Monday, December 31, 2012

Going on an Adventure

I went to see The Hobbit with the Hubby last night.  Setting aside the amazing scenery and the merits of the movie, the thing that stood out to me the most was this--there just aren't a lot of opportunities for quests these days. I read a lot of books about pioneers, adventurers, people conquering the wilderness.  But where would an average, suburban girl with normal life responsibilities go to have a quest?  What is there to do in the middle of a settled country where I could have this conversation--Can you promise that I will come back?  No.  And if you do, you will not be the same.

So, barring any unforeseen opportunities coming my way, I will have to settle for no quests.  I will have to make my own adventures, which are a few steps below quests.  (These could also be construed as New Years Resolutions)

Here are my adventures for 2013 in no particular order:

1. Build my new garden area to include raised garden beds, fruit bushes, and a hoop house or green house of some sort.  Can, freeze, or dehydrate the surplus for winter eating.  (I have done this before in small quantities but I've never grown much more than we could eat at the moment)

Overgrown mess

Current state of affairs--how it is right now (with some snow added on top)

2. Add $6000 more to our emergency fund above the amount that we are already saving.  (We're saving to pay cash for a new-used-van in the next 1-2 years so we need to beef up the fund)

3. Cook vegetable-rich, healthy meals and add ten new family-approved recipes to my menu rotation.  Find a new "fall-back" meal when I don't know what to make--my current one is Mexican food and Hubby is sick of that.

Lots of fruits and veggies

4. Get moving.  Walking, lifting weights, using the elliptical machine, the punching bag--doesn't matter what as long as I do something on a daily basis.

5. Finish out my 52 Weeks of New Challenge.  Keep on saying yes to new things and experiences.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Disney World

A few years ago Hubby and I started talking about taking our kids to Disney World.  We both agreed the prime time to take them would be when Joy was five.  All of our kids would be potty trained, done with naps, tall enough to ride most (or all) of the rides, old enough to last the whole day, but not so old that Disney would be boring.  This was that magical year.

Our trip started with Lizzy and Joy's first airplane ride, and the first trip that David would really remember.  The last time David flew was on a trip to visit family in Colorado when he was three.  About all he remembers from that experience was throwing up before we even started taxiing out of the gate.  (We later realized he had the stomach flu which he shared with everyone)

The girls loved flying.  They acted like it was a thrill ride at Disney.  David, on the other hand, was a bit more reserved.  In fact, I was starting to wonder if maybe he didn't have the flu six years ago after all.  But he was fine once we reached cruising altitude.  Joy was so cute.  She made me a present in co-op art class and made Daddy wrap it.  She brought it in her carry-on so that I would have a present to open the next day on my birthday.

Daddy and Joy
Our first day at the parks we went to the Magic Kingdom.  The first ride we took the kids on was Space Mountain.  The girls were super excited to go on the ride at first.  But as we were getting off the ride, Joy gave me a dirty look and told me that she was never, ever going on Space Mountain again.  Oops.

I woke up to Joy singing Happy Birthday and holding out her present

The one ride I really wanted to go on was It's A Small World.  Hubby and FIL were not too keen on this idea, but since it was my birthday, they placated me and went on it anyway.  Just as we reached the final room with the grande finale of loud music, our boat stopped, went backwards, forwards a little, stopped, repeat.  I laughed so hard at Hubby's and FIL's faces as they had to endure even more of the song.  It was awesome.

Meeting Ariel--a dream come true for Lizzy

Monday morning we met a friend and his wife, who are both Disney employees, at the gates of Animal Kingdom.  Mr. Jim and Ms. Patty were super generous to meet us every morning so we could get free admission to the parks (all except Magic Kingdom because they just reopened Fantasy Land so they aren't allowing free passes until April).  We started our day with an African Safari.  We saw some really cool animals--including a giraffe who walked without touching distance next to our truck.  Only the rules prevented us from reaching out and petting the magnificent animal.

Then we took David on a second roller coaster.  This one not only was a belly acher (meaning it went down hills), but it went down hills backwards.  His response at the end was to thank God that he didn't die.  But he said it with a smile so it must not have been too bad.

Mr. Jim all dressed up in his work uniform

Tuesday we went to Epcot.  I think this was the favorite park for the kids.  They loved the Test Track but especially Soarin' and made us get a second set of fast passes so we could ride Soarin' again later in the day.  Joy's favorite ride was a simulator where you designed your own track first.  We came back in the evening so we could watch the fireworks show, which was awesome and well worth it.

Joy and Lizzy and the big golf ball
All tuckered out from the fireworks

Wednesday we stayed at the condo and took the kids swimming for the better part of the afternoon.  Joy learned how to float on her back, Lizzy learned how to tread water, and David spent his time tackling anyone who got within arms reach of him.  The kids loved swimming outside on the last day of fall.

Playing chess at the condo resort

Thursday we went to Hollywood Studios.  Of course we started the day off with a bang.  First the guys went on the Rockin' Rollercoaster, which goes upside down.  It was so fun that they came running out and insisted we all go on it.  After the ride was over, we were looking at the pictures they took of us on the ride.  I noticed that Joy's eyes were closed in her picture.  I asked her why she had her eyes closed and she told me that she was so scared that she kept her eyes closed the entire ride!  But then she asked if we could go on it again.  LOL!  Lizzy loved it and had the biggest smile of the whole trip on her face.

Lets go on that again!

Friday we went back to Hollywood Studios and everyone except Joy and me rode on it again.  Joy chickened out just as we were about to get on the ride.

Please don't make me ride that again!

We had a great time and made a lot of memories with Grandma and Grandpa.  The only reason they kids weren't crying when it was time to go home is because they knew Christmas was only three days away.

Watching the parade from the best spot in the house

 The flight home was awesome.  On the way there it was cloudy the entire way.  On the way home it was clear.  At one point I looked out the window and saw the Smokey Mountains.  And they were smokey.  You could see clouds hovering over the peaks.  It was beautiful to see them from the air and to know that come this summer, we will be taking a vacation to hike in those very mountains.  I can't wait for our next family adventure.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

What Was I Like When I Was Little???

With the birth of my niece in October and my nephew earlier this month, there has been a lot of talk around the dinner table about babies.  After spending an extended time around my niece over Thanksgiving, David asked us if babies did anything more than eat, sleep, cry and poop.  Not really, dear.  Which of course led to all of the kids wondering if they cried a lot and wanting to know who cried the most.

The questions have become a regular part of our dinner discussions.

Mom, which one of us cried the most?  Lizzy
Mom, which one of us slept the most?  David

David fell asleep anywhere and everywhere

Mom, which one of us snuggled the most?  Joy
Mom, which one of us made the most messes?  David, by far.  Nothing was safe.  We had to block off the book shelf or he would sit there and fling the books over his shoulder.
Mom, which one of us drooled the most?  Joy.  She was wearing bibs until she was eighteen months old and still managed to soak through them.
Mom, which one of us walked first?  David and Lizzy both walked right around their first birthdays while Joy was a bit...slow...and waited until she was fifteen months old.
Mom, which one of us was the most curious?  David.  He would enter a room and "case it" for anything he could touch, take apart, or examine.
Mom, who was the messiest eater?  Joy.  Nuff said.

Joy eating spaghetti

Mom, which one of us liked to look at faces the most?  Lizzy.  She was fascinated by faces.
Mom, who was the best eater as a baby?  Joy.  She liked everything.  Then Lizzy who liked food once she was around a year old.  David was the picky eater who gagged and threw up on anything with texture.  Who would take a piece of meat and stow it away in his cheek like a chipmunk for hours rather than actually eat it.  Who hated every food that wasn't battered and deep fried, or came in a sausage tube.
Mom, who hated wearing socks?  Lizzy.  Every time we put socks on her, she'd whip them off and throw them on the ground.  We lost so many socks (and shoes) because of her.
Mom, who threw their sippy cup into the penguin pool and the lion exhibits at the zoo?  David.  Though Lizzy was the one who threw her sippy cup out the window of the car.

The kids beg for stories about when they were little.  They want to know what they were like, funny things they did, when they accomplished skills.

I started keeping a journal of the funny things the kids said or did a long time ago so I would remember these stories.  I wrote down their stats so I'd know when they first took a step, when they first smiled, when they lost their first tooth.

When I first started keeping records of these moments, I did it so I would remember twenty years down the road.  While I may have a decent memory, there are a lot of things that I forget if they're not written down.  Now I keep a record because they are important to my kids who won't remember that when their new baby sister came home from the hospital, and we went over to Grandma's house for the first time, that they slammed the door in my face and told me to take said baby sister back to the hospital.  Or the time that we went to the beach to watch the sunset and David stood on the shore, held his hands out and yelled STOP! to the waves.  Or the moment yesterday when Joy floated on her back for the first time all by herself and then stood up with the biggest smile of pride on her face.  Or the time when Lizzy rode her bike without training wheels for the first time and after her ride, turned to me and said, "That wasn't so hard after all."

Lizzy riding her bike without training wheels for the first time

A simple way to give my children a history of their lives.  The reason why I am always taking pictures everywhere we go even though it annoys Hubby.  I won't remember these moments if I don't write them down or capture them in a picture.  That moment of pride, that spaghetti face, the child asleep at the table.  Precious moments that I want to treasure forever.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Learning To Swim

Joy started taking swim lessons when she was almost three.  I signed her up for a pre-beginners class that is basically meant to get kids used to the water and to develop rudimentary swim stroke skills.  The first summer she took lessons, she spent the entire time clinging to the teacher for dear life any time he pulled her off the platform to swim.  I think she only accomplished two skills out of the fifteen necessary to pass to the next level.

The summer she turned four, she did a little better.  Rather than cling for dear life, she only clung tightly.  Her instructor managed to escape her lessons without claw marks.  She marked off three new skills that year.

This past summer she got even braver.  She jumped off the side of the pool from standing rather than sitting, and even attempted jumping once into the instructor's arms versus having to hold onto his hands at all times.  She practiced her swim skills while holding onto a kick board, and held onto her instructors hands versus wrapping her arms as tight as she could around his arms.  It was a successful session with her marking off ten out of fifteen skills.

Later in the summer after lessons were over, I took the kids swimming at a local lake several times.  The water level was about 2.5 feet for a good stretch.  Joy practiced "swimming" by walking her hands along the bottom of the lake.  Then one day I looked over and she was actually moving through the water doing her own version of the front crawl!  It was a very big day for her.  Since then she has practiced her front crawl every time she's gone swimming to the point that she can now swim about ten feet by herself before she runs out of breath and has to stand up.

Despite this accomplishment, she has adamantly refused to even try floating on her back unless someone is holding onto her hands at all times.  Every time we go swimming, I have her try it a few times, and the second I try to let go, she stands up.

Today we took the kids to a pool.  As usual, I tried to teach Joy to swim on her back.  She floated just fine but refused to let me let go.  And then a while later I look over and see Joy lean her head way back, put her arms out and float on her back all by herself.  I cheered so loud for her that Hubby told me to quiet down.  She spent the next hour alternating between the front crawl and floating on her back.

I learned something through this.  Whenever I tried to get her to swim, I always led her out to deeper water because that's where I could more easily stand up.  Deep water is over Joy's head and scared her when I would let go because she knew she couldn't just stand up if she sank.  She taught herself to do the front crawl in shallow water before moving onto deeper water.  She refused to float on her back in five foot deep water today but attempted it on her own in three foot deep water.

Joy is a gal who wants to learn new skills and be brave, she just needs to learn them first in a controlled environment where she can "save herself" if things go wrong.  She shows up in my kitchen to help me cook dinner in an apron, two oven mitts, and safety goggles.  She loves to cook but she doesn't want to get messy, get teary eyed from onions, or burnt on the stove.  She didn't walk until she was fifteen months old when her brother and sister both walked by their first birthdays--not because she couldn't, but because she didn't like falling.  She was just fine walking as long as she could hold onto something or had something right there that she could grab onto when she started to toddle over.

It is no secret to me which parent she takes after.  I loved ice skating and gymnastics and had dreams of being in the Olympics.  The only problem standing between me and the gold medal was a fear of falling.  I didn't want to try "dangerous" tricks because I didn't want to fall and risk getting hurt.  Even now I hate taking risks and trying new things that could lead to my getting hurt.  Hubby suggested we get away for a weekend this winter and go skiing.  I've skied once in my life and all I remember about that adventure was being out of control on a hill and not being able to stop, yelling "Look out!" right before I smacked into a guy that I liked at the time.  Visions of broken ankles and legs swam through my head at Hubby's suggestion and led to my rejection of his idea for something a little less...dangerous.

But I long to be brave, to learn new skills.  I just want to learn them first in a controlled environment where I can "save myself" if/when things go wrong just like Joy.  And so I continue to push myself this year to try new things, learn new things, do things even if they scare me.  Because the only thing standing between me and success is my own fear--sometimes justified, but usually not.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Grandma and L'Hôpital

I got an email from my mom yesterday morning that my Grandma fell and broke her hip.  She was walking at the mall and went down.  They were waiting for the ambulance to come and transport her to the hospital.

I was stalking my mom for news as she went up to the hospital while I was stuck at home with the kids and couldn't go up to see Grandma until Hubby got home from work.  In one phone call my mom asked me what it was that David wanted for Christmas because Grandma was insistent that mom buy it for him.  I laughed into the phone.

"Grandma is laying in a hospital bed with a broken hip, facing surgery, doped up on morphine, and all she can think about is making sure David has a Christmas present???  She can have a pass this year.  Tell her to focus on getting out of said hospital bed in time to make it to our family Christmas."  But Grandma would have none of that.  David must have a Christmas present.

I went up to see Grandma last night after dinner.  The last time I visited a Grandparent in a hospital bed was my Grandpa.  He died a few days later.  So seeing my Grandma in a similar situation was a bit unsettling at first.  Thankfully she was chipper and bossy, ordering my Grandpa around as usual, and joking about all the "sweet young thangs" at church who were after Grandpa (by young, she meant they were in their 70s).  Her makeup was perfectly done up and she kept patting her hair into shape.  That's Grandma, worried about how she looks even while laying in a hospital bed.  

Grandma pulled through surgery to place a rod in her hip like a champ.  With a little physical therapy, she should be up and walking in a few days.  It could have been worse and I'm very thankful it wasn't.  But all this thinking about Grandma got me to thinking about my memories of her.

-Grandma made the best cinnamon and sugar toast.  I don't know what she did different, but I've never had better.

-Grandma served root beer flavored ice cream.  I loved it.

-Grandma had a sunken garden in her backyard that was like walking through the Garden of Eden.  It was beautiful.

-Grandma had a TV in her kitchen and let us watch cartoons over breakfast.

-Grandma sewed me (and later my girls) Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls.  Plus a really big doll that looked like me.

-Grandma sewed clothes for me that fit my Barbie dolls.

-Grandma took me to a flea market for the first time.

-Grandma let us stay with them on many occasions for the weekend--just us kids.  She was good tucker-inner.

-Grandma taught me to play Hearts and other card games.

-Grandma taught me to paint with oils.  I still have the pictures I painted with her nearly twenty years ago.

-Grandma cackles when she gets together with her sisters.

-Grandma had a wood fireplace in her basement that she let us roast marshmallows over one Christmas.

-Grandma always served root beer in cool green glasses from the wet bar in the basement.  And now that they moved to a condo, she still serves root beer every time I come over.

-Grandma always makes pie for family holiday meals.  Apple, sometimes pumpkin, blueberry, or cherry.  Her crusts are perfectly crimped and look like a magazine cover photo.

-Grandma gives good hugs.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Home Improvement Project--Taking Out A Sink

This weekend at my family birthday party when everyone was honoring me, my Hubby said that he really liked how I am one of the least helpless people he knows.  I will get an idea in my head, research how to do it, and then do it.  Rarely will I ask Hubby for help--basically only when something requires muscle power that I don't have.  I think it's funny that he mentioned that even before I tackled my latest project.

There is a sink in my laundry/mud room.  From the day we moved in, I have hated that sink.  It is too small for any real usefulness that would come with a laundry/mud room.  The faucet swivels 90 degrees in either direction--translation: swivels beyond the sink bowl so that water can freely flow all over your floor.  While too small for real muddy projects, it is housed in a big cabinet taking up 2 square feet of prime laundry/mud room floor space in an already small room.  

Before--Excuse the mess of the laundry

Every time we all get ready to leave the house, we are all tripping over each other trying to get to our shoes and jackets.  Whenever we come home, we are all tripping over each other, blocking the door for people to come inside, preventing people from getting to the shoe rack, the coat hooks, the doorway into the house.  The room is tiny when you add five people, and it's made even tinier by a useless sink.

About a month ago I was digging around in the cabinet under the sink looking for a new bottle of laundry detergent when I stopped to look at the workings under the sink for the first time.  I'd always just assumed there was bare floor under the cupboard, but further inspection proved otherwise.  TILE!  I noticed WALLPAPER behind the cabinet.  A little light bulb went off in my head.  I could remove this cabinet and not have to redo the flooring or wall covering in this room.  DING!  DING!  DING!

Saturday Hubby went to the store to buy the necessary supplies to cap the drain pipe.  Sunday, after a quick internet search on the topic of removing sinks to learn if there was any critical step I needed to know about, I got out the screw driver and got to work.    

What was left after removing the sink

Off came the water supply hoses.  Off came the drain pipe from the sink.  And finally out came the screws that held the cabinet to the wall.  And then I was left with a dilemma--the parts that Hubby bought are not the right parts.  Hmmmm...

All the freed up space--Beautiful

Back to the internet to figure out what I need to buy to finish the project.  I love the internet.  

PVC permanent cap--Check

Brass compression cap--Check

Off to the hardware store to buy said parts.  I felt very prepared and like I could knock out this project in one trip to the store.  Brought said parts home only to realize I bought all the wrong parts.  Grrr... I HATE when that happens.  

Today I went back to the store to buy what I hoped were the right parts.  I knew what I was looking for, I just needed to find them.  After some searching and asking a nice employee for help, I walked out of the store with what I needed.  I came home, screwed them on, and voila!  A completed project!  

What the right parts look like installed

Every time I walk into the room, it feels so open and airy.  I love it!  Now I just need to find the right bench to go in there to store our shoes, hats and gloves, and provide a seat for putting shoes on.  If I can't find the right one, I will just have to pull out the tools, dust off my woodworking skills, and make one myself.  (The old sink will be going to my inlaws who are putting a new bathroom into their cottage--so the sink that annoys me will be put to good use)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Trees, Babies, and Killing Dinner

I was bored yesterday afternoon and wanted to get out of the house.  I knew my preference for a walk wasn't going to fly with the kids, so I told them to suit up and get it in the car.  All their requests to know where we were going fell on deaf ears (my favorite way to do things as it both builds anticipation and cuts down on any whining if they don't want to go to said place).

Back in October when I ran the 5K, the girls discovered a hollow tree that they've been begging me to revisit so they could show it to their brother.  I finally took them back yesterday.  David got to go inside the hollow tree.

After taking turns in the tree, we walked down to the river.  But with my kids, nothing is ever just a short jaunt to anywhere.  Oh no.  They all took off prancing through the woods like two-legged deer looking for paths and other fun things.  This is how they discovered their very own beaver home, otherwise known as a bunch of fallen down trees.  They were in heaven.  I ended up sitting on a log for over an hour while they played all over the trees discovering every nook and cranny that they could squeeze their bodies into.

Can I fit in there without getting stuck???

I got to do something amazing this week.  I met and held my newest, precious, little nephew.  He snuggled up and I didn't want to let him go.  I threatened to take him home from the hospital with me, but my brother reminded me that the alarm would sound if I tried it.  Right.  But I did offer to babysit so I could get my hands on him again.

One last picture to give you a laugh.  I was excited about the dinner I had planned for yesterday.  I've made this dish before, only I always used bone-in chicken pieces.  I had the bright idea to use boneless skinless chicken thighs, thinking it would turn out the same.  I got distracted with trying to order Christmas presents for my girls for their Grandma to give them.  I forgot about dinner in the oven.  By the time I went to check on it, dinner was a bit...crispy.  We ended up tossing dinner and going out to our favorite Mexican restaurant.  The whole way there the kids thanked me for ruining dinner so we could go out.  I haven't done that in a really, really long time.  Hubby was just happy that I didn't throw it out the back door like I did with the fish ten years ago.

Formerly known as chicken, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes and onions

Week 15 in the series of 52 Weeks of New

Thursday, December 6, 2012

A Little Something Extra

I started getting my car's oil changed at the Hyundai dealer in town after my Hubby bought his car there.  The dealer sent us a mailer that advertised their oil changes as only being $14.99.  I couldn't pass up such a great price.

I usually took my car to one of those quick places where you either wait in your car or sit in a dingy waiting room while they change the oil.  Imagine my surprise when I went to the Hyundai dealer for the first time.  "Right this way, ma'am"  as I was led to a plush waiting area with a TV, juice and water bottles, popcorn, cookies, and a kids play area.

I only had Joy with me, who was three at the time.  She was busy playing in the play area when the owner walked by.  She took one look at Joy and walked back the way she came.  Next thing I know, she's offering Joy a stuffed frog to keep.

After my car was ready, I walked out to get it and noticed something strange.  My car was clean.  Huh.  Apparently they wash your car at this oil change place.  I buckled Joy in her car seat and went to get into my car.  That's when I saw the red carnation on my dashboard.  A flower???  How strange and nice.

Today I informed the kids it was oil change day and they cheered.  They love waiting there with me--free popcorn and juice, fun legos and other toys.  And I enjoy sitting in a comfy chair and reading a book.  I no longer wash my car on my own because I know it'll get done when I get my oil changed.  I am a faithful customer of the Hyundai service center because not only are the oil changes cheap, but they throw in a little something extra.

Which begs the question--Do I give people a little something extra when I meet them?  When I have them over to my house?  Do I smile at others?  Brighten their day?  Make them feel special?  Important?  Loved?

I have been reading the book Kisses From Katie by Katie J. Davis and I am learning a whole lot about what it means to really love others with the heart of God.  Katie is a young missionary to Uganda who didn't set out to be a missionary.  She just felt the call of God and responded not knowing what God had in store for her.  She has a heart that truly loves others--a Mother Theresa heart--that looks past filth, disease, ugliness, and poverty and sees God's child, a person who matters and is important and is beautiful and worthy of love.  She is constantly giving a little something extra to every one she meets.  No one goes away from her presence not feeling uplifted and loved.

I desire a heart like that--a heart that burns with passion for the lost.  A heart that burns with love for the needy.  A heart that finds no rest until it has given a little something extra to the people that I meet.  A heart that loves like Jesus loved.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Silliest Things That Seem Useless...Aren't

One of the things that we are supposed to do weekly as part of our homeschool curriculum is to play the Geography Game.  We are learning about the different continents and the people who live there, so as we learn about each continent we are learning the countries that make up each continent.

The Geography Game is simple.  Each player has a game board with a continent on it.  Each player takes a turn drawing a card with the name of a country on it and has to place a token on the correct country on the map.  If they're wrong, the card goes to the next person until every one has had a chance at getting it right.  And so on.

The game is silly.  Simple.  I dislike it and thought it was a waste of time at first.  And yet my kids love it and beg to play it every day.  Yesterday we played the South America version.  Today we played the Europe version.  Slowly my children are learning the names and locations of all the countries in the world.  Slowly I am learning, by default, the names and locations of all the countries in the world.  Apparently there is a reason why this game is included in our curriculum.

There are a lot of things that seem so simple, maybe even silly, yet make a big impact.

Sometimes after reading the Bible day after day, it can become just a rote habit.  I do it because I should, but I don't always get a lot out of it.  And then a verse comes along and speaks directly to your heart.  Today's scripture was one of those.

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 
Timothy 3:16-17

I started thinking about my mother-in-law who started memorizing scripture over a year ago.  Through daily work and effort, she now has an arsenal of scripture in her brain that she can pull out at any time to address just about any situation.

It's always exciting when I am talking with someone and am searching for an encouraging or useful thing to say to their situation and a scripture pops into my brain that speaks right to the conversation.

There is only one way to get to the point of being able to have a scripture at the ready for all situations: rote memorization of scripture.  Playing silly games like the Geography Game; something that seems so simple and silly but is surprisingly effective.  Yesterday when I was worrying about something, I stopped myself with scripture:

Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.  
Each day has enough trouble of its own. ~ Matthew 6:34 

Linked up with:

Monday, December 3, 2012

Take Every Thought Captive

Hubby and I were laying in bed Saturday night chatting about the kids.  I told him about how the way the kids do math is the perfect example of their individual personalities.  Friday morning all of the kids were sitting in the living room working on math.  I asked all of them if they needed help with their lessons.

David insisted that he didn't--but he really did but only admitted he needed help after working himself into a total frenzy where he was super upset.  Lizzy insisted that she did need help--but she really didn't and then moaned and groaned for ten minutes about how she didn't get it when she'd just done pages of the same problems yesterday.  Joy said that she could do it herself, but I read the directions to her anyway--which she completely ignored and just colored in her math book however she wanted.

Then I expressed my concerns about David's lack of writing and spelling skills.  For a highly gifted child who can read at a very advanced level and can do math like it's nothing, it makes no sense to me why he cannot spell and why all of his writing assignments look like chicken scratch with atrocious grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, etc.  I've tried just about everything I can think of to help this child and nothing sinks in.

I should have seen it coming.  The doubt and thoughts of my homeschooling abilities not being good enough. That David would be an excellent speller and writer if he were in school.  Trying to come up with a way where we could afford to send him to private school in the fall since I'm clearly failing him.

I was praying in church, these thoughts running through my head, and I recognized them for what they were--Satan's attacks on my confidence.  Filling me with doubt and confusion and fear of failure.  I told those thoughts to shut up and go away, that I refused to believe the lies.  The thoughts vanished in a puff of smoke.

And then I realized something further.  I hadn't had a moment like that in a long time.  This used to be how I thought all. the. time.  I was paralyzed by every decision I had to make.  I could not make a decision without analyzing every minute detail, second guessing myself, worrying that I was making a mistake, a captive to fear of failure.  I was the reed blowing in the wind.  I used to drive my Hubby crazy!

I came home from church with a plan.  Our current spelling program clearly isn't working, so I ordered a new one, All About Spelling, that I had been considering for a while and had even gone so far as to purchase the teacher's manual last year to look over.  We're going to approach spelling like I approach math--an essential subject that we do every single day no matter what.  We will review the phonograms over and over until they are permanently embedded in David's brain.

I will make Hubby teach David all his spelling tricks--apparently there is a secret word code that I knew nothing about until last night.  When you encounter a word you have never seen before, you can look at the word and try to find patterns or roots from other words--like parsimony.  Hubby asked me how I would say that--par/sim/uh/nee.  Wrong!  He pointed out that he'd recognize that "imony" is also found in alimony and testimony.  So he'd know parsimony is actually--par/si/mone/ee.  Huh.   You learn something new every day.  And this is why Hubby always skunks me whenever we play any word games together.

I'm so glad that today's brush with stinkin' thinkin' was short lived and that I can now recognize it for what it is--lies.  That I am no longer a slave to worry and stress and anxiety.  To be able to come up with a plan in less than 24 hours is nothing short of a miracle considering where I started from.

Linked up with:

Friday, November 30, 2012

Kitchen and Other Adventures

My little helper chopping the onions for the stuffing

I was busy last week with family and Thanksgiving and didn't get around to blogging my 52 Weeks of New update.  So this week's blog is a two-fer.  You'll notice that a lot of my new experiences revolve around food.  Can you tell what I have on my mind?

For Thanksgiving my mother-in-law asked me to make stuffing.  I have made stuffing out of a box, but have never attempted to replicate the real thing.  I asked my mom for any magical words of wisdom and plowed forward.  I cut up the celery and onions, dumped the bread crumbs into a bowl, sauteed the veggies in butter, mixed in chicken broth and seasonings and threw it all together.  My stuffing turned out...not so good.  Apparently I do not have the knack for stuffing.  I think MIL will probably ask someone else to make the stuffing next year.

My next cooking experience involved trying to makeover a family favorite dinner into a healthier version.  My kids requested pancakes.  So I searched online for a recipe that used whole wheat to healthify the pancakes a bit.  I used this recipe, substituting the eggs with Ener-G egg replacer due to David's egg allergy.  They were really good--my family declared them the best pancakes I've ever made and declared the recipe a keeper.  David apparently liked them so much that he ate seven.

I also wanted to healthify our standard tater tots and sausage or bacon sides.  I found an eggless hash brown and sausage recipe and gave it a try.  I only used half a package of hash browns which officially was five servings, and one pound of leaner ground breakfast sausage.  I browned the hash browns in the sausage grease (what little there was), and topped it all off with only a quarter cup of cheese.  While not exactly healthy, it was healthier than what we usually eat, so I was pleased.  And it was delicious!  I was so happy that there was just enough leftovers to throw in a pan with an egg for my breakfast the next day.

My biggest accomplishment this week is that today marks the end of my first month of dinner menu planning. I only made a few changes over the entire month but stuck to the menu almost entirely.  It made dinner preparations so much more peaceful and I always knew what to buy at the store so it streamlined my shopping even more than before.  I already have my menu for December written out, I just need to type it up and then post it on my fridge.

And now two silly things that I did for the first time this week.

I slid down a mattress slide on the stairs.  My kids took our old twin mattress and put it on the basement stairs so that it made a slide.  I had to go downstairs for some reason and rather than walk down the mattress, I sat down and slid.  The kids thought that was hilarious.

The last thing I did is that I learned how to use a smart phone.  Mostly.  I can check my email, facebook, search websites, make calls, text, and play games on there.  I know that's just the tip of the iceberg, but I'm getting better at it every day.

This has been week 13 and 14 in the series of 52 Weeks of New

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Best Toys We Own

Christmas time always makes me think about toys.  The toys the kids want.  The toys the kids actually will play with longer than a few days.  The toys that we end up tossing.  The toys that involve a million tiny pieces that always get lost.  The toys that make so much noise that they are banned from the common area.  And then there are the few toys that are awesome.  These are the toys that transcend time and gender.  The toys that the kids play with year after year and never seem to get bored with.  These are the toys that I like.

Out of the hundreds of toys that have come through our door in the past nine years, I can narrow down the keepers to a very short list of five.

1. Train tracks.  David got a set of these when he was two.  He loved them then, and the kids still play with them seven years later.  I almost gave them away to my nephew a few years back, but the kids raised such a fuss that I let them stay and ended up buying a booster set.

2. Legos.  Just your basic set.  The fancy sets that involve 1000 pieces that all have to go together in an intricate pattern and involve an instruction manual bigger than my phone book?  These are built once and then end up in the general lego bin.  I don't even waste my (or Grandma's) money anymore.

3. Building blocks.  Cheap, basic building blocks that are for ages 18 months+ that were one of David's first presents?  These are the prized toys in our house.  Every day when the kids listen to the latest installment in our read aloud book, they fight over who gets to play with the blocks.  Lucky for them they are getting more for Christmas this year.

4. Dress-up clothes.  David doesn't really go for these, but the girls love their dress-up clothes and regularly show off their latest outfit creations.  The more sparkly and shiny the better.

5. Scooters (and bikes).  David got his first scooter when he was five.  Two years later I bought him a new one after his wheels lost their round shape and became octagons (it was the same price to buy a whole new scooter versus a new set of wheels when purchased on sale).  Lizzy confiscated the old scooter from the trash and played with it for a year before we replaced it.  Joy then rescued it from the trash and has been using it for the last year.  Yesterday her new scooter came in the mail and the old, octagon-wheeled scooter will finally be put out to pasture (or brought to the cottage where they can ride it on the bike path).  They ride their scooters year round outside, in the basement, through my kitchen (until I yell at them to get the scooter out of my kitchen), and have an elaborate game they play called Drive Around City.  It is one of their favorite games and they play it almost every single day.

There are a few toys that deserve an honorable mention.  These toys are played with a lot, but they haven't reached the same status as the top five.  They are squinkies, zoobles, My Little Ponies, and a variety of stuffed animals.  Stuffed animals would have made the top five list except for one thing--they are where my kids show their fickleness.  They have a favorite--until a new one comes along.  Then the old one is tossed and the new one becomes the favorite.  They generally get traded around between the kids until I no longer know whose is whose when the fighting starts.  But they become props in all sorts of games and prove to be indispensable come bedtime.

Over time I have come to learn that the best toys are the ones that are open-ended.  Meaning they don't require batteries, they don't talk or make noise, they can be used to create lots of different things, they can be used as a prop for just about any make believe story, they don't require a masters degree to assemble, they can be used over and over, and they can be shared.  These are the makings of a really good toy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Back To The Land Appeal

I love reading books about people who chuck it all and take off to live off the land.  The latest book I finished is Call of the American Wild by Guy Grieve.  Hailing from Scotland, Grieve is unhappy with the 9 to 5 work life, the three hour commute, the piling up debt, rarely seeing his children and wife.  His dissatisfaction leads to him leaving it all and moving to the Alaskan interior for a year.  He moves out into the bush, builds a cabin, and lives there through the winter living a subsistence life.  Meanwhile, his wife and kids stay behind and move from Edinburgh to Mull, an island off Scotland, and live with her parents for the year.

Upon reentry into his life, his family sells their city house and remains in Mull.  Instead of returning to a desk job, he becomes a writer and a dive-fisherman.

Despite a few moments of bad language, the book was captivating.  I was reading about him slogging through eight feet of snow, and after putting down the book I looked out my window and couldn't understand why there wasn't any snow in my yard.  I read about his encounters with moose, bears, and other wildlife, so when I looked out my back window yesterday and saw something in the yard, my first thought was moose!  But of course, moose don't live in my corner of Michigan, so it turned out to be a doe drinking from a pool of water made from the black plastic covering my new garden.  Then a buck came walking out of the woods and stood their majestically in the yard until David decided he wanted to scare them away and ran out the back door.

I was thinking about the book, wondering what it is about such stories that draw me.  I don't want to chuck my life and move to the Alaskan Yukon.  I don't want to chop down 54 trees, peel off the bark, and then build a 16 foot cabin and live there with my family.  But there is something about these stories--something magical about setting aside all that is known and moving to what is unknown.  Moving from the hustle and bustle of the city to a remote place in the woods.

This quote in the last few pages of the book nailed it home for me.  What specifically about these "back to the land" books appeals to me?

"Even in this day and age, with our sophisticated technology and developed culture, it must still be important, just occasionally, to find a wild place, where the land and the animals that move through it speak loudest, and the sun and the moon dictate the rhythm of our lives.  Only through this can we remember our proper place in the order of things." ~ Guy Grieve Call of the American Wild

Sitting on the beach listening to the waves wash in while watching a gorgeous sunset.  Standing on top of a sand dune in the middle of the woods and looking out on an incredible view of Lake Michigan.  Hiking through the woods and hearing the birds and other animals surrounding you.  Catching that glimpse of a deer in your backyard knowing that you have been blessed to see such a beautiful creature.  Seeing an eagle swoop down and land in the bay outside your door, and then spending the next hour watching her as she does a fancy dance on the sandbar, back and forth, lifting up her feathers as if she's giving a curtsy to a queen.

These simple things--these brushes with nature--this is what draws me to books about moving back to the land.  Reading about someone's opportunity at finding a "wild place, where the land and animals that move through it speak the loudest" instead of the chaos of people and technology and all of the things that compete for our attention on a daily basis, in a place where "the sun and the moon dictate the rhythm of their lives" rather than a clock.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tech UN-Savvy

Hubby and I entered a new era last week--we bought smart phones.  Previously we've had "dumb" phones and were part of a family plan with my inlaws.  Last year Hubby added texting to his plan, but I adamantly refused the feature for my phone.

Our family plan is up for renewal next month and Hubby decided it was time to go out on our own and get our own plan.  Pay for our own cell phone service?  Gasp!  Yes, I have been a bit of a pampered princess when it comes to cell phones.  I got my first cell phone when I was in college from my grandparents who paid for my service and continued to pay for it until I got married and my inlaws decided to give us cell service as our main Christmas present.

I admit I have been ignorant all of these years about how much it actually costs to have a cell phone.  I'm not sure if I've ever even seen a cell phone bill.  Maybe once or twice.  So when Hubby asked if I wanted to continue in my "dumb phone" ways or upgrade to a smart phone, I was shocked and appalled at just how expensive a cell phone and cell service really is.  We contemplated going the prepaid route, but the phones we were looking at, the only phones that were on the cheaper side at $350, sold out within ten minutes of being released.  New phones would not be available until January after our old contract expires--translation: no phone service at all for us if we went that route since we don't have a land line.

Since that was no longer an option, we started pricing out contract service that throws in the phones for free or at a discount versus paying the bigger bucks for an unlocked phone and sticking with the no contract route.  Over two years, the difference worked out to be only $200.  But then we found the contract phones we wanted during Thanksgiving week marked down from $200 to $50.  We jumped at the chance and now I am the proud? owner of my very own smart phone.

Within ten minutes of getting the phone in my hands, I messed it up.  Hubby had to fix it.  After over four hours on the phone with our provider, we found out our old numbers couldn't be ported to our new phones so then Hubby set us up with google voice accounts that would stay the same no matter what our cell numbers are changed to.  I set up my account and was all set to go until Hubby realized I'd set it up under my junk email account.  It took him an hour to undo my mess.  Oops.  He showed me how to take pictures (my one phone requirement was to have a good camera on it) and somehow I ended up taking 50 pictures of a chair and taking a video that ate up all of my storage capacity.  Hubby just shook his head at me and undid it.

All weekend Hubby kept asking me why I was still using my old phone instead of the new one.  I was embarrassed to tell him that I'm scared of my new phone--scared I'll screw it up beyond repair.  I've never even had texting before, so all this "smartness" is a bit overwhelming.  But Hubby is a very patient man and showed me several times how to check my email, facebook, voicemail, how to make a call, answer a call (I don't just push an on button, I have to slide my finger across the screen-who knew?!), do an internet search, and take pictures.

Yesterday I used the internet for the first time while shopping at the grocery store.  I left my printout of my mPerks coupons sitting on my printer, so I just looked up my account on my phone and there were all my coupons.  Amazing!  I sent two emails and responded to facebook statuses last night from my phone.

A week ago the whole concept of smart phones just seemed like a waste of money and another way to suck me further into the digital world.  But I'm figuring out that they're actually kind of cool.  A month ago when my Grandma and I were on our way home from visiting my sister to see her new baby and we hit a major traffic jam that wasn't going anywhere and decided to off-road it and had no clue how to get home so had to call my mom to look it up on mapquest since we also didn't have a map?  Now I can just turn on my phone and use the cool GPS app that will show me the way home.

It may not be frugal living and it's definitely not simple living, though we did get a great deal on our phones, and I'm still rather smart phone dumb, but I have two years to get used to my phone before it's time to get a new one and start all over again.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Sometimes It Takes A Scare To Wake You Up

So long my friend

My cell phone rang this morning when I was in the middle of teaching my co-op class.  I glanced at the number and saw that it was the doctor's office so I took the call as I have been waiting to hear the results of my Holter Monitor test.  Instead of being from my doctor's office, it was the hospital calling to set up an echocardiogram test.  What???  I asked her if the test was necessary since I'd already done the 24 hour heart monitoring thing.  She said that it's an ultrasound of my heart, so something different.  I set up an appointment and hung up.

Okay.  I am in the middle of teaching a class.  I can't just stop teaching to sort this all out.  But I must have been rather white when I returned to the living room to finish the class.  All these thoughts were racing through my head.  Why did my doctor order another test?  What did the monitor show?  Is my heart screwed up?  Am I going to have to have heart surgery?  Thank God Hubby talked me out of going with the cheaper but not as good health insurance for next year and instead went for the more expensive, lower copay insurance if I do have to have surgery.

Finally class got over and I immediately called my doctor's office to figure out what was going on.  Turns out my 24 hour results were just as suspected--harmless PVCs.  But since they came on suddenly, my doctor wanted me to do an echocardiogram just to get a baseline measure.  Sure wish the lady who called me in the first place could have told me that and saved me the worry.

All of this drama has made me face the truth--thankfully, my heart is fine.  For now.  But I'm not exactly in the best of shape.  I don't exactly eat a hearth-healthy diet 95% of the time.  In theory, I want to lose weight.  I want to exercise daily.  I want to eat healthy.  But I like junk food, white bread, sitting on the couch, and not exercising.  Doing the right thing for my body is a lot of work and takes a lot of self control and discipline.  So far I've only managed to exercise such discipline for a month or two at a time.  I did the Couch to 5K training, ran the race, and then stopped running.  I eat healthy for a few weeks and then some event happens and I eat bad and then quit.

Today I woke up and decided enough is enough.  My heart is telling me that I can't keep doing this.  I have to take control of my shady discipline now.  No more buying junk at the store, eating junk when we eat out, snitching cookies when I'm at my mom's house.  Over lunch Hubby and I discussed how we can overhaul or breakfasts and lunches--I'm a bagel gal.  I love the sesame seed bagels from Sams Club that are big, soft, and full of calories slathered in butter.  I eat one pretty much every single morning.  Lunches are usually leftovers.

This morning we finished up the last of our bagel supply and I kissed my bagels goodbye and bought eggbeaters (all whites), museli, yogurt and cottage cheese.  I bought lots of salad fixings, whole wheat bread and boneless skinless chicken to grill for sandwiches and as salad toppings.  My produce bins are overflowing.

A friend of mine went in for routine blood work several years ago and came out with a diagnosis of very high cholesterol.  It served as the wake-up call that he needed to totally overhaul his eating habits.  Now his family eats very healthy and his blood work is normal.  I want to be just like him.  For my minor scare to serve as the catalyst I need to prevent me from having a really big scare down the road.

So there's my plan.  Earlier this month I overhauled our dinners and now I'm doing the same to the rest of our meals.  I'm currently working on doing a full menu for the month of December that includes both dinners and a list of breakfast and lunch options so I always have ideas waiting to go when I'm hungry and need inspiration.  I won't go so far as to actually plan specific breakfasts and lunches every day because who knows what I'll be in the mood for at lunch time on December 27.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

5 Steps to Save a Marriage

I was talking to my mom the other day about how things are going between Hubby and me as a side note to a bigger conversation.  I said that things were good, really good.  She asked what had changed to make things better.  I thought about how we got from where we were to where we are now.

I alluded to a few things in this post that I wrote on the occasion of our 10th Anniversary.  That things were not always rosy between Hubby and me.  How at one point I was ready to walk out the door.  I told mom that I knew things were going well since I hadn't thought about running away in a really long time.  She laughed, but the comment was heartfelt.  When times were at their lowest I thought often about loading the kids up and taking off for the cottage just to get away.  Now when I think about the cottage, it's not an escape from my life but a place to enjoy the life that I already have.

Of course I have been thinking about our conversation for days now, trying to decide what changed to bring Hubby and me closer.  Where we love to be together, laugh together, touch each other, cook together, just be together.  Here is my list in no particular order.

1. I stopped blaming Hubby for everything wrong in our marriage.  My Hubby likes to play computer games.  I used to blame every little thing on his gaming.  If Hubby would just stop gaming, we would be okay.  All our problems would magically disappear.  It's funny how I changed in this area.  I was sitting on a park bench up north with my mother-in-law watching my kids play on the playground while discussing the evils of gaming and how if Hubby would just stop playing, all would be well.  And I had this thought...Are all of my marital problems really the fault of this one thing?  Can all of the problems between Hubby and me really be placed solely at Hubby's feet?  Do I have no culpability at all in the situation that I have found myself?  Suddenly it became so clear to me that all was not Hubby's fault.  Gaming was not the problem at all!  It was a smoke screen blinding me from the truth--I'd been blaming him for everything and taking no responsibility at all for my own wrong relating.  Stopping the blame cycle was the beginning of the change.

2. I learned to say "I'm Sorry."  It seems so silly and simple.  To say I'm sorry.  But for me this was not something I was good at.  Hubby could probably count on one hand how many times I said I'm sorry in the first eight years of our marriage.  I've since gotten much better at this and almost always apologize when I do something requiring it.

3. Weekly dates.  I'd been hearing it for years, the importance of date nights to keep a marriage strong.  But I had little kids, a lack of babysitters, and very few free evenings.  In September when I realized I was going to have one day a week kid-free while my kids were at co-op classes, I asked Hubby if he wanted to start meeting me for lunch on those days.  Thus was born our weekly lunch date.  I love it.  LOVE it!  I'm going to be so sad when summer hits and no more co-op.  It's only one hour a week, but it's enough.

4. We laugh together.  Another silly and simple thing.  For a while we forgot to do this together.  Last night I was saying goodnight to Hubby.  He was sitting at his computer and I was standing next to him.  I yawned and stretched my hands over my head and Hubby touched my stomach with his cold cold hands.  I shrieked and laughed, which made Hubby laugh and do it again.  Such a small moment, a blip in time, but I went to bed smiling and thinking how fun it is to laugh with my Hubby.  These days I often say outlandish things just to make Hubby laugh.  I flirt with him to make him smile.  When he's cooking in the kitchen I like to join him because we always end up laughing and having fun.

5. I stopped treating Hubby like a child.  Sometimes it's not a good thing to say everything you think.  A filter is a beautiful thing.  When Hubby is driving us to church and takes the most roundabout way to get there, instead of saying, "Hubby, why are you going this way?" I bite my tongue.  When Hubby is putzing around and it's getting to the time when he has to be out the door if he wants to be on time for work, instead of saying, "Hubby, you're going to be late if you don't get going." I bite my tongue.  Hubby used to say that I treated him like he was one of the kids.  Unfortunately, he was right.  Hubby already has a really wonderful mother.  He doesn't need another one.  It took a lot of tongue biting and a few phone calls to my sister to vent my frustration, but I learned how to curb the "mothery," slightly disrespectful, judgement-questioning comments.  These days I treat Hubby like the man he is instead of like he's one of the kids.

I know there are more changes I've made that have helped save my marriage (not to mention all the things that Hubby has done) but these are the five that I think had the biggest impact and made the most difference.  I just wish I'd figured all of these things out a long time ago and saved myself the heartache of all that floundering.  But, as the saying goes: What doesn't kill us makes us stronger.  Hubby and I now have a trialed and tested marriage that has come out stronger and better.

P.S.--I forgot one small thing.  One day as I was getting out of the shower I glanced at the steam-filled mirror and noticed some writing on it.  A big heart with "I love you" etched across the glass.  Almost two years later and Hubby and I still trade messages on our mirror.  Some are silly, some are sweet, and some make me blush, but it's always fun to see a new message from Hubby on the mirror.

Linking to:
Thriving Thursdays