Sunday, December 29, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!
We have been so blessed this year and are enjoying being a family of five!! We had a wonderful Christmas with Tad's family, and all of his siblings were in town on Christmas day! I miss my family in Ohio and other places, but I look forward to seeing them this summer!!
Tad has had a change of jobs this past year and enjoys delivering mail for the United States Postal Service. He practically runs all day long delivering mail and has lost quite a bit of weight doing it! He has done several races this last year, including his first ultra-marathon in Arizona!! He finished 40 out of 50 miles, when he injured his IT band. I was so proud he made it so far!! He is also now the worship leader of our praise and worship team at church, and he is doing a great job!!
I have been busy homeschooling Madelynn, who is in second grade this year, and Judah, who has started preschool! I also teach Maddy's class once a week for a group called Classical Conversations, which is a Classical, Christan model of education and we learn a History Timeline, History sentence, World Geography, Latin, Science, English, and Math, as well as Fine Arts, Presentations, and Science Experiments. The kids love it! And it is such a good opportunity for them! I also enjoy working out, running, cooking (as always), and spending time with family!!
Madelynn is in second grade this year and is doing great in all her subjects. She has become quite the reader and also takes piano lessons (from me!) and swimming lessons at the YMCA. She has passed all of her swimming classes and is about to move on to Intro to Swim Team! We are so proud of her!! The wheels in her head are always turning and she is always asking questions, trying to figure things out, and trying to come up with solutions to problems. She is also a huge giver, and spends a lot of time making things for other people. I love those things about her! She is full of energy and spunk!!

Judah is doing preschool this year and is doing a great job. He is very smart! He just turned 4 on Christmas Eve! He does a preschool class once a week during Classical Conversations and is learning so much!! He loves art, wrestling with his dad and uncles, playing with his sisters, playing computer games, and cooking with Mommy. He is such a joy and is still my little cuddler. He also has been doing swimming lessons and has come to really enjoy them!!
Ruth will be 2 at the end of February and we love her so much!! She has been such a fun addition to our little family!! I can't believe how much she is doing at this age, but I think when they have older siblings, they learn to do more at an earlier age. She pretends with the kids, will lay down with a blanket when they are playing doctor, crawl when they are playing kitties, or call Madelynn "Mommy" when they are playing house!! It is so cute to watch them all play!! She has a similar personality to Maddy: loud, outspoken, very opinionated, and a ham!!

Well, we hope you enjoyed some of our funny family photos, and that you all had a great Christmas and will have a wonderful New Year!! We are so blessed to have our little family, and wonderful friends, and of course, salvation, blessings, and redemption through Jesus Christ our Lord. God Bless you all as we enter 2014!!

Friday, December 13, 2013

'Tis the Season (with a cookie recipe!)

The mailman came to help decorate our tree :)

Well, it's that time of year again. Time for all the hustle and bustle, getting a million little (and big) things done, and enjoying the holiday festivities that only come around this time of year. I love it, but I'm always ready for a break from the busyness of the holiday. I do enjoy all of our holiday traditions, and also doing new things each year to make it fun and different. Some of our yearly traditions include doing our advent calendar with candy for each day, making cookie plates to give to our neighbors and friends, decorating Christmas cookies with the kids, Christmas coloring books, decorating the tree as a family, watching Christmas movies, having Christmas pictures taken to go in our Christmas card, and having biscuits and gravy on Christmas day with Tad's family. There are lots
 of other things we do different each year that make it different and fun for us and the kids. It makes it so much more fun to have kids and to see their excitement over all the fun facets of the holiday season. We have chosen not to do Santa with the kids, but they know who he is and still enjoy watching movies about Santa and me teasing them about Santa bringing them gifts. We have just chosen not to tell them that Santa is real.

This year, we also have a cookie exchange at our church. While I have heard of these, I don't remember ever being a part of them so it will be fun. We actually have to make 6 dozen cookies for ours - 5 dozen to be shared with others (to take home) and one dozen to put out to enjoy at our women's Christmas party. And I am so proud of myself that I got all my cookies made almost a week in advance!! So I am going to give you the recipe for the cookies I made out of's new magazine!! I am so excited that they have a magazine since that is my favorite website to get recipes off of! So the recipe might seem a little confusing, because they take one of their top-rated recipes and then they test it in their own kitchen and make extra suggestions next to the original posted recipe. So I will post it that way, and then, after all that, I will give some of my own suggestions.

Big Soft Ginger Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup margarine, softened (from Allrecipes kitchen: Use butter, not margarine, for the best flavor)
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons white sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup molasses

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt, and set aside.
2. In a large bowl, cream together margarine and 1 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg, then stir in water and molasses. Gradually stir sifted ingredients into molasses mixture. Shape dough into walnut-sized balls and roll them in remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. (From Allrecipes kitchen: We got a yield of thirty 2 3/4 inch cookies.) Place cookies 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet and flatten slightly.
3. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container.

143 calories per cookie

So these cookies turned out pretty good, and taste pretty much like a gingerbread cookie, so if you like cookies with all those strong flavors, you will like these. I will say, the dough was really hard to work with, so what I found is that if you refrigerate the dough for at least 10 minutes or so, you can work with it and get it shaped into a ball and rolled in the sugar without it being all stuck to your hands and really messy. Once I figured that out (like on the last batch!!), it was much easier. It really was a great cookie to make for a cookie exchange too, because it was fairly easy and a tasty, popular option to give out. I think I will also make this one as one to put on our cookie plates for friends and neighbors. Or I might just do gingerbread men so the kids can decorate them. We'll see!
So, as I love this time of year, I also am stressed out with all there is to do. But after these next few days, of scheduled events every night, we are almost totally free, so that will be nice, and less stressful.
Maddy helping to decorate the tree at church!
Another highlight from this year is that we got a chance to perform at our annual homeschool group Christmas talent show. Usually, Maddy would display something she had made, but this year she wanted to play the piano (like one of the first songs she has learned!) and she did great! Also, our family sang "Jesus loves me" while I played the guitar and sang. It was so precious to this momma's heart! I have always wanted a singing family, so this is just the beginning!
I hope you all have such a wonderful year of making Christmas memories and starting or continuing beautiful traditions with your families. Here are some links to some previous Christmas posts I have done in past years, with an advent reading schedule if you are interested!!

Cookie Plates
Loving Christmas Break
Coconut Snowballs and Coffee Filter Snowflakes
Homemade Gifts: Christmas Sweets in a Jar
Time for Christmas (with Advent Readings)
Christmas Festivities

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Turkey Trot

On Thanksgiving day, Tad and I ran a 5k in our town called the Turkey Trot. I wasn't sure if it was a good idea to plan to run a race on the day that I do tons of cooking, but I decided I really wanted to, and that it would be good to get a workout in on the day where I would stuff myself with food! The weather was forecasted to be very cold that morning, but I was still in. It was kind of weird, because the night before, I was in cooking mode, up late finishing my pecan pie and pumpkin cinnamon rolls. Then I was up early making crockpot stuffing and getting other things together. Then I had to switch gears and get in my race clothes and get ready to go.
I haven't been running very much, because Tad is gone so much and it is just easier to get my workout in at home during the day. So the Monday night before the race (the race was on Thursday), I went to the Y and ran a 5k on the treadmill, just to practice and run since I hadn't in awhile. I did a 5k in about 35 minutes, and I wasn't happy with that time. It's hard to gauge it on a treadmill, and how fast/slow to start running. I always get nervous and don't want to start too fast because I don't want to burn out and have to stop. I was happy to get through it without stopping though. So my goal for the 5k was just to finish without stopping (which is always my goal for a 5k; I have run them enough to know I can do this) and to run it in under 35 minutes. I think my first 5k that I remember I ran in 36 minutes, the next one was 34 minutes, and I don't remember my time for my next one.
It was freezing cold the morning of the race. We wore layers, and didn't want to shed them until right before the race. Tad's brother spent the night so that he could watch the kids for us; it was too cold to have them out. So it was a nice, fun time to get out together! I have always run better in the cold, so it felt good, but I was struggling mentally. Tad and I talk about how running is so mental, as well as physical. You really have to push yourself through, and talk to yourself while running, because your body tries to tell you it's tired, or to walk. Tad was having the same struggle, though we weren't running together. He is much faster!
I have realized that I have to evaluate if I feel like stopping because my legs are tired, because it's hard to breath (always a struggle when I workout or run, maybe exercise induced asthma?), or just because I am feeling lazy and want to walk. But even if I can pinpoint which one it is, I still have to push through it, and keep running.
When I hit the halfway mark, I looked at my watch and was at about 15:30, and thought "oh my gosh, if I keep this same pace I could finish in 30 minutes? What???" But it actually made me feel tired thinking about that, but I kept pushing through and trying to keep a good pace. It felt good to pass people, and to keep going even though I felt like walking. To keep talking to myself and get myself through, knowing that I was getting closer to the finish line. Tad finished in about 20 minutes, which is really good for him. He was hoping to get close to one of his first place times from a long time ago, which was 19:45 or something like that. He got really close, and finished 9th overall, out of over 200 people. So proud of him!
When Tad and I run the same race, he comes back to find me and to help me finish the race. He just kind of paces me at the end, when I'm tired, and to remind me how close the finish line is! I look forward to this towards the end of the race! I finished in 31:07, and I was completely floored to set a new personal best!! I know this isn't a super fast time, but for me, it was my fastest, and I was so pleased with it! Especially since I hadn't really trained for the race, per say, though I workout 6 times a week so maybe that helped with the stamina to keep up a faster pace. I was so happy with my time!! And glad I had decided to do the race on such a busy day!! So we finished, went home, and packed up all our Thanksgiving food and went over to Tad's parents house to finish cooking and to spend our Thanksgiving day. It was a good day, and that race pretty much made my day!! I am so glad we could do it together!

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Freezer Cooking

Here is the link for this Ham and Potato soup!

I have not done much freezer cooking, but when I have, it is so productive. There was one day in particular that I planned about a dozen things to make and freeze, and it was so nice over the next couple of weeks to have things already prepared in the freezer that I could just pull out, thaw, and cook. Here is a list of the things (that I can remember!) from that day, and some other suggestions of things to make and freeze:

Italian Pasta Bake
Gluten Free cupcakes
Meat mixture for Meat-Stuffed Potatoes
Spaghetti Sauce
Easy Breakfast Casserole
Apple Bread (Or any kind of bread or batter, really!)
Yogurt Pops - There are more fancy ways to do it, but we just froze vanilla yogurt, or a mix of strawberry and vanilla yogurt for an easy, healthy snack in the summer for the kids (and the parents, too!)
Sloppy Joes
Apple Butter
Cookie Batter
Muffin Batter
Mexican Pizza

Here is the link for this breakfast casserole, which is different from the one mentioned above.

Another idea, is the idea of cook once, eat twice. Which basically means you cook a double portion of a meal, and freeze the other half, since you are already going to the trouble of making it, and prepping everything, you may as well make more and have another meal already made. And to avoid getting sick of stuff, just stick it in the freezer and eat it a few weeks later. No one will remember :)

On Tuesdays when I teach for Classical Conversations, and then we have swim lessons that night, and I am super exhausted and always have to grab a nap...those are days when I never have the energy to cook. So I always try to have something planned for those days, whether it be in the crockpot, or something that is already in the fridge, ready to be cooked. Because if I don't have something planned, then there is the tendency to go out for dinner, or I end up waiting until the last minute to figure out what to make, and then it is too stressful.

Here are some links to websites that have blog posts about freezer cooking, or whole sections of their blog dedicated to freezer cooking!

Heavenly Homemakers: I love this website right now! She provides tons of recipes and lots of her blog has posts about how to make things and freeze them, how to work ahead in the kitchen, how to plan ahead for breakfasts, meal planning, and healthy recipes. She also has a blog post about freezing muffin batter so that breakfasts can be easy and premade, but the cooked muffins don't dry out in the freezer. She also has cookbooks available for purchase! I frequent her blog often!
Pioneer Woman: Of course, my beloved Pioneer Woman. She had a whole episode on her show about freezer cooking, and how she uses all the stuff she packs into her freezers. Check out the link for her blog post!
Food Network: Check out this link for some options from the Food Network on different kinds of food to cook ahead, and freeze, including Christmas cookies!!
Allrecipes: They don't have much on this website, but a few recipes and videos for some freezer options.
Organized Home: Has a whole section dedicated to Freezer Cooking and how to cook once, and eat for a month!
Money Saving Mom: Has a lot on how to do freezer cooking as well as crockpot freezer recipes!! Now that I will have to check out!!
Once a Month Meals: Their whole website is dedicated to freezer cooking, they have gluten-free options, and you can pick which ingredients you want to use!! Including no-cooking prep days!!

Well, I hope these links and recipes give you some ideas and get you thinking of how you can make things easier and more practical in the kitchen! I love to cook, but I know not everyone does, and even though I do, I don't always feel like it. Or life is just busy for that season, and I don't have the time or energy to get in there every night to prepare a meal from scratch. So this method of freezer cooking lets me decide when I have free time, and then use it to make my life easier during the hectic times. And as always, leave other (kind!) suggestions or other links in the comments section! Happy cooking!!

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Some Simple Homemaking Tips (for Homeschooling Moms)

I have found that the stay-at-home mom with young children who also homeschools is a pretty rare find. Especially in my situation where I also teach Classical Conversations once a week. Our lives are pretty busy. I thought I had a lot to keep up with when I was a stay-at-home mom, but when we added homeschooling, I felt overwhelmed because I replaced my morning chore time with schooling. And then when I added weekly teaching to the mix, it became even crazier because then my evenings were often busy with prepping for that. And now that Judah is doing preschool...well, you get the idea. It is busy. And keeping up with housework isn't as easy as it used to be. People might think that since I am home all the time, I must have so much time to keep up with things around the house. But when your day is full with homeschooling 2 kids and the kids are home all day to keep making messes, it is hard to keep up.
Believe me, it is a huge blessing that I get to stay home with my kids. That I get to be the one to teach them to read, about historical events, do bible time with them and get into important, deep conversations about God that matter and often end up with me sharing what God is doing in my own life. And I love staying home. And I love all things domestic. Well, maybe not all things, but a lot of things!! And over the years, I have learned a few tips, though I would in no way consider myself an expert in the domestic department. Other blogs and moms and people with far more experience than myself have better systems and ideas, but I'm just sharing some things I have learned in my own journey, and things that I have found that work for me. Some things I have shared before, and some things you may have heard before, so just take what you can from my experiences!!
1. Make a weekly chore chart. If I can focus on 1 main chore for the day, with schooling and everything else I need to do, that is enough for me. Of course I have other responsibilities during the day, but I usually have just one main thing I need to get done for the day.
Mondays - Laundry/Prep CC for Tuesday
Tuesday - off/Teach CC
Wednesday- Laundry, Office Day (Finances, Account)
Thursday - Bathrooms, mirrors, mopping (if this gets done, it's a miracle!)
Friday - Laundry
Saturday- Clean out Car, Outside chores, Kitchen Day/Cooking Day, Lessons Plans for kids for following week
Sunday - Relax with Hubby/Family, Prep CC
2. Get up earlier than your kids. I have written about this a lot. And I am not always good at this. But I have found that when I get up early, I can get a lot accomplished before my kids wake up, and I know what is on the agenda for the day. If I can spend quiet time seeking the Lord, make my to-do list, look at/balance my checking account, check if I need to pay any bills, check the calendar and know what I am making for dinner that night, then I feel like I have started my day off right. I don't feel so overwhelmed when the kids wake up because I already know what my day looks like. I have found that when I get up when my kids get up, I am grumpy because they are demanding different breakfasts and I am flustered because I want to read and relax with my coffee and my quiet time, and I do not get much of that once they are awake.

3. Exercise in the morning: for homeschooling/exercising moms: I have found this new discovery lately. I would always do school in the morning and exercise during the kids nap time. But lately, Ruth started waking up about an hour into her naptime, and I was afraid that my workout was waking her up. So I started having Maddy "watch" the little ones and play while I worked out in the morning and then I would start school with Maddy after that, and finish up during nap time if necessary. Then, my nap time was free to do other things quietly, which wouldn't wake up Ruth (though she has just been taking short naps anyways) and it has become a true rest time for me. And my workout got done in the morning when I had more energy!! This has been a huge, amazing change for me!
4. Work quickly!! I read this on another blog once, and though it seems trivial, it makes a lot of difference if you apply it!! When you get a little block of time, or a lot, just do those mundane tasks quickly! Fold laundry quickly! Scrub dishes quickly! Wash mirrors quickly!! And save yourself some time!
5. Enjoy your daily mundane tasks. Let them be your "break." When you are alone scrubbing dishes at night, take a deep breath, and enjoy the time. Listen to music. Pray. Think of others you could bless. It doesn't have to be a "waste of time" and something that we must do over and over and keeps needing done. It can feel like that. But if we offer up even the smallest of tasks to the Lord, or enjoy them, then we can have joy in them and even worship at the same time!
6. Pick up every night. Now, the house doesn't have to be spotless every night, but I have found that I like to wake up to a clean house. If you wake up to piles of junk all over the floor and can barely walk around, it doesn't exactly start your day off right. So take those extra few minutes every night and pick up the toys, the dirty laundry, the clean laundry, and trash, and just get the main areas clear. It doesn't have to have that "people are coming over" look, but just a general picking up can make a huge difference.

7. Have different "clean up" times with the kids. For me, I like to have a clean up time before naps (cleaning up from the morning play), before Daddy gets home from work (so he isn't trudging through piles and is blessed when he gets home), and before bed. This is good for Mommy's sanity, is a good time to teach little ones about cleaning up after themselves (Mommy shouldn't have to clean up after their messes all the time, especially if they are old enough to clean up after themselves), and is good to do throughout the day so that it doesn't all pile up for a huge mess at the end of the day. Make it fun! Sing songs, make it a race with a reward at the end, or make a chore chart for the kids with a prize at the end of the week. Make it fun for them so they don't grow up resenting clean up time because it always involved Mom yelling and them getting punished. I have found they do much better and have much better attitudes when we make it fun in a fun atmosphere!!
8. Give your kids age-appropriate jobs to help around the house. This is a big perk with homeschooling. They learn what it looks like to take care of a home, how much work it really is, and how to help. They are home all the time, so they can help with many different aspects of what needs done around the house, and maybe appreciate how much Mom does!! Maddy is 7 and she unloads the dishwasher (and Judah has started to help by handing her things and she puts them away), makes her bed, picks up her room and other rooms (kid messes), feeds the dogs, folds washcloths, helps take care of Ruth, and then helps with other stuff when I ask her. Judah is almost 4 and he has started making his bed, can put silverware away, helps put his own stuff away, and is learning to help with baking. Have them help you, and teach them the value of hard work, and taking care of their own things and messes.
9. Do what you can ahead of time. Do freezer cooking when you can, try to make double batches of dinners often, make food ahead of time when entertaining, use your crockpot, do some cleaning at night when the kids aren't awake, get school prep done all before that week starts (make the lesson plan, make copies, write out handwriting, get everything in order), and think ahead 1-2 weeks at a time when you are making grocery/store lists so you don't have to go back to the store because you forgot about birthday parties, potluck, entertaining, or a cookie exchange.

10. Have relaxing time for you. I think this is so important for the homeschooling mom. We are home a lot. We are with our kids a lot. And we need breaks!! Take those opportunities to go to bible study, out to coffee with a friend, to a workout class, to take a bath, read a book at night, go to a coffee shop alone, go shopping at night alone (I have been going shopping after the kids go to bed so I can whip through those stores without kids interruptions), and plan date nights with your hubby!! Make it a priority for yourself to get up early and quietly seek the Lord. All these things are so important so we can keep our sanity and be the best mothers we can be for our children! We are not defined by our role as a mother. We are God's children. We are individuals. And this time of craziness with young children will not last forever. In our weakness, we need to rely on the strength that comes from the Lord, and remember we are not in this alone. We are not superwoman!! We cannot do it all, sign up for every group and lesson, go to every event, and still remain sane. Learn when to say no, and when your family needs a break!!
And just remember that during this season, your house will never be perfect. That is one reality that I probably still need to accept. And that is ok. If we are teaching our kids to clean up after themselves, and the responsibility that what they get out, they will put away, and we are involving them in the clean-up process, then one day, we won't have so much cleaning to do. We will have little helpers who have learned to clean up what they have gotten out (hopefully)! I hope some of these tips have been helpful, and please if you have any more, leave them in the comments section below!!