Tuesday, October 11, 2011

I have blogged about this subject before, a few years ago on Veteran's Day. However, it is something that is very dear to my heart and considering some of the disturbing comments I have seen around cyberspace these last few days, I'm really feeling the need to repeat it somewhat.

This photograph has been circulating on Facebook recently, and as with most of the people commenting on it, I'm incensed when I see it. You can "blame" this picture for fueling my ire and prompting this blog post.
We are a patriotic family--I make no apologies for this. Our first and primary allegiance is to the Almighty God that our very beings belong to, but we are also very aware and proud of our great nation's Christian heritage and the service our family has given to this country throughout its existence is a source of heart-swelling reverence to God for the blessing of our liberties. Our patriotism stems out of our faith--they are intertwined.

In the last three years, I have had a son join the Army, a husband retire from the Army, and a son-in-law join the Army. Many of our friends and loved ones have been affected by deployments to one region of the world or another. My own son spent a year in Afghanistan. We have had several opportunities to witness parades, ceremonies, and other "patriotic" functions. Lord willing, my husband and I will be able to attend the Veteran's Day Parade here in town next month. The last one we had the privilege of attending, Pete "marched" in. Well, no ... more accurately, he rode in it atop the HIMARS launcher that he trained other soldiers to repair. Pete has had several odd-feeling moments as he has experienced the military pomp and circumstance more from the audience since our son enlisted--and especially since he retired. In fact, when we attended our son-in-law's basic training graduation at Fort Jackson this past April, it got REALLY weird. Pete's father had marched across that same field both as a basic training graduate and for his own retirement ceremony before Pete even graduated from high school, and they both stood there welcoming yet another generation of our family's soldiers into the ranks as retired soldiers.

One thing I'm really not fond of seeing again at this year's parade is something we have experienced at every single one of the 'patriotic' events we've attended these last few years--the lack of respect for our flag and those who defend it. People, it's not just a piece of fabric on a pole. It represents the blood that was shed to unite this country in solidarity against outside forces that sought to abolish freedoms that our founding fathers believed in enough to sacrifice life and limb for! It stands for FREEDOM. It is identified worldwide with a nation that seeks to liberate people from tyrannical rule.

At least it used to be.

Nowadays our own people are bringing disrespect to our own flag. Many Americans are more concerned with preserving the heritage of nations they came FROM and showing how proud they are of THAT culture. We find people who are offended by the display of our OWN FLAG!!?? We have church groups (I refuse to even identify these people as "lowercase" christians ... anyone who uses the name of God to promote hatred doesn't deserve to wear His name, in my opinion, and if I'm wrong on that, I'll answer to God, thankyouverymuch!) who are making a mockery of funerals, bringing pain to people mourning the loss of soldiers while preaching anti-American false doctrine with very little regard to those men and women who have died to allow them the freedom to spew such vitrol. We have a generation who do not instinctively stand out of respect of our flag and what it stands for.

Look at that picture at the top of this post again. Look at all of those people sitting on the curb, and the handicapped veteran who is standing. He's not forcing their respect; he's not making a scene. He isn't belittling them for their lack of patriotism. He's just doing what comes naturally. And so are the ones who give no respect to the flag. Why the difference? Training.

"Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country." --John Fitzgerald Kennedy

What does this nation "owe" anyone? Not a thing, save the billions of dollars we borrow to keep hundreds of meaningless programs running to super-regulate things that probably shouldn't be regulated in the first place. (woah ... soapbox. Stepping down ... )

What do we OWE our country? Respect.

Train your children to understand WHY this country exists. Train them to understand HOW it came to be. Train them to show respect. Train them to do for OTHERS and not expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. Train them to honor their elders. Train them to appreciate. Train them to show gratitude. Train their hearts to hurt when they see others hurting, and to look for ways to help. That's what makes this country great--its foundation in the principles of the Bible. It's what will return this great nation to her roots. It's what will preserve our freedoms. It's what will ensure that those veterans who stand to honor the flag they fought for will not stand alone.

UNITED we stand.

Stand up, America. For heaven's sake, get off your butts and STAND.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Country Porch Friends Blog Party

I love getting to "know" other bloggers. The internet is a really interesting community and it's so much fun to just browse and read about others' lives! I was out of the blogosphere for a little while at the beginning of the year, and lost some of my bloggy buddies as a result. I was really excited to hear that there was a blog party going on so I could "meet" some new friends! So ... here we go!!

For those of you who already know me, most of this is probably going to be boring. Sorry. This isn't really for my tried-and-true buds, but more for my newish friends. I still love you, I'm just gonna bore you for a few minutes ... that is, unless I share something about myself you don't already know. :)

The short story--I'm Kris, married to a retired soldier-turned-world-traveler. We have seven children--our oldest two are married--one IS a soldier, one is married TO a soldier. Yep, big-time Army family. Four generations of soldiers have worn the name tag my son's uniform bears. And I am unabashedly proud of every minute of their service. We have homeschooled for the last fourteen years and will continue to educate our younger five girls at home as long as the Lord allows!

There isn't really a short story when it comes to me and who *I* am. My brain, although it only might have 6 cylinders, runs on about 8-10 on any given day. I'm not sure how that works. I have more ideas than hands, more responsibilities than hours in the day, more projects than half an army could keep track of. I'm a chronic planner but only an acute getter-done-er. My inability to focus in ONE direction at a time is my kryptonite. I am incessantly hard on myself, I fight depression and self-loathing every minute of every day (but most of the time, with God, I stay on the winning side of the battles), and most of the time I feel like a complete failure in every aspect of my life.

There's the 'tragedy' portion of my story. I bet you repeat readers didn't expect to read THAT, now didja? The other side of it is that God has blessed me immensely to be able to deal with everything that my "demons" can throw at me. I've been confronted with things that I never would have dreamed of dealing with, and God's grace and strength have pulled me through (sometimes kicking and screaming) every time!

The other little details about me are kind of what I've been blogging about these last .... uh ... four years? Yeah. Four. I started blogging to give my brain an outlet when I didn't normally have much of anyone to talk to. It morphed over the years as I started realizing that people were actually somewhat interested in reading some of what I had to say! (That still shocks me, I'd like to add.) I blog about some of my spiritual epiphanies, I blog about my kiddos, I blog about my struggles with life, I blog about practicalities. I blog about silly stuff, I blog about serious stuff. Kind of like my real life, actually. On any given day, I'll have a mountain of laundry, a major catastrophe brought about by a dangerously smart 2-year-old, an adorable moment worth sharing with the entire world and that I have caught on camera to scrapbook (later), and a dinner plan to share with people begging me for a recipe. Nothing really special. I'm a wanna-be Laura Ingalls living in a Stephen King world. One of these days, I'll have a beautiful garden, chickens, and a sustainable, self-sufficient lifestyle. Right now, I have a half-deconstructed bathroom, windows that are falling apart, and a garden completely engulfed by weeds.

Yep, I'm normal! :) HI! Nice to have met you! :)

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Beautiful cast iron skillets!

"It sure ain't pretty, but I hope it at least tastes good."

I can still hear Mamaw's sweet voice uttering some of the most hysterical words I'd ever heard from her mouth. She had just served up some of her famous (at least with me, it was!) cherry pie to my brand-new husband while he was home on leave for Christmas. Poor Pete hadn't been raised with a Southern grandmother like I had, but he certainly married into an eatin' family! Fried chicken, sausage gravy, greens, and homemade biscuits were foreign to him, as was the staple sweet tea that came alongside every meal. But that one particular day, Mamaw's cherry pie had been just a tad "off". Something happened to the crust on top, and it became a very ugly pie, in her expert (don't you DARE say that a Southern cook isn't an expert!) opinion. She even contemplated not serving it, but there was no WAY I was going to let that pie go to waste.

It was the last of her pies we ever tasted. In my memory, that cherry pie was just as sweet, just as delicious as any gourmet restaurant pie, and even though it wasn't pristine, it was still wonderful. I can't imagine not being afforded the opportunity to eat that pie just because it didn't meet up to Mamaw's strict standards. What a loss it would have been!!

I spent many a day learning to cook alongside my Mamaw, and I have such sweet memories of those days. She was always making something special, but usually not for herself. I remember distinctly wondering what it was SHE liked to eat--because aside from fried shrimp at Morrison's Cafeteria, I really don't remember one meal that was just for her. In fact, I remember very little that Mamaw did for herself. I also vividly remember helping her prepare those meals and the dishes she used both to prepare and serve them in. I remember being embarrassed by the dishes. It's not something I'm proud of now, but I used to imagine those meals being served on my mother's fine china or a beautiful set of Pfaltzgraff dishes on a well-pressed tablecloth. As I stood on that little stepstool next to Mamaw washing up after she'd just served another masterpiece to me, I made mental notes to myself that one day, when I had a kitchen of my own, I'd make SURE to have better things in my cabinets. I remember thinking that heavy, black cast iron skillet was the most disgusting piece of cookery I had ever laid eyes on and that Mamaw's food would just be so much BETTER if it had been prepared in a shiny, new nonstick pan instead of that thing that was probably older than my mother, rough around the edges, and covered in years of grease that I was absolutely SURE was poisoning us. How on EARTH could a skillet be cleaned with nothing but hot water??? The grease didn't fully come OFF!!!!

What I didn't realize was that Mamaw was giving me one of the most profound, most beautiful object lessons I would ever receive in that tiny little kitchen. And that I would long to grace my own "pretty" (haha ...) kitchen with those mismatched, cracked and chipped, and "ugly" dishes--and especially that beautiful cast iron skillet I detested so much!

Mamaw's cherry pie wasn't the most delicious thing in the world because it was a world-class beauty of a pie. Mrs. Smith made much better looking frozen pies. But Mamaw's pies (along with every thing else she made) were delicious because of a single ingredient--LOVE. Everything she made was made with love, and as cliche as it sounds, you could taste it. No recipe could replicate it in someone else's kitchen. And that cast iron skillet? Well guess what--it was the ULTIMATE kitchen tool. Nothing stuck to that thing!!!! Mamaw used to make the most delicate fried eggs in that skillet, and not ONCE do I remember her doing what I do at least once a week--scraping and scrubbing burnt, stuck egg off of the bottom of yet another "nonstick" pan. Fried chicken, grilled cheese, eggs, everything was cooked in that skillet. And whaddaya know ... my expensive hard-anodized steel pans don't do what Mamaw's cast iron skillet did--that skillet was fortifying every meal prepared in it with just a little bit of iron. Wow.

We live in a society that devalues things that aren't "pretty", and that's really a shame, because in many cases, the hardworking, practical things far outshine the "pretties". Mamaw probably could have bought twenty cast iron skillets for what my one (now useless, considering how badly everything sticks to it after just a year of use) "good quality" Calphalon skillet cost. In my quest to "have the best", I overlooked one huge fact--the "best" sometimes can't even begin to compare with a well-seasoned, old and ugly pan that gets the job done with no frills.

Guess what? The church is NO DIFFERENT. We surround ourselves with beautiful furnishings, the "best" curriculum for our Bible classes, and make sure that all of our menfolk are dressed well when they are scheduled to serve communion. We are quick to welcome the beautiful new families who are such an encouragement to us and enjoy their pretty, well-behaved children.

But what about the chipped plates among us? What about the old cast iron skillets with years of grease build-up? What about the cracked pots in our number who have "seen some stuff" in their day? What about the recovering alcoholic? The repented adulterer? The woman who had an abortion in her younger years? The former gang member? The homosexual? Ooooh, ouch. Do we actually have homosexuals in the church???? Ahem ... do we have promiscuous teenagers in the church? Do we have pornography addicts in the church? Is it any different? How about the guy who was converted to Christ in prison and is now coming to worship faithfully now that he's been released?

What does God do with those people? Does God put the cracked, chipped, greasy pots in the back of the cabinet and only use the best, prettiest, and pristine Christians to do His work?

Ask Rahab the harlot. Ask King David the adulterer and murderer. Ask Saul-Paul, the Christian-hunter. Ask the smelly fishermen following Jesus around.

While you're at it, ask Judas what happens when someone never makes it out of the pit of sin that they're stuck in. But you might not understand him very well, he can't get too many words out with that noose so tight around his neck. The noose he put there himself.

We do well to teach about the dangers of sin, sure. But what do we do with people once we pull them out of it? Do we add them to the attendance roster and then step away for fear of being contaminated with their past? Or do we ENCOURAGE them to use the "grease" that coats their lives to serve others with? It's one thing to teach people to live righteous lives; it's another entirely to presume to know we have it all together just because we aren't the ones with chips and cracks in our lives. The beauty is in how God can mend those cracks, not in how He avoids them!!!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Denim Quilt Tutorial

**DISCLAIMER**If you are either my eldest daughter or my daughter-in-law and it is before Christmas of 2011, BEGONE. You do not have my permission to view this blog entry. Go away! For any of you who KNOW my daughter or daughter-in-law, I'm swearing you to secrecy, ok? This is a Christmas gift and I'm only posting this because I'm fairly certain that neither one of them have any interest in reading my blog. Okay, on to the upcycling! :)

It's no secret that I have a longstanding affection for blue jeans. I LOOOOVE a well-worn pair of jeans; there is nothing more comfy in all this world to be wearing, in my humble opinion. It's also no secret that I am a tightwad cheapskate fan of all things frugal. I love quilts, but I do NOT love the price of buying yards and yards of pretty fabric to chop up in teeny tiny pieces. It quite literally causes me pain to do that. I also do not have the patience for piecing small bits of fabric together in intricate patterns. Sorry. I just glaze over. Oh, I love quilts--just not the work it takes to get the gorgeous finished product! Besides, have you noticed how many little people live at my house? We're rough on things. Any quilt I make has to be able to withstand the roughness that a family of our size and activity level is capable of dishing out.

Enter the "upcycled" (I've learned this is the new, politically-correct word for what we used to call something that is recycled to make something new, back in the dark ages) blue jean quilt. I saw the idea fifteen years ago in a Country Woman magazine for a simple, boyish quilt made from squares of old jeans and plaid flannel, constructed with exposed seams so the edges would fray in the wash. I made one for my son to put on his bed, and I was instantly hooked. That quilt has been wonderful! He took it with him when he moved into the barracks once he joined the Army, because it was the warmest blanket we own, bar none! It accompanied our family on camping trips, beach outings, picnics, it went with my husband when he was deployed to Kuwait, and it is just as good now as it was when I made it! I have since made two more--one was a simple one with baby fabrics for one of our girls (we will be keeping it to use for grandbabies!) and another was a rather tedious and time-consuming (but absolutely BEAUTIFUL) cathedral windows quilt, made of a bunch of circles that were sewn together in squares. Even the description makes my head hurt. I actually killed a sewing machine making that quilt!

Anyhoo, considering I have two adult children who are beginning their married lives this year, what better Christmas gift to the new couples than a handcrafted denim quilt of their very own, made lovingly by Mom!? Thing is, I don't really want these quilts to be run-of-the-mill, boring and unattractive jean quilts. Let's face it--if you Google "jean quilt", you'll come up with some pretty bland and *ahem* ugly images. I want them to be something that my kids will be proud to take on a picnic with their families for years to come, not something they hide in a closet just to bring out when it's frigid! So off I went in search of some pretty flannels to back my squares of chopped-up old jeans with.

This is a truly "beginner" quilt--no turning, topstitching, binding, batting, Nothing but simple straight lines! For anyone interested in re-creating my project, here is a step-by-step look at the process.

The first thing you need to do (I did this while washing and drying my flannel yardage) is get your jeans cut up. I'm too lazy to do seam-ripping, so I just cut along the leg seams to get a long, flat segment to work with. I then cut the plastic cover of a Five Star spiral notebook into an 8" square to use as my template. I traced around the template with a ball-point pen (shoot, you could even use permanent marker; the edges are going to fray in the wash anyway, you won't ever see that ink again!) and then cut the squares out of the denim. I was able to get three squares from each leg segment (a total of 12 squares per pair, give or take for extra-low pockets or skinny jeans). Apologies for the lint all over my carpet. Jeans make a big mess when you cut them up!

You will then repeat the process (minus the old jean-ripping-up) for the flannel. Trace, cut. For this particular quilt, I needed 63 squares of denim, and 63 squares of flannel. (note the big pile of jean shards in the background--this is a very messy project!) 

The next step is to marry up your flannel and denim, wrong sides together. Yes, it helps to enlist the services of your resident black ragdoll cat to "assist" in this task, but I do advise against partaking in the buttered popcorn until you are finished. It will make your squares greasy! I did this while watching a movie with the hubs. Kept my hands busy. The reason I've got them alternated on the stack is to make it easy to grab a 'set' when you go to do your stitching.

Once you have all of your fronts and backs aligned, run a stitch around all four sides, with a "just a hair bigger than" 1/4-inch seam allowance. I've made quilts with a 1/4" allowance and they just didn't have enough space to fray well enough for my tastes. Mine was almost 1/2"; it doesn't have to be a specific measurement, just be sure you use the same seam allowance for each seam. Don't worry that every teeny little edge doesn't meet up perfectly; denim quilts are very forgiving, and the beauty really is in the imperfections. That fraying will hide any cutting inconsistencies. 

A bit out of sequence picture-wise, but very important to the process--determining HOW you will piece your quilt together. I knew I wanted the quilt 9-squares long by 7-squares wide, which is how I came up with the total of 63 squares. I quick-sketched a few possibilities for how I'd put it together just so I could get a quick glimpse of what it would look like, roughly. I think for this particular quilt, I'm going to use the far right sketch. The flannel print I chose is a bit more elegant and begs more of a formal-ish pattern. When you do your sketch, bear in mind that what is on the back will be the reverse of what is on the front! In my sketch, the colored blocks represent denim, while the white squares represent the flannel. When I get the other quilt finished (I'm pretty sure I'm using the middle sketch for that one), I'll show you what it looks like, but I won't repeat the entire process.

When you have all of your squares stitched you need to lay them out (you'll need a LARGE surface for this) in the pattern you plan on using. Mind your fronts and backs; make sure you have your darks and lights in a pattern that pleases you and that your prints are aligned in a way that you can live with. You will have the opportunity to change it slightly while you're sewing your strips, but this is your only opportunity to see how it all works before it's stuck! You'll notice that in my pre-stitching layout, I deviated slightly from the sketches. What is laid out in this picture will be the front of the quilt.

When you are satisfied with your layout, you will need to get the squares picked up in sequence so your strips fit together in this same pattern. Start from one end, place the first square on top of the next, then the next, then the next, and so on to the end of that line. Do the same with each line, and then stagger-stack them so you have (in my case) 7 stacks of 9 squares, all lined up ready to be sewed. When you piece them together, it'll all fit together nicely! Stitch one strip at a time (back sides together), sewing just to the inside of your original stitch. If you stitch on top of or to the outside of that stitch, the stitching will show on the backside. Not the end of the world, but not exactly desirable either. Remember, you want all of your exposed seams on the FRONT of the quilt. You will eventually end up with a stack of strips:

To stitch the strips together, you will HAVE TO pin. Do NOT try it without pinning. You will be doing a lot of seam ripping, I assure you. Match up your intersections and open the seams up. An opened seam, two strips together, will look like this (only less blurry!):

Pin through that seam intersection in such a way to hold it open so you can stitch straight across it.

As you stitch across the opened seam, double-back and reinforce the center. If you don't, you will increase the likelihood that the stress of the heavy fabric will open that seam back up. Get all of your strips pieced together (and in doing so you will find out just how HEAVY and WARM this quilt is!!!), and you will have something that looks like this:

Not so pretty just now, but it will get better, I promise. You'll need to wash and dry it three or four times for it to fray and fluff properly. FIRST, though ... you've got to get through what I think is the most tedious detail--snipping the edges. Take a GOOD pair of fabric scissors (not pinking shears) and make perpendicular snips every inch or so along every single exposed edge. Don't go through to the stitch line, because that stitch is going to give the fraying a stopping point. A bit of warning about this step--you are going to have to be snipping for a LONG time. It's maddening. Resign yourself to the fact that you are going to HATE this quilt by the time you get all that snipping done. You *can* skip this step, but you'll end up going back to do it anyway because your edges won't fray well unless you do this. It will also take you several more washes (and a lot of cutting of long, stuck-together strings) to get it right. It's worth the effort, I promise. Snipping it like this BEFORE it's washed the first time will give the frayed edges a "ruffly" look to them that you will not get if you skip it and go back and do the snipping later after it has started fraying. I can't quite explain why that happens, but it just does.

Done? Good. Dress your blisters with band-aids and get that quilt to the washer! You won't need a long wash cycle, and you don't need to wash it on hot, but you do need a good amount of agitation. I do not recommend washing it with anything except maybe jeans. This thing is going to SHED!!!! Whatever you do, make sure you NEVER wash it with a towel--you will have fuzzies and denim shrapnel on your towels forever. This is the ball of lint that I scraped out of my washer after just the first wash cycle--this does NOT count what is stuck on the quilt going into the dryer! You can't quite grasp the scale, but I'll tell you this--it took TWO hands to hold this wad 'o' fluff.

Dry it (no need for fabric softener), being SURE to clean out the lint filter at least once DURING every drying cycle, and then again afterward. This thing makes a LOT of lint. After you dry it, snip off the strings so all the seams are even again (leave the fraying, just even up the edges!), then wash and dry again. And again. And again. I usually repeat the wash/dry/snip cycle about four times. It's worth it. Really. See?

Here's the view of the back side--not as pretty as the front, but still kinda cool looking (at least I think it is):

Best part? I paid about $20 per quilt, for the flannel (5 yards per quilt) and thread. The jeans were either leftovers from our this-doesn't-fit stash, or throwaways from others. I have purchased old jean castoffs from the clearance racks at thrift shops for a dollar a piece, but it's much easier just to keep a running pile in the corner of your closet as you get rid of them yourself!

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Tip Junkie handmade projects

Friday, September 23, 2011

Simple Woman's Daybook, 9/23/2011

FOR TODAY, September 23, 2011
Outside my window..
. it is gray and dreary, but it is FALL!!! The trees are starting to show hints of color, almost like red and yellow halos. The temperature is falling, and it is a pleasure to have the windows WIDE open!

I am thinking... about the last 22 years of marriage Pete and I have shared. We've really experienced the entire spectrum of the vows we pledged to one another. Better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness, and health. It's all been there. Some of the "worse's" have been REALLY worse, but it's all part of God's plan for us to face it together. I really do not believe we would have survived without our shared faith. Feelings just aren't enough to get you through the rough patches.

I am thankful... for the wonderful friends who are more than willing to offer our children a safe and loving place to "visit" while Pete and I celebrate our anniversary tonight alone. It really is the best anniversary present we have ever been given!

From the learning rooms... we had yet another "bug" lesson last night, as our reading nook was invaded by a praying mantis! I tell you, between the spiders and the mantids, we've gone buggy! Jamie has become obsessed with learning all she can about insects and creepy crawly critters, and the rest of us ... well, we're following unwillingly at times! As far as school goes, the older two are starting to "get" reading more and more by the day. Danica is now reading '-at' words and is just thrilled to no end to be able to READ one of her little Sonlight beginning readers! Sometimes it feels like we aren't getting anywhere with their focused studies, but then something will "click" with one of them and all the light bulbs seem to come on at once with all three! Weird how that works.

In the kitchen... I am going to be doing something new for our anniversary this year--I'm making dinner at home! Pete and I would love to go out to a fancy restaurant, but finances just aren't where they need to be. We'll eat at home and then go out to a movie afterward. That way we can enjoy the foods we love--stuffed mushrooms, tomato-mozzarella salad, chili-lime salmon, and roasted balsamic asparagus--and still be able to do something together that we don't normally do!

I am wearing... jean shorts and a white tee, but that will all change pretty soon. The temperature seems to be dropping with every passing hour! It is supposed to be in the 50's tonight; we're going to be COLD on that motorcycle!!!

I am creating... a beautiful setting for our dinner tonight. Even the girls are commenting on how pretty it is in the dining room! LOVE that.

I am going... to make one last run to the grocery store before taking the girls to our friends' house for their sleepover. Funny how they're as excited about staying with their buddies as we are about having a "date night"!

I am reading... a couple of e-books that I got for my Nook last week: 100 Days to Christmas 2011 and True Christian Motherhood. One organizational, the other challenging and encouraging!

I am hoping... for a safe and enjoyable weekend. Pete and I don't get many opportunities to go for motorcycle rides together, so we are both really looking forward to the ride we have planned for Saturday.

I am looking forward to... hmm, I think I just answered that! LOL I'm also looking forward to surprising my hubby with a wonderful anniversary celebration. We don't do this every year; most times we will just go out to eat. This year, though, we have a lot to celebrate--two of our children are married and our own union is healed to the point that we are both willing and able to look back and see how God can really use our experiences to help others. That in itself is a huge blessing of healing for us. If we don't allow God to use it for His purpose, what we have been through was nothing more than a horrible experience. I fully believe it's got to be worth so much more than that!

I am hearing... the girls giggling as they try to narrow down what all they're going to bring with them for the night! Easier said than done ...

Around the house... are little hints of the season. I started pulling out my Fall decorations and placing them here and there. I love this season, and the colors we have in the house just go SO well with Fall decor!

I am pondering... what all needs to be put on the to-do list for the next several weeks. Whew!

One of my favorite things... FALL!!! Can you tell? :)

A few plans for the rest of the week: Um ... I got a seriously late start on my Daybook this time around, so considering that it's Friday already, my plans include dinner and a movie with my hubby tonight, then a motorcycle ride tomorrow!

Here is picture for thought I am sharing... the dining room table is already prepared for our anniversary dinner tonight! All it lacks is food and US! :)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I don't have time for this!

A confession--I am a Facebook addict. It started with Facebook being an easy way to stay in touch with people we don't see every day. I'm not a texter. I also do not do phone calls well. I make, on average, ten phone calls a week--one of those being a LONG phone call to my mom. I might call Pete every now and then if I need to know when he's coming home or if he can run to the store on his way home. Thing is, I still like to know how people are doing. Facebook provides a decent format for me to do just that. I love seeing pictures of people's everyday lives; I love sharing in the little details of life, hearing little funnies, etc.

It is out of control. Seriously.

Well, this morning, upon logging on to Facebook, I found their "new and improved" format, and I have to say, it gave me a headache. I hate it. I get very easily distracted by "streaming" anything. So ... good opportunity to break that habit, right? YUP!!

I really do not have time for Facebook in my life, when it call comes down to the nitty-gritty details. I just have too much going on. And it's only going to get WORSE. It is almost the end of September, and ahead of us BEFORE Christmas, we have two three-week-long trips to Germany to send Pete on, a weeklong trip down to Florida for Thanksgiving, and a five-day visit from Pete's mom that we just found out about last night! Um ... can you say BUSY???? Nevermind there is also an anniversary in TWO DAYS, but also the last kid-birthday of the year and two MAJOR holidays to plan for. Oh, and school. And homeschool meetings, field trips, Bible classes, and now my newest venture--college classes.

Where does Facebook fit into this mess? It doesn't. There just isn't any room. Something's gotta give, and this headache/head-scratcher social media thing is it. I'll catch up at night with what everybody's doing. I have too much living to do!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

What IS this room, anyway?

When we moved into this house almost two years ago, there was one room that we weren't really sure what to do with. It was very obvious that this room wasn't well-planned. The awful wood paneling was dark and dingy; there was a horrid forest-green coat of glossy paint on the trim (including an almost randomly-placed chair rail that made NO sense), and the bottom third of the paneling had been painted WHITE! Look at how awful this was ...

Yes, as a matter of fact, that *is* an avocado-green laminate countertop you see on that shelf. Pretty awful. It was very dark, cold, and cave-like in there. I knew I couldn't live with this nightmare long, so I set about getting ideas for what I could do for a short-term fix. It took FIVE layers of paint--two of primer, three coats of yellow--to cover that paneling. And when I removed the painter's tape from the wall after painting the trim, the tape took some of the paint with it. Lovely. But you know what? Even though it's not perfect, it is MUCH better. I couldn't see this room as anything other than a dining room, thanks to the fireplace in there causing an odd traffic pattern. After the paint, it became our dining room.

 Not too bad, but after almost a year, it felt ... not right. Not close enough to the kitchen, and we still didn't enjoy using it all that much. So ... it became the schoolroom! I kind of liked having this bright, cheerful space for the girls to do their schoolwork in.

HOWEVER ... time and daily life dictated that this space needed to be something else. The schoolroom becomes cluttered very easily, and it just wasn't working out. We would get sick of seeing the school-clutter, and it wasn't pleasant having the back door right smack in the middle of where we were all trying to work. The dog going in and out, the cats wanting in and out, KASEY wanting in and out ... we just needed a better plan. So even with the sore and weak shoulder, I acted on my "wild hair" and switched things up AGAIN. I'm thinking this just might stick! The schoolroom is now in the bonus room, and Pete's workspace remains untouched (he was worried about that!). It actually works out fairly well to have all of the work-stuff in one room. I'll get pictures of that when it is closer to finished. But my "yay" moment was getting that odd back room turned into a little reading nook! LOVE this. Love, love, LOVE!

This is now a very cheery, HAPPY place to curl up with a book and just RELAX. There is no screen anywhere in this room. The outlets aren't even three-pronged, so we can't even hook up a laptop to charge! Archaic, I know ... but there really is something completely wonderful about a room where no technology invades. Well, unless you count my Nook e-reader? I cannot WAIT to get the fireplace and chimney repaired so I can curl up in here under the afghan my grandmother crocheted and just enjoy a crackling fire while I read and sip a cup of tea. It has long been a dream of mine to have a reading room that I can escape to when I can't manage to find quiet. I really need to get something on the walls, but right now I just don't know WHAT!? It'll get there. At the moment I'm enjoying it far too much to focus too much on blank walls!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Let the holiday planning BEGIN!

I have to admit, I am a Christmas addict. It is really a sickness. Thanksgiving can't get here fast enough for me every year--not just because it is a wonderful time of family togetherness and reflection on our blessings, but it also marks the 'official' countdown to Christmas! I have always watched the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade with wide-eyed anticipation of the end ... Santa's sleigh riding in signaling the beginning of the festivities. I love *almost* everything about Christmas (I'm not real keen on the commercialism of the whole thing--it cheapens it--but for the most part I just ignore it and focus on the good stuff), and while I don't really look forward to the craziness, there's another little bit of excitement found in the organization and planning that adds to the joyful anticipation. In the past I have used Organized Home's Holiday Grand Plan (and the organizer printable pages) to get my holiday merrymaking in order, but I'm always up for a new organizational tool, especially when it's a Christmassy one!

THIS year, I bought the 100 Days to Christmas E-Book for my Nook (also available in Kindle and PDF formats) and I'm LOVING the daily reflection and slow-but-steady planning. Do you realize we have only 97 days till Christmas today? Guess what? I'm NOT stressed about it! Why? 'Cause I've got my PLAN on this year! Do you? NO? Well, by all means, go get yourself an e-book and get to it!
Are you more of a blog-follower? Well, they have that too.

So far, since last Friday (day 100 for those of you who are still not with the program! LOL), we have made planners, gathered calendars and started making wishlists for our family. Today is all about budget planning. Eww, I know ... but as with all plans, if you don't have one, you'll blow it!

Personally, frugality is something I quite enjoy. I've tried to instill in my children a love for things that are made with love instead of just purchased to placate. Hmm ... that sounds bad. I'm all for wishlists and telling the department-store Santa what's at the top of a child's list, but trying to fit everything on those lists under our tree was a rather financially-painful endeavor (and didn't do them any GOOD) when we had just two children. NOW we have seven--plus those two children-by-marriage, and hopefully we'll start being blessed with grandchildren soon, so ....... budget planning is a major necessity. Buying anything for seven children can get VERY expensive.

My own saving grace is clearance sales! LOVE those holiday clearance sales! In fact, I don't think I've paid full price for holiday wrapping paper in ... ten years, maybe? I've also not paid full price for stocking stuffers. My strategy is to have some money set aside for *after* Christmas to stock up on little items that go on clearance to put away for the following year! I've already got quite a stash in the gift closet, but I really do need to get in there and figure out what all I've bought!

This Christmas is going to include a couple of budget-busters, but every few years, that isn't a big deal, really. We don't make a habit of it. Morgan is *really* hoping for an American Girl doll, and Jamie has been BEGGING for her own Game Boy DSI since Morgan got hers for her birthday. We don't usually mind too much spending a little more when we know they are more responsible with their belongings. We do, however, need to figure out how much we plan on spending (and NOT spending) on the rest of the family. Time for a hubby-conference! I do know that Pete and I have pretty much decided that our older children will be getting "couple" gifts instead of individual ones. Since all four of them will be home (okay, not THEIR home, but ours) for this Christmas, we'll probably do stockings for everybody this year too. Not exactly expensive, but with 11 of us, it could be! I think we need to do some tree ornaments in the adult kids' stockings so when they start having their own trees, they will have some special ornaments to put ON them!

Oooooooh, my holiday juices are flowing!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hello FALL!!!!!!

I know, we still have a week before it's "officially" Autumn (I'm all too familiar with the official arrival of Fall; it was the reason my wedding colors included teal and not aquamarine. Don't groan too loudly--it was 1989!), but considering how hot and steamy the weather has been in the last two months, we are REALLY ready for this. Fall came loudly to North Alabama last night with a strong but short-lived thunderstorm ahead of a rather powerful (yay!!!) cold front. When we got home from Bible study last night, the temperature inside the house was 82. When we woke up this morning, it was 70, and half of the windows were still closed to keep the rain out!!!

We have had a very dry summer. Not as dry as Texas, but still dry enough that the trees started to show signs of stress a few weeks ago. In fact, our catalpa tree out front has lost about half of its leaves already, and several of the trees in the back are almost completely yellow (and dried out). Today, though, with the gray and dreary cloud cover, the still-damp ground, and the brisk breeze, it looks like FALL!!!!

The view down the street. Just past our nextdoor neighbor's house is a hay field that was cut and baled this week!

In the backyard ...

Ooooooh, check out what ELSE I came across this morning!!!! I am actually a day ahead of the game, so I am seriously going to "play" this year!

I have some seriously intense crafting (sewing, actually) projects to get started on for Christmas but first I have to get my housecleaning finished so we can be ready for our End-of-Summer BBQ after church this Sunday! I'll be blogging about my sewing project, I have already had a couple of people on Facebook ask about it, I'll just have to be careful so the recipients don't sneak a peek! 

Today is a wonderful day to look ahead to all that the next couple of months brings, so I decided to sip my coffee from my CHRISTMAS mug this morning! Yes, I know, it's early. WAY early. I just wanna, ok??? 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Color-coded children!

I'm asked all the time how I keep my sanity with five little ones at home, how I keep things organized, etc., because all of the STUFF that these little people require certainly must warrant some sort of system, right?


I have become one of "those" mothers. I color-code my children. For us it works out really well that each of the girls has a DIFFERENT favorite color (YAY!) and that those colors pretty much are available in anything we need. We have color-coded beach towels (yes, seriously), color-coded shoe bins, color-coded school supplies, and color-coded earrings. We tried winter coats, but those get handed down and it really doesn't work to be "off" a color!

Color-coding has solved a lot of challenges for us--especially when it comes to school supplies. I always know at a glance who hasn't put away something. Is it purple? JAMIE!!!! Come get your folder!!!!! We don't even need to put names on their supplies--they all know whose color is whose! The biggest challenge, oddly enough, has been drinking cups. Having all one color is rather dangerous with five girls who are incredibly THIRSTY all the time. "Who drank my juice!!!????" "HEY!!!! I just poured that lemonade! That's MY cup!"

Enter the color-coded cups.
 Pink for Morgan, purple for Jamie, blue for Danica, green (the color of TURTLES!!!!) for Shelby, and orange for Kasey!

We use the smaller cups for juice in the morning, the bigger cups for lemonade, water, and to take with us in the van. By the way, the lidded cups were from Ross for $2.99 a piece!!!! LOVE Ross!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Labor Day field trip!

Try as I might, in fourteen years of homeschooling I have not been able to get a "head start" on our school year. We have never ONCE managed to start before Labor Day, no matter how well-planned I was. Something has always come up to derail our plans. This year was no different. We actually started school on the 1st of August ... and then the septic tank backed up, I had a shoulder "glitch", a wedding, a pretty seriously ill oldest daughter ... well OKAY then. I can take a hint. I guess it's not so bad to plan for a summer vacation--I certainly hope to be doing a lot of garden-harvesting and canning next summer anyway, so why not just run with it!?

You're probably going to find this little detail ridiculously silly and petty, but my biggest beef with beginning the week of Labor Day is that "lost" school day on Monday when we always spend the day with Pete since he's off from work. I detest having four-day weeks. It looks funny on my calendar, and totally messes up my even by-fives plan. Dumb, I know. I'm a little OCD that way. So this year I **FINALLY** got my head screwed on straight and fixed that problem. How? FIELD TRIP!!!! The girls love it! Field trip with Daddy, counted as a school day, and Mom can be completely okay with checking that little block on the attendance chart!

So where'd we go? Not far, actually! The US Space & Rocket Center here in Huntsville was having its last day with "Sue the T-Rex", so we decided to brave the torrential rain that Tropical Storm Lee was dumping all over the Southeast and go see the dinosaur display! It has been a LOOOOOOOOOOOONG time since our family visited the Space & Rocket Center. In fact, last time we were there, we only had two children! We did find out that an obscure little momento we received as a "thank you for your service" back in 1993 is a real, actual, valid lifetime membership card (!!!!!) so we will be able to make many, many trips to see the displays and enjoy the wealth of information and history available to us right here in town! This trip was just a whetting of our appetites! Um ... and a literal "wetting", as  you can well see. We got DRENCHED!
Once inside, though, we very quickly found the dino-display! I have been to the Natural History Museum in the Smithsonian ages and ages ago (I think the dinosaurs might have been a relatively NEW display, it was that long ago! LOL), but I don't remember seeing any full skeletons. Certainly not a tyrannosaurus! For our Jurassic Park-fan family, this was just TOO COOL!!!! Somehow I envisioned T-Rex being a little bigger, but it was still pretty impressive to stand next to a complete skeleton!
 Kasey was absolutely fascinated with that big lizard!!!!
 The full skeleton was too far away to touch, but they did have a skull casting that the girls could touch, along with a couple of teeth. I do NOT think I would like to have been this close to one if she had skin on.
 Digging for fossils!
 Space Cadets! I think the girls are really going to enjoy going back and having many, many opportunities to explore all that there is to be learned about space exploration. You know what's a bit sad to me? The era of shuttle launches and children wanting to grow up to be astronauts has ended--at least a large part of it. It's actually history now. Wow.
 One of the hands-on "training" areas, where the children can climb up a "Mars cliff".
 What do you MEAN I'm five pounds too light to do this? Well that just stinks!!!
 Morgan made it 3/4 of the way up to the top and then it just got to be a little too scary for her!

Aside from the 30-minute-long 3D movie that ended up being nothing more than evolutionist propaganda, the we all had a really good time. However, since we are studying ancient history this year (including dinosaurs!), we will have plenty to talk about as we dive headlong into our studies. This was a fun way to re-start our school year! I think we'll make a tradition out of it!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Just the passing of another season ...

As I type this, I have three little people around me begging to dig out the winter clothing box, because they're cold. I received a teeny, sarcastic little reprimand from my physical therapist yesterday for being inappropriately dressed for the weather--I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, which I guess is just all wrong?! People are funny about the changing of seasons, especially when the season is changing from a sweltering summer to the cool days and nights of fall. True, the temperatures dropped quite literally 40 degrees in a matter of four days, and some of us are in a wee bit of climate shock, but we'll get used to it in a few days. Isn't that the way it always is with the changing of seasons?

This month brings a lot of changes for our family--but we're no strangers to change! In a few weeks' time BOTH of our adult children will have finally moved on to begin their lives with their new spouses. Jon and Meagan are working on getting their residence established up at Fort Campbell, while Kelsey will finally be able to move down to Pensacola with Derrick as he begins another (longer, this time) Army school. This means we will no longer have either of our oldest two children "available" to us anymore. Having all of our children present for a worship service in the same building is now going to be a once-a-year (at most) occurrence, and we will only be sitting around the same dinner table "regularly" at holidays.

I'm not sad. A little melancholy, because I'd sort of hoped that our children would settle close to "home" so we could enjoy their company, but I'm not sad. This is exactly what is supposed to happen. They grow up, marry, and move on to begin their own lives! Soon, Lord willing, we'll have announcements of grandchildren on the way as another generation begins. It's a bit shocking to consider what is ahead in the next couple of years, but it is really no different than any other season of life. The sudden changes do bring stun us a little, but as with the change of the summer to fall, it's something we'll get used to.

We always do.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

The Homeschool Mother's Journal

In my life this week… I am realizing that God is teaching me a thing or two about the futility of my plans. We *should be* three weeks into our school year. Instead, I'm just trying desperately to cling to the realization that yes, we *will* finish. On time.
In our homeschool this week… two of my three students (and their teacher) are sick, and the two littles' noses are running as fast as they are. It is not a pleasant sight. I decided to go ahead and quit dreaming about the way I'd like for things to be organized if I can ever get us 'caught up' on the schedule I set for us to attempt to follow this year (haha ... year round, huh?) and just DO what my brain has been contemplating. Our schoolroom is no longer in the back of the house, secluded in the dark cave I painted yellow in an attempt to re-energize the gloomy space. I am slowly and painstakingly getting things arranged in the bonus room, adjacent to Pete's "office" space and taking FULL advantage of the wide-open space, bright natural light, and proximity to the copier! Bookshelves are in place, table is in place, crayons are in place. The rest ... is a work in process. I revamped our school schedule to do what I have done since I started this journey 14 years ago--we are beginning (again) with a grand re-start ON Labor Day. I don't know why I ever changed it. 
Helpful homeschooling tips or advice to share… BE FLEXIBLE!!! Do what works for YOUR family, not what everyone else's "successful" family does. No one else lives in your world. No one else knows your family's eccentricities. Don't fight it; embrace it!
I am inspired by… beautiful learning spaces I have come across on the internet both on Pinterest and via the Not-Back-To-School Blog Hop. I want my girls to be proud of their schoolroom, and I want it to be a space we can all be comfortable in!
Places we’re going and people we’re seeing… The only trip outside the house we've made this week was to the eye doctor today. We came home with a prescription for glasses for 7yo Morgan. I'm not loving the idea that her vision isn't perfect, but glad nevertheless that she doesn't have the eye issues I had growing up. A little astigmatism and a cool fashion accessory are simple to deal with!
My favorite thing this week was… hanging a new "children's" map up in the schoolroom and beginning to see how the new setup will come together to work for all of us.
What’s working/not working for us… keeping manipulatives with in reach of the tiny tornado who loves to dump everything on the floor and RUN. Must. Utilize. Overhead. Storage!
Questions/thoughts I have… I'm wondering how getting her new glasses next weekend will affect Morgan's schoolwork. Time will tell how much of an impact it had on her handwriting and reading in the past, but it looks to be far worse than we originally thought!
Things I’m working on… mainly getting the schoolroom in order, but I am also in the beginning stages of tackling my Christmas sewing projects. Neither is simple, but hopefully both will be beautiful and well-received! They will certainly be made with love, that's for sure!
I’m reading… Welcome Home by Emilie Barnes, gaining inspiration for making my "nest" more homey and comfortable for all of us and our guests.
I’m cooking… roasted chicken, roasted potatoes, and roasted asparagus for dinner. Letting the oven do the hard work!
I’m grateful for… the luxury of having fresh starts!
I’m praying for… a friend who lost her job, and a friend's friend who lost his wife and the mother of his seven children today. My problems are puny.
A photo, video, link, or quote to share… our new, even-more-extended family (minus our son-in-law, who will be "home" for two weeks next month!).

Monday, August 8, 2011

Simple Woman's Daybook 8/8/2011

FOR TODAY - August 8, 2011 
Outside My Window... it is overcast and hot again. I put out the hummingbird feeder yesterday after seeing our second hummer flitting around searching for it. I am yet again reminded as I look out there that I really, REALLY need to just get out there and yank all of that grass and the weeds out of the flower bed. It has been sorely neglected during my recovery, and it's just ugly!
I am thinking... about everything that has to be done this week. On second thought, maybe I shouldn't think about it! Maybe I should just write it down and start whittling away at the list?
In the learning room... this will be a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants week. The septic disaster we had last week really kept me distracted from schoolwork on Thursday and Friday and, while we did finish Thursday, Friday was a total bust--a mental health day--and we have to get caught up. 
I am thankful for... the reason for the stress. By the end of this week, we will have gained another daughter! We will be blessed with a visit from both sides of the family, and our son will get to begin another chapter of his life. Definitely something to be thankful for!
From the kitchen... I am really looking forward to having some Caribbean chicken salad tonight; it has been far too long since I made it, and I'm already hungry thinking about it! I think the brown bananas in the fridge are calling out to be used in some yummy banana bread too. Hopefully there will be some time this afternoon to do just that!
I am wearing... still my jammies. One more cup of coffee should wake me up enough to get in gear. I am just not there today yet.
I am creating... ideas in my head for Christmas crafts. It's about as creative as I can be with the to-do list I have! 
I am going... to sit at home and wait for the plumber to come AGAIN and hopefully fix for good what he was supposed to have done last week. Other than that, I have no plans to leave the house today.
I am reading... Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Be the People by Carol M. Swain; both wonderfully challenging reads.
I am hoping... to make it to Thursday (payday!) without going bankrupt! Septic problems are expensive!
I am hearing... Shelby singing a made-up song. Adorable!
Around the house... there are mini-disasters everywhere in need of my attention. I haven't even touched the big bathroom since the septic tank was pumped, because the toilet still has to be reinstalled and the tub is still backing up ... so what's the point? There's also laundry to fold, a bonus room to clean, oh boy. My head hurts just thinking about it.
One of my favorite things... hot coffee and a warm, slightly toasty bagel with cream cheese and sliced olives. My sweet hubby made me a bagel yesterday before church, and now I'm wanting one today too!
A Few Plans For The Rest Of The Week: (A FEW??)  
  • finish cleaning the house
  • grocery shopping
  • at least three days of schoolwork
  • call to order the BBQ for the rehearsal dinner, shop for the rest of the 'fixins'
  • go to Party City for at least a few birthday decorations
  • go to Barnes & Noble alone (haha) to pick up Pinkalicious for Shelby's birthday
  • get the girls' birthday presents wrapped
  • make cupcakes
  • weed the flower bed
  • shop for the girls' dresses for the wedding (wow, am I behind, or what?)
  • find myself some wedding-worthy shoes!!
  • stop adding things to my to-do list ... this is exhausting.
Here is picture thought I am sharing... Shelby chasing the pigeons at Woodruff Park in downtown Atlanta last weekend. A reminder to me that I need to enjoy the little moments among all the craziness and hustle and bustle of life.
If you'd like to celebrate the simple things in your daily grind, then by all means, blog about it and then share with others who are participating in The Simple Woman's Daybook!

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Reality set in today.

I had one of those "lightning bulb" moments today. No brilliant ideas, no major epiphanies warranting major life-altering risks, but I was involved in a series of conversations today that made me realize that Pete and I are at that really odd point in our life together where we are reaping the consequences of our decision to reverse his vasectomy. In two hours' time, I helped my daughter-in-law to be finalize some frazzling and stressful plans for her wedding to my son this coming Saturday, and then learned that my oldest daughter has less than a month left here with us in Alabama before she "officially" leaves to join her husband following his graduation from Army advanced training.

By our 22nd wedding anniversary, Pete and I will have two married children, living in two different states, with our home somewhere in between. Our original little-family will cease to exist. No longer will we be able to expect to spend holidays with our son and oldest daughter. We now have to share. Don't get me wrong; I'm not sad about this in the slightest; this is exactly what we wanted for both of our children. We knew that we only get to hold on to them until they reach adulthood. We knew that all the mistakes we made as *really* young parents would be mistakes they would likely struggle with during their adolescence ... and they did. They rebelled; they tested limits; they looked to the world for things that the world ultimately could never give them. But now, today as we had real, adult conversations with our real-adult children, we realized we have reached the end of an era.

And it hit me like a brick ...

If we hadn't had that vasectomy reversal done, if we hadn't chosen to put our family size into God's hands, our hands-on parenting job would be over. Our nest would be empty! We would be "free" to do whatever we wanted to do. In all honesty, THAT was what made me sad. Not that I am tied down to these young girls for sixteen more years, but that our lives would be so much less interesting had we never been blessed with them! It may be odd to consider, but I couldn't help thinking that living "for me" would be so boring that I would drive myself batty! Sure, things would be calmer now; I could sleep in, garden to my heart's content, spend HOURS on the internet, keep a clean house ...

No thanks. I like where we are now. I like knowing that while Pete is away for his three-week business trips, I have five little someones keeping my mind and body busy all day, every day. I like the noise; I like the activity.

I am only 38 years old; I'm too young to live the life of a "retired" stay-at-home mom. Maybe after Kasey has graduated and all of the little girls have moved on to whatever God has planned for each of them, maybe THEN I'll be ready to sit back and quilt, follow Pete around the globe and sit in a hotel room for days on end while he works. Not now.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Two years ago ...

God blessed us with our seventh child, Kasey Lee, on August 5th, 2009. It was a pregnancy fraught with complications but we can't imagine not having this spirited little girl in our lives! She has certainly been a *unique* addition to our family!

Even from birth, Kasey made sure we knew she was not going to fade into the background. Her high-pitched scream caught the attention of the maternity ward staff and let everyone know that Kasey meant business! Like her big brother, she couldn't stand to be left out of the excitement if there was ever anything going on; sleep was just not in her vocabulary and she has fought it with everything she has since the day she was born! Of course, she's also been entertaining us with her grins and her antics ever since she realized she could capture an audience!

In just two years, Kasey has earned the reputation of being somewhat of a tiny tornado. We have had many "Kasey-tastrophes" as a result of her active imagination and intense curiosity. She has an almost insatiable need to take things apart, dump things out, knock things down, and generally act as an instrument of destruction and mayhem. Watching dry dog food swell up in the water dish, separating grains of oatmeal or rice on the floor after emptying the entire package, spreading baby powder on the dark-maroon carpet (Mom didn't even know you could take the top OFF of that baby powder container!!), painting her face with her sisters' paint-by-number acrylic paints ... she certainly keeps us busy!!!

Knowing that this mischief-maker is just following her God-given bent to explore her surroundings, we are well aware that this is not 'rebel' behavior. One of these years, we'll be able to tame this wild creature God has entrusted to our care, and be able to channel her curiosity and all of that energy. Right now ... well, right now we just have to repeat to ourselves at least five times a day that God is building patience in us with this little ball of fire!

Happy Birthday Kasey!!!!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

It's that time of year again!

Yep! Back to school! On Monday, we began our fourteenth year of homeschooling. That is almost unreal when I think about it. Fourteen years is a LONG time! All those years ago, I only intended to have Jon and Kelsey at home for the duration of our tour in Germany. We enrolled them in public school when we returned to the US, but that ended up being more of a disaster than the disaster we removed them from in the first place. It lasted three months. Their only other time in public school was that horrific semester in the public high school in Germany the second time we were stationed there. It was that nightmare that cemented my convictions and I have absolutely no intention of ever considering public schooling again. It was during that ridiculously long semester that God really opened my eyes to what that limited and unnatural socialization can do, and now ... well, now I pretty much laugh at anybody who brings up THAT argument against homeschooling. Quite honestly, socialization is at the very top of our list for why we DO homeschool. I believe it is a parent's responsibility to mold a child, and I am choosing to mold my younger children's social education by exposing them to real-world situations instead of the secluded microcosmic environment found only inside the walls of school classrooms.

Sorry, that turned into a mini-rant, didn't it? I mean no disrespect to anyone who chooses public schools for their child's education; I simply cannot 'go there' with my children anymore.

This year, I have two second graders and a kindergartener. Technically, Danica shouldn't start kindergarten until next year, since she doesn't turn five until almost the end of October; but she is just far too ready for me to put it off another year just to fit her in to the 'mold'. She isn't ready for much focused math yet, but considering the curriculum I used for Morgan and Jamie doesn't really have a kindergarten level, I'm not all that worried about it. It's kindergarten. And she's four. There will be plenty of time for calculus later.

Morgan will be my challenge this year, as I suspect she will for most of her schooling career. She is not detail-oriented, so she struggles with paying close attention to words she is trying to sound out phonetically. She also has trouble forming letters with a pencil; her fine motor skills are just not up to par. Both of these issues are starting to make her very self-conscious, so we are going to have to do a LOT of work on them this year. She's very much like her older sister Kelsey, who did a lot of guessing at words and letters, and didn't really care how messy her penmanship was. It affected Kelsey's comprehension skills as she advanced in learning levels, and I really don't want to see that happen with Morgan.

Jamie is an easy learner; she LOVES to soak up information, and the more detailed, the better. While Morgan wants to know WHY, Jamie wants to know HOW and WHAT. Morgan likes stories; Jamie loves maps, charts, and lists. You'd think this would be an easy child to teach but all of her details carry with it one glaringly obvious challenge--perfectionism. Just like her brother, Jamie gets incredibly frustrated if she can't get something perfect the first time. Correcting something is akin to dental drilling without anesthesia!

Curriculum for this lot was a tough call. It simply will NOT do to have a different book for each child. Everything has to be the same, or I get a complete revolt. I've tried a lot of different things over the years, but I think this year we finally have a good fit. I have really come to love Sonlight, especially in the early years, when children can be "hooked" into loving reading. Sonlight's book choices are wonderful, and they offer enough to hook Morgan with an engaging story while providing the detail that Jamie needs to fill her brain. This year we are jumping into world history with Sonlight's Core B, from creation to the fall of Rome. This works well with my overall plan to at least roughly adhere to a four-year cycle of history as outlined in The Well-Trained Mind. Core B is Sonlight's typical first-grade program, but considering I'm using the Core for only history, science, and read-aloud literature, it's not really that big of a deal. The girls' math and language arts books are really all that indicates 'grade level'. Morgan and Jamie are using Rod & Staff's Working Arithmetic 2, and they're currently working through Explode the Code book 3. Danica is beginning her year in Explode the Code book 1, and we are also using The Ordinary Parent's Guide to Teaching Reading as reinforcement of phonics instruction. For spelling, we are using Christian Liberty Press' first grade spelling book, mainly because Morgan needs the reinforcement as we repeat, repeat, repeat the phonetic rules. Jamie could probably handle the second grade book, but again ... they *have to* be equal. Funny, considering they are 11 months apart!

My rough plan (I'm a planner, can't stand going into something without a firm idea of where we're going) is to use Sonlight for all of the girls for history, science, and literature in the early years (grammar stage), the Mystery of History, Apologia 'elementary' science, and Learning Language Arts Through Literature for the middle years (dialectic stage), and Tapestry of Grace with Apologia high school science for the high school years (rhetoric stage). I want to transition to Saxon Math for pre-algebra, but for right now Rod and Staff is great for learning the basics.

If you'd like to share what tools you're using in your homeschool this year, or you'd like to see/read about what others are using, hop on over to The Heart of the Matter and join in the Not-Back-to-School Blog Hop!
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