing!

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Online Book Party and Home Tour!

Welcome! Come in and have a look around! I've been working really hard lately to get this place in order...

For the last several months, I've been slowly tackling the clutter in my house (with my mom's help). We did the linen closet, the pantry, the master bedroom closet, and the boys' room (though it's still not quite done). But the disorganized bookshelves all over the house were still bugging me.

Then I found my motivation -- I signed up to host an Usborne Books party! Figuring I better know what books I have -- and have a place for them -- before I go ordering a bunch more, I came up with a plan.

A couple weeks ago, my mom and I started pulling books off the shelves in the living room. The coffee table was already stacked with books that didn't fit on them. I needed a larger unit for the children's books.

Time to play Musical Bookcases! We moved a medium sized bookcase from the living room to the dining room because the tiny shelves holding our homeschooling materials were packed full...

The bookcase from the living room works much better. (That's a Halloween gingerbread house on top of the shelf, in case you're wondering.)

I swapped the play stove in the kitchen with a small red bookcase housing toddler books in the living room. Isn't this a pretty vignette? (Yes, those are the boys' Potions cauldrons.)

Then I moved this large bookcase that wasn't fulfilling its potential from my bedroom to the living room...



The biggest change, though, was finally putting up artwork on the walls in the living room. My mom and sister framed family photographs for me as a Christmas gift two years ago, but the room still wasn't quite finished. My mother had these paintings, several by my aunt, sitting in a closet from when we had to move my grandmother out of her apartment. I love that it looks so much like her home used to...

My mom also hung my aunt's stitcheries of a vegetable basket and the 23rd Psalm in my dining room... they are so me!!

I was so happy to have this all done before my party last Saturday! I just wish you could have been there, too! Won't you take a minute to look at some books with me now? Sit a while and sip some tea! Or would you rather have coffee?

Thanks for coming! The book show closes at noon on Friday, so order soon if you see something you like!

Checklist for the New Unschooler

Well, I've got a sick, fussy toddler on my lap this morning, so this might be it for posting today.

I wanted to share this great article from Life Without School with anybody who's here because they're curious about or new to unschooling... Checklist for the New Unschooler. Becky gives 10 principles that are really the "How-To"s of making the most of unschooling -- eg. "Slow down and relax," "Make time for the things you enjoy," and "Choose the relationship over your need to be right."

Monday, October 06, 2008

That's just horse manure.

Every church has its quirks. The formerly-known-as-Episcopal parish we've attended for the last six years is no exception.

For instance, each fall we honor St. Francis of Assisi by holding an Animal Blessing service in the courtyard of the church. Pet owners bring their many dogs, the bravest of cats, the occasional reptile, and, yes, even horses to the afternoon service to have the priest say prayers and sprinkle holy water over the beloved animals.

Used to be, members of the parish would host a barbecue after the service. A barbecue of cooked animal flesh. Until our best friends gave up animal products completely a few years ago, and our small group decided to take over the barbecue and convert it. Save its soul, so to speak.

The Animal Blessing Barbecue went vegan.

We barbecue vegan brats and hot dogs, make German potato salad, and make sure the condiments are animal-friendly, too. Donations for the dinner go to the local animal shelter and Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. It's pretty cool.

Unless, of course, half the people go home without eating because they don't think they like vegetarian food.

You know what I think of that? You guessed it. It smells a little like the natural incense the horse above left on the sidewalk for the ceremony.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Something to celebrate!

Wow, I just noticed that my last post was my 400th!! Now, that's a milestone!

Though it doesn't explain where I disappeared to for the last two weeks... Sorry about that. We've been having too much fun around here, I guess!

Anyhow, how about to celebrate I actually POST this week? Say, like, every day? Otherwise, I could just write one really long, random post about everything we've been doing.


COMING SOON! to A Homegrown Life... The 7-Hour Fast -- just ask your dentist! Fun Fall Field trips. Before and after: Living room makeover photos! Anglican Life: Incense or Horse manure? PLUS! How to kill your sweet pea seedlings in 12 hours flat. And... Homemade playdough: How much is too much for your toddler's tummy?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I'm not jealous. I'm not jealous. I'm not jealous.

So. I've decided that no one who already has three children is allowed to have ANY MORE. Or at least, if they do, they're not allowed to tell me about it.

Because really, people. I'm done. I'm DONE, I tell you!

Seriously, have you noticed all the people getting pregnant with their fourth lately? SouleMama, for one. She gives me morning sickness just watching her do it so beautifully. And then there's Jessica, whose sickness was so bad, I was grateful it was her and not me. Until recently, when she started sewing adorable girly things again. Darn you, Jessica!

And now Heather, too?! Come on, you already have three girls! And a teeny tiny little apartment. Thanks for making me feel bad for making excuses that we don't have room for a fourth.

How are you people planning to pay for college, anyway??

It's not my fault. Do you know how hard I had to work to convince UberDad that we should have a third?! It took months and months! He was not anxious to begin another round of "Mommy won't get off the couch and we're hungry, Daddy."

I was a nightmare. Postpartum depression for most of the first year. The baby who wouldn't nurse anywhere but lying in bed. The baby who cried for six weeks straight.

And now he's so cute.

I can't blame Scott. He has one sibling. He never expected to have more than two kids. He hoped one of them would be a girl. He no longer believes we're capable of making girls.

And we're fine with that. Boys are awesome! They adore their mommies. They are constant entertainment. They don't have cat fights. I rarely have to brush their hair. No weddings to be responsible for. No teenage girl hormones. No tea parties. No pretty dresses to sew.

It's okay. I'm expecting granddaughters. I'll have more time for sewing then anyway.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Living in Freedom every day

Thank you, friends, for your kind and supportive words on my last post. I know I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed sometimes. It really helped just to get all that out!

And, praise God! I know He is always there for me even when I'm too busy looking at the mess around me to notice Him. And I know it is never Him condemning me or calling me a failure -- because He's already paid for that and set me FREE!

This week He may be setting me free from the computer. :) We have a lot of out-of-the-house plans for the week -- the dentist, a playdate, two birthday parties, and a museum field trip! I also want to finish getting the fall garden area ready for the seedlings that are stretching toward the sky! Oh, and I want to reorganize all the books in the entire house... *Sigh* I know, that might be a little much. ;)

Thankfully, I can do all things -- OR choose not to! -- through Christ who strengthens me!! And now I'm going to play a game of chess with my oldest, because that's what's most important right now.

Friday, September 12, 2008

If I went to a therapist...

What would I say?

Sometimes I have conversations in my head -- monologues, actually, as though I'm talking about my life to a therapist. And I wonder, would it do me any good to actually see one? Not that I'm asking because I've never been. I have. Last year around this time I called our insurance for a referral at the insistence of my beloved because I NEEDED HELP. I was freaking out. I was sad. I was overwhelmed. I was feeling like a failure.

That's what it basically comes down to. That's why I let my temper go when I do. If I could be rational about it in the moment, my anger almost always comes down to feeling like I've failed somehow.

I'm not being the wife or mother I want to be. I'm failing at my immediate goals, and therefore at my larger goal. I've set the bar where I think it needs to be, and now the person I'm aiming to please has somehow let me know that it's not working. Last night was a typical example. I was making dinner, but apparently not fast enough. The kids were whining from hunger, and Scott was looking at the clock and hovering, wondering if we'd be done with dinner in time to take our oldest to kung fu. And I snapped. I snap, and then I pass the blame. Because it hurts too much to be the one failing. It must be someone else's fault.

Or this morning. I wanted to get outside and work in the garden before it got too hot. But I'd woken up late, again, still wasn't feeling well, and the boys wanted me to PLAY with them outside, not just do my own thing. The whining. I HATE the whining. I hear whining and I think, "For heaven's sake! You have more toys than a city's worth of kids in Africa! You have TWO brothers to play with! You don't have to spend six hours every day at school or with me hovering over you making you do schoolwork! You just got to spend three days playing with friends, swimming, and going to an aquarium! You have a trampoline, a swingset, and chickens to play with! Could you just let me WEED for TWENTY MINUTES!?"

Those things are all true. But where does the frustration and anger really come from? It comes from a quiet, but insistant internal voice that questions the decisions I've made. That doubts that I really know what I'm doing as a parent. That wonders, "Maybe you've given them TOO much. Maybe you're expecting too much FROM THEM. Maybe you haven't given them what they REALLY need. Maybe you're just too selfish and independent to homeschool. Maybe you don't really get unschooling, and you're just using it as an excuse to do your own thing."

And a louder voice insists, "You deserve time to yourself. You have things you need to get done! They're just spoiled and need to get a grip." This is the Attitude that too often takes over my mouth.

Either way, I've failed. I haven't managed my time well enough. I haven't kept my immune system strong enough to have the strength and energy I need. I'm not being the mother I want to be. And it pisses me off.

Then the voice of reason, a still small Voice whom I like to call God, says, "You're tired. You have a cold. You're trying to do too much. The boys don't feel well either and don't want to be out in the heat. It's okay to go inside and leave the weeds for another day. The important thing is that you show them you love them."

I've still failed. I've still fallen short of the glory of God. But somehow, it's going to be okay. If I listen to His voice.

Duh. He's not expecting me to be perfect right now. I'm here to keep learning. He just wants me to follow Him and stop trying to do and be everything on my own. Only His standard counts.

I think I don't go to therapy because I'm not sure what voice I would hear there. If it's not His, then I don't want to hear it.

My Faith has been challenged a lot in the last couple years. It's been hard to hear His voice sometimes. I'm ready to quiet the monologue and listen carefully for a while.

Finding peace in the Peppermint Forest

Sometimes all we need to find our happy place again is a little trip to Candy Land...

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